December 31, 2013

Favorites 2013: THE LIST

I got some emails and comments about the songs missing from my earlier lists. 
So maybe yer faves are on THIS mega list of many great songs in 2013... 

Active Child Evening Ceremony
Aluna George Best Be Believing
Gabrielle Aplin Panic Cord
Arcade Fire Reflektor
Arctic Monkeys Fireside, Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?
Arthur Beatrice Grand Union, Midland
Autoheart Agoraphobia, Moscow, Hungover In The City of Dust, Heartbreaker, Factories
Ayer Young
Katy B 5AM, Crying For No Reason
Backstreet Boys Breathe
BANKS Before I Ever Met You
Sara Barielles Manhattan, Satellite Call, Eden
Belanger Take Me Home
Betty Who The Movement EP 
Beyonce XO, Blow, Haunted, Superpower, Blue
Sophie Ellis Bextor Young Blood
Bing Li Jing See Me Through (with Diane Birch)
Dan Black Hearts (with Kelis) 
Blood Orange You're Not Good Enough, Uncle Ace, Chosen, Time Will Tell
Brand New Heavies Sunlight
Toni Braxton and Babyface Hurt
Bright Light Bright Light In Your Care
VV Brown The Apple
Mariah Carey #Beautiful, The Art Of Letting Go
Belinda Carlisle Sun
Neko Case Night Still Comes, Where Did I Leave That Fire
Cher Lie To M, Sirens, Lovers Forever, My Love
Chvrches We Sink, The Mother We Share
Cut Copy Take Me Higher
Daft Punk Get Lucky, Give Life Back To Music
Delphic Freedom Found, Don't Let The Dreamers Take You Away, Tears Before Bedtime
Disclosure Confess To Me, Latch, Help Me Lose My Mind
Boris Dlugosch Look Around Me (with Roisin Murphy) 
Rose Elinor Dougall Future Vanishes
Thomas Dybdahl Man On A Wire, This Next Wave Is A Big One, Soulsister
Kat Edmonson I Just Wasn't Made For These Times
Sheila E Who I Am Now, Rockstar,  I'll Give You That
Mikky Ekko Kids (Monsieur Aid Mix)
Empire Of The Sun I'll Be Around, Celebrate
Agnetha Faltskog I Should Have Followed You Home
Sky Ferreira,You're Not The One, I Blame Myself, Boys, 24 Hours, Omanko, Love In Stereo
Florrie Last Thing On My Mind, Live A Little 
Foxes Let Go For Tonight
Frankmusik Did Love, Final Song, How Do We Know?
Friends The Way
Fryars In My Arms 
Fun Sight Of The Sun
Gold Fields Happy Boy, Dark Again, Thunder, Closest I Could Get
Goldfrapp Drew, Annabel, Laurel, Stranger, Thea, Lee 
Jose Gonzalez Stay Alive
The Good Natured Lovers
Ariana Grande Baby I, The Way
John Grant Gmf
HAERTS All The Days
Cyril Hahn Perfect Form (feat Shy Girls)
Haim Falling
Mayer Hawthorne Where Does This Door Go, Corsican Rose, Reach Out Richard
Holy Ghost In The Red, I For Edgar, Cheap Shots
Hurts Guilty
Brendan James Constellations
Elton John Home Again Keane Won't Be Broken
Kelis Jerk Ribs
King Need A Woman By Friday 
KING In The Meantime
The Knocks Modern Hearts (with St Lucia)
Lady Gaga Applause, Gypsy 
John Legend Made To LoveAmelia Lily Truth Or Dare
Lissie Further Away (Romance Police)
Little Boots Motorway, Strangers, Crescendo, Beat Beat, Strangers, Antarctica (unreleased)
London Grammar Strong, Maybe, Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me? Help, Flickers, Nightcall
Lorde Royals, Tennis Court, Buzzcut Season
Laura Marling Saved These Words
Johnny Marr New Town Velocity 
Clare Maguire Paper Thin 
John Mayer Who You Love (with Katy Perry)
Microfilm Romeo Rorschach, Romeo Rorschach (Pastorale Digitale Mix), Lavender Courtesy Phone, Penthouse (feat Sarah Nixey)
Kylie Minogue Skirt (Switch Mix) 
Lucas Mire You Don't Know, Gone
MKS Flatline
Janelle Monae Ghetto Woman, We Were Rock'n'Roll
Monsier Adi What's Going On (feat AME)
Alison Moyet Horizon Flame, Apple Kisses, Love Reign Supreme
Nashville Cast This Town, No One Will Ever Love You
Naughty Boy Hollywood (feat Gabrielle) La La La (feat Sam Smith)
New Order Recoil, Californian Grass, Shake it Up
NONONO Pumpin' Blood
Oh Land Cherry On Top
OMD Metroland, Helen Of Troy
One Direction Story of My Life
Mark Owen Stars, S.A.D. (feat Ren Harvieu), Carnival
Owls Closure
Erlend Oye La Prima Estate
Pet Shop Boys Thursday, Vocal, Inside A Dream
Prefab Sprout The Best Jewel Thief In The World, List of Impossible Things, Dreamer, Who Built The Taj Mahal
Prince Breakfast Can Wait 
Pure Bathing Culture Pendulum, Dream The Dare, Temples Of The Moon
Rhye Major Minor Love, The Fall, One Of Those Summer Days, Shed Some Blood
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton You Can't Make Old Friends
Quadron Avalanche
Kelly Rowland I Remember, Red Wine
Joesph Salvat Hustler 
Sampha Without
The Saturdays Lease My Love
Say Lou Lou Beloved, Better In The Dark, Julian (Monsieur Adi Mix)
Mark Sciblia Something Good In This World
Sia Kill And Run
Slow Knights Sweet Harmony (Bright Light Bright Light Mix), Under Attack, Kingdom, I Got It That Bad
Sam Smith Latch (acoustic), Safe With Me, La L aLa (with Naughty Boy)
Solange Losing You (Cyril Hahn Mix)
Britney Spears Werk Bitch, Perfume (Dreaming Mix)
St. Lucia Elevate, Too Close, When The Night, The Way You Remember Me, All Eyes On You, Wait For Love
Lisa Stansfield Can't Dance
Sting Practical Arrangement
Suede Barriers, Hit Me
Studio Killers Jenny, When We Were Lovers, Who Is In Your Heart Now
Tegan And Sara I'm Not Your Hero, Love They Say, I Was A Fool, Closer
Tesla Boy Undetected, Stars, 1991, Dream Machine 
There Is Thunder Finer Feelings
Teddy Thompson Saratoga Summer Song
Justin Timberlake Strawberry Bubblegum, Mirrors, Not A Bad Thing
Marques Toliver Control, Something's Wrong 
Emiliana Torrini Speed Of Dark
Travis Where You Stand, Boxes
Two Door Cinema Club Changing Of The Seasons (Monsieur Adi Mix)
Judy Tzuke Uneasy 
Vampire Weekend Step
Vinny Vero (with Drop Out Orchestra) Be Free With Your Love
Robbie Williams Go Gentle
Woodkid I Love Yo, I Love You (acoustic), Run Boy Run, 
Young Galaxy Pretty Boy
Jessie Ware Never Knew Love Like This Before, Imagine It Was Us

