Monday, January 30, 2017

Video: Ed Sheeran - Shape Of You

What shape are you? I'm a rhombus - but Ed Sheeran is ovally (awfully) good.


Labels: , ,

New (to me): Elf Kid - Reload That

The greatest and worst thing about music is you can't listen to it all. From time to time, a gem slips through your fingers like an overly-buttered corn on the cob. Here is one such song...

Elf Kid's Reload That came out a month ago - on 21 December, to be precise - but I heard for the first time today when Clara Amfo cued it up on Radio 1 (I was painting the bathroom at the time, fact fans).

The London MC eschews grime conventions by sampling Malian desert punk band Songhoy Blues, whose Irganda provides the song's choppy, uplifting groove. Lyrically and visually, he's representing his African roots - with a video shot in Ethiopia, and lyrics like: "Ethiopia ain't about no riff-raff / won't take breaks unlike a Kit-Kat"

The result is a brilliantly refreshing piece of UK hip-hop and if, like me, you missed it in the run-up to Christmas, I'd recommend hitting play on the Ethiopia-based video below.

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 27, 2017

Missy Elliot is Better than you. Simple as that.

"This video took a month," Missy Elliot told Fact Magazine. "We rehearsed a whole month and I’ve never done that in my whole career. We rehearsed from nine at night until six in the morning, most of the time. I wanted the dance movement to be challenging. I wanted it to look like art instead of just a video."

She got her wish. Every set-up of this video is inspired. Optical illusions, underwater dancing, choreography that doesn't seem humanly possible. If anyone doubted Missy's ability to innovate, they've just had a basket of eggs thrown in their face.

The song, I'm Better, is a trap-infused slow burner that, agonisingly, isn't a preamble to Missy's new album. Instead it heralds a documentary on her career (can't wait) while Missy continues work on the follow-up to 2005's The Cookbook. She tells Fact she's thrown away five or six albums of material since.

I don't know about you, but I'm off to hunt through her bins.

Labels: , ,

Video: Martin Garrix & Dua Lipa - Scared To Be Lonely

The mood is set to "moody". The tempo is set to "sultry". The lighting is set to "is that you, Brenda, or am I frotting a pillow?"

Yes, it's the new collaboration between dance lynchpin Martin Garrix and Bambi-eyed pop goddess Dua Lipa. The song is built around an incredible lyric: "Is the only reason you're holding me tonight because we're scared to be lonely," which is a feeling all but the luckiest of us can identify with.

I don't think this is going to be the song that finally gives Dua the Top 10 hit she needs (luckily, it looks like the re-release of Be The One is going to do that) but it's another amazing single to add to her armoury.

At this rate, she'll have enough for a greatest hits before she release her debut album.

Labels: , , ,

Video: Zayn and Taylor Swift - I Don't Wanna Live Forever

Imagine Zayn and Taylor starred in a remake of Lost In Translation, only set in a much less fancy hotel. This video is essentially all the boring bits between the main scenes.

It is literally a video in which Taylor Swift abusing a pillow is the dramatic highlight.

Still a great song, mind you.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Father John Misty has the best song titles

Father John Misty announced the arrival of his third album yesterday with the release of the title track, Pure Comedy.

Brilliantly acerbic, it deconstructs religion by saying it's a result of man's own self-obsession. In a nutshell, he claims we invented a creator God, who made humans in his own image, to prove our sense of self-importance. Then he goes on the attack:

"Oh, their religions are the best
They worship themselves yet they're totally obsessed
With risen zombies, celestial virgins,
Magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits
And they get terribly upset
When you question their sacred texts
Written by woman-hating epileptics"

Judging by the track names on Misty's new album, there's more of this bone-dry humour to come: "When the god of love returns there’ll be hell to pay"; "Things it would have been helpful to know before the revolution"; "So I’m growing old on magic mountain".

If you pre-order the album, you even get a free 7" single featuring the excellent Real Love Baby and "Rejected Generic Pop Song, March '15 #3" - which presumably comes from his work on the recent Lady Gaga album...

You can place your orders here.

