Tuesday, 26 August 2014

New Pop Roundup

You want some new music?  Of course you do...

Nicole Scherzinger - On The Rocks

Ok, it's not quite Boomerang, but On The Rocks is definitely at the bottom end of Scherzy's output.  It's a massive step down from Your Love, the whole chorus conceit is dreadful, and it's just a middling mid-tempo jam.  Shouldn't she be back on X Factor or something?


Listen: On The Rocks is released on October 12th.

Nicki Minaj - Anaconda

Let's face it, we're only here for the video.  The song itself is just a lazy sample and a bad rap with insightful lyrics like "where my fat ass big bitches in the club?"  As for the visuals, if you like ass, jungles, ass, fruit, ass, Drake and some more ass, then you'll probably find much to enjoy.


Listen: Anaconda is available now.

Rae Morris - Closer

Fans of Bombay Bicycle Club may recognise Morris as their sometimes collaborator, but her solo material is a total contrast.  Closer mixes tinkling piano and electronics with an R&B beat oddly reminiscent of Return Of The Mack.  The result is a very clever piece of pop songwriting, proving Morris is definitely one to watch in the coming months.


Listen: Closer is released on 22nd October.

Troye Sivan - Happy Little Pill

Though the baby-faced South-African born Troye Sivan has been making music for a little while, his recent EP 'TRXYE' is his first major label release.  Though he may look like a cross between La Roux's Elly Jackson and James Blake, his music is very different.  Happy Little Pill is the lead single from the EP: sombre R&B-pop with a suitably moody video to match.  The rest of the EP follows a similar template but it's a brilliant listen.  It also has a track called The Fault In Our Stars, though it's nothing to do with the recent film.


Listen: 'TRXYE' is available now.

Labrinth - Let It Be

Pop doesn't get much worse than Beneath Your Beautiful, but thankfully Labrinth is taking his career in a more experimental direction with his new material, of which Let It Be is the first example.  And no it's not a cover of The Beatles.  Instead he unleashes his soulful vocals over trumpet calls, electric guitars, robotic vocals and a stomping military beat.  It sounds weird, but somehow it works.


Listen: Let It Be is released on September 28th.

Pale - Silence

Silence is a fusion of electro, soul and R&B, with an 80s feel and some guitars thrown in for good measure.  Its smooth, melancholic atmosphere washes over the ears like silk, much like the rest of this London band's output.  Their new EP should be well worth a listen.


Listen: Silence is taken from forthcoming EP 'The Come Back' released on 8th September.

Say Lou Lou x Lindstrøm - Games For Girls

If you thought Swedish-Australian sisters Say Lou Lou only did dreamy sad-pop then you're mistaken.  This track has production from Norwegian space-disco producer Lindstrøm, who lends a bubbling, playful note to the sisters' vocals.  This should provide a nice change of pace when it features on their debut album due next year.


Listen: Games For Girls is released on 12th October.

Bastille - Bad News

Taken from their forthcoming EP 'Oblivion', Bad News is more akin to the remix work from Bastille's mixtapes - all hypnotic synths, electronic beats and processed vocals.  If the new EP is half as good as this track it'll be a vast improvement on debut album 'Bad Blood'.


Listen: 'Oblivion' is released on 7th September.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Ariana Grande - My Everything

Dear Miley Cyrus

Your homework for this week is to listen to Ariana Grande's 'My Everything'.
This is how to graduate from the Disney school of pop to adulthood.


The Gizzle

I jest, but the reason for this is that Grande has what Cyrus is (for the most part) missing: good songs.  Wrecking Ball is a decent pop ballad, but by smothering it in controversy and shock tactics, it placed emphasis on her desperate need for attention rather than the music.

Grande is the opposite, which has already resulted in her being responsible for one of the most ubiquitous pop tracks of the year: Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea).

That said, how responsible is she?  She's managed to surround herself with the best possible team of songwriters, producers and collaborators, for a genre-hopping album that contains some of the best pop of 2014, including everyone from Max Martin to David Guetta, Shellback, Benny Blanco and Nile Rodgers.  Grande herself, though, is little more than a vocal gymnast conduit for the talents of others.

