Somewhere along the line the term “pop music” has become a dirty word. I remember when guitar bands blazed an exploratory trail through pop realms as interesting as any keyboard wielding dance groover. But in the modern age the genre seems to be associated with music industry production lines, dance routines and TV talent shows. That’s why you need bands like Talk In Code. For Talk In Code is a pop band in the very best sense of the word, one that can wander from pastoral pop pathways to incisive indie cool to rocked out riffs to dance floor infused beats and back again without breaking into a sweat.
There was a time when videos were merely a marketing tool, a supplementary piece of promotion to help sell the song in question, something to be fun and forgettable. But over the years things have changed, or at least those smart enough to understand the power of the video, especially in today’s distracting and visually driven market, have changed the way they use them. Jonathan Alexander is one of those astute enough to recognise that a song with the right film accompaniment is more than the sum of its parts. Much more.
It isn’t enough to be inspired by classic song writers of the past, you have to bring something new to the table as well. Fail to do that and you end up making music which at best sounds dated or at worst plagiarised. Thankfully this is a fine line that Israel Stone walks with ease on Game, able to create music which emulates some of the classic artists of pop past whilst at the same time delivering a sound which feels totally of the moment, up to date, anticipating the latest fad or fashion and even running ahead of the current musical trends.
Christmas songs usually follow some pretty tried and tested pathways. The imagery is usually of opening presents, of being surrounded by family, of food and cheer, of having and being grateful. Nothing wrong with that but in many ways it’s quite a selfish message really. And at a time when the world seems to be in ever more turmoil and division, when the gap between the haves and the have-nots seems more pronounced than ever, maybe a more realistic message, a more basic reminder needs to be heard and that is exactly what Lynne Taylor Donovan has done with Dear Santa.
Pop music doesn’t have to follow the seemingly ubiquitous current industry format, the same beats, the style over substance, the enforced dance routine moves, the slavishness to lowest common denominator transient fad and fashion. In fact pop music becomes more relevant the further it moves from such conformity. Fjokra’s latest single, Sugarface, featuring regular collaborator Annie Bea, is all the proof you need that this is the case.
If anyone ever tries to convince you that the technology that was enabled sampling and all the studio innovations that much modern music is built on has taken all the skill out of writing songs, then just play them The Keymakers. There will always be those artist who use such advancements to make up for any lack of requisite skills, but this duo certainly is not one of them. The Keymakers instead use the studio itself as an instrument, make (largely) digital magic and then learn how to replicate it live, as the accompanying video shows.
Who says that rock music has the monopoly on all the big moves? Alisa Chirco’s latest single is as big, dramatic, theatrical and sassy as anything that those posturing, foot on the monitor types could fire off. Give Me More proves, that when done properly, pop can be hard hitting and impactful, can make big sonic statements and run on sky-scraping grooves. With lyrics that are nothing if not demanding the music is the perfect mirror for that confidence and self-assured swagger.
As long as there has been music vying to be the Christmas No. 1 there have been songs that challenge such modern traditions. This latest offering from Spray is ironically both. In their usual infectious, humorous and slightly off-beat pop way The Ballad of Xmas ’99 (Oh Cliff) tells the story of…well, you can probably work most of it out from the title. It looks back at their shot to be the sonic Christmas cracker of that year only to be defeated by the usual suspects including the infamous, wired for snooze, Cliff.
Writing about music in a language other than the one I am fluent in is an interesting process. Without the direct communication of the lyrics you have to let the music do the talking which might seem like a more difficult process but which can actually feel more honest, subtler and more pure process. After all how many times have you heard someone say that “the music speaks to me’” well, in this case that is pretty much all I have to rely on. That and a very narrative driven video.
What do you do when you find that you are not practicing what you preach? This was the dilemma facing Matt Oestreicher as he spent his days mentoring kids on how to aim higher and follow their dreams whilst realising that he wasn’t pursuing his own. Although an accomplished musician and working alongside many notable and name artists he was yet to record and release his own music and it was this epiphany that led to his own album, Dream The Word New. seeing the light of day.
