On paper, it doesn't look too good: A young English girl, inspired by Deftones and Rage Against the Machine, learns how to play guitar. She eventually finds her voice in the acoustic tradition, and — determined to find a collaborator of some sort — takes her search to MySpace. For most singer-songwriters, the third part of this story might reveal an unenviable ending, but for Ellie Goulding, this unlikely start translated into four UK hit singles, a number-one UK album, and a Critic's Choice nod at the Brit Awards — all before her 24th birthday. It helps, of course, that the friends she made on MySpace include electro-pop songwriter Frankmusik and Kylie Minogue producer Starsmith, but there is no doubt as to whose album this is: Lights is a complex record that bares Goulding's indie folk roots on a songwriting level — tracks like "Guns and Horses" and "Your Biggest Mistake" owe a distant, but present appreciation for Sufjan Stevens — while standout track "This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)" approaches contemporary synthpop territory with more of an eye on Kate Bush than Katy Perry. It all culminates into what is likely to be one of this year's most idiosyncratic pop albums, in addition to one of its best: Having defied the artificial separation between commercial and clever, Lights is too smart to be anyone's guilty pleasure.
R.E.M. Collapse Into Now (Warner Bros.)
It's no secret that R.E.M. found itself at its least propulsive upon the departure of original drummer Bill Berry in 1997; without his distinctive backbeat, the band overly relied on melody and melancholia to their own detriment. On 2008's Accelerate, however, there seemed to be an awakening, a reminder that almost everything we love about American indie rock had been invented by R.E.M. in 1983, and on Collapse Into Now — their fifteenth studio album — the band integrates this 30-year history into what is easily their most compelling album in years. Peter Buck's presence is deeply felt here — tracks like "All The Best" and "Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter" recall much of his harder-edged guitar work — while Michael Stipe's inimitable voice resonates with an earnestness we didn't realize we missed so much. So if he's not afraid to sing "Let's show the kids how to do it," it's because he can: When star turns from Eddie Vedder, Peaches, Patti Smith, and The Hidden Cameras' Joel Gibb simply fade into R.E.M.'s background, the power of that hard-earned confidence clearly emerges.
A few weeks ago I linked to a video by The Good Natured, a UK–based group who are quickly becoming artists-to-watch in 2011. Their first American release — a three-song EP called Be My Animal — will be issued next week, and "Wolves" will serve as a digital bonus track to the package. This week, however, it's yours to stream and download for free HERE. At only 20 years old, singer-songwriter Sarah McIntosh writes with incredible sophistication, and if "Wolves" tells us anything about the quality of her work, it's that this song is somehow the "bonus." For almost anyone else, it would be a dream lead single.
Jennifer Hudson's long-awaited sophomore album I Remember Me is due for release on March 22, but this week, Towleroad readers are treated to an exclusive remix for its first single: "Where You At" was written for Hudson by R. Kelly, but this mix — reconstructed by veteran producer Dave Audé — gives the original a classic New York house vibe not unlike more recent fare from Frankie Knuckles. Stream it from the player or download the MP3 for free HERE.
As mentioned last week, the new Death Cab For Cutie album is called Codes & Keys and is due for a March 31 release. This week, a Ben Gibbard solo version of the title track leaked online in the form of a somber, yet sparse piano track — as elegant and emotionally resonant as ever. Also in the form of a live recording, Gibbard teams up with queer punk icon Bob Mould for a version of Sugar's "If I Can't Change Your Mind."
The three-man Remix Artist Collective, better known as RAC, have released a second volume of their brilliant remix compilation series. RAC Vol. 2 features electro and synthpop revisions of originals by Phoenix, Phantogram, Surfer Blood, Washed Out, and many more. This crucial collection is available for free download HERE.
George Michael is slated to release a charity single for this year's anti-poverty campaign headed by Comic Relief, and this time, it's a cover: Michael has reworked the 1987 New Order song "True Faith" — with a hella lot of Autotune. A digital release will be available on March 13, while a physical package will follow in stores the following day. You can listen to a 3-minute clip HERE.
Also in George Michael news: His name has been coming up frequently as being on the shortlist for judges to join Simon Cowell on the American version of UK television phenomenon The X-Factor. Also in the running: Mariah Carey, Jessica Simpson, Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls, and former American Idol rival Paula Abdul.
