Monday, August 30, 2010

UK Singles Chart, September 4, 2010

1. Dynamite - Taio Cruz

It's been awhile since I've written about the British singles chart, but I have been monitoring it closely. Debuting at #1 this week is the second #1 hit and fifth top 10 from British pop star Taio Cruz. "Dynamite" is already a hit in the US, where it is #1 at pop radio and #2 overall on the Hot 100. It was included on the international version of Cruz's album Rokstarr and will appear on the UK re-release due next month.

Significantly, "Dynamite" is the 8th single in a row to spend just a week at #1, a run not seen since the beginning of 2005 when 10 singles achieved such status, broken by Tony Christie's "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo," which spent 7 weeks at #1. That turnover was attributed, in part, to the special edition Elvis Presley singles released that year; coming at one per week, they created a lot of demand for collectors to snatch them up that week (I think they also had limited availability). Prior to that run, there was a run of 10 1-week #1s in late 2000, and in fact a run of 12 of them during the summer of 2000 (2000 had 42 #1 hits, a pretty impressive number, and likely the record).

2. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna

It hasn't been at #1, but during summer's rapid chart turnover that I just documented, this single has held pretty firm, spending the last 3 weeks at #2 for a total of 4 weeks in second place. Despite never hitting the top spot, it's actually the fourth best-selling single of the year, making it summer's biggest hit.

3. Club Can't Handle Me - Flo Rida feat. David Guetta
4. Green Light - Roll Deep
5. Katy on a Mission - Katy B
6. We No Speak Americano - Yolanda Be Cool feat. Dcup

I love how the British singles chart always fills up with dance music at the end of summer. Whether it's from hearing them while vacationing in Europe or just wanting a last ditch blowout before summer ends, it makes for a fun chart.

New in the top 10 this week is Katy B's "Katy on a Mission," which sounds to me a lot like Bodyrox's "Yeah Yeah" from a few years ago, but which, as far I as can tell, shares no particular pedigree with that #2 hit. This is Katy's first top 40 hit. She's joined by a trio of recent #1 hits with a particularly clubby bent.

8. Crossfire - Brandon Flowers

Only #8? I'm surprised the debut solo single by The Killers' Brandon Flowers isn't a top 5 hit this week. In fact, I'd have thought it would be a #1 contender. Nevertheless it is his first solo top 10, joining the four top 10s he had with the band.

16. Slow - Rumer

Only #16??? That gets two more question marks, for I was REALLY hoping this would chart higher. It's an absolutely gorgeous song and I've fallen head over heels for Rumer's voice. I just learned she's planning an album for November and I can't wait.

36. God & Satan - Biffy Clyro

Mercury nominated Biffy Clyro scores their 6th top 40 hit from their album Only Revolutions.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fall Album Preview

The season with the biggest album releases of the year is upon us, an this year's fourth quarter has, as usual, quite a bit to offer. Rather than just cover September, I take a look at key releases for the rest of the year. Given the flexibility of release dates, these are subject to change, and it's quite likely that releases currently pegged for October or later could get pushed back--possibly to 2011 (or, yikes, maybe even never--it happens; ask Nicole Scherzinger).

The Fall 10
First up, here are the 10 essential releases this fall:

Coldplay - LP5 (December). It doesn't have a name yet, and it seems like it could easily get pushed to 2011, but if there's a chance we'll get a Coldplay album by 12/31/10, then it needs to be on my essential list. Coldplay's blog has said it is near completion, but now there are rumors it won't come out this year. Brian Eno is reportedly producing again.

Brandon Flowers - Flamingo (Sept. 6). The Killers lead single goes solo and already has a hit on his hands with the album's first single, "Crossfire," and its action-packed video starring Flowers and Charlize Theron. Flowers worked with rock producers Daniel Lanois and Brendan O'Brien, but also ensured consistency with the album's third producer, Stuart Price, who helmed the Killers' last album Day & Age (Price must be exhausted this year, after also producing the Kylie Minogue and Scissor Sisters albums). Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis sings with Flowers on "Hard Enough."

Kings of Leon - Come Around Sundown (Oct. 19). Prior to 2008, Kings of Leon were a somewhat well-known although hardly mainstream rock band. Only By the Night changed all that, turning the group into a sensation as well as chart-toppers with its major hits "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody," the latter of which was awarded the Grammy for Record of the Year earlier this year. Following up such unexpected success is probably daunting, so the band looks to be playing it safe by employing the same production team on this fifth album as on their last.

Maroon 5 - Hands All Over (Sept. 20). Although they've brought Robert John "Mutt" Lange (i.e. the former Mr. Shania Twain) to produce their third album, Hands All Over, indicators point to business as usual for the L.A.-fivesome. A band's press release called the new set "a killer hybrid of rock, pop, funk and R&B"--in other words, just like what they've done before. And first single "Misery" is a welcome sibling to their previous major hits like "This Love" and "Makes Me Wonder."

Ne-Yo - Libra Scale (Oct. 5). For his fourth album, Ne-Yo talks like it will be his most ambitious yet. Despite the fact that its first singles sound like his previous work ("Beautiful Monster" is a lot like "Closer," and "Champagne Life" is similar to "Miss Independent"), Libra Scale is a concept album. High concept actually. The title refers to the astrological sign, Libra, which is represented by a scale. With that in mind, Ne-Yo has said the album explores the themes of morality and balance between money, love, power and fame while telling the story of three garbage men who are offered everything they could ever want for protecting their city, but they can never fall in love. Alrighty. "Beautiful Monster" was a UK #1 but a misfire in the US.

Radiohead - TBD (no date). There's really little details about this, other than that the band has been recording this year, and gave an interview to BBC in June saying they hoped to get a new album out by the end of the year. Coming off of 2007's In Rainbows, Radiohead is well-positioned to deliver something fantastic.

