Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Luck Soul's 'White Russian Doll' - Unfortunately, somebody seems to have spilled some white paint on the artwork

Things to Note:

1) LogoWatch: this is certainly good, particularly as the K and the Y of the band's name have been joined to create something of a Diamond Effect. In doing so, Lucky Soul have seemingly changed the Y to resemble a somewhat dyslexic X. THEY'RE LITERALLY REWRITING THE ALPHABET AND THE RULES OF POP AS THEY GO (insert PR spiel here).
2) The cover art is a nice leap forward in terms of aesthetics. The lines are all pointing towards some mysterious, unknown End Point. Which is probably some sort of metaphor for the fate of the music industry, but looks nice all the same.

Anyhow, you can hear the quite stomping new single from the why-on-earth-aren't-they-huge Lucky Soul over on their Myspace (www.myspace.com/luckysoulluckysoul). A side-step from the 60s swing of their debut album, 'The Great Unwanted,' this is an instant and surprisingly muscular piece of Power-Pop: landing, as it does, somewhere between Johnny Marr gone Motown and Scott Walker set to 'DANCE.' Like the Russian Doll itself, 'WRD' - oh yes, it abreviates nicely - is deceptively layered love song. Just listen to Ali Howard's aching declaration that 'Love is an Open Door / Inside is Another Room / Love is A Russian Doll / Inside is Another You.'

If you thought about it too much you'd probably stop dancing, so the best advice, in this instance, is probably not to think.

The band will play Camden's Monarch in December (see WeGotTickets for all the deets), where they will preview material from their now-finished second album (out March, with 'White Russian Doll' hitting Itunes on January 11th). We've heard a few sneak peeks from the record, and can firmly say that if 'Up In Flames' isn't the second single (youtube it) then we will film ourselves, on fire, by way of protest. It's THAT good.

As are Lucky Soul in general, really. Tell your mates.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Charles Dickens Reviews the new Muse single

Whilst struggling manfully with David Copperfield - you can tell Dickens was paid by the chapter - I came across quite possibly the earliest historical instance of music journalism.

The passage opens as Young Copperfield, sent packing by his mother and a predictably-evil Stepfather, arrives at boarding school. To make matters worse, the School's Master performs something of a flute receital, which David C reviews in the paragraph that follows:

"My impression is, after many years of consideration, that there never can be anybody in the world who played worse. He made the most dismal sounds I have ever heard produced by any means, natural or artificial. I don't know what the tunes were - if there were such things in the performance at all, which I doubt - but the influence of the strain upon me was, first, to make me think of all my sorrows until I could hardly keep my tears back; then to take away my appetite; and lastly, to make me so sleepy that I couldn't keep my eyes open."

As one listens to, let's face it, ANY of the Muse back catalouge, it is difficult to feel that Dickens was not only eerily prophetic in his description of Mat Bell(end)amy; but also that such a catty, relatively self-indulgent critical response - to which this post may be willingly catagorised - has become the common currency for journos.

In many ways it's quite sad, but in other, stronger ways, Muse deserve literally every shard of shit we can throw at them.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Pipettes are still very good, but more importantly, BBC Radio Wales is an absolute hoot

Top Tips To Combat Boredom Part 17: Listen to BBC Radio Wales.

It's incredible.

I only tuned in to listen to the Pipettes debut their new single ("you know it's a desperately lonely Sunday night when..."). Instead, I found the kind of rich, very British broadcasting the BBC has foresaken in favour of Fearne "The Devil" Cotton: warm, slightly eccentric, exceptionally comfortable listening. The audio equivelant of slipping on a pair of slippers, with Cotton's show - by way of contrast - closely relating to the experience of performing Riverdance on broken glass. I wouldn't reccomend the chap who introduced The Pipettes in general. The show's music was largely local (read: terrible), but the program before that - check the schedule if you're inexplicably keen - was some daft old woman banging on about dreams, and playing old love songs. It was blissful.