Labels: , ,

New music: Syd - Body

Things you need to know about Syd and her excellent new single, Body,

  • Her real name is Sydney Bennett, which sounds more like a janitor than a pop star.
  • You might know her as "Syd Tha Kyd" - singer in Grammy-nominated neo-soul band The Internet.
  • Her uncle co-wrote Shabba Ranks' Mr Loverman.
  • She built a recording studio in her bedroom at the age of 14.
  • Syd publicly came out in the video for Cocaine.
  • She once shared potentially libellous views on Alicia Keys' sexuality with LA Weekly.
  • Her solo material is fantastic.
  • Like, really, really good.
  • Syd told Zane Lowe she wants Body to be the "baby-making anthem of 2017"
  • If you like Drake, Tinashe and Lana Del Rey, you'll like this.
  • That's it for now.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 23, 2017

Video: Declan McKenna - Kids Don't Wanna Come Home

Hard-hitting, in it's own adorable way. Declan McKenna and his teenage contemporaries tackle global politics, prejudice and the crippling indecision of the information generation.

Also, has anyone noticed how this song sounds like an edgier Belle and Sebastian?

Labels: , ,

Welcome back, Goldfrapp and your massive throbbing synths

After four years' absence, Goldfrapp are back with a sultry, throbbing new single that recalls the pomp-and-stomp of songs like Train and Strict Machine.

With flagrant disregard for the Oxford English Dictionary, the song is called Anymore, with Alison purring: "Make me a freak / I can't wait any more," over a slippery, seductive synth line. Like all of music's best songs, it's a hymn to the dancefloor... Or "your strange music, like lucid dreams," as Alison would have it.

It's the best thing they've done since the last thing they did.

Can't wait for the new album - Silver Eye - which is due in March, and is co-produced by John Congleton (St Vincent, Sleater Kinney, Nelly Furtado). They'll be performing a special show at London's Roundhouse on the 27th of that month. See you there.

PS: Here is a superb interview with Alison Goldfrapp, courtesy of PopJustice.

Labels: , ,

Video: Ed Sheeran - Castle On The Hill

I'm toying with a new approach to the blog - in which new videos (especially ones for songs I've already written about) get posted with minimal explanation. Like this one, for Ed Sheeran's U2-tastic Castle On The Hill.

What do you think?

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 20, 2017

Video: Little Mix - Touch

Poor old Little Mix, being forced to give birth on a slide outside a maze, or whatever the heck is supposed to be going on in this "still" from their new video, Touch.

I can imagine the pitch was "colourful and sexy" but the end result is "headache-inducing and joyless".

Cracking song, though.

Labels: , ,

Arcade Fire make a powerful return

On their last album, Arcade Fire played with the rhythms of dance and disco while retaining their quivering, apocalyptic approach to stadium rock. But their new single is a total surrender to "the funk".

Over a dark pulse, Win Butler trades lines with gospel star and Prince acolyte Mavis Staples. "I give you power, over me. / I give you power, now I gotta be free," is their mantra... hypnotic, repetitive and, as the song reaches it's climax, increasingly desperate. (You can also sing the hook to Gold Digger over the top, which is a benefit).

It's an intriguing departure. Can't wait to see how their fifth album builds on the template.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Young Thug has made the best video of 2017... by not showing up

I can't say I care much for the song, but Young Thug's video for Wyclef Jean is a stroke of accidental genius.

It was going to be a pretty conventional rap/trap promo clip - girls in bikinis, a performance by a poolside, you know the drill. But then Young Thug "forgot" to turn up. For 10 hours. And, when he eventually did arrive on set, he refused to get out of his car.

Rather than scrap the video, director Ryan Staake took the existing footage and created a "behind the scenes" music video, explaining the litany of disasters in a series of title cards. It's a bit like that documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now, only more deranged.

Amazingly, Young Thug approved this endeavour and it is now the official video for Wyclef Jean. Much to Ryan's surprise.

"I honestly had no idea that this thing was coming out until it came out," he told Rolling Stone. "I had a sense that, 'OK, I've delivered it, they've paid the final invoice, things seem good,' but based on the way things had gone, I wasn't ready to get my hopes up."

Watch the full clip below - then read the whole interview with Ryan. he deserves a medal, never mind an MTV moonman.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Banks's Trainwreck video is creepy and unsettling

Trainwreck was clearly the standout track on Banks's sophomore (second) album, The Altar, when it came out last year. Featuring lyrics she wrote at the age of 14, it's a pulverising damnation of an "idiot" who dragged her down into his persojnal problems.

When she performed it on US television last November, three days after Donald Trump's election victory, she turned it into an angrily defiant rejection of the president-elect, slamming her microphone to the floor as she stomped across the stage.