Robyn - Body Talk Part II (Sept. 6) & Body Talk Part III (November). Swedish pop singer Robyn dazzled with Body Talk Part I earlier this summer, a sensational 8-track EP that delivered an intriguing blend of electric and acoustic pop. At the time, Robyn revealed it was the first of three EPs to be released this year. So anticipation is high parts II and III, due in early September and November respectively. Already out is Part II's single, "Hang with Me," which appeared in an acoustic version on Part I but gets its proper electro sheen for Part II.

Taylor Swift - Speak Now (Oct. 25). Top-selling digital artist of all time. Winner of the 2010 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. These are some pretty big achievements for the 20 year-old country/crossover star to live up to. Swift's second album, Fearless, was the top-selling album of 2009 in the US, scoring major country and pop hits with its singles "Love Story" and "You Belong with Me." For her third album, Speak Now, Swift will surely try again to conquer both country and pop charts. She's off to a good start with the album's first single, "Mine," which hit #3 on the Hot 100 and is already a hit at country and pop radio.

Take That - TBD (November). Take That 2.0 has been a massive success, with two albums under its belt and a number of hit singles, including "Patience," "Rule the World," and "Greatest Day." For their third comeback album, Take That welcomes back original member Robbie Williams for the group's first release as a fivesome since 1995. Little details about the album exist yet, other than that the first single will be "The Flood."

Kanye West - Dark Twisted Fantasy (Nov. 16). At one point, it was stated that this album would be called Good Ass Job, to coincide with the education-themed titles of West's first three albums. Apparently that was a red herring, and instead we'll be getting the ominously titled Dark Twisted Fantasy. The rapper took a detour to electro and singing on his fourth album, 808s and Heartbreak, but the assumption is that he'll turn back to hip-hop for this fifth release. First single "Power" is already out, but hasn't become a major hit.

Bonus:

Robbie Williams - In and Out of Consciousness: Robbie's Greatest Hits 1990 - 2010 (Oct. 12). Greatest hits collections aren't really albums, but I wanted to include this anyway in my highlights. Williams already had a greatest hits set in 2004, but this more comprehensive two-disc collection looks to be completely comprehensive, including songs missing from his last release (namely "Freedom," "Somethin' Stupid," "It's Only Us," and "Something Beautiful") along with hits he's had since then ("Tripping," "Lovelight," and "Bodies," among others). Perhaps most exciting is the collaboration with fellow Take That member and one time rival Gary Barlow, "Shame," which will be released before the reunited Take That work as a taste of what is to come.


Other releases
Those marked with an asterisk are the ones I'm most interested, apart from the ones above.

Sept 7

*Interpol - Interpol. Late last year I fell in love with this band's first album, Turn Off the Lights. Although I haven't much listened to their second and third albums, I've heard they aren't as good. Nevertheless, I'm interested in this eponymous disc, their fourth, and last with their original bassist.

Sara Bareilles - Kaleidescope Heart. The singer, who scored a major hit in 2008 with "Love Song," returns with her second album featuring quirky first single "King of Anything."

Sept 13/14

Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns. Linkin Park returns with their fourth album, produced by the same guys who did their last one, Minutes to Midnight. First single "The Catalyst" is already a big hit at rock radio.

Weezer - Hurley. No joke: the cover of the album is a shot of Jorge Garcia, the actor who portrayed Hugo Reyes (a.k.a. "Hurley") on the popular, just concluded ABC drama Lost. According to the band, the only reason they named the album Hurley is because Garcia is on the cover. So I guess this isn't a Lost-themed concept album? I guess we'll find out.

*The Script - Science and Faith. The Irish pop/rock band scored big in the US this year with their singles "Breakeven" and "The Man Who Can't Be Moved," but Americans probably don't realize those songs are 2 years old and the band is moving on to their second album this fall.

Of Montreal - False Priest. The Athens, Georgia-based group (no, they're not Canadian) release their 10th album.

Royksopp - Senior. The Norwegian duo is releasing an instrumental album, which they've said is the darker, atmospheric counterpart to their last album, Junior.

Blonde Redhead - Penny Sparkle. I was impressed by the group's last album, 23, but I don't know much about this upcoming release, the group's eighth album.

Phil Collins - Going Back. For his first album in 8 years, Phil Collins does a set of '60s motown and soul covers.

Sept 20/21

Seal - Seal VI: Commitment. Mr. Heidi Klum puts out his sixth album of new material, following his last album of covers. First single "Secret" is already out.

Manic Street Preachers - Postcards from a Young Man. The British rock band releases their 10th album, which the band has said is targeted to mainstream audiences.

Diddy - Last Train to Paris. The once powerful rapper releases his fifth album.

Shontelle - No Gravity. The Barbadian singer, who scored a hit earlier this summer with "Impossible," releases her first album.

Selena Gomez & the Scene - A Year without Rain. The Disney darling puts out her second album featuring hit single "Round and Round."

Paula Cole - Ithaca. Although she's best known for singing the theme to Dawson's Creek, there was once a time when Paula Cole was a big star (her second album, This Fire, was a Grammy nominee for Album of the Year and contained two major hits). This is her fifth album.

Sept 27/28

*Mark Ronson & the Business Intl - Record Collection. Producer Ronson's last album, Version, scored some big hits, particularly with British singers Amy Winehouse ("Valerie") and Lily Allen ("Oh My God"). This new album features a more eclectic list of collaborators, from Q-Tip to the Duran Duran to the London Gay Men's Chorus. First single "Bang Bang Bang" wasn't a smash, but it grew on me.

*Estelle - All of Me. This one isn't fully confirmed, but I hope it happens. Her second album, Shine, was a real treat, especially its big hit "American Boy." Estelle misfired with the first advanced single from this, "Freak," but second single "Fall in Love" aims for the same kind of bubbly joy "American Boy" Delivered.

