Saturday, 31 August 2013

I think I just found my new favourite record store

So I was just scrolling around the centre of my new home town and I accidentally found this record store. It's called Moby Disc and it was wonderful. They had a great selection of pop/rock vinyls (yeah, I no longer even check the CD sections anymore) both new and used. And they had usable turntables and some tables and chairs for just hanging out and everything. Oh I feel so much more at home now, I think it's essential for people with interests such as mine to find a lovely record store in order to settle properly in a new place.

Did I find anything, you ask? Of course I did. The first album cover that I saw in the store was that of Anouk's Sad Singalong Stories. Nearly bought Arcade Fire's The Suburbs as well, maybe I'll buy it another time. Remember when I wrote about the Anouk album? Well, when I was buying the LP the guy at the counter said to me: "Oh, that's a really good album". Indeed it is, I gave it five stars.


If you still haven't listened to it yet, let this song convince you to do that like, right away.

Friday, 30 August 2013

New music from Róisín!

Well, at least new music featuring Róisín. Róisín has, as I mentioned before, been too busy making babies to record a third album but there has been a bunch of collaborations since Overpowered so she hasn't left her fans with nothing at all. Here is her latest collaboration to date: it's a funky little tune by Hot Natured that has Róisín doing the vocals. It might not be a memorable banger but it's a lovely listen nevertheless. And Róisín sounds as wonderful as ever.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Review: 'Overpowered' by Róisín Murphy

Sorry guys, the past few days have been rather unproductive for me as a blog keeper but I do have a good excuse - I had a big move coming up. You know, moving to another country. Which obviously meant that my last days in Finland were rather drenched with alcohol and farewell parties. And the actual moving as well. Which was a drag in such a state of hangover. Now I'm killing time at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, finally showing some signs of resurrection, so it's about time I channel my energy into something useful. Such as an unprofitable, under-the-radar music blog.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Watch Siouxsie and Sporty do a bit of a Q&A

I'm afraid I've got some bad news - the first proper Siouxsie Sunday is postponed. I know, heartbreaking!! But the fact is, I've had all this pre-moving packing taking my time not to mention a farewell party I'm throwing today with a mate who's also moving abroad... so much to do, so little time. Next Sunday, I promise, I will get things done. Do however enjoy of this funny clip of Siouxsie and Melanie C hanging out and answering random questions from a teapot. The high priestess of punk and Sporty Spice get along surprisingly well!

Friday, 23 August 2013

One For The Weekend: 'White Noise' by Disclosure ft. AlunaGeorge

Yay, weekend's here again! For all the partygoers who will be getting into the groove later on, check out this lovely electro house track by Disclosure featuring AlunaGeorge. Both are extremely promising electronic music acts that have shown a lot of potential this year. Expect to hear more of them. Meanwhile, have a great weekend and remember to listen to this track!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Review: 'Strange Weekend' by Porcelain Raft

Porcelain Raft, the music project of Italy-born Mauro Remiddi, is an exciting artist I'd like you all to know about. He released his first full-length record Strange Weekend in early 2012, but actually began his career already in the 1990s and has toured the world ever since, even playing for an off-Broadway show in New York and performing in North Korea. Quite the traveller, you might say.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - 'Despair'

The date of my departure is drawing near. I'm moving to a country that I've never been to, to a city where I know no-one, where they speak a language I don't speak. Needless to say, I am starting to get a little terrified by the thought. I've never spent longer times abroad so this is a real first. The idea of everyday life in a foreign country is not only appealing but also scary as hell. Surely you'll get used to it and everything and soon it'll be nothing but for now, I remain terrified. So there's that.

But it also made me think of all the people that I'm leaving behind. Family, friends, etc. Lately I've been travelling around the country in order to meet family members and mates "for the last time before I go" - very dramatic, is it not - and it has felt like a goddamn farewell tour of some kind. A bit like Cher, with the exception that she does farewell tours on a regular basis.

Then I found solace in a song. In Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Despair" to be precise. The lyrics are made for a situation like this, just listen to the lines like "Don't despair, you're there / From beginning to middle to end / Don't despair, you're there / Through my wasted days / You're there through my wasted nights". So in case you're missing a friend or a lover or a family member or just a special someone, listen to this song, and hear Karen O declaring "My sun is your sun." What a soothing thought.

And after obsessing over this song for a while, I learnt that the song was also released as a 2nd single off their latest album Mosquito and now has a music video as well. Oh how neatly I can just wrap it all up as a mere single review now! Oh and the song itself? It's good. It's all kinds of brilliant. It's "Maps" kind of brilliant so yeah, it's really that good. 

