The Sound of 2008

 

sound of 2008

2008 was a great year for pop music, singles and the chart. I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of albums but the above are my favourites. I never really knew Elbow before but this album was just brilliant – musically and lyrically, Vampire Weekend continues to be exciting, bouncy and gleeful, and Neon Neon was a very strange idea turned into a great reality.  As ever I could endlessly ponder my songs of the year, and I’m really weird in how I define things. So while I might love ‘One Day Like This’ and ‘I Lust U’, I’ll include those via their respective albums in my albums list above because I don’t really think of them as singles just part of an album.

Song of the Year: Little Boots – Stuck on Repeat. It’s been out a bit but not properly properly so I was cautious about putting this in the 2008 chart, but it’s the only song that makes my jaw drop, still nearly a year after Victoria first sent it round. Totally brilliant and a huge year awaits.

Rest of Best: 2. Sam Sparro – Black & Gold, 3. Estelle – American Boy, 4. MGMT – Kids, 5. Miley Cyrus – See You Again, 6. The Saturdays – Up, 7. Solange – I Decided, 8. The Ting Tings – Great DJ, 9. Ne-Yo – Closer, 10. Chris Brown & Jordin Sparks – No Air

Most Listened to (according to Last FM): 1. Ben Folds – You Don’t Know Me, 2. Sarah Brightman – I Don’t Know How To Love Him, 3. Miley Cyrus – See You Again, 4. Sophie Ellis Bextor – Heartbreak Make Me A Dancer, 5. Ladyhawke – Paris Is Burning, 6, The Ting Tings – Great DJ, 7 Girls Aloud – Miss You Bow Wow, 8, Sara Barielles –  Love Song, 9. Little Boots – Stuck On Repeat, 10, Sam Sparro – Black & Gold

Love Trills

LITTLE BOOTS

As part of her Automatic Lovers tour in November, Little Boots slung on a keytar and covered a mid 80s synth storm by Freddie Mercury. Called ‘Love Kills’ it teamed the iconic singer up with lord of the keyboard Giorgio Moroder.

In the continuing awesomeness of Boots, this has now been properly recorded up as part of the Buffet Libre DJs next covers project which will be unleashed on New Years Day. I’ve also just received an album promo and am gleefully playing ‘Mathematics’ and it’s brilliant lyrics over and over again.

Get Love Kills here

Passion Pit

Passion Pit

This is lovely. It’s by a band called Passion Pit who are one of the fifteen bands on the BBC’s Sound of 2009 longlist. I was one of the voters in the poll but chose 1. Little Boots 2. Janelle Monae and 3. The Good Natured as my votes.

The trippy Sleepyhead was released as a single earlier in the year from their Chunk of Change EP and has a dreamy yet scary, weird Kate Bush style falsetto being patched together by the Avalanches sound to it. It’s simply three minutes of gorgeously delirious fun. The buzz for these Massachusets boys started round CMJ time and I’m pretty sure they’re going to be one of those bands that the hipsters heart until they get popular at which point they’ll be hated (cf Vampire Weekend). They’re recording their debut album now and will be playing in the UK in February.

[youtube]http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=5bfseWNmlds[/youtube]

Download Sleepyhead [legal MP3] from Spinner Mag

Fall Out Boy – Folie A Deux

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Following on from the stats grabbing initial review of the new Fall Out Boy album, this was the review that was actually published back in October. It’s about to be finally released.

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Could Fall Out Boy be any more perfect? They make songs you can stomp along to, give us the eyeliner hotness of Pete and have donated $50k to a pro gay marriage campaign. Three hoorays from Attitude. French for ‘shared madness by two’, ‘Folie A Deux’, might be more thoughtful but remains packed with melodramatics that leave us pondering just how amazing an FOB musical would be.

Lead single ‘I Don’t Care’ steals a glammy beat from ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and almost sounds like a Xenomania production with campy ‘oohs’ sandwiching a dark chorus. With special guests including Pharrell and Debbie Harry popping up,  Elvis Costello delights on ‘What A Catch, Donnie’ – born to soundtrack the moment that goofy boy everyone laughs at has a Tyra style makeover becomes the fiercest girl in school.  Although nothing can top last album’s ‘Gay Is Not An Acronym For Shit’, the boys would still win awards for song titles  with the random likes of ‘Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes’ and the creepy, epic sounds of ‘Head First Slide Into Cooperstown On A Bad Bet’.

