The Australian band Cut Copy has been slowly revealing bits of their fourth studio album Free Your Mind. Last week they released the video for the title track which starred True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard.
On the same day that Penguin Prison releases his debut album, former Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump will introduce a higher-profile debut called Soul Punk — an album that is inexplicably drawing comparisons to Michael Jackson and Kanye West. In reality, Stump took his predictable falsetto and imposed it over a handful of tested R&B tropes. But it's "soulful" largely because he told you it was.
Aside from appearing in a handful of high school plays with his performing arts school classmate Alicia Keys, Chris Glover doesn't have many names to drop or superstar cards to pull, but that's no matter. Penguin Prison succeeds in ways that Stump hasn't quite figured out yet: It's referential without replication. It channels the same '80s R&B that drives Soul Punk without being consumed by it. It tells us more about Glover than what his favorite Prince album is. Outside of the occasional nod to Quincy Jones, we also know this a New York album — equal parts Arthur Russell and early Madonna — and gratefully, it's much harder to cite the references where Glover strays. So while it's possible that he loves Blancmange or that first Badly Drawn Boy album, you'll never put your finger on it.
Which is kind of the point: That Penguin Prison is slippery like that is one of the reasons why tracks like "Don't F*ck With My Money" and "Fair Warning" work in the same way that most great pop singles do. To be faithful without being uncomfortably familiar is the mark of a real soul punk.
Before there was dubstep, there was just plain dub. But somewhere in between there was Massive Attack — a UK collective that brilliantly merged dub characteristics with hip-hop breakbeats and sample-heavy house fundamentals. This week, a two-song collaboration between Massive Attack and dubstep pioneer Burial emerged: "Four Walls" is a dark ambient soundscape that demands patience and rewards accordingly, while "Paradise Circus" is an ethereally reworked version of the track from Massive Attack's recent Heligoland LP. A limited edition 12" of the songs is already sold out.
Robyn isn't quite done with Body Talk just yet: The singer will appear as a musical guest for the Ellen Degeneres Show on October 20, where she'll perform "Call Your Girlfriend."
Sissy bounce ambassador (and undisputed queen) Big Freedia is teaming up with Spank Rock for the Check Yo Ponytail tour, which begins on October 20 in Los Angeles and runs cross-country through November. Also just released: a Flinch remix of Freedia's "Excuse" that somehow manages to add even more bass.
This week's crucial streaming: Lykke Li resurfaces with this haunting new version of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." Diplo and Switch have not abandoned their Major Lazer project, and they're leaking demos for their new album to prove it: "Original Don" is one of the tracks up for consideration. And the Cure's Robert Smith makes an appearance on "Come To Me," a new song from UK post-rockers 65DaysOfStatic. Smith's vocal is more filtered and fractured than pushed up front, but the result is sublime.
Death Cab For Cutie have announced the new Keys and Codes: Remix EP — a companion piece to their excellent Codes and Keys album released earlier this year. They're revealing the tracks in succession over at this mini-site, where you can listen to remixes by Cut Copy and The 2 Bears now.
Radiohead are seemingly everywhere these days, but here's a new way to listen to them: Thom Yorke recently stopped by London's Boiling Room for a 30-minute DJ set, and it's available for download now.
SOUND & VISION:
Tayisha Busay — "Nothing's Happening"
Focus/Virus, the debut album by Tayisha Busay out on Amazon and iTunes today, brings the Brooklyn trio out of the queer-pop underground and into a new light: The new record is sophisticated and insanely hooky, while the aesthetic evokes everything from Kylie Minogue to Kraftwerk — without the fragmented quality of a band that's trying too hard. Not that they've lost their sense of humor: "Nothing's Happening" employs Girl Talk visual artist and video director Thu Tran for an unabashedly campy dose of neon graffiti.
M83 — "Midnight City"
One of this week's must-hear new releases, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming — the latest album from M83 — is the kind of 21-song double-album that words like "epic" were created to describe. Lead single "Midnight City" is indicative of the record's grand gestures, and the video is no less absorbing. Because it's always a good idea to let loose a bunch of kids with psychokinetic powers in an abandoned factory with a camera crew.
