Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Daniel Radcliffe raps Blackalicious' Alphabet Aerobics... perfectly

From Gandalf in a George Ezra video to Harry Potter perfectly performing one of the trickiest, fastest (and best) rap songs of all time... The blog has gone all fantasy role-play today.

This performance is lifted from last night's Jimmy Fallon show in the US - where Daniel Radcliffe joined The Roots to show off his rap skills on a 100% live cover of Alphabet Aerobics, originally a collaboration between Blackalicious and Jurassic 5's Cut Chemist in 1999.

I didn't see this coming, but (wizard) hats off - it's amazing.

And, for comparison, here's the original.

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Watch Ian McKellen lip-syncing to George Ezra's new single

Well, as celebrity cameos in music videos go, this certainly trumps a guest spot from Nicki Minaj.

It's only bloody Gandalf, hamming it up beside George Ezra in the video for Listen To The Man, the fourth single from his chart-topping album Wanted On Voyage.

The set-up is reminiscent of "Waiting For Godot", as Ian McKellen plonks down beside our deep-voiced troubador on a stage, empty except for a bus stop, a park bench and a backdrop. But this isn't an existential experiment in the theatre of nothing - it's more like Morecambe & Wise in one of their musical stand-offs.

"He [Ian] just keeps butting in and pissing me off," Ezra told the Mirror earlier this month. "And stealing the camera. In real life, I hate being on camera but in the video, that frustrates me.

"It was nerve-racking trying to act beside him. I’m not an actor, and he’s phenomenal."

Even if this wasn't a good song (which it is) this would be worth four minutes of your day. But imagine how much better it would have been if Nicki Minaj had turned up too...

George Ezra - Listen To The Man

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monsieur Adi remixes Lana Del Rey's Brooklyn Baby

And the results are spectacular.

That is all.

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Mary J Blige's London Sessions continue to impress

Mary J Blige loves London. She loves London so much that the "J" now stands for "jolly good". And the latest track from her London Sessions album is jolly good, too.

But here's the strange thing - even though Therapy was written with Baron Samuel Terence Mountjoy Smithington III (pictured above), the bluesy, doo-wop and backing track sounds much more American than anything else she's previewed from the record.

Lyrically, too, her stiff upper lip has started to wobble. "Why would I spend the rest of my days unhappy... when I can go to therapy two times a day?" sings Mary, in a most unbecoming manner. She sounds far too excitable for polite society, wailing and cussing like a lady's maid having an attack of the vapors. Tsk Tsk.

Good song, though.

Mary J Blige - Therapy

Therapy is one of those "instant gratification" tracks, so you can own it today if you pre-order The London Sessions on iTunes. Or just listen to it on YouTube like I just did.

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Video: OK Go - I Won't Let You Down

At this point, I feel like we should just appoint OK Go as the visual directors of every Olympic, World Cup and Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, as well as Presidential Inauguration and Coronation from now right through to 2050.

Someone else can take care of the music, though.

OK Go - I Won't Let You Down

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Willow Smith is back - and sounding like a cross between Drake and Jill Scott

No-one born in the year 2000 should be allowed to release music yet, let alone music called "Female Energy", but I suppose if your dad is Will Smith some of the boundaries get blurred.

So here she is, "Whip My Hair" hitmaker Willow Smith with a surprisingly supine slice of late night R&B called Female Energy. The first thing you'll notice is that, for a 13-year-old, her command of her voice is astonishing. By turns she sounds weary, thoughtful, cynical, croaky, dismissive and mature. Ok, four of those qualities are common to all teenagers, but how many can convey that into a vocal performance?

The cod-mystic lyrics, on the other hand, aren't so great: "I bet you have questions, like where did I come from? I come from the planets," she coos as the track begins. Later, when she describes "conversing with our bodies", you have to pray that her dad isn't listening.

Oh, and if you didn't think this was precocious enough, it was entirely improvised.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Taylor Swift sings on a street and 12 other songs you may have missed

The "Songs You May Have Missed" post is often my favourite thing to write all week. It's simply a collection of songs I've stumbled across and filed away - some I'm still evaluating, others are too insubstantial for a standalone article, but they've all made my pop radar go ping. Some of the artists may disappear forever, but it's a good way to summarise my listening and the perennial quest to find new and exciting things.

Anyway, here's this week's collection. As always, I'd be interested to hear what you think in the comments field or over on twitter.

1) Taylor Swift - Out Of The Woods / Shake It Off (live)
In the same week that Taylor Swift topped Canada's iTunes chart with eight seconds of white noise (yes, really) she appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's chat show to promote her new album 1989. And she promoted the heck out of it.

This performance, which shut down Hollywood Boulevard, is a proper pop moment.

2) Kiesza - No Enemiesz
At the outer reaches of her vocal register Kiesza sounds like a cross between Kermit and Miss Piggy, but you can't fault her for sheer effervescence.

The dancing in this video is carefree and joyous - which makes the soft-core pay-off all the more unnecessary.

