Rufus Wainwright Hub

MUSIC NEWS: Florence and the Machine, Jay Brannan, Amy Winehouse, Rufus Wainwright, Westlife, Modeselektor, Jessica 6



Guestblogger Norman Brannon is a pop critic, musician, and author based in New York City. He presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad and writes regularly at Nervous Acid.  

Follow Norman on Twitter at @nervousacid.


Florence+TheMachine_CeremonialsFlorence and The Machine Ceremonials (Island)

The second album by Florence and the Machine is anything but a retreat: On Ceremonials, Florence Welch sacks subtlety for the kind of epic grandeur we normally associate with prog-rock or '70s AOR — the most significant difference being its sheer lack of pretentiousness and Welch's uncanny ability to transcend her own creation. In other words, despite the larger-than-life instrumentation and broad musical strokes, this album is clearly the vehicle of a vocalist. It's all an incredible balancing act, of course, and Adele producer Paul Epworth does his best to reign it in and keep it focused. Sometimes, the tension is almost inconceivable — "Never Let Me Go" is like the nonexistent lost collaboration between Sarah McLachlan and Siouxsie and the Banshees, while "What the Water Gave Me" sounds like Trentemøller got his hands on a PJ Harvey song — but when the elements come together for songs like "Shake It Out," you're almost shaken out of the experience of listening to an album and actually drawn inside of it. Ceremonials is more than simply expansive; it's inclusive.

Also out today: Darren Hayes — Secret Codes and Battleships (EMI Import), The Decemberists — Long Live the King (Capitol), Radio Slave — Works + Selected Remixes 2006-2010 (Rekids), Susan Boyle — Someone to Watch Over Me (Columbia)


JaybrannanRoad The long-awaited sophomore album from Jay Brannan has been given an early 2012 release date, and our first taste of the record is a song called "Greatest Hits" — which is streaming on Soundcloud and available on iTunes now. The as-yet-untitled follow-up to 2008's Goddamned features production by David Kahne, who has worked on records by Paul McCartney, The Strokes, k.d lang, and Kelly Clarkson to name a few.

Road The first posthumous album by Amy Winehouse is set to be released on December 5. Lioness: Hidden Treasures will feature 12 tracks including unreleased music, alternate versions, two new songs, and covers of material by Leon Russell and the Shirelles.

WainwrightsRoad The McGarrigle-Wainwright annual family Christmas show went on a two-year hiatus when Rufus Wainwright's mother, Kate McGarrigle, became ill and eventually succumbed to cancer in 2010, but the show is coming back for two nights in December. Also on Rufus Wainwright's docket: a new album with Mark Ronson producing and the Dap-Kings as his backing band. "I'm making an actual pop record," he says. "It's been a while since I've done that."

Road R.E.M.'s Mike Mills on the future of Michael Stipe: "I don't think that [music] is where his passion lies. I think he wants to be in the visual arts. I imagine Michael will do a lot of sculpture and photography. I think those are his big interests now."

Road Patrick Wolf recently recorded a live set for SHOWStudio's Café Concert Series in London. High-quality video from the concert is streaming online now.

The-goodnaturedRoad If you have yet to familiarize yourself with The Good Natured, do yourself a favor: The band — featuring 20-year-old singer/songwriter (and charismatic ingénue) Sarah McIntosh — releases the Skeleton EP this week and set out on their first American tour early next year. The new record is streaming on Soundcloud now, and features the irrepressible "Wolves" — produced by current Charli XCX producer and "Dancing On My Own" co-writer Patrik Berger.

Road Adele has been forced to cancel all of her remaining scheduled appearances in 2011 due to a vocal cord hemorrhage that has driven doctors to recommend throat surgery. "I have absolutely no choice but to recuperate properly and fully," the singer says, "or I risk damaging my voice forever."