KT Tunstall - Tiger Suit. The British pop singer returns with her third album, featuring different first singles in the UK ("(Still a) Weirdo") and the US ("Fade Like a Shadow").

T.I. - King Uncaged. T.I.'s last album scored some huge hits, including #1 collaboration with Rihanna "Live Your Life." This is his 7th album.

Athlete - The Singles 01:10. The British rock band puts out their greatest hits. Apart from their 2005 album Tourist and its big hit "Wires," I don't really know their catalog.

Oct 5

David Archuleta - The Other Side of Down. The former American Idol runner-up releases his second album.

Ciara - Basic Instinct. Fourth album from her with production from The-Dream and Tricky Stewart.

Antony & the Johnsons - Swanlights. The Mercury Prize-winning group puts out a fourth album.

Oct 11

Lee Ryan - Confessions. The former member of Blue is set to release his second album, although response to early release single, the double A-side "I Am Who I Am" and "Secret Love" was so tepid that I wouldn't be surprised if this doesn't come to fruition.

Oct 25/26

Good Charlotte - Cardiology. Yes it's true that I know somebody who knows somebody who knows Good Charlotte (quite well in fact, since it's the Maddens' mother). That little tidbit aside, I'm really not a big fan, but they have put out some fun songs. This is their fifth album.

Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager. "Day N Nite" was a hit, but can Kid Cudi do it again? This is his second, reportedly darker, album.

Roll Deep - Winner Stays On. On the back of recent #1 hits "Good Times" and "Green Light," the British hip-hop collective releases its fourth album.

Joe McElderry - Last year's winner of The X Factor, the first since Steve Brookstein not to have landed the Christmas #1, releases his debut.

Oct 29

*Kelly Rowland - Kelly Rowland. Ms. Kelly, her second album, wasn't a big hit. But it did produce some great singles. I actually really liked all them--the go-go flavored "Like This," the Travie McCoy collaboration "Daylight," and the Freemasons remix of "Work." After having a global smash with David Guetta last summer, "When Love Takes Over," it's no surprise this album will feature more dance music, including the recent single "Commander," another Guetta collaboration. Yet the other early releases, "Rose Colored Glasses" and "Grown Woman," have a more R&B feel.

Nov. 2

Jay Sean - Freeze Time. "Down" and "Do You Remember," hits from Jay Sean's last album, All or Nothing, made him a star in the US, although the singles stopped coming sooner than they should have. First single from this fourth album, "2012," is already out, but I'm not feeling it.

Nov 8

Tinchy Stryder - Third Strike. British hip-hop artist returns with his third album. "In My System" was the recent first single.

Nov 15/16

Nelly - Nelly 5.0. Nelly's sixth album is due for release in November. But given how many times his last album was pushed back, I'll wager this is tentative.

Kid Rock - Born Free. Kid rock's eighth album features a string of collaborators from both the worlds of rock (Sheryl Crow, Uncle Kracker), country (Taylor Swift, Zac Brown, Martina McBride), and rap (Eminem, Jay-Z, T.I. and Lil Wayne). Sounds like an interesting mix.

Nov 22

Alesha Dixon - The Entertainer. The first single is called "Drummer Boy," and Gary Barlow is going to write for it. Dixon is apparently a reality TV star now, so she may not have much time for this.

Nov 29

Susan Boyle - The Gift. For that bit of market that Taylor Swift isn't able to corner this Christmas season, there's Susan Boyle, ready with her second album. Go SuBo!

Unspecified

While there isn't a specific release date yet for these, it seems pretty safe to assume they will be out this fall.

Natasha Bedingfield - Strip Me. The British singer's third album is apparently done, but no release date yet. "Touch" was released as a single in the US over the summer, but didn't become a hit.

*Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Straight to the Heart. After some delay, Sophie Ellis-Bextor is set to release her fourth album sometime in October or November. It will include recent hits "Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)" and "Bittersweet," as well as the new single with Armin Van Buuren, "Not Giving Up on Love."

Flo Rida - The Only One. His third album, reportedly a double. First single "Club Can't Handle Me" was a recent UK #1 and a current US hit.

Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra. This is the fifth album for the band, their first since 2003's Results May Vary. While some tracks have been released, I haven't seen a release date for the album yet.

McFly - Fifth album. The first single, "Party Girl," is already at British radio, so it's a pretty safe bet this will be released. While no specific date is set, it's rumored for November, and the band says it will reveal the name soon.

Rumors
These appear on less solid footing to get a release this fall, but it is possible.

Adele - Second album. Late last year it was rumored that Adele would follow-up her successful 2008 debut by the end of the year, but at present, there's no solid information about it. I expect to see it in early 2011.

Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part 1. This reportedly sample-heavy set had been scheduled for release in September...until band member Adam Yauch came down with cancer.

Cheryl Cole - Second album. Ms. Cole has been hard at work on her second album, including collaboration with Ryan Tedder, RedOne and Starsmith. Although this was once pegged for an October release, Cole contracted Malaria over the summer, and it's unclear whether her illness and recovery time could create a delay in getting this done and out.

Evanescence - Third album. Once scheduled for a late summer release, this has been delayed for creative reasons and may also be affected by label problems.

Fleet Foxes - Second album. The band has been working on this for some time, as they apparently once said it would be out in 2009. Rumored title is Deepwater Horizon.

Michael Jackson - First posthumous album. Sony has a contract with the Jackson estate to put out seven posthumous releases, based on his extensive recordings vault. This first one is tentatively due in November.

Avril Lavigne - Fourth album. Here's another one that's been worked on for some time. Lavigne's last album was 3 years ago and since then she's been recording on her home studio.