3) Tulisa - Living Without You
I was pretty dismissive of Fergie and Gwen Stefani's underwhelming comeback singles last week, so it's refreshing to hear someone else claw their way out of the dumper after a protracted (and traumatic) period out of the limelight with something that sounds like a hit.

Of course Tulisa benefits from the gift of low expectations - but she sounds confident, hungry and (unlike the other two) current on this track, which utilises her husky vocals to great effect. Fans of Kiesza may notice a few similarities, though... See above if you doubt me.

4) Leon Bridges - Better Man / Coming Home
Leon Bridges hails from Fort Worth, Texas, where NASA has one of its big research centres, so it's not inconceivable that was beamed from the 1950s to the 21st Century in some sort of freak gamma ray accident.

Otherwise, how do you explain these recordings, which sound exactly as if they were ripped out of Sam Cooke's hands and smuggled into the future? Gorgeous music, and free to download via Soundcloud.

5) Bauuer ft AlunaGeorge - One Touch
Whisper it, but this collaboration is better than AlunaGeorge's own comeback record. Chopped-up, wonky pop with a weirdly infectious hook.

Unusually, the song came from a list of unreleased tracks that Baauer posted on his Facebook page last week, telling fans he'd release the one they liked best. You can't fault their judgment.

6) The Veronicas - Line Of Fire
A filthy, low-slung groove marks The Veronica's return to electropop after the devastating balladry of You Ruin Me.

7) The Veronicas - You Ruin Me (live)
Speaking of which, this X Factor Australia performance is a keeper.

8) r.e.l - Plateau
"Time's slipping away from me," sings Arielle Sitrick with earnest urgency on this lush, hushed indie-pop gem. Maybe it's a strange thing for a 19-year-old to come out with, but when you read the lyrics - about a stalled relationship - you begin to understand her desire to get on with life.

The track is taken from her soon-to-be-released debut EP, which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign to the tune of $8,000. Not bad, eh?

9) One Bit - Not About You
Clearly inspired by Disclosure, this Hertfordshire duo were plucked from BBC Radio 1's Introducing Strand and given a few plays on the daytime schedule last week. It's not difficult to see why - this economic dance track is smart, slick and soulful.

10) One Direction - Steal My Girl
One Direction have done the "video directors are morons" plotline before but, in true boyband tradition, why ditch a successful formula? This time, the video comes with added Danny DeVito and, to be fair, the parody of music video tropes is completely on the money. I laughed twice.

11) Seinabo Sey - Pistols at Dawn
Haunting song, chilling video.

12) Rita Ora - Grateful
Rita Ora's break-up with Calvin Harris seems to have delayed her second album, what with his decision to pull all of his songs from her album in the aftermath.

Still, this soundtrack ballad from the pen of Diane "Don't Want To Miss A Thing" Warren should help shift a few copies when it finally comes out. Diane certainly has confidence in the track: "Rita Ora did an amazing vocal," she told Billboard. "I think it can be a career song for her. It shows a whole different side to her and I'm hoping we get to... see her sing it on the Oscars next year!"

To be fair, it's pretty good.

If you made it this far, thanks for sticking around. Hope you found one or two new favourites. If not, send me suggestions for next week's roundup!

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Here's a new Iggy Azalea song

After the big pop hooks of Fancy and Black Widow, it's interesting to hear Iggy Azalea doing a stripped-back, beats and lyrics hip-hop track again.

Iggy Szn (it's pronounced Iggy Season) is taken from a "repack" of the Aussie star's debut album The New Classic. Rather than the usual "one new single and a bunch of bonus tracks that weren't good enough first time around" deal, this is an altogether stranger affair, keeping all of the hits and substituting everything else with new songs.

Could this be a new business model for the music industry - release your debut album, see what tracks people like, then replace the duds every six months until you end up with a Greatest Hits collection in four years' time. How amazing would that be?

Whether Iggy Szn will make it onto Azalea's theoretical best of in 2018 remains to be seen. But for now, as a stop-gap blog post on a Thursday night, it's worth a listen.

Iggy Azalea - Iggy Szn

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Ever fallen in love with a song you shouldn't have fallen in love with?

Don't you hate it when a terrible band releases a stunning single, and you have to re-evaluate everything you ever thought about them?

It happens to me with alarming regularity. In the middle of an endless stream of hoary old plod-rock, the Stereophonics released Dakota, a song so nimble and sexy it literally smacked my gob. Linkin Park's What I've Done was the unexpected highlight of my Guitar Hero repertoire. And I have had to make peace with the fact the Olly Murs' Troublemaker is, in fact, not completely shit.

But these aren't guilty pleasures. They are actual pleasures. And conclusive proof that that the infinite monkeys theory applies to music.

Now I can add Cobra Starship to my list. You may remember them for their limited vocal range and mid-ranking chart hits like Good Girls Go Bad. Or perhaps not. Either way, here they are with a new single that redeems their career in one fell swoop.

The fact that Never Been In Love is co-written and co-sung by Icona Pop might explain the sudden turnaround. Based around a descending piano riff that's legally distinguishable from Praise You, it features a giddy set of "na na nas"; a ramshackle tambourine loop; and the brilliantly questionable lyric: "when you leave, it's like the Titanic / I split up into pieces in the Atlantic". Crikey.