Talking of blissful - on to the Pipettes' newby (this is a blog about Pop Music, after all. And not a very good one at that). 'Stop The Music' is the first proper taster from a band who shed members like old skin, yet never cease to dazzle. Produced by Martin Rushent - the architect behind Human League's masterpiece Dare - this is a lush and lyrically melancholic return from the Saunders Sisters (aka singers Ani and Gwenno Saunders). It is, of course, still incredibly dance-inducing, with the musical reference points shimmying from the 60s swing of 'Pull Shapes' right into a very 70s strut. It sounds like nothing in the charts at the moment, and is unlikely to bother the Top 100, but I guess that's life, isn't it?

So a shit Sunday night in served up two life lessons.

1) The Pipettes are the same brave, under-appreciated Pop Pandas we fell in love with in 2006 (this image works on two levels: pandas are black and white, much like the Pipettes' dressing up box, and, like the panda, the Pipettes seemed very near extinction until recently).
2) BBC Radio Wales is amazing.

To hear 'Stop the Music,' fast forward to 30 odd minutes or so, as it's worth it. Scout's honour.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Songs Remind Me of Her

Why won't this let me do proper paragraphs? Apols. Anyway....

IT'S FINALLY HERE. It should've been released in Summer 2008. But that version would've been quite different and, in truth, not as good. Evidently delays, or being totally shafted by your record label, are God's little way of saying "Must try harder, Annie."
Say what you like about Annie ("she can't really sing" crops up a lot), but the woman is nothing if not a tryer. Any other popstar's persistance to release a record around twelve people actually know about would be greeted with the kind of internet bile normally reserved for VV Brown. Yet there remains something so effortlessly Cool about Annie, something so wonderfully aloof to contemporary pop climates, that one can only applaud her desire to stagger over the finishing line long after the race, it seemed, was over. Don't Stop, then, is as much an album as it is a manifesto of self-determination.
The eery Paul Epworth-produced 'Hey Annie' kicks off proceedings: all handclaps and stamping rhythms, there's also a Party Whistle thrown into the mix, which never exactly makes a song worse. Much hoo-ha was made of Annie's decision to work with the musical machine that is Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Sugababes, Mini Viva etc). Only the blind-with-fervour Pop Evangelists saw such a union as a mismatch, and 'My Love is Better' still packs a punch one year on; although it goes without saying - so let's say it anyway - that it could easily be a Girls Aloud track. Still, Annie was never going to be your standard pop puppet - let's imagine Brian Higgins as the Ventriloquist - and elsewhere, she really does make her stamp on the traditional Xeno output. 'Bad Times' has a still, almost serene pathos that only Annie's lilted, Scando-speak could nail. Actually, Nicola from GA would probably do a similarly-repressed turn here, but the potential amazingness of her solo career is another post, for another day.
Therein lies the joys and the problems with Don't Stop, and Annie in general. Although a faultless collection of songs, it is a tad cut and paste: there are traces of old Annie (the wonderfully squelchy 'I Don't Like Your Band), set aside the kind of pop star Annie no doubt had ambitions to be (see the somewhat saccharine commerciality of 'Heaven and Hell'). It's an interesting paradox, and one that works, but the record is most thrilling when Annie steps away from the Xenomaniacs. 'Songs Remind Me of You' easily eclipses any of the output from the Girls-With-Synths Class of 2009, whilst 'Take You Home' is equisitely lurching and lusty.
So, after the most complicated of pregnancies, Don't Stop is a healthy little bundle of joy. Miss Annie must be truly ecstatic to finally cut the cord (we'll stop this metaphor as soon as possible). And after all that, this feels like the Big Pop record Annie needed to make, to prove that she could. But where she goes next - she's working with Fred Falke on album 3 - is truly exciting.
Because she Won't Stop, you know.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Music Go Music (Not a Noisettes Tribute Band)

Let's get the Negatives out of the way first:

1) Crap name. It would've been marginally better had they added another Go, but it's still rubbish. Not that that held The Beatles back, mind....
2) NME covered them quite prominently in the latest issue, making this post resemble something of a bandwagon-jump. "We were listening to them ages ago" etc. When we start raving about The Drums, eyebrows will no doubt be further raised (note: we will never, ever rave about The Drums. They're Not Very Good At All).