Westlife — "Lighthouse"

Despite selling 44 million albums over their 14-year career, Westlife have always been somewhat of an easy mark in the English boy-band canon, but I've always liked them — and the fact that Mark Feehily has spent the last six years in the group as an openly gay singer in a female-dominated market speaks to their indifference to the capitalist boy-band stereotype. The group's forthcoming Greatest Hits collection will be Westlife's final album, and "Lighthouse" — written by Take That's Gary Barlow — is its lead single.

Modeselektor — "Shipwreck" (feat. Thom Yorke)

No one is making tuneful abstract techno like Modeselektor these days, and on their newest album, Monkeytown, the German duo has once again commanded the attention of Radiohead's Thom Yorke, who already provided vocals for their 2007 single "The White Flash." With "Shipwreck," the band invokes classic Aphex Twin while Yorke weaves his trademark falsetto in and out of the dense rhythm. It's not easy listening, but it sits right up there with anything from The King of Limbs.

Martin Solveig & Dragonette — "Big in Japan"

He's been confirmed as one of a handful of producers working on Madonna's new album, but until we get to hear those results, there's this: Martin Solveig teams up with Canadian trio Dragonette for the fourth single from his latest album, Smash, and another brazen round of broad-gestured, big-room French house.

Jessica 6 — "Prisoner of Love" (feat. Antony)

Former Hercules & Love Affair singer Nomi Ruiz formed Jessica 6 in 2008, but the band truly arrived earlier this year with the release of See The Light — an album whose flirtations with disco, R&B, and classic house reveal a sophisticated relationship with genre that leaves plenty of room for charismatic singularity. Antony Hegarty's guest turn on "Prisoner of Love" is only meant to remind you that even disco sings the blues.

Towleroad Guide to the Tube #990

MARY MCALEESE: Irish president's acceptance speech for winning LGBT Political Figure of the Year at the GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Awards 2011).

VIETNAMESE JAVAN RHINO: On the verge of extinction.

NEST: Tony Fadell, former Apple engineer who helped develop the iPod, is now designing thermostats.

SEAN LENNON AND RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: Cover "Material Girl" at Occupy Wall Street protests.

For recent Guides to the Tube, click HERE.

MUSIC NEWS: Amy Winehouse, Rufus Wainwright, Jay Brannan, No Doubt, Snow Patrol, Feist, Owen Duff, Penguin Prison, Starsmith



Guestblogger RDIO_GENERIC_120X60 Norman Brannon is a pop critic, musician, and author based in New York City. He presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad and writes regularly at Nervous Acid.  

Follow Norman on Twitter at @nervousacid.


Rufus Wainwright House Of Rufus: Box Set (Universal) Houseofrufus

It's fair to say that when Rufus Wainwright released his debut self-titled album in 1998, the sheer volume and variety of his future work could hardly be predicted. He used to speak of (and, indeed, continues to mention) his desire to be a contemporary pop star, but if House of Rufus — the 19-disc box set featuring almost everything he's ever put his name on in the last fifteen years — reveals any one thing, it's that Wainwright is no contemporary pop star. Nor should he be. When "Foolish Love" opens the set with its theatrical panache, there is no question that Wainwright's idea of pop music sounds nothing like the radio: there is no traditional chorus, the lyrics are more conversational than radio call hook, and the arrangements — provided by the legendary Van Dyke Parks — haven't been "contemporary" since Parks produced Phil Ochs in 1970. Later, within the context of his "official" discography, Wainwright gives us folk tunes, album-oriented rock, classic torch songs, and his own self-proclaimed "popera." There are new versions of Shakespeare sonnets, liturgical mass music, and two CDs worth of Judy Garland covers. There is even the story of Prima Donna, the opera he composed and premiered in 2009. Factually, there is no "hit single," but more importantly, there is no artistic deficit. Wainwright flourishes as a true visionary artist, almost in spite of himself. In terms of rare music, House of Rufus offers an incredible selection of demos and other unreleased material that needed a wide release — the jaunty "A Bit of You" and fan favorite "Money Song" immediately spring to mind — but there's one song whose omission lends unintended irony to Wainwright's pop aspirations: The only officially commissioned remix of a Rufus Wainwright song — by German techno producers Michael Mayer and Superpitcher — gives "Tiergarten" an epic 14-minute ambient disco workout, and in all these years, it's still the closest he's ever come to finding success on a modern dancefloor.