The question is: Does this rescue Cobra Starship's reputation? Or is the featured artist doing all the heavy lifting (technically known as the Bryan Adams and Mel C effect)?

I'm afraid it's the latter, as the Swedish bits stand out like a sore thumb at a hitchhikers' convention. But when the song is this stupid and enjoyable, who cares?

7/10 in a trashy Christmas Party kind of way.

Cobra Starship - Never Been In Love (ft Icona Pop)

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Video breakdown: Gwen Stefani

If I'm not mistaken, this is an awful migraine of a video.

Let's have a look "in detail".

:: Opening scene: Gwen is posing for a classy magazine or something. We can tell it's classy because it's black and white. But - heavy symbolism alert - the black and white also tells us Gwen is down in the dumps about her lying boyfriend, whom she will discuss at length over the next three minutes.

:: Suddenly, Gwen is swept away in a cyclone of her lyrics, which must be terribly inconvenient. The cyclone whisks her to a garish technicolor CGI-scape and deposits her atop a big yellow road. Essentially, then, this video is The Wizard Of Oz, recreated as a horribly pixellated Flash video from 2003.

:: Gwen walks along the yellow brick road. Except she isn't really walking along the road at all, she's on a treadmill in front of a green screen and the road will be added later. The end result is that Gwen looks like she's forgotten how to use her legs properly.

:: This happens for some reason.

:: Oops! Gwen has forgotten to turn on her product placement telephone.

:: Oops! Gwen has forgotten to wear her product placement headphones.

:: There is now some extremely lacklustre dancing in a storm drain. I don't know why we're suddenly in a storm drain, but that's where we've ended up. Perhaps I missed the storm drain segment in The Wizard of Oz. Does it come after the Munchkin song? It's a long film and I may have dozed off.

:: This bit is pretty good, though. Like an M.I.A. video without all the shouting and lip curling.

:: Gwen is swept up by the cyclone, which returns her to the photo shoot.

:: But, and this is probably important, it's in colour now.

:: Closing scene: The entire incident leaves Gwen with stomach cramps.

What a story! What a resolution! What an eyesore! What a waste of three minutes!

Here it is again with moving pictures, if you need to see for yourself.

Gwen Stefani - Baby Don't Lie

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Ones to watch: Ekkah

If like me you've already worn a hole in your new Jessie Ware CD, then this should fill the gap until the next Amazon delivery.

Rebecca Wilson and Rebekah Pennington are two friends from Birmingham trading under the name Ekkah (you can see what they did etc, etc) whose exquisite debut single, Figure It Out, was featured on the blog back in May.

Their new single is called Last Chance To Dance, and it captures those euphoric-but-desperate last moments on the dancefloor before the doors open and the club vomits you into the yellow night to find a cab and a sorry bag of soggy chips.

As the Jessie Ware comparison would suggest, it's slinky, perfectly executed, low-key funk. Exactly the sort of thing I'd hoped the Mutya Keisha Siobhan reunion would produce before it collapsed like a souffle in a black hole.

PS: Ekkah are touring with Jess "her off the good Clean Bandit single" Glynne for the rest of this month, if you want to catch them in action.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Tove Stryke & the mystery of Swedish reggae

Is there such a thing as Swedish reggae? It had never really occurred to me before I read this article, in which Stephin Merrit of the Magnetic Fields identifies it as one of pop's most underrated microgenres (he had his own stab at Sweggae, as no-one calls it, on the track It's A Crime).

Once it had been brought to my attention, I couldn't escape it. Obviously, Ace Of Base constructed an entire career out of reggae's elastic rhythms and europop's plastic melodies. But there's also Robyn's Dancehall Queen and Abba's Sitting In The Palm Tree - which is the nadir of their career, but that's a discussion for another time.

Abba - Sitting In The Palm Tree

Laura Engberg represented Sweden with a Caribbean-flavoured Eurovision entry in 1987 (although it's a stretch to call it reggae) and the country even has a bona fide reggae star - Peps Persson, who Bob Marley called the only white man with reggae in his blood.

Peps Persson - Oh Boy!

I wonder if anyone can help me explain this? From the cursory research I've done, I can't see much reason for the cultural cross-pollination between Kingston and Stockholm. The island of St Bart's was briefly a Swedish colony in the 19th Century, but that's unlikely to be the source. Perhaps you could argue that the chukka-chukka rhythms of dub and reggae are a good partner for the oompah-oompah of Schlager, Sweden's prevalent form of folk music - but again the link is tenuous at best.

Whatever the reason, the advance of Sweggae (as still nobody is calling it) continues apace. The new single from pop sorcerer Tove Styrke is a bouncy, percussion-heavy track called Borderline, which leans heavily on its buoyant reggae chords to balance the strident, politically-loaded lyrics.

I called the song a "bubbling, scandipop gem" when it debuted in a "songs you may have missed" post a couple of weeks ago, and the recently-released video only makes it better.

Tove Styrke - Borderline

If you like that, check out Tove's barnstorming Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking To You, which came out earlier this year, then get yourself down to her first ever UK show on 5 November.

