Monday, May 22, 2017

Video: Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life

Take a look at this new video. Is that? Could it be? Surely it isn't?


Yes. Yes it is. Lana Del Rey is smiling.

And look. She's doing it again.


What next? Will Lana make an upbeat tropical house track? Will she escape the vintage VHS tape she's been trapped inside, like Reese Witherspoon in Pleasantville? Will there be a fierce internal battle between Happy Lana and Sad Lana? If Happy Lana wins, is her career effectively over? Do we, as fans, want to suppress Happy Lana in order to maintain our supply of gauzy, fatalistic doom-pop? What does that make us? Are we complicit in her unhappiness? Is all art exploitation?

While I pitch this idea to Woody Allen as a film script, you can watch the video. The song remains superb.



Update: As soon as I posted this video on Twitter, ace music writer person Jamie Milton replied with this video.

Harsh, but funny.




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Friday, May 19, 2017

Katy Perry, Liam Payne and Camilla Cabello: The best and worst of New Music Friday

A mixed bag this week. There's a lot of "third buzz track before the album" activity, with the drop in quality that implies. But some gems are hidden in the mix, so stick around.

Katy Perry ft Nicki Minaj - Swish Swish
Stoking the flames of the Katy Perry / Taylor Swift feud, this is a no-holds-barred diss track. Sample lyric: "Karma’s not a liar, she keeps receipts."

But like Bad Blood before it, the red mist has blinded Katy to her better pop instincts. This is a depressingly pedestrian house groove with neither the bark nor the bite promised by the premise.

It's left to Nicki Minaj to give us some perspective: "Silly rap beefs just give me more cheques".




Selena Gomez - Bad Liar
As previously discussed, this is perfect.





Muse - Dig Down
Which finally answers the question, "What if Muse sounded like Take That?" The answer, as it turns out, is bloody brilliant.





Liam Payne - Strip That Down
Just what we needed: A British Jason Derulo.




RAYE - The Line
I saw RAYE perform this acoustically the other day, and was really impressed. But the single is itchy and over-produced, which smothers the song. It's a strange treatment for a song that discusses the boredom of waiting in line for a club ("yeah, we look like sickness, barely moving inches").




Pumarosa - Lion's Den
A hugely ambitious, six-minute single from doom-laden indie quintent Pumarosa. Like a heavier version of Radiohead's Pyramid Song (which is a recommendation, in case you were wondering).






Danger Mouse ft Run The Jewels and Big Boi - Chase Me
Built around samples from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Bellbottoms and taken from Edgar "Hot Fuzz" Wright's new film Baby Driver, this explodes out of the speakers like a molotov cocktail of awesome.




Royal Blood - Hook, Line & Sinker
A retreat to safe ground after James Bondian thrills of Lights Out. It probably "works better live".




Cigarettes After Sex - Each Time You Fall In Love
This woozy, hazy ballad about doomed love in LA sounds like an unholy union between St Etienne and Lana Del Rey.




Camilla Cabello - Crying In The Club
Interpolates Genie In A Bottle but otherwise sounds like a composite of every pop trope of the last five years. Disappointing, given the buzz about the former Fifth Harmony singer's supposedly flawless pop instincts.




Plan B - In The Name Of Man
"All the soap in the world won't wash away the blood that's on your hands." A song about the religious certitude that sent the UK and US into Iraq 14 years ago. It's safe to say Plan B is not a fan of Tony Blair.




Bebe Rexha ft Lil' Wayne - The Way I Are
"I'll never sing like Whitney but I still want to dance with somebody."

The week's best lyric squandered on the week's worst song.




Oh Wonder - Heavy
A real treat, this. Oh Wonder really flex their vocal muscles, darting around mushrooming synth lines that mirror the heart-bursting love-struck lyrics: "I could hold you endlessly," they swoon. "Stop the world, it's only you." Beautiful.


Well, that's quite enough of that. See you next week!

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Selena Gomez may be a bad liar, but she's a great pop star


There is so much to love about Selena Gomez's new song, Bad Liar: The way the lyrics trip over themselves like a lovestruck teenager; the brazen lift of Talking Heads' Psycho Killer; the borderline ridiculousness of the lyric: "like the battle of Troy, there's nothing subtle here."

Oh, and the post-chorus hook "all my feelings on fire, guess I'm a bad liar," is an early contender for pop moment of 2017.

