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Who needs guitars anyway?

Best Bits
Monday, March 31, 2008

Top of the Poptastic!

March's best singles from around the world...

1. Robyn – Who’s That Girl (UK release)
2. September - Cry For You (UK release)
3. Maia Hirasawa - The Worrying Kind
4. Delays - Hooray
5. Charlotte Perelli - Hero
6. Shout Out Louds - Tonight I Have To Leave It (UK release)
7. Linda Bengtzing - Hur Svårt Kan Det Va
8. Rongedal - Just A Minute
9. Håkan Hellström - För En Lång Lång Tid
10. Madonna & Justin Timberlake - 4 Minutes
11. Wynter Gordon - Surveillance
12. Astrid Swan - As Long As It's Not You
13. The Script – We Cry
14. Elin Ruth Sigvardsson - Heart-Attack
15. Rooney - I Should've Been After You
16. Leon Jean Marie - Bed Of Nails
17. The Feeling - Without You
18. Adele - Cold Shoulder
19. E-Type & the Poodles - Line Of Fire
20. Kate Ryan - L.I.L.Y (Like I Love You)
21. Brit & Alex - Let It Go
22. Ben's Brother - Kiss Me Again (Stuttering)
23. Jamie Lidell - Little Bit of Feel Good
24. Cahill ft. Nikki Belle - Trippin' On You
25. Stefanie Heinzmann - My Man Is A Mean Man

I just discovered that not only is Cry For You getting a UK release, but it's on the Radio 1 playlist, meaning it should be a sizeable success in the dance world at least. Exciting! It's doing better than Satellites did already, might even get an actual CD release instead of stalling after a few plays on The Box, as Satellites unfortunately did.
Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Next Big Thing?

FM Belfast
I really wanted to like this group, because they're quite pretty and cool-looking, and they're fron Iceland, one of the world's acest countries. I wasn't convinced by the first 2 songs on their MySpace, but those that followed were much more appealing, positioning FM Belfast as the Icelandic answer to The Knife. I particularly like Tropical, but like The Knife, although they're interesting and sometimes enjoyable, I wouldn't want to listen to a whole album at once.
Hit Potential: 25% Poptasticness: 60%

Frank Hamilton
The music world is not lacking in young lads playing acoustic indie music at the moment, but there's a sense of humility and unpretentiousness about Frank Hamilton which makes me prefer him to most of the others. His music is jolly and lyrics are realist but not in the self-important way of Jack Penate or Jamie T. He's not proclaiming himself to be the voice of the youth of today, he's just playing some nice music with thoughtful lyrics.
Hit Potential: 40% Poptasticness: 70%
Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sort of exciting news!

You may remember my obsession with a very little-known English/Icelandic male/female duo called The Honeymoon who supported Darren Hayes on tour and released an amazing album called Dialogue a few years ago. They disappeared and the Icelandic girl, Thorunn, was later spotted as a member of super-bores Fields. Now it's the turn of the English boy, Wayne (who was also a member of Catch, but doesn't seem to mention this anywhere!), to have another go at success. He is the frontman of a new country band called Boy Cried Wolf. It's not the most poptastic of sounds, but his voice is lovely, if only cos it reminds me of those amazing Honeymoon songs. It does have a beautiful gentleness (shown for example in When You Cry You Cry Alone), however, and his ability to write incredible songs surely still exists. The Honeymoon's songs were growers, so I'm going to spend some time with these tracks, and see if an obsession emerges. I'll definitely be going to see the band when they play Brighton's Great Escape Festival in May.
Monday, March 17, 2008

Dirrrty Pop Review: Taio Cruz - Departure

Having realised that I have only bought one album in 2008 so far (Sara Berg for £3.99 in the Resident sale), I decided to take action and purchase the first album of the entire year which I've actually felt compelled to hear, on its day of release. That would be Departure by Taio Cruz, interestingly sharing its title with the new album by Jesse McCartney, an act I am even more surprised by my recent peak of interest in.

Despite having quite a taste for a soulful voice and a sassy beat, my following of UK r'n'b has never before stretched further than owning two Jamelia albums, and listening a lot to Conner Reeves 'back in the day'. Taio Cruz caught my attention because, as Alex MacPherson accurately noted in his Guardian mini-review of this album, he neither panders to the American trends (see Craig David) nor fits the mould of typical British urban acts (see Kano). Being far from the buffest hottie on the block, Taio worked his way up as a songwriter and producer, working with such an eclectic mix as Will Young, Britney Spears and Usher. Last year he had a little success with two singles, I Just Wanna Know and Moving On, both of which I enjoyed quite passively, but it wasn't until around New Year this year I heard Come On Girl on Radio 1 one evening, that I fully took notice of this young prodigy.