Though ’27’ might claim ‘We’re all just fucked’, the anthemic (Coffee For Closers) stresses that ‘change will come’. Released on US Election day, Folie A Deux is ultimately the sound of a frustrated generation looking for a way out.

Review: Brandy – Human

brandy_human

Unless you grew up watching Moesha, Brandy has unfairly struggled to make much of a long term impact on us here in the UK. Although we might still be slightly in awe of the fierceness of The Boy Is Mine, albeit over ten years ago, the average person may struggle remember many of her other 11 top 40 hits. Now returning after a four year break which saw the explosion of Beyonce and Rihanna as R&B superstars, is there any room left for in our hearts for Brandy? 

Her fifth album arrives after several years of personal trauma following Brandy’s involvement in a serious car crash. A vulnerable and revealing album, the title track calls out for forgiveness and declares herself as, ”fragile and broken, perfectly human”. Although names like Missy Elliot, Taio Cruz, Keri Hilson and Timbaland were all touted as writers on this album, it ends up being mainly written and produced by long term collaborator, Rodney Jerkins, aka Darkchild. Lead single, Right Here, hits the mark, with a haunting piano topline and retro ”oh oh ohs”, creating an almost gospel sound and reminding us how sweet Brandy’s voice can sound. Understated ballad Long Distance is just as good as If I Were A Boy and should be a global hit, beating with surging strings and tenderness. Expect to hear this one sound-tracking a heartbreaking moment on a Grey’s Anatomy finale sometime soon. 

Although there’s nothing as fiesty as 2002’s What About Us or jittery as the Timbaland produced Afrodisiac, midtempo highlights The Definition and Piano Man sound bang up to date practising their best Ryan Tedder impression by matching synths, drums and a sweet vocal to great effect. Plus our very own Natasha Bedingfield teams up with Brandy to write uplifting album closer, Fall. 

Concentrating on melodies and inspiration, Human, is a mature, sensitive album. Although complete with stunning vocals, its lack of daring and experimentation could be its downfall though, with her once faithful audience now utterly devoted to dancefloor driven R&B.

Originally published at BBC Music

Review: Britney Spears – Circus

 

britney_circus

Every generation has its fallen hero and Britney Spears is ours. Yet despite being released at the height of her madness, 2007’s Blackout proved that Britney could still create brilliant pop moments. Now, just over a year later, Circus arrives with an overwhelming swell of public support behind it.

While Blackout was 45 minutes of eye-rolling, crotch-crunching, but utterly brilliant insanity, Circus is, like Britney herself in recent months, a touch calmer. Sometimes it works, like on the disconcerting ‘Unusual You’, an electro ballad of Robyn-sized proportions, or the serene ‘Blur’, documenting Britney’s last two years through lyrics like “I can’t remember what I did last night”. Other times, like on the sickly ‘My Baby’ – an ode to her children including a mawkish reference to their “tiny hands” – it goes horribly wrong.

To be honest, though, all we really want from Britney is floor-filling pop to live up to ‘Womanizer”s manic sirens. ‘If You Seek Amy’ is a secretly filthy playful romp, while ‘Kill The Lights’ is a scathing attack on “Mr Photographer” who stalks her every move. Our favourite moment lies in the slow-motion middle eight of ‘Shattered Glass’: we can just imagine Britney, in full diva mode, strutting through a icy forest, completely back in control.

Circus is an album of highs and lows, but there’s a danger we’re just so excited about Britney surviving that we’re happy to accept mediocrity. ‘Womanizer’ is probably the album’s only iconic moment, but it certainly proves there’s fight yet in the girl we’d almost written off for good.

Originally published by Orange Music

Review: Beyonce – I Am… Sasha Fierce

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In a world ruled by downloads perhaps the flow of tracklistings, once pored over for hours by record labels, isn’t that important any more. It’s certainly not to Beyonce who, on this, her third solo album, has spread 11 songs over two discs in order to create a ‘concept’. Double albums usually make us pull an ugly face (Back To Basics, anyone?) but we guess at least this has a point, almost. 

