Friday, January 29, 2016

Here's Zayn Malik and he's all grown up

Zany Zayn Malik has thrown off his boyband shackles and he's at pains to let you know. His debut single, Pillow Talk, is a slowbanger about slow banging. "We'll be in bed all day," he sings, "fucking and fighting... It's a paradise and it's a war zone."

The video is suitably explicit - full of thrusting breasts and soft-focus snogging with his current squeeze Gigi Hadid. You can't help but view it through the prism of One Direction's carefree video shenanigans. This represents everything Zayn was told he couldn't do for the last six years, and he's not holding back.

Crucially, it never comes across as petulance. This is the sound of steam escaping from his internal pressure cooker. And Zayn, a man who seems to take himself very seriously, has clearly poured his heart and soul into the song.

And what's it like? Pretty damned good, actually. Textured, sophisticated and seductive, it wouldn't sound out of place on a sex-era Janet album. A solid 8/10.

PS: Zayn's interview with Zane Lowe - live from Bradford football stadium - is a good listen. The bit where he talks about his recently-departed grandmother will bring a tear to your eye. You can hear it on the Apple Music site.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Listen: Massive Attack - Take It There

Rihanna wasn't the only one to emerge from hibernation today. Bristolian hip-hop godfathers Massive Attack also awoke from a six-year slumber with an EP of new material, Ritual Spirit, which features collaborations with Young Fathers, Azekel, Roots Manuva, and Tricky.

Tricky's track also comes with a video, directed by Hiro Murai. Like the song, the droning, guitar-heavy Take It There, it's menacing, intoxicating, unsettling, foreboding... In other words, everything you'd want from a Massive Attack single.

Massive Attack also plan a second EP (co-produced by Daddy G) later this spring, followed by a full album.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I listened to the new Rihanna single so you don't have to

Rihanna's new single, Work, has just premiered "on top 40 radio around the world". It's a sparse, minimal, dancehall-inspired tune. More subtle than We Found Love or Bitch Better Have My Money, but instantly memorable nonetheless.

If you missed the premiere you can play or purchase the song (a duet with Drake) on Tidal - the streaming service Rihanna reportedly has a 3% stake in [Update: It's now on iTunes, too, where it's billed as having "a love-at-first-listen hook fuelled by Auto-tune magic"].

But if you can't be bothered to sign up for that, here's a blow by blow account of the first track from the long-delayed #ANTi album.

0:00 We open with a supine bassline. It's sparse. It's slinky. It's a mid-tempo Rihannabanger.

0:10 Heeeere's Rihanna! "Work, work, work, work, work, work," she sings.

0:12 Furthermore, she adds: "I’mma work, work, work, work, work, work."

0:15 "You see me do me dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt," Rihanna continues.

0:17 In conclusion, she notes: "There’s somethin’ bout that work, work, work, work, work work."

0:19 So far, it's a lyrical masterpiece.

0:23 At this point Rihanna starts to sound a little woozy. Maybe she needs a rest after those first 13 seconds of vocal effort.

0:34 Great lyric >>> "Nobody touch me in the righteous / Nobody text me in a crisis."

0:46 Amazing flute motif arrives.

0:53 Rihanna pronounces "foundation" as "fownd-ay-she-yawn". Love that Bajan accent.

1:04 Oh, the "work, work, work" bit is the chorus.

1:22 But now she’s just singing "nah, nah, nah". It's not like the lyrics were difficult to remember in the first place.

1:31 Muted steel drums prove Rihanna is "on trend" with the “tropical house” sound.

2:07 Rihanna has become so drowsy that "work, work, work" is being pronounced "weh, weh, weh". The poor lamb is exhausted. Someone get her a blanket.

2:11 Here's Drake. He sounds like Drake (ie monotonous).

2:31 Nice harmonies here.

2:47 Guitar solo!

2:48 Only joking.

2:39 Although any kind of musical development would be welcome at this point.

3:01 Repeat chorus to fade.

3:26 I'm going to listen to this again.

Overall, I'm giving it an early 6/10 (ratings out of 10 may go up as well as down). It's a confident, if slight, scene-setter for the album - but one I expect will be eclipsed by the second single.

