Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fleur East covers Nick Jonas and Alanis Morisette in the live lounge

Previewing her Live Lounge performance earlier today, Fleur East admitted she'd only had one evening to rehearse the obligatory cover version. It was a perfect humblebrag, as her parping performance of Nick Jonas's Levels was practically flawless. And when she segues into Alanis Morisette's You Oughta Know? Oh, the goosebumps.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say Fleur's cover beat her original song, (the otherwise riotous Sax) into a cocked hat.

The full performance is watchable on the iPlayer... although there are some dodgy-looking YouTube versions below, for the lazier reader.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Wolf Alice are away with the fairies

Wolf Alice have rebounded from their Mercury Prize SNUB with a colourful video for their new single, Freazy.

It finds the band playing in a gaudy technicolour dreamscape, when they stumble on a mysterious plant that sends them on what can only be described as a "far out freaky trip, dude".

It's a clever treatment that helps reinforce the band's outsider status on what is, essentially, a really pretty pop song. It's also nice to hear the band namecheck themselves in the chorus ("Do you really wanna... with Alice? Do you really wanna... with the Wolf).

"We’ve got the name of our band in the song!" bassist Theo Ellis told DIY mag. "Like a rapper! Or Superfood!"

Freazy also got a beautiful, string-assisted Live Lounge treatment last Friday. You can watch that on the Radio 1 website "while stocks last".

NB: Don't do drugs, kids

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Five of the best performances from the American Music Awards

The American Music Awards took place last night, with lots of people winning trophies like "best country lady" and "most votes for One Direction". It was all very exciting, I'm sure, but the main draw was the spectacle of pop's toppermost stars playing their songs in a live environment.

There were a patience-testing 19 performances - including a weird a capella rendition of the Star Wars theme. But some of them were actually worth watching. These are they.

Ariana Grande - Focus
The best vocal performance of the night - on a cabaret version of Grande's hit single. Bonus points for her grandmother Marjorie, who can be seen dancing in the audience.

Coldplay - Adventure of a Lifetime
In which Chris Martin is surrounded by dancing gorillas.

Selena Gomez - Same Old Love
The dancers do all the heavy lifting here, but the song is still a corker.

Alanis Morissette and Demi Lovato - You Oughta Know
Giving the censors kittens, here are two of pop's fiercest ladysingers with a gutsier version of Adele's Someone Like You.

Justin Bieber - Justin Bieber Medley
Thankfully, it's only a medley of the recent, good stuff. The acoustic version of What Do You Mean is superb, and then you get the chance to see Bieber being waterboarded. Bonus!

PS: Sorry for the Coldplay video auto-playing. If anyone knows how to fix that, message me on twitter.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

A new video from the band formerly called Lovely Owl

Lauren Mayberry and Iain Cook were guests on Radcliffe and Maconie's 6 Music show, where they revealed some of the band names they rejected before settling on Chvrches. The options included:

  • Wooden Churches
  • Burning Churches
  • Screen Violence
  • Lovely Owl.
Lovely Owl... With the band currently on a massive, sold-out tour, they haven't had time to appear in the video for Empty Threat - which is instead a sort of Winona-Ryder-from-Heathers-visits-a-water-park tale of youthful rebellion. It's no Dazed and Confused, but the song is still a 9 out of 10.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

One to watch: Iris Gold

Iris Gold could be on the verge of something big. Yes, even bigger than her hair.

I first mentioned her in a "songs you may have missed" post this summer, thanks to her gloriously sun-drenched debut single, Goldmine. Now she's back with her second effort, Colour Trip, a laid back, lava lamp-lit take on West-coast hip-hop.

Living in London but hailing from Copenhagen, the singer was raised on 70s psychedelia and hippy counter-culture, before falling in love with the Fugees, Beastie Boys and Wu Tang Clan. You can hear all those influences in her music, which is broadly a hip-hop / R&B hybrid, but essentially uncategorisable.

It's her flow which impresses me most - a languid drawl that's effortlessly chic without feeling superior or unwelcoming.

Gold has been working with MNEK, Dimitri Tokovoi (Nicola Roberts) and Adamski - so it'll be interesting to see what she comes up with in 2016. For now, though, this track will do very nicely indeed.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Frances releases new single with Disclosure

I've been following the career of Berkshire-born singer-songwriter Frances for a couple of months, thanks to stormy piano ballads like Let It Out and Grow.

While those songs place her in "John Lewis Christmas advert" territory, her new single is something of a revelation. Co-written with Howard Lawrence from Disclosure, it showcases a completely different style for the flame-haired 21-year-old...

