Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Discopop Directory: Top 10 albums of 2013

Squeaking in at the last possible moment, here's my countdown of the Top 10 albums of 2013 (as played in our house). The usual terms and conditions apply: It's all based on iTunes playcount, so Kanye West's brilliant-but-abrasive Yeezus album doesn't get a look-in, while Lissie's happy-days rock opus Back To Forever does. It's as simple as that.

So, in reverse order....

10) Chvrches - The Bones Of What You Believe
And on the seventh day, Chvrches built a gleaming Jenga tower of emotive synth-pop. And verily, it began to wobble every time the beardy bloke wrestled the microphone out of Lauren Mayberry's hands. (Seriously, dude, let it go.)

Putting aside the po-faced muso moments, The Bones Of What You Believe is a gargantuan collection of anthemic pop. It even went to number 12 in the US, meaning Mayberry had to employ a "hamster carer" while she was off on tour. And they said success wouldn't change them...

9) Everything Everything - Arc
Dialling down the annoying vocal somersaults of their debut seemed to lose Everything Everything a few fans, but to me Arc is the far superior record.

Take Duet, for example, which appears to be a love song between 007 and a Bond Villain ("of all the dead volcanoes on Earth you just happened to retch and roll through mine"). Armourland, meanwhile, is the sound of Timbaland's interrupted dreams fed through a ZX Spectrum. But, crucially, the melodies are more coherent and the songs more songy.

It was all intentional, too. After hearing their debut one too many times, singer Jonathan Higgs thought to himself: "I wish I'd shut up. Every song was kind of 'woo-ah-woo' and I got tired of it."

8) Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
When many would have settled for Get Lucky x12, the Francobots went conceptual. Random Access Memories is an eccentric labour of love. A tribute to the men who inspired them: From Giorgio Moroder, narrating the story of how he invented disco, to Nile Rodgers, whose choppy guitar lines give the album every ounce of its soul.

But the masterstroke was employing Paul "So You Wanna Be A Boxer" Williams, to write and perform Touch. Inspired by a book about life-after-death experiences, the song is purportedly about a robot that's becoming human. But I defy you to hear a man who survived chronic, crippling alcoholism singing, "If love is the answer, you're home" without tearing up just a little.

7) Lissie - Back To Forever
Free-wheeling, open-chord rock with – YES! – guitar solos aplenty, Back To Forever is a great big sloppy kiss of a record.

Packed with mammoth choruses (Further Away) and rock-solid radio hits (Sleepwalking) it made a virtue of Lissie's easygoing southern charm, even when she was furiously ranting about US environmental policy on Mountaintop Removal (better than it sounds, I promise).

Radio 2 quite rightly played the crap out of it... And so should you.

6) Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady
Janelle Monae sheds pop songs like the rest of us shed skin flakes. The Electric Lady is every bit as audacious and inventive as her debut, its impact only slightly dulled by familiarity.

Eagerly cherry-picking from R&B, hip-hop, doo-wop, film scores and swooping torch songs, Monae's ambition and control of her material can be summed up with one fact: She got Prince to agree to a duet then relegated him to backing vocals. Astonishing.

5) Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (Part One)
"You could liken my chemistry with Timbaland to Marty Scorsese and Robert De Niro," said Justin Timberlake, taking self-importance to epic proportions as he promoted his 20/20 "Experience". Like Scorsese, he struggled with brevity, turning in an album stuffed full of seriousface 8-minute "jams" about his luxuriant sex life.

So I set about it with a pair of electronic scissors and created a pared-down 42-minute edit. Suddenly, the sprawling R&Boreathon became a taut pop classic (if I do say so myself).

The best bits: Timberlake channelling Lionel Ritchie's All Night Long on Let The Groove Get In, and the vocal hat-tip to N'Sync's Dirty Pop on Strawberry Bubblegum.

4) Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City
Giddy and playful, Vampire Weekend's third album saw them ditch the collegiate robes and grow up a little. But only a little.

Unbelievers is an utterly daft, summery pop song about going to hell at the hands of Christian fundamentalists; while Diane Young finds Ezra Koenig mucking about with an autotune to create the unlikeliest hook of the year.