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Goodbye, One Direction, you were better than the average boyband

Squeaking in just before Zayn Malik's new single gets its world premiere, here's the video for One Direction's "final" single, History. I mean, technically they're on hiatus and are definitely coming back in 18 months. But no-one really believes that, do they? I mean, this song might as well be called "FIN" and end with all of the band being pushed into a reservoir by a crazed fan.

Still, the video is a nice exercise in nostalgia - full of black and white footage of the band gadding about in their X Factor days, and blinking, bewildered, as a million girls soil themselves at their stadium shows.

In fact, it makes me realise what a welcome presence One Direction have been in the pop world for the last six years. They never tried to be edgy or controversial, crafting a burnished synth-pop sound that was a gratifying departure from the ropey R&B of other boybands. Not once did they sing about "da club". And, almost until the end, they looked like they might actually be having fun.

While they never used their undeniable clout to rewrite the pop rulebook, a la Girls Aloud, they nonetheless created some great singles (What Makes You Beautiful, Story Of My Life, Steal My Girl) and only one real abomination (that pointless cover of Blondie's One Way Or Another).

Still, their popularity always outweighed their material, so it's fitting that they are closing their career with an ode to their fans - "the greatest team that the world has ever seen". It's a perfect swansong, and one that takes its cues from Take That's masterful Never Forget.

Here's looking forward to 1D's spin on Patience in 2026.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Video: Oh Wonder - Lose It

London alt-pop duo Oh Wonder narrowly missed a place on my Top 10 albums of 2015 - but their debut album remains a late-night favourite at Discopop Towers.

Now, they're releasing my favourite track, Lose It, as a single. To celebrate, Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht have made their very own episode of Beadle's About.

"We invited five dancers to audition for the video," they explain, "but what they didn't know was that they actually had starring roles!

"The dancers were truly losing it, in every sense of the word. And it was magical to watch..."

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Friday, January 22, 2016

PJ Harvey returns and 13 other songs you may have missed

A long-delayed return for a regular discopop feature, rounding up songs that have slipped under the radar in the last seven (or in this case 21) days.

Here we go, here we go, here we go now.

1) PJ Harvey - The Wheel
Four years after Let England Shake, PJ Harvey is still looking into the effects of war. This track was inspired by a visit to Kosovo, and references the thousands of children who disappeared during the conflict there. It opens with a squall of guitar and saxophone, but gives way to a lithe melody, underpinned by handclaps and a tribal drumbeat. Truly brilliant.

2) Grimes - Hate v Maim
Frankly, Grimes's squad looks a hell of a lot more intimidating than Taylor Swift's.

3) Spring King - Who Are You?
Manchester's Spring King were the first band to be played on Zane Lowe's Beats 1 show - and you can see why. This infectious, spritely indie-pop is the opening first track if you're making someone a mixtape this weekend.

Fun fact: The saxophone solo is played by the bassist's dad.

4) Laura Mvula - Overcome (ft Nile Rodgers)
Simply stunning. I can't recommend this highly enough.

5) Omarion - I Ain't Even Done (ft Ghostface Killah)
Silky rhymes and a laid-back flutestramental - this is a perfect throwback to the Wu Tang sound. Omarion calls it "high level vernacular" and "a generational victory". Well, quite.

6) Selena Gomez - Can't Keep My Hands To Myself
I mean I could but why would I want to?

7) Bryson Tiller - Don't
Kentucky-born Bryson Tiller recorded this bruising R&B jam in his living room, then watched it rack up 17 million Soundcloud plays in 10 months. Soon, Timbaland and Drake got on the phone and co-signed him to a record deal; and now the song is starting to get play on mainstream radio.

The lyrics see Bryson make an impassioned plea for a girl to leave an abusive relationship and settle down with him - but he rather undermines the gesture by singing about her "pussy" in the second verse.

8) Natalie Merchant - Tiny Desk Concert
A great big warm hug of a performance.