The ever-grafting son of the smith, SEAN McGOWAN, is barrelling into 2019 via his favourite place: the road.
With 2018 an indelible highlight and highpoint of his decade of crafting songs, Seán is stepping up his already considerable efforts to bring his smart wordplay and clash of sad and riotous tunes to everyone he can muster.
Some music looks to the past, re-invents the wheel or perhaps merely polishes it in the hope that this new found sparkle will ensnare a new audience. Others follow fad and fashion, happy to piggyback on the current zeitgeist and try to slip through the doors that have been opened by other contemporary artists. And then there are artists like Mark James who are all about looking to the future. For although there is much that is familiar on his album, Miles Away, there is a definite feeling of moving everything forward, of striding confidently onto new horizons and leading rather than following the pack.
Genres will only get you so far. They are fine for obvious music, derivative music, music which follows well defined templates. But when you get to artists such as Alison James you have to abandon such easy labels and dig a little deeper. It’s not that her music doesn’t resonate with recognisable sounds, its just that those sounds are better defined as classic or timeless rather than merely throwing them into a collective pool of similar sounding artists.
Although normally associated with more intricate and wilfully over-saturated music, and also best known as the powerful vocal presence in alt-rockers Absinthe Junk, Altered Cinder is part of a musical project that sees Blair B. explore a more minimalist musical landscape. Working under the moniker of Luxury Eviction, space and atmosphere are equal parts to the instrumentation, allowing for the music to ebb and flow gently around the single vocal lines.
Proving that pop can talk about the big issues in the world, taken either literally or metaphorically, Pallot’s classic still rings true, discussing the blind faith, greed and divisions in the world today.
Also the album that this comes from, Fires, her second album and released on her own label, is a real gem, mixed with great pop songs such as this, some dreamy and gorgeous atmospherics and deft indie brilliance. It’s also a testament to giving it your all, as she re-mortgaged her house to find the additional money to get the album made, an album which would reward her with a couple of chart hits , went on to put her on the map and secured a career for her.
Lo-fi pop duo Malihini will release their debut album ‘Hopefully, Again‘ through Memphis Industries on 8th March 2019. Produced by Richard Formby (Wild Beasts, Ghostpoet, Darkstar), ‘Hopefully, Again’ was written in Sicily and recorded at the remote Giant Wafer Studios in Wales. Malihini, aka Rome-based couple Giampaolo Speziale and Federica Caiozzo, have unveiled the first single to be taken from the album, the soulful, superficially pretty ‘Hopefully Again’: its languid drums and woozy electric guitar hook-line usher in a sort of conversation between circling lovers – Caiozzo taking the first verse, Speziale the second, the two combining for the redemptive and addictive “Love is coming back” chorus line. “It’s about when you’re first really into one another”, explains Speziale. “When you try to be someone, as seen through the eyes of the other. It’s about flirting, and the moment when you come back from the slowness of depression, you dress up and you’re ready to confront with the fastness of love/life again”.
It’s nice to be nice. It’s good to turn the other cheek. There is a lot to be said for dwelling on the positive rather than the negative. Sometimes though, you just have to get things off of your chest and say how you really feel. This is one of those times. Without naming names, it is fairly obvious what type of person this is aimed at and after all there is no need to be specific as there seems to be an endless revolving door of macho, alpha-male, would-be despots espousing greed and division, fear and hate to further their own ends, both political and personal.
Despite the possible Talking Heads reference that makes up Jen K. Wilson’s nome de plume, Quick Beat Save leans much towards smoother, more subdued and languid sounds. If there is a connection at all it manifests itself in a similar non-conformist mind set rather than in the music itself. The same desire to merge the avant-garde with accessible pop, the same blurring of generic lines, the same exploratory nature but where Rhode Island School of Design’s finest were known for anxiousness and angularity, not to mention later world music dabbling, Quick Beat Save plays with dance vibes and minimalist synths, classical sounds and glitchy deliveries. Wrap all this in muffled and muted production, throw in vocals that seem to lie just out of earshot and her beguiling songs find their own unique spaces to inhabit.