It's personality that she's missing, in person at least - something Cyrus admittedly has in spades.  Whilst the video for current single Break Free is a quirky, camp mess, Grande is almost vacant throughout.  The same can be said for her performance at this year's MTV VMAs.  It only takes one look to see through her blank stare and distinct lack of dance ability.

Yet it's the music that's most important for an album and that's where she scores points.  Through its mix of genres and her impressive vocals, it's a solid collection of (perhaps overly polished) songs; sassy with just the right amount of sweetness.  Or should that be sweet with just the right amount of sass?

Either way it's a carefully constructed balance, unlike Cyrus's explosion into extreme sexuality.  Take the moody, glacial Love Me Harder: it's left for The Weeknd to sing the provocative lyrics ("can you feel the pressure between your hips") so that Grande can keep her clean image.

That song is just one example of the contemporary collaborators and R&B feel that predominates the album.  Frequent rap breaks come from Iggy Azalea (Problem), Big Sean (Best Mistake), Childish Gambino (Break Your Heart Right Back) and A$AP Ferg (Hands On Me), but they never detract from Grande herself.  Another R&B influence comes from the use of sampling on Break Your Heart Right Back, a song about her ex cheating on her with another man (hence the use of Diana Ross's I'm Coming Out - see what you did there).  Be My Baby, with production from Cashmere Cat, is pure sensual 90s R&B.

Elsewhere, she dips her toes into EDM with Break Free (with producer of the moment Zedd), whilst the title track is her big Mariah moment.  And what album would be complete without a Ryan Tedder scribed pop-gospel ballad?  Why Try is an early highlight with its rousing, hooky chorus.  Even Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart, a serviceable piano-ballad written by Harry Styles of all people, isn't as bad as you might think.

To a cynic, this may seem like a series of check boxes ticked to overcome a lack of star quality.  Yet with 'My Everything' Grande has transformed from Nickelodeon princess, through Mariah imitator, to a bona fide popstar.  She is undoubtedly the breakout artist of 2014, no wrecking balls required.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Problem
* Why Try
* Love Me Harder

Listen: 'My Everything' is available now.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Basement Jaxx - Junto

Warning: I'm about to make you feel really old.  Red Alert, the breakthrough single from DJing duo Basement Jaxx, was released fifteen years ago (!!!!).  Since then they've gone on to become one of the most recognisable duos in house music in a lengthy career spanning two decades.

'Junto' is their seventh album following a four year hiatus.  Where there previous releases became increasingly experimental, this new material sees the duo returning to the carnival spirit of their roots (insert 'Rooty' joke here).  The title is Spanish for "together", which perfectly suits the party atmosphere and sense of togetherness the album perpetuates.  To quote the video for new single Never Say Never: "Without dance there is no love.  Without love there is no passion. Without passion there are no humans."

The Intro alone focuses on jungle rhythms and, as it bleeds into Power To The People (through a magical harp glissando no less) the horns and steel drums enter for a sound straight out of their early back catalogue.  It's a sound that continues with the heavy syncopation of Rock This Road and the infectious Mermaid of Salinas.  This is literally the sound of Latin summers.

That's not to say 'Junto' is totally backwards.  More so, it's a kaleidoscope of dance genres from the past, present and future.  Unicorn, for instance, is pure deep house; Never Say Never wouldn't sound amiss in contemporary charts; We Are Not Alone shuffles into the poppier end of the spectrum; Summer Dem focuses on funky, Get Lucky-esque guitars; Buffalo takes us to the darkest reaches of jungle; Something About You feels like AlunaGeorge with its futuristic R&B beat and bass combo; and Love Is At Your Side rounds out the album with a laid-back balearic-asian groove.

What's missing, though, is a big standout single (Never Say Never aside).  Basement Jaxx will remain best known for their pop crossover hits, including the likes of Red Alert and Good Luck.  It's clear, though, that the duo aren't interested in that anymore.  This return to their roots marks a return to pure dance music.  As a whole, 'Junto' is heavily percussive, rhythmic, propulsive and infectious.