Shorn of that context, it remains a powerful piece of music - and the video does it justice, as Banks is manipulated by (and fights back against) a group of faceless suits.

Unlike the Amy Schumer film of the same name, however, this does not contain any hilarious sex jokes.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Maggie Rogers astonished Pharrell ... now she'll astonish you, too

If you've seen it, you won't forget it: The moment a New York student played Pharrell a song and gasted his flabber.

Her name was Maggie Rogers and that viral video launched her career. Well, kind of... She'd already released two folk albums, which relied heavily on the much-maligned banjo. But her new music, inspired by a Damascene conversion to dance music, took those basic sounds and created something genuinely new and (crucially) great. That's what made Pharrell's ears prick up.

Rogers, as you can see above, found the whole experience excruciating. "I felt like I was showing my homework," she told the NME. "It was very uncomfortable listening to my music in front of my peers, then you add a camera crew and one of the most powerful music influencers. I pretty much picked a spot on the floor and stared at it. I didn’t really know what was happening or how excited he was until I saw the video... and I’ve only really seen it once. We’re not in touch; That was my whole interaction with him."

After the video went viral, Rogers worried she'd become known as "the Pharrell girl". To be brutally honest, that's going to be the case for the foreseeable future - but luckily she has the material to back it up.

Her second single, Dog Years, was further evidence of her ability to fuse memorable melodies with inventive production. The new one, On + Off, veers even further into pop territory. There's a hint of Sia in the chorus, but Sia wouldn't be able to resist smashing that hook over your head. Rogers is elusive... Every time you think you've got a grip on the song, it shakes you off and beckons you back for more.

It's devious. It's delicious. I can't resist.

On + Off is track three on Now That The Light Is Fading, Rogers' debut EP. It "drops" on 17th February.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 16, 2017

Solange breaks down Cranes In The Sky

Solange's Cranes In The Sky was my favourite single of 2016, so it's fascinating to find out how it was created.

That's exactly what you get in the latest episode of Hrishikesh Hirway's Song Exploder: A podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. Solange explains how the basic track was first recorded in 2012 - but, by the time she'd finished the lyrics and melody, the original computer files had been lost. She also delves into the mental struggles depicted in the song... and you get to hear some of those gorgeous, honey-brushed vocals in isolation.

Listen below - and subscribe to Song Exploder via

Labels: , , ,

Friday, January 13, 2017

The best and worst of New Music Friday

I listened to those whopping great Spotify / Apple "new music" playlists so you don't have to. (You're welcome, etc.)

1) Halsey - Not Afraid Anymore
Halsey kickstarts an important linguistic debate: Should it be "anymore" or "any more"?

2) Loyle Carner - Damselfly
Reflective, jazzy, superb.

3) The Chainsmokers - Paris
Fearlessly exploring the law of diminishing returns, this single "rhymes" the words Paris and parents.

4) Declan McKenna - The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home
Snackable indie-pop, as featured on the blog earlier this week. The streaming version ends with a very odd studio outtake, in which Declan is harrassed by a kid who appears to have eaten two dozen Kinder eggs.

5) Verité - Phase Me Out
Like Tove Lo, without the swears.

6) Laura Marling - Wild Fire
God, I'm so middle aged.

7) Julia Michaels - Issues
As previously noted on "these pages", this is a fantastic pop single.

666) Ralph Felix and SDJM - The Heat (I Wanna Dance With Somebody)
An assault on music. An assault on Whitney Houston. An assault on common decency.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Julia Michaels makes a triumphant debut

You don't know Julia Michaels but you've sung along to her records. Justin Bieber's Sorry: That's one of hers. Likewise Hands To Myself by Selena Gomez and Love Myself by Hailee Steinfeld.

They're all songs that feel deeply personal, despite the singer receiving a fraction of the credit. That's Julia's secret: She persuades pop stars to open up and spill their guts like a packet of cornflakes within minutes of meeting them .

"I'm like, 'Come in. Sit on the chair. Let's talk. What's going on? What happened this week? Did that make you upset?'" she told Elle last year. 

"I take everything they said in a span of 20 minutes and help them piece it together. I always try to get the most out of people."

Now she's turned the spotlight on herself for a "world, sit-up-and-pay-attention" solo song. Called Issues, it's a slight, but instantly memorable, piece of emo-pop.