Music Go Music are a seven-strong bunch of allsorts from Los Angeles.

Well that's enough Biog.

Their debut album, Expressions, is released on the rather trendy Secretly Canadian label in October 2009. It's an accusation (and a compliment) that will be thrown their way a lot over the next twelve months, but it does not sound like a 2009 record. Play it to your Mum and tell her it's a long-lost Abba / ELO / Queen / Carpenters album, and she will believe you. She will also absolutely love it.

There's nothing necessarily cool or progressive on show, but it's difficult to argue with pop songs quite this massive. 'Light of Love' is 'Waterloo' in all but name, although it somehow avoids falling into the pitfalls of pure pastiche. Even better is 'Just Me,' featuring a wicked bit about "spreading out my wings so I can fly" (which simply demands corresponding, look-at-me-I'm-a-Bird choreography).

Like Abba at their best, Music Go Music's music (PLEASE CHANGE THE NAME) is bright and shiny enough to hide a darker subtext. The lyrics are proper moody, especially on the hysterical yelping of 'I Walk Alone': as album openers go, it was incredibly tempting to throw the CD in the bin as she started screaming. We are glad we persisted, though, because the record's real treat is saved for its closing segment. 'Warm in the Shadows' is an exquisite, nine-minute disco epic, not too dissimilar to Blondie's 'Rapture' (as we said, there are going to get a lot of comparisons). Like Gone with The Wind, it goes on for-fucking-ever, but you're never bored.

Expect to see Music Go Music in the BBC Sound of 2010 poll. It'll probably be topped by a bloke this year, but we'll be shocked if this lot aren't in there (they've recently been signed by Mercury, and could quite easily appeal to the 6 music lot / Radio 2 / the masses who flocked to Mamma Mia). They may sound like lots of things you've heard before, but Music Go Music are still a breath of not-quite-fresh air.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

THIS IS POP MUSIC - NOT NEWSNIGHT: A structure-less ramble on the Sugababes

Arguably a Sugababe should NOT be able to do this....It's trite, but occasionally pictures really do speak a thousand words, don't they? SugaGate makes this point well. Suddenly, the sight of former-Eurovision sweetheart Jade Ewan flashing her inner-thigh-area has become synonymous with "THE SUGABABES R DEAD!" Indeed, the public fall-out following the girls' latest lineup reshuffle must have surprised even the band's somewhat Stalinist management (the StalinBabes does have a ring to it). Journalists and fans alike wept aloud at the death of the anti Girl-Band. Even Bruce bloody Forsythe entered the debate, with predictably zero comedy success. Such hullaballoo was all well and good, but in fairness the Sugababes have been on a somewhat slippery slope for years. The latest crisis is just another metamorphosis of a brand we expected far too much from. Yes, photos of Heidi - clad in leather, inexplicably straddling a car in a desert (as a Liverpudlian, one wonders whether she stole it) are a world away from the tear-drenched tragedy of 'New Year.'

But an element of consistency is needed from the SugaBashers. Few complained when Mutya, in 'Push the Button,' claimed that her "sexy ass has got them in a new dimension." The Sugababes have changed, for better or worse, but the sullen chic of the first lineup would hardly have worked into their twenties. Change - incidentally the title of the Sugas' worst ever album - is intrinsically linked to what it has always meant to be a Sugababe. And thank God for that, as without it we would have missed out on some jaw-droppingly good music. 'Round Round' is, still, one of the most adventurous, downright bizarre pop songs ever written: an audible cut-n'-paste job, it contains entirely nonsensical lyrics, a completely unnecessary ballad thrown in halfway through, and sounds EXACTLY like the future of music. And yet we would never have heard it, had Siobhan's exit equalled the End of the Sugababes.