"So excited to share my new song with you!" she writes on her Facebook Page. "This is 'Borrowed Time' ❤ It was amazing to work with Howard on this song and to experiment with a style I haven't tried before.. I hope you all enjoy it! X"

Maybe the singer's sudden interest in pop shouldn't have been such a big surprise, though. She covered Justin Bieber in Radio 1's Live Lounge earlier this year to great effect.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Here's a lovely video of Adele

Here is low-profile singing artiste Adele, putting her vocal cords through their paces in a live environment.

The song she has chosen to serenade us with is called "When We Were Young" and it is a massive blubfest off her almost-here third album, 25. The Guardian recently described it as "the Hit Expectant" (their capitals) and, true enough, it pulls off that same balancing act between regret and hope that Adele achieved on Someone Like You.

NB: Stick around to the end of this video for a quintessential Adele moment.

Apropos of nothing, here is a another, inferior, song called When We Were Young.

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New discovery: Yum Yuck

Yum Yuck is the side project of Pascal Righini, frontman of Cape Town indie band The Plastics (no, me neither).

His first single, Icicles, appeared on several influential blogs - i.e. not this one - in October. Now he's followed it up with a shimmering, psychedelic track called Lionness, which will suit anyone whose earphones ring to the sounds of MGMT, Jagwar Ma, Tame Impala and their ilk.

More yum than yuck, you can stream it below. You lucky, lucky bastards.

PS: On Soundcloud, these songs are tagged "ghostpop". Enough with the subgenre madness!

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Here's a song Ed Sheeran wrote for Justin Bieber

A week ago, I was locked in a basement and forced to listen to Justin Bieber's new album, Purpose.

While I accept the possibility of Stockholm Syndrome, I found myself enjoying the record (although, like me, it has a flabby middle section). Bieber's vocals are pristine and controlled, and his remorseful lyrics have a ring of truth.

The highlight, apart from the singles you've already heard, was undoubtedly Ed Sheeran's contribution, Love Yourself, which takes the form of a sarcastically scathing riposte to an ex. "My mama don't like you - and she likes everyone," Bieber chides over a simple, plucked guitar pattern.

By the magic of the internet, there is now a visual for the song - along with every track on Purpose, after Bieber pulled a Beyonce, releasing 13 dance videos in 13 hours on Saturday.

I've embedded the clips for Love Youself and my other favourite track, a Halsey duet called The Feeling, below. You can see the whole video project on Pigeons and Planes.

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Disclosure play SNL with Lorde and Sam Smith

Over the weekend, Disclosure were the musical guests on Saturday Night Live - which opened with a touching, bilingual declaration of support for the people of Paris.

The duo performed two tracks from their current album, Caracal, aided by guest vocalists Sam Smith and Lorde, who make an interesting comparison.

Smith was laid back and suave - his trademark falsetto apparently requiring no effort whatsoever. Lorde, on the other hand, bubbled and broiled, her performance summoned from the pit of her stomach. Both were incredible, although you get the impression Lorde's song came from somewhere much more personal than Smith's.

Disclosure helpfully uploaded both tracks to their Vevo channel so you can decide which you prefer.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Missy Elliot returns with an almighty crash

Pop that, pop that, cock and reload
This another hit, I got an ace in the hole

If you're going to leave seven years between singles, then you'd better come back with something incredible to make people sit up and listen. And that's exactly what Missy Elliot has done with this irresistible, bass-heavy club banger. WTF (Where They From) encapsulates everything you've missed about Misdemeanour: Cheeky wordplay, bait-and-switch production and a stunning video.

Even Pharrell - not the world's most accomplished rapper - comes out on top, with the so-ridiculous-its-brilliant line: "Lyrically I'm / Optimus Prime".

And who doesn't want their very own Missy marionette for Christmas?

In other words 10/10. Welcome back!

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Vanessa from the Saturdays has a really good solo single, you know

Here's a surprising development: Vanessa White of The Saturdays (aka Diet Girls Aloud) has released a sophisticated, mature, sensuous R&B song as her first solo single.

Don't Wanna Be Your Lover sounds like vintage Aaliyah or Mary J, although Vanessa's chocolatey vocals are more understated than either of those US powerhouses.

"I was really worried about The Sats fans hearing my new stuff," she told Wonderland, which premiered the song last night. "I was unsure whether... it would translate as it’s so different to The Sats music. Luckily they have all been so supportive with their feedback and they are into it which makes me really happy."

Listen below. It's luscious.

