Thursday, January 29, 2015

New musical obsession: Brooke Fraser

Taylor Swift isn't the only multi-platinum artist who's ditching her old musical overcoat and pulling on a spandex bodysuit.

Brooke Fraser, one New Zealand's best-selling singer-songwriters, has abandoned the gentle indie folk of her first three albums and "gone electric" on her new record, Brutal Romantic.

Released in her home country last November, it's produced by David Kosten (Bat For Lashes, Everything Everything, Marina and the Diamonds) and presents a thrillingly dark take on modern pop. The moody single Kings and Queens is worth a spin for its arms-akimbo chorus, while teaser track Psychosocial is just... well, odd.

But it's her next release that's got me excited. In Magical Machine, Fraser presents herself as a parade of technological innovations - "I'm your telescope", "I'm your ATM" - all building to the euphoric chorus: "Power me on, control and command / I'm your magical machine / We can dream digital dreams".

Reflecting the subject matter, the music flirts and flutters with bleeping synths until the final, humanising chorus where a spiralling string section lifts you above the electronic thrum.

Given all of that, I'd assumed the song was about people's increasingly intimate relationships with their phone, but Brooke explains otherwise:
"Magical Machine is about how there is usually more to us than meets the eye and how sometimes people see us as the roles we represent in our lives; parent, child, boss, teacher before they see us as people."

So there you go. I've listened to Magical Machine about 12 times while writing this post and, honestly, it just keeps getting better. Have a listen below.

Brooke Fraser - Magical Machine

You'll be pleased to hear that Brooke can also "cut it" live, as this acoustic(ish) performance of the Magical Machine on Radio New Zealand proves.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Marina and the Diamonds - I'm A Ruin

'Shampain' hitmaker Marina and the Diamonds had a minor catastrophe last week when her new single, I'm A Ruin, popped up online two weeks ahead of schedule.

Ever the trooper, though, Ms Diamandis shrugged it all off in an admirably balanced series of tweets.

How pragmatic. How empathetic. How unlike Madonna and her toys-out-of-the-pram comments about "artistic rape".

Anyway, Tuesday has rolled around and, as promised. Huw "Heugh" Stephens has played I'm A Ruin on his radio show and it is exceptionally good - in the subtle, emotional way that most of the pre-release tracks from Marina's new album have already proved to be.

This one sees our heroine admit she's a nightmare in relationships, but she just can't help herself. "I know I'm playing with your heart," she sings, "And I could treat you better but I'm not that smart".

As in all her best work, Marina balances the psychobabble with a catchy hook. Here, it's in a post-chorus "yeah-yeah, uh-huh" bit that's 24-carat pop gold.

Marina and the Diamonds - I'm A Ruin

I'm A Ruin is the first official single from Marina's third album Froot, which is out on 22 March. The singer helpfully posted the lyrics and the artwork for the song online after the Radio 1 premiere. There's a video coming soon, too...

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Eleven songs you may have missed (and one you definitely haven't)

This is the first "songs you may have missed" post since Christmas so in all likelihood these are songs you may not have missed. But there's always time for a good music megapost so let's begin, with...

1) Rihanna - FourFiveSeconds
About bloody time, pop's most elusive pop star is back, collaborating with Kanye West and Sir Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft on a surprisingly attitude-free, stripped back acoustic pop "number".

It's good. So good, in fact, that it's going to appear on both Kanye and Rihanna's new album. Which is going to cause havoc with my iTunes library. HAVOC.

2) Sia - Salted Wound
The 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack is shaping up to be superb, even if the film looks like a turkey. We've already heard Ellie Goulding's saucy Love Me Like You Do and The Weeknd's even saucier Earned It, now it's the turn of Sia - who takes a different tack altogether.

Her harp-assisted ballad Salted Wound is full of remorse and doubt. "Give your heart, and say come take it," sings Sia, "and she will see you're a good man." It should be a fitting accompaniment to Christian Grey's more introspective scenes.

3) Kelly Clarkson - Heartbeat Song
Is it me, or does this sound like Shania Twain?

4) Shura - Indecision
Feather-light synth pop from London's hotly tipped Aleksandra Denton. This would make a perfect Track 7, Side B on an "I like you" mixtape.

5) Prince & 3rdEyeGirl - Marz
Prince apparently thinks this throwaway rock track is dynamite. He's following up an SNL performance of the song with this YouTube video - which appeared days after he deleted his YouTube account. Strange chap.

