Annie Lennox is back with her first non-holiday studio album in 7 years and takes on standards, mostly from the first half of the 20th century, in a work aptly titled Nostalgia.
In a 7-minute preview she talks about the "incredible relationship" you must have with the songs that you cover in order to allow them to bring you in. She also talks about curiosity, finding the beauty and pain in the blues, and wanting to find resonance to today in the songs she presents.
"It's a journey into nostalgia but it's also a contemporary piece of work," says Lennox
Lennox gives stunning voice to "Memphis in June" by Hoagy Carmichael and Paul Francis Webster, "Georgia on My Mind" by Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, "Strange Fruit" by Abel Meeropol, "Summertime" by George Gershwin, "Mood Indigo" by Duke Ellington and Barney Bigard, and "I Put a Spell on You by Screaming Jay Hawkins, which Lennox calls a song of empowerment, certainly resonating today as strongly as ever:
"Everywhere in the world women are abused by men, and I love men. And I have to say I'm a feminist, and I'm absolutely proud to say I'm a feminist. A man-loving feminist. That's who I am. But some of the behavior. Very bad. Very disappointing."
Lennox also held a listening party at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California where she talked more about the album and how she is still fascinated with making music.
"I want to still make music. I don't want to twerk, but I want to be relevant."
Get a few luscious samples of Lennox's new LP and hear her explain, AFTER THE JUMP...
We are six months into 2011 which means it's as good a time as any to reflect on the year in music so far. Also, I started writing this column near the beginning of the new year, which makes this an excellent time to review some of those first impressions as well, and more interestingly, to see which new records actually stood the test of time — or at least, the test of as much time as six months allows. It all culminates into this ten-song playlist, which we're calling The Best of 2011 (So Far).
But first: "Best-of" lists of any kind are highly contentious. I know! It's the virtual minefield every music writer must step into, and of course, the shrapnel does fly. So in order to better understand this playlist, I thought I'd uncover some of the process behind putting it together.
For one, I wanted this playlist to be somewhat skewed in favor of subjectivity. There were a lot of great records that, from an objective standpoint, probably deserve kudos — and I'll probably hand those out at the end of the year. But in the midterm, I thought it would be more interesting to focus on records you may not be hearing on the radio or covered by the cast of Glee. In other words, Adele and Lady Gaga actually broke some interesting ground this year, but I'm pretty sure you're familiar with their work by now.
Next, I wanted to focus on songs here, and not full-length albums. This is mostly a practical consideration: I'm making a playlist of songs, so the song should be the thing. But it's also a matter of giving a full-length album more time to mature before ushering anyone into any halls of fame. In the Internet age, we tend to demand instant opinions about works of music that probably deserve greater contemplation — and if you ask me, something is being lost in the process. So instead of adding to that noise, I made a conscious decision to use the individual song as the signal.
Finally, there are two very important songs that didn't make this playlist because of licensing issues, so I will quickly add them here as an addendum to the mix:
CocknBullKid — "CocknBullKid"
CocknBullKid's Adulthood is, for me, the biggest surprise of 2011 so far: Unlike the majority of pop albums I've heard this year, Anita Blay manages to stay on an even, and insanely pleasurable course for its duration — from '60s girl-group soul to modern dancepop and an inkling of indie spirit. (It's fair to say that Kylie Minogue will never drop nonsequitur shout-outs to LCD Soundsystem and Fiery Furnaces.) An opinion that seems to be only strengthening over time, it's my favorite album this year from front-to-back.
Charli XCX — "Stay Away"
Interestingly enough, my favorite single of 2011 (so far) doesn't even have an album or a video attached to it. Frustratingly enough, I can't even find a link for the single on iTunes or Amazon, and the best I can do is send you to the record label — who seem to be selling it on 12" vinyl. But amazingly enough, this song has stayed in the upper reaches of my radar for several months without ever wearing thin or even hinting that, in the future, it will do just that. Charli XCX, a young British teenager born several years after the T'Pau song that "Stay Away" may remind you of, has created a dark and brooding single unlike anything we've heard on the radio since Siouxsie and the Banshees, an independent-woman song free from clichés about paying your own bills and getting some good advice from your mother. If it ever gets a proper release, Charli XCX might finally break Beyoncé's grip on the topic once and for all. A welcome respite, indeed.
Enjoy the mix everyone, and be sure to post your own year-end picks in the comments. We'd love to hear them!
Phoenix are currently working on the much-anticipated follow-up to 2009's excellent Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Very little is known about the project so far, but the band have allowed renown designer and photographer Hedi Slimane into their New York recording studios to document the process for a series of gorgeous black-and-white portraits.
