Monday, May 31, 2010

big bang theory

After last year's cricket inspired sojourn with The Duckworth Lewis Method, Neil Hannon returns with suitable flair in his guise as The Divine Comedy. Their tenth longplayer, "Bang Goes The Neighborhood", rings all the right bells.

The usual influences are featured in all their glory. Mr. Hannon's cast of characters are present and accounted for - the quirky and common, the oddballs and ordinary, the eccentrics and everyday. His detailed and descriptive vignettes are sewn together with various sonic touchpoints from the Bacharach and David inspired croon of "Have You Ever Been In Love", to the groovy, 60s, European film soundtrack of "Neapolitan Girl", the Nick Drake flavored "Island Life" and the somewhat cinematic, French chanson of the title track.

Neil Hannon's wry sense of humor is evident throughout in the lyrical content as well as his vocal delivery. Check out the 29 second high note he holds toward the end of the "Can You Stand Upon One Leg" which appears to be unassisted by computer technology. The song sounds like some of Terry Hall's best material. Not sure if Neil and Terry have ever worked together, but I suspect that could be a powerful combination. Are you reading this Neil? You can thank me later for that idea.

The two most singleworthy tracks on the elpee are the thumping, Blur-esque "At The Indie Disco" - which happens to be the album's lead single - and the bright, upbeat, strummy, shimmering, 70s power pop of album closer "I Like".

If you purchase the digital format of TDC's latest masterwork, their are four tracks appended to the running order. The first three don't resemble anything remotely related to the parent album and are, therefore, out of step with the listening experience. There's the dreamy, warbling, 40s soundtrack sample montage, "Ya Sumeera"; the vocodered, electronic swing of the slightly Kraftwerkian "Beside The Railway Tracks"; "The Circular Firing Squad" which marries an industrial synth track and orchestral samples.

The fourth bonus track, "Napoleon Complex", is a proper TDC number without any of the orchestral flourishes or the late 60s, easy listening overtones. And for completists, get your dirty, digital hands on "On The Barge", the Eastern Mediterranean sounding bonus track from the iTunes bundle for "At The Indie Disco".

Overall, "Bang Goes The Knighthood" finds a nice balance between the earlier, lushly orchestrated releases and the more austere arrangements of later works. Douze points!

As of this writing, I haven't delved into the bonus CD of the deluxe edition of the album. It's a nine track, live album of French themed songs recorded at Cité de la Musique. Fun fact... The venue is located in the La Villette quarter of the 19th arrondissement in Paris.

Some of the songs include Eurovision favorite, "Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son" which was written by national treasure, Serge Gainsbourg and originally recorded by France Gall in 1965. Also, the live sessions feature "Joe Le Taxi", a pan European hit for Vanessa Paradis (aka Mrs. Johnny Depp) throughout 1987 and 1988. More to follow on this curious gem once I've slapped it on the old Victrola.

Recently, Monsieur Hannon played a series of very intimate, cabaret, solo shows which featured many songs from the new TDC album along with a few hits cherry picked from his vast catalog of pop nuggets. Here are a handful of nicely shot performances from the Dublin Sugar Club on May 7 of this year.

Love the glass of vino lovingly place on the piano. Neil's comedic timing is impeccable. And his left hand gets quite a workout! Ooh er, missus!

Very clever turn of phrase in "The Complete Banker". Think about it long enough and you'll get it.

And then a few classics...

The flubbed start along with the whistling from the audience, the call and response in the middle section and the soul falsetto at the end all make for a hilarious rendition of "The Frog Princess".

And "National Express" gets a grand helping of audience participation, as well.

Plus "If...", an unexpected song choice from the vaults. It originally appeared on "A Short Album About Love".

Monday, May 24, 2010

here's Jenny

You may not realize it, but you know Jenny Berggren. She has sold more than 30 million albums as one quarter of the 90s, Swedish, pop powerhouse Ace Of Base.

Not much has been heard from ver Base over the last decade. They released a fantastic, greatest hits collection in 2009. Then, after a few false starts at an attempt to return to the charts, they called it a day.