6) Alex Winston - We Got Nothing
Alex Winston's wonky pop curio Sister Wife is one of my all-time favourite under-rated tracks. Catchy as all heck, with a killer lyric about polygamy and jealousy, I have played it to death over the last four years.

She's been in limbo for a while, but this sumptuous new single - on the influential Neon Gold label - hints at a slightly more mainstream, but no less hook-laden direction.

7) Jessie Ware - Jealous (Labrinth cover)
Stick around for the bit where she chucks in the chorus to Chaka Khan's Through The Fire. Beautiful.

8) Bearson - Pink Medicine
Bearson is a Norwegian producer who works in the "tropical house" genre (no, me neither). This hypnotic little song is a little too glitchy to be chill-out and a little too chilled out to be danceable. But I like it, for some reason. There's a free download available here if you like it, too.

9) Lana Del Rey - Brooklyn Baby (Yuksek remix)
WARNING: If you or your family are sensitive to the effects of synthesized saxophones, please seek advice before streaming this song.

10) U2 - Every Breaking Wave (single remix)
I wonder if anyone actually listened to Songs of Innocence when it gatecrashed our phones last year? I certainly couldn't be bothered... but it turns out that at least one of the songs is worth four minutes of your time.

Ranking it as the third best song of 2014 (!!) Rolling Stone called Every Breaking Wave the "emotional centrepiece" of U2's 13th album, saying it's "stark, shimmering" melody recalled With Or Without You.

To be honest, Joey Tribiani's not going to be staring out a fake window to this one any time soon... But this stripped-back radio remix of the song is surprisingly affecting.

11) Tobias Jesso Jr - How Could You Babe?
Officially endorsed by Adele, this is about as old-school as pop gets in 2015. Tailor made for Radio 2 and fans of sweaters, it recalls Elton John back in the Yellow Brick Road days.

12) Rae Morris - Love Again
As previously noted on these pages, Rae Morris is rather brilliant - with a husky voice like Ellie Goulding and a percussive thump worthy of Florence and the Machine. I interviewed her last week and, pleasingly, she let slip that her first ever gig was S Club 7.

If that's not enough to recommend her, try out this song: Love Again, one of the standout tracks from her debut album, Unguarded, which came out on Monday.

And that's a wrap. What an oddly diverse bunch of songs, eh?

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Jess Glynne's good single is good

Poor old Jess Glynne, My Love has just become the first video eliminated from the Brits "best video" category, after receiving the fewest shout-outs on Twitter (yes, you read that right - the Brits are now awarded to people with the most vocal Twitter fanbase, rather than for any artistic merit).

Still, Jess can console herself with the fact that (a) the best video prize is utterly pointless; and (b) her new single is utterly brilliant.

Hold My Hand is a rollicking dancefloor smash, with a ridiculously sunny chorus. The chances of anyone holding hands while listening to it are perilously slim, as they'll be too busy being enthusiastically thrust in the air.

A solid 8/10.

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Stryke alight

Tove Styrke has been building up her pop profile with the unusual tactic of releasing a string of bloody great singles. Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking To You was a bracing culture-clash between acid house and swing jazz. Borderline was a lilting Swedish reggae ballad. Neither of them was as bad as my descriptions make them sound.

Her new single, Ego, is another change of direction, albeit a more mainstream one. Powered by chugging marimba line, it has a delicately sugarspun chorus, that belies the furious lyric: "I want to hold you but you're untouchable... You're too tied up in your ego."

It goes a little something like this.

Ego is from Kiddo, Tove's first album since signing to RCA. According to the singer, the title is inspired by her favorite movie character, Kill Bill’s Beatrix Kiddo.

"I like the word 'kiddo.' It's playful, it's the name of my favorite movie character and I've been called it for ever and ever for better and for worse.

"If I were to describe the album in one sentence I'd say that it’s playful, inspired by movies (especially Kill Bill) and that the songs are very personal to me."

If you're a regular listener to Heat Radio (and who isn't?) you might be hearing this single more often than you'd expect. Their programme manager explains why in this blog...

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Great debut single alert: SNBRN

Here's a great new song from LA-based dance producer SNBRN and his musical BFF Kerli.