Musically, it was more reflective without straying too far from the Vampire Weekend "upper west side Soweto" formula (they've never met a harpsichord they didn't love) but Koenig also hinted it was the "end of a trilogy". 
At the Q Awards, he told me the band hadn't worked out "phase two" yet "but whatever comes next, I'm sure it's gonna be different." 
I can't wait.

3) Beyoncé - Beyoncé
No matter how brilliant your record, there's always someone waiting to pour a bucket of scorn on it. In Beyonce's case, it was second-rate gossip website Mediatakeout, who claimed her whole "surprise album" plan was hatched because Sony thought the record was a dud and wanted to bury it. How wrong they were.

Instead, Beyonce got the best reviews of her career with a suite of slow, complex, introspective songs that rely on atmospherics as often as they do killer hooks. And, for once, a self-titled album kept it's promise of revealing the person behind the persona: Beyonce sings about marital difficulties and miscarriage with the same startling honesty she uses to describe her "pink skittles". (Don't ask).

Oh, and did I mention there were 17 videos? 17 VIDEOS!

2) Haim - Days Are Gone
The hardest-working band of 2013, Haim had to piece together their debut album while honouring a never-ending schedule of tours, TV shows and festival appearances. Not that they minded too much: "What's a day off? I don't give a fuck," Este told Rolling Stone. "I will do this until my tits are at my knees."

Days Are Gone finally arrived in September and it is something of a triumph - all hair-tossed pop hooks and nimble-fingered bass guitar. 
Someone recently described it to me as "Fleetwood Mac welded to Phil Collins' 1980s drum machine". I couldn't have put it better myself.

1) Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Pre-release, I was allowed to listen to Reflektor once, in the basement of a posh London club, while I was force fed parma ham. Regular readers may recall it didn't go well – I described the record as an "awful, trebly mess".

Turns out it was nothing of the sort. Unexpectedly lithe and funky, Reflektor has more hidden depths than a subterranean volcano. At times, the band don't quite seem in control of what they're doing – there's a scrappy tempo-change on Here Comes The Night that sounds like they're freewheeling down a hill on an unfamiliar bike - and it's all the more thrilling for it.

The album's dancefloor undercurrents were inspired by the Haitian carnival, midwifed by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and endorsed by pop royalty. "There was this amazing day when I was working on the lyrics to the song Reflektor [and] I met Grace Jones," singer Win Butler told Mojo. "She was on the beach playing with her grand-daughter. I played her an early version of Reflektor and she started dancing immediately.

"I'm like, 'All right! Grace Jones is dancing to our song – we’re definitely doing something right!'"

Recommendations don't come any stronger than that.

So that's this year's countdown. I've put a playlist of tracks from the Top 10 below which should keep any New Year's Eve Party in good spirits for an hour or two... See you in 2014!

UPDATE - JANUARY 2014: I belatedly realised that I'd forgotten to count Charli XCX's True Romance when I was compiling the chart. You can find out where she would have come in the Top 10 by visiting this page.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Discopop Directory: Top 10 Singles of 2013

Right then: The best singles of the year. And what a year it's been. The singles chart was as vibrant and exciting as the albums one was disappointing and lacklustre. There was a lot of "mid-tempo" and a lot of twerking, but you won't see any of that here. As usual, the top 10 is compiled from my iTunes playcount because, otherwise, I simply can’t be trusted to tell the truth. So, here we go in reverse order:

10) Vampire Weekend – Diane Young
In which Ezra Koenig - a man whose name represents the worst Scrabble rack of all time - does his best Buddy Holly impression over a frenetic surf guitar line. With a vocoder. Fast, thrilling, and utterly, utterly undanceable, it is nonetheless a great song.

Koenig claimed the real Diane Young was "about 5 foot 10" and "fairly attractive". But she's really just a homonym for "dying young", which was the song's original title until the band decided it was too gloomy.

9) Demi Lovato – Heart Attack
It takes a brave composer to write lyrics in 72-point bold type capitals; and it takes an even braver singer to perform them that way. But Demi "Tomato" Lovato pulls it off – conveying a sense of frailty at the same time as she bellows out the chorus with the sort of force that could capsize a battleship.

Yes, it might be pop by numbers - but the maths is flawless.

8) Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
Great song, but I still don’t understand what he's doing with a pocket full of soap.

7) Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know?
Sleazier than Robin Thicke frantically rubbing himself through an overcoat, Alex Turner's ode to obsession marked a stunning return to form for the Arctics. Built around a swampy guitar riff Do I Wanna Know was lascivious, sordid and constantly on the cusp of... well, you get the picture.

6) Katy Perry – Roar
With a chorus two times bigger than an elephant (and thrice as nimble) Perry was the leopard-print victor of the year's biggest pop battle (turns out that obedient Applause is no match for a feral Roar). It's just a shame the rest of Katy's album was such a dreary therapy-speak borefest.

5) Little Mix – Move
All great pop songs should pull the rug out from under your feet and, on Move, Little Mix sent carpets flying like Aladdin [please stop – tortured metaphor ed].

It's all there: The stomach drop when the first bridge fails to resolve into a chorus; the "iknowthatyouwannastaycoolinthecorner" mid-section, the bum-rattling bass. A clever, brave single by a manufactured pop band that, for once, are in complete control of what they’re doing.

4) Haim – The Wire
Danielle Haim sings like she's got the hiccups and it's glorious. But on The Wire all three Haim sisters got the chance to shine. Each of them admits they bottled it when some guy told them "I love you". Poor some guy.

3) Zedd ft Foxes – Clarity
A tidal wave. A supernova. A bloody great pop song. Yeah, so the lyrics are mostly nonsense ("A clock ticks 'til it breaks your glass and I drown in you again??") but, oh my God, that chorus is a force of nature.

2) Lorde – Royals
They say a genius is just the first person who dares to say something everyone else is thinking. By that token, Lorde's decision to write a lyric that said: "Hold on, every single bloody recording artist on the planet, I've suddenly realised I don't care about how many diamond chains you own, ok bye" made her the biggest pop genius in 2013.

1) Duke Dumont ft A*M*E - Need U (100%)
It sounded like a classic the first time I heard it, and it still sounds like a classic now. An snappy, irresistible nugget of handbag house it was arguably responsible for a major 1990s revival in 2013, so we can hold Duke Dumont responsible for next year's inevitable Whigfield comeback. Until then, I defy you not to dance to this.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Songs you may have missed: Santa Claus edition


I'm about to wrap up the blog for 2013, with just the annual Top 10s to come between now and New Year (unless something ridiculous happens like, say, Adele suddenly releasing a 24-track video album recorded on the moon with a backing band of hamsters on Boxing Day). So, for one last time, here's a round-up of songs you may have missed, interspersed with a few festive favourites.

1) James Brown - Go Power At Christmas Time
Not a sleigh bell in sight, but it's still a big shiny bauble of brilliance.

2) Busta Rhymes - Thank You ft. Q-Tip, Kanye West, Lil Wayne
Q-Tip and Busta have a long history of top-drawer collaborations, starting way back with A Tribe Called Quest's Scenario in 1992. Their latest, from Busta's forthcoming album E.L.E. 2 (Extinction Level Event 2), is no exception.

Based around a sample from Alicia Meyer's I Want To Thank You, it also features verses from Kanye and Lil Wayne who, frankly, sound a little intimidated by the competition.

And if you want more of the same, Busta and Q-Tip have just put out a free, collaborative mixtape, The Abstract and the Dragon, which is available here.

3) Disclosure - Help Me Lose My Mind (SOHN Remix)
If you thought Disclosure's Help Me Lose My Mind was minimalist before, wait til you hear what London-Austrian producer SOHN has done with it.

His hushed, stripped-back production makes a virtue of Hannah Reid's choral vocals, drawing you deeper and deeper inside the song as it unfurls like ink in water.

4) Kate Bush - December Will Be Magic Again
"Oh Saint NICK-o-lass, Up the CHIM-en-eee." Totally amazing.

5) Grouplove - Ways To Go
Grouplove are basically the indie-pop Scissor Sisters and this song, which has featured in an advert for GoPro cameras, looks like it'll be their breakthrough hit.

The video, in which a young Kim Yong-Un becomes a fan of the band and starts wearing Hawaiian shirts around Pyongyang, is a must-see:

6) Blood Orange - You're Not Good Enough (Holy Ghost bootleg)
Poor Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange, aka Lightspeed Champion) lost everything - even his pet dog Cupid - in a New York apartment fire this week. The letter he published about the devastation ("It's my life. It's everything I've ever owned... loved... it's all gone") will break your heart.