The track was written by Julia along with Benjamin Levin, Tor Erik Hermansen, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen and her usual collaborator Justin Tranter; and produced by Benny Blanco and Stargate.

It's out today and you can hear it below.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Video: Sia - Move Your Body

Originally intended for Shakira (and, boy, does it show) Move Your Body is the fourth single from Sia's This Is Acting album.

It comes with a typically high-concept lyric video, set in a tacky 1980s photographer's studio. The whole thing is very watchable.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Declan McKenna - The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home

Young Declan McKenna isn't afraid of a hot potato*.

His single Brazil was an indictment of FIFA; while Isombard took Fox News to task for its divisive reporting on America. His latest effort, The Kids Don't Wanna Go Home, was written in the aftermath of the deadly attacks on Paris two years ago, and acts as a rallying cry to the iPhone generation.

"It's generally about the frustrations of being a young person in the modern world," he told Radio 1's Mistajam, who premiered the single last night. "There's a lot of scary things going on that people are concerned about it’s about finding hope and looking towards the future."

"The song came together when I was in Paris around the time of the attacks and the day after I kind of realised that I now felt the emotions that I was trying to put into this song, and it all became quite real for me. That kind of fear and frustration but also a longing for change".

Hear it below.

* Metaphorically speaking. For all I know, he could be terrified by a bowl of spuds.

Labels: , ,

Disappointing news from Dua Lipa

Poor old Dua Lipa. She's been teetering on the cusp - the actual cusp - of pop superstardom for a whole year, but the gravitational pull of streaming on the Top 40 has slowed everything right down.

Her singles have been played in all the right places, she's made some amazing videos, collaborated with Sean Paul, been nominated for a Brit and given this bizarro performance on Dutch TV.

Don't let them eat you, Dua!

So what's gone wrong? Well, nothing, really - except that Dua has yet to breach the top 10. And that's not really her fault.

The awful truth is that people don't listen to new music on Spotify. Ed Sheeran? Yes. Justin Bieber? You betcha. But an artist you don't know? Even one with smoky eyes and a penchant for chokers? Not a chance.

She'll get there eventually, because she is a HUGE talent, but it's a long, slow grind. With that in mind, she's had to delay her album for a third time. Originally due last summer, then scheduled for 10 February, it's now coming out in June - as Dua explained in a tweet this morning.

Which is a real shame. To help ease the pain, though, we have a brand new song called Thinking 'Bout You, which presents a whole new side to the singer - showcasing her husky voice over a gently strummed acoustic guitar. It's quite the revelation.

Roll on June.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

New music: Alicia Keys vs Kaytranada

Swizz Beats has just updated his official Soundcloud page with a new track by Alicia Keys and Kaytranada...

Called Sweet F'in Love, it's a blissed-out soul jam - with Keys riffing various interpretations of the line "I'm talking about sweet, sweet f'in love" over a lazy piano figure and some of Kaytranada's trademark wobbly synths.

It's not clear whether the song is an off-cut from Alicia Keys' superlative 2016 album Here; or a brand new track. Either way, it's a euphoric beauty.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ed Sheeran: Now that's what I call a comeback

Ed Sheeran's a smart cookie. He knows the pop market is fragmented. He knows that, to repeat the success of + and x, he has to reach as many people as he can. So here he is, back with two singles at once: One for the fans and one for the nans.

First up is Castle In The Sky, a freewheeling ballad about growing up in Frangligham. It opens with the none-more-Ed lyric: "When I was six years old I broke my leg." Amazing.

Co-written with Benny Blanco, the song's built around cascading, U2-style guitar riffs. THe chorus will give you goosebumps and, with its references to Tiny Dancer, is precision-targeted at stations like Radio 2 and Heart.

Shape Of You is for the streaming services, an uptempo banger that riffs on Ed's work with Justin Bieber and Major Lazer last year.

Somewhat surprisingly, it paints Ed as a callous, opportunistic lover: "Your love was handy for somebody like me," he sings, "I'm in love with your body." (worst Valentine card ever.)

A press release says the song "dismantles and rebuilds pop music with nothing more than a loop pedal," but to be honest, it's just a very good tropical house track.

As yet, there's no release date for Ed's third album "÷" - but the campaign's off to a great start. Look forward to seeing him at Glastonbury (maybe (although it's as good as in the bag, isn't it? (unless they go for Guns N' Roses (but that would be awful (Go Ed!)))))

