Adele sang splendidly and won everything she was nominated for, all six awards, taking it all in stride right up until the end, when she broke down accepting the award for Best Album. It was sweet. Glenn Campbell performed well, despite Alzheimer's. The surviving Beach Boys, reunited just for the awards, sounded far better doing "Good Vibrations" than either the touring band of faux Beach Boys or Brian Wilson's solo group. The Foo Fighters were formulaic. Katy Perry, like most teenybopper-courting space aliens since Marc Bolan, is entirely a creation of studio gimmickry. Rihanna was fine. Jennifer Hudson's tribute to Whitney was brief and tasteful. Paul McCartney's regal and generous, aging vocal cords or no. And Nicki Minaj ...
Well. It's a good thing they stuck her at the end. She debuted a new single, "Roman Holiday," from the upcoming album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, and in so doing took hip-hop to strange, gothic places. Sometimes Nicki sounded like The Dresden Dolls. She shouted, moaned, brayed off-key, toyed with Catholic iconography, got huffy with a priest, and flew. Watch AFTER THE JUMP ...
Jennifer Hudson will sing a tribute to Whitney Houston at tonight's Grammy Awards, FOX News reports:
"She's a good friend of the Grammys," [said Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of the Grammy Awards]. "She's had some very significant appearances on the show. It felt right to ask to her to come and help us honor Whitney, which she will do musically."
This will be the 30-year-old Hudson's third performance at the Grammys. She received a standing ovation for her moving rendition of "You Pulled Me Through" in 2009, in what was one of her first performances after the murder of her mother and brother. That same year, Houston presented Hudson with her Grammy for Best R&B Album. In 2011, Hudson joined Christina Aguilera, Florence Welch, Martina McBride and Yolanda Adams onstage to pay tribute to Aretha Franklin.
As it happens, Whitney presented Jennifer Hudson with her first Grammy in 2009.
The English writer, singer, and general phenom Adele is widely expected to sweep this evening's Grammys, and until Whitney Houston's death on Saturday the chatter among Grammywatchers mostly consisted of speculation on the state of Adele's voice. She will perform live tonight for the first time since November, when she undewent surgery to correct problems stemming from a vocal hemorrhage. She ought to do fine. Last week she sang the first verse of "Rolling In The Deep" a capella during an interview with Anderson Cooper, and she sounded fantastic. Maybe her timbre's a little darker than before. It'll be a good sound to hear tonight, during a uniquely solemn Grammys. Take a listen AFTER THE JUMP ...
For Jennifer Hudson to begin her sophomore album with the lyric "I've been through some things" is to point out the obvious. If by "some things" she is referring to getting married, giving birth to her first son, dropping five dress sizes, and then having to mourn the murders of her mother, brother, and nephew — allegedly at the hands of her estranged brother-in-law — then, by all means, she's been through it. But while tragedy does not cast a pall over I Remember Me, it certainly informs it: Hudson's performance is more pointed and determined than ever before, whether she's in swagger mode ("I Got This"), retrospective mode ("I Remember Me"), or self-assuring disco anthem mode ("Everybody Needs Love"), and it's this newfound urgency that takes her into even higher levels of artistry. Still, it's almost impossible to ignore the naked sentiment behind re-recording Natasha Bedingfield's "Still Here" and Brooks & Dunn's "Believe" — two songs that both, in their own way, attempt to bridge the gap between loss and healing. Hudson might still be somewhere in between the two, but this album's sheer faith and optimism clearly point towards the light.
Pet Shop Boys The Most Incredible Thing: Original Score (Astralwerks/EMI)
It turns out that the conception that Pet Shop Boys are "composing a ballet" is somewhat misleading: The score for The Most Incredible Thing, which comes out this week as a double-disc collection, is not exactly The Rite of Spring. Which means that while the opening "Prologue" begins with an orthodox orchestral movement that Stravinsky may have even smiled upon, convention is quickly subverted by the album's second minute when "The Grind" introduces a Kraftwerk-for-choreography motif that goes on to dominate the mostly instrumental set. It's a stylistic maneuver that is both consistent and consistently baffling — the opening waltz of "The Risk" somehow makes way for a spell of pulsing guitar rock, while "The Challenge" finds itself somewhere between Pet Shop Boys, a Paris is Burning runway soundtrack, and Star Wars composer John Williams — and yet there's a never a sense that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have lost control. On the contrary, it's their ability to express restraint amid the necessary histrionic musical moments that makes The Most Incredible Thing actually quite incredible. The physicality of a Pet Shop Boys record has always been there, but without Tennant's vocal, the band's otherwise linear, emotive narrative has all the freedom to become a little bit unhinged — primal, even.
Kelly Clarkson's forthcoming fifth album is complete, but according to the singer, it will not see the light of day until September. "I realize that's a long time," she says, "but that's the best time to release it apparently." Details about the album are scarce, but we do know that Clarkson has recorded a version of Eric Hutchinson's blues-tinged "Why Don't You Try."
UK house icons Faithless have announced that, immediately following their last scheduled show on April 8 in London, the group will disband. In an official statement prepared by the group, Maxi Jazz explains, "After 15 years and six albums, I think we've probably made our collective point by now and that it's time to close the book and return the library." The band's final album, The Dance, was released last year.
In 1983 Queen singer Freddie Mercury collaborated with Michael Jackson on at least three songs — only one of which, "State Of Shock," was ever released. (A Mercury-less version became a top-ten hit for the Jacksons in 1984.) This week, Queen's Roger Taylor confirms that the tracks are currently being "worked on," but declines to expand on any further details for a release. "I'm not allowed to say too much about it," he told NME, "but they sound incredible."