December 29, 2013

The Middle Eight's Favorite Albums of 2013

Dire year, really. *sips tea* What was most notable for me in 2013 was the major labels jacked up releases, either mucking with the talent, wasting momentum or making generally whack choices. Indie labels are where it's at now. And Nile Rodgers... just do a solo album in 2014. There's a lot of sister acts here. I'm down with that. My "favorite" album, the pop breakthrough by twins Tegan and Sara, was released in January and it was downhill from there on out, with these exceptions:

Album Of The Year

Tegan and Sara Heartthrob
There are so many reasons to love this album. 1) It arrived in dreary January; 2) It’s the perfect album length of ten songs, without one filler track; 3) There’s an infectious ’80s pop joy sweeping over it, without ever being pastiche or retro; 4) They cover all the bases — first crush (Closer), sexual desire (Drive Me Wild) and the post traumatic stress of failed love (the pounding Shock to Your System); 5) In the age of teen sleaze, I’m Not Your Hero is an anthem for smart kids: “I’m not their hero, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t brave.” [my full Idolator review]

Standout Tracks: All of it, but I'll highlight Shock To Your System and I'm Not Your Hero. Closer has one of the best middle eights of 2013.

...and more fantastic albums/EPs, in no order:

Little Boots Nocturnes
A big leap for Boots, Nocturnes is more cohesive and goes deeper into pulsing, moody dance music. I love that's a slow burn, not big ebullient pop. Motorway, with its tale of late night escape, is one of my songs of the year, followed closely by Shake (this album's Stuck On Repeat) and the pure pop of Crescendo

Standout Tracks: Motorway, Cresendo, Beat Beat, Satellites, Strangers. The only one I don't love is Broken Record.

Goldfrapp Tales Of Us
A much-needed turn away from disco pop, Tales Of Us is thrilling and emotional. Almost a concept album (all the songs, bar one, are titled with names of people), the arrangements are rooted in acoustics, but end up swimming in the deep end of an orchestral sea. As I said in my Idolator review, "Don’t mistake subtly for weakness: the album is a perfect autumn headphone record. It will sound best as the seasons change, a soundtrack to falling leaves and lit fireplaces. To paraphrase one of the album’s astonishing ballads, Stranger, Tales Of Us will kill you, tenderly." [my full Idolator review

Standout Tracks: Stranger, Drew, Laurel, Thea and Annabel

London Grammar
If You Wait

The opening keyboards/vocals of the first track, Hey Now, set the tone for one of the quietest, most heartfelt records of the year.  Essentially an album of ballads and mid-tempos, it is unlike anything on the pop charts, yet it sold well in the UK. While 21 yr-old Miley Cyrus was embarrassing herself, 23 yr-old Hannah Reid was writing devastating stories like Nightcall ("I'm giving you a night call to tell you how I feel... I'm going to tell you something you don't want to hear.") Strangely, the bonus disc adds several of the best songs, with Maybe coming close to being my song of the year. If You Wait is a grower - it requires time, but it's worth it.