If you're not a fan of lengthy a cappella intros, the song itself starts at 1:48. You're welcome.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Music video released for MKS's 'Flatline'

So, Mutya Keisha Siobhan's (I still can't get myself to like the band name so I think I'll just use the abbreviation from now on) quite nice single "Flatline" now has a music video as well. No mind-blowing storytelling here but it shows the original Sugababes having fun and strolling around the Venice Beach in a summery clip that is the video equivalent of an Instagram picture. Oh, and it features an out-of-the-blue appearance of a marching band. That's it in a nutshell.

Camera Obscura - 'Break It To You Gently'

There's new music from the Scottish indie pop group Camera Obscura. It has that distinctive sound that all the band's songs have, so it isn't really anything new or unexpected but well, it's a lovely little tune anyway. The song also has an adorable music video that tells the heart-breaking story of a runaway trolley bag embarking on an adventure of its lifetime. Oh go ahead, check it out already!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

It's Siouxsie Sunday!

Now, if you're reading (and hopefully also following) this blog, the chances are that you are a music lover yourself. And if you're a music lover, it is highly likely that you have a favourite band or a favourite singer too. That one artist or act that will always have a special place in your heart, the one whose music you'll always return to, time after time. I most certainly do. And that musician is Siouxsie Sioux.

Siouxsie, born Susan Janet Ballion, is an English singer-songwriter, who's most famous for having been the frontwoman of post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees. With the Banshees she recorded 11 studio albums between 1978 and 1996. Even though the '80s revival in the mid-2000s wasn't quite as favourable to Siouxsie as they were to many of her peers - such as Joy Division, The Cure and The Smiths - and no such hype was built around the Banshees, she's every bit as iconic as the frontmen of the aforementioned bands (Ian Curtis, Robert Smith, Morrissey). Widely recognised as one of the most significant British rock singers - especially of the female ones - she has had a huge impact on other musicians, and has been praised and considered influential by everyone from Radiohead, U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers to PJ Harvey, Santigold, Gossip and Shirley Manson of Garbage, not to mention the previously mentioned Robert Smith and Morrissey or Tricky and Massive Attack - post-punk had a great impact on the trip-hop movement. Quite some names right there.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Porcelain Raft - 'The Way Out'

There's a lot of great new music to be expected during the autumn and now you can also add Porcelain Raft on your waiting list. Porcelain Raft, the stage name of Mauro Remiddi, is an Italy-based indie musician currently living in New York and, in my opinion, one of the most exciting songwriters around. To call him a newcomer would be an act of ignorance as he has been making music and travelling around the world ever since the 1990s, but it wasn't until 2012 that he released his debut album Strange Weekend. A writer of emotional lo-fi music, he makes music that plucks your heartstrings and although machine-made, sounds extremely vulnerable and human. Porcelain Raft has a new album coming out, preceded by the single "The Way Out". It also has a music video where a stripper is sexually assaulted but succeeds to strangle her attacker. You know, basic stuff.

In case you haven't heard of the musician in question do not worry a bit. I will be introducing him / reviewing his debut album shortly. I've also been listening to his forthcoming album in advance so another review is to be written sometime in the future. So much to write about, so little time!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Matt Cardle and Melanie C duet on 'Loving You'

X Factor winner Matt Cardle and everybody's favourite Spice Melanie C have recorded a duet together. The song begins with a soul beat that brings to mind the infectiously catchy "Ain't Nobody Got Time For That" Adele hit single "Rolling In The Deep", before leading to a fine but not that exceptional chorus. To be perfectly honest, it sounds like a duet Mel C could've sung in the early 2000s but that's not to say that it wouldn't be a good song. The tune's quite nice and their voices blend together smoothly. Also, Melanie's looking gorgeous in the music video, occasionally looking a bit like an edgier Middleton sister. It must be the hairdo.

Edit: A new live performance of the song on This Morning proves that their voices work perfectly live as well. Quite nice indeed.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Review: 'Sad Singalong Songs' by Anouk

It's been raining for days. I just recently saw the first yellow leaf fall from a tree. Summer is officially over, and inevitable as it is, it's always a bit of a shock. This realisation made me look back at this year and well, it must be said that musically speaking it hasn't been a spectacular one. Fortunately we're only halfway there and there are a lot of promising albums to be released during the latter half of the year. Also, though the year has generally given little to write home about, there have been some pearls along the way and one of the most brilliant ones is Anouk's Sad Singalong Songs which makes a perfect soundtrack for your autumn.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

V V Brown - 'The Apple'

New music from V V Brown's upcoming album, titled Samson & Delilah, has surfaced. The second single "The Apple" sounds quite nice and marks a departure from the straight-forward retro pop sound of her debut album Travelling Like The Light. Her music sounds more mature now, which is great, considering that though her first LP was fun and had great tracks on it, it wasn't really that spectacular as whole. But this new stuff's very promising indeed! It sounds like a long-lost twin sister of Róisín Murphy's 2007 track "Parallel Lives".