Jennifer Lopez - Love? Here's one we may never see. Originally planned for a release early this year, the album got pushed back after neither of its first singles ("Fresh Out of the Oven" and "Louboutins") found a mainstream audience, although both were dance #1s. Subsequently, Lopez and her label parted ways. Although she has a new label, work on the album continues, and I wouldn't be surprised if the delay leads to a new direction for her next release.

My Chemical Romance - Fourth album. First album since the departure of Bob Bryar. The band announced earlier this summer that the album was finished, but I haven't seen a title or release date yet.

Plan B - The Ballad of Belmarsh. Supposedly this will continue the story of The Defamation of Strickland Banks but be more hip-hop. Plan B's record label took a pass though, so he intends to release it himself. No date is set.

Pussycat Dolls - Third album. Their lineup has changed, and I can't be troubled to figure out how exactly, but it seems to have something to do with Nicole Scherzinger possibly leaving at one point (she's apparently not though).

Britney Spears - Seventh album. It's in the works, but I don't know anything more.

The Streets - Computers and Blues. Mike Skinner is said he's tired of "The Streets" and that this will be the final album under the monicker. Two years ago he said he expected to release this 2 years later (i.e. sometime this year).

Shayne Ward - Third album. This has apparently been a struggle, leading to the departure of Ward's manager, X Factor judge Louis Walsh. Current word is that it will be out in December.

Westlife - Eighth album. Reportedly in the works, but not much is known yet.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Brandon Flowers "Crossfire" Video

Is it just me or has the music video artform seen a real renaissance this year? Continuing the trend is the promo for The Killers lead singer Brandon Flowers' first solo single, "Crossfire," a great tune that now also gets a great video. It guest stars Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron, who saves Flowers several times from captivity by ninjas. Of course she manages her rescues with style and ease (as all rescues should be).

Music of 1990: August

US

August 1990 belonged to a new artist, the one and only Mariah Carey. Carey had the perfect launch with her first single, “Vision of Love,” a striking ballad with a sound both captivating and unlike anything else on the radio at the time. It still stands out as one of her best musical moments, instantly establishing some classic Carey singing tactics—the melisma, the multi-octave range and the spine-tingling (or some would say ear-splitting) high note. “Vision of Love” spent 4 weeks at #1, the entire month of August. It tied “Because I Love You” and “Nothing Compares 2U” as the longest-running #1 hit of the year. “Vision of Love” was the first of Carey’s now 18 #1 hits. She'd earn her second before 1990 ended.



With Carey lodged at #1 for the month, a trio of singles had to be content with #2 peaks. Leading that group was Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love,” his second biggest hit after 1987 #1 “Mony Mony.” Although it only peaked at #2, it was among the ten biggest hits of the year on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart. It’s racy video was a favorite on MTV in the summer of 1990, showing a young temptress sashay through and demolish the urban apartment of a nebbish yuppy.



British act Snap!’s recent UK #1, “The Power,” hit #2 in the US. The third #2 of the month was Janet Jackson’s “Come Back to Me,” the fifth consecutive top 5 hit from Rhythm Nation 1814 and the first and only ballad released as a single from that album. This subdued, gentle ballad has always been a favorite of mine. The track received an enhanced mix for the single release, with additional synth and string elements. I also once heard a version of this without the drums (Shadoe Stevens played it on American Top 40) that I also really liked and would love to track down. Internationally, this was not a major hit—it only reached #20 in Britain—but it is Janet Jackson’s only #1 hit on the US adult contemporary chart. Along with “Let’s Wait Awhile,” “Again,” and “Any Time, Any Place,” its one of the few hit ballads Jackson’s had.



Following in the footsteps of Bobby Brown and Bell Biv Devoe, a fifth former member of New Edition embarked on a solo career in 1990. Johnny Gill’s first single, “Rub You the Right Way,” became his first of two top 10 hits, hitting #3 in August. In addition to the standard version, a dance remix, which I prefer to the original, was also quite popular.



Go West scored their biggest hit with “King of Wishful Thinking,” a #8 hit. After Natalie Cole’s “Wild Women Do” and Roxette’s #1 hit “It Must Have Been Love,” it was the third hit single from the Pretty Woman soundtrack. Other top 10 hits in August included Michael Bolton's "When I'm Back on My Feet Again," his third for the year; "Girls Nite Out," the only major hit ever for Tyler Collins; and "Jerk Out," the biggest hit ever for The Time, a group assembled by Prince that included a number of guys who, by this time, were already notable producers, such as Jellybean Johnson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

UK

Most of Britain's August top 10 hits had already been hits in the US: Madonna's "Hanky Panky," which was a much bigger hit in the UK, reaching #2; MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This," which hit #3; and a double A-side release of Roxette's "Listen to Your Heart" (a #1 hit in the US in 1989) and "Dangerous," which peaked at #6.

The most notable single that wasn't yet a hit in the US was DNA and Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner," a dance remix by DNA of Vega's a capella song from her 1987 album Solitude Standing. Although Vega was well known, she was a not a major force on the pop charts, and "Tom's Diner" remains her only major hit in the UK (in the US, she'd previously had a top 10 hit with "Luka"). The single, inspired by Tom's Restaurant in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was a smash, spending 3 weeks at #2. Later in the year, it peaked at #5 in the US and also hit #1 in some European countries.



Also making the top 10 were Soup Dragons, with "I'm Free" (#5), Blue Pearl with "Naked in the Rain" (#4), and Prince with "Thieves in the Temple" (#7).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Personal Chart, August 21, 2010

Album Review: Villagers - Becoming a Jackal (3/5)

Last stop on the Mercury Prize tour bus brings us to Villagers, an Irish entry in this year's contest with their debut album. Released in May, Becoming a Jackal became an instant hit in their homeland, topping the Irish albums chart. The album is a lush set of mostly acoustic songs with lovely melodies. It opens dramatically with “I Saw the Dead,” lushly scored with multiple pianos, followed by the lighter vibe of “Becoming a Jackal,” the album’s first single. “Ship of Promises” sails in on a grand guitar and synths melody before being lifted with a prominent bassline.