Annie Lennox, Will.i.am, and Liza Minelli are among the list of stars that needed to be evacuated from a burning hotel in London last week. The hotel played host to the Silver Clef Awards, an annual event which recognizes outstanding contributions to UK music. There were no reported fire-related injuries from the incident.
The options as we know them: Last week, Amy Winehouse's website was either a.) taken over by a group of gay black hackers who love Lil B and aim "to take back the Internet from the white devil," b.) taken over by a prankster pretending to be a group of gay black hackers, or c.) taken over by members of the infamous anti-Scientology crew Anonymous in order to create a fake beef between two crews. A reasonable assessment of the screenshot: Someone, most likely straight, thought "Gay Black Hackers" would make a good Internet meme.
There has been much debate and criticism over the cultural acceptance of Los Angeles-based rap collective Odd Future since their inexplicable surge in popularity last year; the group's shock-lyrics — soaked in violent misogyny and homophobic tropes — have inspired endless arguments about the relationship between art, politics, and free speech. But at this year's Pitchfork Festival, a group called Between Friends — a longstanding nonprofit group "dedicated to breaking the cycle of domestic violence" — are taking the discussion off the web and into the streets: Along with the YWCA, Rape Victims Advocates, and several LGBT groups, the agency will be staging a protest at the festival. Says a spokesperson, "While we don't agree with this, it is their art, and we'd like to offer a counterpoint and continue to help people that are being affected by the violence they describe."
Well worth watching: Rufus Wainwright teams up with his father — the esteemed Loudon Wainwright — for an effectively soulful rendition of Richard Thompson's "Down Where The Drunkards Roll," while Rufus offers more details about his forthcoming 19-disc career box set.
SOUND & VISION:
Bright Light Bright Light — "Disco Moment"
I'll be the first to admit that when Rod Thomas reinvented himself from acoustic-pop troubador to arpeggiated pop heartthrob, I was a little skeptical. But with "Disco Moment," Thomas perfects the transition with an enviable attention to songcraft that most young men with synthesizers will never achieve. If we needed a male counterpart to Robyn, we may now have one.
The Good Natured — "Skeleton"
Speaking of bright young songwriters, few are more impressive than the Good Natured's Sarah McIntosh, who at only 20, seems to have figured out how to tease out some of the more effective techniques of the trade — prompting the Guardian to dub her a "techno Dido." (I think they were trying to be flattering, but yeah, Ladytron is probably a better reference.) "Skeleton" is the title track from the band's latest EP, out today.
DJ Shadow — "I Gotta Rokk"
The lead single for DJ Shadow's forthcoming The Less You Know, The Better is certainly innovative in its reappropriation of vintage heavy metal samples, but its video is memory lane gold. Seeing '80s guitar hack Michael Angelo with his four-necked guitar again kind of choked me up!
The Sound of Arrows — "M.A.G.I.C."
Sweden's Sound of Arrows originally released "M.A.G.I.C." as a single in 2009, but there's nothing like an incredible new video to warrant a re-release. More of a mini-movie than a music video, the narrative invokes everything from Land of the Lost and Pan's Labyrinth to Where The Wild Things Are and H.R. Pufnstuf. It's not every day that you'll finish watching a promo clip feeling like you just saw a critically-acclaimed foreign film.
Modern Tonic — a free daily email delivering gay-approved pop culture gems before they get co-opted by everyone else — presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad. FEATURED HOLIDAY RELEASES:
'Tis the season when Sugar Plum Fairies — dressed like go-go boys, of course — dance in our heads. And they have some new tunes for all that holiday gyrating. Here's the best of the chestnut-roasting season soundtracks (all available now):
Annie Lennox, the big-lunged voice of Eurythmics, offers English madrigals ("GodRest Ye Merry Gentlemen"), dark ballads ("In the Bleak Midwinter") and a gorgeous addition to the Christmas canon with her own "Universal Child" on A Christmas Cornucopia.
Mariah Carey'sMerry Christmas II You is as curvaceous and inviting as her hip-hugging red-velvet Santa suit on the cover. The traditional songs are good, but the originals are the standouts, especially "Oh Santa!" — a finger-snapping, new-fangled classic that swoops in with a Celtic trill that could either be a pennywhistle or Mimi herself. Who can tell?
The soulful country-pop voice of Shelby Lynne adds a sexy sheen and down-home charm to 9 covers and two originals on Merry Christmas, her first holiday record. Those two originals — the country-swinging "Ain't Nothin' Like Christmas" and the down-tempo melancholy of "Xmas" — make us hope it’s not her last. Stream "Ain't Nothin' Like Christmas" in player below.
Responsible for their 10-million-selling debut, producer Glen Ballard returns to the fold for Wilson Phillips' Christmas in Harmony, 13 holiday tunes sun-drenched with California sunshine, including the swinging "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" (stream in player below) and "Warm Lovin' Christmastime." Surf’s up, Santa!