Not content with his recent Oscar-winning soundtrack for The Social Network, Trent Reznor is in talks to move in front of the camera — to play a vampire.
The experimental Brooklyn outfit Gang Gang Dance entered the mainstream consciousness after Florence and the Machine were called out for lifting a part of 2008's "House Jam" on their single "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)." (Florence graciously copped to the rip-off and agreed to pay them for it. "I'm a massive fan of Gang Gang Dance and it was in homage to them," she said.) This week, the first track from the band's upcoming fifth album was released as a stream, and — while it is certainly their poppiest yet — Gang Gang Dance are not going down easy: "Glass Jar" is a swirling, rhythmic synthpop epic that clocks in at more than 11 minutes. Eye Contact will be released on May 9 via 4AD.
NPR is streaming the first-ever publicly released track by Wild Flag, the inadvertent supergroup featuring Helium's Mary Timony, The Minders' Rebecca Cole, and Sleater-Kinnery vets Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss. A debut two-song 7-inch single, produced by Spoon's Britt Daniel, will see its release on April 16; a full-length album is forthcoming.
Beth Ditto teamed up with UK tech-house producers Simian Mobile Disco for a vinyl-only EP last year, but this week, the Beth Ditto EP gets its domestic digital release. Musically, it's a pretty fantastic appropriation of the Def Mix Collective sound — think David Morales in the Red Zone — but the EP's real strength lies in Ditto's contemplative delivery. If anything, it's a club record about going home from the club by yourself.
I realize I'm totally putting my cred on the line here, but I'm just gonna go out and say it: Avril Lavigne's latest, Goodbye Lullaby, is actually really good! It's not going to be the album that reinstates her multiplatinum credentials, but that seems like part of the plan: Nothing about this record is particularly heady or groundbreaking, but tracks like lead single "What The Hell" and "Smile" are about as perfect a pop song as anyone writing about a public divorce might ever be able to muster. There's a brooding adult album inside of Lavigne somewhere; to some extent, Goodbye Lullaby feels like the end of her innocence.
Rival Schools released one album in 2001 and then essentially vanished. Ten years later, the New York supergroup returns with Pedals, and the result is an almost implausible blend of melodic indie pop, '70s mod, echoplexed shoegaze, and the band's notable hardcore roots. Singer Walter Schreifels really finds his voice here — especially on the sobering "Racing To Red Lights," which reveals his as-yet-unrevealed acumen for the art of the truly desolate ballad.
I liked the first Wombats record enough, but if this is a sign of what's to come on This Modern Glitch, I'm sold: "Anti-D" is my favorite new song of the week, attached with a colorful, climactic video. Also, apparently, if you put a UK pop-punk band in the studio with Jacknife Lee, they become instantly capable of writing smart, orchestral Britpop anthems. Dude makes all things possible.
Olly Murs — "Heart On My Sleeve"
Former X-Factor runner-up Olly Murs releases the third single from his debut self-titled album, and this one is a bit more Westlife and a little less Mark Ronson. Because every ska-tinged neo-soul singer needs his torch song, obviously!
Architecture in Helsinki — "Contact High"
They share a hometown and a record label with Cut Copy, but stylistically, the lead single for Architecture In Helsinki's fourth full-length album balances falsetto funk with pop tricknology. The video adds a visual component to their vocal androgyny while bringing new meaning to the term "touchy-feely."
Yelle — "Safari Disco Club / Que Veux-Tu"
The debut clip for Safari Disco Club — the second album by French electropop stalwarts Yelle — is, at over eight minutes long, more than just a music video: It's a quasi-surrealist visual experience that spans two songs, two sets, and a handful of costume changes. Eagle-eyed fans of America's Best Dance Crew also get a treat: Season 2 runners-up Fanny Pak are Yelle's back-up crew.
The editors of Modern Tonic present a weekly music update here on Towleroad. The rest of the week, they scan the pop culture landscape for movie, TV, book and Web recommendations in their daily email.
TODAY'S FEATURED ARTISTS AND FREE DOWNLOADS:
Available digitally since August, The xx's self-titled debut finally gets its U.S. CD release today. The South London boys and girls of this foursome burrow deep within a minimal electronic atmosphere of stark beauty. Think New Order slowed down and obsessed by love’s ambiguities. Vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim trade lines in a sensual dialogue. "Can I make it better with the lights turned on?" Croft coos on the sultry "Shelter." "Don’t think that I’m pushing you away / when you’re the one that I’ve kept closest," Sim counters on the sinister "Crystalised." And the slinky single "Basic Space" (FREE DOWNLOAD HERE) is a breathy sex song that will keep the indie nation horizontal until the first snowfall.