SNBRN (I'm assuming it's pronounced Sunburn, rather than Sinbarn) been bumping around for a while, turning out shiny house mixes Ace Of Base's All That She Wants and Mark Morrison's Return Of The Mack, amongst others, but this is his first solo effort.

Called Raindrops, it's an irresistible, piano-driven house track with seductive vocal lines that cascade over each other like... well, Raindrops.

Imagine Disclosure were raised on Venice Beach instead of Reigate and you'll get the idea.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Doing it and doing it and doing it well

"I wanted it to be like this badass Barbie Thelma & Louise-esque video," Charli XCX told Buzzfeed of her new Rita Ora-featuring video, Doing It. "So we robbed a store with toy guns, rode a bucking bronco, and nearly crashed a pink pickup truck through the desert."

Sounds amazing, right? But Charli would have been more accurate if she'd said: "I wanted it to be like Lady Gaga's video for Telephone if it had been shot for £10 and half a Twix (the biscuit half)."

That's not entirely a criticism, though. Charli XCX's videos often make her seem brattish, but here she comes across as a teenager goofing off with her best friend on Vine.

It is, frankly, adorable.

Charli XCX - Doing It (ft Rita Ora)

Hopefully, this single, which has just been added to Radio 1's C list, will chart higher than Charli's last single, the snotty-nosed Break The Rules, which stalled at number 35.

Ms XCX is also preparing to tour with Katy Perry, and belatedly releases her new album, Sucker, in the UK next month. So that's nice.

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Must watch: The Staves - Black and White

Watford's favourite harmonisers The Staves have just surfaced with a brilliantly back-combed video to their new single Black and White.

Starring the Stavely-Taylor sisters as employees of an incestuous TV newsroom, it's a cross between Sidney Lumet's Network and Will Ferrell's Anchorman - only the soundtrack is better than in the former, and the meteorologist is marginally less dense than in the latter.

"A lot of hairspray was used in the making of this video," the band noted on Facebook. "A very lot."

Black and White is the lead single from the band's Justin Vernon-produced second album, If I Was. If you pre-order it today, you'll get an "instant grat" download of the song tomorrow. So get clicking.

The Staves - Black & White

For reference, here are the band in their regular be-denimmed "garb". I think I prefer their 80s dopplegangers.

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Video: Jimmy Napes - Give It Up

If sleeve notes were still a thing, the more eagle-eyed amongst you might have recognised the name of one Mr. Jimmy Napes.

He's the co-writer behind most of Disclosure and Sam Smith's biggest hits - Latch, La La La, Stay With Me - as well as Jessie Ware's gorgeous Imagine It Was Us and Clean Bandit's Rather Be.

He recently tweeted a picture of himself playing Alicia Keys piano (see above) and, according to ASCAP, he's been writing new songs with Eliza Doolittle, including the intriguingly titled Dooodiddidydaboooo.

But before we get to hear that undoubted masterpiece, James John Napier (for that is his name) is launching a solo career of his own, and the first song out of the gates is called Give It Up.

If you've been paying attention, you'll know what's coming: Smooth, rounded soul melodies with a non-threatening undertow of sub bass. What you might not expect is the lyrical content - Give It Up is an anthem to sobriety from someone who's seen the dark side of the druqks.

The storyline is laid bare in the video, which is directed by Luke Monaghan (A$AP Rocky, Sam Smith, Disclosure). Watch below.

Jimmy Napes - Give It Up

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New music from St Vincent

Bad news for everyone who bought St Vincent's album when it topped the NME and Guardian's end-of-year best album lists: It's being re-released with extra tracks.

Of course everyone knows that deluxe editions are completely duff (The Fame Monster aside). And, true to form, the first new track from St Vincent's expanded album never quite reaches the heights of Digital Witness or Prince Johnny. But a dodgy St Vincent track is still about 10 times as innovative and thought-provoking as an three entire Sam Smith albums, so that's always worth bearing in mind.

The song in question is called Bad Believer and it sounds like this.

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Kylie and Giorgio are killing it

That kaleidoscope of Kylies ("Kyliedoscope"??) is a screengrab from the video for Minogue's collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, Right Here, Right Now.

Heavy on the vocoder, and shimmering with string cascades, the single tips its hat to Moroder's work with Daft Punk; while Kylie goes to the very top of her register for the chorus: "Staring in your eyes / I see the sunrise / There's nowhere else but right here, right now."