You should also check out the album's sinister lead single, the semi-titular "Samson". It sounds new and fresh, yet distinctively V V Brown, it's catchy and it leaves you wanting for more. Just like a lead single should be.

Lady Gaga - 'Applause'

I don't really know where to start. Once again, Lady Gaga had built a huge hype around her new album and promised to revolutionise pop music and art and whatnot. And this is what she came up with? A forgettable electro track, mediocre at best. She sings the verses trying to sound like an '80s goth rocker, and then there's the generic chorus filled with repetition of the word 'applause'. Yeah, we get it already. Speaking of the lyrics, have you paid any attention to them? She's basically declaring to be the embodiment of art and pop and well, if this is it then I might as well drop the 'pop'-prefix from my blog name 'cause this is far from impressive. Or revolutionising, come to that. Living for the applause, as she sings, she has written a tune that is essentially "the sound of one pop star clapping for herself", as Spin put it in their review. Unsubtle and obsessed with fame as always, this is Gaga trying so hard to create a self-fulfilling prophecy out of herself. Awkward.

There's more. The single was released earlier than it was supposed to be, following a leak of the song. Now, leaking songs in advance wouldn't be an unexpected thing to do from the likes of Gaga to try to build up to hype. Also, the single release just happened to coincide with the release of Katy Perry's "Roar" (which isn't half bad, actually). A bit shady, innit? Furthermore, she's encouraged her little monsters to buy the song on iTunes as many times as possible in order to top the charts win some kind of a competition relating to her forthcoming iTunes performance. Now that's just downright desperate.

Gaga's also trying to turn the tables with her using the critics' comments in an 'ironic' anti-commercial of the new single, unsurprisingly victimising herself in the process.

But wait, isn't that what Madonna did during her MDNA tour, in the "Nobody Knows Me" part...?

Well whaddya know. Gaga and her not-always-so-original antics would make a great drinking game for sure.

Rule number 1 is that you gotta have fun

Skins actress and one-time star in an Emeli Sandé music video (and thus an obviously music-related person) Laya Lewis once tweeted that everyone should listen to at least one Spice Girls song a day.

And who am I to judge. So you might as well fill your daily quota with "Who Do You Think You Are", an uptempo disco track off their debut album Spice. Them haters be hatin', but this is a proper '90s pop tune so deal with it. It's also a classic Spice Girls tune with a groovy beat, catchy melodies and Mel C stealing the show with her solo bits 'cause come on, the backflipping songstress' vocals always stand out the most. No wonder she went on to have the most successful solo career out of the five. She was always my favourite Spice Girls as well. I mean, let's face it: she's one BAMF. The fact that she also reminded my of my sister had probably nothing to do with it.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Mashup Madness: Basement Jaxx vs Nirvana

I know how bizarre it sounds: Basement Jaxx's bubbly pop tune "Oh My Gosh" mashed up with Nirvana's grunge anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? Doesn't sound like it would ever work. How in the world could it? But guess what - it does. Unfortunately the Youtube clip cannot be embedded so I just have to provide you with a link to it: here it is. But do check it out nevertheless, it's a fabulous clash of nearly opposite musical styles. It's ridiculously catchy!

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Saturday, 10 August 2013

Second thoughts about Electra Heart

So, this week saw Marina Diamandis bid farewell to her Electra Heart persona. Initially I was relieved - and I still am, as I miss Marina being Marina - but now I've started looking back at the whole Electra Heart era. When she first introduced us to this new stunt she said that she created the character to be able to do things that she'd never normally do, things that are the total opposite of her. "Such as conquering the charts with radio friendly, commercially accessible electropop while sporting a Hollywood blonde hairstyle", I thought. Which is actually exactly what she did. I was cynical.

Quite often story arcs need closure to be understandable. You know, that one little twist that causes all the jigsaw pieces to fall into place. So was it for Marina's Electra Heart thingy as well. After the final part was uploaded in Youtube, I skimmed through all the previous videos back-to-back and lo and behold, things started making sense! I started to see a storyline, one I believe is rather close to what it was meant to be, so here's my interpretation of the video series:

Friday, 9 August 2013

M.I.A.'s forthcoming album has a release date now.

