Photo: Fredrik Etoall
Electronic DJ duo Icona Pop make tracks that sound exactly the way pop music of today should. Run, leap and tumble beats soar through starry, energetic electro-synth melodies, and land on their feet in the foggy midst of a humid, glitter-coated dance floor. When Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo met at a party in the suburbs of Stockholm in 2009, a connection surged almost instantly as the two discovered they shared nearly identical tastes in music. Within a few days they were writing songs and booking gigs, and in that same year the two moved to London to cut their first studio record with TEN Music Group. There, they met London’s Charli XCX who shared a song written for her by another Swede, Patrik Berger. The three women collaborated and came up with the international hit, “I Love It.” The song was released as the second single from their self-titled album in May 2012 and again as the first single off of their second album, “This Is…Icona Pop” in September 2013. As for the time in-between, the song’s commercial success flourished. Read the rest of this entry »
On an album comprised mostly of well-known standards (save for one original composition), Chicago-based singer-songwriter Nhojj celebrates the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships in the United States and abroad. “I am deeply grateful,” he writes in the liners, “to be living in a time when an album celebrating same-gender love could be released and even applauded.”
The album opens with a pared-down version of “Over The Rainbow” done solely with the accompaniment of Marcelo Cardozo’s electric guitar. Nhojj’s vocal range resembles that of the late Michael Jackson–he has the ability to reach low notes but mostly sings using a higher register, approaching each song in a different way. On India.Arie’s “He Heals Me,” he takes more of an R&B approach, taking advantage of the full band behind him, while on tunes like the George & Ira Gershwin classic “Our Love Is Here To Stay” he sings with a quiet bossa-like sensibility. Nhojj also reinvents Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” going for a playful samba-tinged groove without missing out on any of the title’s double entendre. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo by Tom Munro
Every great pop star is at once completely of their time, and completely not. Shorthands for their eras, great pop stars are able to exude something ageless and universal that transcends the cultural moment they were birthed from. There are a million artists that do one or the other well. Miley is very of her time. Robin Thicke is timeless, in that there’ll be douchebags throughout time. But great pop stars are everything all at once. Great pop stars are both our windows and our mirrors—we see our culture through them, but we also see a little of us.
“The 20/20 Experience,” Justin Timberlake’s good if uneven double album, cemented him as our generation’s great pop star. Dressed to the nines, showing us a few things about lo-o-ove, Timberlake’s is a multivalent talent, spanning the mediums of film, TV and music. Read the rest of this entry »
Brazilian singer Maria Rita built her career doing her best to be outside the shadow of her late mother Elis Regina, a legendary performer in her own right whose career was cut short by a cocaine overdose. It was not an easy task, since Rita’s voice is incredibly similar to her mother’s. Over the years, she stayed away from Regina’s material while making inventive, jazz-inspired albums accompanied by a simple trio of piano, acoustic bass and drums (the exception was 2007’s “Samba Meu,” which was recorded with various percussive instruments added to the band.)
It was not until 2012 that she finally agreed to work on a project with Regina’s music in commemoration of the thirty year anniversary of her passing. “Viva Elis” was originally planned to be a limited five-performance engagement, but due to public demand it later evolved into a national tour and a CD and DVD entitled “Redescobrir.” The album covers her mother’s greatest hits played in arrangements close to the original recordings (the audience is heard cheering at the opening chords of tunes like “Como Nossos Pais” and “Águas de Março”) while some of the lesser-known songs were given a completely different treatment under the musical direction of her brother, arranger and producer João Marcelo Bôscoli. Read the rest of this entry »
“No Blues,” the deceptively-titled fourth album from Welsh sextet Los Campesinos!, is actually bursting with blues: there’s tons of death here, double-shots of depression and lines about wearing a dude’s head like a hood. No blues? Whatever you say.