Now, Jenny, the brunette songstress in the group, returns with "Here I Am", the first single from her forthcoming album.

It's a magnificent pop nugget. I especially love the change from the verse to the chorus and back. Very unexpected. Unabashedly Swedish. The chorus is totally uplifting. And the gritty, electronic funk production hides the fact that the song is a giant, towering slab of pop. In fact, it sounds quite a bit like an Ace Of Base song.

Check out the newly lensed vid. Keep your eyes peeled for Jenny's best Siouxsie Sioux impersonation.

Apparently, her album is Christian oriented. That throws up red flags for me. There's a big difference between inspirational songs and Bible thumping.

Thankfully, as "Here I Am" can attest, her material is more about optimism and empowerment. More Deepak Chopra than invoking the name of big Jesus. Amy Grant was responsible for setting that standard way back in 1991 with her crossover, breakthrough elpee, "Heart In Motion", a lovely, breezy longplayer which still gets a few spins on my old Victrola from time to time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

bittersweet b-side

It's not often a b-side captures my attention. Sometimes they are clearly a throwaway in order to fill up space on a single. But some acts take great care to ensure their bonus tracks are high quality recordings. ABBA and Pet Shop Boys immediately come to mind. Many of their b-sides are worthy of a-side status.

So, it came to my surprise that Sophie Ellis-Bextor installed an amazing, non-album b-side on "Bittersweet", her recently released single. "Sophia Loren" originally began life in a commercial for Rimmel. I know. I giggled like a 12 year old, too.

Here's the original make-up advert.

Could SEB be MORE gorgeous? That angular jawline could cut glass.

Here's "Sophia Loren" in it's full b-side beauty. Camp lyrics with a zippy, synthy undercarriage. Love it!

The song was written by powerhouse pop songsmith, Cathy Dennis. You can even hear he singing the backing vocal parts throughout. This really bodes well for her forthcoming longplayer.

However, the chart position for the single might prove otherwise. "Bittersweet" debuted at #25 and then crashed out of the chart. There's sure to be murder on the dancefloor! Hardy har har.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

stilettos and broken bottles

So I'm stuck at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Apparently, US Airways had a glitch in their check in kiosks. That prevented me from making my flight home.

No worries. Time to strap on the headphones, listen to some tunes and enjoy a frosty beverage from Starbucks in the gleaming, brand riddled terminal.

Much has been made of Robyn's return this year. The first single from the first of three forthcoming EPs has been unleashed on a salivating public. And now the video for "Dancing On My Own" hit the interwebs in the last 24 hours.

Clearly, Robyn has a slightly bigger budget to work with than many acts these days. What I'm most happy about is her comfort level with herself. Robyn doesn't fix her crooked, snaggle tooth. She doesn't try to look rail thin. She looks assured. Yet there is a twinge of shyness in her bravado. There's a sense of vulnerability cloaked by her confidence.

Thankfully, she doesn't feel the need to compete with Lady Gaga either musically or visually. The temptation is there for many female artists to jump on the latest trend. It's encouraging to see Robyn forge her own path without succumbing to label pressures or A&R intrusions.

"Dancing On My Own" mines a similar vein as her previous album. It's cold and detached while simultaneously managing to be warm and inviting. It showcases the euphoric melancholy only the Swedish can capture perfectly. Heartbreak and alienation married to a disco beat.

My only concern is that all three EPs will be easily distilled into one amazing album. That remains to be seen. But after hearing "Body Talk, Part 1" I suspect that might be the case. Some of the songs are brilliant. Others are average.

However, her sense of adventure radiates with a serious playfulness which only enhances her creative efforts. Robyn is not an ice maiden nor a bubblehead. She rides that fence right down the middle yet she's far from ordinary.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

alive and kicking

It has been a smackdown of a week, my lovelies. I've been studying for a new business venture in the sunny, desert climes of Scottsdale, Arizona. My brain cells have been working overtime. Today, the temps reached a balmy 101 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. Thankfully, it's a dry heat.

In the evenings, I've been taking drives through the sprawling, sandy flatlands with Roxy Music and Goldfrapp as my soundtrack of choice. Stunning against a backdrop of majestic mountains and wide open, starry skies. But enough about the Southwestern landscape of the United States, my darlings.