Although band frontman Colin O’Brien is noted for his dark lyrics, many of these songs have bright melodies. “That Day” is a bright, piano-based rocker, while “The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever),” is a an organ-backed love song, albeit with some odd metaphors (“you be my master and I’ll be your fever”).

The minimal, distinct beat of “Home” recalls the work of the XX, a fellow Mercury nominee, it proceeds with Villagers’ typically lush guitar melody. “Set the Tigers Free” has a particularly lovely melody—a mix of acoustic guitar, piano and drums.

Some of these songs are pretty mellow, with mixed results. I like “Twenty Seven Strangers,” which strolls slowly with a mellow beat and acoustic guitar. The sweet piano and strings of “Pieces” have a retro feel. It’s a decent song until the over-the-top ending complete with wolf howls. The sentimentality gets to be too much “The Meaning of the Ritual,” whose prominent string and acoustic guitar melody come off a bit cloying. An the closing track “To Be Counted Among Men,” is a bit of a snooze, consisting almost solely of an acoustic guitar and a vocal.

Overall not bad, but not a knockout. Probably my least favorite of the Mercury nominees I'm familiar with.

Best: Ship of Promises, I Saw the Dead, Set the Tigers Free

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Album Review: Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can (4/5)

Continuing with the Mercury Prize nominees brings me to I Speak Because I Can, the second album from British folk singer Laura Marling. The focus here is on contrast. As the album progresses, it alternates between more uptempo tunes and mellower, reflective songs. While this wouldn't normally be my kind of thing, I actually rather like it.

The fantastic opening track, “Devil’s Spoke” has a muscular, dark melody—a heady mix of acoustic guitar, banjo, bass and strings. It’s followed by “Made by Maid,” a gentle reflection on the cycle of life, with the singer finding a “babe” in the woods and taking him under her wing, only to have him blame her later for everything that goes wrong.

“Rambling Man” is a folksy number with mellow verses that highlight Marling’s gentle voice against energetic choruses of guitar and banjo. “Blackberry Stone” employs dramatic use of strings and guitar (as I sit here writing this, I’m watching the ocean, and this music is the perfect backdrop to the cloudy, gray day).

“Alpha Shallows” at first exudes a quiet drama from repetitive guitar chords, guitar plucking and other stringed instruments. Its darker melody is marked by higher peaks and valleys of relative quiet. “Goodbye England” is a gorgeous piece, with a warm tune reflecting on a love born in the snowy winter of the English countryside. “Hope in the Air” has a brooding piano melody that churns like a storm through this darker track.

Most of the closing tracks are pretty mellow, like tender “What He Wrote,” and the acoustic guitar-backed closing title track. “Darkness Descends” has a little more pep and is pretty upbeat, despite its title. Since I’m not a big folk listener, it’s hard to compare this to other acts. It reminds me a bit of Bat for Lashes, although not as strange.

Best: Devil’s Spoke, Alpha Shallows, Goodbye England, Rambling Man, Blackberry Stone

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Album Review: Foals - Total Life Forever (4/5)



Time to review a few of the contenders for this year's Mercury Prize, to be awarded September 7. I already reviewed The XX last year, Corinne Bailey Rae earlier this year and I Am Kloot recently. Time to dig deeper.

Foals are a five-piece band from Oxford and Total Life Forever is their second album. It has a laid back but playful feel and moody underpinnings. First track “Blue Blood” lifts its chorus with cascading guitars, while darker “Miami,” has touches of synth pop. “Black Gold” clatters along during its verses but smoothes out for the choruses when the synth chords push to the fore. I also particularly like “After Glow,” which combines moody guitar playing with scratchy synths.

Some songs have a certain amount of quirk in a similar manner to Vampire Weekend, but with less fuss over instrumentation. Like on “This Orient,” which mixes playfulness with Bloc Party-esque dance textures. Others are just mellow and moody, particularly the final tracks, “Alabaster,” “What Remains” and “2 Trees,” which nonetheless builds up to a big climax.

At the center of this album is “Spanish Sahara,” a sweeping nearly 7-minute, multi-part song. It opens quietly with slow guitar strumming and some light distortion like the sound of the sea. Gradually it adds a hushed vocal, then a quickening bass drum. The guitar quickens, synths jump in, and everything gets louder as hi-hat dissolves the song into its second verse. Then at 4:00 the song really builds to its headiest, dance floor moment awash in layers and synth with a guitar solo. It’s a really great musical moment and a definite highlight on this overall rewarding album.

Best: Spanish Sahara, After Glow, Miami, Black Gold, Blue Blood

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Album Review: Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul (3.5/5)

Dark Night of the Soul, a collaboration between mastermind producer/DJ Danger Mouse and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehouse that consists of collaborations with other artists and artwork by none other than David Lynch is an album that almost wasn't. Although peppered with big-name guests like The Flaming Lips, Suzanne Vega, Iggy Pop and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, legal wrangling almost kept this album, completed over a year ago, away from stores.

As such, it represents the second, albeit unintended, major album from Danger Mouse this year, following Broken Bells, his collaboration with James Mercer of the Shins (who also shows up here).

The opening tracks are among my favorites. "Revenge (feat. Flaming Lips)" has a laid back synth melody that gets an elegant lift from a lush strings arrangement. After Flaming Lips bizarre last album, it’s nice to hear them do something more conventional and quite nice. "Just War" is another lovely, laid back song with an ambling melody of synths and electric guitar. This also sounds a bit Flaming Lips-like, although it features Gruff Rhys Super Furry Animals. "Jaykup (feat. Jason Lytle)" has a retro ‘60s feel with distorted synth effects, bluesy electric guitar and acoustic guitar.

