Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July New Releases

June was a pretty good month, with new releases from Little Boots, La Roux, Moby and others. Sadly, July's not quite as interesting, but here's a few to look out for.

Key Releases

Jordin Sparks - Battlefield (July 20/21)
The American Idolette releases her sophomore set. "Battlefield" is climbing top 40 radio charts, although not burning them up the way her last major hit "No Air" did. Still, with many of the current big name collaborators on board (Max Martin, Stargate, Ryan Tedder, etc.) this is sure to be at least a well produced affair, if not a major hit.

Florence and the Machine - Lungs (July 6)
Florence and the Machine, along with Little Boots and La Roux, is another female pop act that's gotten a lot of buzz this year who's releasing her debut this summer. Frankly, of those three, I'm least interested in this, but willing to check it out. "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" is already out.

The Dead Weather - Horehound (July 13/14)
Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) releases yet another band, this time a superband with members from The Kills, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Raconteurs--making this one of the rare supergroups formed with a member from the founding member's other side-project bands, oh Jack). Rarely has Mr. White disappointed, so my expectations for this dark, bluesy work are high.

VV Brown - Traveling Like the Light (July 20)
I'm hopeful that the release of her debut album will give VV Brown some deserved attention. "Crying Blood" and "Shark in the Water" are both great singles. Yes, she's doing the retro soul/pop thing, but she sounds great, so this could be a fun summer release.

Other releases

Cascada - Evacuate the Dancefloor (July 6) - I recently learned that you can "evacuate" a building, but you should never say that "people were evacuated," as that means to give them enemas. Anyway, this dance pop dame has a new album out.

Daughtry - Leave This Town (July 13/14) - The American Idol alum releases his second album, with current hit "No Surprises."

Dan Black - ((UN)) (July 13) - This was supposed to come out already, but got pushed back.

Demi Lovato - Here We Go Again (July 21) - Do we? Again?

Frankmusic - Complete Me (July 27)

Reverend And The Makers - A French Kiss In The Chaos (July 27) - Rememeber "Heavyweight Champion of the World?" Well, I liked it. Here they come with album number two.

Tinchy Stryder - Catch 22 (July 27) - With "Number 1" having been a recent UK #1, Tinchy Stryder's new album should receive a fair share of attention. Next single, "Never Leave You," features Amelle Berrabah from the Sugababes

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson Albums

Lots of people are snatching up Michael Jackson's back catalog. For some, it's a first time exposure, for others (like me), it's filling in gaps. Here's a quick look at the singer's 10 albums (note that I don't own the first four albums, so they are not reviewed, just featured).

Got to Be There (1972)
Jackson's first of his four Motown-era solo albums was perhaps his most successful, giving him several top 10 hits in both the US and the UK. The album isn't particularly innovative--it has several remakes, including of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," which was only a year old at the time--but it does have some charm. Best: Got to Be There

Ben (1972)
This second album, released the same year, appears to be more of the same--sweet Motown songs, including several remakes ("My Girl," for example). This album is most notable for its one and only single, title track "Ben," which was Jackson's first solo #1 hit. It's probably the most beautiful song you'll ever hear about a rat. Best: Ben

Music & Me (1973)
Jackson's third album had no hits of note, so there's not much I can say about it. What I've heard sounds really slow. The album peaked at #92 in the US.

Forever, Michael (1975)
Michael's fourth album was also not a major hit; however, unlike Music & Me, it did give him a top 40 hit in "Just a Little Bit of You." More notably, another track, the quite lovely "One Day in Your Life," would wind up Jackson's first UK #1 hit 6 years later. His voice very clearly changed with this album. Best: One Day in Your Life

Off the Wall (1979) (4.5/5)
This is where the magic of Jackson's solo career really got going. Leaving Motown for Epic Records, as well as the production skills of Quincy Jones, gave Jackson an enduring set of fresh, energetic disco, funk, R&B and pop, that many consider second only to Thriller. Although the last few tracks are a little weak, there's little not to like about this fun album. Best: Rock with You, She's Out of My Life, Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough, Get on the Floor, Off the Wall

Thriller (1982) (5/5)
What's there to say about Thriller that hasn't already been said? It's probably the most important pop album ever recorded, effortlessly weaving elements of R&B, rock, and dance music together into a perfect pop package. I love how all the upbeat songs have such distinctive synth basslines ("Billie Jean's" bassline has to be the most iconic bassline ever). It was the first album to score 7 top 10 hits. It's the best-selling album of all time. It still holds up and always will. Best: Billie Jean, Beat It, Thriller, Wanna Be Startin' Something, The Girl Is Mine, P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing), Human Nature, Baby Be Mine, The Lady of My Life

Bad (1987) (5/5)
Bad was my first Michael Jackson album, and I loved it to death back in 1987. It holds the record for the most #1 hits from album--five--and manages to pack quite a few other gems as well. The dance pop shines from meticulous production (love that bassline on "The Way You Make Me Feel"), but the ballads are really quite good too, both the do-gooder "Man in the Mirror" and the love duet "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." Best: Man in the Mirror, Bad, The Way You Make Me Feel, I Just Can't Stop Loving You, Liberian Girl, Smooth Criminal

Dangerous (1991)(4/5)
This is where Jackson's musical career started to decline, although when you start from such a high peak, this still looks like a massive success: Another major #1 hit ("Black or White"), 7 top 40 hits, etc. Jackson parted ways with Quincy Jones and enlisted Teddy Riley and Bill Bottrell to craft this album in the New Jack Swing vein, the R&B sound popular at the time. As such, Dangerous feels more rooted to its time than his prior two albums. The album's first half suffers from a peculiar sameness to the songs, although there are some good ones there (namely "Remember the Time"). The second half is thankfully more varied. Best: Remember the Time, Black or White, Will You Be There, Who Is It, In the Closet

History (1995) (4/5)
History is a messy album, but I actually rather liked most of it. It's edgier than Dangerous, although it has its treacly moments too. But when it's on point it works well, such as the upbeat duet with sister Janet on "Scream" or paranoia-fueled tracks like "They Don't Care About Us" and "Stranger in Moscow," which is a particularly nice ballad. Credit R. Kelly for producing the album's best moment, the ballad "You Are Not Alone." Best: You Are Not Alone, Stranger in Moscow, Scream, They Don't Care About Us, This Time Around, History

Invincible (2001) (2.5/5)
It's a shame that Michael Jackson's final album was a disappointment. The songs are largely uninteresting, and it doesn't help that the first three are sound like they were cut from the same tuneless beat-driven R&B cloth popular at the time. A couple of good songs come in the middle--the lead single "You Rock My World" and unusual ballad "Butterflies--before the album becomes schmaltzy with the usual songs about changing the world and children. Best: You Rock My World, Butterflies, Whatever Happens

UK Singles Chart, 7/4/2009

1. Bulletproof - La Roux

This is how to launch a new act. Back in January, La Roux was much-tipped as one of the year's hottest breakouts. Back then preview single "Quicksand" was kicking around. Then in the spring came first official single, "In for the Kill," which became a massive #2 hit--currently the third best-selling single of the year. Now, with their debut album set for release tomorrow, duo La Roux land their first #1 hit with "Bulletproof." Meanwhile, "In for the Kill" remains hot, currently #16.