Little did French electro duo Air know what they were about to start when they released Moon Safari and the international hit "Sexy Boy" in 1998. Since then, the French electro movement has included Phoenix, Justice, Yelle and Mr. Oizo, to mention only a few. But the originators — Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel — are back withLove 2, their best since they took us to the moon, and the first on which they handle all the vocals themselves. They mix soft funk forays like "Love" and "Night Hunter" with the icy New Wave hauteur of "Missing the Light of the Day" and the sinister, punkish "Be a Bee." More proof that there’s nothing better than l'amour. DOWNLOAD FREE ALBUM MEDLEY HERE.
San Diego-based singer-songwriter Greg Laswell's career has been like a slow-burning secret. From his Vanguard Records debut Through Toledo on to 2008's Three Flights from Alto Nido, music programmers have featured his tracks on Smallville, Grey's Anatomy, True Blood and others. His anonymity may still be safe on his latest EP, Covers, which has five songs from Echo and The Bunnymen, Morphine, Mazzy Star, Kristen Hersh and Kate Bush. Yet one listen to his straightforward reading of "The Killing Moon" or the haunting simplicity of "Your Ghost" (FREE DOWNLOAD HERE) and you’re going to want to tell all your friends.
The most important name in electronic music is Kraftwerk. If you don’t
know why, here’s where you get schooled: The Catalogue, remastered
versions of 8 seminal albums from 1974's Autobahn to 2003's Tour De
France. Released individually today, the full boxed set streets November 17.
Brandi Carlile releases her third album, Give Up the Ghost, a mixture of absolute torch 'n' twang to make kd lang proud.
Gossip's Music for Men finally gets released on CD in the U.S. (it's been available digitally for a couple of months), and we couldn’t let another opportunity pass to declare it's one of the best of 2009.
Trip-hop forefathers Massive Attack release the roiling, brooding EP Splitting the Atom, four tunes featuring Elbow's Guy Garvey, TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and more. A full-length is due early 2010.
Röyksopp & Fever Ray: "This Must Be It" The Norwegian electro duo and The Knife’s frosty chanteuse Karin Dreijer Andersson (dba Fever Ray) take a synth-fueled joy ride through a Mad Max-like world on Röyksopp's latest single from Junior. Alejandro Sanz and Alicia Keys: "Looking For Paradise" Hell's Kitchen’s hip-hop poet duets with the sexy, low-key Spanish balladeer on this rollicking acoustic joint from Sanz's forthcomingParaíso Express.
Various Artists: "Beds Are Burning" Kofi Annan introduces this star-studded remake of Midnight Oil's hit to benefit awareness for the Global Humanitarian Forum for climate reform in Copenhagen on December 7. International artists — who sing from a series of wall posters — include Serena Ryder, Duran Duran, Marion Cotillard, Fergie and many more. Download the mp3 for free on their site. Ultra Naté featuring DJ King Tutt: "Faster, Faster Pussycat (Let's Go!)" A freaky club diva and an anonymous figure in tight black vinyl exhort us to "get on and ride / Do it tonight" while a Matrix-type motherboard overloads with techno rhythm. So what are you waiting for? Get on and ride.
The editors of Modern Tonic present a weekly music update here on Towleroad. The rest of the week, they scan the pop-culture landscape for movie, TV, book and Web recommendations in their daily email.
SPECIAL EDITION: FALL 2009 MUSIC PREVIEW
Fall: The time our thoughts turn to new sweaters, pumpkin lattes and world-class divas who want to rule the music charts through the end of the year. This autumn, at least three of them — Madonna, Mariah and Barbra — are stepping up with big new releases (all on the same day no less, September 29). But they're not the only ones we're excited about: There are plenty of up-and-comers, newly beloveds and at least one old friend, Robbie Williams, trying for the umpteenth time to break America. Go, Robbie!