Selena has never been a big belter in the vocal department but, like Janet Jackson before her, she's turned that into an asset. This subtle, sultry groove has an whispered intimacy that, say, Adele could never hope to achieve.

It's great to have her back.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Plan B is back - but which Plan B?

When Radio 1 announced it's Big Weekend line-up last month, one name really stood out: Plan B, who had been given a headline slot five years after his last album, Ill Manors. Clearly, the station's head of music, Chris Price, had been played hear his new material; and walked away impressed. Very impressed.

Tonight, we got to hear why, when Ben Drew premiered a new song, In The Name Of Man on Mistajam's Radio 1 show. So which Plan B is it? The furious polemicist of Ill Manors, or the soul storyteller of Strickland Banks. In the end, it's a bit of both.

In The Name Of Man is a broiling, slow-motion scowl of a song; as the singer rails against fanatacism: "Hey man, what's the use? There's no talking to you when you think it's God's words that you preach," he sings. "Everything you love, you hurt."



"I wrote that a good few years ago, when we first invaded Iraq," he told Mistajam. "It was seeing the media footage of, sorry to take it really dark, but this song's about dead children. i don't see how we can ever excuse death or harm [to] long children. But we do. We say our armies are invading these countries for the greater good - but I don't think it's as black and white as that."

He promised the forthcoming video, which he directed himself, would also address the plight of immigrants, many of whom who die in their attempt to get to the shores of the UK. "I don't know when that is ever right, to allow that to happen to young people," he said.

So it's a sombre, excoriating comeback - but In The Name Of Man is pointedly not the first single.

"When I listen to this song, I don't necessarily think, Hey this is a radio hit'. I don't expect to get chart success with it. But it's not all about that Sometimes you've just got to come and say something to the world that sparks a conversation."

Either way, Plan B's voice is better than it's ever been, that beautiful Smokey Robinson tenor scarred with gravel and fury, while the music reminds me of Massive Attack's collaborations with Smokey Robinson.

Looks like Radio 1 made the right call.


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Miley Cyrus improves Malibu (but only slightly, because it was already pretty good)

On record, Miley Cyrus's new single, Malibu, is a cautious return to her country roots - but it's only the beat that stops it from going full Carrie Underwood, so this acoustic performance on US radio exposes the song's true nature.

And that is definitively not a negative comment. If anything, Miley's intimate declarations of contentedness sound even more genuine in this setting.


Isn't that nice? Even the moronic back announcement from the host can't spoil it.

On a side note, I was pleased to hear Miley had eschewed collaborators on her new album... especially after it was reported that hit singles now have an average of four and a half writers each.

Miley explained her decision to fly solo on another US radio show, 95.5 PLG LIVE.

"This is the first record I've written everything by myself, and that was important for me. I have a hard time co-creating because [other writers] don't really know what I've gone through. Don't know my life, don't know what it's taken to get here. I just feel I know myself the best."

Her argument is diluted slightly by the fact Malibu lists one other person on the credits - but it turns out Oren Yol is her producer, who just helped out here and there with the arrangement, so that's ok.

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Katy Perry - Bon Appetit (Muna Remix)

Not so much a remix as an entirely new Muna song with Katy Perry on vocals.

10/10 everyone.


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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Chance The Rapper x Kaytranada = 🔥?

Last September, Chance The Rapper told fans that he'd given his track They Say to Kaytranada for a tweak and a pinch, after which it'd be ready for release. That release, he said, was coming "soon".

This was news to Kaytranada who posted the following message to Twitter, presumably after being deluged with messages about the song.


Well, just eight short months later, the Canadian producer has finally gotten around to finishing whatever it was he was doing to the song - and it has premiered on Pharrell's OTHERtone program on Beats 1 Radio.

Was it worth the wait? Put it this way, you can see why it was left off the tracklisting for Chance's Grammy-nominated mixtape, Coloring Book. The central lyric is: "What they say? They say 'ner, ner, ner, n-ner, ner, ner, ne, ner.'" (although there's a great bit about cursing "like a chimney" in the verse).

Still, it's a slick, summery production with, in typical Chance fashion, a gospel choir towards the end. Back when singles had b-sides, this would have been hailed as a great b-side. Now, it's just another track that's appeared on the internet for some reason.

You can listen to a radio rip below, because 2017.