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 5, 2017

New music: SOHN - Hard Liquor

Esteemed producer and part-time knitwear model SOHN is probably best known for his work with Banks and Lana Del Rey. His solo efforts, while building engrossing sonic universes, have never really had the melodic potential of those collaborations.

That changes on his new single, Hard Liquor, which has a looser, more soulful vocal than we've come to expect. Perhaps that's because it was initially intended for his friend, singer Sam Dew.

"Originally I had imagined Sam singing it - he has this incredibly soulful voice - and that gave me a certain lyrical and melodic freedom that I never imagined coming out of my mouth," he says. "It ended up being a blueprint for the whole album and resulted in the entire record feeling very direct and free.”

That record is his new album, Rennen, due out next Friday. On this evidence, I'll be paying close attention.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Six pieces of motherly advice from Janet Jackson's lyrics

Congratulations to Janet Jackson and Wissam Al Mana, who have just had their first baby - a boy named Eissa Al Mana.

As new parents, their most important task will be to ensure there's a constant supply of chocolate bars to help power through those 3am feeding sessions. Once you have that, it's all plain sailing (NB: It really isn't).

But as Eissa grows older, he'll turn to his mum for life advice. What can she, a globe-straddling pop icon who made her first stage appearance at the age of seven, tell the youngster about the real world?

Well, it turns out she's already provided invaluable guidance through her lyrics. Here's a sample:

1) "You can't run away from your pain
Because where ever you run
There you will be."

(From Special, on the Velvet Rope album)

Written after an emotional breakdown and a period of depression, it sees Janet acknowledge and accept her demons: An vital coping technique to pass on to your offspring.

Less essential is the follow-up line: "You have to learn to water your spiritual garden." Ew.

2) "No, my first name ain't baby.
It's Janet - Ms. Jackson if you're nasty"

(From Nasty, on Control)

Respecting your mum is the first step towards respecting all women. And eat your greens, young man, or there'll be trouble.

3) "In complete darkness
We are all the same
It is only our knowledge and wisdom
That separates us
Don't let your eyes deceive you"

(From In Complete Darkness, on Rhythm Nation)

Janet recently sang that her pleas for racial tolerance on Rhythm Nation made her "the poster child for being naive" but, given the current political climate, this message is as powerful and relevant as it was in 1989. It works equally well as a prelude to a game of pin the tail on the donkey.

4) "Broken hearts heal stronger"
(From Broken Hearts Heal, on Unbreakable)

While medically inaccurate, these words will comfort any child whose teddy bear gets his head ripped off in the ball pit of a soft play centre.

5) "Let's wait a while
Before we go too far"

(From Let's Wait A While, on the Control album)

Janet's hymn to chastity, from her breakthrough album, Control, is sound advice for young teenagers. But if it falls on deaf ears, hearing your mum sing "I wanna feel your sexplosion" (from the excruciatingly-titled Sexhibition) will easily put Eissa off sex until he's 34, thus avoiding any unwanted celebrity scandals.

6) "Because of my gender
I've heard "no" too many times
Because of my race
I've heard "no" too many times
But with every "no", I grow in strength
That is why, African-American woman,
I stand tall with pride."

(From New Agenda, on the Janet album)

No jokes. This one just sets an awesome example of strength and resilience in the face of hardship. It's taken from New Agenda, tucked away in the middle of Janet's so-called "sex album". It was pretty much the Lemonade of its day, but with Chuck D on it.

On reflection, it's probably best not to live your life according to pop lyrics, eh?

Labels: ,

Video: Coldplay - Amazing Day

Rock band and paintball massacre victims Coldplay are now onto the sixth (sixth!) single from their Head Full of Dreams album - putting it in the same bracket as Michael Jackson's Thriller, only with a tenth the cultural significance or value.

Still, their new video is beauty. The clip for Amazing Day is compiled from footage filmed and submitted by fans on 19 November last year. During the video, you'll see skydiving, a wedding, dolphins flipping in the ocean and a pack of husky dogs tearing across the Antarctic.

All of which rams home the global appeal of Coldplay's music, although I'm sure that wasn't the point. Or was it?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Discopop Directory: Top 10 albums of 2016

Better late than never, here are my top 10 albums of the year just passed. As always, the rankings are based on my iTunes play counts - so these are the records I actually listened to, not the ones I appreciated on an intellectual level (nb: I don't have an intellectual level).