Muse — The Resistance (9-15) Resistance is futile, though The Resistance most certainly is not. The first track and single, “Uprising,” is rousing anthemic Queen glam rock, and it’s followed by bluesy riffs (“MK Ultra”), a prog-rock epic in three minutes (“United States of Eurasia”), and an actual three movement symphony (“Exogenesis Symphony”) that’s a classical gas. Muse’s stadium-scale ambitions make the term “over-the-top” obsolete. But because they do it with enormous hooks, towering vocal pyrotechnics, and a knowing wink we forgive them their indulgences. Their idea of “big” is massive – musically and conceptually – and that’s the type of size queen we love.
Mika — The Boy Who Knew Too Much (9-22) Whereas Muse love the brawny theatricality of Queen, Mika (pictured above) channels Freddie Mercury, the flamboyantly insouciant pop star. His follow-up to the madly successful Life in Cartoon Motion offers more of the same — bright melodies (“We Are Golden”), good-time hooks (“Blame It On the Girls”), dance-friendly grooves (“Rain”) — with extra added depth. The ballads “I See You” and “Lady Jane” are heartbreaking. The boy just keeps getting better, regardless of how much he already knows.
Basement Jaxx — Scars (9-22) It’s been over a decade since Basement Jaxx had us bopping to its funky debut Remedy. With Scars comes new guest vocalists Yoko Ono, Sam Sparro, Santigold and more, but those dance-fueled grooves just get better with age, if first single “Raindrops” is any indication. Gossip — Music for Men (available digitally now; on CD 10-6) A zaftig lesbian with a voice bigger than her girth rides the muscular music of her two cohorts for a gay rock breakthrough that’s longer on party jams than political tirades. “Heavy Cross” pounds like Cyndi Lauper meets Gang of Four, “Love and Let Love” is a funky Madonna rip and — in case you miss the message — “Men in Love” is a frenzied hump fest with a chorus for the ages. “Nah nah nah nah — men in love WITH EACH OTHER!” Sing along, children.
Also: Bananarama — Viva (import, 9-14); Marié Digby — Breathing Underwater (9-15); Rufus Wainwright — Milwaukee At Last!!! (CD/DVD, 9-22); David Gray — Draw the Line (9-22); Landon Pigg — The Boy Who Never (9-29); Zero 7 — Year Ghost (9-29); Massive Attack — (EP) (10-6); Noah and the Whale — The First Days of Spring (10-6); Raveonettes — In & Out of Control (10-6); Katherine McPhee — Unbroken (10-6); Erin McKeown — Hundreds of Lions (10-13); Sufjan Stevens — The BQE (10-20); Serena Ryder — Is It O.K. (11-3); Amerie — In Love & War (11-3); Jamie Cullum — The Pursuit (11-10).
Madonna — Celebration (9-29) Technically it’s not a new release, but a collection of remastered hits selected by Her Madgesty and her fans. But why do you wanna argue with us, people? Do you need an excuse to celebrate the achievements of She who was born Ciccone? How about two new songs —one co-produced by dance-meister Paul Oakenfold? Ready to celebrate now? We thought so.
Mariah Carey — Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (9-29) In which Mimi covers Foreigner’s soaring ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Like her or not — the internet leak of the track last week proved what her voice can do with a song as transcendent and emotional as this. Produced with The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, there’s plenty to satisfy everyone here — from bold ballads (“H.A.T.E.U.”) to street savvy pop jams (first single “Obsessed”). If she knocks this one out of the park, she’ll have scored an R&B comeback trifecta.
Barbra Streisand — Love Is the Answer (9-29) In the exclusive “making-of” video posted on Amazon.com, La Streisand says her latest album — a collection of jazz standards produced by Diana Krall — goes back to her roots. We’re not sure where the intersection of Broadway and Jazz Street is, but she’s not an icon for nothing, and if any voice can light up old warhorses like “Make Someone Happy” and “Here’s to Life” hers would be it.
Robbie Williams — Reality Killed the Video Star (11-10 – digital only) We still root for Robbie Williams to break out in America every time he puts out a record. His latest, produced by Trevor Horn (Pet Shop Boys, The Art of Noise), has a sound that reportedly dips into Williams’ Northern roots — meaning, well, we’re not sure. Manchester rave? Northern soul? We don’t really care — a talented bloke with a great ear for melody, a sense of humor and an outsized personality, he’s still the ex-Take That member we’d most like to take home (we were going to say “to our mothers,” but we really just want to take him home!). (See his brand new video here.)