9) Låpsley - Love Is Blind
19-year-old Låpsley sounds older than her years on this mournful song "about someone being blind to the inevitability of a relationship ending". A gorgeous ballad, it showcases her husky contralto - and could easily be her breakout hit.

10) Rationale - Something For Nothing (Radio 1 Future Festival)

11) Ekkah - Small Talk
I've been following Birmingham's Rebecca Wilson and Rebekah Pennington for a while now - and this vibrant synthpop banger is their first single after being signed to Sony / RCA. The video gives off a distinct Bananarama vibe - but the early, cool Bananarama, rather than the SAW-era cheese.

12) Ellie Goulding - Army
A touching ode to Ellie's best friend (and PA) Hannah. "The person who has seen me at my lowest and the first person I call in muffled sobs when something bad happens. We've been deliriously happy together, deliriously tired and deliriously sad together. I wanted to show our friendship for what it really is- honest, real, electric." Aw, bless.

13) The 1975 - The Sound
It's always a worry when a rock group "goes pop". Like dramatic actors trying their hand at comedy, they usually discover it's not as easy as it looks. (A case in point is Coldplay's new album - which is an excruciating exercise in forced jollity.) Luckily, The 1975 get it just right. The chunky 1990s piano sound and the ebullient arms-aloft chorus are designed to kick off at a hundred festivals this summer.

14) Adele - Carpool Karaoke
OK, you've probably seen this already - the YouTube count has reached 50 million in the space of a week - but it remains an absolute joy.

And that's your lot. Have a fantastic weekend!

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hear this: SG Lewis - All Night (ft Dornik)

If Disclosure’s last album left you underwhelmed, this should sort you right out.

All Night is a pulsing, percolating club track from rising star SG Lewis (Pharrell Williams likened him to Justin Timberlake, calling them both “white boys with soul”).

Hailing from Liverpool, the 20-year-old only started “messing around with music software” when he was 17. But he quickly found his feet, and caught the attention of Radio 1 and Beats last year with a jet black house track called Warm.

That led to remixes for Jessie Ware and Disclosure – whose shared record label, PMR, quickly claimed him as one of their own.

Sam (for that is his name) says All Night is “my first attempt at channelling some nostalgia and 80s influences into one of my own tracks.” And it is very, very good.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Comeback Aluna, Comeback George

It's a few years since we heard new material from Aluna and George aka AlunaGeorge. In the meantime, they've worked with Jack Ü and Zhu; while DJ Snake's remix of You Know You Like It (a track first featured on this blog in 2011) finally gave the band a hit in the US.

But now they've emerged like Leonardo DiCaprio from inside that horse, with a brand new song. I'm In Control is a slinky, dancehall-influenced number featuring Jamaican rapper Popcaan (you might know him from Jamie xx's I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)). It doesn't grab you by the balls like Your Drums, Your Love or White Noise - but there's something insidious about that groove that makes me think I'll come back to it time and time again.

Premiering the record on Annie Mac's show earlier tonight, Aluna explained the long wait for new material.
"Me and George have been working on the album and we thought at one point we had it finished. Then, because we're silly musicians, we woke up one morning and said, 'no, it's not done, we have to keep writing'. And then you'd find a new song and you'd be like, 'now that's the bar, now we have to make all the other songs as good as that.' And of course time goes on - but you just keep pushing, keep pushing. [But] when it finally comes out, sometime in the spring, it's going to be as good as you can get it."

The singer is going to be called I Remember, and it features production from Flume and Zhu. As well as George, presumably.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Here are Her, Her are Here

French duo Her are brilliantly French. Enigmatic, haughty and naughty - their pared-back synthpop is like Serge Gainsbourg without the disturbing aura of your overly-tactile uncle.

Their debut EP - Her Tape #1 - traces a relationship from lust to consummation to marriage (like Tove Lo's fantastic Habits EP played in reverse). It's a sophisticated, sexy listen, although the final track veers dangerously close to parody.

The band are Rennes-based Victor Solf and Simon Carpentier. They've managed to pick up a lot of attention in the US and Europe without any real effort. "At the start we had zero followers on Soundcloud, and no promotion there, so it’s nice to see that music can still talk for itself," they told Invasion magazine.

