August 30, 2012

Review: Stars' The North



Twelve years into their career, Stars continue to bring whipsmart indie pop to their open-hearted followers. On their sixth studio album, The North, the prolific Canadian group manages to sound as fresh and engaged as they did in the halcyon days of the early oo's.

Album opener The Theory of Relativity sets the tone with a clever lyric ("Find someone close and hold them like you care.") and a power pop crunch. The title track is reminiscent of early work like On Peak Hill, both in its aural shimmer and its theme of looking back: "There's a person he once was / In a place far away / It's so cold in this country / From October to May."

Although lead singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell are masters of a forlorn piano ballad (The 400), The North's summit is reached on a (literally) pounding, New Orderish manifesto called Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It. That track’s lyrical hook, “Take the weakest thing in you and then beat the bastards with it,” should be stamped on our tee-shirts in these waning days of a glorious, too-hot summer.


August 29, 2012

Patrick Wolf: Take me back to where it begins.



Patrick Wolf.
Gorgeous new version of Overture, from his new album
Sundark and Riverlight.
His voice always brings it home.



August 28, 2012

Human kindess is overflowing



The ever epic Barbra Streisand is releasing what will likely be a dream album for fans... it's music from the vaults. Release Me has 11 songs recorded from 1963 to the present. Today she released a stream, of her version of Randy Newman's I Think It's Going Rain Today, with Newman on piano. This is from the 1971 Stoney End - great album! - sessions. The new release also includes an outtake of Home from The Wiz that was left off of Back To Broadway. It's out on October 9 - full details here.

I should add that Bette Midler does a fine version of this on the Beaches soundtrack. Nina Simone also recorded it. I always loved the line "the frozen smiles to chase love away" - it's not the happiest song. Whatever. Like any respectable... librarian... I love Babs.

Xolondon's Top Ten Plus One Barbra Streisand Songs
in no order

Send In The Clowns
Stoney End
Run Wild
Since I Fell For You
I Hate Music/Nobody's Heart
Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most*
What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life
Where Is It Written
No Matter What Happens
No More Tears
Move On


*back in the 90's I used to make friends mix-tapes with this as the title.

August 23, 2012

Marina talks to America



Marina Diamandis spoke to Huffington Post this week about her brilliant pop record, Electra Heart. I urge you all to read it. Best interview I've seen with her on the topic. Hat tip to its writer, Noah Michelson. Here's a teaser quote from Marina...
Once I was speaking with a journalist about The Outsider [song on Marina's debut] and they asked "How can you be an outsider, you're beautiful?" I replied A) You don't know what I look like without all this on [gestures to makeup and clothes] B) you don't know if I like myself and C) just because you're beautiful doesn't mean that everything is perfect. But even when I see a beautiful woman I think Aw, her life must be amazing. Everyone does it. That's human nature to believe that beauty is everything.
Marina and the Diamonds

August 14, 2012

First Listen: Jessie Ware's amazing Devotion



There is a strong case to be made that when you play Jessie Ware's Devotion for the first time - and do it in a dark place, with wine - that you will be listening one of the finest albums of 2012. Ware, previously a background singer for Paloma Faith, comes into her own in a big way. Working with producers Julio Bashmore and Dave Okumu, she is living proof that less really is more. She knows when to hold back and when to give. It's a fucking sweet dream.

Update: The Guardian is streaming Devotion now

Here is a track by track:

Devotion
Chiming synths ring in the arrival of Jessie Ware. The title track is Sade-smooth minimalism. How can one be so sexy and make it seem so easy? Boom this track on earbuds and the bass envelopes you. Watch a live performance

Wildest Moments Pounding drums anchor a song about a love affair only the lovers understand ("from the outside everyone must be wondering why we try"). But you know it's doomed by the time she purrs "my wrecking ball" at the end of the perfect middle eight. One of the finest singles of 2012. Watch the video

Running The track that got everyone's attention in the dead of winter. Much like Emeli Sande's debut single Heaven, this one dials up the nineties. Unlike Sande's album, Devotion delivers and expands that sound. Watch the video

Still Love Me The first of two groove-based songs on the album. The sound here is more dissonant, the vocal almost a chant. Twangy, pingy, skittering.

No To Love
As in
Who says no to love? Another groove, this one introducing a cool-as-ice male countervocal who closes the song with a sleek, bling-free rap. The throatiness with which she delivers the final "What were we thinking of?" is a hint of things to come.

Night Light And now, the slayer (and forthcoming single). A big, big tune that allows Ware to cut loose. Sonically adventurous, with cello and cascading electric guitars. Again, the middle eight delivers a song within a song and an erotic come-on: "Tell me where to follow, I'm happy to be told.
I'm happy to be told." This is goosebump territory.

Swan Song
Though this track pings along, abiding by the album template, it never quite lifts off. It's still solid. In fact, there isn't one duff track on Devotion.

Sweet Talk Imagine yourself in 1990, popping in the cassingle of Sweet Talk, like a lost Mariah Carey jam. Minus the shattering glass and tacky clothes. Lyrically, Jessie gets herself into trouble with smooth talking men. It works for her. Hear it

110% The second single flat-lined with me on its release, but it suddenly comes to life here, in the context of the album. Crisp, modern production and samples from Big Punisher's The Dream Shatterer are contrasted by very pretty vocal. Watch the video

Taking In Water
is a big gun ballad in the old school music biz style. It'll draw an inevitable Adele comparison for its unashamed divaness, but I have no idea what taking in water means.

Something Inside The album closer is a drop dead gorgeous love song. "Offer me something inside, a place to go, a place to hide." It's easy to draw comparisons between Jessie and artists like Sade and Lisa Stanfield, but Devotion has a subtle weirdness about it that reminds a bit of Maxwell in his Embrya phase. Built on an unusual structure that seems like two pieces layered into one (metaphorical?), Something Inside shimmers and flutters until it finally slips away like exhaled smoke.

The finest album of 2012? I think so.

August 8, 2012

Alpines reveal new EP cover



This is Early Hours.

Released 8 October.

Alpines: I've been a fool for you



Alpines have just finished shooting videos for Chances and Got Me Wrong, from their upcoming 4-track EP, Early Hours (out October 8). You can watch Chances below, or in a larger format on my tumblr. If you don't know their earlier singles Empires and Cocoon, now is the time - just click on the Alpines tag at the end of this post. The sound is huge and emotional (think Bjork, Homogenic era), and the videos are always crisp visual killers. Each project they do has a satisfying economy to it - every element in its place, no frills.

I am hoping this signals an album before the end of the year, but I wonder if it's more likely we'll have to wait until early 2013. In the meantime, read lead singer Catherine's blog.




August 3, 2012

Halcyon



This happened today. Ellie Goulding. Halcyon.

Alphabeat "jump on in"



Alphabeat is very very happy! Love Sea, their new single, is being teased now - it's out August 13th and it has their trademark bubbly, trapped-in-a-happier-era sound. I like this one better than Vacation, which (I confess) did nothing for me.

August 1, 2012

We'll show them all how this love's meant to be



The fetching British duo Bim return with their latest single, Lights Out. Beyonce will, do doubt, weep openly when she sees Rebecca's fierce earrings in the new video.

If you've not heard their 2010 debut album, Scatterheart, listen now. It's lovely. At the time I described it as - here's a sampling- elegant, cinematic, emotional, lush, layered and blippy. L
ights Out is the second track from their sophomore album (no news yet), following March's Scream. Like that song, you can download this for FREE right now.

Watch the video now...