Also out today: Kelly Rowland — Here I Am (Motown Universal), Jake Walden — Same Something Different (Jake Walden Music), Little Dragon — Ritual Union (Peacefrog), Paul Oakenfold — Never Mind The Bollocks (Perfecto), Popul Vuh — Revisited & Remixed: 1970-1999 (SPV), Metronomy — English Riviera (Big Beat/WEA), Craig Richards — Fabric 58: The Nothing Special (Fabric)


Amy-winehouse Road Musicians are responding en masse to news of the death of Amy Winehouse: Says Lady Gaga, "Amy changed pop music forever." Adele astutely noted that "Amy paved the way for artists like me and made people excited about British music again whilst being fearlessly hilarious and blasé about the whole thing." And in a series of tweets, Rihanna said she was "genuinely heartbroken about this." For a longer read from a surprising contributor, comedian Russell Brand offered a deeply personal essay about Winehouse and their shared affliction of addiction: "Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease … All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation, but as a disease that will kill."

Road The musical tributes for Amy Winehouse have just begun: Esteemed singer-songwriter Jay Brannan covered "Rehab" for a new video on his YouTube channel, while M.I.A. quickly responded to Winehouse's death with a new song: "27" is available for streaming on Soundcloud now.

RoadNodoubtandmajorlazer No Doubt's love for Jamaican dancehall culture, reggae, and ska is well-documented, so it's almost a no-brainer for the crew to hook up with electro-dancehall producers Switch and Diplo — a.k.a. Major Laser — on their forthcoming comeback album. The band revealed they're working on a new song called "Push and Shove" with the duo.

Road Snow Patrol have announced a new EP for release on September 4 — their first new set since 2008's A Hundred Million Suns. The band released a high-quality version of the title track, a quasi-nu-disco stomp titled "Called Out In The Dark," for streaming on YouTube

RoadFriendly_fires_glasto09_DN_012 Whether you love Gaga or you'd rather she just go away, there's little arguing that "Edge of Glory" is kind of a jam. UK post-rave standard-bearers Friendly Fires seem to agree: they covered the song for BBC Radio this week.

Road Today in bizarre musical family dynasties: Bob Dylan's grandson, Pablo, is a rapper.

Road It's hard to believe it's been over three years since the release of Feist's incredible breakthrough album, The Reminder, but the dry spell is over: A 12-song follow-up album called Metals will get its release on October 4, and the singer has released a string of preview videos to whet your appetite.

Road Those of you who remember my Unsigned Artists Special a few months back might remember Owen Duff — the openly gay London-based singer/songwriter whose work, I noted, "transforms the Broadway dream-sequence into a three-minute pop song." In anticipation of a new EP set for release later this summer, Duff threw a sublime cover of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" on YouTube, and pretty much earns that critical distinction all over again.


This week's Rdio playlist lays tribute to the massive contribution that Amy Winehouse made in creating a hospitable landscape for a British neo-soul and jazz vocal movement that includes, but goes well beyond the phenomenal success of Adele. The circumstances under which this playlist was conceived were, of course, terribly unfortunate. But creating this mix provided a unique opportunity to appreciate the work of Amy's peers and that of her successors — only a partial extent of what will surely become her influential legacy. Direct relations include Dionne Bromfield — the 15-year-old singer who was Amy's goddaughter and protégé — as well as Alex Clare, an ex-boyfriend whose dubstep-soul bears clear traces of her impact. But it's the indirect connections of, say, Kate Nash's straightforward lyrical approach or VV Brown's distinctively English delivery that will remind us most of the profound impact that Amy Winehouse had on British music in such a short amount of time. This mix attests to the fact that her absence will be deeply felt for some time.



Penguin Prison — "Fair Warning"

Ebullient and seemingly effortless, Penguin Prison's latest single is somewhat of a modern new wave benchmark — meaning that if you took away the roaming arpeggiators and impeccably synthesized rhythm, you'd still have a meaningful pop song. All together, it's a last-minute contender for song of the summer.