Realising instantly that this song had potential to be huge, I was excited when it started getting fitting recognition from important places in the music media, and looked forward to hearing more from Taio. What makes Come On Girl special is that it retains Taio's r'n'b origins while, with the help of the fabulous Luciana, branching into the kind of electro-pop which is currently very popular. With this song, Taio breaks out of the limitations of being a British urban act of African descent, in a way that someone like Nathan, for example, hasn't managed, because unfortunately black artists in the UK do need to appeal to the middle-class white men who still control the charts via the music media.

Having enjoyed all of his releases so far, and reading in a Popjustice interview that Taio definitely considered himself and aimed to be a pop star, I was then certain that his album needed to be purchased. I was surprised to find the first track to be a ballad, but soon realised why as its an excellent track, which has a similar vibe to Rihanna's recent work, fitting since he did almost end up releasing Umbrella. I expected the 3 singles to be the best tracks on Departure, and while Come On Girl is realistically unbeatable, everything else on the album is up to the standard of Moving On and I Just Wanna Know, if not better. The uplifting I Can Be, intricate I'll Never Love Again and anthemic Fly Away are my particular recommendations, while She's Like A Star is worth hearing so you can make up your own mind as to how inspired he was by Corinne Bailey Rae's similarly titled hit.
Sunday, March 16, 2008

On the subject of unexpected occurences...

involving Scandinavian popstars: Details of Robyn's new album are being printed in The Sun, and Alphabeat recently appeared on Richard & Judy. It's a funny old world!

Dirrrty Pop Review: Marit Bergman Live

Being a fan of foreign pop music has led me into some rather strange situations over the years. I've watched Melody Club with only 4 other people, been to a Russian Winter Festival to see Dima Bilan, and now I've sat among Brighton's poshest middle-aged music fans at a Kathryn Williams concert in order to catch Marit Bergman live, after many years of patient waiting.

I've been to a few sitting-down concerts (Rufus, Darren etc.) but never before one with tables set out like a restaurant. Since I failed in persuading any of my student chums that they wanted to pay £15 to watch a singer they'd never heard of play for 25 minutes, I went on my own, and felt like quite the outcast among all the groups of 40 or 50-somethings having a nice meal out with wine and live music. This was also the first time I've got back from a night-time concert by 9pm, having escaped as soon as Marit left the stage.

It was hard to tell what the audience thought of Marit, as they were of course very polite, and I don't know enough about Kathryn Williams to gage how receptive they'd be to someone like Marit. Her voice is certainly not classically trained, but it's beautiful in its quirky Swedish way, and suits all of her songs perfectly. If you've listened to Marit's lyrics you'll know how witty and cool she is, and this showed through in her little speeches between songs, so I was glad to get to see her in England and be able to understand everything.

She sang 3 songs I knew well (Mama I Remember You Now, No Party and I Will Always Be Your Soldier) and 3 that were new to me, including one she'd never sung live before, inspired by a journey to Aberdeen, and one she wrote for Kylie but "silly Kylie didn't want it"! She introduced said song by claiming that Kylie made her think of two things, gays and sex, so the song was about gay sex, although from having heard the song I think she was probably joking as there was nothing I spotted which was an obvious allusion to such acts. It was actually a beautiful song, and would have surely been a better first single for Miss Minogue's last album than Two Hearts. I think an album needs to be made of songs Kylie's turned down, because from hearing this and Ready For The Floor I can only imagine how great the rest must be!
Thursday, March 13, 2008

What's the deal with this pop life?

I mentioned in my last post that I wasn't excited about much pop music at the moment, but there are a few things that I'm celebrating (mainly belatedly), so I feel I should share them with you...

Danish jolly-pop
This year so far has been the year of the Danes for me. Although none of them were released in 2008, the most recent CDs by Alphabeat, Junior Senior and especially Private have definitely been my most listened to and loved in the last 10 weeks.

Darren Hayes
I didn't have the time to fully engage with his latest album when it was released, and after realising from a few listens that it was a disappointment compared to his previous work, I shyed away from giving it any more attention, lest I really fell out of love with my favourite Aussie. Now I'm finally getting to know the songs, finding favourites (Listen All You People is my current love) and realising that it may not be his greatest moment but just by being Darren's work it's better than most things in the world.

Gavin DeGraw and Delays' new albums
The makers of two of my favourite CDs ever are soon to release the follow-ups, so of course I'm very excited, and the lead singles from each are very satisfying. Gavin's is no departure from his past sound, which is good news for me, and the Delays seem to have gone a little more acoustic but even more jolly than ever, which is a very positive thing. I can't wait to hear more!