Also releasing: Nelly Furtado — Mi Plan (9-15); Backstreet Boys — This Is Us (10-6); Rosanne Cash — The List (10-6); Shakira — She Wolf (10-13); Tina Turner — Tina Live (CD/DVD, 10-20); R.E.M. — Live at the Olympia (10-27); Sting — If On a Winter’s Night… (10-27); Nirvana — Live at Reading (11-3); Leona Lewis — Echo (11-17); Britney Spears — The Singles Collection(11-17, unconfirmed); Norah Jones — The Fall (11-17).
DEBUT ARTISTS: Gary Go — Gary Go (available digitally now; on CD 9-15) This British singer — born Gary Baker — isn’t afraid of a soaring, arena-friendly chorus or a relentless positivity in his lyrical outlook. Check out the single “Wonderful” for proof. Discover him quickly, before he becomes the rom-com falling in love/breaking up scene go-to serenader.
La Roux — La Roux (9-29) With her reedy voice and ginger mega-quiff Elly Jackson, with multi-instrumental partner Ben Langmaid, have revved up the ‘80s revival and become U.K. chart-toppers in the process. It’s possible to resist pop nuggets like the Yaz-tastic “Bulletproof,” but we ask: why? Put on your Doc Martens and stomp up a storm.
The Temper Trap — Conditions (10-13) Oh, the male falsetto! From Smokey Robinson to Bronski Beat and Sigur Ros, the sound of a man reaching for the heavens with that most feminine of instruments is soul-stirring. This quartet from Melbourne adds alt-rock muscle to Dougy Mandagi ‘s spectral vocals in a way that will rouse your inner soprano. If you find yourself negotiating the high notes of “Sweet Disposition” — also featured in (500) Days of Summer — or cooing “ooh baby” along with the thrusting “Push” we assure you you’ll never feel more manly. FREE DOWNLOAD OF "DOWN RIVER" HERE.
The xx — xx (available digitally now; on CD 10-20) Their vibe: low-key. Their visual style: austere. Their music: minimal. And their vocals: an intimate boy/girl sing-speak. So why is this South London quartet a hot property right now? Because their 11-track debut balances love’s ecstasy with its menacing undertones, and its subtle musical and lyrical concentration never smack you in the face with fake “look-at-me” showmanship. Instead, it compels you to listen. Imagine that. FREE DOWNLOAD OF "BASIC SPACE" HERE.
Florence + the Machine — Lungs (10- 20) Available digitally since July, the U.S. CD release of Florence + the Machine’s Lungs gives us reason to revisit her much-hyped debut. Was all the critical caterwauling worth it? On second (and third and fourth, etc.) listening, Ms. Florence Welch’s deeply English, pagan, mysterious, over-the-top and unashamedly passionate songs sound better than ever.
Also releasing: Kid Cudi — Man on the Moon: The End of Day (9-15); Alan Cumming — I Bought a Blue Car Today (9-22); Asteroids Galaxy Tour — Fruit (9-22); N-dambi — Pink Elephant (10- 6); Kristina Train — Spilt Milk (10-20); Space Cowboy — Digital Rock Star (11-3).
BOXED SETS / REISSUES:
Duran Duran — Rio Collector’s Edition (9-22); Kraftwerk — The Catalogue (10-6); Hall & Oates — Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall & John Oates (10-6); Dolly Parton — Dolly (10-27); Bee Gees — Ultimate Bee Gees - 50th Anniversary Edition (11-3).
BONUS FALL MUSIC PREVIEW DOWNLOADS
Spiral Beach — “Domino” From their second release The Only Really Thing (out 9-22), Canada’s Spiral Beach interpolates The Munster’s theme riff over a go-go beat that’s an invitation to frug wildly. Add 60’s girl-group harmonies and you’ve got a killer B-52’s rip that could pass for the real thing. FREE DOWNLOAD HERE.
Greg Laswell — “Your Ghost” This San Diegan singer-songwriter
goes the Covers route on his forthcoming EP (out 10-6), and we can’t
wait. Why? This spooky lament – a cover of a Kristen Hersh solo song.
It’s just as haunting as the original, but with added muscle. FREE DOWNLOAD HERE.
Erin McKeown — “The Foxes” This lapsed folkie previews her forthcoming Hundreds of Lions (out 10-13) with a music-hall ditty about – and we quote – “love can’t be fun if you don’t put in the work.” This girl’s working, so start loving her now. FREE DOWNLOAD HERE.