4. Paparazzi - Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa climbs another 4 spots to #4. Definitely a #1 contender within the next 2 weeks.

11. Man in the Mirror - Michael Jackson
23. Thriller - Michael Jackson
25. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
28. Smooth Criminal - Michael Jackson
30. Beat It - Michael Jackson
38. Earth Song - Michael Jackson

The Thursday evening death of Michael Jackson set off quite the buying frenzy all over the world, as nostalgic fans snapped up the singer's albums and singles in a sales volume unseen for the artist in years. While in the US, such sales will not be reflected in next week's charts, due to rules about recurrent and catalog sales not charting. In the UK, however, since the relaxation of such rules, anything goes, so it's quite thrilling to see so many of Jackson's hits show up in the top 40. One of them, "Man in Mirror," reaches a new peak position at #11.

Jackson also did well on the albums chart this week. His hits collection Number Ones is this week's #1 album, knocking Kasabian from their perch.

12. Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) - Florence and the Machine

Florence and the Machine is the stagename for singer Florence Welch plus collaborators. She's one of this year's much-buzzed about new artists. "Rabbit Heart" is her first top 40 hit. I'm kind of lukewarm about this one, although I've been listening to it all week, and it has grown on me a bit (but not a lot).

13. Heartbreak Make Me a Dancer - Freemasons Featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor

I was hoping to see this in the top 10, but it falls a bit short. Still it's nice to hear Sophie's voice in the top 40.

21. Raindrops - Basement Jaxx

It's been 3 years since Basement Jaxx have had a top 40 hit. Best known for top 10 hits like "Red Alert" and "Where's Your Head At," "Raindrops" is the group's 17th top 40 hit.

29. Work - The Saturdays

The Saturdays are up 2 spots this week. "Work" gets its CD release tomorrow--will it become their fifth top 10 hit next weekend?

31. Never Forget You - The Noisettes

"Never Forget You" becomes the Noisettes' second top 40 hit, although quite a ways short of their last single, "Don't Upset the Rhythm," which hit #2.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Best of 2000s: Embrace - Out of Nothing (4.5/5)

By the middle of this decade, the band that everyone wanted to be was Coldplay, so it's no surprise that bands like Keane and Snow Patrol suddenly found themselves popular, and even other bands that hadn't really sound like Coldplay churned out some mellow-ish piano+guitar albums during this time (see Athlete, Feeder, and Supegrass, for example). Embrace did them all one better though--they actually got Coldplay to write them a song! And it's a lovely one too--"Gravity" was one of my favorite songs of 2004, and so good that I picked up this album from a band I'd never heard of, whose careers resurged with this work ("Gravity" was their first top 10 hit in 6 years). Elsewhere, the band shows remarkable range, going for U2-esque stadium rock grandeur on opening "Ashes" to the intimacy of closing piano ballad "Out of Nothing." In between, the general mood is uplifting with sunrise-chasing songs like "Someday" and tender love songs like "A Glorious Day" and "Looking As You Are."

Best: Gravity, A Glorious Day, Ashes, Someday, Out of Nothing, Looking As You Are

Friday, June 26, 2009

Personal Chart, 6/27/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Mama Do - Pixie Lott (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Release Me - Agnes (1 wk @ #1)
3 .... 3 .... New in Town - Little Boots
4 ... 10 ... When Love Takes Over - David Guetta & Kelly Rowland
5 .... 7 .... Lovegame - Lady GaGa
6 .... 6 .... I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson
7 .... 4 .... Red - Daniel Merriweather (2 wks @ #1)
8 .... 9 .... Please Don't Leave Me - Pink
9 ... 11 .... Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry
10 .. 15 ... Bulletproof - La Roux

Jackson's Death's Chart Impact

Michael Jackson's death has had an unbelievable impact at iTunes. Currently, 9 of the top 10 albums and 6 of the top 10 singles are his. It's interesting what people are choosing too (I'll admit, I took the opportunity to round out my singles collection and finally purchase Off the Wall). Here are the current top 10 albums and singles.

iTunes top 10 albums, 6/26/09 4:50 PM EDT
1. Michael Jackson - The Essential Michael Jackson
2. Michael Jackson - Thriller
3. Michael Jackson - Number Ones
4. Michael Jackson - Off the Wall
5. Michael Jackson - Thriller (25th Anniversary)
6. Michael Jackson - Bad
7. Michael Jackson - The Ultimate Collection
8. Michael Jackson - Dangerous
9. Black Eyed Peas - The E.N.D.
10. Michael Jackson - Greatest Hits (HIStory Volume 1)

iTunes top 10 singles

1. "I Gotta Feeling" - Black Eyed Peas
2. "Man in the Mirror" - Michael Jackson
3. "Thriller" - Michael Jackson
4. "The Way You Make Me Feel" - Michael Jackson
5. "Boom Boom Pow" - Black Eyed Peas
6. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" - Michael Jackson
7. "Smooth Criminal" - Michael Jackson
8. "Fire Burning" - Sean Kingston
9. "Best I Ever Had" - Drake
10. "Black or White" - Michael Jackson

In fact 39 of the top 100 singles are currently his (some appear multiple times, depending on what album it's been purchased from). Others:

11. "Billie Jean"
13. "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)"
15. "Beat It"
17. "Rock With You"
20. "Bad"
26. "Remember the Time"
28. "Dirty Diana"
30. "You Are Not Alone"
32. "Human Nature"
35. "Beat It"
38. "Thriller"

Beat It, Billie Jean, P.Y.T., Smooth Criminal and Thriller all appear 3 times. Of course, none of these will appear on the Billboard charts, since they're all recurrent/catalog releases. Maybe they'll do something special.

Billboard Hot 100, 7/4/2009

1. Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas

Independence Day it may be next weekend, but free from the Black Eyed Peas we are not, as the group extends its run at #1 to 12 weeks. As such, it ties Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and Usher's "Yeah!" as the second longest stay at #1 this decade, behind only the 14 weeks Mariah Carey had with "We Belong Together." Along with "Smooth," "Boom Boom Pow" and the aforementioned Eminem and Usher tracks are tied as the 10th longest stay at #1 ever.

2. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

I thought this might drop, but Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" holds at #2 for a second week, with a bullet no less.

3. Best I Ever Had - Drake
10. Every Girl - Young Money

Canadian R&B artist Drake makes a big splash in the top 10 this week, jumping up 24 spots with two separate songs, earning both gainer awards in the process. First up at #3 is his first top 40 hit, "Best I Ever Had," which is this week's airplay gainer, up 24 spots from #27. At #10 is "Every Girl" by Young Money, a rap supergroup formed by Lil' Wayne for his Young Money Entertainment label that also includes Drake. "Every Girl" is the sales gainer, up 24 spots from #37.

30. New Divide - Linkin Park
31. Battlefield - Jordin Sparks

Both of these songs return to the top 40 this week, their airplay having presumably caught up with their initial release sales.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson, 1958 - 2009

It's almost unbelievable that the biggest pop star of my lifetime has just died. While his star has certainly faded in recent years--damaged by financial, legal and other troubles--at a time he was on top of the world. Particularly during the '80s, where his Thriller album became the decade's defining pop masterpiece. When I started listening to pop music in 1987, Jackson was just beginning his string of #1 hits from Bad--"I Just Can't Stop Loving You," "Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Man in the Mirror," and "Dirty Diana." His 1991 New Jack Swing album Dangerous gave him a major #1 hit in "Black or White" and a fantastic video for "Remember the Time." 1995's History was his last set nominated for the Grammy Album of the Year, an award he won for Thriller, and was also nominated for with Bad. Sadly, his last album, 2001's Invincible was unremarkable, but prior to that he left a legacy of quality pop music that stretched back to his Jackson 5 Motown days. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, dead at 50.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mariah Carey "Obsessed"

Mariah Carey's new single "Obsessed" hit radio last week. What do you think? Frankly, I'm not really that into it, but maybe it will grow on me. Hopefully her upcoming album will have better songs. In the meantime, check out J. Mensah's fantastic Mariah Carey discography rundown.

Monday, June 22, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 6/27/2009

1. When Love Takes Over - David Guetta & Kelly Rowland

Nice to see dance music at #1 again in the UK isn't it? Especially when it's this good. French DJ David Guetta scored a major hit 3 years ago when he hit #3 with "Love Don't Let Me Go (Walking Away)." He followed it a year later with another top 10 hit, "Love Don't Let Me Go." Paired now with Kelly Rowland, the former member of super girlgroup Destiny's Child, Guetta scores his first #1 hit. Rowland's got to be happy about it as well. Although her solo career has seen more success in the UK than back home in the US, she hasn't hit #1 since being featured on Nelly's "Dilemma" 7 years ago. This is the second DJ/performer collaboration to hit #1 recently--Dizzee Rascal and Armand Van Helden's "Bonkers" having topped the chart for 2 weeks last month. Another such matchup may be a #1 contender next week (more to follow).

5. Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo

It's third week in the top 10, Keri Hilson's "Knock You Down" climbs a spot to #5, making it her second top 5 hit after "The Way I Are" (w/Timbaland). Over the course of the last week, I've grown to actually quite like this song, and I'm glad to see it continue to climb. I'm hopeful in the US it will be a #1 hit.

8. Paparazzi - Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa looks ready to fight for a third #1 hit. Still a couple weeks away from a physical release and "Paparazzi" is already #8. "Poker Face," her last #1, crept around the top 40 for 9 weeks before hitting the top spot.

9. Said It All - Take That

After "Up All Night" petered out at #14, I was worried that Take That's Circus looked like it had already run out of steam. Thankfully, the third single turns things around a bit, becoming the group's 21st top 40 hit, and the 18th to make it to the top 10.

11. Battlefield - Jordin Sparks

Also ready to do battle for #1 so is Jordin Sparks, whose "Battlefield" is up 10 spots to #11 this week, one week ahead of its CD release. Among the three singles from her first album, only "No Air" was a top 10 hit, peaking at #3.

15. Heartbreak Make Me a Dancer - Freemasons Featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Here's that other DJ/performaner collaboration, the 10th top 40 hit for dance pop diva Sophie Ellis-Bextor. La Bex, as she is known affectionately by fans, brokeout huge early this decade when she hit #1 with Spiller of "Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)" and a string of top 10 hits including "Murder on the Dancefloor" and "Get Over You." Recently, however, her chart fortunes have dipped a bit, as only one single from her third album--"Catch You"--made it into the top 10 (and it was a crying shame "Me and My Imagination" wasn't a bigger hit, as I still adore that song). Freemasons are quite probably the most successful DJ act of this decade. While most remixers work in the shadows, their remixes actually become hits in their own right--even #1 hits like Beyonce & Shakira's "Beautiful Liar." Under their own name the highest they've charted was #8 in 2007 with their remake of Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited." Perhaps this will do better next week, maybe even #1.

17. Stone Cold Sober - Paloma Faith

With so many new female pop acts making their mark lately (Pixie Lott, Agnes, Little Boots, La Roux), it was inevitable that one with a great single wouldn't score so well on the chart. So Paloma Faith sees her pretty cool "Stone Cold Sober" miss the top 10 and settle at #17. Comparisons to Pixie Lott are pretty obvious: both are definitely trying to fill the void left by Amy Winehouse's lack of a follow-up album. Perhaps single #2 will fare better.

18. Hush Hush; Hush Hush - Nicole Scherzinger's Pussycat Dolls (Featuring Nicole Scherzinger)

Nicole Scherzinger, er The Pussycat Dolls, are really on a roll these days. Quickly following "Jai Ho," their second best-selling single after "Don't Cha," is "Hush Hush; Hush Hush." Originally just two "hushes," the single was revamped for the album's re-release, which included blending it with Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" (as if it wasn't obvious enough that it was source inspiration). "Hush Hush x2" is up 7 spots to #18 this week and isn't due for physical release until July 13.

22. The Show - Lenka

Here's another new on the scene female pop act. Lenka is up 11 places to #22 with "The Show," her first top 40 hit. This song doesn't really do it for me. She sounds a lot like Feist.

36. 15 Minutes - The Yeah You's

Here's a new English band The Yeah You's, likely hoping they will hit the top 10 with this next week (it's out in shops today).

40. Heavy Cross - The Gossip

Finally The Gossip climb two spots to #40, giving them their second top 40 hit. It's a far cry from "Standing in Way of Control," which hit #7 in 2007. This song is pretty decent though, but not a major hit.