This get a little rougher after that. Julian Casablancas of The Strokes shows up on darker "Little Girl," which rocks harder than the laid back opening tracks with a great guitar solo. Black Francis of The Pixies appears on the grimy, strutting "Angel’s Harp," which although a bit rude, mellows out at the end. "Pain" with Iggy Pop is big and loud.

Then things get sweet again on "Star Eyes (feat. David Lynch)" with xylophone and vocal processed through an echo chamber a mix of the sweet and the eerie. "Everytime I’m with You (feat. Jason Lytle)" is a nice little melody. "Insane Lullaby" reunites (or rather preceded) Danger Mouse with James Mercer of the Shins. Its sound is fuzzy with sweet strings and guitar over it--quite different from Broken Bells.

"Daddy’s Gone (feat. Mark Linkous and Nina Persson)," another highlight, delivers a bit of country flavor in this warmer, mellow song. Then Suzanne Vega gives a welcome turn at the mic on "The Man Who Played God," which also has a pretty decent melody. Things sag a bit with the strange and weird "Grim Augury (feat. Vic Chestnutt)" before finishing on a high note with "Dark Night of the Soul (feat. David Lynch)," a cool song that sounds like it was composed with old musical elements—the scratchy piano recording, vibrating guitars from an old western.

With all the collaborations and moods, it's inevitable that an album like this will deliver highs and lows. So although I can't quite recommend the album as a whole, there are definitely some tracks worth checking out.

Best: Just War, Revenge, Dark Night of the Soul, Little Girl, Daddy’s Gone

Monday, August 16, 2010

Album Review: Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (4.5/5)


During a recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I was intrigued by an architectural piece on the suburbs. It featured a model of a typical suburban home on a green lawn with a street out front and then used mirrors on all sides to replicate the house infinitely in all directions. It was an obvious but very effective critique on the soulless replication of suburban fa├žade.

The Suburbs, the third album from the Montreal-based 7-piece Arcade Fire, is infused with that special type of youthful angst that the suburbs are adept at producing: an unholy blend of rage and boredom. As a former suburbanite myself, I could recognize this, although I wouldn't say relate, as I was neither angry nor bored as a child. However, I too grew up in a house built in the ‘70s--just like the ones “The Suburbs” says will one day fall.

The album is out the gate with a very promising beginning. The title track sets the theme from the start with a lovely player-piano type melody over a chugging piano, guitar and strings background. “You always seemed so sure that one day we’d be fighting a suburban war,” sings Win Butler. “But by the time the first bombs fell, we were already bored.” “Ready to Start” plunges deeper into the suburban abyss, with layers of guitar propelling the ominous melody. The band uses vampire imagery to describe the “business men” who want to drink their blood “like the kids in art school said they would.”

Although the band has cited Depeche Mode and Neil Young as influences on this album, “Modern Man” sounds like Springsteen with its warm, driving guitar melody. “City of No Children” sounds also sounds Springsteen-influenced. “Rococo” has that big, deep sound like a lot of the songs from their last album, Neon Bible, developing further as the song progresses and the band adds more layers of sound. Short and sweet “Empty Room” bristles with energy and boasts the highest BPM of any song here. It also features both Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne doing joint vocal duty.

The album’s first half closes with the two-part composition “Half Light.” “Half Light I” slowly builds dramatic tension with grand musical layers in classic Arcade Fire form. Then “Half Light II (No Celebration)” follows with a darker new wave feel. The Depeche Mode influence is obvious on the guitar-driven tune enhanced with synthesizer touches.

“Suburban War” is a quiet opening to the album’s second half. It begins with hazy memories of youth (“I remember when you cut your hair; I never saw you again”). Not content to plod along in this vein, the song takes some dramatic, heightened twists. Punky “Month of May” like “Empty Room” also ramps up the pace, reminding me of Violent Femmes. Like most of the songs here, it provides lyrical references to “the kids,” although the autobiographical nature of the album makes it clear these are not the kids of today but from the band’s youth (and the band itself).

“Wasted Hours” has a plodding guitar melody enhanced to deep sonic saturation with synth effects. This is the boredom side of suburban angst, evoked as it is with such a beautiful melody (“endless suburbs stretched out thin and dead”). “Deep Blue” is another gorgeous melody, riding on deep, rough guitars and the purer sounds of synths and pianos. It’s this contrast of grit and shine that marks a lot of these songs…and really the suburbs themselves as well. Dark synths underpin “We Used to Wait,” another Depeche Mode-ish song. The song builds a lot of anticipation without much release. Perhaps that is the point.

The second half of the album also ends with a two-parter: “Sprawl.” “Sprawl I (Flatlands)” lays the suburban angst on a little too thick. Yes, suburban youth can be lonely, but this song is a bit much. Sings Butler, “took a drive into the sprawl to find the house where we used to stay.” “Stay?” He’s not even going to credit his suburban childhood as place to “live?” Apparently not since, “It was the loneliest day of my life.” “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” is a more enjoyable affair—a bright, synth-based pop song. Chassagne’s airy vocal is the sole voice this time. A coda to the opening title track ends the album with an appropriate bookend.

Apparently inspired by Win and Will Butlers’ upbringing in suburban Houston, The Suburbs is much more a concept album than the band’s vivid 2004 debut, Funeral, or its darker 2007 follow-up. Although the concept gets a bit heavy handed, particularly on closing duo “Sprawl,” it serves to provide an interesting thematic thread through these songs, which deliver as much musical variety as we’ve heard from the band.

Best: The Suburbs, Ready to Start, Half Light II (No Celebration), Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), Wasted Hours, Modern Man, Month of May, Deep Blue

Personal Chart, August 14, 2010

I'm back!