FINALLY. Ever since "Bad Girls" in the beginning of 2012 the world has been waiting for album news but M.I.A. has kept us waiting. Now, however, the new album is given an actual release date: the 5th of November. So remember, remember. It seems her fans are not the only ones who are frustrated with how long it has taken: this morning M.I.A. tweeted the following threatening to leak the album - titled Matangi - if it doesn't get released soon.

Well, it worked. Thank god.

Meanwhile, you should get acquainted with her new material that will or will not be on Matangi. First there's the aforementioned "Bad Girls", one of the best songs of 2012 and, in my opinion, way catchier than "Paper Planes". The hypnotic, exotic-sounding anthem features an amazing hook that'll stay in your head for the rest of the day. It's also accompanied by one of the most badass music videos you've seen in a while.

Then there's another new track and a music video to boot. It's more rap-oriented a bit outlandish for my liking but see for yourself:

But there's even more - this video features yet another new M.I.A. track. Yay! The song itself starts around 2:30. Sounding much more promising than "Bring The Noize", "Doobie" is a sinister banger that, together with "Bad Girls", gives a feeling that the new album will be a rather dark one. Apparently, the album release was originally postponed because the record label felt that it was too positive. What a silly reason.

Farewell, Electra Heart

It's been a long two years for Marina Diamandis and her Electra Heart thingy. After a course of ten music videos for her new songs, it appears she's finally killing off the annoyingly vague alter-ego-but-not-an-alter-ego-after-all Electra Heart persona. Don't get me wrong, there have been some amazing songs on her second album but let's face it - Electra Heart did not reach the high standards set by her first one, The Family Jewels. Also the new, radio-friendly Marina makes me miss the good ol' indie popper that she used to be. (Now that I think of it, I might as well write a thing about her in my debut album series.) In the dramatic 11th installment of the Electra Heart videos she looks back at the Electra Heart era and seems to wipe off the trademark heart from her cheek, indicating this is the last we see of the platinum blonde, heart-sporting pseudo-popstar. (How hilarious would it be if she now announced that the whole thing was just a bit of a joke? I'd buy it.)

It's good to see the authentic dark-haired Marina back. Maybe now that she's had her time dealing with the American stereotypes she would no longer be so "obsessed with the mess that's America", as she once put it.

New music video by Basement Jaxx: 'What A Difference Your Love Makes'

Basement Jaxx, everyone's favourite frenetic house duo is releasing a new album sometime in the future. A little while ago the new song "What A Difference Your Love Makes" surfaced in the internet and now it's accompanied with a video. It's an enjoyable little summery tune - and very Basement Jaxx-y too - with the surprisingly non-hyperactive video featuring South African dancers doing something that I believe is called Pantsula dance. Sure, the song is no "Where's Your Head At" or "Raindrops" or "Good Luck" but hey, at least it's considerably better than their previous one, "Back 2 The Wild", which could've been an album filler back in their Remedy era. If even that. But yeah, this one's a bit more promising. Still, if they chose these two songs to introduce the new album with... well, I hope they're saving the best for last.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Introducing: Nouvelle Vague

Following the previous '80s post I could think of no other band to introduce than Nouvelle Vague. You might have bumped into them before, I think their music has been featured in a range of TV series and adverts. Nouvelle Vague is actually a cover band which you might not notice at first - they truly make all the songs their own. The French band combines French chanson with bossa nova arrangements. The name 'Nouvelle Vague', which translates into 'New Wave' in English, also refers to the type of music the cover: the '80s new wave. Covering songs from all your punk, post-punk and new wave icons, you've probably heard some of the originals before. I'll keep this one short and sweet and let the music do the talking. It makes you want to lead a bohemian lifestyle in the Rive Gauche of Paris and drink red wine all day long. Quite nice.

Playlist: The darker side of the '80s

Oh the 1980s, what an interesting decade. Though most people associate the '80s with the birth of synthpop and the rise of the likes of Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, there was so much more going on. Outside the radio playlists there was a huge following for darker music. Whereas in the 1970s the anger was expressed through punk, and the 1990s had grunge to channel angst into, the 1980s marked a prominent time of post-punk music and saw the rise of goth music. Pop music - again, mostly outside the top 40 - was darker than ever before.

It all started from the rise of post-punk. After the first wave of punk had settled down in the late 1970s, bands that emerged from the punk scene started to experiment with their sound, creating the genre that is nowadays known as post-punk. Very logical, innit. Typical for the new style were for example edgy guitars and emphasised drumming. It was also very experimental, incorporating new elements such as the newly invented synthesizers. Gone was the overt aggressiveness of punk as post-punk developed a gloomier sound. The term was first used in 1977 to put a label on the unique sound of the likes of Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Magazine, Public Image Ltd. and The Cure.