So next week should be interesting. Keri Hilson, Freemasons/La Bex, and La Roux all have new singles out hoping to unseat Guetta & Rowland. Should be exciting chart next week.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Best of 2000s: The Killers - Hot Fuss (4.5/5)

Coldplay to the Strokes to the White Stripes to Franz Ferdinand to The Killers pretty much defines the string of what was cool during the first half of the 2000s. Hot Fuss was a must have album, even if, looking back, it wasn't quite as great as we thought it was 5 years ago. Don't get me wrong--it's still awesome, but it's definitely front loaded. While the album had many hits, it's a shame "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" wasn't one of them, for it's a rather cool song, with a great synth line (this was where the indie movement to dip into '80s synth pop reached mainstream appeal). "Smile Like You Mean It" has a strong synth line too. Upbeat, disco-inflected "Somebody Told Me" was the song that made many of us fall for the Killers, and it's still a mean pop track. Despite their indie beginnings, it was clear from the start The Killers had their eye on producing a certain amount of Coldplay-esque grandeur, for how else do you explain stadium-loving "All These Things that I've Done," which, no matter how you feel about such songs, is a grand song indeed, dragging us through the "I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier" singalong about two-thirds the way through. Things cool down after that, but I do like the dramatic synth-heavy strut of "Andy, You're a Star," and "On top" sounds like it was about 5 years before its time, so lovingly does it display its keyboard effects.

Best: Mr. Brightside, Somebody Told Me, All These Things that I've Done, Jenny Was a Friend of Mine, Smile Like You Mean It

Friday, June 19, 2009

Personal Chart, 6/20/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Release Me - Agnes (1 week @ #1)
2 ... 11 ... Mama Do - Pixie Lott
3 .... 3 .... New in Town - Little Boots
4 .... 1 .... Red - Daniel Merriweather (2 wks @ #1)
5 .... 4 .... Halo - Beyonce (2 wks @ #1)
6 .... 6 .... I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson
7 ... 10 ... Lovegame - Lady GaGa
8 .... 5 .... Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas (2 wks @ #1)
9 .... 9 .... Please Don't Leave Me - Pink
10 .. 15 ... When Love Takes Over - David Guetta & Kelly Rowland

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, 6/27/2009

1. Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas
2. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

Wow wow wow (or pow rather). I felt sure last week would be Black Eyed Peas' last at #1, with three other singles bulleted in spots #2 through #4. I couldn't be more wrong, as BEP regains its bullet to spend an 11th week at #1 with "Boom Boom Pow," and in fact scores the amazing feat of occupying the chart's top two spots as "I Gotta Feeling," the band's new single, makes its Hot 100 bow at #2. It's the highest debut of the year and the fifth single to debut within the top 10.

3. Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo

The single I thought would be #1 this week treads water at #3, although still with a bullet, so #1 is still a possibility.

5. Lovegame - Lady GaGa

Ms. GaGa scores her third straight top 5 hit as Lovegame climbs another notch to #5.

18. You Belong With Me - Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift makes a 14-spot jump to #18, biggest within the top 40 this week. This song was released as one of the promotional tracks just before Fearless's release. At that time, it debuted at #12.

20. Please Don't Leave Me - Pink

Pink scores her 13th top 20 hit as "Please Don't Leave Me" rises one place to #20.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Album Review: Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (4/5)

Veckatimest, the third album from Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear, takes its name from a small island off the southwestern corner of Cape Cod. The multi-insrumental album evokes the calm of a such a natural landscape, refreshingly steering away from the '80s landscape that many indie bands have turned to of late.

"Southern Point," one of the album's longest song, is rather ambitious in scope, changing its sound dramatically from layered sounds with heavy drum work to fleeting moments of strings and relatively quiet acoustic guitar. It evokes Muse's flair for the epic and Goldfrapp's cinematic sweep. "Two Weeks," released as a single, is more conventional but no less interesting, again effectively layering many different sounds--distorted repeating piano chords, synths, bass--in a fairly upbeat package.

"All We Ask" starts as a rather lo-fi affair, the guitar sounding like it was recorded from the next room. The production clears up once the bass strings and vocals kick in. As mellow as this starts, it at times approaches the tempo of a march, with its prominent snare drum. "Fine for Now" has a nice calm to it, punctuated by moments heavy with guitar chords. "Cheerleader" is comparably simple--if you can call a song with soaring strings and choral voices simple. The melodic harmonies of the band's vocals remind me of the Beach Boys a bit too. "Dory" approaches Radiohead-like oddity, its sweetly harmonic vocals a creepy contrast to the organ chords and guitar strumming.

"Ready, Able" has a more insistent tempo, featuring that scratchy guitar effect (you know the one Destiny's Child sampled for "Bootylicious"--I know, a bad comparison, but all I can think of at the moment). Layers get added from there, and by the end of the song shimmering guitar effects compete with vocal sounds.

Some of the later tracks are simpler. "About Face" has fewer layers, but an interesting horns section. "Hold Still" is really short and slow--no drums-- mostly just guitar and vocals. Guitar playing comes into sharp focus on "While You Wait for Others," uncluttered with other sounds.

"I Live with You" is a rather rich sound, it's vocals, guitar and strings soaring with orchestral flourishes. "Foreground" puts a repeating piano melody up front.

The production contrast of having lo-fi sound recording but such rich and layered detail recalls last year's Fleet Foxes album, an album I enjoy but never bothered to review here (an oversight for sure). It's not something I'd listen to regularly, but it's interesting, and definitely good music to put you in a laid back mood. Special thanks go to Matt for recommending this to me.

Best: Two Weeks, Southern Point, Fine for Now, Cheerleader

Sunday, June 14, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 6/20/2009

1. Mama Do - Pixie Lott

It's a good time for new female pop artists on the UK charts. With Agnes and Little Boots breaking out recently--and Paloma Faith due next week--this week the chart ushers in Pixie Lott with a debut #1 hit. Ms. Lott adopts the retro-pop style made big in recent years by other female pop singers like Duffy and Amy Winehouse. Wikipedia claims that Pixie Lott is the first British female artist to have her debut single hit #1 apart from reality show stars (like Leona Lewis). Interesting, can't confirm that, but if you think it's wrong, let me know.

3. Release Me - Agnes

Speaking of Agnes, whose album I praised heavily yesterday, she rebounds to #3 with "Release Me," which gets a physical release next week, putting her in strong contention for #1 along with Lott and the song at #7.

7. When Love Takes Over - David Guetta featuring Kelly Rowland

This is one of those perfect club singles that comes along every once in awhile. Although many feature a pretty anonymous female voice, this one features none other than former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland, currently starring in her own Bravo Project Runway-ripoff, The Fashion Show. Since the group split up, most of the focus has been on Beyonce, but Rowland's actually had a nice little career, particularly in the UK, where "When Love Takes Over" is her 6th top 10 hit. Due for physical release tomorrow, this is another #1 contender, along with Paloma Faith, Agnes, and this weeks #1 hit from Pixie Lott.

