Thursday, July 27, 2017

Charli XCX - Boys

"NO BOYS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS VIDEO 💕” writes Charli XCX, below the YouTube clip for her new single, Boys. A clever attempt to subvert the male gaze, it's more eye-catching for the cast list than the direction - but the song is catchy as all heck.

In case you need help identifying the talent, here's a complete list:

Aminé Jay Park Shaun Ross
AG Cook Jay Prince Shokichi
Barns Courtney Joe Jonas Stormzy
Buddy Joey Bada$$ The Fat Jew
Cameron Dallas Kaytranada The Vamps (Tristan & James)
Carl Barât (The Libertines) Khalid THEY
Charlie Puth Laurie Vincent (Slaves) Theo Hutchcraft (The Hurts)
Chromeo Liam Fray (The Courteeners) Tinie Tempah
Cobra Snake Mac DeMarco Tom Daley
Connor Franta Mark Ronson Tom Grennan
Dan Smith (Bastille) Max Hershenow (MS MR) Tommy Cash
Denzel Curry Mic Lowry Ty Dolla $ign
Di Casp (YouTuber)MNEKVance Joy
DiploOli Sykes (Bring Me The Horizon)Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend)
Fai KhadraPoetWiz Khalifa
FlumePortugal. The ManWstrn
Frank CarterPrince & Jacob
Fred Macpherson (Spector)Riz Ahmed & The Swet Shop Boys
G EazyRostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend)
Jack Antonoff (Bleachers)Sage The Gemini
Jack GuinnessShamari Maurice

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Kesha's hot streak continues

All the evidence suggests that Kesha's comeback album, Rainbow, is going to be a triumph. After Praying and Woman, she's just posted a third song, Learn To Let Go, which has one of the best videos I've seen all year.

It's nice when people who've been dragged through the shit have good things happen to them, isn't it?

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Friday, July 14, 2017

FYI: The Mura Masa album is dead good

Mura Masa releases his self-titled debut album today and, as the headline above suggests, it's got more smashes than a bottle bank.

If you're not familiar with his ouevre, here's a potted biog: Mura Masa is 21-year-old Alex Crossan. He comes from Guernesy, and named himself after 16th-century Japanese swordsmith Muramasa Sengo. Being raised on a "small, isolated haven" halfway between Britain and France meant he wasn't swayed by prevailing music trends, and so he delved into the weird and wonderful delights of world music, which means his own productions are peppered with non-Western sounds like Trinidadian steel drums, African kalimbas and Indonesian gamelan gongs. It's trop-house with a genuine understanding of its roots.

More importantly, he makes dance music that's infused with genuine emotion, via collaborations with fellow outsiders Damon Albarn and Charli XCX.

Here's a sample of what you can expect.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lana Del Rey gets busy with A$AP Rocky

Lana Del Rey has always had hip-hop elements in her songs, but she's never had a rap star contribute a verse... until now.

Yesterday, she unveiled two new songs: Summer Bummer and Groupie Love, both featuring A$AP Rocky (and on the former, Playboy Carti), and both continue the star's current hot streak.

Summer Bummer is, despite the bollock-awful title, my favourite of the pair. It starts off as a prototypical Lana Del Rey song, with barely-bothered lyrics like "hip-hop in the summer, babe... be my undercover lover, babe."

But then something interesting happens - after A$AP's verse (which he shares with Playboi Carti) the song starts to deconstruct, dissolving into digital noise, with Lana's haunting upper-register holler barely holding the song together.

Groupie Love is a more straightforward, string-drenched ballad, with a chorus that sticks like flypaper.

Speaking to Zane Lowe last night, Lana revealed she'd recorded a bunch of songs with A$AP Rocky but they're mostly just languishing in a cupboard somewhere.

"He travels a lot but sometimes he’s in town for a month and, when he is, I’ll come to the studio and hear what he’s working on and do background vocals on his tracks," said Lana.

"There probably are a lot of tracks somewhere that we’re both on over the years. We do 'em and forget em and if one's better than all of them, like this one, we try to put it out."

Lana then proceeded to FaceTime A$AP Rocky while he was on the toilet, which is a classy move.

Still, with these two tracks alongside Love and Lust For Life, her new album is shaping up to be one of the year's best releases. It's out next Friday on Polydor.

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Kesha is a motherfudging woman

Last week, Kesha poured all the anguish and horror of the last five years into a (frankly stunning) new song called Praying. You can read about / listen to it here, should you desire.