In an age where dance music is becoming ever more minimal, edgy and futuristic, Basement Jaxx have taken a step backwards to offer something fun, joyful and altogether more human.  It is, after all, what they're best at.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Mermaid of Salinas
* Never Say Never
* Love Is At Your Side

Listen: 'Junto' is released on 25th August.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Luke Sital-Singh - The Fire Inside

In the words of Ned Stark: “Winter is coming”.  As the cold weather ushers in another season of picturesque, burnt orange landscapes, there’s no better soundtrack than singer-songwriter Luke Sital-Singh’s sepia acoustic strumming for a blustery autumnal day.

‘The Fire Inside’ comes off the back of a series of EPs (from which much of this album is taken), which led to a spot on this year’s BBC Sound of 2014 longlist.  Yes, he’s another guitar-playing troubadour, but his music is so sumptuous, nostalgiac and delicately melancholic, he cannot fail for you.

As you’d expect, Sital-Singh began as a solo acoustic artist, but ‘The Fire Inside’ sees him expanding his sound to a full band for many of the tracks.  Yet far from the folky jigs of Mumford & Sons or the tear-soaked guitars of Bon Iver, the full band is merely an extension of his sound.  More upbeat tracks like Greatest Lovers, Everything Is Making You, We Don’t Belong and breakthrough single Bottled Up Tight still retain his raw sound, tinged with melancholia.  The stark live feel of the production only highlights this, all warm harmonies and shivering guitars.

It’s the acoustic tracks that form the backbone to the album though.  Fail For You is simply stunning as it slowly blooms and unfurls with vocal harmonies and its heartbreaking chorus lyric - “I bought you the sky and the oceans too…the only thing I didn’t do was fail for you”.  At the core of the album is the tryptich of Lilywhite, Nearly Morning and I Have Been A Fire: the former centres on a piano riff that bares resemblance to Lana Del Rey’s Video Games; the second transports you to a frosty sunrise; the latter is a poignant and delicate depiction of a destructive relationship - “you were just a flower…gentle like a rose with charred and blackened toes”.

It’s impossible not to fall for these songs, predominantly due to Sital-Singh’s vocals.  Whether purring in a soft falsetto or a gut-wrenching outpouring of emotion, it’s a powerful voice of anguish and vulnerability.  Forget the boring and derivative Tom Odell, or the similarly Brit Award loved Ben Howard - Luke Sital-Singh is the best singer-songwriter since Damien Rice.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Lilywhite
* I Have Been A Fire
* Fail For You

Listen: 'The Fire Inside' is available now.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Anything Goes @ Cadogan Hall

Rodgers and Hammerstein may generally be considered the original masters of musical theatre, but Cole Porter comes a very close second.  Best known for the hit musicals Anything Goes, Kiss Me Kate and High Society, he wrote over 800 songs during his lifetime.  A staggering achievement.

This concert performance of his music may only have contained 25 of those songs, but it proved nonetheless to be a jubilant celebration of his music.  And whilst the song list was heavy with numbers from the aforementioned musicals, it overall covered 14 of his 17 shows (and films).  Every number in this performance was memorable, no matter what show it originated from - with such a vast output, it’s easy to forget just how many brilliant songs Porter wrote.  Few people may remember his musical Born To Dance for instance, but fewer still would be unfamiliar with its hit song ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’. 

He certainly had a distinctive style, whether in his up-tempo jazz dances, his patter duets, or his love songs.  This collection of songs provided just enough variety to offer a suitable cross-section of his output, even if it was a little comedy and jazz-hands heavy.  It’s for this reason that Jenna Russell’s performance of the sumptuous ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ from Hi Diddle Diddle was such a highlight in an otherwise jovial evening – subtle, emotive and captivating.

The show featured performances from four musical theatre heavyweights (and gushing friends), who between them have a string of Tony and Olivier nominations and awards: the fun and frivolous Maria Friedman; the dry and witty Jenna Russell; the crooning Graham Bickley; and cool cat Clive Rowe.  Rowe, especially, was the standout performer with an effortless, rich vocal tone whether singing the Kiss Me Kate classic ‘Too Darn Hot’ or the silky ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’.  Aside from the odd tutti number, it was just a shame that the foursome never really branched out of solos and duets.