Ellie Goulding recently returned to BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge for a session, and as is the custom on the show, she performed a never-before heard cover: Check out Goulding's version of The Knife's "Heartbeats" — which, if you'll remember, was also given a very different, but effective acoustic treatment by José Gonzalez in 2006.
Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn has announced his latest project: Doctor Dee is a new piece of musical theater based on "the life of the 16th Century alchemist, astrologer, and spy John Dee," and is set to premiere in July. Albarn will write and star in the show, which has been scheduled to run at the English National Opera.
Back in January, the legendary songwriter, musician, and producer Nile Rodgers disclosed that he had been fighting an "aggressive cancer" since October, saying, "everything in my happy-music universe imploded." This week, however, we're happy to report that the happy-music universe is back in business: Rodgers' latest test results are cancer-free.
Of all of the post-Pete Wentz guyliner bands, Panic at the Disco always stood out for their elaborate instrumentation, verbose song titles, and dramatic sense of style. They also made an incredibly underrated album in 2008 called Pretty. Odd., which showcased a newfound love for British invasion bands like the Kinks and primed Panic well for life after emo. This week, they release Vices & Virtues — their third album overall and first as a duo, following the departure of Ryan Ross and Jon Walker in 2009. Whatever it lacks in consistency is made up for in experimentation, which one can only assume is the only way to go when half your band finds the door. Songs like "The Calendar" and "Ready To Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)" recall the best parts of their first two records without too much nostalgia, but Vices is, at its core, seemingly more of a transition record than an endpoint.
Duran Duran's last record — produced primarily by Danja and Timbaland — was, to be honest, a bit out of their lane. Which is part of the reason why their Mark Ronson–helmed thirteenth album, All You Need Is Now, really delivers: The title track is indicative of the album's overall intent, balancing modern electronic aesthetics with classic Simon LeBon hooks that wouldn't seem out of place on a classic Duran Duran album. (One of its most successful bids, "Girl Panic!", is really only once-removed from "Girls On Film" — which, to be honest, probably needed a modern successor anyway.) Guest spots from Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic, Kelis, and Arcade Fire's Owen Pallett round out the effort, which — despite its digital release in December — finally sees its physical release today.
In spite of the circuit haze of Peter Rauhofer and Junior Vasquez, Chicago's legendary (and openly gay) Derrick Carter has been pushing his distinct house style — which he lovingly calls "Boompty" — as a DJ, producer, and record label impresario for more than twenty years. This week he releases a 17-track mix for London's Fabric DJ series featuring Chicago staples like Justin Long, Cajmere, and Lego, in addition to longtime likeminded folk like DJ Sneak and Iz & Diz. Clubbers who don't enjoy being clubbed over the head all night with stark-and-dark tribal will find reprieve in Carter's room-enveloping sound.
While it's impossible to have predicted what a collaboration between Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, indie darling Twin Shadow, and Solange Knowles — sister of Beyoncé — might sound like, it seems equally impossible to have predicted that it could be this good: "Kenya" is a gorgeous and complex record — subtly melodic, carefully layered, ethereally tribal — in which Solange's performance shuns the melismatic runs of her sister's greatest hits for what turns out to be a humbler, gentler Knowles. Proceeds from the single go to benefit the Replenish Africa Initiative.
Katy B — "Broken Record"
As the go-to muse for Rinse FM DJs like Benga and Magnetic Man, Katy B quickly established her presence in London dubstep and garage quarters with last year's top-five single "Katy On A Mission." Her debut album — also titled On A Mission — is due for release on April 4, and third single "Broken Record" shows the singer dabbling with a more commercial terrain. If it weren't for the sub-bass jungle throwback of a chorus, you'd think Stargate was producing.
The Joy Formidable — "Whirring"
Welsh trio The Joy Formidable recently announced "Whirring" as their debut American single, and as far as introductions go, this is a good one: It's like a noise pop Breeders for people who loved Kelley Deal at her least sedated; it's shoegaze for people who never felt My Bloody Valentine were loud enough. If you're looking to find a more enthralling female rock singer than Ritzy Bryan this year, she hasn't shown up yet.
SebastiAn — "Embody"
SebastiAn is best known as the elusive, but popular electro DJ behind a half-dozen wildly successful singles for the Ed Banger label in Paris, but with this clip — for the lead single from Total, SebastiAn's forthcoming debut — he totally takes a backseat to that magic dancing boy. In terms of can't-stop-smiling potential, this kid rates crazy high.
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.
Marietta, Georgia columnist suggests setting attack dogs on men cruising in public parks: "With a little instruction, dogs could be taught to severely dislike the gay lovers in Burruss and Wildwood and bite them in the fanny and do what City Council should have done years ago - chase them off to Atlanta where they belong."
Teen claims gay panic in Puerto Vallarta murder: "According to published reports in the Mexican media, the body of the
victim, Sergio Daniel Baltasar Guerra, was found early Sunday morning,
August 9, near the seahorse statue, on Los Muertos beach, just south of
the gay Blue Chairs section of that beach. The victim was between
25-30 years old and had been a manager at a local supermarket."
Portland Mayor Sam Adams recall campaign faces challenge: "With another 56 days to go, they’ll have to gather 786 signatures per
day in order to meet their goal of 50,000. So far, they've been
operating with an average of 176 signatures a day, according to our
calculations. They now need to increase their rate of collection by a
whopping 345 percent to meet the deadline."
ACLU reaches settlement with Yulee High School in Florida over Gay-Straight Alliance: "Earlier this year, the ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of a student
who was denied a request to form the GSA at Yulee Middle School and
Yulee High School the following year. As part of the agreement,
the district must prohibit any discrimination against the club and the
students and faculty members associated with it.The district must also allow the club to meet on campus and to use the name Gay-Straight Alliance.The district has also been ordered to pay $40,000 in court costs associated with the case."