The first album by Los Campesinos!, “Hold On Now, Youngster” (2008), was as energetic as a puppy and about half as dark. With manic hooks, bedroom synths, and the sugary call-and-response vocal pairing of Gareth and Aleksandra Campesinos!, the album was arguably the last great twee record of the aughts. Try and listen to “Death to Los Campesinos!” or “You! Me! Dancing!”–two indie-pop classics, by now–without actually dancing. Go on. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Piper Ferguson
Her work’s been included on so many year-end lists, it’d be difficult to remain unfamiliar with Cate Le Bon. All the superfluous name dropping to describe what she’s doin’ seems pretty pointless, though. Suffice it to say, she’s Welsh and clearly has an affinity as much for pop as weirdo subterra musics. What can’t be overstated about Le Bon’s songs, however, is that the eerie quality her voice lends to any of those simply constructed works is lacking in just about every other contemporary catalog. Starting with 2009’s “Me Oh My,” the songwriter tossed off bizarre narratives about becoming other people by donning their clothing. The surrealism is cut by Le Bon’s exacting songs—there’s not too much more than a guitar-bass-drums setup—and the dour tone in her voice. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kenneth Preski
The first step toward the success of Beyoncé’s fifth studio album was to render the publicist and the critic obsolete. By choosing December 13 for the release date (a Friday instead of the traditional Tuesday preferred by retailers) she excluded herself from many year-end polls and best-of lists. The playing field was made even, fans could embrace the work without having it marketed or explained beforehand with just one catch. A week-long exclusive deal with iTunes meant no physical release at a time of year when holiday shopping is at its peak, prohibiting her fans from buying it as a gift unless they did so at the last minute. Delaying the album’s arrival to places like Target and Walmart meant conversations about the record’s merits were online exclusive as well, as even indie retailers were left in the dark. More than a million tweets later, and compassionate consumers counting their pennies were somehow swayed to pony up the $15.99 necessary to treat themselves to fourteen tracks and seventeen videos. It was a big ask, but given the million-plus digital copies sold worldwide, the answer has been the most resounding success of Beyoncé’s solo career. Read the rest of this entry »
Tim Kinsella helms Joan of Arc, LeRoy Bach was with Wilco at their creative peak, Angel Olsen is on the cusp of indie stardom, but Marvin Tate? Who is Marvin Tate? The man responsible for writing each of these thirteen songs is the least known of the otherwise reputable quartet. Somewhere in the cracks between his race-exploring appearance on “This American Life,” his freakness embrace on Def Poetry, and his semi-regular outings as bandleader of early Funkadelic infused D-Settlement, Marvin Tate is too many things to distill. To be sure, he’s a Chicagoan, just like everyone else on this release, save Olsen who has fled the city to foster a career in the ascendant. Apart from Tate’s stated résumé, his work has yet to break the art world open, but such is the fate of the self-proclaimed poet. Where Tate disregards rhyming in verse, he favors the brutality of truth, which sits well with Kinsella. Read the rest of this entry »
Pop music has always been the milieu of the flagrantly young, but that seems especially true this fall, with the cultural buzz a virtual high school cafeteria. In September, seventeen-year-old Lorde established herself as the cool goth-girl with “Pure Heroine.” Then, in October, twenty-one-year-old Miley Cyrus became the wild partier with “Bangerz.” And now, with “Shangri La,” we’ve found our shaggy-haired rock kid in Jake Bugg.
As on last year’s self-titled debut, the nineteen-year-old British retro-rocker’s latest appropriates styles that came into vogue well before he was born. Blending raw, blow-out-your-speakers garage tunes with somber acoustic ballads, the Rick Rubin-produced “Shangri La” takes a step forward musically, showing more sonic diversity than his first record. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kenneth Preski
The most common revelation upon hearing Bill Orcutt play is that the acoustic guitar has never sounded this way before. Backwoods blues at such a frenetic pace is nowhere to be found in the history of recorded music. Orcutt turns improvisation into instant songwriting. One can hear him struggling to work out the melody in his own voice, note by note, guided by a phantom precision lasting milliseconds, before the moan from his four-string guitar or his throat greets the listener with the force of a fire truck; the sound of which whirls by in “When You Wish Upon a Star.” That’s Orcutt calling from a distance, sitting alone in a wooden windowed room, minimal recording equipment by his side as he rails out the new American songbook.
The approach coalesced on this year’s “A History of Every One,” Orcutt’s take on the hackneyed songs of yore. “White Christmas” and “Zip A Dee Doo Dah” are among the tunes showcased, chosen by the artist to juxtapose two competing threads in American popular culture: bourgeois privilege and the legacy of slavery. Side A closes with the aforementioned “White Christmas,” the best-selling single of all time as sung by perennial crooner Bing Crosby; and Side B opens with “Zip A Dee Doo Dah,” a 1946 Oscar-winning tune from Disney’s “Song of the South,” a film steeped in enough racial controversy to prevent the corporation from ever releasing it on home media. Read the rest of this entry »