Olivia Newton-John's fourth Christmas release Christmas Collection is a gently grooving, breezy romp through holiday favorites featuring Vince Gill ("Away in a Manger"), Clint Black ("Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!") and the London Symphony Orchestra. And at 62, ON-J's voice is as pure and angelic as ever, a gift that keeps on giving. Stream "Christmas Never Felt Like This Before" in player below.
While we've never been ones to get all misty-eyed over the oeuvre of Jessica Simpson, her second holiday release Happy Christmas is a lovely surprise. She duets with the always-reliable Willie Nelson on a bluesy "Merry Christmas, Baby," offers a sweet-natured original, "My Only Wish," and covers John & Yoko’s "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" without making a fool of herself.
The Glee gang gets in on the holiday action with Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album. Which one's getting the most action on the Modern Tonic rotation? "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" featuring k.d. lang and the touching duet "Baby, It's Cold Outside" between Kurt (Chris Colfer) and his supremely talented, adorable friend Blaine (Darren Criss).
Now, what's a holiday without fruitcake? The Superions — with the B-52's Fred Schneider and instrumentalists Noah Brodie and Dan Marshall — set their sights on Destination… Christmas! It's a holiday hoot featuring "Santa's Disco," the lascivious "Jingle Those Bells" and the delicious synth-pop confection "Fruitcake" (free download in player below).
Bonus free downloads: two tracks from The Puppini Sisters, "Santa Baby" and a cover of Wham's "Last Christmas" from their new album Christmas With the Puppini Sisters." Also in our player is Little & Ashley's "Winter Night" from the L.A.-based duo's new Winter Night EP.
Frankmusik has remixed Natalia Kills' "Mirrors" (free download in player above). The new video for the track, from Kills' debut album Perfectionist, due in March, will be released December 6. Kills was also in the studio with Frankmusik to work on a track for his new album, due next spring.
The Black Eyed Peas return with The Beginning, not as slamming as the highlights of The E.N.D., but more consistent. Standouts: the feel-good single "Light Up the Night" and Fergie's punk-rock hiccups on "The Situation."
UK dance duo Simian Mobile Disco get techno-licious on Delicacies — a collection of instrumental dance tracks on two discs (one CD with separate tracks; the second a mix). Most delectable: the Krautrock-meets-OMD closer "Ortolan." Free download of the radio edit of "Sweetbread" in our player above.
After topping the charts with her second release Epiphany, R&B singer Chrisette Michele deserves to open her third album Let Freedom Reign with the mid-tempo groove of "I'm a Star" and follow it up with "Number One." If it weren’t for those pesky Black Eyed Peas, she’d probably hit that height again. Stream the Andy Zulla dance mix of "Boys Cry Too" in our player above.
Philly soul sister Jazmine Sullivan throws down on her sophomore release Love Me Back, 11 tough-minded tracks about love and loss produced by Missy Elliott (the neo-soul "Excuse Me"), "Holding You Down (Goin' in Circles)"), Ne-Yo (who also duets on "U Get On My Nerves") and more. Stream single "10 Seconds" in player above.
Active Child — "I'm in Your Church at Night" In a storm of flour, three zaftig bakers create angelic human beings, one of whom is L.A.-based songwriter Pat Grossi aka Active Child. Surreal, beatific and as luminous as Grossi’s unearthly, keening voice.
Cheryl Cole —"The Flood" A windy beachside provides the backdrop for Cheryl Cole's hybrid love tune that begins with a gentle country vibe before slamming home on a sing-along-and-sing-it-out-loud pop chorus. From her second solo album, Messy Little Raindrops.
Sander Kleinenberg feat. Jamie Cullum —"Remember When" Dutch DJ/producer Kleinenberg invites jazz-pop dandy Cullum to get his Timberlake on for this funky Eurodisco jam shot in a brightly lighted subway-cum-disco. From his new disc 5k.
Jamie Woon — "Night Air" London newcomer Woon strolls through a fecund woodland nightscape in this evocative clip for his eerie, dubstep-influenced electro single. His anticipated debut’s due in 2011.
Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and other celebrities have put their tweeting on pause until they raise $1 million for the Keep a Child Alive charity before World AIDS Day.
Annie Lennox on life actually being easier if she were gay: "It's not like I think being gay could be an alternative, 'cos it isn't. I sometimes wish it would have been 'cos it would have made life easier...I think that for 90, maybe even 95 per cent, of women, men are a huge disappointment in relationship terms."
The Kimpton hotel group tops gay and lesbian traveler list: "Of all the hotel brands, (Kimpton is) the most active in LGBT community," Paisley says. "They have a website, they sponsor tons of events and they advertise in gay and lesbian media."
Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair debate religion. Says Hitchens: "Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well."