Sometimes first listens are disorientating. Our brains are programmed to fit things into boxes, data flick through past refrences, index categories by source, path and genre. But when none of that applies, its like watching an emperor in his new clothes. He says he is wearing them but your mind is computing… did I just see what I thought I did? That pretty much describes my relationship with Grimes. I admire her for her versatily. I envy her fabulously surreal mind. Yet at the same time, I am baffled by the sonic chaos. The weird and wonderful Claire Elise Boucher, 26 year old artist from Montreal, manages to sound like a Japanese Kabuki singer on Nightmusic and a synthpop engenue on Oblivion. What the mind does not completely understand is completely irresistible. So I go back and take another data hit. And again. And again. Its tickling the brain cells. Sticking onto the white matter, crawling under the skin. There is no straight path from verse bridge to chorus, then repeat. It takes a step, then floats, then body grooves in dark corners. It’s odd. It’s original. And even though “Go” is probably Grimes’s most obviously commercial single to date, (and originally written for and rejected by Rhianna) it does not comfortably fit into high rotation on drivetime. That’s what makes me admire her the most.
I don’t remember most of the episode nor the events leading up to it. All I remember is Adam Driver sitting on a bench somewhere in New York (or was it even him?) as the dusk was settling on the horizon. I was recently binge watching “Girls”, and as much as I liked the series, what I really walked away with was a song. Lena Dunham had asked twin duo Tegan and Sara to cover the Rolling Stones ballad “Fool to Cry” for the show. To be fair, I had no idea it was a Stones cover until I did some digging around. (“Girls” soundtracks are a slam dunk of brilliance by the way with Robyn, Fleet Foxes, Icona Pop, Jake Bugg… all masterminded by music supervisor Manish Ravel who’s a real wizard in setting music to mood.) I don’t know if it says more about Mick & Keith (Fool to Cry was originally recorded for the Rolling Stones 1976 album “Black and Blue”) or the brilliance of Tegan and Sara, but the sweet simple melody fell like soothing rain at the end of quite a heart-rending episode. The melting harmonies, the light guitar, the weary lyrics of apprehension, all end up as a surprisingly consoling piece of music. Like a deep exhale after a long day. Or a warm hug after an even longer year.
I cannot sleep. Kate Bush is wading a dream. Slow motion worlds falling. Transcending. Love floating. Tears hiding. Memories rising. Future shifting. Softly, softly, feet don’t touch the ground. I close my eyes and I keep falling. Falling with the music drifting. I know all about snow. Stinging my face. Out of the grayness. Coming at me as I spin. And my mother is there, waiting. The music repeats in circles. Stirring undercurrents like engines. Repeating like the heart. I almost catch it…and then lose it again. Then I feel it reverberating. Dimming, fading…gone.
Kate Bush cannot be explained. She defies words. Convention does not apply. Tomorrow she returns live on stage after 35 years. This is what happened to me when I plunged in to “Snowflake”, the opening track on 50 Words for Snow. In the middle of the night, I could not sleep. Then I listened. Your words may not be the same as mine. And there lies the beautiful mystery. She always knows where you want to go.
One thing La Roux decidedly isn’t is young, foolish and green (it’s a touching lyric in her new single Let me Down Gently). It was five years ago La Roux won a Grammy, had world-wide hits with In For The Kill and Bulletproof and was a red-headed Annie Lennox re-incarnate with an 80s new wave quiff and a sound to match. Then it all went silent. For f-i-v-e years. It’s a touch of self mocking irony the new album is called Trouble in Paradise. For La Roux it seemed to be a case of be careful what you wish for. After the success of the hit filled debut album, Elly split with her songwriting partner, (the other part of La Roux, Ben Langmaid) suffered debilitating panic attacks and lost her ability to sing. As she says in an interview with the Guardian: “I thought my career was over.” Whatever those troubles were, they seem a long-lost memory now. Elly Jackson is back! And she is just as seductively Annie, although a bit softer in the emotionally charged Let Me Down Gently. The tone is muted, but the spirit is as blazing as the red bullet of hair charging through the foggy moors in the elegant video. I heard someone describe Let me Down gently as forlorn, but I don’t hear the sadness. Only courage in the face of inevitability. He has already decided to leave.