The Saturdays — "My Heart Takes Over"
You can't fault them for trying, and with "My Heart Takes Over" — the latest from their forthcoming third album On Your Radar — The Saturdays get that much closer to snatching Sugababes' UK girl-pop crown. It's the third single, so, you know, this is the one where they show you they're all sensitive and stuff. But surprisingly, it works.
Fanfarlo — "Deconstruction"
It's only been a couple of weeks since Fanfarlo released the video for "Replicate" — the lead single from their as-yet-untitled second album. In some ways, the follow-up clip, "Deconstruction," is that video's opposite: It's more of an uptempo indie pop song filtered through a tongue-in-cheek highbrow concept — as if Derrida showed up to direct a Joe Jackson video.
It could be construed that by naming her 2008 debut album 19, after her age at the time of its writing, Adele also established a critical lens for it — with her emphasized youth becoming one part disclaimer and one part I-can't-believe-it-either. We couldn't believe it, of course, because the very timbre of Adele's voice invokes a kind of maturity we tend to associate with world-weary soul singers twice her age. But it was also impossible to ignore that the delivery sometimes outweighed the content, and when it did, we could always point to that disclaimer: 19 introduced Adele as an articulate, but ultimately inexperienced teenager — forming a paradigm where songs like "First Love" are literally about first loves, and where wounds feel fresh because they are. Such reasonable shortcomings are essentially wiped clean from 21, in which Adele finds herself expressing a more even-tempered notion of love and loss from a woman on the cusp of adulthood; it's an album in which the ability to assert her own self-empowerment finally catches up with her unrivaled ability to sing about it. So if Adele's newfound confidence is what allows her to move skillfully between genres — dabbling in country ("Don't You Remember"), gospel ("Rolling In The Deep"), and even bossa nova (on a somewhat unnecessary cover of The Cure's "Lovesong") — it's even more radiant when she shares the room with spotlight-grabbers like Rick Rubin and Ryan Tedder and outshines them all. With the release of 21, the critical lens has been tweaked: It's all wonder, no disclaimers.
Hercules & Love AffairBlue Songs (Moshi Moshi)
If the 2008 debut by Hercules & Love Affair was a revelation, it probably had something to do with our collective dance music amnesia: Andy Butler had successfully tapped into the classic house music zeitgeist pioneered by producers like David Morales and Frankie Knuckles — most notably constructing a near-perfect piece of contemplative disco with "Blind" and making a diva out of Antony Hegarty in the process. Hegarty is absent on Blue Songs — as is DFA producer Tim Goldsworthy and vocalist Nomi Ruiz — but Butler's vision persists with a new supporting cast: Shaun Wright's performance on "My House" recalls Robert Owens in his prime and Bloc Party's Kele Okereke takes his turn on "Step Up," for what sounds like an ode to Chicago house legends Virgo Four. But somehow, the album's strongest statement is a cover of Sterling Void's "It's Alright," which eschews the dancefloor direction of the original for a plaintive, almost mournful rendition — perhaps confirming the suspicion that Blue Songs is not an attempt at genre revivalism, but an accomplished exercise in the recontextualization of house.
Beyoncé is currently in the writing stages of her next record, and if this is an indicator, her new list of collaborators might just surprise you: The singer recently completed work with Diplo and Sleigh Bells guitarist Derek Miller. "I actually have no idea if the collaboration will ever be released," Miller says. "Beyoncé works with whoever she wants to work with… It's just a totally different world from what I'm used to."
Death Cab for Cutie have announced the follow-up to 2008's gold-certified Narrow Stairs — which also scored the band their first Billboard #1 album. Codes and Keys will be released on May 31, with bassist Nick Harmer promising, "this is a much less guitar-centric album than we've ever made before."
In a post to her Facebook page called "My Time To Speak," Ciara surprised her fans with a public plea to be released from her contract with Jive Records and alleged that she spent "more than one hundred thousand dollars out of my pocket" to promote a record "only to hear the radio [program directors] tell me my label didn't want the song played." Jive has yet to respond to the accusations.