With that out of her system (in song form, at least, the mental scars will be with her for life), she's free to make a gargantuan, ball-busting pop song. And here is that song.

Woman is powered by the same brass section who played on Amy Winehouse's Back To Black; and it shares some of that album's "don't give a fuck" attitude.

The lyrics are all pretty boilerplate "I'm a strong independent woman" stuff until Kesha gets the giggles in verse two and fluffs her lines. It's a brilliant, humanising moment - one in which the singer becomes three dimensional. She's not just a female warrior, she's self-aware, capable of levity. She's Just. Like. Us.

Whoever made the decision to include that outtake instead of the other, more polished, vocals Kesha undoubtedly recorded is a genius.

Incidentally, can you think of any other songs where the narrator breaks character? Michael Stipe does it in The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite. Janet Jackson has a giggle in Runaway. Any others???

UPDATE: According to Popjustice, this whole song was inspired by Donald Trump's "Grab them by the pussy comments."

"That made me so infuriated, as a hardcore feminist," said Kesha at a recent playback event I couldn't go to because I had to pick my children up from school.

"Ever since I was a kid and knew what a feminist was, I was a feminist. [I was] raised by a feminist. Once I heard that [comment] I was like, okay, well, I’m going to write this song about being a badass motherfucking woman who you don’t want to fuck with."

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Selena Gomez - Fetish

With Bad Liar finally climbing up the UK charts, Selena Gomez has decided to kill its momentum by releasing another single. Pop music, eh?

Anyway, Fetish is a worthy replacement. It doesn't have the quirky wordplay or musical slinkitude of its predecessor, but the chorus is a humdinger.

"You got a festoon for my love," sings La Gomez. "I push you out and you come right back."

"Don't see no point in blaming you," she continues. "If I were you I'd do me too."

The video, meanwhile, is fetishistic in its own way. A lingering, borderline intrusive, close-up of Gomez's lips, it also gives you an appreciation for the clinical excellence of American dentistry.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Stop everything and watch this

Haim playing Selena Gomez's Bad Liar with a fork and a spoon, in Radio 1's Live Lounge, is the only video you need to watch today.

They also did a passable version of their own single, Want You Back, without the aid of kitchen utensils. If you have time for a second video, this is also a 10/10.

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Demi Lovato: Sorry Not Sorry

Here it is. Sorry Not Sorry: The song that Swish Swish aspired to be... A fierce riposte to [persons unknown] that rises above petty payback with a wry sense of wit.

"I'm on fire and I know that it burns," sings Demi Lovato in full-on foghorn mode. "It'd be nice of me to take it easy on you but... nah."

"A lot of people hear this song and they think it's about an ex-boyfriend," the singer told Amazon Music, "but it's actually a song about the haters."

Actually, I'd argue it's a song about realising that haters are simply acting out their own inadequacies, and learning to take pride in your own achievements. Which is a great lesson for us all, is it not?

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Video: Sigrid - Plot Twist

Is anyone enjoying the business of becoming a pop star more than Sigrid is right now? If they are, I can't think of them...

Sigrid's glee at performing permeates her live shows (check out her Glastonbury appearance for proof) and that exuberance bursts out of the new video for Plot Twist, too.

"Plot Twist is about finally getting over someone," says the Norwegian teen star, via press release, "but we decided we wanted the focus [of the video] to be on me having a good time with my best friends.

"We filmed it in Bergen where I've lived for two years now, and it was the best day!"

A big round of applause to filmmakers Sigurd Fossen and William Glandberger, then. Capturing a natural performance in a pop video is notoriously difficult but they've managed to convey every Kilojoule of her kooky energy.

PS: Bonus points for putting the title of her song on her scarf.

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Dua Lipa colour co-ordinates her slumber parties, and so should you

The best new track on Dua Lipa's eponymous and epochal debut album is New Rules, a song about trying to keep your distance from a boyfriend who's bad for you. In the lyrics, Dua sets out four commandments to avoid falling back into his arms.

One, don't pick up the phone
You know he's only calling 'cause he's drunk and alone
Two, don't let him in
You'll have to kick him out again
Three, don't be his friend
You know you're gonna wake up in his bed in the morning
And if you're under him
You ain't getting over him

It's a quirky, and funny take on the break-up song, and now it's got the video it deserves; with Dua's girlfriends doling out the advice through the medium of a heavily-choreographed, colour-coded slumber party.