Written by Moroder, Karen Poole and Patrick Jordan Patrikios, it is much better than anyone had any right to expect.

Due out on 30th January (and "impacting 15th March," whatever that means), it is being trailed with a 15-second teaser video, which appeared on YouTube this morning.

But it has already leaked in full, thanks to the leaky cauldron that is the internet. I blame Edward Snowden.

Giorgio Moroder feat Kylie Minogue - Right Here, Right Now

Interestingly, the release says Moroder's new album is "Title TBC" - meaning he's dropped the clunky moniker 74 Is The New 24, which was announced last November.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Sia storms SNL

Sia is a pop star whose image is that she has no image. She doesn't appear in her videos, she has no photos on her record sleeves, and she doesn't tour.

When won a coveted cover story on Billboard magazine last year, the 39-year-old famously wore a paper bag over her head.

But after scoring one of last year's biggest singles, Chandelier, she's becoming more and more in demand. So what does she do when TV shows invite her to perform?

The answer, as revealed on Saturday Night Live over the weekend, is to cover her eyes with a mask, face away from the audience, and sing her heart out while mime artists and dancers interpret her lyrics.

It's surprisingly effective - by stepping out of the spotlight, she focuses your attention on the music's emotional wallop. That's right, not even a mime artist can detract from the stomach-punching pain of Chandelier's struggle for self-worth.

The reluctant superstar uploaded the performances to her YouTube channel after Sunday's show, and I'd really recommend having a look.

Sia - Elastic Heart (SNL performance)

Sia - Chandelier (SNL performance)

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Friday, January 16, 2015

David Guetta has a lyric video for his collaboration with Emeli Sande

This one starts like its going to be really boring, then gets really good around when Guetta goes medieval on a piano around the one-minute mark.

It's called What I Did For Love, and is getting the lyric video treatment a rather lazy eight weeks after David Guetta and Emeli Sande plugged the song on X Factor (that's them in the picture above, posing backstage with some cables).

The lyrics, as if lyrics really matter in a song like this, are all about the self-destructive things people do to prop up a relationship on its last legs. "It hurts, that I remember every scar," sings Sande, "stitch myself up, then I do it again".

A very respectable 6/10.

David Guetta - What I Did For Love (ft Emeli Sande)

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Modest Mouse return

I had a Modest Mouse album once and quite enjoyed it. Their new song reminds me of that time and so I have posted it below this paragraph of text. And that is all I have to say about that.

Modest Mouse - Lampshades on Fire

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Must listen: Raury - Fly

When Missouri police officer Darren Wilson was found not guilty over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown last year, the reaction that got most media coverage was, inevitably, the rioting and the looting. But that wasn't everyone's response. Far from it.

Stand up then, Raury, the R&B wunderkind who came fourth in the BBC's Sound of 2015 last week. The 18-year-old has just released a song, Fly, which he wrote instantly after the verdict came in, and it's a sobering account of his reaction.

Sung and spoken over a simple acoustic guitar strum, the lyrics are both accusatory and conciliatory - but this was the moment that sent shivers down my spine:

"I won't ever understand
How triggers pull against a man with empty hands
Cause when you kill the innocent
You are a killer"

You can read the lyrics on RapGenius, and Raury went further into the writing of the song on his Twitter account.

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It seemed like a good idea at the time pt 365

And the 2015 award for self-inflicted torture in the name of art goes to FKA Twigs, who spends most of her new video trussed up in ropes.

Presumably, it's a physical manifestation of the song's lyrics, where Twigs plays a woman trapped in a web of her own making, obsessing over a man who "only want(s) me in other spaces". The backing sounds like a close-up, slowed-down recording of a spider spinning silk, which only adds to the video's sinister aesthetic.

Oh, and if you're thinking "yeah, but everything's CGI nowadays", take a look the rope marks in this freeze frame.

Gruesome - but as The Verge points out:

"FKA Twigs began her career as a dancer, and her physical work and visuals frequently trend towards dark, sensual material that challenges perceptions of dominance. Her video for Papi Pacify, off 2013's EP2, featured Twigs wrapped in a man's embrace, unable to move, while his hands pried open her mouth. Her recent visual for Video Girl had her dancing seductively around a man about to be executed. Barnett doesn't seem to be interested in moving towards a feel-good aesthetic."