Even when they stopped setting trends and started following them, it was difficult to argue with the results. See 'Every Heart is Broken,' in which Amelle and co. graphically map out plans to murder their boyfriends, over a blisteringly-camp orchestral opus. Crucially, it wouldn't have worked with any other Sugababes lineup, and lord knows what future musical wonders will result from Control-Alt-and-Deleting the current clan.

And this is where the band's future truly lies: they must again find their sound, their look, and continue to redefine what the Sugababes are (here's a tip: steer WELL CLEAR from 'Get Sexy'). A hundred years from now, I will be severely disappointed if there aren't three completely different girls asking my distant relatives whether they are also Freaks Like Me. Although former Babe Mutya has publicly called for the new gurlz to change their name, well, why should they? The Sugababes have always been the sum of their Pop parts: fantastic, if occasionally monstrous, management, amazing songwriters, and decent stylists. There were some girls who sang, too, but they were - in all honesty - the most disposable part of the franchise.
For if you enjoy manufactured Pop, as the Sugababes' record sales suggest the nation does, then you shouldn't really be too surprised when the manufacturing process rolls on. Just Fucking Enjoy It, in other words.

Many will find this approach somewhat cold, but I've come to the conclusion that I couldn't care less about the ethics of booting one girl out and getting another to jump in their warm grave. This is Pop Music, not Newsnight, and the Song is All. For the Sugababes it always has been, and no band has ever asked greater questions about where exactly we listen to music: do we judge with our dancing-feet, our ears (OBV) or, evidently, with out hearts? Because to blindly refuse to enjoy Sugababes.4, as many have, suggests we are listening to pop music for far more than just Big Tunes. Which, is quite unnecessary. Just Fucking Enjoy it.
Finally, what of the poor Babes themselves? Well, the girls have evidently been under lock and key since day one, and should've got out long ago were they unhappy with the system. Because that's the beauty and the problem with this particular Musical Matrix. It can create you, but it will ultimately outlive you, as great pop music always does.

Monday, 28 September 2009

RECCOMENDED, Or "This Week, I'll Be Mostly Listening To..."

Alphabeat - 'The Spell'

A slightly disorientating return from the Scandinavian songstrels, 'The Spell' is certainly not lacking in magic. It picks up precisely where This is Alphabeat left off, utilising 90s synths and tinny production to achieve a neat 'Modern n' Retro' effect. A bit like legwarmers. There has, though, been one seismic shift in direction for the Danes (no, we're not talking about Stine's weird hair). 'The Spell' is a GROWER, which is a rather alarming departure for Alphabeat (as accustomed as they are to making pop music as subtle and understated as an enema). It's utterly fantastic after a couple of listens, but whether it's enough to alter the perception that they are a fun but essentially throwaway pop act is quite literally anyone's guess.

Official, Vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwH0BxtbEA

Mika - 'Rain'

Although 'We Are Golden' did little but prove that 'Heaven is a Place on Earth' would sound shit sung by a gospel rock band, Mika - we must remember - can occasionally write a good tune. A case in point being 'Rain,' perhaps the only keeper from his literally-identical-to-the-first-album Sophmore Effort. It's a big disco number with a chorus so screamy that it sounds like Fox Porn (oddly, this isn't a Bad Thing). What's more, there's a wickedly weirdo-electro moment around the 2:20 mark, which has more than a whiff of Frankmusik about it. In small doses like this, he could yet become bearable.

Ellie Goulding - 'Swimming Pool'

Allegedly Polydor's big bet for 2010, Miss Goulding has amassed a reasonable amount of blog-buzz without really doing anything. 'Swimming Pool' is perhaps the best example of her potential, with its gentle guitar and warm, unobtrusive electronics resulting in something both melancholic and strangely euphoric. Basically it's the sort of thing James Yuill does so brilliantly, but at least here there's a hope in hell of a commercial crossover. We sense that Polydor may be witholding the best of Goulding from us, for now, but it will be interesting to see how they handle an artist quite so...easy listening?