"These are the kind of rules you tell to your friends and they would tell to you," she told me at Glastonbury. "So, with the video, I wanted to show unity between women and girls.

"I think it really tells the story of women looking out for each other."

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Kesha turns pain into empowerment on Praying

By all reasonable standards, Kesha's comeback single, Praying is remarkable. Not just her vocal performance (I can't remember the last time a pop single was delivered with such conviction) but also in it's message of forgiveness.

By now, you know the story. Kesha established a reputation as the hard-partying, heavy-drinking wild child of pop through unapologetically brash songs like Tik Tok and Die Young. But behind the scenes, all was not well. In 2014 she sued her producer and label boss Dr Luke for unfair business practices, accusing him of emotional and sexual abuse. He counter-sued for defamation and breach of contract. The state of those court cases is, at best, unclear but the upshot is that Kesha is still contractually bound to Dr Luke's Kemosabe label.

If you ever wondered how difficult women find it to work in the music industry, this is the test case.

Still, with Dr Luke having stepped away from Kemosabe, Kesha is free to release music again via the label's parent company Sony. And all that pain and anguish pours into her new single, Praying.

It opens with the lines, “You almost had me fooled / Told me that I was nothing without you,” which recalls the text of her original complaint against Dr Luke. It alleged he told her, “You are not that pretty, you are not that talented" and "you are nothing without me".

Amazingly, though, the song isn't a straightforward attack, or even an attempt to tell her side of the story. Instead, it is a prayer for his soul.

"This song is about coming to feel empathy for someone else even if they hurt you or scare you,” Kesha wrote on the Lenny Letter website. “It's a song about learning to be proud of the person you are even during low moments when you feel alone. It's also about hoping everyone, even someone who hurt you, can heal.”

Co-written and produced by Ryan Lewis (of "Macklemore And" fame), Praying is a ridiculously overblown companion piece to Christina Aguilera's Beautiful - but Kesha's vocal saves it. Her unfiltered, bruised honesty will stop you in your tracks, even if you've no idea about the context.

Top tip: Listen to it before you watch the video which, while stunning, is a total distraction from the song.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Liam Payne's new single is better than Liam Payne's last single

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call "damning with faint praise".

Get Low is a collaboration with pop alchemist Zedd, which accounts for the sudden uptick in quality. The German DJ's lightness-of-touch keeps the song afloat with a brisk and uncluttered production that'll drift out of a thousand car windows this weekend.

Lyrically, Get Low doesn't plumb the depths of Liam's hopelessly clumsy Strip That Down: A song about sex that makes Carry On Camping seem intellectually sophisticated. But it still contains the following stanza:

I like the way you take me there
I like the way you touch yourself
Don't hold back, I want that
When the water come down, I'ma get in that

Frankly, if I were Liam's missus, I'd rather go bowling.

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Brilliant new pop from Belgium

Now there's a headline I wasn't expecting to type - but isn't that the beauty of pop? You can suddenly and unexpectedly be swept off your feet by a song, regardless of who recorded it or where they live.

Felix Pallas are that band today: A quartet from Antwerp whose new single, Similarities, is a delicious dose of dusky pop. Throughout, the singer's sweltering falsetto tussles with surging synths, over a sinister lyric about being held prisoner as the "water's rising".

Produced by Chris Zane (Bat For Lashes, Passion Pit, Friendly Fires, Nelly Furtado, etc) the band have branded it "alien synth pop", which is as good a description as anything I can come up with.


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Wolf Alice get gorgeous on Don't Delete The Kisses

After the incendiary, in-your-face comeback single Yuk Foo, Wolf Alice have spun on their heels and released a shimmering indie-pop song that's quite possibly their best single yet.

Don't Delete The Kisses is "the most synth-heavy tune we've made", the band told Beats 1 - and, sure enough, it sounds like it's been beamed in from the soundtrack to a lost John Hughes movie. Or, more accurately, a John Hughes script shot by Nicholas Winding Refn.

In the spoken-word verses, Ellie Rowsell plays a girl who can't strike up the courage to approach the object of her affections.

I'd like to get to know you
I'd like to take you out
We'd go to the Hail Mary
And afterwards make out
Instead I'm typing you a message
That I know I'll never send
Rewriting old excuses
Delete the kisses at the end

The chorus lets out all that frustrated energy with a cathartic cry of, "Me and you were meant to be in love!"