13. Paparazzi - Lady GaGa

It's not out until July, but Lady GaGa's third single is already hot, hot, hot. Interesting that she chose different singles for the UK ("Paparazzi") and the US ("Lovegame"). Undoubtedly both will surface in both countries eventually.

19. Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry

Katy Perry's fourth single becomes her third top 20 hit, surpassing the #27 peak of her last single, "Thinking of You," though falling short of the top 5 placings for "Hot N Cold" and "I Kissed a Girl"

Ladies Ladies Ladies

Many of our beloved big female pop stars have new projects coming the second half of the year. Here's the current skinny on we can look forward to:

Christina Aguilera's planning a new album for September called Light & Darkness. After the throwback styles of 2006's Back to Basics, word is that her new album will be thoroughly modern and electronic, with collaborators like Goldfrapp, Ladytron, and Sia in tow (plus good ol' Linda Perry of course). "Keeps Gettin' Better," the single from her recent greatest hits set, certainly pointed in this direction. No word on the first single, but it's rumored to have a July release.

Mariah Carey's last album came out just over a year ago, but she's already got its follow-up ready. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel is due in September, with first single "Obsessed" due to hit radio on Tuesday. Behind-the-scenes work comes from the usual mix of producers, including The Dream, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, and Timbaland, as well the return of longtime collaborator Walter Anasieff, the man behind many of Carey's early hits, including "Love Takes Time," "Hero," and "One Sweet Day." Also rumored is a cover of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is."

Whitney Houston hasn't released a popular album since 1998 (2002's Just Whitney was a flop). Having dealt with drugs, divorce, and reality TV since then, the singer has been reportedly working to rebuilding her career the last few years. And while rumors have surfaced periodically about her return, this time it looks like it will happen. The album is currently slated for release in September. Although no word on its title, the first single is said to be "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," written by Diane Warren and produced by David Foster--a powerhouse team for a pop ballad comeback.

Leona Lewis, who became the first star from a British reality show music contest to break into the US, is due to release her second album in November. Ryan Tedder will be returning to the mix, along with Timbaland, Ne-Yo, Xenomania, and Jay-Z. Lewis is reportedly interested in having Coldplay's Chris Martin contribute as well.

Madonna, wrapping up her 27-year relationship with Warner Brothers Records, will release a career-capping greatest hits collection this fall. No word on the format yet, but I'm hoping for something like we got from Celine Dion last year--multiple releases, depending on your interest, such as a one-disc version for casual fans, and a three-disc version with remixes and b-sides for the devoted. Paul Oakenfold worked with Madonna to record some new material for the release, which he told Attitude magazine are called "Broken," "I'm Sorry," and "Celebrate." We'll see if they make the cut.

Shania Twain is rumored to be releasing her new album this fall, her first since Up! in 2002. I can't find any details about it though, so among these potential new releases, this would seem to be the most tentative.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Album Review: Agnes - Dance Love Pop (4/5)

I know this will eventually get a UK release, since first single "Release Me" has become a big hit, but I couldn't wait and snatched up a Swedish import. I'm happy to report that Dance Love Pop brilliantly lives up to its title. It's a catchy, crisply produced dance pop album, that refreshingly draws its inspiration from more places than just the mid-'80s (although there is a little bit of that too).

In fact, a lot of it is very '90s-sounding, taking its cues more from house and disco than new wave. "Release Me" is joyously upbeat, effectively scored with orchestral flourishes, piano, and a driving dance beat. "On and On" is even clubbier, sounding not unlike a 2Unlimited track, while "Love Me Senseless" recalls the sharp bass synth of Robin S's "Show Me Love."

The '80s show up on tracks like "Open Up Your Eyes" and "How Do You Know," which sound like something Whitney Houston would have done back in the day, although the latter is not a remake of that diva's 1986 hit. "Look at Me Now" is similar, kicking off a disco-sounding intro but transitioning quickly to mid-'90s dance pop. For retro-kitsch appeal though nothing tops over-the-top "Love Love Love," a pitch-perfect '70s-disco-styled love song. Sure it's cheesy, but it's so well done that you can't help but love it.

Even the ballads are good. Guitar-and-strings based "I Need You Now" is so radio-ready that you swear it's already been a hit. "Sometimes I Forget" sounds like the kind of ballad Britney Spears would have done a few years ago, although in the hands of Agnes, who can actually sing, rises above any of Ms. Spears' half-hearted attempts to show emotion. "Big Blue Wall" is interesting--darker, piano-driven, not unlike a Delta Goodrem ballad--but again, the vocals are of a much higher caliber.

Dance Love Pop is the kind of quality pop production we've come to expect from the Swedes. Agnes, winner of the second season of Sweden's version of American/Pop Idol in 2005, blossoms here just like Kelly Clarkson and Will Young did after winning their seasons.

Best: Release Me, Love Love Love, On and On, I Need You Now, Look at Me Now

Best of 2000s: Keane - Hopes and Fears (5/5)

In the spring of 2004 I fell absolutely in love with this album. I remember listening to it constantly during a vacation to the Outer Banks. You know you're really going to like an album when your favorite song keeps changing as you listen to it more. Sure the piano pop/rock of "Somewhere Only We Know" sets the tone, but then the more upbeat "Everybody's Changing" gets to you, then the longing of "We Might As Well Be Strangers," then the album's most energetic cut "Bend and Break" has to be your favorite. In short, there's very little I don't like about this album. It's about as strong a debut as a band could hope for, and so far, Keane has yet to outclass it. Was it gimmick to make rock music that didn't include the most "rock" instrumental of all? Perhaps, but Tim Rice-Oxley plays the keys with both more joie de vivre and healtfelt tenderness than many guitar players could ever hope to. Coldplay got a lot of attention for putting piano in the forefront of their mix, but they mostly play just simple chord combinations, while Keane's piano melodies are more complex. Brilliant pop at its best.

Best: Bend and Break, Somewhere Only We Know, Bedshaped, Everybody's Changing, We Might as Well Be Strangers, Your Eyes Open, This Is the Last Time

Friday, June 12, 2009

Personal Chart, 6/13/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Red - Daniel Merriweather (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 8 .... Release Me - Agnes
3 .... 4 .... New in Town - Little Boots
4 .... 2 .... Halo - Beyonce (2 wks @ #1)
5 .... 3 .... Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas (2 wks @ #1)
6 .... 7 .... I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson
7 .... 5 .... Poker Face - Lady GaGa (5 wks @ #1)
8 .... 9 .... Bonkers - Dizzee Rascal & Armand Van Helden
9 ... 10 ... Please Don't Leave Me - Pink
10 .. 15 ... Lovegame - Lady GaGa

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, 6/20/2009

1. Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas

"Boom Boom Pow" this week joins the elite club of singles that have spent 10 weeks or longer at #1. It is the 11th single to do so this decade. Such a long run at the top is a fairly rare thing, although more common in the last 20 years. Since the beginning of the rock era, there were 4 such singles in the 1950s, none in the 1960s, 1 in the 1970s, 1 in the 1980s, and 12 in the 1990s (so in total there have been 29 songs that have stayed at #1 for 10 weeks or longer).