Joan as Police Woman — "Chemmie"

Her bio includes stints with Antony & the Johnsons and the Dambuilders, collaborations with Rufus Wainwright and Scissor Sisters, and significant-other status with the late Jeff Buckley, so if the company that Joan Wasser keeps is any indication, her talent-to-notoriety ratio is sadly skewed in the wrong direction. "Chemmie" is the third single from last year's The Deep Field — a jazzy, but soulful take from an emerging artist that demands a second look.

Starsmith — "Lesson One"

His most recent notoriety comes from an impressive list of songwriting and production credits for Ellie Goulding, Girls Aloud's Cheryl Cole, and Kylie Minogue — if you liked "Put Your Hands Up," he's one of the people you'll want to thank — but later this year, Starsmith plans to strike out with his solo debut. "Lesson One" is the second official single from that album, co-written by French club producer Alan Braxe.

The Forms — "Fire to the Ground" (feat. Matt Berninger)

The Forms recent Derealization EP showed a band on the verge of a creative apex, and with the video for "Fire to the Ground" — one of its standout tracks featuring vocals by The National's Matt Berninger — the New York-based duo step up the visual element: Intricate, conceptual, and somewhat dark, insofar as occasionally mirthful dancing can be dark, this is not the kind of choreography you'll see on So You Think You Can Dance.

MUSIC NEWS: The Best of 2011 (So Far). Also: Charli XCX, Phoenix, Rufus Wainwright, Bright Light Bright Light, The Good Natured


Guestblogger Norman Brannon is a pop critic, musician, and author based in New York City. He presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad and writes regularly at Nervous Acid.  

Follow Norman on Twitter at @nervousacid.


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!

Coming out today: Radiohead — "Little By Little (Caribou Remix)" b/w "Lotus Flower (Jacques Greene Remix)" (XL/Ticket Tape), Brian Eno — Drums Between the Bells (Warp), Coldplay — "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" (Single) (EMI), Memory Tapes — Player Piano (Carpark), Digitalism — I Love You Dude (Downtown), Teddybears — Devil's Music (Big Beat/WEA)


Phoenix Road 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.

Road Annie Lennox,, 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.

Modeselektor_Eden Road Berlin abstract techno heroes Modeselektor have announced a new album for release in October. Monkeytown will feature two guest appearances from Radiohead's Thom Yorke, who previously worked with the group in 2007 for a terrific single called "The White Flash."

Road 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.

Odd Future Road 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."

Road 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.


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.

MUSIC NEWS: Lady Gaga, Rufus Wainwright, CocknBullKid, Friendly Fires, Stephin Merritt, New Order, Depeche Mode, Calvin Harris



Guestblogger Norman Brannon is a pop critic, musician, and author based in New York City. He presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad and writes regularly at Nervous Acid.  

Follow Norman on Twitter at @nervousacid.


Lady-gaga-Born-this-way-album-Cover-Motorcycle Lady Gaga Born This Way (Streamline/Interscope)

It may be officially impossible to write about Lady Gaga with any real modicum of objectivity, and on some level, that might be her real success: If Gaga aims to polarize — us vs. them, outsiders vs. establishment, monsters vs. non-monsters — then she's certainly done that. But to some extent, the visual and ideological spectacle that she insists upon also tends to obscure the fact that Lady Gaga is ostensibly a recording artist and not simply a performance piece; at one point, not too long ago, she was an ordinary young woman who played nondescript piano bar songs at nondescript piano bar venues and took the subway home like everyone else. The question, then, becomes how to isolate an album like Born This Way from the meat dress, the egg pod, or the paper-eating sideshow on David Letterman, and the answer is not quite clear. Because for all its successes (the synthesized resurrection of Laura Branigan on "Marry The Night") and failures (the cultural tourism and Latin-fetishization of "Americano"), Born This Way exposes a flaw in Gaga's multimedia barrage — if only because, without the over-the-top visual stimulation, there is a lot to be underwhelmed by: Like the relentless four-to-the-floor, which seems to have only one configuration. Or the lack of subtlety, which makes sure you immediately get the point, but discourages digging deeper. Or the frequent references to religious iconography, which fail to add anything new to an already over-mined conceit. Of course, if it sounds like I'm being overly harsh on the only artist in the world to ever achieve a number-one single with the words "gay" or "lesbian" or "transgendered" in the lyrics, you might have a point. There is a certain amount of carefree revel on Born This Way that is compelling for its potential to surprise — I'm still trying to figure out exactly what she means when she says "Scheiße, be mine," and don't worry, I know what "scheiße" means — but that means there's also something to be said about its more predictable moments. I mean, earlier this year, Gaga announced that this was "the greatest album of the decade." She can't possibly be upset if we hold it up to her own standard.