"There are a lot of big labels interested in working with us at the moment," they added in an interview with Gigwise last month.

On this evidence, you can see why.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Uninspired since Lauryn Hill retired

Just in case this is the only music website you see today, I thought you should know there's a new Kanye West song on the internet. No More Parties in LA features Kendrick Lamar, who gets a whole verse before Ye elbows him aside and goes on a four-minute rant about his life, his wife and the cousin who stole his laptop.

He also talks about re-discovering his muse (lost in the aforementioned Lauryn Hill incident), boasting: "I know some fans said I'd never rap like this again / But the writer's block is over / MCs cancel your plans / A 38-year-old ate your role."

True to his word, it's a return to form, with West sounding relaxed and engaged over an old-soul sample that recalls the vibe of his Late Registration material.

The track was released today as part of West's inaccurately named GOOD FRIDAYS campaign, which trails West's new album SWISH, next month.

Writing on Twitter, West's wife Kim Kardashian explained the track had been delayed by the rapper travelling to Italy to oversee work on his fashion line.

"I soooo didn't mean to lie to you guys about GOOD FRIDAYS coming back. Kanye flew to Italy for a Yeezy Season 3 fitting," she tweeted on Saturday after the track failed to materialise. "He flew Noah [Shebib, producer] out with him so he could finish 'No More Parties In L.A.' & wrote 90 bars on the plane there!!!"

It's a hard life, eh?

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Chairlift album is shaping up to be great

Casual fans might know synthpop duo and budgerigar enthusiasts Chairlift for their work on Beyonce's No Angel. And if you like that, you should check out the four (four!) preview tracks that Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberley have issued for their new album, Moth, which hits shelves next week.

They range from jittery R&B (Ch-Ching) and heartbroken balladry (Crying In Public) via icy synth-scapes (Romeo) to the beat-driven pop of Moth To A Flame, which was Zane Lowe's World Record last night.

I've embedded them all below, because I'm nice like that. You can pre-order the album on various internet sites where it is possible to do that.

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Nina Nesbitt premieres Chewing Gum video

Well, now we know why Nina Nesbitt hasn't dried her hair on the cover of her new single EP - she's too busy having steamy shower sex with hunky tattooed men. (And who can blame her?)

This all happens in the video for the lead single Chewing Gum. Directed by David Higgs, it stays faithful to the song's story of infidelity - as a group of photogenic teens fall in and out of bed with each other, experimenting until they work out what they want from a relationship. It's basically Hollyoaks with a decent soundtrack.

Nina also spends a large amount of time standing in front of backlit Venetian blinds, looking like 1977-era Debbie Harry. Which is a good thing.

Watch below.

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Laura Mvula teams up with Nile Rodgers for Overcome

Last October, disco legend Nile Rodgers sent Laura Mvula a message on Twitter.

Quick as a flash, she replied:

Rodgers then asked Mvula to send him a demo of "the biggest track" on her new album, The Dreaming Room. A week later, they were recording in New York with Troy Miller whose previous credits include Amy Winehouse, Gregory Porter, John Newman and Mark Ronson.

Meanwhile, the mutual love affair between Rodgers and Mvula continued to grow.

Today, we get to hear the results... Overcome is a stirring call for unity, with Rodgers' muted guitar licks dancing nimbly around Mvula's voice. It ends with an extended, spiralling coda scored by the London Symphony Orchestra - and is, quite simply, wonderful.

A match made in gospel-soul-disco-funk heaven.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rationale's Something For Nothing is Everything

Now here's a song.

Zimbabwe-born singer-producer Rationale turned a few heads last year with Fuel To A Fire, an irresistibly dark song about being crushed by the demands of everyday life. A showcase for his voice - throaty, reverberant, spectacular - the song was picked up by Justin Timberlake and Elton John on Beats 1; NPR's Songs We Love; and Radio 1's Huw Stephens and Annie Mac.

Annie debuted the follow-up as her Hottest Record last night. Something For Nothing is a broiling soul song, full of snappy bass flourishes and blippy synths, while Rationale delivers a thrillingly urgent vocal: "I just wanna be the one you call when things go wrong."