At one point, he talks about going back on tour to give his life a sense of normality. I'm not sure that's wise - but whatever works...

In the meantime, handing over some cash for the music he's made could help him get back on his feet. Thankfully, that includes such classics as Solange's True EP, MKS's Flatlines and Sky Ferreira's Eveything Is Embarrassing and this, his new single, remixed by DFA's Holy Ghost. It's terrific.

7) Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You
Next time someone tells you "well, of course, objectively speaking Fairytale Of New York is the best Christmas song ever written" put this on at full blast and tell them to get a grip.

8) Angel Haze - A Tribe Called Red
Furious, thrilling, magnificent.

9) Vance Joy - Riptide
This was a huge hit in Australia earlier in the year, and I can see it doing the same in the UK in 2014.

Jammed full of pop culture references (Midnight Cowboy and Michelle Pfeiffer to name a few) it also carries a shrewd lyrical observation in the chorus: "I love you when you're singing that song - and I get a lump in my throat cause you're gonna sing the words wrong."

Warning: Riptide is a little bit like the Lumineers' Ho Hey played on a ukelele, so steer clear if that's the sort of thing to make you want to rip apart a cushion.

10) Otis Redding - Merry Christmas Baby
"Santa came down the chimney
Half past three y'all
Left only my good old present
For my baby and for me

The sound of a man in the recording studio after one too many sherries.

Hmm, looking back at it, that's quite an eclectic mix of styles and genres. Well done for getting to the end. And have wonderful Christmas, one and all, wherever you are.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Little Mix do their best #seriousface

The video for Little Mix's new single Little Me has arrived with a hefty plonk on the internet. It's ballad time, so the band have gone monochrome and pulled their best seriousfaces.

Jade - Thoughtful

Jesy - Moody

Leigh-Anne - Pouty

Oh, Perrie

Hilariously juxtaposed screen-grabs aside, the video is actually quite moving, with several little vignettes and soundbites from the children and teenagers who the song's "be strong, be yourself" message is aimed.

Little Mix - Little Me

If the song sounds familiar to you, that's because it's based on Gabriel Fauré's 19th Century masterpiece Pavane in F-sharp minor, Op. 50. - itself based on a sixteenth-century processional court dance, which is thought to have originated in Italy.

So if it hits number one, it'll officially be the oldest record to top the UK singles chart (probably: to be honest, I didn't bother to check).

Here's the original, in case you're interested.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Listen: Clare Maguire's Jarvis Cocker-penned new single

At least, I think it's Clare Maguire... My brain keeps insisting it's a long-lost Dionne Warwick recording.

Clare Maguire - Half Hearted Love

Simply stunning. Particularly that battle-scarred lyric: "You don’t want a lover. You just want someone to leave."

And if you pay a quick visit to Clare's Soundcloud page, I think you'll agree her new album is shaping up to be one of the most accomplished, heart-wrenching records of the 2014.


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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Video: Eminem ft Rihanna - The Monster

Better late than never, eh?

Relased this morning, six weeks after it went to number one, here is the video for Eminem's The Monster. Like a lot of the material Marhsall Mathers LP 2, it takes a trip down memory lane, recreating scenes from 8 Mile, The Way I Am, and Eminem's Grammy performance with Elton John. (Rihanna is there, too, wearing an unusually demure wardrobe.)

In the end, Eminem comes face-to-face with his former, drug-addled self, locked in a cage and surrounded by security guards, and chooses to turn his back and walk away (SPOILERS!). As metaphors go, it's not exactly subtle.

Eminem ft Rihanna - The Monster

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Must listen: Foxes - Holding On To Heaven

With Youth going to number 12 earlier this month, professional Zooey Deschanel impersonator Foxes has cleared the "featured artist" hurdle and established herself as a fully-fledged solo artist.

This is good news, because her solo album has been sitting around for a while waiting for a good excuse to release it. The singer gave an enlightening interview on the subject to Fiasco in October, saying: "I'm really grateful I've been allowed to have this slow burn because it's made me so more prepared. If I'd put the album out last year I would have freaked out and shaved all my hair off."

She continued: "There was definitely a feeling at some point of people looking at it and thinking it should be a pop album, or go down that route because Clarity did so well, but I definitely stood my ground and said absolutely not."

"I do consider it a pop album," she clarified, "but it's not shamelessly mainstream."

So there you have it.

While we wait for the album to arrive in Q1 next year, Foxes has released a lyric video for her "baby, please don't go" power ballad Holding On To Heaven. Shot during a promo trip to New York City last month, it's got a stadium-sized chorus and an amazing arms-aloft breakdown in the middle 8. Surprisingly, for such a strong song, it's not even pencilled in to be her next single: That would be Let Go For Tonight, which is out on 23rd February.

If you're jettisoning this sort of material as a buzz track, imagine how great the album is going to be. IMAGINE.

Foxes - Holding On To Heaven

NB: Holding On To Heaven is now available as a free download on iTunes. Yippee!

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Nina Nesbitt and the art of the self portrait

As Lily Allen knows only too well, it's very hard to write a pop song about a cultural phenomenon and not sound like a disinterested media studies student who's cribbed some "really deep opinions" from their dad's copy of G2.

So congratulations to Nina Nesbitt, who's taken on the cultural phenomenon of selfies and come out of it unscathed. She manages to be self-deprecating and witty - making some penetrating observations on instagram's "look-at-me-I'm-so-lonely" behaviour without being preachy and pompous.

"I'll post it up in black and white
with a depressing quote on my life
so you can feel my pain

But, look, what really matters is that Selfies is a great little pop song. The production is much more strident and confident than anything on Nina's early EPs; and the lolloping beat reminds me equally of Roar and So You Want To Be A Boxer. How can that be a bad thing?

Nina Nesbitt - Selfies

Selfies is taken from Nina's debut album, Peroxide, which is out next year

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Here is a new video for Chloe Howl's Rumour

"I'm really struggling to picture a world where I listen to anything other than BEYONCÉ from now on," wrote Chloe Howl on Twitter two days ago.

While I'm inclined to agree, you should utilise any downtime to watch Chloe's new video for Rumour. As mentioned before in these hallowed corridors, it's a smart, narrative song about being wary of gossip, and why young people should be allowed to make mistakes. It's sung by a woman in a bow tie, so presumably it's based on experience.

After her recent nomination for the Brits Critics' Choice award, Chloe's given the track a fresh lick of paint (and added some nice new synth parts, for good measure). There's a video too, which is what The Hunger Games would look like, if The Hunger Games was set during a chess tournament which it isn't but what of it?

Chloe Howl - Rumour

Rumour is out in the new year, release date fans.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Songs you may have missed: A Beyonce goes "boo" special

Damn you, Beyonce, for leaping out from behind a curtain and putting a new album on iTunes while I was on the bus to work. I can't download 17 videos on a 3G connection, you know. What sort of price plan do you think I'm on over here?

So now I'm stuck in the office watching 30-second YouTube clips of your presumed masterpiece, while everyone else is saying "I like the one where she flips her hair". I want to see the hair flipping, too. What a disaster.

Anyway, here is a playlist of those clips for the similarly iTunes-deprived, and some other songs you may have missed over the last seven days.

1) Beyonce - Beyonce video collection
See above. She's so pretty.

2) Lorde - No Better
Remember when Lorde sang "I can be your Queen Bee" and everyone thought it was a sly dig at Beyonce? Well, what are they going to say now she's released a surprise new single, hours after Beyonce's album dropped? Naughty Girl [wait - isn't that the name of a Beyonce track too? Damn!]

No Better appeared on iTunes this morning and, to be honest, is better than some of the stuff on Lorde's debut album. As woozy and drowsy as it was unexpected.

3) Tinie Tempah - Lover Not A Fighter
The best song by far on Tinie's second album, Demonstration, the cracking Lover Not A Fighter sounds exactly like Discovery-era Daft Punk (in particular, the breakdown from Digital Love).

Lyrically, it finds Mr Okogwu on top comedy form, rapping about how he went from sitting "on the settee eating a tin of spaghetti" to sleeping with his old teacher, the perv.

4) Daft Punk - Instant Crush
This is the Daft Punk one where Julian Casablancas from The Strokes does his best Metal Mickey impression.

One of my favourite songs on Random Access Memories, the video is a rather underwhelming riff on Night At The Museum, with Julian not really sure how to reconcile his rock star moves with the fragile melancholy robot larynx.

5) Britney Spears - Perfume
Basically, the only track worth downloading from the new Britney Spears smash album (in with a bullet at number 34).

Fun fact: Perfume is written by Sia.

6) Lea Michelle - Cannonball
Damien Rice floated like a cannonball. Now Lea Michelle (out of Glee) flies like a cannonball. I don't think they're that familiar with cannonballs.

Fun fact: Cannonball is written by Sia.

7) Ella Eyre - Love Me Like You
Another track from Ella's forthcoming Deeper EP, this one is produced by smoking-hot London producers Two Inch Punch. Like the title track, Love Me Like You is a subdued smoky take on the sound she perfected with Rudimental. Or, as The Fader put it, like Cee-Lo got Lauryn Hill to sing on a garage track.

Right, that's your lot. I'm off to see if I can find a forgiving wifi connection.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

People really like Duke Dumont's new single

This is popping up everywhere today, so allow me to join the deafening chorus of applause for blurry-faced dance producer Duke Dumont and his new single I Got U.

Following up the Grammy-nominated Need U (100%) Duke (if that is in fact his name) ramps up the house vibes with a chunky piano riff that - just about - gets away with stealing the chord sequence from Daft Punk's One More Time. It also features steel drums. Steel drums!

Here's what other people had to say:

:: "Radio-friendly and iPod-worthy" [The Frontliner]

:: "Almost certainly going to be a massive hit." [Harderbloggerfaster]

:: "Duke Dumont is on an absolute killing spree right now" [the hopefully euphemistic Purple Sneakers]

:: "Sounds like something out of the Lion King" [Will Howath on Soundcloud]

:: "It's got some Whitneyisms in it" [Popjustice - noting the sample from My Love Is Your Love around the 1'00" mark]

:: "He's riding the pop gravy train, and good for him." [Pump The Beat]

:: "I love this guy wish I cold ser him live in concert." [A YouTube User]

The song premiered on Annie Mac's Radio One show, which is why the "radio rip" below features about two minutes of dicking about before you get to hear the full song. Annoying, but worth it.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Say Lou Lou have made a stunning video for Better In The Dark

I mentioned Say Lou Lou and their epic Scandipop single Better In The Dark last month. Now, with the 30th December release date fast approaching, they have made a video to go with it.

According to the press release says, the clip "explores the bands' darker side and comes across like a fantastically stylish b-movie". Ignoring the misplaced apostrophe, the sentence translates as: "We took lingering shots of people draped across each other in the aftermath of an epic party. Plus mirrors. Lots and lots of mirrors".

I'm pretty sure hangovers aren't as glamorous as the band are making out, but the gorgeous photography perfectly evokes their single's aching melancholy: "It feels better in the dark / I feel closer to your heart, nothing can come between us".

Top marks all round.

Say Lou Lou - Better In The Dark

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St Vincent goes for the double groove

Back when vinyl was a viable musical format, instead of something you hung on your wall, there used to be a thing called a multiple groove. When you dropped the needle onto the record, it chose one of two (or more) paths, each containing a different recording.

Kate Bush did it on her Sensual World 12” – fans either got a vocal version or an instrumental, apparently at random. M’s Pop Muzik had a double groove with an entirely different song (M Factor) as the alternative cut, allowing the label to say it came with “the B side on the A side”.

In the regimented zeroes and ones of the iTunes era, there's no real equivalent of the multiple groove – but I’ve just come across a song that sounds like two songs being played at once. And I mean that as a good thing.

Birth In Reverse comes from Texan singer St Vincent, who’s been refining her home-brew of brain-melting guitars and off-kilter rhythms over three albums. Her fourth has been recorded with the help of Homer Steinweiss, drummer for the Dap-Kings (and therefore Amy Winehouse), giving it an earthy, funky edge that’s previously eluded her.

"I knew the groove needed to be paramount," says St Vincent, who’s neither a real Saint nor a real Vincent (she’s called Annie Clark). "I wanted to make a party record you could play at a funeral."

Accordingly, this would sit well next to Arcade Fire’s Reflektor on your end of year playlist. Recommended.

St Vincent - Birth In Reverse

If you're reading this in 2014, you can get a free download of the song on St Vincent's website. Otherwise, just buy the album (if such a thing still exists).

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When is a supergroup not a supergroup?