So, without further ado...

10) Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Depending on your point of view, Radiohead either rediscovered the joy of melody on this, their ninth album, or simply released half a dozen forgotten songs from "when they were good". Who cares, though, when the results were this magical? Boosted by Jonny Greenwood's cinematic string arrangements, the album feels epic and intimate at the same time, from the low flying panic attack of Burn The Witch to the grieving melancholy of True Love Waits - a track written as a love letter almost 20 years ago, only to be released as Thom Yorke's relationship fell apart.

9) Tove Lo - Lady Wood
Tove Lo is the pop equivalent of Just 17's sex column. "Look at this smut," she says, patting herself firmly on the back. "Isn't it outrageous?"

That attitude is writ large throughout Lady Wood, from the title (fun fact: it's a euphemism for a clitoral erection) to the vagina in the logo. Meanwhile, Tove effs and jeffs her way through the album like a teenager trying to shock her parents, but her heart is in the right place. The confessional tales of lust, loss and desperation are relatable and cathartic - and she anchors everything in a dark, minimalist house production.

She may call herself a True Disaster, but this is a blemished pop gem.

8) Clare Maguire - Stranger Things Have Happened
Clare Maguire has been through the wringer and no mistake. Dropped by her label, she was drinking litres of vodka every day until a doctor gave her two weeks to live. Miraculously (and with a lot of hard work) she turned her life around and produced this spell-binding album of classic, piano-led pop.

She's at her best when she peers into the abyss - Channelling Nina Simone on the autobiographical opening track, Faded; and delivering the best lonely hearts advert of all time on Whenever You Want It: "I just wanna have someone who laughs at my shit jokes."

Don't we all, Clare? Don't we all?

7) Michael Kiwanuka - Love and Hate
Resolutely old-school, Michael Kiwanuka's second album riffs on Marvin, Isaac and Curtis but never descends into pastiche. It finds him world-weary and melancholy, after a crisis of confidence almost persuaded him to abandon music altogether. "But when you have all or nothing to lose, you just become fearless," he told Nothing But Hope And Passion.

The result is breath-taking: A psych-soul opus backed by opulent strings and a full choir. The opening track unfolds over 10 minutes, while the bluesy Black Man In A White starts like a plantation song before picking up a funky shuffle that never quite settles into a groove - a musical metaphor for Kiwanuka's sense of unease. It took a lot of people by surprise, in the best possible way.

6) Christine & The Queens - Chaleur Humaine
I came to this far too late but that was my own stupid fault. Chaleur Humaine is classy, delicate synthpop that embraces mystery and androgyny like nothing else on this list. Lots of mainstream artists get labelled "outsider pop" but Héloïse Letissier is the real deal.

Of course, I wasn't the only person to overlook it: In her native France, Héloïse released the album in 2014, winning a cupboard full of awards and receiving endorsements from Madonna and Elton John. That it took her to re-record some of the lyrics in English merely illustrates, in the year of Brexit, how closeted and unadventurous the UK can be, even in the resolutely liberal world of pop.

5) Nao - For All We Know
In a year we lost Prince, Nao made the best Prince album this side of Musicology. For All We Know is a lurching, off-kilter, pop-funk extravaganza, where the South Londoner autopsies love (requited and otherwise) in her gorgeous, high-pitched voice. A thoroughly impressive debut.

4) Shura - Nothing's Real
Imagine if Madonna ever experienced doubt or insecurity. That's Shura's debut album. Named in honour of a panic attack that altered her perception of reality, it follows an introverted wallflower as she navigates her way through crushes, infatuations and break-ups ("thought we'd get married and have kids and stuff," she sings of one particularly devastating break-up).

Where she doesn't lack confidence, though, is in the music. What's It Gonna Be, all staccato guitars and shimmering synths, it sounds like the theme to a 1980s teen film without succumbing to pastiche. Even better is the extended, bravura coda of White Light - the disco equivalent of 2001: A Space Odyssey's Star Gate sequence.

3) Regina Spektor - Remember Us To Life
Back after a baby-having hiatus, Regina Spektor is on fine form. Her character studies and lyrical insights are sharper than ever ("All the lies on your resumé have become the truth by now," she sings on Older and Taller), while the sombre tone smooths out her quirkier tics. Not coincidentally, this is the first time she's written a record from scratch).