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Two unnecessary pop singles by artists we've largely ceased to care about

After 2012's underwhelming No Doubt comeback, a new Gwen Stefani solo album was basically guaranteed. And so here we are in 2014, with Baby Don't Lie, the first single from the star's third record.

The speaker-rattling intro immediately wrongfoots you, suggesting a pounding club track before it disappointingly gives way to a meandering midtempo blancmange. Gwen comes across as weirdly aggressive, hectoring her boyfriend to confess some wrongdoing or other. "What you hiding boy?" she repeats with increasing fury over the middle 8. I bet she started the conversation in a restaurant for maximum squirm factor.

Still, with co-writing credits from Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder and Noel Zancanella the song was never going to be an absolute stinker - and the Sophie Muller-directed video, which premieres tomorrow, is bound to be a visual treat.

On balance, then, 6/10.

Gwen Stefani - Baby Don't Lie

Also on the comeback trail this week is Fergie Whatshername out of the Black Eyed Peas, who's taken a mere eight years to record the follow-up to her debut solo album The Dutchess.

The first single, LA Love, basically picks up where she left off in 2006. It's a half-rapped, half-sung, call-and-response earworm in the vein of London Bridge. It's also one of those singles which appears to believe that singing a big list countries makes you seem (a) international and (b) a talented lyricist, when it just makes you sound like a geography teacher.

This one's more instant than the Gwen Stefani song, but more likely to diminish with repeat plays. And, curiously, Fergies's vocal cords seem to have been possessed by Iggy Azaelea.

It'll be interesting to see whether "the kids", who only know Fergie from that song off the Great Gatsby soundtrack, will give a damn about it. 5/10.

Gwen Stefani - Baby Don't Lie

Fans of unnecessary pop singles by artists long past their sell-by date will be pleased to know there's a Madonna album in the works.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

A room with a Foo

What do we want from the Foo Fighters? Invention? Innovation? Inspiration? No, silly, we want ball-busting rock songs, impeccably groomed facial hair and Dave Grohl doing his patented Dave Grohl shouting.

So, after Grohl warned their upcoming eighth album, Sonic Highways, would be the band's "most ambitious yet", it's a relief to hear the Foos haven't gone all Marcel Duchamp on us. In fact, they sound exactly like the Foos.

Something From Nothing is the album's first single, and it's one long crescendo. Opening with a hushed, distant, Stairway to Heaven riff, it builds in such a leisurely fashion they temporarily fool you into thinking they've become, well... polite young men. But with Steve Albini at the helm that was never going to be the case and the last minute is an almighty, throaty roar.

The conceit of Sonic Highways is that every song was recorded in a different studio in a different city, with a special guest dropping in to lend some local flavour (an HBO documentary accompanies each track). In Something For Nothing's case, the studio was Chicago's Electric Audio, and the star power came from Cheap Trick's guitarist, Rick Nielsen.

Grohl also throws in a few lyrical references to Chi-town. As Rolling Stone observes, the line: "Here lies a city on fire... it started with a spark, and burned into the dark" seems to be inspired by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, an incident that was also the subject of the Beach Boys' track Mrs. O'Leary's Cow.

Anyway, that's enough context, let's get to the song. It's a solid 7/10 - with the potential to gain or lose a point after 20 plays.

Foo Fighters - Something From Nothing

Bonus content: In anticipation of the single being released, the Foo Fighters popped up on David Letterman's show last night, covering Cheap Trick's Stiff Competition, with Taylor Hawkins up front while Grohl drummed and Rick Nielsen supplied the riffs. You wouldn't get this on Graham Norton...

Foo Fighters and Rick Nielsen - Stiff Competition

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Video catch-up: Kyiki

I raved about Kyiki's debut single One late last month. In the realms of dark and dreamy electropop, it's up there with Goldfrapp and The Knife.

The former Crystal Fighters singer premiered the video earlier this week and, although it's not going to set any benchmarks for visual invention, it's worth revisiting the song again.

Kyiki - One

One is a free download from Kyiki's Soundcloud page.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Video catch-up: The Staves

I wrote about The Staves' crisp, autumnal new single Blood I Bled when it premiered a month ago and age has only improved it - like a fine wine, a mature brie or Morgan Freeman's face.

Today, the band unveiled a video "inspired by an amazing trip to India". It doesn't feature Emily, Jessica or Camilla at all (unless there was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo that I blinked and missed) but it is a beautifully evocative film clip, full of sorrow, joy, euphoria, humanity and beauty. And dancing.

One of those rare instances where an entirely unrelated set of images enhances a song endlessly.

The Staves - Blood I Bled

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Songs you may have missed: Christmas release schedule special

This is the part where a dozen songs are gathered into a list and presented for your listening pleasure.

With Q4 in full swing, this week's selection is jam-packed with songs from major artists hoping to make you part ways with your Christmas pay packet. Starting with...

1) Taylor Swift - Out Of The Woods
"To all my wonderful UK fans, I realize that you are not able to get Out of the Woods due to a new strategy my record label is working on in the UK," said Taylor Swift on Tumblr, after her single was released in every other country except Britain.

