Every list of John Cale’s achievements begins by cementing Cale’s role as a founding member of the Velvet Underground. At the onset of the group, Cale’s avant-garde and contemporary classical credentials lent a grounding circuit to the proceedings, with songwriting credits second only to Lou Reed. The spark in a song like “Venus in Furs” was summoned forth via his viola flourishes, or by his piano playing in “I’m Waiting for the Man.” Cale has continued to be a ceaseless experimenter, ever curious, always listening, and dead set on playing his own version of what’s next. The method has yielded a storied collection of recordings, with some unforgettable songs, including “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend,” an anxiety twitch of a tune that sounds good no matter who sings it. Read the rest of this entry »
Is “Blank Project” a jazz, soul, art or pop album? Listening to the disc attentively one could easily say all of the above, as the Swedish-born singer Neneh Cherry (known by mainstream music fans for her collaboration with Senegalese star Youssou N’ Dour) does her thing on her first solo release since 1996. Backed solely by Four Tet’s mix of percussion and electronic sounds, the music grabs you from the beginning with the Afro-inspired “Across The Water” and doesn’t let go until the very last track. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago welcomes back pop and R&B’s newest blue-eyed recruit, Daley. Born and raised in Manchester, England, the twenty-four-year-old has come up in the industry little by little in the past four years thanks to an unrelenting DIY philosophy. Donning one ridiculously top-heavy, modern-day pomp, perfectly pruned geometric facial hair, and thick-rimmed glasses, Daley looks especially eager for an audience. With this tour being the first to follow the release of his first-ever studio album (“Days & Nights”) who can blame him?
For Daley, a pursuit toward music came naturally and the recurring dream of signing with a major label began back in his teens. Locked away in his bedroom he’d write songs and lyrics channeling such predecessors as Prince, D’Angelo, Sade and Radiohead. When he was old enough, he left Manchester for London and began working his way into the underground urban music scene. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »