Friday, February 26, 2016

Songs you may have missed: The comeback edition

Woah - where did the last three weeks go?

Well, mostly I was in bed fighting off an horrific viral infection. Then it was the Brits (Adele won a few, you may have heard) and now I finally have some time to write my poor old neglected blog.

To make up for lost time, here's a mega "songs you may have missed" post, with six word synopses for every song. Buckle up and get ready.

1) Beyonce - Formation
Impressive visuals. Impressive lyrics. Underwhelming song.

2) Lorde - Life On Mars
Dignified and understated. A perfect tribute.

3) Rihanna ft Drake - Work
Rihanna's BOGOF offer. Warning: contains nipple.

4) Tinie Tempah - Girls Like (ft Zara Larsson)
"Tell JK that I'm still Rowling."

5) Dua Lipa - Last Dance
Is Dua Lipa Kosovan for "two lips"?

6) All Saints - One Strike
A genuinely perfect comeback single: 9/10

7) Pet Shop Boys - The Pop Kids
Nostalgia never sounded more contemporary.

8) Halsey - Colors
Stay tuned for the shock twist.

9) The 1975 - The Sound
Desperate, shallow, cringeworthy. Trying too hard.

10) Lissie - I Will Always Love You
Stop you in your tracks amazing.

11) Little May - Remind Me
Melodic indie direct from Sydney, Australia.

12) Little Mix - Black Magic (Brits performance)
They deserved to win best single.

13) Katy B, Craig David, Major Lazer - Who Am I
A ballad. A big, ballbusting ballad.

14) FKA Twigs - Good To Love
Rick-Nowels co-write. Possible breakthrough single?

15) Usher - Chains (ft Nas and Bibi Bourelly)
Unflinching, powerful call for police reform.

16) Charli XCX - Vroom Vroom EP
Harder, darker, dirtier. Welcome back, XCX.

17) Jake Bugg - On My One
Scratchy bluegrass from, er, Nottingham.

18) Icona Pop - I Want Someone Who Can Dance
"Not someone I can talk to."

Phew. Well done if you made it this far. And do let me know if there's anything I missed.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Must listen: Eryn Allen Kane - Aviary: Act II

Imagine this. You're a struggling musician posting demos on Soundcloud when one day, out of the blue, Prince gets in touch. He likes your stuff. He wants you to come to Paisley Park. He wants you on his new song. A song that's his personal response to the killing of Freddie Gray. Oh, and he'd like to you perform it on stage with him in Baltimore.

Well, that's what happened to Eryn Allen Kane.

"He [Prince] really wants to see young talented artists thrive," she told Essence. "He tells me to stay true to myself even though my music isn’t the type of music that’s being played on the radio all the time it’s important for people to hear it. He’s like, it’s up to you to be authentic and stay true to who you are at all costs because that is going to give you a long career."

Eryn isn't working with Prince on her solo material - perhaps realising that his obsessive studio etiquette frequently suffocates collaborators - but he would undoubtedly approve of the results. Her new EP, Aviary II, is real soul, with real passion, played by real musicians on real instruments.

The 26-year-old, who once enrolled at the Detroit School of the Arts because Aaliyah went there, wears her influences on her sleeve. You can hear Marvin, Erykah, Mariah and, naturally, Prince in her phrasing and orchestration. And the political overtones are still there on How Many Times - pointedly released on Martin Luther King day - which expresses her frustration at America's cycle of violence: "How many lives do we have to give up?" she asks over a portentous piano phrase.

But the real highlight is her voice - persistently incredible, whether she's angry, lovelorn or full of fiery passion (listen to the last 30 seconds of Honey - it's like Aretha never went away).

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Video: Little Mix - Secret Love Song

It's no secret that I'm a fan of The Mix but Secret Love Song is a bit of a mess. For a start, Jason Derulo is serenading all four members of the band which, apart from being creepy, seems logistically improbable (unless he operates a complicated ticketing system like the fish counter at Sainsbury's).

Even if you put the ickiness to one side, the whole thing is terribly oversung. Jesy sets the tone well with a sorrowful reading of the first line - but by the first chorus everyone is barking like a wounded dog at a shooting range. Sure, emotions must run high when you discover you're part of a love pentangle with Jason Derulo, but the band aren't so much singing about a broken heart as summoning the almighty Thor.

Brilliantly, Jason Derulo then attempts to convey this melodrama through the medium of dance.

It's hilarious. But I'd prefer Little Mix to have released the superior album tracks Get Weird or OMG (which was, coincidentally, sitting atop Billboard's Trending Chart until this morning).

Anyway. Here's the video. It's overblown and ridiculous. And they clearly couldn't get Jason to film his bits at the same time as Little Mix. Maybe he's hiding from them. Or maybe his boss is being funny about the rota on the fish counter.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New discovery: LeMarquis - Hurricane (ft Alo Lee)

French producer LeMarquis made his name with a series of official (and unofficial) remixes for the likes of Ashanti, Drake and Whitney Houston. My particular favourite is this frothy, disco-funk refix of Phoenix's Fences - which ends up sounding like a lost Daft Punk b-side.

That success of that track brought the 21-year-old to the attention of chic French dance label Kitsuné, who hired him to remix Years & Years's Real (for free, such is the way of the music business). It also turned out quite well.

LeMarquis (he doesn't give his real name) has now dropped out of a masters in Musicology to pursue music full time. Amidst DJing and remix work, he's been stockpiling original tunes, the latest latest of which - Hurricane - is a revelation. Here, the frothy beats have been poured down the sink and replaced by a sticky, murky liquor. British singer Alo Lee provides some suitably stormy vocals - "I never let them see me cry so I look stronger," she sings sotto voce, "you can find me standing in the rain".

"On this one, I tried something a bit slow and different from my usual stuff," says LeMarquis. "When I started to look for a singer Alo came straight in my mind, so I sent her the instrumental and when she came back i was blown away by her “dreamy r’n’b” voice which fits the beat perfectly and creates a great slow and chill atmosphere for the track."

Listen below.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Video: PJ Harvey - The Wheel

Last week, there was a documentary on Radio 1 asking whether the protest song had died. Well, here's a resounding "NO!" in 72-point neon pink Gill Sans.

The video for PJ Harvey's The Wheel was shot in Kosovo, and the lyrics reference the 28,000 children who went missing during the conflict there.

Director Seamus Murphy explains:

"The song The Wheel has the journey to Kosovo at its centre. Who is to say what else has influenced and informed its creation? The sight of a revolving fairground wheel in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje near the capital Pristina is the concrete reference point for the title. Was that sight alone the inspiration for the song? Without being told the stories of people who had suffered during the war, without visiting villages abandoned through ethnic cleansing and cycles of vengeance, without experiencing the different perceptions of people with shared histories, could the song have been written?

I made a return trip to Kosovo in December 2015, armed this time with the knowledge of how the project had developed. ... The enormous refugee crisis in Europe had been news for months. I spent some time on the Greek and Macedonian borders, and in Serbia, before traveling into Kosovo. It was happening in and through territories associated with recent conflicts in Kosovo and the wider Balkans. The idea of cycles, wheels and repetition once again being all too apparent and necessary to make."

It's a powerful and poignant watch - yet it never prioritises polemic over the music.

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