Rufus-Wainwright Road Rufus Wainwright has begun work on his seventh studio album with producer Mark Ronson — whose résumé includes work with Amy Winehouse and Adele, among others. "The main objective — not for the entire [album] necessarily, but for portions of it — is to be danceable," Wainwright says. "I just want to make something that you love, driving around in your car listening or losing your mind to on a dancefloor."

Road Relatedly: It has recently been confirmed that Adele is working on a collaboration with de rigeur British rapper Tinie Tempah. As for Amy Winehouse, her father Mitch — who is currently on a press tour promoting his own album — gives new word on his terribly missed daughter: "She's doing better now," he says. "She has been clean for two and a half years … I'm not saying that her problems have gone away, because they haven't. She's dealing with it."

Road Listicle: Eight openly queer rappers you should know.

Stephen_Merritt Road Magnetic Fields songwriter Stephin Merritt recently announced the release of Obscurities — a collection of rare and hard-to-find material spanning most of the 1990s. The fourteen-song album will come out of August 23, but you can download a teaser MP3 for the elegant "Forever and a Day" now.

Road Florence Welch has revealed thematic details for her forthcoming second album — the follow-up to Florence + The Machine's breakthrough debut Lungs: "It still feels like I'm very much drawn to dark metaphors in the new songs. It always feels like as if with each song you write, you're trying to understand something about yourself: Why am I this way? What's wrong with me?"

Road The original success-by-blog band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah return from their four-year absence with a new album called Hysterical — produced by John Congleton (Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky) and due in September.

Road June 6 is the street date for Total: From Joy Division to New Order — the first compilation album to combine classic singles from the related bands. Also featured: a previously unreleased song from New Order called "Hellbent." The new single is available for streaming below.

New Order — "Hellbent" (Previously Unreleased)


Cocknbullkid How to put this bluntly: If I were writing a column entitled Twelve Songs You Need To Hear This Week, I'd most likely hand you a copy of Adulthood — the debut album by CocknBullKid — and call it a day. In a week where Lady Gaga will be christened the still-reigning queen of pop, Anita Blay might get only a fraction of the accolades for an album that, hyperbole aside, actually delivers on incredibly sophisticated and well-executed modern pop. There are spiritual predecessors, of course — notes of Kylie Minogue admittedly register high here — but Blay's style is so inimitably English (and so unmistakably working class) that it's impossible to fail in teasing out her own idiosyncratic vision. That current single "Asthma Attack" namechecks LCD Soundsystem while recalling Change–era Sugababes is no accident: much like the entire album, Blay's occasionally harsh urban aesthetic is unfailingly tempered by kindness.

Friendly-fires-pala1 If 2011 is the year that commercial Euro-house went American mainstream, then Friendly Fires might be banking on the return of balaeric house: With their second album, Pala, the UK-band completely dismiss the over-filtered dark synths and go in favor of a lighter, summery sound that will inspire far more joy on the dancefloor than angst; it might be downright impossible to do anything but hug the person next to you when "Hawaiian Air" comes on. Their reverence to the rave is also present here — "Live Those Days Tonight" is the most authentic Manc–house track since people actually bought Happy Mondays records — but on Pala, it's more about smiley-faces than synthetic ecstasy.