Concert performances can feel a little stilted with a lack of staging and movement, but Porter’s music is easy enough to revel in.  The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra played brilliantly under the conducting of Richard Balcombe, though they sometimes overpowered the singers – especially the underused Royal Academy of Music Musical Theatre Company Chorus.  Still, with a general lack of musical theatre at this year’s BBC Proms, this concert provided more than enough to satiate fans of the genre.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Charli XCX - Break The Rules

With all the fuss over the new Taylor Swift single yesterday, the fact that Charli XCX also has a new single out soon drifted under many a radar.

Which is pretty apt really.  Despite a brilliant debut album – 2013’s ‘True Romance’ – that followed a string of singles, it wasn’t until her feature on Iggy Azalea’s Fancy earlier this year (plus her own current single Boom Clap) that Charli XCX has garnered mainstream attention.  All radars are now firmly aimed towards her forthcoming album ‘Sucker’ released in October.

Break The Rules is everything you would expect from a Charli XCX single, which is what makes it great.  Punk-pop aesthetic; youthful, anthemic, shouty chorus; glorious mix of guitars and synths; and a “na na na” hook.  Ironically for the song title, she’s become the master of her own template largely set out by her hit with Icona Pop, I Love It.  The rebellious Break The Rules is bound to thrust her even further into the limelight - let’s hope she can follow it up with an equally successful (but more rule-breaking) album.


Listen: Break The Rules will feature on ‘Sucker’, released on October 21st.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Taylor Swift - Shake It Off

Forget the music, when will Taylor Swift get her own chat show?

In a livestream in front of a studio audience, she revealed new single Shake It Off and details about her forthcoming album '1989', as well as answering fan questions.  You'd be hard-pressed to find a more charming popstar.

And a popstar she is now, officially.  '1989' is being marketed as her "first pop album", which is a bit strange really when 'Red' was the album that saw her transition from countrystar to popstar.  She's described it as her most cohesive and favourite album to date, stemming from "not wanting but needing to write a new style of music".  Now she's all-out pop, with not a country twang in earshot.  It's all a bit Disney feelgood anthem really.

The main influence on the album is "late 80s pop" and its bold, daring nature - hence the album title, also the year of her birth.  Daring and bold are not words you could use to describe Shake It Off, however.  For starters she's got back together with We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together songwriter Max Martin.  With its blaring horns and (to quote Swift herself) "this sick beat", she's lost her country roots for something that's utterly contemporary.  This is Pharrell's Happy for 2014 Part Two.

The video, meanwhile, is just an excuse for Swift to play dress-up in various outfits.  It's fun, frothy and self-deprecating.  And despite the twerking, if anyone can get away with cultural appropriation it's Swift, not Miley Cyrus.

In part Shake It Off is nauseating, but it's also an unadulterated pop hit.  It's no 22, but it's undoubtedly destined to be one of the biggest, meme-generating tracks of the year.


Listen: '1989' is released on October 27th; Shake It Off is available as a pre-order bonus.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Imogen Heap - Sparks

Imogen Heap has always been one for technology.  Nobody else could make robotic vocals and a keytar into such a tearjerker (Hide and Seek - later ruined by Jason Derulo).  'Sparks', though, is her most outlandish album yet.  And for Heap, that's saying something.

Locational influences range from the River Thames (pianistic opener You Know Where To Find Me) to the Himalayas (the evocative Climb To Sakteng) and the Chinese city of Hangzhou (the collision of ancient past and electronic present in Xizi She Knows), whilst sound effects include a dishwasher door, a Bhutanese dranyen (a lute-like string instrument), and "the words of a crumbling wall to 700 fans' voices" - according to the press release.  Weird.

Then there's The Listening Chair.  Inspired by an actual chair in which people were recorded responding to the question "what is the song that still needs to be written?", Heap composed a piece divided into five one minute sections that each represent seven years of her life.  And it's not even finished - every seven years she'll continue to add another minute of song.  Ultimately, though, it's little more than an interesting conceit.  Of more emotional value is Lifeline, a crowd-sourced piece written as a response to the Sendai earthquake.  In particular, the album is full of asian influences, owing to the amount of worldwide travelling Heap has done over the lengthy course of writing.

Fans will already recognise a number of the tracks on 'Sparks'.  The excellent soundscape of Propellor Seeds was first released way back in 2011, whilst Telemiscommunications appeared on Deadmau5's 2012 album 'album title goes here' (though you can hardly pick out his input).  The Listening Chair also debuted in 2012 at the Proms.