"The stuff that I love and always come back to is groove-based... with a great vocal," the London-based singer told Annie Mac. "I was listening to a lot of Marvin Gaye and I wanted to come even slightly close to achieving anything great like that."

Did he manage it? Very nearly...

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Nina Nesbitt: Chewing Gum

Nina Nesbitt is in such a rush to play you her new single that she's forgotten to dry her hair. Very sloppy. She'll catch her death.

Still, it's a damn good song, featuring a cowbell the size of Pluto and a chorus that'll batter you around the head like Rocky Balboa. It's called Chewing Gum and it exudes womanly confidence (I think it's confidence) as Nina declares: "I'm a made up mess in a backless dress... I'll only do you wrong."

"'Chewing Gum' is an empowering track that I wrote about the transient types of relationships people have when they're trying to figure out what they want and they're not ready to fully commit," said Nina in a statement.

Have a listen below.

As other people have noticed, it all sounds very much like Tove Lo (the cowbell is lifted straight from Talking Body) - which represents a huge gear change from the Scottish starlet, whose previous work was very much in the Ed Sheeran / Amy McDonald mould.

But when I spoke to her in 2013, she was already saying she had "got a bit bored of the whole singer-songwriter scene". And fans of Selfies won't be surprised Nesbitt can write a solid gold hook.

Chewing Gum is the lead track from Nina's new EP Modern Love, out in February. The other tracks include Take You To Heaven - a filth-ballad in the style of Taylor Swift; a haunting weepy called Masquerade; and a stripped-back demo of Chewing Gum which really showcases the strength of the song's melody.

They're still to be made public - but you can watch Nina covering The Weeknd's Often in her home studio below. It's quite a revelation.

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

The reinvention of Vanessa White

When The Saturdays went on hiatus, did anyone notice (apart from, maybe, the talent bookers on Sunday Brunch)? Somehow, we ended up in a situation where Britain's biggest girlband were also Britain's most forgettable girlband, thanks to a series of underwhelming singles and bizarre stylistic switches.

So I don't think anyone was expecting much from their solo careers. Not even the band's label - who appear not to have optioned singer Vanessa White (aka Shorty Saturday) for any future releases. They're going to regret that - because the 26-year-old's solo material is surprisingly good.

White has eschewed the gaudy pop of her former band for a sophisticated brand of neo-soul. You can tell its sophisticated because all the press shots are in black and white.

"It's actually quite nice to do something a little different, she told Schön magazine. "I've always been a fan of that type of music anyway."

Unusually for a British artist, her take on R&B doesn't feel like a cheap or plasticky counterfeit of a US original. Vanessa has the vocal chops to carry it off, and with glitchy beats from the likes of Future Cut and Snakehips, her music sounds contemporary and cutting-edge.

Early tracks Relationship Goals and Don't Wanna Be Your Lover have been playlisted on Beats 1, where her latest single Nostalgia has just premiered.

Ok. We're not talking about Justin Bieber levels of redemptive astonishment here - but that's a good song, don't you agree?

Nostalgia features on Vanessa's new EP, Chapter One, which also includes Relationship Goals and the Wretch 32 collaboration Lipstick Kisses. The stunning video was created by visual director and animator Rob Heppell - famed for his work with Crystal Fighters and New Pharaohs - while the song was written by Vanessa herself with the help of former Saturdays writer Thomas Eriksen and Little Mix tunesmith Iain James.

The EP is out on 19th February, fact fans.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Jack Garratt does strange things to Justin Timberlake in the Live Lounge

Congratulations to Jack Garratt and his big ginger beard, who are officially the Sound of 2016, as you can discover over here.

To celebrate his not-at-all-inevitable win, Jack popped into Radio 1's Live Lounge to play his new single Worry (it's very good), followed by a cover of Justin Timberlake's Senorita mixed with Craig David's 7 Days.

Yes, Really.

It turns out that Garratt has a bit of a man-crush on Justin Timberlake (don't we all), telling Radio 1: "He is one of the main reasons I went into performing as a kid. Listening to Justified and watching him do incredible shows, he ignited something in me about performing great music live on stage."