2. I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) - Pitbull
3. Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo
4. Birthday Sex - Jeremih

This may, however, be the Black Eyed Peas' last week at #1, as the competition is chomping at the bit. All three of these singles are bulleted this week (while "Boom Boom Pow" is not). Making the most assertive move toward #1 is Keri Hilson, who climbs 4 spots to #3, equaling the peak position she reached with Timbaland 2 years ago on "The Way I Are."

5. Poker Face - Lady GaGa
6. Lovegame - Lady GaGa

Lady Gaga claims adjacent positions in the top 10 this week, down 3 spots to #5 with her former #1 hit "Poker Face" and up 4 spots to #6 with her newer single "Lovegame." This is the second time this year Ms. GaGa has bumped up against herself (bad joke here) in the top 10. It was 15 weeks ago when another former #1 hit of hers, "Just Dance" was moving down 2 spots to #7, while her then new single "Poker Face" rose 4 spots to #6.

7. Second Chance - Shinedown

Rock band Shinedown scores their first top 10 hit as "Shinedown" climbs 4 spots to #7. Sure they sound like Nickelback, but who doesn't these days? Frankly, I've seen this on the top 40 for weeks, but haven't paid much attention to it.

16. Out Last Night - Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney lands his highest-charting Hot 100 hit this week with "Out Last Night," which moves up 44 spots to #16. The single is from his Greatest Hits II collection.

19. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Well isn't this a surprise?! Kings of Leon, after hovering around the 50s and 60s for the last 14 weeks, makes a rather sudden and powerful jump up 33 notches to #19. "Use Somebody" will be familiar to UK pop music fans (the single was a massive hit in Britain during the winter, as was its predecessor, "Sex on Fire"). So to what do we owe its rather sudden surge in popularity in the US? Not American Idol, as that's done until next year. Amazingly, MTV has, for the first time in years, actually contributed something to the musical landscape, following the band's recent performance at the MTV Movie Awards.

20. I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson
21. Please Don't Leave Me - Pink

After looking for a moment like their latest singles might flop, Kelly Clarkson and Pink--two of this decade's biggest female pop singers--both assert that their latest singles may yet have a chance. "Hook Up" climbs 6 spots to become Clarkson's 10th top 20 hit, while Pink's "Please Don't Leave Me" rises 13 spots to #21. If she keeps this up, the single should easily surpass the #15 peak of her last single, "Sober."

Sunday, June 07, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 6/13/2009

1. Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas

Dizzee Rascal's "Bonkers" didn't prove to be as enduring as I thought it would, as it is toppled this week by the immediate prior #1 hit, Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow." While not a wildly uncommon phenomenon, it has been 3 years since a single's spent nonconsecutive weeks at #1, the last time being Shakira & Wyclef Jean's "Hips Don't Lie," which spent 1 week at #1, then 3 weeks away from the summit while Lily Allen had her first #1 hit ("Smile") and McFly their fifth ("Please Please"/"Don't Stop Me Now") before returning to the top spot for 4 more weeks.

3. Fire - Kasabian

Rock band Kasabian scores a rather impressive debut at #3 with "Fire," the lead single from their upcoming third album. This is their third and highest-charting top 10 hit, following "Cutt Off" (#8 in 2005) and "Empire" (#9 in 2006).

4. Release Me - Agnes

Swedish singer Agnes slides back a notch to #4 this week, but her physical single is out tomorrow. This could be a serious contender for #1 next week. By the way, my copy of her album Dance Love Pop arrived yesterday, and it's quite enjoyable. From what I hear, it will get a UK release early this fall.

6. Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo

Keri Hilson jumps up 6 spots to #6, landing her third top 10 hit, but first as lead act. Her other two top-10 appearances were as featured vocalist on Timbaland's #1 hit "The Way I Are" and on Xzibit's "Hey Now (Mean Muggin')," which hit #9. This is also the 13th top 10 appearance for rapper Kanye West and the 6th for singer Ne-Yo.

14. We Are the People - Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun rise 12 spots to #14, making "Empire of the Sun" the band's first top 20 hit. This is a marked improvement over the #64 peak of their first single, "Walking on a Dream," which has benefitted from the success of We Are the People, having climbed back into the top 75 (at #72 this week). EOTS has been compared a lot to MGMT (including by me), and I think it's worth nothing that they've now bested the highest chart position ever reached by MGMT, #16 with "Kids."

21. Did You See Me Coming - Pet Shop Boys

Early in the week this was in the top 10, but clearly that was due to anxious fans snapping up copies as soon as possible, for in the end, "Did You See Me Coming," the fantastic second Yes single, lands outside the top 10.

31. Show Me What I'm Looking For - Carolina Liar

LA-based Carolina Liar first caught me eye when they were featured on 90210. Then iTunes offered this single up as the "free track of the week." Frequently I pass on those, sometimes I download them and never listen, but this has proven to be one of the rare times where such a song turns out to be something really special and hit-worthy. It's a great song. Would be nice if it could climb up a bit over the next few weeks.

36. I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson follows up #1 hit "My Life Would Suck Without You"--her highest charting UK hit ever--with a measly #36 debut for "I Do Not Hook Up," which, if it doesn't climb (and I believe it's fully released), will be her lowest charting single (one spot lower than aptly titled "Low"). In the US, the single is doing better, but it's still gotten a markedly cooler reception than her last release.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Album review: Little Boots - Hands (4.5/5)

Hands is the debut pop album I've been waiting for, and it doesn't disappoint. Little Boots has generated much buzz this year. When I first heard about her in January, what I saw and heard was promising, but frankly a bit suspect. Sure "Stuck on Repeat" was a killer song, but "Little Boots" is an odd name for a singer, and her onstage act, which consisted of her singing while manipulating a Japanese music gizmo, was a bit suspect.