Let’s explain. For this album Beyonce has split her personality into two. Disc 1, labelled ‘I Am’, reveals the ‘real’ Beyonce behind the makeup, baring her soul with insecurities about love. The simple, If I Were A Boy, is ably joined by the very strange, but wonderful Ave Maria and Ryan Tedder’s Bleeding Love-lite, Halo. Unfortunately when faced with six ballads in a row, you might find yourself dropping off into a deep slumber, no matter how good they are. 

You’ll wake up sharpish though when it’s time for disc 2, as Beyonce is gone, replaced by the hilariously monikered Sasha Fierce. Sasha is B’s on-stage personality and the hair flicking, stiletto strutting beats of Diva with it’s dictionary defining ”diva is the female version of a hustler” prove it. Yet though the electro pounding of Sweet Dreams or the wild Radio might be standouts here, there’s nothing that announces Beyonce’s experimental side like the raging Ring The Alarm from B’Day 

An attempt no doubt for credibility and importance, I Am … Sasha Fierce ultimately falls short of this goal. In a world where Rihanna seems to have released hit after hit, Beyonce, although the superior on-stage performer, needs to come back with something stronger than this if she wants to steal her sparkly crown back off the young pretender.

Originally published on BBC Music

Review: Seal – Soul

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With 15 million album sales and three Grammy Awards under his belt, you’d think it might be easy for Seal to make a successful album. Yet since the mid-1990s his popularity dramatically waned, with even the super contemporary Jacques Lu Cont produced System last year failing to make much of a mark.

Thus Seal has decided to return to his self-declared roots with his sixth album, the simply titled Soul – a collection of classic songs, produced by legendary Canadian producer David Foster, best known for his work with Celine Dion. Entirely a covers album, it features the work of Sam Cooke, Al Green, Otis Reading and James Brown to name but a few, and here enlies the problem. Choosing such definitive songs, and performing them, on the whole, with such a loyalty to the original recordings, simply makes us want to listen to those originals. Sure, there may be some novelty value the first time you hear a man sing Ann Peebles’ glorious I Can’t Stand The Rain or Deniece Williams’ enchanting Free but a faithful cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now leaves us reaching for the Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes original, or at very worst Simply Red. Cover albums always face this risk, but Seal could have done with taking a leaf out of George Michael’s Songs From The Last Century album and finding some brilliant, but lesser known songs to scatter through the album.

Though there’s no doubt that Seal has a great voice, perfectly designed for singing soul music, ultimately Soul feels a touch too smooth. In his day Seal was an innovator – constantly pushing the genre boundaries of r ‘n’ b & dance music – but now we’re left hoping he finds some of that magic that seems to have been lost along the way.

Originally published at BBC Music

Pixie

Isn’t Pixie Lott a brilliant pop star name? Coming out of Mercury Records in 2009, Pixie is a 17 year old singer songwriter who was plucked from stage school and sent to American to make amazing soulful pop with the likes of Darkchild and Babyface. Is this a formula for an instant diva?

Pixie’s songs have an instant American hit quality to them, with the Ryan Tedder-eque ‘Without You’ a reminder of something like Jo-Jo’s brilliant ‘Leave Get Out’. The soulful ‘Mama Do’ sounds like it was originally destined for Mutya (are Mercury re-using a song perhaps?), ‘Boys and Girls’ is super cute and ‘The Fall’ showing off a less annoying version of Natasha Bedingfield. 

Interesting to keep an eye on, there are big bucks behind this project and you’ll no doubt be hearing her all over the radio come summer. File next to Leona rather than Amy.

Listen to Pixie on her myspace (def. Mama Do!)

(props to Ben!)

A Christmas Duel

“I bought no gift this year and I slept with your sister.”

“That’s ok honey, cos I bought no tree this year and I slept with your brother”

Could there be any more magical (!) Christmas lyrics than these? They come from an unlikely duet between the deep voiced Hives and the helium filled Cyndi Lauper who’ve teamed up for ‘A Christmas Duel’.  Utterly charming, pounding with Spector-esque production and bursting with fun, I doubt there will be a Christmas song to top this for a few years to come. It’s been ‘stuck on repeat’ for the last half an hour.

[youtube]http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=My5Bzf0PQhc[/youtube]

Download it for free between 28 – 30th November at The Hives website or pay (and get it into the charts!!) from December 1.