Standout Tracks: Strong, Maybe, Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me, Help, Nightcall.

New Order Lost Sirens
A collection of tracks discarded from the band's last LP (2005's Sirens), Lost Sirens is curiously far better than its source album. It's cohesive, yet varied in styles (Sugarcane is hopped-up dancepop, while Recoil sways and shimmies) and a concise 8 tracks. The fact remains that New Order is no longer: Bernard Sumner (who sounds amazing here) and Peter Hook hate each other. Lost Sirens is their swan song. Superb album cover too; I bought it on vinyl.

Standout Tracks: Californian Grass, Sugarcane, Recoil

A dream come true. Out of nowhere, a new Prefab Sprout album appears on Soundcloud, in full. Wut?! Is it a fake? No. Within months, the legendary Paddy McAloon officially releases what ends up being in Prefab's top 4 albums (Steve McQueen is tops, with three others shifting ranks). Paddy remains my favorite male vocalist and his lyrics are still marked by sharp wit. Check this bit from the flawless first single, The Best Jewel Thief In The World: "Vigilance is lax / Security complacent
Adjacent to the gem, a diadem of pearl / Is the best jewel thief in the world... / Watch your legend grow / The rooftops are for dreamers / You strike and then return, Lucerne–Heathrow / The best jewel thief in the world." They don't do pop music like this anymore.

Standout Tracks:
The Best Jewel Thief In The World, The List  Of Impossible Things, Dreamer

Diane Birch Speak A Little Louder
Diane told Idolator that she was inspired by 80s music like Bowie and Siouxsie Sioux, but I really hear Stevie Nicks in her early solo phase. A lot of artists have mined Stevie (hello, Florence), but no one has really captured her mid-eighties sound as well as Birch does on Pretty In Pain, with that quivering vibrato and rolling piano/bass-driven chorus. The album's major ballad, Unfkd, is serious stuff.  In my dreams, she performs it at The Grammy's with a choir.

Standout Tracks: Pretty In Pain, Love And War, Unfkd, Frozen Over, All The Love You've Got, It Plays On. This album is fucking great.

St. Lucia When The Night

St Lucia's long awaited debut album thunders across the dance floor. The lush single Elevate - my song of the year - is held aloft by monolithic synths, while The Way You Remember Me recalls a lost John Hughes soundtrack. Band leader Jean-Philip Grobler’s voice is right up front in that track’s polished mix of big drums, synths and — sigh — a sax solo. Early single September is a leaner disco machine with swoops of falsetto vocals and a sense of elegant urgency. This is music equally compelling beneath strobe lights or sunshine. [a variation of this review was done for Instinct Magazine]

Standout Tracks: Elevate, September, The Way You Remember Me, Too Close, Wait For Love, All Eyes On You

Sky Ferreira Night Time, My Time
How she pulled this off, we'll never know, but Night Time is a slayer that should carry into 2014 if there really are golden rock gods. Apparently it was recorded in three weeks and never properly mixed, but the result is fizzy collection of pure pop (the flawless Boys and 24 Hours), 80's swagger rock (You're Not The One) and even electrop (Love In Stereo). I Blame Myself is a major manifesto and one of my songs of the year, while the murky, hyper Omanko manages to merge 80's punk with distortion, breathy vocals and this poppy chorus: "I'm gearing up for the Japanese Christmas." And the title means pussy in Japanese.

Standout Tracks: The epic You're Not The One, I Blame Myself, 24 Hours, Boys

HAIM Days Are Gone
Sisters with voices! Though they rock hard live, the album is a friendly 80's romp through FM radio. 

Standout Tracks: The Wire, Falling, Days Are Gone, If I Could Change Your Mind, Don't Save Me

Slow Knights Cosmos
A collective of New York artists banded together by Scissor Sisters' "George Harrison figure" Del Marquis, Cosmos did not get the attention it deserved. My favorite song remains I Got It Bad, a shimmering slow jam by Chrissi Poland that sounds like it was left off a Cherrelle/Alexander O'Neal album back in the day. Bridget Barkan's Kingdom is equally rooted in "quiet storm" beauty. Note that the Bright Light Bright Light remix of Sweet Harmony (sung by Mykal Kilgore and Bridget Barkan) is my remix of the year.

