Friday, 24 April 2020

new (and old) music friday #48: the 1975, doja cat, nadia oh, ashnikko, FLETCHER

1. the 1975

it's hard to believe that the last time i wrote about my favourite band was august 2019, when people had just been released and they were days away from headlining reading and leeds festival. the releases that followed failed to thrill me, and it's taken me a long time to really appreciate the slightly more subdued frail state of mind, the britpop-inspired me & you together song and jesus christ 2005 god bless america, both of which belong in a ~coming of age~ film à la beats and spike island. there's something fabulously nostalgic about these songs, but they still manage to sound fresh, something the band has always excelled at. 

as previously mentioned, i saw the 1975 in february and one of the songs i was most excited to hear was the unreleased if you're too shy (let me know), and clearly i wasn't the only one as the crowd were already word perfect. as a longtime lover of 80s-adjacent sounds, this felt like an instant classic and one of the most "1975" songs they've ever produced, rivalled only by it's not living (if it's not with you)

the track was finally released yesterday, receiving its world premiere on radio 1, and it sounded better than i could have ever imagined, particularly the saxophone solo which has made several appearances throughout their career. 

it also fully reignited my love of the band after those underwhelming singles, though my joy might be short lived as matty healy told annie mac that the rest of notes on a conditional form - now expected on 22nd may - will have a "heavier" sound, harking back to their drive like i do days. i'm not mad about this as i'm fully embracing the emo and pop-punk music my teenage self loved, but i can't help hoping they'll reconsider and add a few more synth-driven bops to the album. 

perfectly capturing ~the zeitgeist~ as always, if you're too shy reflects the ways technology has changed the way we form and maintain relationships, particularly in this period of lockdown - now extended for a further three weeks in the UK. it's their ability to capture our anxieties about Modern Life combined with a delightfully nostalgic sound that makes the band stand out among their contemporaries, and i might even go as far as to say that too shy is my all time favourite 1975 song, dethroning somebody else after four long years. 

2. the weeknd

i've long been a fan of abel tesfaye's more pop-leaning tracks, and starboy quickly became one of my favourite albums back in 2016. he's clearly shares my love for the 80s, and nowhere is this more apparent than on his new album, after hours. 

i became obsessed with blinding lights after hearing it in Tha Club pre-lockdown, and in your eyes is currently topping the UK charts. the alarmingly catchy synth-led bop also contains an excellent sax solo that gives me goosebumps every time i hear it. 

seeing this song at number one gives me faith that the 80s Resurgence is finally taking place, further cemented with break up song, physical and stupid love also charting highly. 

another noteworthy track from after hours is save your tears, with its new order-inspired bassline and delicate synths, but sadly the rest of the album falls somewhat flat. nevertheless, i'll be playing this holy trinity of bops on repeat in the coming weeks. 

3. ashnikko

i'm amazed that ashnikko hasn't made an appearance in my new music friday posts as i've been obsessed with her hi, it's me EP ever since i saw her support girli last year. an ode to fuckboys everywhere, manners, special and title track hi, it's me never fail to make me feel like That Bitch. she's recently had a moment of viral fame when STUPID (also from the EP) began appearing in the tik toks of teens everywhere, and NME just published an interview with the rising rapper, complete with a glossy photoshoot. 

since the lockdown began, i've actually been doing a vague form of "exercise", going for a government-approved walk every other day, and as someone who hates exerting energy, i do find myself looking forward to it now. to make the whole thing slightly more pleasurable, i've created a playlist of songs to soundtrack my walks, and ashnikko's EP was one of the first things i added. if you too need a boost of motivation to get moving, you can listen to it here 

4. doja cat

another artist who went straight into my walking playlist (it really needs a better name) was doja cat, who has also experienced a sudden jolt of success thanks to tik tok. her song say so quickly took hold of the platform a few months ago and even i couldn't escape it every time i opened twitter or instagram. 

despite having never been a huge fan of ~hip hop~ and rap - with the exception of pink friday-era nicki minaj - i soon found myself obsessed with the track's ridiculously catchy melody, though it took a shamefully long time for me to realise that i loved it so much because it samples the iconic disco bop good times by CHIC

then came boss bitch, which is by far one of my favourite songs of this year, reminiscent of nicki's pop phase, and i don't think it's a stretch to crown doja cat the new queen of rap, breathing new life into a sound pioneered by nicki minaj in the early 2010s. 

also worth a mention is the low-key emo-inspired banger bottom bitch, which included a slowed-down sample of what's my age again? by blink-182, showcasing the diverse range of inspirations scattered throughout doja cat's discography. as someone who's always appreciated everything from 70s disco, 80s synth pop, 90s indie and 00s pop punk, i admire her unconventional approach to the still male-dominated genre and eagerly await her next release.  