UPDATE 13/11/15: There is now a video of Vanessa singing the song and looking sultry.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The year's biggest hits in one* killer mashup

Is it that time again already?

Canada's Daniel Kim has just uploaded his annual mash-up of the year's biggest songs - dubbed Pop Danthology - in an audacious mix that sees Adele's Hello mingle with Fetty Wap's Trap Queen.

For the first time, this year's megamix comes in two instalments. Writing on his website, Kim explains it had become "increasingly challenging" to squeeze so many songs into a coherent four-minute mix. "I found myself cutting down so much of the original music just to jam in as many songs as I could. Not only was the work process not as enjoyable this way but the resulting sound was more choppy," he said.

Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez emerge as the year's pop victors, with three tracks apiece - while Madonna, Tove Lo and Jason Derulo also feature heavily.

So here you go: Two mixes, nine minutes, 82 songs. And if you're still not satisfied, DJ Earworm's State Of Pop 2015 is only days away.

The full list of songs featured in the mixes is available on this page.

* OK, two killer mashups

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lana Del Rey's aching Daniel Johnson cover is a revelation

It's easy to form the impression that Lana Del Rey is an artist with one string to her bow. A rare, gorgeous and string - but one that's in danger of snapping the more she plucks it. [alright, that's quite enough - tortured metaphor ed]

But her cover of Daniel Johnson's Some Things Last A Long Time is a revelation. Over a simple guitar and ominously bowed cello, she delivers a subdued, naked vocal that sounds much more fragile and human than her usual femme fatale persona.

The song is taken from the upcoming short film Hi How Are You Daniel Johnston. A surreal biopic of the beloved cult musician, it's set up as an imaginary meeting between the Daniel Johnston of 2015 and his younger self in 1983, as he was making his album Hi, How Are You.

According to Rolling Stone, Del Rey donated $10,000 to the film's Kickstarter fund in 2013, making her an executive producer of the project. It's released on Friday, and you can watch the trailer below.

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Songs you may have missed: Surprise Coldplay edition

Songs You May Have Missed is a semi-regular depository of music I've omitted to write about. This week kicks off with one of the world's biggest bands going heavy on the cowbell. The results are surprisingly good.

1) Coldplay - Adventure of a Lifetime
The colourful, upbeat Adventure of a Lifetime was stealth released on Friday morning, with the simultaneous announcement that Coldplay's new album A Head Full of Dreams was due in four weeks.

Even their biggest detractors surely have to admit that, seven records into their career, Coldplay are going to have an amazing greatest hits collection. This does nothing to detract from that.

2) Pia Mia - Touch
19-year-old singer-songwriter and model Pia Mia ditches Chris Brown for the follow-up to the worldwide smash Do It Again. A seductive serving of R&B, this features a pan pipe solo for some reason.

3) Lissie - Hero
The first taster of Lissie's third album, My Wild West, Hero is a languorous country-rock daydream. Not her strongest song... but the mariachi trumpets are a nice touch.

4) Adele - Hello (live)
A sneak peak at Adele's BBC One special, with footage of the first live performance of Hello. Apparently she'll do a full 45 minutes of material in the primetime show, which is due to broadcast on 20 December.

5) SNBRN - Beat The Sunrise (ft Andrew Watt)
LA-based house producer Kevin Chapman, aka SNBRN, has remixed everything from Sexual Healing to Need You (100%) but this original track is a sign of bigger ambitions. A sunset house groove with an excitable bassline, it'll make you nostalgic for August.

6) Dua Lipa - Be The One
London's Dua Lipa stands out from her contemporaries thanks to a smoky voice that's a world away from the thin and auto-tuned sound of most radio-bound pop. Whether that's a help or hindrance only time will tell - but I suspect we'll be hearing a lot from this 19-year-old once the new year rolls around.

7) Fleur East - Sax
A perfect reminder of what happened in the 1980s when British artists tried to copy the Minneapolis funk sound: It's overly fussy production makes it a pale imitation of the Prince's pared-down arrangements, but Fleur has just enough sass to stop it being embarrassing.

8) Rudimental - Lay It All On Me (Ft Ed Sheeran)
A grainy, experimental clip accompanies this uplifting Lean On Me-alike from Rudimental and an unknown newcomer called Ed Sheeran.

According to the press release, the video portrays some of the things the Rudimental boys experience on their path to fame - "freedom, peace, struggle, frustration, brotherhood, family, love and life."

And ballet.

9) Shura - Touch
I'm always nervous when artists I love make their TV debut on Later... With Jools. Can they cut it live in a room full of their peers - or are they studio creatures, totally devoid of charisma or charm?