Standout Tracks: I Got It That Bad, Sweet Harmony, Under Attack, Kingdom

Betty Who The Movement EP 
God bless Betty Who for self releasing a free EP of 4 perfect pop songs that basically saved summer. She's a towering platinum blond, all red lips and sassy charm who whipped up four flawless tracks: Somebody Loves You is best heard on a beach boombox, while Right Here is all romantic anticipation. You're In Love features a chorus that puts "Betty " (real name: Jess) a vocal high-wire. And then there's High Society, with its own new rules: "We drink chardonnay through the day 'cuz we say so."

Telsa Boy The Universe Made Of Darkness
Is Tesla Boy's Anton Sevidov more than his pretty face? YES. Four reasons: 1) The slinky, elegant opener Undetected 2) Dream Machine, which sounds like it was built from Madonna's Get Together table scraps, 3) Stars, the big pop moment here and 4) 1991, lost LaBouche! [my Idolaor piece on Tesla Boy]

Standout Tracks: Stars, Dream Machine, 1991, Undetected

More solid records this year, worth your pennies:

Autoheart Punch
(check out the single Agoraphobia)
Alison Moyet The Minutes (my fave jam is Love Reigns Supreme)
Studio Killers Studio Killers (OMG Jenny!)
Pet Shop Boys Electric (for Vocal and Thursday especially)
Pure Bathing Culture Moon Tides (check single Pendulum)
Blood Orange Cupid Deluxe
(check single You're Not Good Enough)
Thomas Dybdahl What's Left Is Forever
(check Man On A Wire)
Annie The AandR EP (flawless, but Back Together is my jam)
CHVRCHES The Bones Of What You Believe
(my fave is We Sink)

What did I forget? Please comment or bellow below. Trash me/chat me/kiss me on Tumblr, lastFM, Instagram and, of course, Twitter.  

December 18, 2013

The Middle Eight's Top Songs of 2013

Here is a mix of my favorite pop songs from 2013 (in no order). Good gravy Marie, this was hard. It should be noted there is a lot more indie stuff here than usual because, let's face it, the big labels are foisting EDM on us at an alarming rate. It's wearying how many albums did not live up to their promise in 2013.

Happier thoughts below.

1 St. Lucia Elevate  SONG OF THE YEAR
My friend Wesley (follow him!) told me the band sat on this single for ages, waiting for the perfect moment to finally launch their debut album with it. There's a certain irony to this track, because I find the song chill-inducingly uplifting, but the chorus is actually "No one elevates you now." The video is a sweet tribute to the city where the album was made, New York. Check the kids playing in the hydrant on the first chorus. I urge everyone to see this band live - they are immense.

2 Empire Of The Sun I'll Be Around
Oh my fuck this song slays me. It's been flipping back and forth with St Lucia for my favorite song of the year. It shimmers and sways and breathes like a lost single from Fleetwood Mac's Tango In The Night. I particularity adore the breathy vocals on the second verse ("Call out my name, when you call I'll be there.."). 

3 Little Boots Motorway
This was supposed to be an easier year than 2012, but in February I found myself stricken with what is essentially tinnitus in my right ear. It drove me close to crazy for a month - if you want fast weight loss, just put a blaring high-end tone in your ear 24/7. Motorway was one of the few songs in a register where I could not hear the ringing. I'd play it on a loop at night. But this is also about the theme of escape

4 Gold Fields Happy Boy
The first time I heard this song, I tweeted, "Meh not a single." And then I became obsessed by the unhappy story being told, starting with the lines "I'm going to be happy" chanted over and over as if repetition will make it true. But it's the chorus that plays out like a family melodrama: "When I walk out of here, his face won't change / If I storm out of here, his face won't change / But when I walk out of here, it will make my pain go away / Go away."  This is self-produced by the (Aussie) band and the arrangement is made more immaculate by a beautiful violin woven into the end.

5 Tegan And Sara Shock To Your System
I took this one to heart. In my Idolator review I wrote, "At first listen, what sounds like a kiss-off ('What you are is lonely') ... reveals itself to be advice to a heartbroken friend. 'You must rely on me once in a while to give you reason.'" The heart pounds.

Stream Shock To Your System on Soundcloud

6 Sky Ferreira I Blame Myself
Four Minutes To Save Sky Ferreira. This is alchemy: a song that works solely on its production, but is raised to another level because it's so personal to its writer's unfolding (and dramatic) life. "How could you know what it feels like to be outside yourself? I just want you to realize I blame myself." Who else could sing this? Sky Ferriera's career is a hot mess, but she really delivered on her album. I hope it gives her confidence.

Listen to I Blame Myself of YouTube

7 The Good Natured Lovers
I'm not sure this was ever officially released, but you can download it below. The story of this UK band is tragic (they signed a mercenary deal and then lost everything: The album release, the rights to the songs, the name, all of it). BUT they created an absolutely perfect anthem for getting laid. "You and I could be lovers, but you and I will never be in love." Sometimes you just want to use them and leave them, baby. #nsa

Banks Before I Ever Met You
She's about to be launched big time in 2014, but she's been releasing edgy tunes all year. This is the real keeper. I love how the lyrics are almost conversational throughout ("As for our house, I'll move out / you can keep the dog we trained.") before she launches her torpedo, a killer chorus hook:  "I never knew I could be broken in so many ways." BAM. Thank you, Banks.