"I kind of wanted to make one of those head out the window on a long drive tunes," Ellie told Beats 1. "And I wanted to try my hand at like a hold-nothing-back love song. Those were my thoughts. But other than that I just kinda let it go where it wanted to go... I just think if you hold back it will sound worse won't it?"

It's really rather brilliant.

Don't Delete The Kisses comes from Wolf Alice's second album, Visions Of A Life, which is out in September.

The band revealed the (unbelievably creepy) artwork on Twitter last night as they set off on a month-long US tour.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Chance The Rapper performs in an office

Of all the multifarious "live session" set-ups; NPR's Tiny Desk concerts are among my favourite. The artists are literally dragged into an office, propped up against a bookcase and made to perform amongst the print-outs and coffee mugs of a working radio station in Washington, DC.

Chance The Rapper just did his stint at the coalface, having played to 23,000 people at an outdoor theatre in Virginia the night before.

His performance was interrupted by an announcement on the building's tannoy, but he laughed it off and delivered a low-key, subtly moving performance of Juke Jam and the Stevie Wonder classic They Don't Know What I Know.

Watch the full thing below.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Billie Eilish is a girl on fire

If you haven't heard of 15-year-old pop prodigy Billie Eilish yet, you're missing out.

The LA native has lit up my "most played" list this year with a handful of smart, dark pop songs, in which she fantasises about things like killing her boyfriend and burning his car. You know, typical teenage stuff.

Her new single, Watch, came out last Friday and it's packed with more Melodrama than Lorde's entire album. "Go ahead and watch my heart burn," she trills, "with the fire that you started in me".

Listen below.

If you want to know more about Billie, here's some highlights from her first forays into the media.

  • Billie wrote her first song when she was four. It was about falling into a black hole [Interview]

  • Her neighbour asked her to star in his homemade horror movies when she was six, which isn't creepy at all. [Vice]

  • For the last eight years, she's been a member of the fancypants Los Angeles Children's Chorus. [Teen Vogue]

  • As well as singing, Billie is a trained dancer, who used to practice 11 hours a week until "my hip decided to explode" last year. [WFN Music]

  • But don't worry, she can still do this:

    fuck outta here

    A post shared by billie eilish (@wherearetheavocados) on

  • Billie writes all her songs with her older brother Finneas. "Him and I get along really well, so it's perfect," she says, before basically admitting no-one else will put up with her. "I'm a super-particular person and I always have to have stuff my way." [Triple J]

  • Her breakthrough song was the lullaby-like Ocean Eyes, which Finneas wrote for his band, but gave to Billie when she needed a piece for her dance class. "We put it on SoundCloud with a free download link next to it so my dance teacher could access it," she says. "We had no intentions for it, really. But basically overnight a ton of people started hearing it and sharing it." [Teen Vogue]

  • The song has now had 1.96m streams on Soundcloud, winning her a record deal with Interscope and a slot on the 13 Reasons Why soundtrack. [Soundcloud]

  • Her best song to date is Bellyache, which she describes as "a flat-out a song about murder". [Ladygunn]

  • It probably goes without saying, but you shouldn't take the lyrics literally. "You don’t have to kill people to write a song about killing people," says Billie. "I'm not going to kill people." [Billboard]

  • In fact, the song has a deeper meaning. "Like, if you do something to impress somebody else or because your parents want you to or because whatever, you’re going to end up alone one day... with a bellyache." [Ones To Watch]

  • Her favourite colour is yellow, as she will explain to you at length. "I think of myself as yellow because I think a lot of people used to maybe doubt yellow or not like it because it’s one of those colors that people just sort of hate. Nobody likes it and it’s such a good colour! I don’t even know how to describe it. I just feel like I am yellow. I do and say what I want and I don't really care if people like it or not. That makes me yellow." [Popcrush]

  • So there you go: That is Billie Eilish "in a nutshell", if the nutshell was about 600 words of text on a stunningly popular music blog.

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    Video - Haim: Want You Back

    This is such a simple and brilliant video. If you've ever walked home from a night out, air-drumming to the song in your head (and who hasn't?) then this video will trigger a giddy rush of nostalgia.

    As ever, Haim have their feet firmly planted in the centre of a venn diagram showing the overlap between dorky and cool.

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