I wonder what JT would make of this?

The runner-up for this year's prize was compact Canadian chanteuse Alessia Cara. She did the business yesterday with an impeccable version of her "wallflower's anthem" Here, followed by a sweet, guitar-led rendition Hotline Bling, originally by her fellow Ontarian Drake. But you knew that already.

Watch below.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alessia for my proper job - we talked about Sesame Street and Taylor Swift amongst other things. Read it here, along with reams of other Sound of 2016 coverage.

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Kendrick Lamar debuts new song on Jimmy Fallon

With 11 Grammy nominations to his name, Kendrick Lamar has hit the campaign trail with a few well-judged stops on the US talk show circuit.

Last night, he was the guest of Jimmy Fallon, who pointed out Lamar had come within spitting distance of Michael Jackson's Grammy record (he got 12 nominations for Thriller in 1983). "I wouldn't want to go past that," Lamar said. "I can't fathom being as great as Michael. Eleven is perfect."

Later, he whipped out a brand new track (so new it was called "Untitled 2") and performed it with The Roots. A complex, constantly-shifting jazz concoction, it's mesmerising to watch.

And here are the interviews, for good measure.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

New discovery: Seramic - People Say

Here's something special that cropped up on my Facebook feed today (thanks Gary!) - a warped and contorted gospel track from a "mysterious" new act called Seramic.

Called People Say its an intriguing and soothing listen. Imagine if James Blake remixed Leon Bridges and slapped a great big church choir on top and you'll get the general idea. Better still, listen to it. Now.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Marina and the Diamonds: True Colours

Cyndi Lauper's True Colors is a gnat's whisker away from being the perfect song. In fact, the only thing that counts against it is the atrocious American spelling of "colour". Urgh.

Marina and the Diamonds has just released a piano-led cover that corrects that error, while being as delicate and beautiful as the original.

You can hear it below.

According to several Marina forums, the track was supposed to be on a deluxe edition of FROOT which never came to pass. A tweet from producer David Kosten suggests this official release follows the leak of an inferior version by some nefarious malcontent on the internet. The scoundrel!

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Taylor Swift's Wildest Dreams like you've never heard it before

... unless you were at the Grammy museum last September, where Ms Swift delivered this stripped-back, gal-and-geetar rendition of her 1989 ballad.

I actually prefer it like this.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Dua Lipa - Be The One (live)

The BBC's Sound of 2016 countdown kicks off today - with two acts tied for the number five position (here are my interviews with Mura Masa and WSTRN, if you're interested).

The winning artist will be revealed on Friday - but ahead of that, BBC Music is putting sessions with the 15 shortlisted acts on their YouTube channel. My favourite so far is raven-haired pop innovator Dua Lipa - so here she is, performing Be The One live from her own personal Times Square.

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Kanye West - Facts

"I ain't drop the album but my shoes went platinum."
"Kimoji just shut down the app store."
"We made a million a minute. We made a million a minute."

Is there a more depressing indictment of the modern music industry than the lyrics of Kanye West's new song? (Hint: no)

Listen to it on Soundcloud and weep for the days when musicians would make music instead of putting their name on sneakers.

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Taylor Swift is pursued by wolves

Hasn't Out Of The Woods been a single already? I've lost track... Anyway, it's by far my favourite song on 1989 - a mid-tempo banger about Taylor Swift's aborted romance with Harry Styles, featuring a great lyric about a Polaroid.

The video was unveiled just before midnight on New Year's Eve. Filmed on location in New Zealand, it sees Swifto crawling through a swamp and turning into a tree. Which is a metaphor for something, I presume.

The best video from the album? Quite possibly.

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Discopop Directory: Top 10 Albums of 2015

Happy new year! And now that 2015 is finally behind us, here is a "definitive" list of the year's best albums, as dictated by my iTunes play counts.

I'm afraid it's bad news for Adele.

10) Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon
The modern flourishes and hip-hop beats have been erased, allowing Lana to plunge headfirst into her oily black pool of languorous melodrama. The songs are stronger, the melodies more memorable, her vocals more confidently authored. And anyone who accuses her of being submissive isn’t listening properly. “The truth is,” she sighs. "I never bought into your bullshit.” Well, quite.

