Stronger Than Nina

In between Cardigans albums, the magnificent Nina Perrson teamed up with a dude from Sparklehorse and created the amazing A Camp. Now the band is back, 7 years later, and with a slightly different indie line-up. Nina is still at the helm but this time round she’s joined by her husband Nathan Larson, drummer Kevin March, Joan As Police Woman, Nikolai Dungar and the Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha.

Their album ‘Colonia’ is out in February but it’ll be preceded (for about 47 people) by the single ‘Stronger Than Jesus’.

Listen to it here.

Review: Take That – Circus

Staging a comeback far bigger than any of us could have imagined, it’s now time for Take That – The Man Band to release their 2nd album since returning to their adoring fanbase looking slightly crinkly. Circus, coincidentally released on the same day as Britney’s album of the same name, is it, and we’re pleased to report it’s pretty damn amazing.

Modern day Take That are like the drama faces of Melpomene and Thalia. Gary Barlow, the graceful swan of the group, is cementing his position as the country’s premier pop writer by dripping tragedy over soaring, epic ballads. Melancholy lament ‘What Is Love’ has Howard shining on lead vocals, questioning ‘the science of fate’ while title track ‘The Circus’ says it best with ‘I’m the only clown you’ll ever know. I love you was too many words to say’. The brilliant ‘Rule The World’ might be hard to top but opening track ‘The Garden’ and the perky ‘Hold Up The Light’ have that same magical feel. With songs like this, we’re left curious why they went with the relatively lacklustre ‘Greatest Day’ as lead single.

Then there’s Mark Owen, representing comedy, still happily bouncing about like ‘Clementine’ was as big a hit as it should have been and creating adorable upbeat pop songs Paul McCartney would be proud to sing. If Morrisons have ruined ‘Shine’ for you, then the cheeky ‘Hello’ will happily take its place in your heart. ‘Julie’ puts Mark in story telling mode and almost feels like a sequel to Babe, but the real highlight is the utterly catchy ‘Up All Night’ complete with a proper oom pah pah band and skip down the street chorus – we can just imagine the video with Take That clad in drummer outfits with big shiny silver buttons.

A stunning album, Take That are the vintage champagne of pop fizzing with playful bubbles and happily maturing with age.

Originally written for BBC Music.

Dirty Diegos

In a brilliant moment of pop / tv crossover, Fascination Records (home of GA & The Saturdays) have signed up Hollyoaks very own band, the Dirty Diegos to release a single at the end of November. Now I love Hollyoaks and love Fascination, so to me this is hilarious but brilliant news.

They’re treating them totally in character and the promo cd reads, “The Dirty Diegos are a local band from the Chester suburbs. They met at Hollyoaks High where they are all currently studying. The band first started life as the baby Diegos with Amy as the lead vocalist but she stepped down when she gave birth to Leah. etc etc” Brilliant.

Of course, you would expect the song to be properly rubbish. But it’s not. Instead it’s a fierce 2.36 of Michaela McQueen actually on vocals sounding pretty hot. It’s originally a song by Dimestars, a short lived band in the early 2000s fronted by Roxanne Wilde (sister of Kim) and featuring Morgan who’s now in DoesIt Offend You Yeah. It’s snarly, snazzy and I’d be able to play it pretty much immediately main set at Popstarz and get people dancing with them having no idea what it is. Just listen to that middle eight.

Fascination are, however, RUBBISH because they won’t let me embed the video. I don’t understand when people do that on youtube, so lose your prejudices and go watch it here. The single is out on November 24.

Here’s the original:

[youtube]http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=hSqUUWXQn3E[/youtube]

The Good Natured

I’m so predictable. If you have a pretty female singer with a synth chances are I’ll love it. So when my friend Ben passed on The Good Natured there was a good chance I was going to think she was the new best thing ever! And I did.