I'm back from my week-long vacation and have lots of goodies stored up.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Eminem & Rihanna - Love the Way You Lie Video

Finally, this is out. What a beautifully shot, yet hard to watch video. Nice to see Lost alum Dominic Monaghan (and Paul, who wasn't yet heard this song, this is for you).

UK Singles Chart, August 14, 2010

I have internet access today, but no more this week...so one more post!

1. Beautiful Monster - Ne-Yo

Generally, the chart fortunes of American artists who have a fairly equal level of popularity in the US and the UK are similar. Black Eyed Peas and Lady GaGa, for example, have generally seen the same singles chart the highest in the last couple years. When you get an outlier, it's worth exploring. "Beautiful Monster" is one such outlier. In the US, this was a flop, peaking at #53 on the Hot 100 and #24 at top 40 radio. Among his major hits, this is the first to deviate so startly on the singles charts between the two countries: "So Sick" was #1 in both, "Sexy Love" was top 10, "Because of You" was top 5, and "Miss Independent" was top 10. "Closer" was #1 in Britain and only #7 in America, however, it hung around the charts for so long in the US that it was one of the 20 biggest hits of the year (in the UK it was #15 for 2008).

So why the big difference for this single? I don't know exactly. I think "Beautiful Monster" is a great single and I thought it would be a big hit in the US. Similar to "Closer," the single that led his last album, Year of the Gentleman, "Beautiful Monster" is a clubby, upbeat pop song. It goes even more Euro sounding than "Closer," and perhaps that's what's hung it up in the US. At one point "Closer" looked like it wasn't going to be a big hit--it took forever to reach the top 10--but it finally did. Ne-Yo's label has already moved on to promoting the second single in the US, "Champagne Life."

2. Club Can't Handle Me - Flo Rida feat. David Guetta

Flo Rida scores his fourth top 2 hit, following #1s "Right Round" and "Bad Boys (w/Alexandra Burke)" and #2 "Low." For David Guetta, the man who now dominates the sound of dance pop, it is his third top 10 hit this summer and 7th overall.

11. Choices - Hoosiers

Hoosiers, who scored two top 5 hits in 2007, just miss the top 10 with the first single from their second album, The Illusion of Safety. "Choices" is a new sound for the band, going in the popular synth-based retro vein.

12. What If - Jason DeRulo

Jason DeRulo is primed to score his fourth UK top 10 hit next week, as this single gets a digital release today. Available now from his album, "What If" climbs 3 spots to #12. It's the follow-up to #2 hit "Ridin' Solo," currently in the US top 10.

Big week next week--Finally, the physical release for B.o.B. & Hayley Williams' "Airplanes"; the return single for The Saturdays, "Missing"; and the likely #1 contender, Tinchy Stryder's "In My System." Plus digital singles from Jason DeRulo, T.I. & Keri Hilson, I Am Arrows and Ellie Goulding.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Personal Chart, August 7, 2010

I'm on vacation next week, so likely no new posts for awhile.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, August 14, 2010

1. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna

Eminem and Rihanna spend a third week at #1 with "Love the Way You Lie." That's 8 weeks total for her at #1 this calendar year, tying the number of weeks she spent at #1 in 2008.

7. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry

Katy Perry scores her fifth top 10 hit with "Teenage Dream," the follow-up to her recent #1 hit "California Gurls." The single climbs 13 notches after debuting last week at #20. It's the second single and title track from her forthcoming new album.

9. DJ Got Us Falling in Love - Usher feat. Pitbull

Usher scores his 16th top 10 hit as "DJ Got Us Falling in Love" climbs three spots to #9. Pitbull continues his run as supporting rapper du jour, scoring his second recent top 10 hit as a guest, following Enrique Iglesias' "I Like It," which climbs a notch to #5 this week, in addition to his recent UK hit with Alexandra Burke, "All Night Long."

36. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars

After scoring a #1 hit with B.o.B. and a #4 hit with Travie McCoy, Bruno Mars finally has a single all to himself, as "Just the Way You Are" climbs 7 notches to #36.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Introducing Rumer, "Slow"

"Slow" is the gorgeous debut single from Rumer, a new singer drawing major comparisons to Karen Carpenter. It's due for release in Britain in 3 weeks and is already in the airplay top 40. Check out her other songs, "Am I Forgiven?" and "Long Long Day" at MySpace, and while you're there, pick up the free download of "Long Long Day."

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Album Review: I Am Kloot - Sky at Night (4/5)

Mancunian band I Am Kloot have been around for awhile, but haven't received much notice until this, their fifth album, received critical acclaim and then a Mercury Prize nomination. The album is produced by Guy Garvey and Craig Potter of the Mercury Prize-winning band Elbow. So apparently they know what they're doing.

In Sky at Night, they've helped shape a genteel set of acoustic, almost folksy rock. The lead singer reminds me of a lightweight David Gray. Best: "Northern Skies" exudes warmth and earnestness, particularly during the bridge, when the string arangement kicks in to dominate the acoustic guitar and soft percussion. The lovely guitar melody of "I Still Do" is similarly mellow and quite lovely. "The Moon Is a Blind Eye" is in a similar if too precious vein. "Fingerprints" lights a welcome rock fire under this album, even adding a sinister quality. Its stripped down closing of just strings and vocals is a nice touch, despite highlighting the shortcomings of the lead singer's voice.

The "Brink" in "To the Brink" refers to a pub, the setting for a nostalgic piece steeped in violin-back melancholy. The piano and bit of electric guitar in "Lately" reminds me a bit of Wilco, with its swaggering, gently plucked guitar groove punctuated by vocal and brass outbursts. It's like a late night in a dive bar. These songs are what Arctic Monkeys will be doing in 20 years if they can't stop singing about nightlife in northern towns.