The stand-outs are many: The Grand Hotel is a baroque ballad that reimagines Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest as a portal to hell; while The Trapper and The Furrier is a scathing polemic about the greed of bankers and pharmaceutical companies that starts a capella and ends with an unrestrained scream. Best of all is Sellers of Flowers - a deep blue ink blot, lamenting the fragility of memory.

An absolute treat.

2) Solange - A Seat At The Table
On which Beyonce's little sister comes into her own. Recorded in New Iberia, Louisiana, where her grandparents were fire-bombed out of their house fifty years ago, it is informed by the dehumanising acts, large and small, black people face on a daily basis. That doesn't mean it's an angry album, although anger certainly rears it's head. Rather, Solange presents a poised, nuanced portrait of the pains and joys of black womanhood.

Musically, she's found her footing, too. Gone is the lightweight R&B of her debut album, in favour of deep, dreamy R&B grooves. You'll recognise the spirits of Minnie Riperton, Marvin Gaye, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Herbie Hancock and Isaac Hayes dropping by to pay their respects - but this is Solange's album, through and through.

1) Beyoncé - Lemonade
Remember when everyone thought Lemonade was a record about Jay-Z cheating on Beyoncé? Turns out "Becky with the good hair" is the biggest Trojan horse since, well, that horse in Troy.

Beyoncé's tale of betrayal masked a much bigger discourse on male privilege, white privilege, police violence, female empowerment, rejection, forgiveness, anger, scorn, pain, redemption... The list goes on.

The signs were there when she turned up at the Super Bowl dressed as a Black Panther and made a video in which she sat on top of a police car as it sank into post-Katrina floodwaters. Those are pretty bold statements, especially for an artist of Beyoncé's stature. Can you imagine Elvis or Michael Jackson putting their necks on the line so boldly. No, you cannot.

But here's the thing - the message goes nowhere without fantastic tunes. Luckily, Beyoncé delivered them by the truckful. Hold Up, Sorry, All Night, Freedom, Formation - Beyoncé could have sung, "Yes my name is Iggle Piggle" over those tracks and they'd still be classics. (Note to Beyoncé: Please release this record in 2017).

So there you go... I'm gutted there wasn't space for Chance The Rapper or Childish Gambino, both of whom signposted a way out of rap's current cul-de-sac, or for A Tribe Called Quest's comeback, which did the same thing by sounding exactly like a Tribe Called Quest album from 20 years ago. I thought Ariana Grande might get a look-in, but the album squandered it's promise with a bunch of cookie cutter dance bops that had the filthy hands of major label A&R all over them.

Bat For Lashes' excellent The Bride (about a bride whose fiancé is killed on the way to their wedding) would have had a place if it wasn't so depressing to listen to, in a good way. And Frank Ocean's Blonde loses out for that godawful Facebook interlude. What a crock.

Anyway, let's not end on a sour note. Here's a playlist of the best tracks from those Top 10 albums. If you find something you like, why not buy it and single-handedly save the music industry?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, January 2, 2017

The xx awake from their zz

The stampede to get new music out for the new year ("get new music out before Ed Sheeran drops his new single on Friday") continues with The xx, who've just bunged this gem on the internet:

True to form, Say Something Loving is a sparse, haunting ballad - but the lush instrumentation and heartfelt lyrics are a genuine departure for the notorious miserabilists. It really takes off in the last 60 seconds, as Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim twine their voices around an old soft rock sample (I'm itching to identify it, so if anyone can help, send me a tweet.)

The song is taken from the band's third album, I See You, which arrives a week on Friday. According to a press release, it was recorded in New York, Texas, Reykjavik, Los Angeles and London. Which is a bit fancy, isn't it?

Labels: , ,

London Grammar's return will melt your heart

Have a listen to this, have a quiet weep, then start petitioning Sony to have London Grammar do the next Bond theme.

For those of you who can't play the Spotify link, the band have posted an alternate take on YouTube, which is largely a capella (ie boring).

The trio are about to play a handful of shows in Australia, where the long days and summer breezes will undoubtedly improve the song's airy magnificence. Presumably, there's a new album on the way, too, but details are being kept under hats for now.

Labels: , ,

Newer Posts ::: Older Posts

© 2014 Discopop Directory | Contact | Go to the homepage