Clearly, then, 'Sparks' has been a labour of love, but somewhere along the way Heap appears to have forgotten about songwriting.  There are some truly amazing sounds - the buoyancy of Me The Machine, the subtle layers of Propellor Seeds, the electrifying juxtapositions of Xizi She Knows - but for the most part she's far too concerned with technological wizardry and unique futuristic concepts to actually write a pop hook.  Run-Time is a rare exception as it bubbles and froths before a pulsating final section.  Combining her trademark breathy vocals with pop electronica, this is the Heap we know and love.

Individually there are some interesting songs full of intellectualism and creatively layered sonic textures, but the ideas are too disparate to come together as a cohesive album.  This may be Heap's most ambitious album to date, but it's not her most musically satisfying.  It's just too clever.


Gizzle's Choice:
* You Know Where To Find Me
* Run-Time
* Xizi She Knows

Listen: 'Sparks' is released on the 18th August.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Ryn Weaver - Promises

It's funny when you think about it how, in this day and age, fame can sprout overnight from seemingly nowhere.

That's certainly the case with pop singer-songwriter Ryn Weaver.  Off the back of a single track, she's risen from nobody to a potentially huge artist.  Now, a mere few weeks since that release, comes her first full EP.

That first track, Octahate, is present on 'Promises' in all its glory.  It's definitely the highlight of the EP, but you'd expect that from a collaboration with Michael Angelakos (of Passion Pit fame), producers Cashmere Cat and Benny Blanco, and songwriter Charli XCX.  With its percussive verses and gloriously pounding chorus hooks, it sets the bar high.

Title track Promises, follows a similar sonic template, adding warm vocal harmonies; Stay Low shimmers with lofty synths; and Sail On features yearning melodies and guitars for a more mournful take on her sound.  Together, this is an EP of slick and unique indie-pop that's incredibly confident for such a young, overnight sensation.  Clearly Weaver has the talent to back up the success.


Listen: 'Promises' is available now.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Dogfight @ The Southwark Playhouse

A group of marines arrive in the big city to woo the ladies for one night only before heading off to war.  Yes, it's the plot of Bernstein's On The Town, but it's the same notion that forms the basis of Dogfight, a new musical that originally debuted off-Broadway in 2012, based on the 1991 film of the same name.

Dogfight, however, is the antithesis of Bernstein's charming, romantic fairytale.  Set in 1963, the marines have a wager to see who can bring the ugliest girl to the party on their last night before heading to Vietnam.  It's a perverse game and an interesting twist on the usual boy-meets-girl narrative, though the relationship between protagonist Eddie Birdlace and Rose Fenny soon becomes clichéd and predictable.

Mostly, their relationship just isn't believable.  As a whole, the marines are utterly unlikeable and near impossible to sympathise with; a group of smarmy, aggressive jarheads out to corrupt the innocence of young girls like Rose.  Jamie Muscato offers a brilliantly frightening performance as the unpredictable Eddie, but when he treats her so badly it's difficult to see what Rose sees in him.  Why should she give him a second chance?  It's an overly romantic development in an otherwise raw and realistically toned musical.  And with the emphasis on the central couple, the characterisation of the supporting cast suffers.

The music, from Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, is wonderful, elevating a simple love story.  Mixing modern musical theatre with some Dylan-esque folk and contemporary rock and roll, it is a surprisingly complex score with some beautiful ballads.  And whilst the male vocals are suitably laddish, the female performers are stunning.  Rebecca Trehearn is underused besides a belting delivery of the title song, whilst Laura Jane Matthewson has a beautifully warm and gentle tone perfectly suited to the innocent Rose.  Some words (lyrics and script) are lost through poor diction, though this may be more of a sound issue.

Director Matt Ryan does provide a powerful ending with a well realised and shocking scene of the marines in Vietnam, though the political elements feel a little tacked on.  It's a predictably tragic end that highlights the difficulties of marines re-integrating into society, but it begs the question: does their sacrifice excuse their misogynistic behaviour?  Not in my book.


Watch: Dogfight runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 13th September.