MGMT - Time To Pretend
I'd been listening to this song, and loving it (they're like Arcade Fire mixed with Under the Influence of Giants!), for a few months before I realised that they were any sort of big deal. Now it's out as a UK single, their album is being advertised on TV, and they've released this brilliant video too. My plan now is to research the rest of their music - any recommendations?
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

American Idol 2008: The Top 12

I have to admit I haven't really been keeping up with music very much lately, and the new stuff I have heard, with the exceptions of Private's album and BWO's new single, hasn't been especially inspiring. However, I have been following the music TV shows as usual and along with Melodifestivalen, American Idol has been a weekly highlight for me lately. Last night was the first big live show with the final 12 contestants, an exciting time because it now becomes clear who is really in the running this year.

I used to write on here a lot more about these talent shows, but as the format has been repeated year after year, the winners have come into a musical category of their own, rarely having much effect on the genres of music they individually belong to. There are the odd breakout stars, such as Chris Daughtry and Leona Lewis, who've become successful as musical acts as opposed to just talent show contestants, but because of the creation of this separate category I don't feel like writing about the contestants as though they might have an effect on pop music is really relevant. Therefore, I'm not going to write about the contestants individually, but I do want to mention a few of my favourites, and also comment on an issue that last night's show brought up for me.

So, who do I think's going to win this year? Well it already seems like the judges have decided it will be David Archuleta, and who can blame them when he's a cute little lad with an adorable personality, great singing voice and playing the game perfectly by ticking off each of the typical mum's favourite songs week by week. It's hard to imagine him not winning, and it's rare to have such an obvious winner from so early in the competition (even before the live shows it seemed clear), but it is quite possible that someone else will edge him out of the way, because someone being such a far-ahead frontrunner gives huge capacity for an underdog to come through, just like with Leon and Rhydian last year. It's lucky therefore that there's no-one as direly dull as Leon in the AI top 12!

In this case I still think that David will scoop the title, and will be happy to see him do so as he's such a lovely boy, but I fully expect him to have a dip for the next few weeks (already beginning with some negative comments this week) before peaking again in the final stages. This is because there's no way the public's attention won't slip at least a little in the next 10 weeks, but David is such an obvious winner that I can't see the desire to support an underdog superseding his being completely made for this kind of show. As for who that underdog will be, Simon has suggested David Cook, and I do think he is in with a chance as he's been improving both musically and visually - the better he performs the more cute he seems to be, which is not a thought I expected to have about this guy at all! Whatever happens, it seems a pretty safe bet that the winner will be a David, but of course these shows can also be counted on for surprises.

Otherwise, I love Brooke White and Jason Castro, but don't see them as winners, although I expect them to have nice careers after the show. Carly Smithson and Michael Johns are both getting strong support from the show but I don't know if the audience are quite into it, as with Amanda Overmeyer who is a cool girl but won't go down well with the grannies, or with me to be honest. As for the two black contestants (strangely few compared to past seasons), I'm a fan of both Syesha Mercado and Chikezie (or Jacuzzi, as it's impossible not to call him), especially the latter who has improved vastly and has a great personality. The other girls, Kristy Lee Cook and Ramiele Malubay, are both quite alright, but I'll be incredibly shocked if they get further than the top 8. The other boy is David Hernandez, who is somewhat forgettable but I do enjoy his performances and like him as a person, so I hope he'll come into his own in the next few weeks and stick around a while.

Last night's show had the theme of the Beatles, and it was the first time AI had been allowed to use their songs - amusingly they've been refused for years, while Fame Academy had a Beatles week back in 2003. I'm pretty neutral on the subject of the Beatles, because unlike most people my parents didn't play their music when I was a child, preferring Motown and ABBA, hence (I like to think) my current excellent taste. Of course as I've grown up, being a music fan, I've got to know plenty of Beatles songs, but I do always feel a little inadequate when everyone's singing along to their songs and, in stark contrast to usual sing-along situations, I'm the one who doesn't know the words. While I have no strong dislike of their music (in fact I find it pretty jolly, and have a few particular favourites such as If I Fell and From Me To You), there's something that, from an outsider's perspective, is really scary about how people are simply not allowed to say that a Beatles song is bad.