9 Blood Orange You're Not Good Enough
This freakily cool song, by the besieged genius Dev Hynes, is just plain cruel. It's like Prince - circa 1982 - ripping apart his lady after too many drinks. The whole lyric is razor sharp.

10 Say Lou Lou Beloved 
Vogue said these sisters have a "Jaclyn Smith meets young Meryl Steep look." So true. But it's not all about the personas. Say Lou Lou tend to push dark pop with indie aspirations, but there's a lovely pop beauty to this song. The middle eight ("take take twist shake...") is one of the best this year.

11 Arthur Beatrice Grand Union
My most anticipated album of 2014 is the debut of Arthur Beatrice (a London band). The chorus lyric: "Like steel / it's so devastating when you feel / you're all above, you're not in love. / Dead lungs / You're becoming someone else's tongue / coughing up blond / Skin coming off."  That is rough love.

12 Rhye Major Minor Love
The is it a girl or a boy vocals (a boy) are what make Rhye so unique. This midtempo love song suggests adjestives like languid, sensual, sleek... it's practically dripping wet. I have the vinyl version of this LP and it's beautiful. Old school gatefold. Sexy sexy. "So many things I want to do, I'll split you into two..."

13 Tesla Boy Stars
It was either this or Dream Machine (which sounds like it was built on scraps of Madonna's Get Together). I love the Xylophone-like keyboard on the chorus,  and the details, like the cascading synths on the bridge. I should note that Anton, the force behind Tesla Boy - a Russian band - is also the hottest man in pop.

14 Betty Who High Society
Everybody's waiting to see just how huge this adorable (and talllll) pixie blows up. She is born to be a star. High Society is from her free, self released debut EP, The Movement, though she has since signed to a major label. This song is all about the chorus: "We'll drink chardonnay through the day 'cause we say so."  Infectious and a lead into big pop moments in 2014.

15 Johnny Marr New Town Velocity
What a dream this song is - Johnny's memory of quitting school to start a band that would change the world, The Smiths. There is a beautiful, captured-in-amber quality to this production; it literally shimmers. And I'm not the only one who's noted it sounds like New Order and/or Electronic.

16 London Grammar Maybe
Funny that my favorite song by this band from [guess] is only available on the sublime bonus disc. This is one my highest played tunes of 2013. So perfect. Hard to buy, but try and get it. London Grammar's album is one of the most subtle of the year; a real grower. Its success suggests that maybe heartfelt lyrics reflecting real emotion could  be on the upswing. We don't all need the word burn repeated 65 times. yes, that's a slam on another artist

Hear Maybe on Youtube

17 Haim The Wire
It's rough business to pick one song by these bitchin' sisters for my list. For much of the year, this slot was occupied by the amazing single Falling. And then the Southern fired rock guitar (ZZ Top anyone?) of The Wire hit me hard; it's the first single they've released that captures the hard, Heart-sisters-in-the-70s power of their live shows [note - it was this show that blew my ear.]. For me it's all about the vocal hook: "It felt right, it felt right / But I fumbled him him when it came down to the wire."

18 MKS Flatline 
Goddess is in the details for Mutya Keisha Siobhan. A total triumph, from the smart chorus ("stay gone, darling, I won't hang on... I can feel a flatline. There oughtta be a wave.") to the chanted ohh ohhh chorus and the gorgeous tinkling ending. A thrill to for me see this Dev Hynes-produced song performed live in London, but it was the kids singing it in the Tube afterward that sealed it as a Pop Moment.

19 Jessie Ware Imagine It Was Us 
When Jessie Ware released Devotion in the States, she fulfilled the unspoken promise of the UK version of that album (my fave of 2012): she claimed her Diva Throne and took it to the dance floor, hardcore. Imagine It Was Us reminds me of the early 90's when Madonna's Rescue Me and Deee Lite ruled my kingdom. See her live, because she takes the vocals to the next level in her shows. This is a serious diva. 

20 VV Brown The Apple
VV may not have the instincts of a pop star - this album came and went with a series of arcane, dreary videos - but this song will live on because IT IS THE SHIT. There was nothing in 2013 so kick ass and stylish as The Apple - "You're not the apple of my eye. Don't patronize me, I'm not your clown..." I wonder what Grace Jones thought when she heard this, because it's her career distilled in one blazing, wiggy stomper.

21 Woodkid I Love You
Part of the Songs Of Summer series I loved doing on this blog, French boy Woodkid's I Love You is pure heaven. The strings here manage to be, like the unrequited love described in the lyrics, both uplifting and melancholy (check the beautiful bridge at 2:12). And the lyric... "Whatever I feel for you / You only seem to care about you / Is there any chance you could see me too / 'cause I love you."  Be sure, if you have iTunes, to buy the astonishing acoustic version.