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Watch out, Courtney Barnett's about

Aussie alt-rocker Courtney Barnett has taken a break from recording her second album to gift us with a new song, How To Boil An Egg, which is actually not new at all, but eight years old.

"I used to perform this song at all the open mics when I was 21," she said. "It never got recorded, so for personal-posterity I updated it and made this version recently when I was bunkered up in the bush doin’ some demos for my next album. It's a songwriting experiment that doesn’t really belong anywhere else."

Based around a slack rockabilly riff, the song is further proof Barnett's innate lyrical abilities, painting a vivid picture of an artist on the skids. "All my clothes in milk crates, I don't sleep for days," she sings. "Ah, tell me, tell me, tell me / When's it gonna change?"

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Listen to Lana Del Rey's North Korea song

Last month, while driving home from the Coachella Music Festival, Lana Del Rey stopped to write a song about her "complex feelings" after "spending the weekend dancing whilst watching tensions w North Korea mount."

It went. A little. Something. Like this:

A post shared by Lana Del Rey (@lanadelrey) on


Last night, she released a finished version of the track which may or may not be taken from her fourth-coming album, Lust For Life. It's no great artistic leap forward but Lana is medically incapable of writing a catchy song.

Lyrically, she likens the loved-up atmosphere of Coachella to the "socially-conscious" (smashed off their tits) punters at Woodstock in 1969. The hope and optimism for humanity is still present, she suggests, but the world is still pretty awful.

Then Lana describes what she would give up (everything) in order to go to heaven and sit next to God, going: "WTF, God?"

It's better than my description makes it sound.


Oh, and if you'd like to squint at some handwritten lyrics while playing the above video, then you're in luck.

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Haim Time comes to SNL


Haim's new single Want You Back is the definition of a slow-burner. Its overlapping harmonies and stop-start structure take time to assimilate and appreciate. But there's no better catalyst to catchiness than seeing the band perform it. You rarely see a group enjoy the business of playing live quite this much; and this SNL appearance just pops off the screen.

Not sure what's going on with Dash's drums, though. The hi-hats seem cluttered and off-tempo - but he seems to be playing in time. Did someone accidentally run his mic through a reverb or delay effect? It's minor blemish but I found it distracting...

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Katy Perry's Bon Apetit video is an odd kettle of fish

Things are not going well for Katy Perry's new single, Bon Apetit. After scraping into the charts at number 40 last week, it fell to 43 in yesterday's countdown.

Worse still, it's on a downwards trajectory in the streaming chart (where songs tend to pick up plays in the second week), languishing at 56 - just one place above Perry's Chained To The Rhythm, which is now eight weeks old.

For the second single off a yet-to-be-released album by one of the world's few remaining pop stars, that's a worrying state of affairs: Bon Appetit isn't simmering under, it's gone completely off the boil.

And it's a dreadful shame, because to my mind this is one of her best singles in a while. Sure, she's abandoned the promised "social justice warrior" persona and reverted to type with a single-entendre lyric about oral sex ("I'm spread like a buffet," ho ho); but the chorus is pure pop sugar.

Maybe her headline appearance at Radio 1's Big Weekend can turn the song's fortunes around - because the bizarre video, in which a Katy is basted, garnished and put on display as a human smorgasbord, certainly won't get much daytime play on the music channels.

It's up to 8.5million views on YouTube already, so all is not lost. But still, what a strange time it must be in the Katy Perry camp.

PS All I could think of when I watched the video was old Bugs Bunny cartoons. Surely I'm not the only one?


Friday, May 12, 2017

Video: Honeyblood - Walking at Midnight


Scottish rockers Honeyblood have just released a video for Walking At Midnight, my favourite track from their audacious second album, Babes Never Die.

It's definitively a post-watershed sort of affair. Imagine Stephen King's Carrie set in a drag club, and you're basically there. It was directed by James Copeman and stars drag artist Virgin Xtravaganzah... a name I bet Richard Branson wishes he'd copyrighted in 1972.

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The National are top of my #NewMusicFriday playlist

Here it is, then. My (almost) weekly trawl through the release schedule, in which gems are uncovered and turds are buried.


1) The National - The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness
Standing head and shoulders above everything else this week, The National's new single is a swirling vortex of indie curlicues, which builds to a brassy climax, where Matt Beringer declaims: "I can't explain it any other, any other way".

He's described it as "an abstract portrait of a weird time we’re in". I'm just calling it beautiful.