On last night's show, the music was treated as something completely beyond any other band's output, without any hint of doubt about this fact. I don't have a problem with people speaking of their favourite band in this way (dogmatism is always annoying but it's hard to avoid if you want to write passionately about music), but when these opinions come out of people's mouths with the speaker obviously never contemplating whether it's their opinion or someone else's, that's quite a bizarre and disconcerting thing. In fact it's this ideology that, as Michael Johns put it, "You're not a real musician if you haven't been affected by the Beatles", which has put me off ever delving into their back-catalogue, despite the likelihood that I will like a lot of it.
Saturday, March 01, 2008

Top of the Poptastic!

The best pop of February...

1. BWO - Lay Your Love On Me
2. Gavin DeGraw - In Love With A Girl
3. Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown - No Air
4. Amy Diamond - Thank You
5. Alcazar - We Keep On Rockin'
6. Leona Lewis - Better In Time
7. Velvet - Déja Vu
8. Girls Aloud - Can't Speak French
9. The Moldy Peaches - Anyone Else But You
10. Sugababes - Denial
11. OneRepublic - Stop And Stare
12. Ola - Love In Stereo
13. Cherish - Killa
14. Ferras - Hollywood's Not America
15. The Ting Tings - Great DJ
16. Duffy - Mercy
17. Gabriella Cilmi - Sweet About Me
18. Guillemots - Get Over It
19. Black Kids - I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance
20. Asia Cruise - Selfish

Also I have to note that both Alphabeat and BWO are currently on the Radio 2 playlist - now we know for sure it is super-superior to Radio 1!

Melodifestivalen Round 4

This is the final round before the second chance and the final, so it's the last time we'll hear new songs. Let's hope there are some great ones, although maybe not too good as they'll ruin BWO's chances!

Niklas Strömstedt - För många ord om kärlek
I don't know much about Niklas but he seems terribly uncool in a Cliff Richard but Swedish kind of way. It was interested to hear that he was in a "boyband", a term I put in inverted commas since even at the time he was 36.

Calaisa - If I Could
This female quartet are supposed to be a Swedish version of The Corrs or Dixie Chicks, and I guess the comparison is fitting. Still, those 2 bands both have several songs more interesting than this one. It's certainly no Not Ready To Make Nice. A pleasant enough song, but not going to bowl anyone over.

Daniel Mitsogiannis - Pame
This guy (who I've never heard of before) seems to be going for the Greek/Cypriot audience. However, the song was actually the creation Fredrik Kempe and Henrik Wikström, regular MF contributors, and those behind last year's great success (in the Swedish charts and hearts at least), Cara Mia by Måns Zelmerlöw. If you imagine Cara Mia with a hint of southern hip-swivelling and a chorus in Greek, you've got Pame. Watch out for the super-gay backing singers!

Linda Bengtzing - Hur svårt kan det va?
I've loved Linda's past entries to MF, especially her first, Alla Flickor, so was naturally very excited about this one, and very pleased to find she'd stuck to her usual style of cute schlager-pop with a great chorus. The backing dancers were rather over-choreographed, and I'm not sure if it's quite up to Alla Flickor, but still I'm very much in favour of this going through to the final, as I'm also quite confident it will.

Nordman - I Lagornas Sken
I really disliked the last song Nordman did for Melodifestivalen and was annoyed that it got to the finals, but I didn't remember them being this scary! What's with the mopey girl wandering aimlessly about the stage in her nightie?

Sibel - That Is Where I'll Go
I heard Sibel, an Idol contestant from 2005, on Rix FM last week singing a fun cover of Hard Rock Hallelujah, so I was interested to hear what her song would be like. Sadly it's a boring ballad, which tries far too hard to be dramatic.

Fronda - Ingen mår så bra som jag
Apparently this guy is a rapper but that's all I know since I can't find the song anywhere to listen to (I'm reviewing after the event as I was out, not actually watching the UK finals).

Charlotte Perelli - Hero
It's nice to see she's doing a glittery disco-pop song instead of the ballad I feared. This is typical Melodifestivalen music, and I'll be very surprised if it doesn't get through... although nothing is predictable in this contest after the Androla drama! I don't think it's as good as her Eurovision-winning entry from 1999, Take Me To Your Heaven, but it's still certainly one of the best entries of 2008, and would be a perfectly acceptable winner of MF. Exciting fact: Charlotte is pronounced somewhat like "hwarlotte" in Swedish!

The results are in and I'm fairly content: Linda and Charlotte are through, but Nordman and Sibel are into Andra Chansen. Both the ladies should do well in the final but I do believe Charlotte will have the edge, and she along with Sanna Nielsen are my ones-to-watch when said final occurs in two weeks' time, although of course I also have hopes for BWO and would like to see Amy Diamond and Linda do well.

Now I'm just going to ignore what's going on closer to home in relation to Eurovision. It is too, too depressing.

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