Maybe you remember a couple of years ago when Foster The People had a monster of a summer hit with Pumped Up Kicks, a naggingly catchy pop breeze that took over the airwaves from LA to London and round the world again. (I remember a particularly hot summer night dancing around to it on repeat, and yes, there may have been some vino involved.) Well, I have just found this year’s Pumped Up Kicks and it comes courtesy of the Australian space cadets Empire of the Sun. Such is the greatness of their feel good electro tunes, that I don’t even care they’ve come up with some Captain Fantastic type names and pretend to be from some planet where they seem to spend most of their time hammering out swanky head-gear and fighting off an evil King of Shadows to save the world. (The new album has some cockamamie premise of lost jewels and animal spirit priests, or some such nonsense. Concept albums and theatrics make me yawn whilst simultaneously rolling my eyes.) However, the lead single “Alive” makes me want to live on that planet where I can shout into the light blue electric “Love you every minute cause you make me feel so alive…alive!” whilst dodging sun rays reflecting off Luke Steel’s impressive steel crown. Oh, it’s beautiful there. The horizon is as wide and blue as the sea. There’s a whole album of this happiness, of these euphoric and glitzy electro floor fillers. “I don’t wanna be so complicated” Luke Steel sings on “Concert Pitch” and I think that pretty much sums it up. “Ice On The Dune” album is full of happy pop, made for long summer nights and even longer summer holidays. Someone called this a Bacardi Breezer of an album. A perfect analogy.
Jamie Cullum is Britain’s biggest selling jazz artist of all time. I was one of the millions seduced by his pop pixie looks and accessible white T-Shirts and jeans demeanour and I saw him live at Royal Albert Hall. He is a demon at the piano. He tickles, slams, bangs and creates runs like I’ve never seen before. But he also holds the quiet in the palm of the audience, inhabits the sound. His new album Momentum is perhaps a bit more poppy than his previous efforts. If you listen carefully you can hear a little Coldplay here, a bit of Rhianna there (“Save Your Soul” has a definite Rhianna-esque eh-eh-eh moment) and even some Ed Sheeran troubadour confessionals at the guitar. But tagged at the end are the real bread and butter of Jamie’s craft, the heart and soul of Momentum, the live Abbey Road sessions. This is my Sunday evenings, kicking back with a glass of red in my hand. Old Cole Porter standard “Love For Sale” travels with a “The Way You Make Me Feel” (Michael Jackson) groove. “Pure Imagination” is a slow dance in the middle of the room. “Sad, Sad World” brings in the beautiful Laura Mvula and my hands involuntarily conduct an invisible emotion. When Jamie hits the “let it fall” notes I notice recoiling back, almost pushing away from the power. The most compelling music has a physical reaction.
I dare you. Play Mika. Listen to any song he has written, and I dare you not to sing it in your head all day. He writes glitterball melody hooks and hits the chorus like a pop marshmallow sledgehammer. He has been compared to Freddie Mercury in showmanship, but the best description I have read was in a BBC review of his latest album “Origin of Love” where they called him a one man Scissor Sisters. He won’t be boxed in. He plays his perky flamboyant persona to pop star perfection. Why he isn’t mentioned in the same breath as some of our biggest pop songwriters I’ll never know. “Origin of Love” has been thin on bona-fide radio hits, for which I blame the corporate programmers rather than the original source. Having said that, here comes the devilish Popular Song which samples a Broadway showtune (Wicked!) and delivers a sucker punch to bullies like only jazz hands could. Or a production number in Glee. Add to this particular witch’s brew teen Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande and a bubbly order of revenge is ready to be served in a popular song. Pun definitely intended.