When I first clicked on this video, I was expecting a new song by Denmark's . As it played out, I thought to myself, "This is incredible. How on earth did she manage to get Katy Perry, Ella Eyre and Jessie Ware to lipsync to this song?"

It slowly dawned on me that this was a different Mo. They're a British trio, Frankee, Nadine and Annie, who rose from the embers of two girl bands - Duchess and "I Left My Heart In Tokyo" hitmakers Mini Viva.

They're a little more sleek and urban than their provenance would suggest. On Ya, the single you're about to hear, reminds me of 90s R&B trios Jade and SWV. It's good enough to fill the void until the Katy/Ella/Jessie supergroup (aka "Peyreryware") finally arrives.

MO - On Ya

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Big song: Clean Bandit - Rather Be

Last time we met Clean Bandit, it was with Mozart's House, a song 100% as terrible as the title made it sound. Mixing techno beats with Mozart's String Quartet No. 21 it was only a "c'mon everybody" short of Jive Bunny Does Hooked On Classics.

So it's a pleasant surprise to discover the quartet's new single is an utter corker. Yes, they're still banging on about "electric chamber music" but Rather Be (co-written by Jimmy Napes, who helped Disclosure come up with Latch) uses the strings to enhance and counterpoint the melody, provided by up-and-comer Jess Glynne.

Zane Lowe chose it as the Hottest Record In The World on Wednesday night. And if you're seduced by its skipping, soaring structure, it's out now on "the iTunes".

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Giorgio Moroder remixes Haim's Forever

"I wanted to do a album with the sound of the '50s, the sound of the '60s, of the '70s and then have a sound of the future. And I said, 'Wait a second...I know the synthesizer – why don't I use the synthesizer which is the sound of the future?' And I didn't have any idea what to do, but I knew I needed a click so we put a click on the 24 track which then was synched to the Moog Modular. I knew that it could be a sound of the future but I didn't realise how much the impact it would be." - Giorgio Moroder

"Oh my God, Lionel Richie. I’m going to cry. If he fucking plays "Hello" I will cry. I will make a weird, clay head in the shape of Lionel Richie and throw it on stage." - Alana Haim

Four of the greatest musical minds of the early 21st Century have melded, via this remix, where Giorgio Moroder puts his sticky vocodered fingers all over Haim's old-but-new single Forever.

I don't think it could possibly have turned out any better than it has.

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An excellent Tegan & Sara remix

Cast your mind back to December 2011. We Found Love was in the top 10; Little Mix were about to win the X Factor; Azealia Banks was still considered a thing.

Around that time, I also happened across a new singer called That Girl With Dark Eyes - real name Tiffany Garrett Sotomayor - who had been recording some very interesting pop music with Pascal Gabriel of Goldfrapp and Ladyhawke and Blondie fame. Half Spanish, half American, she was recording in France, using synths made in Japan. It was very exciting from an international relations perspective.

Such is the lugubrious pace of the music business that TGWDE is only just getting ready to release her first official EP. A video, Lonely As A Wolf, is due to premiere on the internet (how modern) later this month. BUT FIRST, here is a remix she has done of Tegan & Sara's Closer.

TGWDE gets out her magic duster and polishes an already shiny song to a blinding gleam. It's a clever, subtle reworking - a few more synth pads here, a little funky riff there - but it pinpoints why we should be getting excited about her solo material. Here's a woman that really understands how to fine-tune a pop song.

Listen below, and download it for free on TGWDE's Soundcloud page.

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Seven ways to put on a jacket

Last night, I dreamt I'd been asked to write a feature with the headline: Seven Ways To Put On A Jacket.

I managed to think of three, including "normal", "zipping it up and pulling it over your head like a sweater", and "the Martin Sheen".

In the office, someone suggested the "hairdresser manoeuvre" (invariably ending in a tangled spaghetti of limbs and sleeves) while on Twitter, a friendly PR company pointed out the "fliperoo".

That leaves two. Anyone got any suggestions? Otherwise I can feel that Pulitzer Prize slipping through my fingers.

Anyway, I'm not the only one who's been dreaming weird stuff. Kiwi pop sensation Lorde has even turned her latest reverie into a pop video. As you can imagine, her night visions contain a smidgen more teenage angst than mine. As she explained on Facebook:

"This video was borne from a dream I had a few months ago about teenagers in their own world, a world with hierarchies and initiations, where the boy who was second in command had acne on his face, and so did the girl who was Queen.