2) Miley Cyrus - Malibu

In which Miley says, "forget the tongue-wagging, boob-baring, perma-twerking controversy magnet, I am in fact an delicate and innocent country-pop crossover artist."

And, to be fair, it works.




3) Calvin Harris - Rollin' (ft Future and Khalid)
"Bubbling summery discofunk" seems to be the theme for Calvin's recently-announced fourth album Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1 (awful title). This latest single would sound great at any poolside party, which shows how far Calvin has come since he emerged as a pasty-skinned teenager from Dumfries.




4) Imagine Dragons - Whatever It Takes
There's something of the Ed Sheeran about the way Dan Reynolds rap-sings the verses of this song, but it rises above that comparison with a truly fist-pumping chorus.

The middle 8 contains a lot of lyrics about punctuation, for some reason.




5) Felix Jaehn - Hot2Touch (ft Hight, Alex Aiono)
A bit of disco fluff that merits inclusion for the lyric "my heart's like a broken cassette".




6) Harry Styles - From The Dining Table
Harry Styles debut album is out today - and I wrote about it at length on the BBC this morning. In brief, it's a stodgy 1970s rock album with a few moments of real beauty. The closing track is one of my favourites, featuring one of Styles' most delicate and heartbroken lyrics; and a beautiful string interlude in the middle.




7) DNCE ft Nicki Minaj - Kissing Strangers
This has been out for a while, but gets an entertaining new video today, so in it goes...




8) Sub Focus ft Alma - Don't You Feel It
A solid, if somewhat unremarkable, summer jam.




9) Now, Now - SGL
US radio station NPR described this as "a heart-throbbing pop song with a karaoke-bar blast radius", and who am I to argue?




10) Sigrid - Don't Kill My Vibe (Live on Later)
This is a bit of a cheat, because Sigrid's EP came out last week. But this Jools Holland performance is one of those "oh, I get it now" moments, where the singer's charisma bursts through the screen and brings the song vividly to life.

Which, it turns out, is exactly why she sparked a record label bidding war last year - and there's a fascinating account of how Island beat the competition to get her signature over on Music Business Worldwide.


And that's your lot. Not a vintage week, by all accounts. But don't forget the Paramore album is out today, which kind of makes up for everything else.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tove Styrke's new video is a riot

Say My Name - the new single from Sweden's Tove Styrke - is far and away my most-played single of the moment. A playful, bouncy pop number with a killer lyric ("say my name, wear it out like a sweater that you love"). It's everything a pop song should be in 2017.

The video has just "dropped", and it's a hyperactive riot of colour. Here's what she said to me about it in an (unpublished) excerpt from this interview.

"It’s very colourful and we’ve used a lot of tricks – like optic tricks with mirrors. I really love using mirrors, because I can sing into the camera through a mirror, and that way I’m looking at both the audience and also on myself. It’s a self-love , self-appreciation kind of vibe. The video’s going to be so awesome. I can’t wait for people to see it."

Say My Name is currently Greg James' record of the week on Radio 1. Fingers crossed that propels it towards the top 40 - because Tove is a proper pop star in waiting.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

The best and the rest of #NewMusicFriday

It's a fairly quiet week overall, but here are some songs that were released today (or maybe two days ago, depending on the stature of the artist and their willingness to adhere to record industry convention).

1) LCD Soundsystem - Call The Police
It's like NWA never happened.




2) Loote - High Without Your Love
Hailing from New York, Loote are Emma Lov and Jackson Foote (so you can see how they got that name). Their new single is reminiscent of The Chainsmokers, with all traces of douche removed. A lovely little pop song.




3) J Hus - Common Sense
Love, love, love this.




4) Niall Horan - Slow Hand
The Pointer Sisters' prayers have been answered.




5) Sigrid - Fake Friends
Norway's Sigrid Raabe only started writing songs four years ago, when her brother (also a musician) told her he needed a new track for a gig that was taking place 24 hours later. She's a quick learner, though. This caustic call out to two-faced friends is a hugely arresting piece of Scandipop.

FYI: Sigrid's debut EP is out today and you should buy it.




6) Emily Warren - Hurt By You
Emily Warren is The Chainsmokers' secret weapon - the voice behind some of their best hooks, and the writer behind several more. Her debut single is nothing like that, though - a slinky, soulful affair with a cunning twist in the chorus.