FKA Twigs plays the Brits launch party tomorrow night. I imagine ITV are crapping themselves right now.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Here is a new song by The Prodigy...

...That sounds like a bad parody from a Radio 4 sketch show.

The Prodigy - Nasty

"Triple X-Rated" - ooh, how naughty. I bet the establishment are quaking in their trousers.

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Bodyrockin' with Tove Lo

It's always strange when a pop star I admire releases a song I dislike. I start to reassess our relationship... Why are they beholden to this thing that, to me, seems so meagre? Were the other songs, the ones we agreed on, just a fluke? Is this the beginning of the end?

I've been faced with that situation for a couple of weeks as Tove Lo - indisputably the best new pop star of 2014 - started the teaser campaign for her new single, Talking Body. A giddy song about falling in love, its lyrical conceit is basically a single entendre version of "if I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?"

"If we're talking body
You've got a perfect one
So put it on me
If you treat me right
We fuck for life
On and on and on".

That "fuck" feels gratuitous, doesn't it? And I'm not saying that in a prudish way - Tove deploys the f-bomb brilliantly on some of her other songs ("on my good days I am charming as fuck", from Moments, being my favourite example). Maybe she's trying to capture that first-flush, head-over-heels, I-am-so-horny-right-now frisson of a new relationship - but the lyric is too clinical. It's missing the cheeky allure of, say, Prince's Erotic City, which says the same thing with a much bigger twinkle in its eye.

Anyway, the video comes out today and, while Tove and I may not see eye to eye on the song, the visuals are pretty stunning. It's a one-take sex and crime fantasy that's X-rated in places, but justifiably so in the context.

Tove Lo - Talking Body

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Don't avoid the Sia & Shia video

Dear readers, I have been remiss in my pop duties, for I have not watched Sia's new video, Elastic Heart, since it was release three days ago. Somehow, the combined presence of Shia LeBeouf and the creepy 12-year-old dancer who haunted my waking nightmares after Sia's previous video, Chandelier, was putting me off.

It didn't help that The Internet's notoriously easy-going contributors got worked up about the clip. Apparently, putting an underage girl in the same room as an adult man is now considered to be promoting paedophilia (although if you believe that, I think it says more about you than it does about the video).

Sia then took to Twitter herself, apologising for any offence caused.

But she also pointes out that Shia and the female dancer - let's call her Maddie Ziegler, for that is her name - were "two of the only actors" she felt could adequately represent the warring sides of her psyche. Which is probably the most disturbing thing of all.

So you can see why I might have refrained from hitting up the YouTube link for a few days. But I was wrong. Not just because Elastic Heart is an incredible song but because the video is surprisingly affecting (although, if you have an aversion to seeing Shia LeBeouf in his Speedos, I'd advise opening pictures of kittens in a separate browser window).

Here's the video "in full" if you're not one of the 5,123,590 people who saw it before me.

Sia - Elastic Heart

On a lighter note, this gives me an excuse to re-post the best / craziest Shia LeBeouf music video of all time.

Sit back and enjoy the madness.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Charli XCX has teamed up with popular The Voice host Rita Ora

Charli XCX might not be able to sort out a release date for her album (it's just been pushed back in the UK again) but she is keeping herself busy, recording a new version of her album track Doing It with everyone's favourite underwear refusnik, Rita Ora.

As you might expect, it's a blindingly colourful, whip-smart pop song. Rita's girly vocals are a great counterpoint to Charli's poshly drawled vowels, and the song's gossamer-thin lyric ("Friends like a team in a circle / We're together, we're so alive") makes more sense as a duet between two BFFs.

Those of us holding out hope for Charli becoming a "proper" pop star in 2015 will be pleased to hear the single's just been added to Radio 1's playlist. Everyone else can just get used to it.

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Have a listen to Years & Years' new single

"Hang on," you might be thinking. "Have briefly popular 1990s beat combo EMF been sucked through a wormhole to the present day?"

The answer, sadly, is no. The picture above is depicts synthpop trio Years and Years, and this year is going to be their... well, you know.

Sounding like Everything Everything after they've been cured of hiccups, the band make compact, dancefloor-friendly pop songs with actual, proper choruses.