The rise of post-punk gave birth to a new sub-genre: goth. Now, what's noteworthy about gothic music is that gloomy as it was, it originally represented the Edgar Allan Poe kind of gloominess. When it started it wasn't all batcaves and bondage and big hairdos. Initially coined as a musical genre to describe the musical direction of Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees (JD's song "Bela Lugosi's Dead" and SATB's album Join Hands were the prime examples), it soon began to inspire a whole new generation of musicians embracing the darkness of goth music. Many of these artists actually loathed the labeling as they felt it was limiting. Though the visual aspect was an important part of the subculture, people often tend to disregard the music itself - goth was a music genre after all.

Looking back at all this music makes me feel nostalgic. No, unfortunately I didn't live in the 1980s but I kept listening to this stuff a lot when I was in my late teens. I guess it was my version of the "black phase", but what's funny is that I never dressed up accordingly. So there you have it, it is possible to appreciate the music as it is. In celebration of this and the darker side of the '80s, I've put together a 12-track playlist consisting of several post-punk and even goth classics. Try it (especially if you enjoyed the Donnie Darko soundtrack, for example), you just might be pleasantly surprised. No backcombing or black eyeliner needed!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Review: 'Hurricane' by Grace Jones

Grace Jones is quite the character. Many people know her merely as a bizarre gay icon with an eccentric taste, or as a former Bond girl and occasional actress, or as a model who hung out at studio 54, partying wildly and serving as a muse for Andy Warhol. There's more to her, however, as she also has an extensive career in music that has gone somewhat unnoticed by many, or maybe it's just been overshadowed by her controversial public image.

Her 2008 album Hurricane is stellar in three ways: not only is it single-handedly one of the most spectacular releases of its year, it's also an actually good comeback album which is always a feat. She had been absent from the music scene for 19 years (!!) and expectations tend to build up in such amount of time. Thankfully, the album lives up to them. Thirdly, she was at the age of 60 when the record was released, and many artists have the sad habit of repeating themselves as their careers develop, but not Grace: Hurricane is an innovative sonic adventure, sounds perfectly fresh and - in my opinion - is her best LP to date. This is Grace Jones like you've never heard before. Even though the album features several trademark elements of Grace's (reggae beats, Jamaican vibe, spoken word lyrics) there are also many new things like the electronic sounds as evidenced in the nearly industrial sounding "Corporate Cannibal".

The album kicks off with the bouncy opener "This Is", which features the much-cited opening lines "This is my voice / My weapon of choice". A bit later she states what the album is all about: "This is a voice, these are the hands / This is technology, mixed with a band". Next song, the magnificent "Williams' Blood" is a soaring fusion of pop and gospel that explodes in the chorus filled with distorted guitars and backing vocals. One of the highlights of the album and also released as a single, this song certainly doesn't pale in comparison with older Grace Jones classics such as "Pull Up To The Bumper" and "Slave To The Rhythm". The song also includes excerpts from the hymn "Amazing Grace", which sounds like it could be a wee bit tacky (you know, with her name and all), but it isn't - it all sounds very sincere and well, graceful.

Lyrically the album showcases Grace as a storyteller, especially on autobiographical tracks like "Williams' Blood" and "I'm Crying (Mother's Tears)", an ode to her mother. "Corporate Cannibal" is an assault against modern-day capitalism and the corporate world with powerful lyrics such as "I deal in the market / Every man, a woman, a child is a target" and "I'll consume my consumers / with no sense of humour". You can tell she's not playing around. Then there's "Sunset Sunrise", penned by her son Paulo, which deals with humans' relationship to nature ("Is it yours? / Is it mine? / Is it ours to divide?"). The album also shows how talented she is as a singer and it isn't the production or over-using of auto-tune that makes you think so - trust me, I've seen her live.

With TV characters such as Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother overusing the word "epic" in every possible instant, it has suffered quite an inflation, but there are two songs on the album that virtually cannot be described without it: Hurricane and Devil In My Life. The latter, despite being the album closer, is actually the first song to be written for the album, and features stunning string arrangements. Ending the album on a strong note, it leaves the listener transfixed. Hurricane, the Tricky-featuring title track, is a majestic six and half minute trip-hop number that shows how fierce she can really be. It serves as a stand-out centerpiece for the album and unfurls into a genuine powerhouse and when she declares "And I'll be a hurricane! / Ripping up trees" the listener is convinced that she's not exaggerating the tiniest bit. "See me / Here I come!" she chants as she shows the rest of the world how a comeback is properly made.