Britain, coincidentally, was where she'd spent the previous week on a huge promotional tour, talking animatedly about the single she was releasing next week, suggesting the label hadn't bothered to explain their new strategy to her, and had simultaneously failed to mention that the new strategy was pulled from a big red folder called "how to entirely balls up your biggest artist's release schedule and piss everyone off in the process".

Still, thanks to the internet, you can hear it anyway. Well done, everyone.

2) Take That - These Days
The newly slimmed down Take That take a detour back to their boyband roots with this discoriffic Get Lucky tribute.

The best bit of this release was a knife-twisting Radio 2 interview where Howard brushed off the "tragic" loss of Jason Orange, saying: "Jason is the better break dancer, he's always been fantastic, but if I was gay I could never be his boyfriend because he's a bit annoying, and a bit too deep for me."


3) Calvin Harris - Slow Acid
A worrying sign that Calvin wants to be taken seriously. Luckily, this is only a pre-order wish fulfilment track and not an actual single. About as exciting as a damp flannel.

4) McBusted - Air Guitar
It's hard to hate a song that so clearly states: "Don't take me seriously, I'm just having a laugh" - but it's equally hard to love it.

That said, McBusted have turned in a solid fanbase pleaser that tips its hat to Crazy In Love (yay) and Brian May (hmm). Destined to enter the charts at number one and drop to 23 the next week, but in the best possible way.

5) David Bowie - Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)
Indebted somewhat to Scott Walker, this seven minute epic is the first track (!) on Bowie's 89th greatest hits collection, which comes out in time for Christmas. If James Bond caught Ebola, this would play over the title sequence.

6) Alesso ft Tove Lo - Heroes (We Could Be)
It feels cruel to put a song called Heroes under the previous entry. Nothing is going to fare well by comparison to Zavid Bowie's masterpiece, but that's pop for you.

This song, an entirely perfunctory EDM track, is presumably the reason why Tove Lo's debut album has been delayed in the UK. Which is fair enough, I suppose. In all likelihood, this'll creep onto the Radio 1 playlist and give her profile a boost while she's off in the US doing promo.

But if 2015 isn't Tove Lo's year in the UK I am going miffed. Miffed, I tell you.

7) Mary J Blige and Disclosure - Right Here
As previously raved about on these very pages, this collaboration is an absolute belter.

It now comes with a video that makes a huge deal about Mary J Blige actually deigning to visit London. Come on, Mary, it's hardly Aleppo.

8) Jess Glynne - Real Love
While we're on the topic of Mary J Blige, Rather Be hitmaker covered one of Mary's oldest and best songs in the Live Lounge earlier this week. She's really giving it some welly in the YouTube player freeze-frame, isn't she?

9) Jessie Ware - 12
To celebrate the release of her brilliant, downbeat, second album this week, Jessie Ware gave everyone the gift of a free download. 12 is a demo, recorded with Rhye's Robin Hannibal, that didn't make Tough Love's final tracklisting.

"This is a song for my [husband] Sam and I hope you like it," she wrote. "Play it late and go kiss someone x"

10) Embody ft A*M*E - Give Me Your Love
Everybody's favourite asterisked artist pops up on this topical deep house track. OK, it's not as slap-you-in-the-face terrific as Need U (100%) but if you can't dance to this your soul is dead. Oh, and it's a free download.

11) Paperwhite - Pieces
Naming yourself after one of Amazon's Kindle devices isn't going to help your search engine results, but you really should delve deep into Google to hear more from this Brooklyn dream-pop act.

Brother and sister Katie and Ben Marshall sound like they've digested the first 20 volumes of Now... That's What I Call Music to conjure up this blissful 80s throwback anthem. That bubbling marimba line is lifted directly from Lionel Richie's All Night Long, and the chord changes and the harmonies sound like vintage Scritti Politti.

If you only listen to one of the songs on this list, make it this one.

12) and Jimmy Fallon - Ew!
There's a recurring segment on Jimmy Fallon's US chat show, in which he and a guest dress up as teenage girls and lists the things that make them sick. Fallon plays Sara ("and if you're wondering, that's S-A-R-A, with no H, because H's are ew!") while guest stars have included Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift and Lindsay Lohan.

It's ridiculously silly - the sort of thing Trev and Simon would have done on Going Live 20 years ago - but it's gained a Wayne's World-esque cult following. And so there is now a novelty single, produced by, the teenage alter-ego of Naturally, it's the best thing he's done for years.

BLIMEY - that was quite a list. Hope you found one new favourite in amongst there. More again next week.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hip-hop track of the week: Run The Jewels

It's only Tuesday but I'm confident this is the best hip-hop track you'll hear all week - even if Kanye West Beyoncés his new album at 23:59 on Sunday.

Scratched with the glorious title Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck), it's a furiously thrilling counter-cultural bombshell from Outkast-affiliated rap duo Run The Jewels. Taking no prisoners from the outset, they lambast the Bloods, the Crips, the Police, the politicians, the army and the church (for "stripping kids... and telling them God will forgive them"). For bonus angry points it even features Rage Against The Machine's Zack de la Rocha, who practically spits out the politically-charged last verse in disgust.