Have a listen: www.myspace.com/elliegoulding

Hockey - 'Song Away'

Mind Chaos is an occasionally terrific album, but perhaps the secret behind Hockey's complete kamikaze of a campaign thus far can be found - of all places - on the London Underground. Posters parading the city's underbelly, promoting the record, feature the tagline: "U2 MEETS MGMT." For some unfathomable reason, Capitol have taken this to be something of a compliment! Surely most intelligent human beings are less likely to stop and take notice of such "plaudits" as they are to break into a sprint dead sprint, screaming. Clear evidence, then, that neither the label (nor Hockey, if we're being brutally honest) really knows who they are targeting, and what they're all about. A shame, as 'Song Away' is still glorious.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Marina and the Diamonds - Interviewed

My last ever article for Nottingham-music-bible *ahem* The Mic...

Marina & the Diamonds: "I WOULD LITERALLY RATHER DIE"

Micipedia Basics

Who? Bonkers solo-superstar-in-embryo
Sounds Like? Kate Bush raised by Wolves
Mic Reccomends: 'Mowgli's Road'

"I THINK IT'S A BUNCH OF SHIT." I meet Marina Diamandis - a part Greek, part Welsh Londoner, if you can digest that - on a hot Saturday afternoon in May. We have sought refuge in the Pit and Pendulum, leaving behind the mania that is Dot to Dot Festival. "It's a bit gothic in here, isn't it?" Marina takes a sneaky slurp from her smuggled-in can of Red Bull, frequently breaking into a startlingly booming laugh. "I hope they don't catch me." Within minutes, it becomes evident that whatever "It" is - that tangible, cannot-be-bottled appeal Simon Cowell calls Star Quality (normally to the likes of Steve fucking Brookstein) - well, Marina has "It." In Spades.

Female pop stars are like buses: you wait for one to come along, and *you can finish this one yourself*. Fantastic news for most Pop Lovers, but something of a headache for those who feel that there's just too many X Chromosomes clogging up the airwaves ("misogynists"). "I THINK IT'S A BUNCH OF SHIT," barks Marina. Don't get me wrong, I love La Roux and Little Boots, but I'm not just part of a trend. I won't be pushed over easily, even if the press tries to lump us all together. The most important thing is to really know what you want, and for a long time I really didn't."

So what does Marina and the Diamonds bring to a creaking-at-the-sides table? For starters, there are no synths here, nor indie-fied guitars (making journalistically pigeonholing her something of a difficulty). Broadly, this is big, dramatic pop music, with refreshingly low-fi production. 'Mowgli's Road' rattles along on a simple, driving piano line, complete with cuckoos and monkey laughter. You might have stumbled across the classically-flecked buzz single, 'I Am Not a Robot': an endorsement from cultural cockroach Perez Hilton has helped the video rack up 200,000 Youtube hits. Yet Marina's music has a sense of drama, a theatricality, that has thus far escaped her contemporary performers (I'm looking at you, Florence). She crafts strange yet simple narratives that "are not just about love. I would literally rather die. Oh god, I'd better put this Red Bull away, that bloke's coming back again."

Marina's songs tell stories, and in the flesh she is full of them. She was so desperate to make connections in music that, for no other reason, she tried out for a boy band. This followed a rather unsuccessful audition for The Lion King: The Musical (she has no formal dance training, and is unsurprisingly still awaiting a call back). "I tried everything I could to get into the industry. Apart from sleeping with people. Like Madonna' *howls*. Eventually, having been courted by fourteen labels with varying degrees of interest, Marina was signed to Warner/Atlantic. A single will test the waters this winter, with an album to follow next year.

It's difficult to predict whether Marina will be the straw that breaks the Synth Girls' back, or whether she's just a bit too difficult to package. But then again, we thought Mini Viva would tank, so what do we know? Later that evening, Marina positively throws herself around The Social's small stage; glittering away in a black leotard, and dancing like Madonna before she turned into a small bony man, the "It" factor is all too apparent.

Yet an hour beforehand, a nice, spotty barman at the Pit and Pendulum finally realises that Marina did not buy the Red Bull within the premises. Having been politely asked to leave, the Diamond goes back out into the sun, chuckling loudly about Goths and their bloody regulations.