The Good Natured is black haired, red lipped 17 year old Sarah McIntosh.  Don’t let the over enunciated accent put you off though, this is gorgeous synth pop that raves away with a church organ & drum machine going at rocket speed.

She released her debut ep Warriors in October and it sold out almost instantly. Think Kate Nash meets The Postal Service and wallow in it’s excellence.

Download The Good Natured – Warriors [MP3]

Review: Girls Aloud – Out of Control

Even before Queen Cheryl of Cole sharpened her perfectly manicured judging nails to become the nation’s new sweetheart, Girls Aloud were adored by everyone from misery guts Noel Gallagher to toff David Cameron. Now teaming up with hit factory Xenomania again for their fifth studio album, our girls show no sign of giving up the hunt for the perfect pop song.

That perfect song might not, however, be exactly what you’re expecting. Instead of compelling us to race to the dancefloor and jump on our tutu, Out of Control has taken its lead from the success of icy ballad Call The Shots and brought us a shimmering album of heartbreaking electro pop with the tearstained melancholy of the Ashley baiting Love Is Pain its defining moment.

Forgetting about hugely disappointing Neil Tennant collaboration The Loving Kind, the Balearic bliss of epic seven minute marathon Untouchable and the haunting swirls of Turn 2 Stone (which cries out for a big trance remix) prove that you don’t have to be brassy to be brilliant. That said, if you’re running back to Tangled Up frantically searching for Girl Overboard, you need not fear. Although there aren’t as many stompers as usual, the sarcastic country of Love Is The Key and drum and bass anti-anarchy anthem Live In The Country, in which Sarah begs for a ”stall selling strawberry shortcake” will go some way in cheering you up. Miss You Bow Wow impresses as one big non-stop chorus and the dancehall mayhem of Revolution In The Head mean there’s no chance of an overly serious ‘we are no longer pop’ edict being issued.

Pop music at its finest, Girls Aloud have opened up their hearts, and finally won their battle against drippy, re-hashed ballads. Long may they reign.

Originally published at BBC Music

Year of the Boots

In one form or another, I’ve been banging on about Little Boots since 2005 featuring her old band on cduk.com, getting ‘Stuck On Repeat’ played on Radio 1 and generally pimping her out to any media outlet I possibly could. Now, signed to a major deal on Atlantic Records, and appearing on this week’s Jools Holland, 2009 will no doubt be her year.

As part of a feature about new female popstars I worked on for Attitude with gaypop, I interviewed Victoria for the mag and here it is. FYI my other selections for the main feature were Lady Gaga, As In Rebekka Maria and Janelle Monae.

Little Boots is as small as Kylie. She’s also going to be just as big. Her mission statement is to create epic disco pop and from what we’ve heard, she’s the best thing to come out of Blackpool since Chris Lowe put on his tight yellow sweater.

We first met ‘Boots, or to give her her real name, Victoria, as part of glamourous Leeds indie band Dead Disco back in 2005. Like an evil version of Girls Aloud, their super catchy tunes, and Victoria’s presence as a frontwoman was incendiary. Despite getting signed up to a major label she decided to go solo late last year, waved goodbye to the illuminations, headed to East London and leaked her first song onto the internet. This was the suitably epic ‘Stuck on Repeat’ and almost immediately bloggers fell in love. Produced by Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, it was 7 minutes of pulsating disco euphoria peppered with sleigh bells and a hypnotic vocal that got world class DJs like Pete Tong straight on the phone.

But Victoria didn’t want to rush things. As we talk to her in the middle of London Fashion Week, she’s hungover from her very first live performance in front of friends in her studio last night. Instead of getting straight on the road, she’s been writing her debut album with the likes of Greg Kurstin and Pascal Gabriel and learning to DJ. Arriving in London she was skint and after learning to spin some tracks in a pub, she went out as tour DJ for the Wonky Pop Tour and now finds it hilarious that people are flying her to America to play gigs as some amazing electro DJ .