If there ever was a band that was born to make the rousing anthem for the London 2012 Olympics, Muse was always going to be it. Stadiums were going to vibrate with their wall of sound, sea of hands was going to reach for the skies in unified rapture of sport, music, love and understanding, voices were going to sing in unison across the globe… and then Muse delivered a rock’s answer to Wagner. A pompous and nebulous piece all about “survival and revealing strength in front of human race”, which made it sound less like a celebration of human spirit and more like some small alien dictator rubbing his tentacles together plotting the earth’s demise. So, not so many sing-a-longs then. To be fair, “Survival” as the track was indeed called, was part of Muse’s 6th album The 2nd Law which according to Matt Bellamy was “Christian gangsta-rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face-melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”. (Say what now?) Remember when Muse was ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ sexy-sleazy-funky and most of all…fun? The fifth release from The 2nd Law, Panic Station is more like it in my book. I’m glad humour is back on the menu, and I’m not even referring to the monster-mash of a video where Bellamy struts in red feathers on the streets of Tokyo and all sorts of comic book creatures plight the horizon, but the music itself has found its hot slammin’ groove again. In a twitter Q&A to promote The 2nd Law, one owl eared fan ( not a derogatory comment about some poor Muse fan, but owls have the sharpest hearing in the animal kingdom) said Panic Station sounds a bit like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and the band answered the song was a tribute in some way as it reminded them of their youth, which of course Michael Jackson’s music was a part of. So the eclectic influences and the inter-galactic stadium shattering stomp is still there, only now with a singable chorus. And they brought the sexy back, yeah!
The very first thing I want to offer you is an explanation. I Made You A Mixtape has been silent for better part of three months now. Oh, I have thought of you often. I have berated myself many times for having the inclination but not the occasion. I have felt the pull of the silver strings and the frustration of music slipping by. In the end my explanation is a very prosaic one. I have started another website with a friend of mine, and the setting up and creation of a whole online presence has been time-consuming, an all-embracing learning curve of a bonanza. And the whole time I felt a bit sheepish, like I was cheating on I Made You A Mixtape, even though I always knew I would return to my first love, music. So, Marthafied is now up and running and doing its own thing and I am finally back from the cyberspace trenches, so… whadda’ya say- shall we dance?
Imagine the tiled dance floor that lights up with different colours in time to the beat. Maybe there’s a disco ball glittering up above, and the smoke surrounding the floor is the tobacco kind, not the dry synthetic kind. That’s Nile Rodgers riffing on the guitar. The groove chugs along as you close your eyes and try to remember some Travolta moves, but in the end it doesn’t matter anyway, the rhythm is gonna move you. But then you wake up…hang on a second… what year is it?! It’s 2013 and Daft Punk are breaking Spotify streaming records with their chic disco ripple, their first single in eight years. They do have disco legend Nile Rodgers on guitar and the falsetto toned Pharrell Williams on vocals and according to some, also possibly the biggest (and most anticipated) album of the year in their hands. Wether it’s because the music landscape has missed these electro robots (Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter from Paris, France) or they are spinning one of the most successful promo campaigns in modern history, (a cookie crumb trail of teaser clips during SNL and Coachella which out buzzed the bands actually performing there) many are hailing Get Lucky the first big hit of Summer of 2013. Whilst most of the artists on the charts try to sound like it’s 1990s again, Daft Punk are playing with the past. Literally. Not only do they have the already mentioned Nile Rogers on board, they hired 80s session pros to fill in the musical puzzle. Y’know, the guys who were the slick machine behind Michael Jackson and his peers. In an interview De Homem-Christo said “The 70s and the 80s were the tastiest era for us.” For you and me both, brother, for you and me both.
I can’t stand Dave Matthews (the band). It seems to be mandatory to mention Dave Matthews when talking about Phillip Phillips, or maybe that was only during Phil’s tenure at Idol last year, but nevertheless, I have never been able to stand Dave Matthews with his nasally rasp (is it just me but does he sound menacing to anyone else?). Funny then, given all the comparisons, I don’t have the same problem with Phillip Phillips. I love Phillip Phillips. I love the fact he stuck to his guns on Idol and wore his grey T-Shirts with pride. I love how he just stood there in the spotlight every week turning each song on its head so many times it came out as a Phillip Phillips original, and I love the place where the music comes from. Deeply rooted in the fertile soil of a land called Meant To Be, the sound is re-assuring, steadfast and so grounded. Under the starry skies, in the glow of paper lanterns, on barefoot surrounded by fireflies, something so absolute in an existence where nothing is certain is like a warm hug where none have been coming round your way for a long, long time. Phillip is about to set out on tour with Matchbox Twenty later this month, and if I was anywhere near the eastern seaboard, I would beg, steal or borrow to get a ticket. As much as I like Man On The Moon, I would do anything to hear it live.