Björk is, indeed, releasing an album this year, but it's not the one she hinted at: The singer is teaming up with Syrian artist Omar Souleyman for "the first-ever major Western pop release to feature Syrian dabble and Iraqi choubi music." I have no idea what that means, honestly, but we can expect to hear it before the end of the year.
James Yuill's 2008 breakthrough, Turning Down Water For Air, was one of those albums that crystallizes the successful possibility of an idea that hasn't quite been tapped. Before Yuill, "folktronica" was code for bleepy folk songs; after, it was possible to write four-on-the-floor tech-house tracks with an acoustic guitar. Which is why the first thing you'll notice about his third album, Movement in a Storm, is the near-total absence of guitars. Yuill just went ahead and made a pop-techno record, and it may be months before you realize how game-changing this is: Because when it comes to combining this level of dancefloor credibility with classic pop songcraft, it's not even that no one else is coming close. It's that no one else thought it was possible.
Radiohead's eighth studio album came out on Friday, and if you're still holding out for a return to their guitar-based rock roots, The King of Limbs won't do anything to feed your jones. This is an album driven by rhythm and textures, and despite their insistence on being a "band," the reference points that I feel most confident drawing all point to companionless studio programmers like Four Tet (in the rapid staccato of "Bloom") or James Holden (in the techno-glitch editing of "Feral"). It's not easy listening, but when you recall that even OK Computer's first single was a 7-minute song about suspicious robots, it becomes increasingly clear that the rewards are there if you're willing to collect them.
The original motion picture soundtrack for Blue Valentine — the oscar-nominated film starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams — isn't so much a new album by Grizzly Bear as it is a new way to listen to them: Previous album tracks like "I Live With You" and "Lullabye" take on a new meaning as instrumentals, and Horn Of Plenty's "Alligator" appears here as a "Choir Version" featuring Beirut's Zach Condon with Dirty Projectors' Amber Coffman and Dave Longstreth. Ryan Gosling also shows up with a version of "You Always Hurt The Ones You Love," but that one might be for the diehard fans only.
San Francisco's Ex-Boyfriends have always been more than just "queercore" — if it's even fair to so narrowly pigeonhole them at all. On Line In/Line Out, the trio firmly establishes their acumen for writing finely crafted pop songs dressed in indie rock camouflage, while the video for "Uh-Oh!" is a chance for the Ex-Boyfriends to tell a story about ex-girlfriends.
Cut Copy — "Need You Now"
In the world of Cut Copy's "Need You Now" video, boxers wield swords, swimmers throw nunchuks, and sprinters carry baseball bats — presumably all for love. It's also the must-hear opening track from the recently-released and critically acclaimed Zonoscope.
Literature — "It's Cruel"
Austin's Literature play scrappy garage pop with a West Coast heart, which is probably why it makes total sense that they'd film a video that reenacts Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze's legendary foot-chase scene from Point Break. I don't call too many ideas "genius," but this would be a necessary exception.
Bright Light Bright Light — "How To Make A Heart"
Rod Thomas used to be an acoustic guitar-swinging singer-songwriter — and a great one at that — but these days, he's a new wave flame-keeper and UK gay-mag pinup. (The logical next step!) "How To Make A Heart" is the emotive first single from Bright Light Bright Light's forthcoming debut album Make Me Believe In Hope.
The debut album by 23-year-old James Blake comes with some baggage attached to it: Having already broken the UK Top 40 with a ghostly rendition of Feist's "Limit To Your Love" in November, Blake unwittingly became the great commercial hope for dubstep — a somewhat challenging strand of experimental electronic music better known for its sub-bass than its hit singles. To be fair, this is not that kind of record. But it's not exactly a purist's dubstep record either: While Blake dabbles in the genre's dark minimalism, he rarely ends up being swallowed by it, and much of this can be attributed to the surprisingly soulful depth of his singing voice — which appears unaccompanied throughout, as on the heavily vocoded "Lindisfarne I" or the seemingly Antony–inspired "I Never Learnt To Share." So while it's tempting to cite James Blake as a record that takes the commercialization of dubstep further than ever, the reality is that Blake has essentially sidestepped the genre altogether. For one, it could be argued that the album's lead single, "The Wilhelm Scream," is technically a D'Angelo song in a Burial disguise — and there probably isn't a wall for that at your local record shop.