Listen to I Love You on Youtube

22 Goldfrapp Stranger
After an album of chunky 80's pop, Alison and Will took a much needed sharp turn. With Stranger, they went back to the beauty of their Felt Mountain era. In my album review for Idolator, I said "To paraphrase one of the album’s astonishing ballads, “Stranger,” Tales Of Us will kill you, tenderly. 

Listen to Stranger on YouTube  

What did I miss? Comment!

Some songs that made it to this list and were cut and added and cut at various times:

1 Annie Back Together (Summer Version), 2 New Order Californian Grass, 3 Royksopp with Susanne Sundfoer Running To The Sea, 4 Pure Bathing Culture Pendulum 5 Laura Marling Saved These Words, 6 Sky Ferreira You're Not The One, 7 Little Boots Strangers 8 Beyonce XO, 9 Microfilm Romeo Rorschach (Pastoral Digitale Mix), 10 Slow Knights Sweet Harmony (Bright Light Bright Light Remix), 11 Mayer Hawthorne Where Does This Door Go?, 12 The Knocks feat St Lucia Modern Hearts, 13 Pet Shop Boys Thursday. 

Follow me on Twitter, LastFM, Soundcloud and/or Tumblr

image source 


December 16, 2013


In mid-November I went over to England for about 10 days. Beautiful as always. I instagrammed the trip, but here are some key shots. As you can guess, London was the highlight of my 2013...

Among the images here are a few of my flat (and my feet!), a naked and touchy statue at The Orangery, Covent Garden, Hyde Park, Trafalgar, a view from the South Bank, Brighton (including the amazing Bill's Cafe, which I loved), the MKS show, a leaping dog and some vinyl I bought (UK pressings of albums by Pet Shop Boys, Nick Heyward and my fave LP of all time, Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout).

Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram 

December 11, 2013

Autumn Mix #11: Midland / Grand Union

When I first heard Arthur Beatrice's previous 2013 single Grand Union, I thought to myself, "Is organic pop by male vocalists coming back?" And then, nevermind the pun of Bea Arthur, this single appeared and I realized the answer isn't so simple, because Arthur Beatrice is a four-person band, none named Arthur. They actually have two lead vocalists, Orland Leopard (yes!) and Ella Girardot. This is bass / drums / keyboard / guitar, with slivers of electronics, and it sounds remarkably fresh.

Ella leads this gorgeous new song...

The Orlando-led Grand Union has moments of beauty that give me chills (check 3:20, when the choral vocals come in after a lengthy middle eight).

Arthur Beatrices's debut album, Working Out, is due on February 24. They're on iTunes worldwide now. File them in the A's, not the B's!

The band has upcoming dates... including Spring shows in the US

Dec 11 Cargo. London…ce/cargo/745883
Feb 13 Privatclub. Berlin
Feb 15 Fireworks Festival, Fleche d'Or. Paris
March 3 Rough Trade Brooklyn, NY
March 4 Schuba's Chicago, IL
March 6 The Chapel San Francisco, CA
March 7 Echo Los Angeles, CA

November 24, 2013

The Return Of Bright Light Bright Light

Bright Light Bright Light's new EP, In Your Care, is out today. Rod's back in New York now, finishing up an album for release sometime next year. I asked him if the new music was representative of what's coming and he said this...
...Yes, it's marking a break from the last record thematically and sonically... Well, the first two tracks are. Same Dream is a nod to the last record, and Movement In The Dark is a nod to my love of films and less "pop" production. But the beats and production are representative of lots of the next record (although there are some much bigger dance tracks on the record, and also some orchestral / piano moments). The next album is going to be more human, with organic instruments amongst the production, and a little more filmic - I hope!
The video for the title track is, by leaps, his most personal work. It's no coincidence in my mind that it's also his best video as well. As I tweeted last week, for me the takeaway is simple:  If you have the luxury of calling your mother when ever you feel like it, do. There is also a new video for another EP track, Open Heart, an Ian Masterson collaboration.

In Your Care, played acoustically over the past six months at live gigs, doesn't lose any gravitas in its fleshed out arrangement. The EP features the acoustic as well.

Rod is on tour in December, mainly on the West coast...

1 - Le Poisson Rouge, NYC - Scott Walker Tribute night [tickets]
3 - Bootleg Bar, LA [tickets]
5 - Cafe Du Nord, San Francisco [tickets]
7 - Dickslap (!) @ The Eagle, San Francisco [DJ Set] [tickets]
13 - Ferocious Memories @ Neighbors, Seattle [DJ Set] [tickets]

November 23, 2013

Autumn Mix #10: You're Not Good Enough

Dev Hynes - aka Blood Orange, etc - has been nailing it for the past year. He co-wrote/wrote and produced Solange's True EP, Sky Ferreira's Everything Is Embarrassing and MKS's recent single Flatline. His own new album, Cupid Deluxe, is just out and this track is a major highlight.