In a move sure to divide her early fans, Hands is a confident step toward mainstream acceptance. While Little Boots wrote or co-wrote every song here, she enlisted some pretty A-list pop producers, namely Greg Kurstin and Richard Stannard, both of whom have worked with Kylie (as well as Lily Allen and Will Young respectively). Songs that first appeared as long dance cues have been edited to radio-friendly lengths, such as "Stuck on Repeat," which frankly, I always preferred in its tight 4-minute form. "Meddle," the other early-release track in here too, along with a tight set of appealing electro-pop that shoots to boost Little Boots as a Kylie-styled sophisticate rather than a Lady GaGa-esque tramp.

The album opens strong with stomping first single "New in Town," followed by melodic "Earthquake." Then there's my favorite, the mesmerizing "Stuck on Repeat," awash in heady synth chords and a sharp dance beat. Slick "Click" opens with a throbbing bass line before transitioning to a very Kylie-like sexy synth number. "Remedy" is the closest she comes to sounding like Lady GaGa--energetic, electro dance pop with a distorted synth melody and meaningless lyrics about the dance floor. No surprise it's produced by RedOne, who helmed all of GaGa's recent hits.

For all the pop sheen, Little Boots hasn't completely shed her eccentric side. Quirky "Meddle" courses along with clangy beats and synth bleeps. I wasn't so keen on this track months ago, but it's grown on me. "Ghosts" is even stranger, and probably the only track that hasn't won me over yet. "Mathematics," one of the more '80s-styled tracks, cleverly runs through a series of arithmetic metaphors for relationships. It achieves more witty one-liners than it does a coherent idea ("your X is equal to my Y, but equations pass me by"), but is fun nonetheless.

"Symmetry," the highlight of the album's weaker second half, is an '80s-styped synth pop song featuring the guy from the Human League. "Tune into My Heart," however, is one of the album's weakest tracks--it definitely sounds like Kylie filler. "Hearts Collide" is a little better for its darker sound, but still doesn't live up to the quality of the earlier tracks. "No Brakes" is better, with a good electronic bassline and an overall mood of uplift to finish the album.

In short, Hands is the best pop debut so far this year, if not the best pop album. While not perfect, it's a very good start--upbeat, melodic, '80s-inspired but still modern, mainstream but not cookie-cutter--there's little not to like.

Best: Stuck on Repeat, New in Town, Remedy, Symmetry, Click, Earthquake, Meddle

Best of 2000s: Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose (4.5/5)

Having stunned the world with 2003's Elephant, Jack White turned his attention to other projects before releasing White Stripes' fifth album (side projects between White Stripes albums would become a bit of a thing for Mr. White). Following his folksy soundtrack album for Cold Mountain, White produced the highly entertaining and successful Loretta Lynn album, Van Lear Rose. While Lynn had tried to stage a comeback in 2000, it didn't garner her nearly the attention this album did. Jack White's bluesy minimalism serves Lynn well. "Van Lear Rose" is a classic country storyteller in the vein of "The Coal Miner's Daughter," a really lovely ballad in the classic sense of a what a ballad is, telling the story of how mother, a former beauty queen, met her coal-miner father. It's a great opening, but "Portland, Oregon" is even better, celebrating a night of heavy drinking in a dingy Portland bar. It's a duet between Loretta and Jack, his only vocal appearance here. Much of this album is just joyous though. "Have Mercy" is particularly White Stripes-ish, propelled by pedal-tuned guitar and insistent drum bursts. "High on a Mountaintop" is shamelessly toe-tapping folksy fun. "Little Red Shoes" is a goofy spoken-word memoir about Lynn remembering her childhood. "Miss Being Mrs." has great acoustic guitar work. Even non country fans would be hard-pressed to not find something to like about this enchanting set.

Best: Portland Oregon, Van Lear Rose, Have Mercy, High on a Mountaintop, Little Red Shoes, Miss Being Mrs.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Personal Chart, 6/6/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 6 .... Red - Daniel Merriweather (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... Halo - Beyonce (2 wks @ #1)
3 .... 1 .... Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas (2 wks @ #1)
4 .... 7 .... New in Town - Little Boots
5 .... 4 .... Poker Face - Lady GaGa (5 wks @ #1)
6 .... 3 .... Not Fair - Lily Allen
7 .... 9 .... I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson
8 ... 29 ... Release Me - Agnes
9 ... 20 ... Bonkers - Dizzee Rascal & Armand Van Helden
10 .. 10 .. Please Don't Leave Me - Pink

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, 6/13/2009

1. Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas lead a Hot 100 full of rebounds this week. "Boom Boom Pow" extends its run at #1 to 9 weeks now. That makes it tied in 12th place for the longest stay at #1 this decade.

3. I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) - Pitbull
4. Birthday Sex - Jeremih

With Jamie Foxx and Kid Cudi out the way, Pitbull and Jeremih are the next challengers to Black Eyed Peas' chart dominance, with the former rising 2 spots to #3 and the latter up 5 to #4. While Pitbull has its champions, I'm afraid Jeremih probably has the upper hand.

7. Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo

Keri Hilson jumps 6 spots to #7, earning this week's airplay gainer. It's Hilson's first appearance in the top 10 since her debut Timbaland collaboration "The Way I Are," one of 2007's biggest hits, made it to #3.

9. Fire Burning - Sean Kingston

"Fire Burning" climbs 3 places to hit #9, making it Sean Kingston's third top 10 hit.

10. Lovegame - Lady GaGa

Also scoring a third top 10 hit is Lady GaGa, jumping 12 spots to #10 and earning this week's sales gainer. It follows her recent #1 hits, "Just Dance" and "Poker Face," both of which are still in the top 40 at #22 and #2 respectively.

12. The Climb - Miley Cyrus
13. Don't Trust Me - 3Oh!3

After falling pretty steadily the last few weeks, Miley Cyrus climbs back up 3 spots to #12. 3Oh!3 also rebounds up 1 to #13.

18. Best I Ever Had - Drake
20. Goodbye - Kristinia DeBarge

These two singles make big jumps this week. Canadian rapper Drake, in particular, leaps 42 spots to #18. I'm not sure to what this surge in popularity is owed. Ms. DeBarge climbs 13 places to #20, scoring her first top 20 hit. This follows a 3-spot fall last week.

24. My Life Would Suck Without You - Kelly Clarkson
26. I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson

Both of Kelly Clarkson's recent hit singles rebound this week. "My Life Would Suck Without You's" jump is particularly curious, given its age. Strangely, the song is gaining spins at top 40 radio--in fact, at more than twice the rate that new single "I Do Not Hook Up" is. Both tracks are up six spots.

34. Please Don't Leave Me - Pink

Pink climbs back into the top 40 this week, reaching a new peak at #34.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

RIP Radio & Records

Radio and Records, the music industry publication best known for its airplay charts, is closing shop. Here's an article about it. The site's already dead. Many of us first learned about R&R from listening to Casey's Top 40, who always mentioned the R&R top 40 chart as his source ("Radio and Records, the industry's newspaper"). Thanks to J. Mensah for alerting me to this.