4½ / 5

Try at least: "Williams' Blood", "Hurricane", "Devil In My Life"

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Lana Del Rey disses Gaga in new song

Have you heard this track already? It's apparently a leaked demo (it feels like Lana keeps giving us new demos every other week) that appeared in the internet around two weeks ago. Lyrics such as "Stefani you suck / I know you're selling 20 million / Wish they could've seen you / When we booed you off in Williamsburg" indicate that Lana herself might not be the biggest fan of the mother monster.

As a matter of fact, another demo did surface just today! With already such a ridiculous amount of demos out you'd imagine she'd have quite enough material for a next album. Oh well.

Speaking of Gaga, she too has a demo out. The song is going to be called Burqa, or Aura, or something like that. It also namedrops the overly ambitious album title "Artpop". It's rather ludicrous and incoherent. It's like she had five versions of the song, then couldn't pick one and eventually incorporated them all. The same goes for the lyrics. And it's quite lacking in the melody section as well. But you know, judge for yourself:

[Edit: It seems that the latter two tracks have been taken down. Oh well, that's internet for ya.]

Review: 'Carnavas' by Silversun Pickups

The last couple of days have been rather hot, at least where I live, so you kind of have to keep the windows open to survive in the heat. However, when your windows are open you tend to get a lot of unwanted visitors flying or crawling in which is disgusting. Last night I was startled by an enormous moth zipping back and forth in my apartment. Uninvited. A fight to the bitter end ensued. After hours of fighting, hiding, and then fighting again, I emerged victorious (as you'd probably figure out). Afterwards I continued writing my previous blog entry.

But the whole incident reminded me of a certain lyric: "I can tell it's summer from the / size of the bugs that fly through my window / Flying through my window". It was all painfully relatable last night. The lyrics come from a song called "Rusted Wheel", that appears on an album named Carnavas, that was released by a band named Silversun Pickups. Not only is Carnavas a great album, but it's also a sensational debut album. I've done a lot of thinking regarding debut albums and how they often end up being among the best work of nearly any bands out there. An exceptionally good debut album is unfortunately often succeeded by a not-quite-as-brilliant second album. It's hard to first create something extraordinary and then duplicate the success with an at least equally brilliant effort. There's even a specific term for this phenomenon: Sophomore slump.

All of this made me list some of my favourite debut albums, which I'm introducing and reviewing through a series of articles. Expect music from great bands at their rawest, at their freshest, at their most innovative. Thank you, Mr. or Ms. Moth: though you gave me horror, you gave my inspiration as well. And in order to respect my fallen muse the series will be started off with Carnavas.

Released in 2006, Carnavas is the first LP (although not the first recording) of the L.A.-based Silversun Pickups. The band, formed in 2002, released their debut album to generally positive reviews. The album itself peaked at #80 on Billboard 200, while the singles "Lazy Eye" and "Well Thought Out Twinkles" peaked at #5 and #9 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, respectively, later appearing in Rock Band and Guitar Hero games.

Silversun Pickups' shoegaze sound has quite often been compared to that of The Smashing Pumpkins and not without a reason: there is something very similar in the vocals, in the way the guitars are used, in the way the songs sound. Brian Aubert's occasionally soft, occasionally screaming vocals are reminiscent of Billy Corgan's emotional way of singing (especially on songs such as "Lazy Eye"), and the songs are drenched in a wall of sound created by the guitars. There is a fine line between being inspired by someone and plagiarising them, but while the influence is notable, the band does have their own thing going on.

While Band of Skulls' indie rock sound was bluesy, Silversun Pickups' music leans more towards the 1990s alt rock sound which also explains the occasional similarity with The Smashing Pumpkins. (It's good that they use the abbreviation SSPU, otherwise they'd even share initials with the band in question!) Yet, the music is much more than grunge and angsty riffs played in flannel shirts. From the big opener "Melatonin" to the uptempo album closer "Common Reactor", the group showcases their talent and still somewhat unique sound on a variety of material. The band has released three albums to date, but like quite often with debuts, Carnavas is Silversun Pickups at their best. Take the aggressive but melancholic "Well Thought Out Twinkles", for example - one of their best moments so far - or the dreamy "Checkered Floor" and the previously mentioned "Rusted Wheel". Other highlights include "Waste It On" with its delicious amounts of bass guitar - it's all very 90s rock - the emotional "Three Seed" and "Dream at Tempo 119" that starts with an intro that could be a character theme from Doctor Who. I kid you not.

Silversun Pickups is an album-oriented band which is audible from their material: their singles are great, but so is the rest of the album - no fillers here. It's almost funny how nostalgic yet fresh this music sounds. Like the band introduced previously, Band of Skulls, SSPU might not be revolutionising rock music, as they both draw influences from the past, but they're both creating distinctive guitar-driven music that sounds fresh and still somehow new. Do yourself a favour and give the record a spin.