But back to ‘Stuck on Repeat’. Coming out properly now as a single in November, it’s the song that really introduces the concept of Little Boots, even if the album itself is filled with shinier pop songs. Sounding like it’s fallen out of the stars, it reveals Victoria’s obsession with space, unicorns, crystals and the cosmic disco sound of the late 70s and early 80s. Citing people like Dee D Jackson and Klaus Nomi as influences, Victoria isn’t prepared to do things by halves. “Everything has to be epic. I don’t like twee DIY stuff, Kate Nash singer songwriter vibes just isn’t my bag. I’d rather try and do something ridiculous, that ends up being funny. Anything Studio 54 inspired works. My hair’s in braids, there’s glitter, it’s just epic. That said I don’t just want to be the one in the wacky outfit.”

Epic certainly seems to be where it’s at when Victoria tells us about her live show. As well as geeking it up with lots of synths, a Theremin, stylophone and an amazing Tenori-On she’s also got lasers, smoke machines and fake wolves and owls with eyes that light up! Planning to make the shows as extravagant as possible once the money starts rolling in, the dream is to travel up to space and do a gig with Richard Branson in orbit. Obviously!

But don’t worry if you think we’re getting hung up on someone so cool that you won’t be allowed into her gigs unless you’re wearing the right brand of glittery eyeshadow. Victoria’s dream is to be “massive, massive, massive, massive”. Despite being heralded as part of the blogeratti, she adamant that she’s not arsed about the critics. “I hate all that hipster stuff, it means nothing. I don’t give a shit if idiots in London that reckon they’re super cool don’t like me.”

Victoria’s wild imagination means we have no idea what might happen next. But we’re sure whatever it is, ends up being epic. “I just want to make amazing pop songs”, she claims with a glint in her eye. “Whatever anyone says about manufactured pop, it’s rubbish. The people who write pop songs are so talented and there’s no special magic formula to get it right. It’s just a myth. Writing pop music is the most challenging but also the most enjoyable thing I can do.”

Watch Little Boots on this week’s Jools Holland doing a very melancholic version of ‘Stuck On Repeat’.

Review: The Saturdays – Chasing Lights

When The Saturdays appeared on our pop radar we felt sorry for them. Here were five girls dreaming of being the next big thing in a world where the Girls Aloud & Sugababes monopoly showed no signs of letting up. Then we heard the kick-ass music, and suddenly The Saturdays felt like a viable proposition.

First single ‘If This Is Love’ seemed to spring out of nowhere with it’s Yazoo sample shining an electro-pop beacon but there’s been plenty of behind the scenes work going on. Signed to Fascination Records, home to Girls Aloud, they certainly have a pedigree with Rochelle & Frankie alumni of S Club Juniors, the irritatingly enthusiastic Mollie, an X-Factor reject, as well as soloist Vanessa. Then there’s Una – eight years older than the others, she’s a singer songwriter who already oozes disinterest in the project, and could be their Siobhan Donaghy.

If we’re looking for a word to sum up The Saturdays, it’s feistiness. Although nothing can beat the robot disco of 2nd single ‘Up’, there are only really one or two soppy ballads like ‘Issues’ that let ‘Chasing Lights’ down. Instead it’s the fierce chorus of ‘Keep Her’ and the sass of ‘Set Me Off’ that get us excited. ‘Work’ is an irresistible dancefloor puller destined to be a single,while ‘Lies’ is an electro-ballad that proves these girls will be taking no mess from the boys.

Energetic and fun, ‘Chasing Lights’ is a promising debut. It’s not perfect but it’s better than any of us could have expected.

Review: Sugababes – Catfights & Spotlights

Pop groups rarely make it to six albums, but Sugababes have managed just that.  Sometimes described as a brand rather than a band, their distinctiveness has faded through the years – culminating in the personality-free, but very successful ‘Change’.

