Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy New Year!

Well that’s another year down. Can’t say it’s been one of the best, for various reasons I never got around to covering on this blog, but at least we have 2012 to look forward to. Unless it turns out we all die at the end, like every single person keeps saying. At least this time next year they will have shut up for one reason or another.

It’s been a great year for music though, and that’s reflected in this marvellous mashup by the reliably brilliant DJ Earworm:

 

 

So Happy New Year everyone, drink responsibly and I hope to see you on here plenty more in 2012 when hopefully I’ve found out what I’m going to do with this blog.

Later!

x

 

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My Favourite Songs of 2011: Top 10

10 . Lady Gaga – Born This Way
From Born this way

A slow burner, I think. Or at least in the UK. I think its midweek release put paid to chances at a No.1, but it really did have legs, eventually turning into a pretty solid smash.

OK so people initially flew off the handle, saying “How DARE she patronise everyone like this by being all ACCEPTING” and accusing it off ripping off Express Yourself (I won’t even start with that, but suffice to say that if you are arguing about similar chord progression, you’ve got too much time on your hands). Meanwhile I was thinking “I don’t know how to sing along to this”. But time heals all wounds, and this throws everything into the mix, but instead of turning into a big mess, it’s what I think I’m going to regard as one of her best songs in the future.

Even despite the video seeming ponderously artsy, it even edits down to a brilliant dance video. DON’T BE A DRAG

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9 . Alexis Jordan – Good Girl
From Alexis Jordan

Oh I love rooting for an underdog, particularly if it seems evident that their songs in the hands of a bigger star would probably the be massive smashes they deserve.

Thankfully, Alexis has had a good year (let’s just ignore that third single). I didn’t think she’d even get a second hit, let alone a modestly good selling top 10 album. She seems very likeable, and her debut hit Happiness is still a firm favourite of mine. This one swaps the trancey tones of Deadmau5 for a clubbier sound.

The production is relatively basic, you’d never get Rihanna such a lightweight-sounding single, but that’s to its credit, and it’s a bouncy, fun bit of pop. I really hope she gets some proper money behind her second album release, remember that Rihanna only started off with a few modest hits way back when.

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8 . Robyn – Call Your Girlfriend
From Body Talk

2010 was more my year for Robyn, with her amazing Body Talk album(s) a big hit with me, even if it was a commerical flop by most standards. I sort of felt the moment had passed for anything to come from this album, but rather unexpectedly we got a dazzling video for this song.

It was a favourite among the small clutch of new tracks that accompanied Body Talk’s final iteration, but I hadn’t really given them enough time at the tail end of last year when they emerged. Having a video for this one really flicked a switch for me, and it’s a total joy to listen to now. Essentially it’s covering fertile soil for Robyn, i.e. the breakup of a relationship, but this time from the perspective of the ‘other woman’ trying to spare the soon-to-be-ex as much pain as possible. A sweet concept for such a homewrecking principle, and Robyn is the perfect girl to pull this off.

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7 . Nicki Minaj – Super Bass
From Pink Friday

Now I knew this girl had something about her, not usually my thing to listen to rap, but this track really made my summer. From the gorgeously colourful and quirky video, it’s a perfect example of what the ridiculous video budgets for urban artists can come up with if they are lucky.

She’s a really listenable rap artist, I even quite liked her album, which is saying something for a genre far outside my comfort zone. The synthy production and that klinky-klonky icy beat in the background really make this something beautiful. She may be a bit of an oddball to say the least, but she’s got that magnetic quality that forces you to watch her. I’m sure most acts have got at least one amazing hit in them, and I hope this isn’t the last one of hers.

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6 . Will Young – Jealousy
From Echoes

I just LOVE this intro, gentle piano and acapella vocals, which ever-so-gently builds into a dance track. Not a hard one, the beats aren’t driving this one, it’s his heavenly vocals. They’ve always been his selling point after this Pop Idol victory ten (!) years ago, and they are still in fine form. I’m so glad he’s still doing well, always pulling into commercial waters when it looks like his career is on a decline.