Although Count Your Eyes is the third single from the duo's forthcoming second album, it's obvious the song will be a calling card for the rest of their career - something they acknowledge by making the chorus a cascading cut-up of their band name.


As reported by Rolling Stone, the Run The Jewels album (which was been made possible by crowd-funding) will be made available as a free download on 27th October.

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A new, untitled, song from Chvrches

Generationally divergent pop trio Cvrches are busy wearing out the "handclap" button on their exhaustive world tour - but that hasn't stopped them working up new material on the bus.

Their covers of the Arctic Monkeys' Do I Wanna Know, Lorde's Team and, best of all, Whitney Houston's It's Not Right But It's Ok have kept fans happy for the last 12 months. More excitingly, though, they're starting to add original songs to their setlists.

Captured live at Austin City Limits last weekend, here's a track that's so new it doesn't have an official title (the band have variously called it Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, and Eddie Murphy). The lyrics aren't entirely clear - it's either a call to revolution or a twisted tale of fucked up love or a combination of the two - but it's great even in this unpolished incarnation. Lauren singing "I would live inside you" in that fluttery falsetto sends shivers up my spine.

Chvrches - 'Richard Pryor'

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Marina and the Diamonds is back, and she's holding an apple*

I've been giving this a lot of thought and I've made a decision: Marina and the Diamonds is my favourite pop star.

:: Beyonce? Too imperious.
:: Justin Timberlake? Too long-winded.
:: Katy Perry? Too slick.
:: Robyn? Too "indie".
:: Lady Gaga? Too pretentious.

Marina blends and balances all those qualities in one perfect pop package. Oh, and she's a total fruitcake. A really scrummy fruitcake with a preternatural gift for melody, but a fruitcake nonetheless.

Before she was signed, she auditioned for an all-male reggae boyband. In one of her first videos, she grew mupppet legs and declared "we are the spoons". Another single, Obsessions, described her crippling indecision in the local supermarket's biscuit aisle. Imagine Beyonce singing that. You can't. She'd just buy all the biscuits, smash them to bits, bake them into a cheesecake and ice an empowering feminist message on top. Which is impressive, obviously, but not very relatable.

Marina's songs are irreverent, playful, occasionally juvenile and always unpredictable. In other words, she's a quintessentially British** star. So I'll take her capricious pop over the rest of them, thanks.

Especially in the light of her newest song (and title track to her third album), Froot. Released today in celebration of her 29th birthday, it's got more hooks than a butchers and the lyrics are reliably bonkers: "Baby, I am plump and ripe. I'm pinker than shepherd's delight," she warbles over a percolating electronic mist.

At five-and-a-half minutes long, it doesn't sound like a single - but it bodes well for the new material.

Welcome back, Marina. Pop was duller without you.

Marina and the Diamonds - Froot

* Two apples, in fact#
** Technically Welsh/Greek but who's checking?
# Or could they be nectarines?

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Kylie covers Bette Davis Eyes and 11 other songs you may have missed

Here you go - 11 songs that Discopop Directory forgot from the first week of October.

There are some real gems in this female-heavy edition... but I'm a little pushed for time, so its one-paragraph synopses only.

1) Kylie - Bette Davis Eyes
Recorded for Radio 2's Sound of the 80s, it's hard to imagine a better-judged cover version.

2) David Guetta ft Sam Martin - Dangerous
David Guetta is responsible for so many identikit Eurodance musical obscenities that it's easy to forget he also made Titanium and I Gotta Feeling. This new single sees him plunder the Daft Punk sample bank, and it's really rather magnificent.

3) Beyonce and Nicki Minaj - Flawless (live)
Amateur (ie shit) footage of this live collaboration has been floating around for a while, but Beyonce uploaded a professional version two nights ago. It's quite something.

4) Fiona Apple - The Container
An unreleased track dusted down for the opening titles to new US drama The Affair (starring Dominic West and Maura Tierney) this is the best adult pop theme song since Regina Spektor's You've Got Time.

6) Tove Styrke - Borderline
"I'm borderline happy and I'm borderline sad, I'm borderline good and I'm borderline bad" - a bubbling, scandipop gem from music's second-best Tove. Warning: May cause earworms.

6) Charli XCX - London Girls
Equal parts Toto Coleo, Joan Jett and Girls Aloud's theme song for Freaky Friday, this is a riotous teaser for Charli's forthcoming album, Sucker. Oi!

7) Jessie J - Burnin' Up (fr 2 Chainz)
"It's an uptempo love song that uses fire as a metaphor for lust," explains lyric website Popgenius, with unprecedented levels of insight. Personally, I'm more intrigued by Jessie's reference to "subliminal sex".

And by intrigued I mean repulsed.

8) Karen Harding - Say Something
Getting kicked out of the X Factor at the judges' houses stage last year was the best thing that ever happened to her. Co-written by MNEK, like everything else these days.

