We may currently be stuck in a perpetual battle for the top of the charts between Pharrell’s ubiquitous Happy and Clean Bandit’s hook-laden Rather Be, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of new music to wrap your ears around. Here are eight new tracks totally worthy of your attention…
First a quick Scandi-pop roundup…
Tove Lo – Not On Drugs
“Baby listen please, I’m not on drugs”, Tove Lo protests on her latest single. That doesn’t make it any less addictive.
Lo is probably the best new pop thing to come out of Sweden so far this year. And if that isn’t praise enough, then have a listen to the hooky melodies, the chorus beat drop and the yearning vocals that match the pleading lyrics. Not On Drugs follows the equally brilliant Habits and Out Of Mind, all of which feature on her ‘Truth Serum’ EP released today. It’s an appropriately titled collection of honest love songs that also includes the buoyant Paradise and the aching Over, each track subverting the usual polished synth-pop with a raw, confessional tone.
Tove Lo, you’re high enough for me.
Listen: ‘Truth Serum’ is available now.
iamamiwhoami - Hunting For Pearls
Jonna Lee is a true artist. Each of her tracks, under the pseudonym iamamiwhoami, have been accompanied by a spectacular visual feast and Hunting For Pearls is no different. The video sees Lee dressed all in white like a modern-day, ethereal ice queen escaping some black humanoid creatures, set to a twilit, icy oceanic backdrop. It perfectly suits the glacial quality, crystalline synths and dreamlike production over which Lee’s effervescent vocals flicker. The overall vision is uniquely Swedish, the end results are fantastic.
Listen: Hunting For Pearls is available now, with a full album due later this year.
Lykke Li – I Never Learn
Another Swedish artist making a comeback this year is Lykke Li. Best known for I Follow Rivers from her 2011 album ‘Wounded Rhymes’, she returns this year with her next album ‘I Never Learn’ from which this track takes its title. What’s been released so far is more a preview of what to expect rather than a full blown single, but judging by the celestial vocal harmonies, gently strummed acoustic guitars, lush orchestration and lyrics depicting “fallen stars” and “phantom lovers”, this new material should be as magical as ever. Swedish music isn’t just about big synths you know.
Listen: ‘I Never Learn’ will be released on May 6th.
That said, DNKL (pron. ‘dunkel’) are all about the big synths. Like last year’s Hunt, Battles is a widescreen, cinematic slice of Swedish electro-noir, all whirring synths, downbeat drums and dark melancholy hanging thickly in the air. Imagine a more introspective M83 drenched in minor keys and it should give you an idea.
Listen: Battles is available as a free download on the band's SoundCloud page.
And now on to some less Nordic music…
M83 – I Need You
Speaking of M83, the French band seem to have carved themselves a new career in film soundtracks. The dramatic and lofty I Need You is taken from forthcoming sci-fi thriller ‘Divergent’, following in the footsteps of Oblivion from that other sci-fi film of the same name. As you’d expect from the band, the production is hugely cinematic, with dense textures building to an almighty crescendo and, you guessed it, a signature saxophone solo. Whilst undoubtedly film-appropriate, their movie soundtracks don’t quite push the boundaries of their sound as much as their albums have. Here’s hoping a follow up to ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ is on the way.
Listen: I Need You features on the ‘Divergent’ soundtrack, out March 11th.
MNEK – Don’t Call This Love
London newcomer MNEK is so far more familiar as the writer and producer of some massive hits from the last couple of years, from The Saturdays All Fired Up, to X Factor alumni Little Mix and Misha B, current dance masters like Rudimental, Duke Dumont and Gorgon City, as well as Tom Aspaul’s Indiana – now Feels So Good on Kylie’s next album. That’s quite a list of credits for someone who is still only nineteen.
Yet Don’t Call This Love is a far more soulful jam than his mostly electronic production work. It works beautifully as a stripped back affair, with a warm organ backdrop, finger click beat and silky vocals. “Call it the feeling you can’t explain, call it the thing that drives you insane but don’t call this love”, he pleads in the chorus in a rich tone filled with licks and riffs that don’t obscure the maturity of the lyrics – something Jessie J could only dream of. It’s clear from this accomplished love song and vocal performance that MNEK is a strong talent in his own right.
Listen: Don’t Call This Love will feature on his forthcoming debut album, released later this year.
Paolo Nutini – Iron Sky
It’s been five years since Nutini released any new music, but judging by his new material, he’s taking himself far more seriously these days. The first track from the new album, Scream (Funk My Life Up), sees the singer letting loose on a funky jam, but on Iron Sky he lets loose emotionally. His rasping vocals roar over mournful guitars and sombre production, with brass retaining the funk sound from his previous work. ‘Sunny Side Up’ may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but new album ‘Caustic Love’ is shaping up to be his best album to date – clearly those five years haven’t been wasted.
Listen: ‘Caustic Love’ is due on 14th April.
Shakira – Empire
The Columbian singer’s big return with Can’t Remember To Forget You in collaboration with Rihanna has hardly set the charts alight. Empire sees the singer going it alone in more familiar territory – a big belting power ballad. It sounds like it should be on a film soundtrack, though too often her unique voice is distorted through a loudspeaker in a clichéd attempt to create a sense of epic scale against the soaring guitars and piano. Shakira hasn’t had a hit in the English speaking world with a ballad since the soppy Underneath Your Clothes and Empire is unlikely to change that – bring back the latin dancing and quirky charm!
Listen: Empire features on new album ‘Shakira’ released on March 24th.