Goldfrapp returns with "Alive", the second single from their latest elpee, "Head First". It was gonna be tough job following up "Rocket" being that the album is chock full of potential singles.

Another budget impaired video, which is de rigueur for labels in these lean days, was recently lensed with Alison rocking a bit of a Bonnie Tyler vibe.

In fact, it features is a melange of 80s touchstones. There are a few muses from "Xanadu", the dance routine from Bonnie Tyler's music video for "Holding Out For A Hero", the grim reaper from Def Leppard's "Rock Of Ages" vid, a left over pentagram courtesy of Mötley Crüe and splash of Jane Fonda's classic workout routine. It is SO important to recycle these day, mes amis.

For some reason they threw in a Kiss reference and some modern "Twilight" touches with a coven of vampires. It all ends with Alison retreating inside a neon coffin. Not exactly what I expected from a Goldfrapp video. Gotta keep them guessing these days, kittens.

Here's the video for "Holding Out For A Hero" by Bonnie Tyler just for giggles and the visual reference.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

so hip, it's Hurts

Hurts have been quite methodical in the planning of their debut. Each visual and musical expression has been carefully calculated. Whether that pays dividends is yet to be seen. However, the online chatter around the duo has reached a certain fever pitch.

The gentlemen outline their manifesto in the following EPK. They want music and all its visuals to be special. An aesthetic embraced wholeheartedly by Pet Shop Boys. Everything from their sound to their highly stylized, streamlined look recalls the sophisticated splendor of late 80s pop. Black, Johnny Hates Jazz, Love And Money and Hipsway quickly come to mind. Sonically, "Better Than Love" mines the vein tapped by Depeche Mode and the aforementioned PSB.

Even the video captures a mood that strikes a balance between the underground bunker feel of mid 20th century Cold War, Iron Curtain oppression and the elegance of a black tie and tails performance at the ballet. Throw in a touch of erotica and androgyny and you've got the template of many music vids from the 80s.

After the haunting beauty of their first online leak, "Wonderful Life", at the back end of last year and nearly impossible to find Arthur Baker mixes that followed, "Better Than Love" comes as quite a shock. Very unexpected. When it appeared that they were going to explore a more lush, bittersweet sound, in comes a thundering, electronic track with a booming vocal.

Even at this point, with the interwebs seemingly interwoven into every nook and cranny of everyone's lives, Hurts manage to keep their moves and identities shrouded in a haze of mystery. The veil only lifts for brief moments once you've gotten a glimpse of the story. Even their official website has little in the way of information about the duo. A simple black background with details neatly laid out with a clean, white, serif font. Not even a bio for reference is available.

Always leave them wanting more. It's counter intuitive in these wireless, social media riddled, Google dirty days. We need this. Let's see if their debut longplayer lives up to our expectations.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kylie in the clouds with diamonds

Earth shattering news spreads quickly. By the time you read this, you will probably have already read it somewhere else. But it is such mind-bendingly amazing information that you might have been struck by a splash of short term amnesia. So I feel it is my duty to make it available for the purpose of memory rehabilitation.

Of course, this news is so epic in proportions that you're quite likely to be struck by memory loss here, as well. Therefore, you'll have to go elsewhere to remember you forgot you read it.

Cut and pasted with love from everywhere else on the interwebs, I'm pleased to announce the tracklisting for "Aphrodite", the eleventh, spectacular longplayer from our favorite Aussie pop rocket, Kylie Minogue.

1. All The Lovers
2. Get Outta My Way
3. Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)
4. Closer
5. Everything Is Beautiful
6. Aphrodite
7. Illusion
8. Better Than Today
9. Too Much
10. Cupid Boy
11. Looking For An Angel
12. Can’t Beat The Feeling

Her label, Parlophone, realized they can't withhold anymore info on the lead single, "All The Lovers", so they've chucked it up on YouTube for your listening enjoyment. I've provided it here for your convenience. Service with a smile!