"Proof" is a key standout, pushing up the tempo and percussion during the chorus and second verse, with the melody getting yet another boost from piano during the bridge. In a fairly downbeat album, it's the most "up" moment here. Like a late-night slow dance, old-fashioned "It's Just the Night" sways back and forth with its languid guitar and piano melody. The song is nicely sensual, creating an appropriately intimate setting.

"Radiation" is long--over 6 minutes--and buried as it is near the end of the album, constitutes a nice surprise as the album's most epic cut. First part is just keyboards and a vocal about being bombarded by the radiant energy of distant stars we can't say. Second part kicks off with a quirky transition than blasts in some horns to dramatically lift the song's volume, then drums--for the third part--pick up the tempo on what turns out to be a mostly instrumental number. Near the end, even more instruments enrichen the musical mix. "Same Shoes" can't help but feel a let down after that, but it's laid back manner, complete with horn solos, is a nice way to close the set. I know this band is from Manchester, but this song says "winter in New York" to me.

On its surface, this isn't the type of album that would usually appeal to me. Not enough "umph." But on close listen, it showcases some good songwriting and lovely, gentle melodies. I ended up recommending quite a few tracks here, as they are interesting and varied, yielding up rewards upon closer inspection. Just don't look from them in the top 40 anytime soon.

Best: Proof, It's Just the Night, Radiation, Northern Skies, Proof, Lately, I Still Do

August New Releases

This year is shaping up to be a pretty good one for music. I've already found two albums I absolutely adore--The National and Scissor Sisters--plus a whole bunch that I really enjoy (Broken Bells, Corinne Bailey Rae, Sade, Two Door Cinema Club, Janelle Monae, Gaslight Anthem, to name a few). While August has, in past years, but basically a dud month for new releases, I'm actually quite excited for this month. Particularly for bringing us the third album from Arcade Fire and the second major studio album for Katy Perry.

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (Aug. 2/3). The album I'm most excited about in August is The Suburbs, the third album from Canadian rock collective Arcade Fire. I wasn't a big fan of their first album, Funeral, although I imagine if I spent more time with it, I'd come to enjoy it more. That's certainly been the case for their second album, Neon Bible, which I also wasn't thrilled with at first, but was drawn to it and after listening to it again and again grew to really love it. Several tracks have already appeared at iTunes, including the title track, which I really enjoy. First single "We Used to Wait" is at radio.

Katy Perry - Teenage Dream (Aug. 24). Katy Perry broke out big in 2008, scoring one of summer's biggest hits with "I Kissed a Girl" and its popular follow-up singles, "Hot N Cold" and "Waking Up in Vegas." Now she's back for round two and already hotter than ever. The album's infectious first single, "California Gurls," is probably the biggest global hit of the year, while the second single, "Teenage Dream," is already on its way up the charts as well. Despite all the hit singles, Perry's first album, One of the Boys, was not highly regarded. Perhaps hoping for some better reviews, Perry has employed more big name producers this time. Dr. Luke, who produced songs on her last album, she's got Max Martin, Stargate, Tricky Stewart and The-Dream.

Klaxons - Surfing the Void (Aug. 23). British band Klaxons won the Mercury Music Prize in 2007 for their debut, Myths of the Near Future, delivering hits like "Golden Skans" and "It's Not Over Yet," raising expectations for their follow-up. Getting this out hasn't been easy. A first set of recordings were scrapped and then a second set with James Ford, their first album's producer, were deemed too experimental by the band's label. Ultimately, they ended up recording with Ross Robinson, best known for his work with Limp Bizkit and Korn. First single "Echos" goes for an epic, piano-backed sound.

Usher - Versus (Aug. 24). At present, Usher is riding high with his new single "DJ Got Us Falling in Love" and recent #1 hit "OMG." At the start of the year though, it wasn't clear this would be the case. The promotion of his recent album, Raymond v. Raymond, wasn't exactly easy. First their was "Papers," which failed to catch on, then "Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home)," which got a lukewarm response, followed by tepid response for singles "Lil Freak" and "There Goes My Baby" (which months later became a hit, but not at first). In short, the album was really worked over before "OMG" finally became the album's first big hit, prompting the need for a follow-up. In comes Versus, an EP of new material to make up for the album's shortcomings. The Max Martin-produced first single "DJ Got US Falling in Love" follows in similar upbeat fashion to "OMG."

Aug. 2/3

Lady Gaga - The Remix (US Version). This is a shortened 10-track version of the 17-track remix album that released in the spring. Seems like a bum deal, as it's missing the Pet Shop Boys remix of "Eh Eh," the Robots to Mars version of "LoveGame" and the piano version of "Poker Face" that the Glee rendition was based on. Skip this and get the international version.

Aug. 16/17

The Saturdays - Headlines. Their last album, Wordshaker, produced only two singles, although both were top 10 hits, so it's a surprise they couldn't find a third single. "Missing You," the lead single from this third album by the British pop group, will be out next week.

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Hawk. Third collaboration from the Scottish and American singers, following the enchanting Ballad of the Broken Seas and the disappointing follow-up, Sunday at Dirt Devil.

The Hoosiers - Illusion of Safety. The Hoosiers, who scored big hits in 2007 with "Worried About Ray" and "Goodbye Mr. A" return with their second album. First single is synth-heavy "Choices," already big at British radio.

David Gray - The Foundling. His ninth album. I used to be a fan, but have moved on.

Aug. 23/24

Shontelle - No Gravity. The Barbadian singer who recently scored a hit with "Impossible" releases her first album.

Game - The R.E.D. Album. American rapper's fourth album.

As great a month as this is, get ready for September, which promises new releases from Kanye West, Interpol, Linkin Park, Ne-Yo, Maroon5, Sara Bareilles, Nelly, and T.I.