Shura falls somewhere between the two extremes. She spends most of the performance hiding behind her fringe, but the music is captivating enough that you can forgive her... I think.

10) Sia - Alive
Sia's first video in a long time not to feature Maddie Ziegler is still pretty powerful - with a young martial artist matching the song's bombastic "I survived against the odds" narrative beat for beat.

11) Sia - Bird Set Free
As you may know, Alive was co-wrotten by with Adele and Tobias Jesso Jr. during sessions for Adele's 25. Earlier this week, Sia released another off-cut from those sessions, the stirringly dramatic Bird Set Free.

Despite rejecting (at least) two of Sia's songs, Adele has been effusive about working with the Australian singer-songwriter, telling Rolling Stone: "I actually enjoy the dynamic of us both being in there and just fucking being bossy. And it's all these male producers, and they're all fucking shitting themselves 'cause we're in there."

12) Blueyes - Ain't Gonna Love You
Blueyes is the brainchild of Belfast native Bronagh Monaghan, who's been messaging me about her music for a year or so, now. Her new track, Ain't Gonna Love You is the sort of flickering, late-night seduction jam you could imagine Jessie Ware finds herself singing when she sleepwalks. One to watch.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Santigold's new single is a blast

Oh wow, it is good to have Santigold back. Can’t Get Enough Of Myself – her first single in three years – is an infectiously-catchy, tongue-in-cheek ode to... well, Santigold herself.

I’m pretty major and I’ll sing it out loud,” she sings. “Ain't a gambler but, honey, I'd put money on myself.”

The rolling, exuberant reggae groove was produced by Patrik Berger – previously responsible for Robyn’s Dancing On My Own, Lana Del Rey’s Off To The Races and Charli XCX’s Boom Clap – and is the first taster of Santigold’s third album, 99 cents.

She explained the concept as she premiered the song on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 show.
“The record cover is a picture of me in a bag, shrink-wrapped, with a bunch of items – you know, random clutter from my life – and there’s a 99 cents sticker on it. Because everything is a product at this point, including people and relationships.

"Everything is about marketing. And everything is undervalued. So I thought 99 cents was a good price for me and my life and all my hard work.”
(Santigold admitted the retail price would probably be higher.)

Listen below.

Update: The Soundcloud stream sounds clearer (or is it just louder?) than the Apple Music one.

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Banks is back and she's still miserable

​It's been a year since we last heard from Banks, and the intervening 12 months haven't seen any improvement in the anguished pop star's mood.

Better, her new single, "came out like a growl inside me," she told Zane Lowe last night - and it certainly is the sound of a soul in distress.

"I can love you better than she can," she howls in the chorus, her voice fracturing as skyscraper synths shatter around her.

It's not a comfortable listen - it's not even particularly catchy - but Better is an exemplary model of a pop star refusing to hold anything back.

Warning: The video contains "artful" nudity.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Video: Ariana Grande - Focus

Proving that the pop triumph of last year's "My Everything" album was no fluke, here's Ariana Grande with her new song Focus.

Admittedly, the song sounds like a 2015 iteration of Problem – right down to the spoken-word anti-chorus (this time with vocals from Hollywood star Jamie Foxx). But there’s something about Ariana's performance, both on the song and in the video, which suggests she's grown into her pop star role.

Where once she looked startled and uncertain, now the 22-year-old seems confident and poised.

You can see it in her choreography; you can see it in the way she locks eyes with the camera; and you can see it in the way Ariana demolishes these radio presenters for their stream of misogynist interview questions.

Whichever way you look at it, Ariana's come a long way from the artist who, 18 months ago, said: "I don't feel confident in my sexuality or in my fashion. I think of music first. I want people to listen instead of look and judge."

Maybe she got special courage powers from all those donuts she licked.

Watch the official video, and a special Hallowe’en performance of the song below.

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Video: Carly Rae Jepsen - Your Type

Rippling synths, lovelorn lyrics, a moody bassline - Your Type is the archetypal sadbanger.

"I miss you, I mean it, I tried not to feel it / But I can’t get you out of my head," sings Carly Rae Jepsen (for it is she). "And I want you to miss me / When I’m not around."

Unsurprisingly, it was written in Sweden, where happy pop songs are actually banned by law. Rami Yacoub is the man responsible, having cut his teeth on pouty pop classics like ...Baby One More Time, Overprotected and Stronger for a certain Ms Britney Spears.

The video, which was released today, is a total blubfest. Get your Kleenex ready.

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