9) Oh Land - Head Up High
First single from the cheekbonally blessed Danish singer's forthcoming album, Earth Sick. Synthalicious.

10) Ibeyi - River
Signed by XL Recordings, nu-soul group Ibeyi consists of French-Cuban twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz, daugthers of the Cuban percussionist and Buena Vista Social Club member Anga Díaz. (I copied this directly from Stereogum, spelling mistakes and all, so blame them if the facts are wrong).

Judging by this Google image search, the twins were tragically born with conjoined hair, which much make their concerts interesting to watch.

11) RKCB - Elision
Fans of Jungle will get a familiar thrill from the hushed electro-funk of this track, courtesy of LA production duo RKCB. Lovely late-night stuff with impressive use of the "stereo field", for music nerds.

12) Cheryl - Only Human
I haven't been bowled over by the singles from Cheryl's fourth album but this - a pre-order giveaway - is a vast improvement. Spiralling of melody and fulsome of bass, it's one of the best things she's done across her entire solo career.

OK - that's your lot. More of the same next week.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Here's that BBC Music thing "in full"

Lorde, One Direction and Alison Balsom - together at last!

That's the pitch for the BBC's spectacularly lavish, star-studded music video / charity single / promotional campaign, which was unveiled a couple of hours ago on every BBC channel except Radio Three and BBC Parliament, which are much too posh to entertain this sort of hoi polloi.

Ostensibly, it's this year's Children In Need single - a cover of The Beach Boys' God Only Knows, performed en masse by an ensemble of en vogue superstars, from Pharrell to Dave Grohl and, somewhat inevitably, Emeli Sande. But it's also a huge flag in the sand for the new "BBC Music" brand, which aims to give the corporation's musical output equal footing to BBC News and BBC Sport. And that is the reason you get pianist (and BBC Young Musician of the Year) Martin James Bartlett rubbing shoulders with the A-list pop stars.

You might be asking why the BBC needs a brand to promote its musical endeavours? Surely everyone knows the Beeb does music exceptionally well from The Proms, to BBC Introducing to Glastonbury and even creaky old Jools Holland and his boogie woogie pianola. But no, politicians don't.

Even in an era when David Cameron loves The Smiths and Gordon Brown plays air guitar to Arctic Monkeys, MPs are endearingly clueless about "how music works" - and why Britain's pivotal role in the worlds of classical, jazz and pop can often be traced back to BBC music champions like (deep breath) Zane Lowe, Huw Stephens, Lauren Laverne, Alison Howe, Max Reinhardt and Roger Wright.

Now, it just so happens that "BBC Music" in general, and this advert in particular, are being launched as the broadcaster heads into what's rather grandly called Charter Renewal - which is basically the government telling the corporation what it can and can't do for the next decade. In previous negotiations, BBC music has often been seen as an easy target compared to news and sport. There's always someone, from any of the major parties, willing to declare, "you don't need Radio 1 when we have Magic FM," despite never listening to either.

So this sort of branding exercise is a way of neutering that message before the starting pistol is fired. And funnily enough the BBC have done it once before, with this song:

God Only Knows has a much higher budget than Perfect Day. In fact, the three-minute promo was shot over two years at Alexandra Palace (there's a great behind-the-scenes report in Creative Review, which reveals the original song choice was Iron Maiden's Phantom Of The Opera).

But where Perfect Day succeeds, and God Only Knows falters, is that it gave the singers space to put their stamp on the song.

Bono's "you just keep me hanging on" was full of Catholic remorse; Heather Small brought the gospel; and Ronan Keating's reading of "It's just a perfect day" was so deadened and bleak it completely nailed the song's underlying sarcasm (by accident, presumably). Even more satisfying were the jarring juxtapositions - in particular Tammy Wynette handing over to wizened old Shane McGowan.

The 2014 version doesn't take pleasure in those moments. Chrissie Hynde and Paloma Faith trade lines, but they're over so briefly you'd be hard pressed to tell which was which without the video. Lorde and Chris Martin both shine, but their voices are surprisingly similar side-by-side. Jake Bugg, meanwhile, gets handed a couple of desultory "la las", stretching his charisma beyond breaking point.

It's still brilliant and audacious (and the BBC employee in me wants the lobbying to work) but imagine what it could have been.

Especially if they'd done the Iron Maiden track.

PS: Some of the observations on Perfect Day are indebted to Tom Ewing's excellent review on his Popular blog - possibly the best music site on the internet.

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Ed Sheeran goes Strictly Ballroom

Growing up is rubbish. Earlier today, my son had a major tantrum at school when he had to put away a toy train and learn maths. Poor thing. He doesn't realise it's only going to get worse.

Ed Sheeran's got a few years on my four-year-old but he's still finding out that life sucks. His second album, x, is more world-weary, more cynical, more bruised than his multi-platinum debut. The tales of hotel room hanky panky in Don't are great tittle-tattle, but a broken heart beats beneath them.