Not as a sellout either, I think this is quite a unique-sounding track amongst the more full-on dance pop songs, and the miserable ballads. I really wish he would look like he was having more fun though, it’s all looking a bit po-faced at the moment. That Christmas TOTP performance was looking far too overstyled and serious for its own good.

But in short, I love this, and it’s reaffirmed my belief in Will Young as one of the best contributions by a reality TV act to date, as if he hadn’t totally shaken that label off years ago.

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5 . The Wanted – Lightning
From Battleground

These boys really were full of surprises this year. From comeback hit “Glad You Came” soundtracking the summer pretty efficiently, I was wondering what they would pull out of the bag for an album launch single as the nights started to draw in.

I wasn’t too impressed the first time I heard it, the pretty forced rhymes in the chorus were a bit lame, and that stood out for me too much. But the video really fitted the song well, the slow-motion sections really worked brilliantly. But it wasn’t really until I got this one in the car that it really did it for me.

It’s got so much energy, with big beats in all the right places, it’s a real ride and a perfect marriage of dance and pop music. If ever any pop act got the balance right when sailing into dancier waters this year, it was this group. It’s even going to be enough to get me to investigate the album, let’s just see how easy it is for them to strike gold…

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4 . Nicola Roberts – Lucky Day
From Cinderella’s Eyes

Now this was a surprise slow-burner. I was really into debut Beat Of My Drum during the summer, but it did start to wear off in time. I wasn’t entirely sure by this point that the album would even get released, so it was pleasing to see this rather bizarre followup single’s video hit the music channels.

Lots of really strange vocals here, but not in an affected way like your Ellie Gouldings etc, I think she just sings what she wants, and the roughness to some of these shrieky notes really endears me more than it repels me. I love the slightly slutty angle to the lyrics, and the vocals that are all over the place. I was overjoyed to hear that this was one of the Dragonette-produced tracks off the album, I really love those guys, and the more I hear this song, the more I hear them.

The album was a joy to listen to for the most part, perhaps a little unbalanced as I can’t quite tear myself away from the first half of the album, they are just too good. For someone from arguably the best girlband has produced – one not without their commerical and critical success – that Nicola could end up quite so unmarketable as she’s evidently turned out to be, but there is certainly a hard core of big fans she’s picked up from this album.

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3 . Kati Wolf – What About My Dreams?
From Eurovision Song Contest 2011: Dusseldorf

Thought I’d gone a bit quiet on the Eurovision front? Well it’s true, some of the better songs this year (and it was a pretty good year all things considered) suffered somewhat from overplay, but some of the best ones like this will surely be favourites of mine for years to gone.

Hungary’s Kati may not have delivered on her potential on the final night, no thanks to a pretty lame stage show, but this is still a pretty massively brilliant pop song. People seem to segregate Eurovision from the rest of pop music, as if pop has any dignity. If anything, the effort that goes into putting national representatives on the European stage really shows in the quality of the songs, and often bucks the trends of what we would call pop music, thanks to differences in culture, language and motivation.

Kati just about held onto the vocals on the night for what was a pretty full-on song. European electropop at its finest (well, nearly…)

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2 . Lady Gaga – Marry The Night
From Born this way

Well it’s been pretty full-on for Gaga over the last few years, with two-and-a-half smash hit albums (and I don’t care what you say about this album, it’s a hit by all but the most unreasonable measures) and a string of massive singles. The singles from BTW have been a bit of a mixed bag that seemed at times to be a little reactive to public opinion, and yet not quite hitting the mark for a lot of people. This led some of them to rather fall between two stools and not live up to their potential.

The directors cut videos were perhaps not very helpful to shed this air of pretence people seem to detect these days, but as long as there’s a decent edited version in there somewhere, I don’t really care, nobody is forcing me to watch anything.

And so we get to the opening track from the album, a multi-staged electroclash masterpiece that pulls no punches and gives it everything. For a demonstration of power, I have to lead the way to the Children in Need performance (http://youtu.be/fe3JtdZYIiY), an incredible display that shows what she can do as a performer when she’s not preoccupied in high fashion and horrible piano-mashing. Even the video was pretty serviceable, even if all of the videos since Born This Way seem to lack the energy in visuals as it does in the music.

An explosive opener from a largely wonderful album.