7) Hoops - Sun's Out
This is a song that appears to be a lost cassette demo by Echo and the Bunnymen, circa 1985 - but which turns out to be one of several shimmering indie gems on the debut EP by Indiana-based band Hoops. How queer.




8) Haim - Want You Back
Getting better with every listen...




9) TLC - Haters
Declaration of interest: I put £10 towards TLC's new album on Kickstarter, giving me a 0.003% stake in this song. Sounds a bit like Charli XCX at 33rpm, which is neither praise nor a criticism.




10) Halsey - Eyes Closed
Halsey manages to sound both menacing and drowsy at the same time on this track, a sort of "emos with synths" pop dirge. It came as no surprise to learn that The Weeknd was involved in some capacity.


And that's your lot. The Blondie album is out today, as well, and deserves a quick spin even if you have no recollection of Debbie Harry & co in their 1970s heyday.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A few too many thoughts on Haim's comeback single, Want You Back


HAIM ARE BACK!

Which is a bit like when Haim came back last week, only this time they've brought along a proper single instead of an intense studio "jam".

So, what does Want You Back have in store? Well, first of all, it sounds irrefutably like Haim. There's no mistaking this for the new Katy Perry or something "featuring" Ellie Goulding. It's all stuttering funk and starlight harmonies - but for a sparse song, it's very busy and you'll need a few listens before your brain focuses on the actual song elements.

Admittedly, I first heard the song on a crappy radio while building a Hot Wheels track for my son - which is probably not the scenario the band intended, but which equally serves as a good litmus test. This is not an immediate, grab you by the balls, radio smash. But after sitting down and paying attention to the song on "proper" speakers and a set of headphones, I'm hooked.

For those of you who need more guidance before hitting the play button, I've made a list.
PRO: Copious use of handclaps
CON: Could do with more handclaps

PRO: Fluttering, Lindsey Buckingham-style arpeggio
CON: Too much Tusk, not enough Rumours

PRO: Este's funkatronic slap bass
CON: Being unable to see Este's bass-face on the audio stream


PRO: The lyric, "I'll take the fall and the fault in us"
CON: Actually, all the lyrics are pretty good

PRO: Impeccable, interlocking vocals
CON: Too "busy" for daytime radio?

PRO: Not a cover of the Jackson 5 song
CON: Not a cover of the Bananarama song

PRO: Sounds like eight songs at once
CON: Sounds like eight songs at once

Hope that clears everything up.

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Video: Paramore - Told You So


Paramore's new album After Laughter - announced out of the blue a fortnight ago - is shaping up to be a cracker. Lead single Hard Times is the best pop song about utter misery since Dancing On My Own (the original, obvs), zigging and zagging all over the chart with its new wavey guitar riffs and staccato vocal chops.

The latest single, Told You So, picks up where that left off. OK, the chorus might not be as ridden with earworms but it's a solid B+.

It premiered earlier today on Beats 1, where lead singer Hayley Williams explained it had been a tricky song to write.

"That was one of the first pieces of music that Taylor [York - guitarist] sent me," she told Zane Lowe.

"I had a little thumb-drive, and I would just drive around listening to it, and especially back and forth from Taylor's house. And I would sing little rhythmic things to myself. They didn't make sense. There were no words. But this is one that really intimidated me because I was like, 'I have all these melody ideas because there's no so much melody going on and so much rhythm going on. It's so inspiring. But how am I going to fit what I feel into that?' It took a minute."

The video - which is a huge dollop of fun - was directed by drummer Zac Farro, basing it on the car journeys the band took to and from recording sessions last year.

"Zac noticed that my anxiety and overall state was just a lot more peaceful on those drives," Hayley Williams told The FADER, "and mentioned to me that it made him happy to see me rest for a moment. It means a lot that they conceptualised a video around a passing moment we had as friends."

Awwwww.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Lena Dunham directs the video for Bleachers' Don't Take The Money


Here's the moment Lorde, Lena Dunham and cult comedy Arrested Development collide, and it's rather wonderful.

Dunham has directed the video for Bleachers' new single, Don't Take The Money, in which Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development's Maeby Fünke), presides over frontman Jack Antonoff’s wedding ceremony. Meanwhile, Lorde pops up on backing vocals and there's an... erm, unexpected guest.

If that's not enough star power for you, Antonoff recently shared another new song, Hate That You Know Me, which is a duet with Carly Rae Jepsen.

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