Ed Sheeran - Don't

On the flip side, Ed has come of age in his writing if not his love-life. The sleek, uptempo singles have shown he can hold his own with producers like Pharrell (not entirely unexpected given his previous flirtations with hip-hop) but one song stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Thinking Out Loud is a big old love song ripped straight from the classic English songbook. In fact, it's basically When I'm 64 without the cloying sentimentality. And the reason for that is Sheeran's vocal performance. "Darling, I will love you until we are 70," he sings with a shredded larynx Joe Cocker would have been proud of.

More than anything, the song is the sound of a writer flexing his muscles for the first time and realising he can punch above his weight. Thinking Out Loud is Sheeran's Somebody Like You. It's that good.

He's obviously proud of it, too. For the first time in the X campaign, he stars in the video. And what a video - with Sheeran spinning his partner around a ballroom with unexpected grace (and an even more unexpected waistcoat).

And, for bonus pop points, it fits into a videographic template for British male artists unveiling a big ballad - from Robbie ice skating on She's The One to Will Young getting his goggles on for Friday's Child.

It's a 10 from Len.

Ed Sheeran - Thinking Out Loud

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Betty Who on her love of Taylor Swift

Betty Who is someone who's been on the Decent Pop Music radar for a year or two now. Twenty-two years old and 6ft 1in (ie a giant), she was born Jess Newham in Australia before choosing her nom de pop in 2012. Sadly, it has nothing to do with being Peter Capaldi's illegitimate lovechild (as far as I know).

Her BIG SONG is called Somebody Loves You. It's been banging around as a free download and an EP track for ages. An exuberant love letter to a clueless beau, it went viral earlier this year, after a man called Spencer Stout used it to propose to his boyfriend in a US hardware store and filmed the results. It'll bring a tear to your eye.

Betty now has a big old record deal with RCA/Sony, and releases her album Take Me When You Go tomorrow in the US. It contains enough knowing lyrics and splashy melodies for Katy Perry to hand-pick Betty as a support act on her Prismatic tour. And the next single, All Of You, is the sort of thing you could imagine Radio 1 playing to death in an alternative universe where Radio 1 didn't constantly try to act like your cool older brother.

Betty Who - All Of You

Predictably enough, Betty's album is being "held back" in the UK for an early 2015 release - but that song will come out in November on a new UK-only EP called Convertible Nights.

To celebrate that, and the US album release, Mrs Who has recorded some webisodes (like episodes, but filmed by spiders) about her musical inspirations. Episode 5, which premieres here, is filmed in Betty's swanky US apartment in front of a shelving unit that is criminally filled with books ("Uppity Women", "Sharp Teeth") instead of CDs. Therein, our Antipodean heroine talks about Taylor Swift's lyrics and how they have inspired her to cry like a banshee.


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Video: Tove Lo - Talking Body

Here is a lyric video to promote an album you can't buy in the UK for three months, even though it's available every other "territory" from Australia to Timbuktu.

Talking Body is written and produced by the same team that created Tove Lo's Habits (Stay High) and it shares that song's quiet-loud / pulsating-gyrating DNA. In other words, it's very good (if a little sweary).

Tove Lo - Talking Body

At this rate, there'll be a video for every track on Queen Of The Clouds before the CD gets within spitting distance of Amazon's warehouse in Marston Gate.

I'm not complaining, I just don't see how that helps Tove sell any records over here.

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

What does YouTube think of Cheryl's new video?

Remember, kids, Cheryl doesn't care what you think of her. She cares so little that her new video is an endless sequence of grimaces conveying her lack of interest in your puny opinion. Look:

But despite Cheryl's disdain for your points of view, you've been leaving them in your droves on YouTube - where the video for I Don't Care premiered yesterday.

For the most part, the comments section is a pitched battle between Cheryl's "soldiers" and Nicole Scherzinger's fanclub (if you can imagine such a thing). Apparently, Cheryl has "stolen" Nicole's "idea" of filming a music video on a long stretch of sand next to the ocean. Because, thanks to a glitch in the space-time continuum, Nicole Scherzinger became the first singer ever to visit a beach late in the Triassic era, where she bored all the dinosaurs to death with an in-depth lecture about yoghurt.

Otherwise, the comments are as scathing, random and insane as you'd hope. My favourite so far:


9) "Maybe she is not the best singer, but at least she knows how to entertain people "

8) "Listen to her going on and on and on and on about not caring. It's obvious she does."

7) "She just looks demented"

6) "How old are you chery [sic]? Are you 20 -30?"

5) "She would of been better shooting this video round the toon and Byker"

4) "'I can see the milky way and it seems so far away.' Well that's Cheryl's contribution to Astronomy taken care of."

3) "'I Don't Care'. Pretty much sums up my life but i guess that's why i don't have a job."

2) "I'd crawl over broken glass naked so I could wear her arse on my face like a Batman mask"

1) "Why do people insist on creating hate between Nicole and Cheryl? They are both cancer zodiac signs. Nicole was born on June 29th and Cheryl on June 30th which means what!?!?! That they are the SAME so of course you will see the SAME in their videos and their songs will have similar meanings because their personalities are the same! Omg, people learn your facts."

"Learn your facts". Amazing.

Now, let's have that video in full.

Cheryl - I Don't Care (explicit)

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