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1 . Eric Saade – Popular
From Eurovision Song Contest 2011: Dusseldorf

And so here it is, my favourite song of the year, and certainly my most-played track. If iTunes is to be believed, my most-played of all time (though I don’t tend to repeat a lot on there so don’t read too much into it). There is so much to celebrate about this song, it totally tore the roof off the Esprit Arena in Dusseldorf when I watched it win its Semi-Final, and in coming third in the final, restored Sweden to its former Eurovision glory after a troublesome half-decade.

Eric himself isn’t a perfect singer, though he managed to hit the money notes as required. His better talent lies in his brilliant dancing and watchability on the stage, which he brought in spades. The song itself is a work of art, a megawatt display of electro-pop, from the rickety machinations at the intro through the infectious whistling hook and all the way to the explosive finale.

The lyrics were missed by some on the night, I was in a beer garden in Cologne when the final was showing, and some Turkish girls were complaining at his arrogance, “he’s just saying he’s popular all the time”. It’s a pretty single-minded song about (however ill-advisedly) pursuing a girl only into the popular guys. That’s almost an afterthought when you hit the incredibly catchy chorus, and the literally glass-shattering climax to the big finale. It still fills me with energy whenever I listen to it, utterly superb!

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My Top 33 Films of 2011

1) Crazy Stupid Love
This got great mileage out of a great cast, totally absorbing. OK so it laid it on thick and went on about 30 minutes too long, but still a wonderful effort.

2) Bridesmaids – Some forced grossout humour but otherwise hilarious
3) X-Men: First Class – Wonderful retro Cold War theme to it, Kevin Bacon still creeps me out though
4) Friends with Benefits – Goofy but perfect for both leads
5) Super 8 – A little corny but a real ride
6) Tron Legacy – Dazzling with an incredible soundtrack
7) Scream 4 – Genuinely had me shutting my eyes in fear
8) Thor – Accomplished superhero movie for a lesser-known character (with better mythology)
9) The Thing – Gory but not tacky, half blockbuster, half classy arthouse, a real surprise.
10) The Help – Heartwarming and emotional

11) What’s your number
12) The Lion King
13) Captain America
14) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
15) Green Lantern
16) Kung Fu Panda 2
17) Glee: The Concert 3D
18) Arietty
19) Burlesque
20) Cars 2

21) Jane Eyre
22) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
23) Breaking Dawn Part 1
24) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
25) Love and other drugs
26) Rio
27) Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
28) Fright Night
29) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
30) Sucker Punch

31) Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Never really ‘got’ Jack Sparrow, and this was a sequel too far.
32) The Change Up – Utter drivel for male morons
33) Transformers: Dark of the moon – No discernible plot, unless your only requirements are slow-motion explosions and robot fights for 2 1/2 hours.

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My Favourite Songs of 2011: #20-11

20 . Rihanna – What’s My Name (ft Drake)
From Loud

Feels weird to write this up as a 2011 track, it bridged the New Year gap for me, but still sounds pretty awesome now. Even the guest rapping is working well for me, I don’t mind Drake but he’s not the most exciting in the world is he?

I love the subtle electro beat behind all this, gives it a lovely subdued feel doesn’t it? There are so many lyrical hooks in this too, the simple ones like “oh na na”, but I love the “hey boy, I really wanna see if you can go downtown with a gurrrl like me” bits just as much. AMAZING.

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19 . Nicola Roberts – Yo-Yo
From Cinderella’s Eyes

Now this album was a real pleasant surprise. I did get caught up in the hype for this solo Girls Aloud release, since Nicola was always an interesting member of my favourite girlband. But when I heard she was working with unusual collaborators like Diplo and Dragonette I was really interested. Debut single Beat of my drum was a lot of fun for a while, but it did pale in comparison to this one.

So some of the lyrics are delivered in a bit of a simplistic style, like a nursery rhyme in places, but that chorus with the synthy soundbed really is lovely isn’t it? Her vocals are a bit shrill but that’s fine.

The REAL magic happens in that middle-8 after the 2-minute mark, with the full vulnerability and slight madness exposed, with a high-pitched stream of consciousness that really knocks me over every time I hear it.