9) Wolf Alice - Our Love Is Cool
Wolf Alice were so confident in their debut album that they left off their best single - Moaning Lisa Smile. The fact you don’t miss it only validates their chutzpah. Four years in the making, My Love Is Cool mixes up the grunge-lite of their early EPs with ethereal, melodic rock and - on Freazy - blissed out psych-pop. A surprisingly accessible rock record.

8) Years & Years - Communion
Olly Alexander paints a depressing picture of 21st century romance, with lyrics like "I'll do what you like if you stay the night" and "Let me take your heart / Love you in the dark / No one has to see." But, to be honest, I didn't notice until I wrote this list. The words wash over you - but the music is crisp, smart and surprisingly deep.

7) Ibeyi - Ibeyi
French-Cuban twins Lisa and Naomi Díaz sing in a mixture of Yoruba and English, mixing deep soul with African tradition, Cuban jazz and electronic samples. It shouldn't work - but the result is one of the most textured, original albums of the year.

6) Chvrches - Every Open Eye
Juddering synth-pop with a soft centre, thanks to Lauren Mayberry’s songbird vocals, which somehow manage to convey strength and vulnerability at the same time. Every Open Eye is essentially a streamlined version of Chvrches' debut album, with value-addded stadium-ready choruses. Even the one where the bloke sings isn’t that bad.

5) Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
The best record, lyrically-speaking, of the year. It opens with Courtney trying to stop a suicidal teenager jumping off a building - only to discover he’s just admiring the view. Later, she trains an acerbic eye on people moving to the suburbs and buying organic vegetables. It’s like a Woody Allen film, set to sloppy lo-fi punk. In other words: Magnificent.

4) Carly Rae Jepsen - E•MO•TION
In the making of this album, Carly Rae Jepsen recorded and rejected songs with Swedish pop overlord Max Martin. That should give you an idea of the quality threshold. She beats Taylor Swift at her own game, crafting a hazy 80s wonderland, full of reverberant saxophones and ridiculous synth hits - but never puts her baby toe over the cheese threshold. The lyrics constantly subvert pop cliche ("I think I broke up with my boyfriend today - but I've got worse problems"), while Your Type is a more heartbreaking than 7.8 million Adele albums combined.

3) Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
Police violence, white fear, black hypocrisy, media manipulation, the devil's temptation, fame, sex, depression, income tax... Is there a topic To Pimp A Butterfly doesn't tackle? The year's biggest album - conceptually and musically - is initially hard to digest, but proffers fresh rewards every time you listen. Bonus points for extended use of jazz clarinet.

2) Janet Jackson - Unbreakable
A solid gold return to form after a run of hopeless misfires. What changed? Well, for the first time since The Velvet Rope, Janet has something to say - musing on the nature of love and loss after a decidedly dark decade. Broken Hearts Heal, her tribute to Michael, is philosophical ("Broken hearts live longer") without being cloying; while Lessons Learned is a nuanced examination of domestic abuse. Add to that the slinky No Sleeep and the Sly Stone tribute Gon B Alright and you have an album as classy as it is catchy. (Although you could trim off tracks 11, 12, 13 and 15 and never miss them).

1) Tove Styrke - Kiddo
Fierce, funny and irresistible - Kiddo is Swedish pop with the autopilot smashed to smithereens. Tove Styrke mocks her Swedish Idol background ("Hijack the idea of a girl that obeys / Ha-ha-ha-ha oh my / Laugh it in the face") and spits venom at the self-obsessed ("I hope you hit the ground hard when you fell for yourself.") If you like the kilter of your pop set to "off", this is a perfect package.

Well, there you go. If you'd asked me before I consulted iTunes, I'd have said Kendrick Lamar would be number one, and that Marina and the Diamonds or The Staves would creep into the Top 10. But there you go, the play counts don't lie. Turns out I really, really like the Tove Styrke album - and the Years & Years one is good for doing the dishes to. Take that, 2015.

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