Bazan-Strange-Negotiations-600-480x480 Very few artists can survive the ghost of being considered a "Christian artist," and yet David Bazan — whose '90s output as Pedro the Lion earned that very title — has persisted. Part of his reinvention, of course, lies in the release of 2009's Curse Your Branches, which effectively served as Bazan's break-up album with God; the introspection and criticism of his former life lay as bare as just about anything you'll ever hear on the subject. His second solo album, Strange Negotiations, gets its release today, and much like Branches, it's a musically and emotionally stripped-down affair — wistful over past mistakes, but softheartedly determined to make good on redemption.

Also out today: Various Artists — Kitsune Maison Vol. 11: The Indie Dance Issue (Kitsune), Art Brut — Brilliant! Tragic! (Cooking Vinyl), Bird of Youth — Defender (Jagjaguwar), Pete & The Pirates — One Thousand Pictures (Zoom), Thurston Moore — Demolished Thoughts (Matador), New Kids on the Block & Backstreet Boys — NKOTBSB (Sony Legacy)


Depeche Mode — "Personal Jesus" (Stargate Remix)

They're better known for their work with Rihanna and Katy Perry, but Norwegian production duo Stargate clearly owe much of their sound to bands like Depeche Mode. Here, with the lead single from Remixes 2: 81-11, Stargate finally inspire the medieval witch-hunting treatment they couldn't really muster up from "Firework."

Princeton — "The Electrician" (feat. Active Child)

The L.A.-based Princeton cite only two influences on the Facebook page: Steve Reich and Larry Levan. You kind of can't argue with that! For "The Electrician," the band puts its atmospheric synthpop in the hands of Active Child's Pat Grossi — whose wide-room vocal adds celestial depth. The video's graphic police brutality is not for the faint of heart, and yet the song's cinematic quality would feel a little less exposed without it.

Calvin Harris — "Bounce" (feat. Kelis)

Kelis continues to feed her club fixation, this time teaming up with UK electro-house producer Calvin Harris. The video is mostly safe, but still NSFW — which is probably the state of a lot of our weekend social lives. Aside from the part about passing out in the club, I hope.

James Blake — "Lindisfarne"

A standout track from Blake's acclaimed self-titled debut, "Lindisfarne" eschews dubstep for despondent robotic soul and features a somewhat uncomfortable clip that is one-part Party of Five, one-part cult recruitment video. Also, fans of gobbing may get a little extra something out of it.

MUSIC NEWS: The Wombats, Poly Styrene, Rufus Wainwright, M.I.A., Bon Iver, Franz Ferdinand, Explosions in the Sky, Emmylou Harris



Guestblogger Norman Brannon is a pop critic, musician, and author based in New York City. He presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad and writes regularly at Nervous Acid.  

Follow Norman on Twitter at @nervousacid.


The-wombats-this-modern-glitch The Wombats This Modern Glitch (Bright Antenna)

Despite its cheerless title, A Guide To Love, Loss, and Desperation — the well-received 2007 debut album by the Wombats — was technically more manic than depressive; lyrical nods to bleak romantic failure and bleaker Joy Division listening sessions were belied by the music's pulsing party soundtrack. But the album's fixation on hopelessness, we know now, was deeper than the surface allowed: Vocalist Matthew Murphy was, in fact, not only struggling with depression, but with a spate of psychological side effects from the antidepressants he was taking to cure it. With This Modern Glitch Murphy comes out through to the other side, where the paradigm shift is most pronounced on songs like "Techno Fan" — perhaps the first-ever explicitly anti-rockist anthem — or "Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)," in which the demons from Murphy's past are recast as horror movie beasts before he finally beats them. It's a motif that carries over into the album's undisputed centerpiece, "Anti-D," where The Wombats revise "Bittersweet Symphony" for an anti-Prozac polemic that is as uplifting and optimistic as any song that rhymes "antidepressant" with "decongestant" will ever be. The symbolism of Murphy taking a beating by a gang of doctors in the song's video is, therefore, a literal one — but then so are the final images of Murphy being saved by his friends and raised to the sky in some sort of cognitive rapture. In other words, while the narrative of the "triumphant return" is a hackneyed one, sometimes the shoe just fits.