5. nadia oh

i first became aware of nadia oh back in september when paper magazine did an interview with LIZ ahead of the release of her single lottery, and in it she professed her love for nadia oh, one of the main inspirations for the song. 


"i wanted to make a track as an ode to nadia oh. i feel like her work with space cowboy really paved the way for a lot of future pop girls today," she said. 

listening to the hordes of iconic tracks released by PC music stars such as hannah diamond and SOPHIE, along with slayyyter, charli xcx and LIZ herself, nadia's influence can be heard all over their hyper-real blend of synth-laden autouned masterpieces. it's just a shame she never got the recognition she deserved and her work with producer space cowboy went largely unnoticed, though he went on to work with lady gaga on her debut album the fame. 

my absolute favourite tracks colours and DJ's girlfriend wouldn't look out of place on pop 2, while hot like wow, my egyptian lover and that kind of girl would fit perfectly with anything slayyyter put her name to. other highlights include the party-ready bops no bueno, hocus pocus, beauty & a beast and soopermodel.

sadly nadia oh disappeared from the music scene in 2012 and hasn't released anything since, but her continued influence on the world of underground pop proves her music was too ahead of its time for certain people

6. call me loop

now for something slightly less left-field but still excellent in the form of call me loop's recent releases, including latest single downhill from herewhich would make an excellent eurovision entry - along with catchy kiss-off association and the super sassy floor filler cry like kim k. she recently delighted fans with a surprise release called hot thru the winter, a demo dedicated to female friendship perfect for the warmer months, even if we're all stuck inside for the time being. 

7. vardaan arora 

in an excellent show of self-love, vardaan arora released his take on the selena gomez smash rare on his birthday this wednesday, and i've had it on repeat ever since. while the original is slightly lacklustre, he's infused it with an 80s-inspired kick that still stays true to his trademark sound, and though i'm not a full-on selena stan yet, it's given me a new-found appreciation for her version

8. FLETCHER 

best known for her breakthrough hit undrunk, FLETCHER got her start on the US version of x factor back in 2011 and has since become a vocal supporter of the #METOO movement, releasing the track i believe you in 2018, penning a letter for billboard, and joining a growing list of LGBT+ women making impeccable pop music (see: gia woods, l devine, the japanese house and pale waves). her latest track forever sees her torn between committing to a serious relationship and her desire to "be young and party" over a truly exquisite synth-driven hook. hopefully there's more where that came from, but until then i'll be watching the music video on repeat, mesmerised by the frighteningly attractive plethora of extras. 

Friday, 17 April 2020

new (and old) music friday #47: dua lipa, little mix, michael medrano, breathe carolina

after a shamefully long absence, new music friday is back with all the music i've been loving pre-lockdown. 

1. dua lipa

when historians look back at the 2020s (?), they will no doubt categorise our existence on this planet as pre and post future nostalgia, the long-awaited second album from dua lipa (aka dula peep). 

before we were blessed with this disco-tinged, pop masterpiece, the world of pop was a sad and barren place, full of "soundcloud rappers" and despacito, something i wrote about at length here. (in that post, i lamented the fact that some of the industry's biggest stars had already reached their peak, but more on that later.)

the last few years have seen me praying for a pop revival that would deliver us iconic bops on a par with bad romance and teenage dream, and it would seem dua lipa answered my prayers with don't start now, the first single from future nostalgia. 

prior to this, i'd never been a huge fan of hers, halfheartedly bopping along to new rules and hotter than hell if they appeared on my spotify shuffle, but as soon as i heard don't start now, it felt like a new era for the singer, who already had a string of hit singles and a (highly underwhelming) debut album under her belt. 

dua's second album was inspired by both break ups and new love, and the bops kept coming with physical, future nostalgia and break my heart.