Their new single, King, has been the highlight of their live set for just over a year, so there was always a sneaking suspicion it was being held back for the perfect moment. And, hey presto, just as they get tipped on all of this year's ones-to-watch lists, here it is.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New from the Staves: Steady

Good news
The Staves' second album is fantastic. Q Magazine's four star review calls it "evocative and inventive", praising Bon Iver's production for "enhancing the sisters' dovetailing voices".

Bad news
It's been delayed until 23 March. "It is completely out of our control (and to be honest with you, almost beyond our comprehension)," said Emily, Jessica and Camilla in a grovelling email to their fans.

Good news
They're making up for it by giving everyone a new song, called Steady. "It was one of the first songs we demoed when we went out to Wisconsin," the sisters inform us, "and Camilla broke not one, but TWO drum sticks during the recording! Rock n roll."

Rhythmically complex and everso mournful, Steady is a song to swoon over - and further evidence of the band's development from the bare-bones acoustics of their debut. Best of all, it's available now if you pre-order the album, If I Was, on iTunes.

PS: The Staves recently posted the following photo to their Facebook page. I await their synthpop album with baited breath.

PPS: Every time I listen to Steady on Soundcloud, it auto-plays this thrash metal track next. What are the algorithms trying to tell me?

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Here's a nice song from Los Angeles

I promise I'm not neglecting the blog it's just that, well, there isn't much new music around to get excited about. That I seriously considered a post about Ellie Goulding's single from the 50 Shades soundtrack should tell you everything you need to know.

So it's with a sense of relief that I stumbled across BØRNS, the slightly twattish stage name of Michigan's Garrett Borns.

His debut single 10,000 Emerald Pools exudes a dreamy 1970s vibe, full of falsetto harmonies and soaring synths. It's been knocking around the internet since October, but he's starting to gain more attention now that he's been signed to Interscope.

As you'll discover, it's very pretty and exactly the sort of music you'd come up with if you, too, lived in a treehouse.

Mark him down as one to watch.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Discopop Directory: Top 10 Albums of 2014

2014 wasn't a great year for albums, truth be told. Or maybe I bought the wrong ones. Anyway, here are the 10 best CDs that found their way onto my iTunes library, sorted by the number of times they were played (with my trademarked Excel formula to weight the albums by release date).

10) The Black Keys - Turn Blue
Neither as sleazy nor as catchy as 2011's El Camino, Turn Blue saw The Black Keys take a long, dark road-trip of the soul after Dan Auerbach's very messy, very public divorce. Along the way, they delved into psychedelia, 60s beat music, 70s disco funk and - on the pleasingly daft closing track - solid gold drivetime pop hooks.

The Black Keys - Gotta Get Away

9) Banks - Goddess

Oh, but this album is so gloriously, deliciously IN PAIN. Banks uses music like primal scream therapy, howling her distress over an array of sawbuzz synths.

As an album, Goddess is as dark and foreboding as a graveyard, but her melodies beguile and her honesty disarms: When she disses a boyfriend by reminding him she's "the girl who made you soup," it's so awkwardly specific it can only be drawn from real life.

Then, just when you think she's getting too miserable, she pulls out a filthy sexballad like Warm Water. This is what a femme fatale with a broken heart sounds like.

Banks - Drowning

8) Jack White - Lazaretto
It sounds like every other Jack White album, but it sounds better than every other Jack White album.

Jack White - Would You Fight For My Love

7) The Pierces - Creation
After achieving commercial success with the glossy soft rock of 2011's You & I, The Pierces smudged their mascara, consulted a shaman and revisited the backwood gothicism of their earlier records. The result is an album that retains You & I's soaring choruses while sending shivers down your spine.

Allison and Catherine's sisterly harmonies are worthy of Agnetha and Frida - but can you imagine Abba ever singing a lyric as sinister as: "Held down by the devil's hand / Dressed up like a gentleman"?

Luminous, grown-up pop.

The Pierces - The Devil Is A Lonely Night

6) Tove Lo - Queen of the Clouds
Not out in the UK until this month because Tove's UK label hate us, but available on import since September. SEPTEMBER.

It's worth the wait, though. Tove Lo plays pop like her life hangs in the balance. "I've always wanted my music to have that desperation," she told me last April, "where you just want to strip your clothes off and run down the highway".

I haven't quite gone that far, but it's been close. Timebomb, Not on Drugs and Moments ("on my good days I am charming as fuck") have hooks so thunderously bombastic I have literally started air drumming on the bus. There is no higher praise.

Tove Lo - Moments

5) Katy B - Little Red
Dance music doesn't produce solo artists of longevity or substance, but Katy's astute combination of underground sonics and pop structures made the "difficult second album" seem effortless. Best of all, she knew it. The opening track painted her as Queen B, easing a newcomer into the rituals of the night: "Keep your jacket on my friend, don't sit down / There's so many things to do round here, let me show you around".

But while her debut was so in thrall to clubland it should have come with a complimentary strobe light, Little Red offered a few glimpses of what happened off the dancefloor: Katy nervously waiting for a date to arrive on All My Lovin'; or succumbing to guilt on the magnificent Crying For No Reason.

The result is a rare thing: A club record that sounds just as good at home.

Katy B - 5AM

4) Ed Sheeran - X
Ed Sheeran spends most of x singing about getting his leg over but, incredibly, you never recoil in horror or throw up in your mouth. Not even once.

Maybe it's his sincerity, maybe his humility, maybe it's just that these are bloody great pop songs. Gossipy, confessional and instantly memorable, the upbeat ones bounce and the weepy ones are suitably blubsome.

Occasionally he turns out a lyrical clunker ("put your faith in my stomach" is the year's least romantic come-on) but even those makes him more relatable. No wonder x became the biggest album of the year.

Ed Sheeran - Don't

3) Taylor Swift - 1989
Right, let me get a few things off my chest here.

First of all, Bad Blood is the most horribly misjudged song of the year. A diss track, supposedly about Katy Perry, it's pathetically petulant and paints a particularly unflattering portrait of its author. It has been excised from my library, otherwise this album would be languishing at number 10.

Secondly, why all the shouting? Almost every chorus is emphasised by T-Swift screaming the hook: "We never go OUT OF STYLE"; "Are we in the clear yet, IN THE CLEAR YET? GOOD." All you had to do was STAY (STAY) STAY (STAY)". It's almost as if she's worried the songs won't stand on their own merits.

But, of course, they stand 50 feet tall. The lyrics are funny and knowing, the production is enthusiastically bright, the hooks are harder to dislodge than a tapeworm.

1989 sounds nothing like the year it was named after, but Taylor Swift defined pop music in 2014.

Taylor Swift - Out of the Woods

2) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One - Various Artists
Asked to contribute to the last Hunger Games soundtrack, Lorde handed in a diverting cover of Tears For Fears' Everybody Wants To Rule The World. For Mockingjay, Part 1, she was given complete creative control of the whole album.

The result is surprisingly cohesive, the nailbiting intensity of the film mirrored perfectly in the grungy, brooding music. Meltdown - by Lorde and Pusha-T and Haim and Q-Tip (!) - is a gothic call to arms; Chvrches' Dead Air chillingly depicts a disappeared population; Tove Lo's Scream My Name reflects the heroine's steely torment: "I'm dirt, I'm ice... I can take bullets to the heart".

The quality and the tension rarely dip - although Jennifer Lawrence's spellbinding The Hanging Tree should really have been on the track list.

Chvrches - Dead Air

1) Jessie Ware - Tough Love
Jessie Ware's second album is pinch yourself dreamy. A slow-burner, but one that goes from tugging at your heartstrings to snapping them in two.

Listen to the restraint with which Ware sings, "Say you love me to my face / I need it more than your embrace", then imagine how it would have sounded if pop music's other Jessie had wrapped her acrobatic tonsils around it. Horrible, that's how.

In fact, Ware's instincts are flawless throughout. She references Sade, Prince and The xx, and is never afraid to make unexpected choices. She favours subtle, unfolding grooves over obvious pop arrangements. And every song is structured around the ebb and flow of those flawless vocals. Or, to use her own words, "I thought it would be great to show people what it's like when I attempt to sing like a dolphin."

It's not the most exciting or original, album on this list. But it's by far and away the best.

Jessie Ware - Say You Love Me

And that's another year wrapped up, except for the honourable mentions: Paolo Nutini - Caustic Love; St Vincent - St Vincent; Royal Blood - Royal Blood; George Ezra - Wanted On Voyage; Prince - selected tracks from Art Official Age and PlectrumElectrum; Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence; Lykke Li - I Never Learn. I heard U2 had an album out, as well, but for some reason I couldn't find a copy in the shops...

See also: Top 10 Singles of 2014

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