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18 . Bruno Mars – Grenade
From Doo Wops & Hooligans

I do love singing along to things in the car, so Bruno Mars’ release roster for the year has been a bit of a godsend, particularly for me who likes to hit the high notes (to a decent level of success if I don’t say so myself). This might have lost a bit of its shine after a solid year worth of heavy rotation, but his vocals are still gorgeous.

It’s quite a simple downbeat affair, but some really laser-guided lyrics in there for maximum effect. I might need to give this song a bit of downtime for a little while, but it’s still a great track.

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17 . Sanna Nielsen – I’m in Love
From Melodifestivalen 2011

Let’s get another dose of Melodifestivalen then, it’s so good… so onto this track that came fourth in the Swedish Eurovision selection final, but still really hits my buttons. It’s a pretty simple pop song, but it’s got so much warmth and OOMPH to it that I can’t help but smile when I listen to it.

Admittedly it’s not to everyone’s tastes, but I really love this woman. Her album might not have been amazing, but I am still keen to hear more from her in the future.

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16 . Jennifer Lopez – On the Floor (ft Pitbull)
From Love?

Luck of the devil, this one. Or maybe it’s just a magic formulae. High profile TV slot – CHECK (American Idol), high profile guest rapper – CHECK (Pitbull), hot producer – CHECK (RedOne), catchy sample – CHECK (the Lambada). It couldn’t really fail, but with an artist like J.Lo who looked seriously like her best musical days were behind her, it never seemed like a sure thing until it hit No.1 in countless territories.

She’s looking amazing isn’t she? I’m not sure how long she can capitalise on the success of his massive hit, but I hope she can keep the momentum up for a few more years at least.

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15 . Rihanna – We Found Love (with Calvin Harris)
From Talk that talk

Onto a woman who hardly needed a comeback, with her massive smash album Loud not even a year old when this came out. A bit puzzling why they rushed this one out so much, they weren’t in such a hurry to cash in on her success during the lucrative Good Girl Gone Bad era (aside from a special edition re-release), so why sideline an even bigger album by throwing out several of the decent tracks as semi-single releases, and fastforwarding onto a new album?

I don’t think Talk That Talk was worth rushing forward to, but at least it’s gone one bonafide massive hit with this one. After Calvin’s successful but unlistenable string of singles this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but it’s turned out pretty brilliantly. I think this might get overplayed a bit, but it’s a great track.

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14 . The Wanted – Glad You Came
From Battleground

I can’t have been the only one thinking The Wanted were going to be added to the pile of hopeless failed boybands that have inexplicably kept getting record deals long after the major players in that market were either dropped or turned into Westlife. But apparently there was a gap next to JLS, and they might even threaten their position as the UK’s No.1 boyband in time. Particularly if they wheel out generally well-received tracks like this.

Borrowingly shamelessly from that Stereo Love song a few years ago, it’s a bit of a late-summer dance anthem that makes up in catchy production what it lacks in vocal and lyrical prowess. They are quite an endearingly crappy group, and I hope to see more of them in 2012.

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13 . Adele – Someone Like You
From 21

There’s little left to be said about this lady and her colossal success in 2011. I won’t spew out any more stats on sales figures, but rest assured she has done an almost unheard of level of business in the UK this year, and made some pretty massive waves in most other countries in the world.

This is a simple piano-led track, but its performance at the Brits set the wheels in motion, and it’s not difficult to see why. I know some people who can’t bear her voice, but when I finally ‘got’ this song, it really was something amazing. It’s the tale of a heartbreakingly doomed love, that one person has given up on, but our Adele is still clinging onto desperately. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Oh maybe just me then … *weeps*

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12 . Lady Gaga – The Edge of Glory
From Born this way

Some people think it’s not been a great year for Gaga. Certainly she’s had some mis-steps, pretty much one for every single she’s put out, but having the 2nd biggest selling album of the year (behind Adele’s juggernaut that was practically impossible to catch) and several massive singles, it’s difficult to see why this year could be seen as a bad one.