When Oslo’s Spielbergs brought their debut single We Are All Going To Die to the world in February this year, their impact was immediate. It was a rallying cry, an urgent and insistent examination of mortality that instantly exploded through the rafters and shot for the sky. It was a track that united rock and indie fans and writers the world over, topping the Hype Machine as most blogged about band in the world, making Lamacq’s Livener on BBC 6 Music and cementing the band as ones to keep a very close eye on going forward.
Following three months of extensive European tour dates, London-based international acid rockers SWEDISH DEATH CANDY are pleased to reveal brand new single ‘A Date With Caligula’ ahead of their forthcoming London appearance at The Lexington on 9th November to finish their EU tour in style.
Following the release of the wonderfully titled single ‘1,000 Opera Singers Working in Starbucks’, which was included in the official soundtrack of FIFA 19, London trio Wovoka Gentle have now shared new track ‘Peculiar Form of Sleep’, out now on Nude.
It isn’t always a groove or a lyric that hooks you into a song, sometimes it can be far subtler than that. On the first spin at least, the most immediate and beguiling aspect of Seagate for me was its textures. There is something really artful in the way a whole range of different styles and sounds have been threaded together into a sort of slick and melancholic pop. Note, melancholic but not maudlin. It has inherent tinges of memory, nostalgia and reflection but only as subtle details, a background vibe, rather than as its main raison d’être. And it is Al Holland’s ability to take various musical threads – shimmering dreamscaping, folky delicacy, electronic motifs and gentle, cinematic pop -and weave them so deftly that they create gorgeous musical vistas that is the real charm of the music.
Ahead of her appearance at PolyFest, Laura Beth sat down with She, Robot to find out more about the artist, the music and the machine.
You are playing PolyFest this year. You are obviously an X-Ray Spex fan. What tracks will you be playing from the classic ‘Germfree Adolescents’ album which is being celebrated for its 40th anniversary? Also, could you explain what those tracks mean to you?
If for no other reason than I managed to unexpectedly get a ticket to last night’s TC&I show at Swindon Art Centre here’s a reminder of just one of the great songs that XTC were responsible for. With TC&I only having a small arsenal of new material at their disposal, the bulk of the show was obviously made up from the extensive XTC back catalogue. Including this sweet little pop gem.
Mainly because we have recently featured The Filthy Tongues (all three of whom can be found in this video) I thought I’d drop this little beauty onto the site. Sitting somewhere between rock and pop, they wrote great and fairly non-conformist songs but this, for me, was their finest and most accessible moment.
By and large pop music tends to follow some pretty tried and tested templates. Most chart bound offerings fresh off the music industry production line seem to have more in common than the things that instead make them stand out from each other. Homogenisation thy name is modern pop music. But even if the creative benchmarks in the genre weren’t currently so low, Jaguar Grace, perhaps the coolest name in music, would still shine like a beacon in the murky musical night.
Sometimes you have to wait for things to come naturally into your life. This is certainly true of the relationship that Nandan Gautam has had with music. This Baku, Azerbaijan based composer had always been driven to try to make music but his attempts as a younger man didn’t bring him the results or happiness he expected to find there and so he pursued alternative creative outlets instead.
Things I Like: Unnecessarily convoluted song titles. Bands who don’t understand the term “generic boundaries”. Tongue in cheek lyrics. Silliness. Sultry beats. Sleazy grooves. Music with a larger than life personally. So the chances of me not loving the wonderfully named Fans of Jimmy Century was always going to be pretty slim indeed.
If at one end of the wide pop spectrum you have brash identikit, dance routine driven, short shelf-life throw-aways, Box comes from the furthest point in the opposite direction. Here Alisa Chirco has created an elegant ballad that fuses pop with more classically minded sounds. The result is a song which has enough modernity to appeal to the current wave of pop fans but which has enough poise and grace that it will also appeal to an older and more discerning audience.