Note the high end, background graphics. The moving clouds in the clip clearly enhance the listening experience. Now it REALLY looks like an add for Kylie's new fragrance line. All it's missing is some floating, sparkly, diamondy bits.

By the way, "All The Lovers" was written by the same folks that penned "2 Hearts" from Kylie's last elpee, "X". A brave move but worth the chance now that we've heard the new single's gorgeous chorus and pulsating rhythm track beautifully adorned with synthy squiggles and chiming, ABBA-esque piano bits.

You may now return to whatever it was you were doing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

waking up with Mr. Weller

Paul Weller can always be counted on to ignite a little fire into the souls of the UK music scene during times of political upheaval. He's usually tagged as "the voice of a generation" whether he likes it or not. So it makes perfect sense that he would lunge into a new elpee at this moment. He's never been the type to saunter back into view casually.

His scathing lyrics and full throttle guitar always pushed things up a notch in The Jam. Then he switched to a more mannered approach in The Style Council, his wordplay draped in more Blue Note than blue collar.

I haven't had a chance to delve deeply into "Wake Up The Nation", his 10th solo studio effort - 22nd if you count his work with his previous bands, but I have been spinning the first single, an old school double a-side pairing, on the old Victrola quite a bit.

"No Tears To Cry" sees PW in retro 60s soul mode hearkening back to his days with TSC. It even has a whiff of Gene Pitney about it.

And "Wake Up The Nation" is an incendiary number reminiscent of his work with The Jam.

Get your face out the Facebook, indeed, Mr. Weller! There's something sorta sexy when he spits around the 1.53 mark. He's mad as hell and he isn't gonna take it anymore! Hot.

Dig him shooting a music video for both songs! He's a counter culture icon, kittens. If this double a-side single is anything to go by, I suspect Paul Weller just unleashed another towering musical statement.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

we sit and watch umbrellas fly

With a-ha in the throes of their final tour before they sail into the sunset, comes the announcement that their first two longplayers, "Hunting High And Low" and "Scoundrel Days", will get the deluxe treatment. Both albums will be exclusively available at in June with each carrying bonus tracks, non-album b-sides, remixes, demos and live recordings. Beat the rush and place your order on the pre-sale date of May 11.

First up is their legendary debut album, "Hunting High And Low". The deluxe edition of this 25 year old album uncovers several unreleased gems such as an instrumental version of "Take On Me" and an early, demo version of the same song called "Lesson One". Demos for "The Sun Always Shines On T.V." and "Train Of Thought" will also be included.

"Driftwood" and "Stop And Make Your Mind Up", tracks that only appeared as b-sides, plus tracks released exclusively in Norway like "Never Never" and "Dot The I" will appear on CD for the first time. Most importantly, the original 1984 version of "Take On Me", which differs greatly from the one that became a worldwide smash, makes it's first appearance anywhere since it failed to chart.

This collection is rounded out by the original 12" mixes of the singles "The Sun Always Shines On T.V.", "Train Of Thought" and "Hunting High And Low".

Here's the quartet of music videos shot for each of the singles from this landmark album.

And now, the rarely seen, original version of "Take On Me".

The following is the complete tracklisting for the deluxified edition of "Hunting High And Low".

CD 1

Original album:

1. Take On Me
2. Train Of Thought
3. Hunting High And Low
4. The Blue Sky
5. Living A Boy's Adventure Tale
6. The Sun Always Shines On T.V.
7. And You Tell Me
8. Love Is Reason
9. I Dream Myself Alive
10. Here I Stand And Face The Rain

Remixes and extended versions:

11. Take On Me (1984 Original 7" Version)
12. The Sun Always Shines On T.V. (Extended Mix)
13. Train Of Thought (Steve Thompson U.S. Mix)
14. Hunting High And Low (Extended Remix)

CD 2

B-sides, demos and rarities:

1. Take On Me (Demo)*
2. Train Of Thought (Demo)*
3. Hunting High And Low (Uptempo Demo)*
4. Blue Sky (Demo)
5. Living A Boy's Adventure Tale (Early Version)*
6. The Sun Always Shine On T.V. (Demo)*
7. And You Tell Me (Demo)
8. Love Is Reason (Demo)*
9. I Dream Myself Alive (Demo)*
10. Here I Stand And Face The Rain (Demo)*
11. Stop And Make Your Mind Up
12. Driftwood
13. Dot The I
14. The Love Goodbye
15. Nothing To It*
16. Go To Sleep
17. Monday Mourning
18. All The Planes That Come In On The Quiet *
19. Never Never
20. What's That You’re Doing To Yourself*
21. You Have Grown Thoughtful Again*
22. Lesson One (Early 1982 "Take On Me" Demo)*
23. Presenting Lily Mars

The extended version of a-ha's ambitious, moody, sophomore elpee, "Scoundrel Days", contains demos for each album track, the non-album B-side "This Alone Is Love", as well as unreleased live performances of "Train Of Thought", "I’ve Been Losing You", "Blue Sky" and "Cry Wolf" recorded in England.

Bonus tracks include the extended versions of "Cry Wolf" and "Manhattan Skyline".

Three singles were lifted from their second longplayer. With the exception of "I've Been Losing You", which I couldn't locate on the interwebs, here are the videos that were lovingly lensed for each one.

And, as if by magic, here is the tracklisting for the expanded edition of "Scoundrel Days".

CD 1

Original album:

1. Scoundrel Days
2. The Swing Of Things
3. I've Been Losing You
4. October
5. Manhattan Skyline
6. Cry Wolf
7. We're Looking For The Whales
8. The Weight Of The Wind
9. Maybe, Maybe
10. Soft Rains Of April

Extended versions and remixes:

11. I've Been Losing You (Extended Version)
12. Cry Wolf (Extended Version)
13. Manhattan Skyline (Extended Remix)

CD 2

B-sides, demos and rarities:

1. Scoundrel Days (1984 Demo)*
2. The Swing Of Things (Demo #3)*
3. I've Been Losing You (Octocon Studios Demo)*
4. October (Demo)*
5. Manhattan Skyline (Demo)*
6. Cry Wolf (Demo)*
7. We're Looking For The Whales (1984 Demo)*
8. The Weight Of The Wind (Demo)*
9.Maybe, Maybe (Demo)*
10. Soft Rains Of April (Guitar Version)*
11. Scoundrel Days (Octocon Studios Demo)*
12.This Alone is Love (Original Version)
13. Days On End
14. Train Of Thought (Live In Croydon)*
15. I've Been Losing You (Live In Croydon)*
16. Blue Sky (Live In Croydon)*
17. Looking For The Whales (Live In Croydon)
18. Cry Wolf (Live In Croydon)*

Asterisks indicate previously unreleased recordings. And there you have it.

By the way, I'll be seeing a-ha at the Nokia Theatre in glorious NYC tomorrow evening. Expect tweets from the show and a full report over the weekend. Over and out!

Gray matter

Hard to believe it has been eleven years since Macy Gray graced our radio waves and television sets with her retro ditty, "I Try".

Well, now she's back, back, BACK! After a three year hiatus, Lady Gray returns with "Beauty In The World", a jaunty little handclapper from her forthcoming, fifth, studio longplayer, "The Sellout".

The colorful and quirky video was shot on a couple of locations including a concrete playground and a back alley where people throw their garbage.

Apparently, cheerleaders are still all the rage with video directors.

It's the combination of Macy's gravelly vocal deliver, stoner naiveté and slurry, soulful sensuality that generates interest in every new elpee she releases. Not every track on her albums are winners, but the right song always piques people's curiosity. And "Beauty In The World" has summer smash written all over it.

And what's not to love about a song that rhymes "beauty" with "booty". Genius!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Beyoncé poses a question

By the looks of things, I do believe Miss Beyoncé has been hanging around that Lady Gaga an awful lot. Seems she's been picking up some of her styling tips, too. B is best when she's just a touch campy and hits you with an uptempo groover. She certainly doesn't disappoint with her latest, "Why Don't You Love Me".

The video is like a late 50s family sitcom crossed with a 70s blacksploitation film. A brilliant juxtaposition of creative ideas.