Cut CopyZonoscope (Modular)
Any club DJ worth his salt will tell you: It's not about beating your audience over the head with peaks and valleys, but seducing them with the tension of a hypnotic rhythm. This is, apparently, one of the lessons that Melbourne's Cut Copy has learned since releasing 2008's In Ghost Colours — an exercise in uptempo, jagged dance-rock, if ever there was one. So where Ghost Colours bobbed and weaved, Zonoscope simply stays the course with great success: Album opener "Need You Now" is somewhat of a modern cousin to Lil Louis's "French Kiss" with its pulsing, uninterrupted flow, while "Take Me Over" reimagines Men At Work's "Down Under" as an outtake from Slave to the Rhythm. But it's the epic "Sun God" that ultimately reveals the full extent of Cut Copy's transformation into a full-on dance outfit — because, as any clubber worth his salt might tell you, the only way to get lost inside of a 15-minute track is to commit to the kick drum.
Did Microsoft really just rip off Arcade Fire for a television commercial? The evidence is pretty compelling. Relatedly, the sampling rogues over at The Hood Internet pointed out another compelling similarity this week: You're not the only one who thought Arcade Fire's "Sprawl II" sounded a lot like Blondie's "Heart of Glass." The mash-up — of course! — is available for free download HERE.
Fact Magazine roped Hercules & Love Affair mainman Andy Butler into compiling a mix of classic house inspirations for their forthcoming sophomore album, Blue Songs, which is available for a limited time as a free download HERE. The official tracklist ends with Hercules & Love Affair's new single, "My House," but stick it out for the real finale: Butler slips in his unofficial acid house mix of Madonna's "Into The Groove."
Ellie Goulding's phenomenal UK #1 album Lights is set for release in America on March 8, and this week, the singer announced her first U.S. tour, which begins in Austin for South by Southwest and culminates with a must-see performance at this year's Coachella festival.
Featuring one-half of the much-loved Promise Ring, Milwaukee's Maritime have announced a new label (Dangerbird), a new album (the forthcoming Human Hearts, due out April 5), and a comeback single called "Paraphernalia" — which shows the band going uptempo for a Cure-like dose of indie pop. An e-mail address gets you a free download HERE.
Being the son of famous folk-rock singers — in this case, Richard and Linda Thompson — is hard! Which is probably why they tend to stick together: Teddy Thompson has provided additional vocals on all but two of Rufus Wainwright's albums. For his fifth studio album, Bella, Thompson works with a blended approach of alt-country and classic pop that recalls the golden era of Crowded House at its best.
The debut album by Chapel Club had all the momentum to become a huge hit last year on the back of lead single "Surfacing," but contested issues of copyright tossed the record into a legal limbo. (Note to new bands: You'll probably want to clear the use of lyrics from "Dream a Little Dream of Me" before you send the song to radio!) Palace finally comes out this week, and it's certainly not any worse for the wear: Tracks like "Blind" and "White Knight Position" invoke all the songwriting savvy of Echo & The Bunnymen without the '80s pomp and circumstance.
Ellie Goulding — "This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)"
This song has been my own personal obsession for the last few weeks, but it's never been an official single. Fortunately, some fans picked up the slack and reappropriated someone else's music video about a kidnapping to create this narrative about a failed relationship.
The Good Natured — "Your Body is a Machine"
Considering how young they are — singer-songwriter Sarah McIntosh just turned 20! — "Your Body is a Machine" is the almost impossibly mature lead single from The Good Natured's forthcoming Be My Animal EP.
The New Pornographers — "Moves"
This is what happens when you hand over a music video to a group of comedians: You get Superchunk's Jon Wurster rocking a red wig, while practically the entire supporting cast of The Daily Show go on to make fun of your band for as long as time will allow. Also seen: Ted Leo, John Hodgman, and Community's Donald Glover. It's kind of genius.
PJ Harvey — "The Words That Maketh Murder"
In an interview with the Guardian last week, Patti Smith called the first single from PJ Harvey's forthcoming eighth album "a great song," adding, "It just makes me happy to exist. Whenever anyone does something of worth, including myself, it just makes me happy to be alive." That just about sums it up.