Album review: Passion Pit - Manners (4/5)

At some point, indie bands are going to get tired drawing inspiration from '80s new wave and synth pop and move on. Until then, we get albums like Manners, the debut from American group Passion Pit, one of this year's moved buzzed about "new" acts. They've been compared to many other such bands, most frequently MGMT, whose nutty Oracular Spectacular was one of last year's surprise hits. Manners is care-free, upbeat, frothy indie pop--at least on the surface.

"Make Light" bumps along with warm synth riffs and effects and lead singer Michael Angelakos's characteristic falsetto. "Little Secrets" is similarly upbeat, but graced with a sharper bassline, a better beat, and a children's choir. "Moth's Wings" borrows a little U2-esque grandeur, breaking out with acoustic instruments and than big synth-piano chords. While musically these songs sound like sunny optimism, the lyrics (which are quite frankly confounding) consist of things like "the walls came crumbling, my fists kept trembling with these salty wounds...Your flowers are withering, Your mother's gone insane."

"The Reeling," released as a single, is particularly good, dance-party-ready pop. Just don't focus too hard on its gloomy message ("now i pray that somebody will quickly come and kidnap me
--oh no, oh no--and everyday i lie awake and pray to god today's the day--oh no, oh no").

The band's sound includes a fair amount of diversity. "Eyes as Candies" is softer and very very '80s-sounding. "Swimming in the Flood" slows the tempo down and embodies a darker sound. It has a great repeating piano line. "Folds in Your Hands" picks up the beats and bleeps, angling for the dance floor. "To Kingdom Come" is more '80s rock-sounding, with guitar, drums, horns and a chorus begging for sing-along. Any of these songs could probably be singles.

The album loses momentum a bit at the end. "Sleepyhead" was the group's first hit, from their "Chunk of Change" EP. It's a very weird song, and while it has a cool video, the ultra-distorted vocals and lack of a strong melodic hook don't do it for me. "Let Your Love Tail Grow" is a bit cutesy, but not bad. "Seaweed Song" is unremarkable.

Although the songs tend to blend together after awhile, the good sense of melody and upbeat fun make this a strong record for repeat listens, for there are no bad eggs in this batch. It's certainly better than Empire of the Sun's debut, which was crafted in a similar vein, but whose bland melodies didn't live up to its campy promise.

Best: The Reeling, Little Secret, Make Light, Swimming in the Flood, Moth's Wings, To Kingdom Come

Monday, June 01, 2009

Preview Little Boots' Hands

Little Boots' MySpace page now has all of Hands up in full for you to preview. I'm listening to "Click" right now, which is really cool. Very '80s, great melody. Interesting that she went for the single edit of "Stuck on Repeat" for the album rather than the longer original version. I think that's in keeping with this being a dance pop album, rather than a dance music album.

June 2 update: MySpace seems to be malfunctioning, as I would really like to be listening to this tonight, but tracks only seem to load sporadically. I heard "Ghosts," "No Brakes," and the first few seconds of "Meddle." Not happy right now.

Update 2: Okay now it's working again. Whew.

UK Singles Chart, June 6, 2009

1. Bonkers - Dizzee Rascal & Armand Van Helden

To no one's surprise, Dizzee and Armand spend a second week at #1 with "Bonkers." Their sales fell off pretty dramatically though, from 114k last week to 63k this week. Perhaps the track that debuts on downloads at #3 this week may have a shot at unseating it after its June 8 physical release.

3. Release Me - Agnes

Swedish singer Agnes Carlsson is perhaps the first property to come out of the Idol franchise from a country other than the US or the UK to make it big in Britain. She won's the second season of Sweden's version of the show in 2005. In her home country she's been a star ever since, hitting #1 with her debut "Right Here, Right Now" (it's pretty much what you'd expect). "Release Me" finds her doing upbeat dance pop, which I believe is the MO on most of Dance Love Pop, her third album, which will, I imagine, be her debut UK release (if you're interested check out the very disco-flavored "Love Love Love," it's quite fun). As I stated above, "Release Me" gets its physical release next week. Will she climb?

8. Untouched - The Veronicas

"Untouched" was a minor hit in the US earlier this year, but manages to land in the top 10 in the UK. Their follow-up has already flopped stateside. We'll see if they can do better abroad. "Untouched" is a great song--I wish it had charted higher.

12. Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo

Keri Hilson looks set to finally land a major hit on her own...well, sort of, considering this features two of pop music's hottest properties. "Knock You Down" is up 12 spots to #12, surpassing the #15 peak of her last single, "Turnin' Me On (feat. Lil Wayne)," and it's not out for 4 weeks! Top 5 for sure.

13. New in Town - Little Boots

With Agnes riding high at #3, it's too bad this week's other debut single from a much-buzzed new female artist falls short of expectations. I've devoted a fair amount of ink to Little Boots--I'm very excited about her debut album Hands, out next week. I was particularly taken by her preview release "Stuck on Repeat," which I'm hoping will eventually get a full release. "New in Town" is great too, so why isn't it a bigger hit? Airplay support has been surprisingly absent. Sure Radio 1 A-listed her, but the track's only #25 on the airplay chart--well below other new female pop breakouts Pixie Lott (#4) and Agnes (#18). Little Boots won the BBC Sounds of 2009 poll--the same contest Adele won last year (with Duffy in second). Unless "New in Town" pulls off a miraculous climb into the top 10 next week, she'll be the first winner of this poll since it started in 2003 not to see the subsequent single not reach the top 10 (even The Bravery managed to hit #7).

19. Sugar - Flo Rida

Flo Rida's "Sugar," the follow-up to his #1 hit "Right Round," climbs 9 spots to #19. This is its 9th week on the UK singles chart, and probably it's peak, given that the single was released physically last week. This follows the similar trend Flo had last year. His #2 hit "Low" was followed by "Elevator," which only managed to reach #20.

26. We Are the People - Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun jumps up 11 spots this week. The single is top 5 in airplay, much much more exposure than the group got for its first single, "Walking on a Dream," which didn't crack the top 40.

Introducing Pixie Lott

Speaking of new British female singers that sound like Duffy (or in this case, also Amy Winehouse), here's the other new one, also burning up the UK airplay chart ahead of her June 8 release. Check out "Mama Do."

Introducing Paloma Faith

Paloma Faith's debut single, "Stone Cold Sober," is currently climbing the UK airplay chart ahead of its June 15 release. She sounds a bit like Duffy, last year's UK breakout, but with a little more verve. I don't know much about her, but I'm sure we'll be hearing plenty soon.