START WITH: "Anti-D" / "Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)"


Poly-styrene Road Cancer claimed the lives of two great musicians this week: On Wednesday, TV On The Radio announced the tragic passing of their bassist and founding member Gerard Smith. It was revealed last month that Smith had been diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after recording their new album, Nine Types of Light. He was 34. And just this morning it was confirmed that feminist punk icon Poly Styrene lost her battle with breast cancer yesterday. Best known for her work in X-Ray Spex, Poly's inimitable voice and individualist attitude set the stage for gender politics in punk rock — arguably changing the landscape for generations of indie bands to follow. Her newest album, Generation Indigo, came out today in America and is available for streaming. She was 53.

Road Next month, former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook will issue a new EP with his current group The Light, featuring new versions of classic Joy Division songs like "Atmosphere" and "New Dawn Fades." More intriguing, however, is the inclusion of "Pictures In My Mind" — a previously unfinished and unreleased Joy Division song that Hook carries the lead vocal on.

Rufus-wainwright-zaldy-tour-costume-5 Road Rufus Wainwright is set to release an insanely huge box set of his recorded works titled House of Rufus. The set will contain all six studio albums (with unreleased bonus tracks), as well as four additional CDs featuring pretty much every song Wainwright has ever recorded or appeared on — including the demos that got him signed. There will also be another six DVDs of live performances and feature-length documentaries, a 90-page hardcover book, and interviews with Neil Tennant, Martha Wainwright, and Linda Thompson, among others. This impossible-to-consume-in-its-entirety collection will be available on July 18.

Road Having ended his prolonged cameo in Kanye West's universe, Justin Vernon comes back down to Earth with a release date for Bon Iver's second full-length record. The ten-song self-titled album will be issued on June 21 through Jagjaguwar.

Mia_metroweekender Road Here's another one for our ongoing list of unlikely pop music collaborations: M.I.A. was recently in the studio with producer Polow Da Don (the man responsible for "Love In This Club") and the perpetually choleric Chris Brown. Whether or not Maya is using these sessions for a new mixtape or her fourth full-length album is as of yet unclear.

Road Oh wait. Unlikely pop music collaborations don't get any worse than this one: Ke$ha has reportedly asked Black Lips to write a song for her. "She wants us to do a punk rock song with her — she likes punk rock," says frontman Cole Alexander. You might remember Black Lips from that time they almost got into a fistfight with Wavves' Nathan Williams and proceeded to call him a "faggot" on the Internet no less than four times in three paragraphs. I wrote an essay about it in 2009 called "What I Learned About Homophobia From Black Lips."

Road Motion City Soundtrack's Justin Pierre resurfaced this week as a member of Farewell Continental — a shamelessly pop side project that Spin quite accurately compares to "British boy-girl bands like Ash." That dynamic is apparent on lead single "Dagger, Dagger: Terror Terror," where Pierre is outshined by Kari Gray's anxious introspection wrapped up in '90s indie delivery. The song is available now as a free download.

Road The Franz Ferdinand Covers EP, originally released for last month's Record Store Day, will get a proper release in May. The band calls it "an EP of covers of our songs by people whose music we love," and the tracklist is pretty flawless: Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields, LCD Soundsystem, ESG, and Peaches all contribute to the record, as does Debbie Harry — who appears with Franz Ferdinand themselves. The entire EP is available for streaming below.


Explosions-in-the-sky-take-care-take-care-take-care Since the release of 2007's excellent All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone, Austin's Explosions In The Sky have seen their brand of angular post-rock soundtracking Friday Night Lights, in the upper reaches of the Billboard charts, and on stage at Radio City Music Hall — all of which seems incomprehensible for an instrumental group whose closest musical reference points have names like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and This Will Destroy You. This week, the band returns with Take Care, Take Care, Take Care — a sprawling collection of intersecting guitar patterns, Eno-inspired ambiance, and slow-building loud rock freakouts which, at their best, reconfirm Explosion's genre-defying relevance.