I dreamt about this world being so different to anything anyone had ever seen, a dark world full of tropical plants and ruins and sweat. And of this world, I dreamt about tests that didn’t need to be passed in order to be allowed in: sometimes the person who loses is stronger. Enjoy.

Crikey. In the end, the video is basically a mash-up of Lord Of The Flies and the bizarre, lighthouse-based Australian kids' show Round The Twist. It's not great but the song, Team, contains my favourite ennui-soaked lyric from Lorde's rich catalogue of ennui-soaked lyrics: "I'm kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air. So there."

Out in February, but you can get the album now.

Lorde - Team

PS: Check out Lorde's Top 10 singles of 2013. Some excellent choices...

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

New Sam Smith: Money On My Mind

Silver-voiced songsmith Sam Smith has come a long way since he wrote his first song (a Christmas Carol) aged 10.

As covered ad nauseam already on these pages, he's been the voice of Disclosure's Latch and Naughty Boy's La La La. I was pleased to see him get a nod on the BBC's Sound Of 2014 longlist yesterday - although I can understand why people feel cheated, since he's already got two major chart hits under his belt.

After his first EP - which included the gorgeous ballad Nirvana and the scorching hot Safe With Me - Money On My Mind is set to be his proper, proper debut single in February next year. Produced by Two Inch Punch, the song is both a reaction to his success, and a statement of intent: "When I signed my deal, I felt pressure," he sings, but "I don't have money on my mind. I do it for the love".

Lofty ambitions - and as long as he doesn't make a habit out of those disturbingly squeaky "Mika moments" in the chorus, there's every possibility 2014 could be his year.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Lady Gaga duets with Kermit and other songs you may have missed

Unusual to start the week with this feature - but everything goes topsy-turvy in the run-up to Christmas. Here's a selection of clips and cuts you might have passed over in recent days.

1) Lady Gaga and Kermit - Gypsy
Lady Gaga's Thanksgiving special with the Muppets was (sadly, predictably) a curate's egg. You'd think that Gaga, a woman who spends most of her life looking like a Muppet, would have better chemistry with her fuzzy friends - but the programme had as much fizz as a sherbet dip in the rain.

This moment was quite lovely, though - Kermit duetting with a frightwigged Gaga on Artpop highlight Gypsy. That frog has amazing harmonies. Who knew?

2) Jose Gonzalez - Step Out
Surprising, in a good way, Jose Gonzalez has gone RAWK for his new single. Written by Ryan Adams, and lifted from Ben Stiller's new movie The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, it features a rollicking drum track and a children's choir. More like this, please.

3) Ella Eyre - Deeper
With that corkscrew curl, Ella Eyre is the most recognisable singer on the BBC's Sound Of 2014 longlist (which was unveiled this morning). You'll know her as the voice of Rudimental's Waiting All Night, and her debut single, which I first mentioned a couple of weeks back, now has a video. Think Strictly Ballroom set in the EastEnders cafe and you'll get the idea.

4) The Stepkids - Sweet Salvation
Spin magazine called The Stepkids' unique brand of music "Yacht-Funk Jazz". I don't know what that means, but I fell in love with this single the minute I heard it on Mary Ann Hobbs' 6 Music show this weekend.

Polyrhythmic and unpredictable, it's the sound of Metronomy covering Prince after a couple of glasses of Pear Cider. Lush.

5) Sophie Ellis Bextor - Young Blood
The more I hear this, the deeper it works its way into my brain. Such a gorgeous melody - I suspect this will become a lot of couples' "our song" in years to come.

6) Ulla Nova - Kid From London
I'm always a little nervous when a new act makes a big deal about being "mysterious" and "anonymous". What if it's Cliff Richard trying to get back on the Radio One playlist? But if the song is good enough, old jingle balls deserves it. And this is a great song.

The "artist" is Ulla Nova, a Londoner who wears big hats to disguise her face, and makes swooping synthpop that competes with all of Sweden for euphoric choruses. And if it is Sir Clifford, he's really changed his vocal style. Kudos.

How's that for a start to the week? Not bad, eh. And not a Christmas song amongst them. Bah, humbug, etc.

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