But is this really another single from the "I Am... Sasha Fierce" project? If it is, it would be the NINTH to be lifted from it, which carries the distinction of possibly having the worst album title ever.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sade in the sunshine

I'm back from the sunny climes of LA just in time for Sade to release "Babyfather", the second single from their best selling, critically acclaimed elpee, "Soldier Of Love".

It's a breezy, summery song with a bit of a dub reggae lilt to it. Always a fan favorite from the beginning, Sade has been hocking her wares and performing the tune on the US television chat show circuit. Strangely, there hasn't been a peep about a concert tour.

The video for "Babyfather" looks as if it was lensed in the side streets and alleyways around the City Of Angels and features Sade with her hair down for a more casual look. Hair pulled back is always a more serious affair.

Sade makes everyday, household chores look so damned glamorous! Loving the lime green number with the rubber gloves. A stylish ensemble! Now that I'm back from LA, it's time to dust and vacuum around the abode. Perhaps I should pull out some couture and get cleaning.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

morning meanderings in the City Of Angels

It's a stunningly gorgeous day in my current locale, the magnificent city of Los Angeles. The glitter, the glamour, the grit. It's still a bit like the NYC of yore. The graffiti splattered urban jungle from the 70s and 80s. It's ironic that the home of Disney is not as gleemingly sterile as its east coast counterpart.

But that's part of what made NYC more sexy and seductive 25 or 30 years ago. The smell of the greasepaint on Broadway or the curious melange of urine and rotting garbage in the grimy subways. The seedy underbelly of 42nd Street or LES (Lower East Side for our out-of-towners). It allowed for art, fashion and music - the towering triumvirate still present across Europe - to feed off each other in an organic frenzy. NYC was king beat and every walk of life on that tiny island collided and conspired to create disco, freestyle and hip-hop.

Now the city is sanitized. Don't get me wrong. I still love it. But it has been scrubbed clean. Simultaneously with that, technology moved the music off the streets and into the sleepy bedrooms of the suburbs. That once vibrant scene is a distant memory. Most of the record shops are gone. The iconic concert venues have been shuttered. Communities and creative collectives have taken up residence online. Now the streets are alive with the sound of high end eateries and upscale fashion boutiques. It's all very "Sex In The City". A Carrie Bradshaw wannabe sipping a latte on every corner.

But back to LA. The artifice. The air of phoniness. The laid back insincerity. That layer is ever apparent. But there are still a few places where you can dig a little deeper. Just like any city, really. Due to it's sprawling nature, LA still has some grit to it. There's a sense of us and them. Both ends of the financial spectrum are well represented and, therefore, tension exists. That underlying sturm und drang is marinade for the musical masses.

Right underneath the scalpel enhanced noses of the botox revolution and the phalanx of fake tits, there is a heartbeat among the creative classes. It's all tears and tiaras. A clutch of people honing their emotive crafts in the shadow of the entertainment machine.

There's a sense of energy being created by the rubbing together of sticks despite the presence of reality show renegades and pseudo celebrities. The very existence of the Hollywood system, and the desire to simultaneously reject it and aspire to it, is the friction that fuels the artistic fire in this town. LA still has pockets of that inspiring urgency NYC lost during the millennial shift.

Perhaps I'm romanticizing it a bit too much. This is what I ponder in the quiet, early morning hours of a jetlag induced haze. With a cup of tea in hand and a laptop at the ready, it's a sunshine day in LA. And my soundtrack for the thoughts brewing and swirling around my cerebrum? The sonic sensuality of Maxwell.

He's touring with Jill Scott this summer. And he just dropped the magnificent, fourth single from his still gorgeous, fourth longplayer, "BLACKsummers'night"

A beautiful, piano driven, soul ballad dripped in shades of Marvin Gaye and Al Green. Love the simplicity of the video with its nod toward old school, Hollywood variety shows like "The Ed Sullivan Show".

Will you look at the time? Gotta dash and make my way over to Amoeba to scour the bins for valuable audio baubles. But first, I'm gonna swing by Robeks and pick up a freshly made, carrot juice with extra ginger to kickstart my afternoon. Health, health, health! Welcome to LA.