Jamiewoon_mirrorwriting We weren't really done with "the old James Blake" when the UK press proclaimed Jamie Woon to be "the new James Blake," which is kind of a critical curse if I've ever heard one. Either way, Woon's debut album Mirrorwriting is sure to add to the divisive discourse surrounding the ongoing commercialization of dubstep: Producer Will Bevan — better known as Burial — handles production for the album's three opening tracks, presenting Woon as an ambient soul singer with a ghostly house soundtrack, and their collaborative success is actually quite stunning. Sadly, Bevan's absence from the rest of the album is deeply felt: "Middle," for one, pairs a lifeless UK garage beat with a generic lyrical hook, whereas "Echoes" merges Steve Reich and John Legend with questionable results. For now anyway, James Blake needn't look over his shoulder.

Emmylouhardbargain Deliberate or not, the twenty-first studio album by Emmylou Harris reminds me of Lucinda Williams' West — a palpably mournful country record steeped in loss and lament. For Harris as it was for Williams, this makes for some truly compelling listening: "The Road" is an elegy for Gram Parsons, "My Name Is Emmett Till" eulogizes a 14-year-old black boy murdered for speaking to a white woman during the American segregation era, and "Darlin' Kate" remembers Kate McGarrigle with a simple folk song befitting of its subject. But Hard Bargain is not as dark as its content might suggest, and much like her later-era work — especially with Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl — the stylistics of this album rely more on the emotional inclines popularized by U2 or Coldplay than that of the linear storytelling arcs of those Merle Haggard or Hank Williams songs that Harris covered so early in her career. That the title track is a cover of a Ron Sexsmith song is certainly revealing in that sense: Hard Bargain is a thoroughly modern requiem for our increasingly slippery past.

Also out today: Holy Ghost! — Holy Ghost! (DFA), Dirty Vegas — Electric Love (Om), Of Montreal — Thecontrollersphere EP (Polyvinyl), BT — These Humble Machines (Nettwerk), Poly Styrene — Generation Indigo (Redeye), Joe Lally — Why Should I Get Used To It (Dischord), Florence + The Machine — Lungs: Deluxe Edition (Universal)


Nerina Pallot — "Put Your Hands Up"

The debut single for Nerina Pallot's upcoming fourth album was originally written by Pallot for inclusion on Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite album, but thank God it didn't make the cut. While I know there's a club hit inside of here somewhere, Pallot's version is better served when it's steered by '60s pop and Northern Soul, comparable to Feist or Adele while not quite conjuring either. Also unexpected: Pallot made the bulk of this new album with Suede's Bernard Butler.

Friendly Fires — "Live Those Days Tonight"

A song that critiques nostalgia for things you were probably too young to be a part of the first time around is actually quite refreshing, if not somewhat self-referential, when it's coming from Friendly Fires. "Live Those Days Tonight," from the band's forthcoming Pala, revisits hip-house, acid, and the death of the smiley face with this oddly mesmerizing collage of images and video from the UK Summer of Love. A cameo by the Techno Viking was, perhaps, inevitable.

Heavenly States — "Berlin Wall" (feat. Britt Daniel)

Oakland's Heavenly States found their biggest fan in Spoon's Britt Daniel, who discovered the band's 2008 album Delayer, shortlisted it for his published year-end lists, and later asked them to open for a handful of Spoon tour dates. On the first single for Heavenly States' new Oui Camera Oui EP, Daniel extends his connection to the band by lending his voice to this throbbing, memorable folk-rock concoction.

Superchunk — "Crossed Wires" 

In the near-ten-year interim between Here's To Shutting Up and last year's excellent Majesty Shredding, Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster became a comedian and writer for shows like Monk and Tim and Eric Awesome Show. The band's latest video combines this comedic impulse with the number-one loved thing on the Internet — namely, cats. Like there was any chance this wasn't gonna go viral.


Towleroad - Blogged