You're Not Good Enough has a serious Prince vibe and a cutting lyric, which fits with Dev's (inadvertent?) anti-hero status. Drama swirls around him, as evidenced in this new Fader piece. I also like his distinctive style of dance, which is on better display in the clip for another new LP track, Time Will Tell. Here you just see his feet!

November 20, 2013

Separated at Birth: Jean of St. Lucia and Edwyn Collins

Edwyn Collins was in the band Orange Juice back in the early 80's (check their classic Rip It Up). Jean Philip Grobler is the leader of the band St. Lucia, whose debut album is out now.

November 19, 2013

Friday night live with MKS

I was lucky to see the amazing MKS - Mutya Keisha Siobhan - live in London last Friday night at Shepherd's Bush Empire. They played a bunch of old gems (Push The Button, Freak Like Me,  Too Lost In You) and about six new songs, my favorites being Today and I'm Alright.


I'm Alright

Their recent single, Flatline, was HUGE live. There were kids singing it in the tube as we waited for our train home. The girls are, at this point, without a label (or an imprint or whatever), so let's hope someone snaps them up soon. They MUST be on my best of lists in 2014.  

The Line of The Best Fit has a gallery of images from the show. Siobhan's hair was OTT- not her best look. ;)

November 11, 2013

Reblog: The 50 Best Albums of the 1980s...

Since I'm currently traveling in England (!), I thought I'd bring back up a post I did a few years back that yielded a lot of response. My question is this: what are your Top Ten albums of the 80s?  Here we go with mine... 

I am a child of the 80s. It is the period when I came of musical age, so to speak. The pop albums of this era are - I am quite serious - a defining influence on my taste in almost everything.

It so happens that my favorite album of the 1980s is also perhaps the most influential and loved British album of the post-Beatles era. Note that the titles in blue were made in the United Kingdom, so this could be called the beginning of my awakening to my own heritage.

Kate Bush Hounds Of Love 1985 my favorite
Prefab Sprout Two Wheels Good (aka Steve McQueen) 1985
Culture Club Colour By Numbers 1983
Stevie Nicks The Wild Heart 1983
Alison Moyet Alf 1984
Madonna Like A Prayer 1989
Prince Sign O'The Times 1987
Madonna Like A Virgin 1984
Sting Nothing Like The Sun 1987
Prince Purple Rain 1984
Sade Promise 1985

and the remaining 39 gems, in no order:

Eurythmics Savage 1987
Stevie Nicks Bella Donna 1981
Toni Childs Union 1989
Lloyd Cole And The Commotions Mainstream 1987
Bananarama Bananarama 1984
Missing Persons
Rhyme & Reason 1984
Rickie Lee Jones The Magazine 1984
10,000 Maniacs In My Tribe 1987
Kate Bush The Sensual World 1989
REM Lifes Rich Pageant 1986
The Smiths The Queen Is Dead 1986
Sting The Dream Of The Blue Turtles 1985
10000 Maniacs Blind Man's Zoo 1989
Prince Parade 1986
Arcadia So Red The Rose 1986
Duran Duran Rio 1982
Tina Turner Private Dancer 1984
Sinead O'Connor The Lion and The Cobra 1987
Everything But The Girl Idlewild 1988
'Til Tuesday Everything's Different Now 1989
Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation 1989
Danny Wilson Meet Danny Wilson 1987
Depeche Mode Music For The Masses 1987
Elton John Too Low For Zero 1983
U2 The Joshua Tree 1987
The Blue Nile Hats 1989
Morrissey Viva Hate 1987
Soundtrack Pretty In Pink 1986
Suzanne Vega Solitude Standing 1987
Suzanne Vega Suzanne Vega 1985
Cyndi Lauper She's So Unusual 1983
The Style Council Cafe Bleu 1984
ABC The Lexicon Of Love 1982
Neneh Cherry Raw Like Sushi 1989
Dream Academy Dream Academy 1985
Indigo Girls Indigo Girls 1988
Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman 1988
Deacon Blue Raintown 1987
Diana Ross diana 1980

What did I forget?!

October 30, 2013

Autumn Mix #9: I Blame Myself

When the focus is on her music, Sky Ferreira is solid gold. Her creepy-covered debut album is fizzy rock with pop melodies throughout. I think the game changer is I Blame Myself, a song that works on two levels, one as a blazing pop track and the other as a self aware confessional.

Amazing. I love the... middle eight at 2:30.

October 23, 2013

Autumn Mix #8: What's Going On?

Monsieur Adi has been doing brilliant mixes over the past several years, especially his underground reworkings of Madonna classics and a number of upcoming artists. It's not unusual that his mixes actually better the original track he's worked on. His trademark is grandeur, usually in the form of big synthy orchestrals. This new track, What's Going On?, bears that hallmark and an original vocal line from new UK artist A*M*E. The video is also notable for Adi's unveiling - he's usually hidden behind a mask or something.  Why, I don't know. He's cute!