In the case of this single, the video was the catch, cobbled together after a troubled shoot, it’s notable for having NOTHING GOING ON. For an artist that’s reknowned for her dazzling videos, that’s a bit of an issue, and for such an incredible song as this, it does feel like a real missed opportunity.

The song is an uplifting, energising track that was only held out of the top 10 by severe over-play this year. The whole Born This Way album was marked with some pretty lavish production, and this is no different, so much going on, and most of it amazing.

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11 . Jenny Silver – Something In Your Eyes
From Melodifestivalen 2011

Another dose of concentrated pop, with yet another entry from the bountiful selection Sweden came up with for Melodifestivalen this year. I’d only heard one Jenny Silver song prior to this, from a previous year’s selection, but I never really got on board with it. It’s a million miles away from this astonishingly high energy pop love song, brimming with energy and positivity.

Massively singable, it’s one of my favourite of the year (obviously), but that speedy bridge to the incredible choruses really do make my day whenever I hear (and sing along to) them.

Then you’ve got a key change, it’s all TOO MUCH! *dies*

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My Bjork Top 20: #5 – #1

PS, if you like this post, I have reviewed every Bjork studio album on this blog, just click “Bjork” in the tag cloud on the right.

5. All is full of love
From Homogenic

Homogenic was at its best for me when it wasn’t trying to shatter my eardrums. That’s why this track stands head and shoulders above Pluto, ack. A gentle lovesong, played out with seductively slow beats and twanging string instruments. Her vocals really are lovely on this, it’s like a siren song or something.

Then we come to the video, a really spellbinding display that sounds quite crass on paper: two robot Bjorks making out. But it’s done with such sensitivity, it’s really quite lovely, and one of those real visionary moments that set Bjork apart from her contemporaries at the time (and in a GOOD way, for a change).

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4. New world
From Selmasongs

OK I admit I surprised myself that something from Selmasongs even managed to make my top 20, but the more I listened to this, the more I loved it. It certainly feels like her big soundtrack song, even though “I’ve seen it all” got all the attention, and an Oscar nomination to boot.

I just love how that orchestra builds throughout the track, to an almost deafening crescendo. It’s just got so much optimism to it, quite bittersweet when you find out when you hear it in the film. But optimism I think was the point of this, and I get that. Oh that orchestra!

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3. Play dead
From Debut

One of my earliest memories of Bjork was the use of this on a car advert for a Vauxhall Vectra, I remember it vividly. Odd how things stick with you like that. Anyway, another lavish orchestral extravaganza, this time in collaboration with David Arnold. I think it was one of her first big vocal songs, coming as a bonus track at the end of Debut, where it still feels a little out of place.

She really pours everything into those vocals though, and some of the big notes still send shivers up my spine. As you know I’m partial to a string section, and the drama created by that in this track really is amazing. Glorious.

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2. Bachelorette
From Homogenic

Bjork managed to strike gold once more with Homogenic, and the ominous piano thumping here brings on a wonderfully mechanical-sounding ballad.

Again her vocals are in top form, but it’s really the accompanying video that sets this apart from the pack. A really visionary tale of a book that tells Bjork’s life story while it’s still being written. It becomes a bestseller and gets adapted for the stage, but the story contains the part where she discovers the book and gets it published and adapted, so we end up in this bizarre tale-within-a-tale concept, that has rather weird consequences for the audience and participants.

Not to say that the video makes up for something lacking in the song, the song is total poetry, the lyrics really draw me in every time, marvellous.

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1. Hyperballad
From Post

No shock No.1s I’m afraid, I think there was only one way this was ever going. I am totally in love with this song, part of the reason I got into her in the first place. The crown jewel of the amazing Post album, it starts with a quite gentle fizzing beat while Bjork sets this vivid but unusual scene of a remote beach house that she regularly clears out of loose items by throwing them off a cliff. It’s quirky but nice enough. Or until she fantasises about jumping off that cliff one day. Hmm, I think she needs supervision.

The gentle sound hitches up a gear for the second gear, with more layers of rhythm added, and this continues until we’ve got a pretty solid dance track on top of this gorgeous song. Then the strings! God I love this song … I only hope she is even capable of making something like this in the future. Personally I doubt it, and that’s a terrible shame, but I will always treasure Post.

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