4½  /  5

Try at least: "Well Though Out Twinkles", "Lazy Eye", "Rusted Wheel", "Checkered Floor"

Introducing: Band of Skulls

We're living in times when rock music is not very fashionable and, to be honest, downright boring. Many of the "great rockers" are nowadays just middle-aged and self-absorbed and losing their touch. Take Liam Gallagher, for instance: all he ever does these days is bash other artists on pages of various music magazines while basking in his former glory. David Bowie is a pleasant surprise - his comeback album earlier this year was actually quite good, proving he isn't too obsessed with the past - but a large part of the hype around him and the release of the album, The Next Day, was created by the David Bowie exhibition held in the Victoria and Albert museum, with the exhibition obviously taking the fans down the memory lane. So there's that.

"But Muse's massive!" Supermassive, one might say. Sure, the group has given us some of the greatest new rock music, that's true. Yet, even they are suffering a little bit of megalomania with their latest stuff. Gone are the wonderfully simple and brilliant days of "Plug In Baby", "Cave" and "Stockholm Syndrome", now it's all rock dubstep (rockstep?) and whatnot for Muse. And what on earth was "Survival" supposed to be? 

It's not that rock music would be less important in any way - there's lots of new acts sprouting probably as we speak. Newer generations have certainly not abandoned rock. However, there are some serious problems with creativity and credibility. Rock music is flooded with rather generic guitar based, messy haired bands that fall in the category of landfill indie - what a wonderfully descriptive word. Basically, all the music sounds the same. And then they are photographed with ridiculous amounts of cigarettes and Ray-Ban sunglasses and soon they have NME drooling over them. Also, the term "rock star" is used way too liberally these days; I've heard people describe Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga as rock stars! What's wrong with the world?

All that being said, it's refreshing to find out that there is hope left. Alright, all the dramatising aside, there are some very unique bands out there. Bands such as Band of Skulls. (No, they're not goths. No, they don't make hardcore punk.) The UK is famous for its popular music scene and its rock scene makes no exception. Though still unfortunately under the radar of many, the Southampton-based indie rock group has actually been around since 2004, originally performing under the name 'Fleeing New York'. By the time of their debut album Baby Darling Doll Face Honey (2009) they had adopted a new name, the one they've been using ever since. Five years of recording demos and honing their own sound paid off, and the lead single "I Know What I Am" was promoted by iTunes as the Single of the Week. A non-album track, "Friends" was later featured in New Moon. Yup, New Moon as in the Twilight movie. Their sophomore album Sweet Sour was released in 2012, and was musically just as amazing as its predecessor, perhaps not adding anything particularly new in the mix but retaining the great quality nevertheless.

But how is their music like? Well, imagine your average indie rock band. A band that practices in someone's garage. Then they drink cheap beer, and their career highlight is when they get to play at the local bar. They're nothing like that. They do play rock, but instead of garage-y, it's bluesy. It's the kind of music you listen to while sitting in the dark on a window sill, sipping bourbon, watching the street lights and letting the smoke from your cigarette lazily form spirals in the air. But it's also the kind of music you listen to while you're driving around, or dance to when you're home alone wearing nothing but underwear, or jump to while spilling beer on your best mates in your favourite bar. Their music feels true, honest, and believable, which cannot always be taken for granted. The songs do have quite a range, as you might imagine. The White Stripes come to mind, in the best of ways. There are some brilliant ballads like the heartbreaking "Honest" and the wistful "Dull Gold Heart", but then there are the more triumphant, upbeat rockers such as "Death By Diamonds And Pearls" and "Bruises" and especially the pure awesomeness that is "The Devil Takes Care Of His Own". Don't worry, no need to memorise - they're all on the playlist.

Quite often the easiest way for lesser-known bands to get media exposure is through commercials, and so was it for Band of Skulls as well: most notably, two of their songs ("I Know What I Am" and "Patterns") were used in ads for Swatch, whereas "Light Of The Morning" appeared in a Mustang commercial. Furthermore, numerous songs of theirs have been featured in various TV series such as Skins, Gossip Girl, and True Blood and also in a variety of video games. They've also served as an opening act for Muse and Kasabian, two of the biggest British rock bands at the moment. So, they have received a lot of attention, which is great, and hopefully opens many new doors for them - especially now that they are, according to their Facebook page, currently recording a new album. Third time could be the charm for them in regard to a proper breakthrough. From what I've heard, they put up a brilliant show so you might want to see them live if you can. You absolutely should. Who knows, they might get surprisingly big with their next record - they've got the potential - and tour all your hometowns while promoting it. If there is any justice in the world, they will.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

MKS: The return of the 'Origibabes'

Now, the thing about Sugababes is that their musical output was quite often overshadowed by all the catfights and internal drama the group had, not to mention the continuous changes in the lineup, which has led to no original members being left in the current lineup, "Sugababes 4.0". However, as evidenced by their reunion officially announced in 2012, at least the first incarnation of the group has successfully buried the hatchet.