I love the interpolation of Soul II Soul's late 80's - has it been that long? - classic, Back To Life. Adi's done some big mixes recently, including one for Bey's non-single Grown Woman and a new Two Door Cinema Club track, Changing Of The Seasons. More is coming.

October 16, 2013

Autumn Mix #7: In The Red

Holy Ghost's new album Dynamics blew right by me when it was released a month ago. The first half of the record has a kind of meh "modern rock" sound (think Phoenix), but the latter half is heavily influenced (blatantly so) by Tangerine Dream. That translates into a kind of sleek elegance. The album's penultimate song, In The Red, is such a smooth dream... the warmest song on the record and my shortest fave of the year.

I included a pic of the band because the Robert Longo artwork on the album cover freaks me out.

October 15, 2013

The beauty that is Sophie Ellis-Bextor

I tweeted yesterday that I am continually stunned by how insanely beautiful Sophie Ellis-Bextor is. First I saw this image from her new album cover Wanderlust, above, and then I saw this preview video....

It sounds lovely.

Autumn Mix #6: Agoraphobia

When Autoheart released their debut album Punch back in July, it felt like something was wrong. But it wasn't the music: the band honed this solid collection of piano-based songs for several years. It finally occurred to me that the height of summer was not the ideal time to become enveloped in what is really a fall album. The songs have a crispness, both musically and lyrically, and sense of sad romanticism that's missing from pop in 2013. And Jody's voice is unlike any other - he's a tight-jeaned reincarnation of a 1920's torch singer.

And so here we are, talking about Punch and this glorious track, Agoraphobia, at the right time. It's that simple. 

Check the swirling "I don't really wanna go anywhere" middle eight - so beautiful. 

Buy Punch here. It's worth your money.

October 6, 2013

Autumn Mix #5: Drew

As I said in Idolator last month, Drew is distilled Goldfrapp, with evocative images of a “falling lemon moon” and an exhilarating moment at 2:10 where the song (and video) goes widescreen with soaring stings. So beautiful and certainly a perfect song for the changing seasons.

September 30, 2013

St. Lucia's love letter to New York

St Lucia's Elevate, if you'll remember, was one of my songs of summer. Finally we have the video and it's perfect. A truly lovely visualization of such an uplifting song. And a love letter to New York...

So much integrity in this band. They deserve all success - when you see them live, you get the sense  they truly care about music, first and foremost. The debut album, When The Night, hits October 8. My review will be over at Idolator that day.

Update: The plan has changed. I'll have a short review on Instinct's website soon!

Autumn Mix #4: Not A Bad Thing

Amid the bloated 2006-fest that is Justin Timberlake's second volume of The 20/20 Experience lies a pure gem. Not A Bad Thing would have been an ideal comeback track for N'Sync, with its 90's acoustic vibe and sumptuous harmonies. I absolutely love this - it's been on a constant loop.

For some reason, Justin's chosen a very dated way to present this song: an 11-minute "album only" file on iTunes that chains it to a  Stevie Wonder-esque ballad. I need to get it as a stand-alone.

September 24, 2013

Autumn Mix #3: You're Not The One

Sky Ferreira's been in the news this week for the wrong reasons, but let's hope she can keep it together. You're Not The One is her finest single and one of the best of 2013. The lyric is actually quite forlorn ("I won't even fight. You're not the one"), but the recording is all bite.

And the video. Holy fuck, it's flawless. Serious shades of Debbie Harry and Shirley Manson here. It's stacked with moments that add to her "iconography," like the flick of the hand at :50 (on the first chorus) or the way she struts into the vortex of lasers at the end (3:40).  Amazing.

Sky, giving us the rock chick in 2013. On iTunes NOW.

September 22, 2013

Autumn Mix #2: Man On A Wire

The scruffy, handsome Thomas Dybdahl is a 34 year old Norwegian singer/songwriter who's been releasing consistently strong music for the past decade. I discovered him on the advice of the brilliant folk pop musician Judie Tzuke, who worked with him on a Morcheeba album. Early hit Love Story is an achingly lovely (and sensual) introduction.

His new album, What's Left Is Forever, is - to my ears - his best and most consistent. It's produced by Larry Klein, ex Mr. Joni Mitchell, who's produced incredible albums for Shawn Colvin, Melody Gardot and of course, Joni. The latest single, Man On A Wire, is a perfect September song - it literally mentions rustling leaves - and a bit opaque in its subject matter. Is it about a man on his own again after a heartbreak? For me, it is.

If you're a fan of Ed Harcourt, Jeff Buckley, Shawn Colvin or Ryan Adams, definitely check this out. The album is released in the UK on October 7; if you like a truly grand orchestral ballad, pay attention to the album's stunning finale, This Next Wave is a Big One. And note that Thomas is doing live dates in Europe throughout October and November.