Uninteresting lead single ‘Girls’ aside, ‘Catfights and Spotlights’ could be the album to make us fall back in love with them. We wouldn’t normally praise an album so ballad-heavy, but if there’s one thing the these girls can do well, it’s a killer ballad, the likes of ‘Stronger’ and ‘Too Lost In You’ still sending shivers up our spine. The Karen Poole penned  ‘Sunday Rain’ is an epic tearstained tale with a nod to Sam Brown’s ‘Stop’, while Klas Ahlund (who produced Robyn’s album) introduces quirky sounds and swelling strings on ‘Every Heart Broken’. Newest member Amelle has finally found her position within the band, her smoky voice adding a dangerous edge on the haunting ‘Side Chick’ and self-penned ‘Beware’.

The tempo lifts only occasionally and even then it’s somewhat forgettable. While ‘Hanging on a Star’ could be a Dana Dawson B-side, second single ‘No Can Do’ will certainly bounce its way into the heart of your favourite radio station.

The girls claim they’ve grown up and ditched pop. Not at all – they’ve just added some Motown horns and a twinkling of eighties funk. The result is an album that sounds the most like the Sugababes since ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’. We’re glad you’re back.

Originally published at Orange Music

First Listen Review: Girls Aloud – Out Of Control

A new Girls Aloud album is a surefire way to put a smile on my face so I was super excited to receive their new album Out Of Control this week. I’ll be reviewing it for the BBC later, but here’s my first listen thoughts.

Overall you might be a bit disappointed if you’re a fan of the ‘Girl Overboard’ and ‘Biology’ side of the girls. They’ve cut back on frantic-ness and replaced it with gorgeous, soaring electro pop that’s just as good.

1. The Promise – It’s so exciting that they’re about to have their 4th #1 with this song. You’ve heard it though, although the album version has a longer intro and a repeat to fade ending.

2. The Loving Kind – This is a collaboration with Pet Shop Boys and the first of quite a few synth ballads. Being a GA & PSB collaboration it’s kind of a disappointment as it should be amazing. It has an epic verse but then the chorus doesn’t quite cut it. There’s no great hook.

3. Rolling Back The Rivers – Starts with a really strong big vocal almost acapella. I have no idea who is who though when they sing. Then when the music kicks in it sounds a bit like ‘Somethin’ Stupid’. It’s really smooth sounding and makes me roll my shoulders all about. Has a great ‘a-wooooo’ sound.
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Review: John Legend – Evolver

As the owner of possibly the sexiest voice in music, John Legend has got it going on. Now releasing his third album shows that he’s lost none of the magic that gave his debut, Get Lifted, such crossover appeal.

Here in the UK, we’ve now got a special soft spot for John thanks to him signing Estelle and transforming her into a superstar. She returns the favour by lending her vocals to the reggae tinged ‘No Other Love’. Being John Legend, it’s not hard to attract guest stars, but we’re impressed that Evolver manages to avoid overcomplicating with so many ‘featurings’ that the main artist is relegated to second place. The other chosen two are Andre 3000, throwing a futuristic spanner into the unusually upbeat Green Light and a vocoded Kanye helping him ditch his lady in We’re Over. Impressive.

Confirming his position as an elegant ladies’ man, the dreamy Good Morning leaves us feeling that we couldn’t turn down any request made by this man. His seductive qualities are further cemented as he tries to turn his best friend into his lover in Cross The Line, begging her to stop, ”dancing ’round the moment”.

It’s not all love and ladies though – a fierce Obama campaigner, the album ends on an epic note with If You’re Out There. Originally performed at a Democratic convention, John rallies his listeners to change the future and, ”stand up and say it loud”.

Although we might miss the piano solos that made songs like Ordinary People such classic show stoppers, Evolver is a colourful burst of soul. Packed with incredible melodies and exquisite arrangements it’s yet another step to further confirm Legend as one of the most talented songwriters of the moment.

Originally published at BBC Music