The trio - consisting of Sugababes founding members Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhán Donaghy, named not so cleverly 'Mutya Keisha Siobhan' (really?) - has an album coming out but unfortunately it won't come out until early 2014. Worry not, though, as they do have a couple of songs out already, the first one being their debut single "Flatline".

The song, while not really that remarkable, showcases the wonderful harmonies that Sugababes should really be remembered for. Judging by the song, MKS are apparently going for the Florence + the Machine kind of a big pop sound with nearly tribal drumming and everything, aren't they? Seriously, add some harp parts and her vocals and this would make an indistinguishable Florence song. Not that I don't like her, she's lovely.

[Edit: Yeah, I'm taking it back. After only one day of earworming this song has inevitably grown on me. I suppose it just needs a couple of listens to really open up.]

Not so fast, though: they do have another song out, too! Well, kind of. Earlier this year their producer Dev Hynes uploaded a brand new MKS song on Soundcloud. Heavily sampling Kendrick Lamar's 2012 single "Swimming Pools (Drank)" (or perhaps being more of an interpretation of it), the track features a much more urban sound than "Flatline" and, to be honest, is about a thousand times more exciting. Too bad Hynes announced that the dark-sounding "Lay Down In Swimming Pools", complete with their trademark harmonies, will not be included on their forthcoming album - except it will, albeit in a new version, as confirmed in the group's Idolator interview.

In addition, there is some other new stuff floating around in the internet, namely Youtube, but it's all live footage captured with mobile phones so the quality is what it is. Meanwhile, enjoy the two tracks above!

PJ Harvey releases new material

PJ Harvey has released a new song titled "Shaker Aamer". It is her first new song since the award-winning masterpiece Let England Shake which was released to universal critical acclaim in 2011. Musically it follows the footsteps of her previous album, though the structure is quite simple and - might I say - unordinary. However, the importance of the song, recorded for the charity Reprieve, lies not in the musical arrangement but in the meaningful lyrics, grimly describing the horrors of Guantanamo Bay. The song is available on Soundcloud where you can also download it for free.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Introducing: The Asteroids Galaxy Tour

It's about time for an actual blog post. I had a bit of a writer's block regarding this - all the pressure! - so I decided to use a relatively easy theme as an inspiration: my own life. I'm moving to Denmark in less than a month so writing about something Denmark-related feels fitting. What does the country have to offer, then? 

Considering this is a music blog I'll skip all the smørrebrøds and H.C. Andersen fairy tales and concentrate on what I know best - the music. Denmark has a vibrant indie/pop/rock scene, and has spawned the likes of Mew, Alphabeat, Volbeat (what is it about the word 'beat'?), The Raveonettes and, um, Aqua. Yes, the "Barbie Girl" hitmakers. Another Danish band worth mentioning is The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, an indie pop group formed in Copenhagen.

Formed in 2007 as a duo consisting of singer Mette Lindberg and producer Lars Iversen, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour are one of the most exciting acts to emerge from the Scandinavian indie scene. The lengthy-named band combines 60s pop with a modern approach, creating wonderful, summery pop in the process. Though their first album Fruit was released in 2009, they had earned international media exposure beforehand with some of their songs being featured in several TV series, including Gossip Girl and Mad Men, but most importantly, in an Apple iPod Touch commercial, which catapulted them into a global spotlight. The song, "Around the Bend", became their greatest hit to date. In 2011 they were also featured in a Heineken advert with the song "The Golden Age". Out of Frequency, the follow-up to their 2009's debut album saw the light of day in early 2012, preceded by the lead single "Major".

Their signature psychedelic pop sound has conquered many hearts around the world, even earning the band an opening slot for both Amy Winehouse and Katy Perry, while Mette made an appearance on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, a British music-themed panel show. According to their Facebook page the band is currently touring Europe, so if you get a chance to see them live, do not miss it. I might also review their albums individually but you'll have to wait for that. While you're waiting, you might as well get acquainted with their music on your own - such funky pop-soul will make the perfect soundtrack to the rest of your summer! And what would be a better way to do that than a custom-made Spotify playlist, only for you my friend!