this slew of flawless singles sent Gay Twitter into meltdown, and i found myself taking back any criticisms i may have levelled at dua over the years, but of course i still had high hopes for the full album. 

my friend kindly sent me a link to the album a few days before it was released - i.e. leaked - which i did feel slightly guilty about, but there was no way i wasn't going to give it a listen. the album tracks feature that same disco-inspired sound as her singles, but for some reason they felt slightly lacklustre in comparison to those songs, which i'd taken great joy in screaming along to in Tha Club every weekend. 

now i've had a few weeks to process the album and listen to it all, i do like the majority of tracks - though the less said about good in bed and boys will be boys the better - but i find myself returning back to cool, an impeccable synth-driven bop and one of the few that doesn't contain any disco elements. perhaps that's why it stands out amongst the rest, or maybe it's the work of pet shop boys producer stuart price which gives it a more refined sound. either way, i can't get enough of the track and i only wish the rest of the album measured up. 

then soon after the release of future nostalgia, i saw several people tweeting about "side b" of the album, which after a quick search i discovered was a series of unreleased songs that didn't make the cut, and i hate to say it but they were all iconic, particularly if it ain't me, a collaboration with normani that should have been a lead single. again, i feel slightly bad about sharing ~leaked~ songs but if you can get access to them, i'd highly recommend love is religion - an ode to 80s-era madonna -, the euphoric i'm free, along with berlin summer, bad idea, 258 and ball and chain. it's a travesty that these songs won't see the light of day, but that won't stop me playing them on repeat. 

so that brings us to post future nostalgia, and already i'm seeing more and more artists embracing a traditionally pop sound, some of which i'll discuss in this post. i'd like to think it's dua's influence seeing as she's now a global superstar, and hopefully it will herald the start of a new era of Huge Bangers from her fellow pop girls. 

2. lady gaga

one of those artists is lady gaga, who made her return to the music world with stupid love in february. as i said in this post, i felt she'd hit her peak with the fame monster (though i adored artpop and still do) so this slice of pop perfection couldn't have come at a better time after the country-inspired sound of joanne. once again, Gay Twitter were unstoppable when it came to leaking the song, and i actually heard it in Tha Club several times before it was released, but unlike charli xcx, who scrapped her album xcx world when the entire project leaked, gaga embraced the situation and gave fans what they wanted with an official release. while the release of her fifth album chromatica has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, i'll be playing this on loop while we await what will hopefully be another bop-filled masterpiece.

3. harry styles 

as much as i love harry, i found it hard to really get into his second album fine line, which arrived in december last year. in an all too common phenomenon, the singles were excellent, particularly adore you, which i think is by far his best song, but the rest of the album felt slightly more subdued than his self-titled debut, despite his revelation that he'd taken magic mushrooms during the album's creation and wanted to have "more fun" with his songwriting second time around. 

lacking a high energy bop like kiwi, the album centres around his most recent Break Up and finds styles in a more reflective mood, something i initially found boring. but i was determined to love the album, so i continued playing it every few days and then suddenly in february, something clicked and i found myself falling (sorry) for every song, even treat people with kindness, which i'd once found insufferable as it reminded me of something from a broadway musical. 

tracks like cherry, to be so lonely and falling all deal with the aforementioned Break Up, but there are some moments of joy too, seen with the fleetwood mac inspired golden - which would make an exceptional driving song if i ever overcome my fear of getting behind the wheel and actually learn to drive - along with the super summery bops watermelon sugar and sunflower, vol. 6. there's plenty of drama too, best heard on she, a sumptuous six minute gem chock full of heady guitar solos, and closing track fine line, which never fails to make me tear up.  

i can't figure out why i suddenly changed my mind about this album, but i'm glad it was able to work some kind of magic on me. sadly harry's tour has been postponed until next year, so the outfit i'd planned in homage to his look at this year's brit awards won't see the light of day until then, but at least it gives me more time to become word perfect. 

4. little mix

another example of 80s-inspired brilliance comes in the form of break up song (i'm sensing a theme here), the newest single from little mix. much like dua lipa, i've always felt they've never released any major bops over the nine (!) years they've been together, and i prayed they would come through one day. that day has finally arrived and i get goosebumps every time i listen to break up song. with a Huge Chorus that pat benatar would be proud of, i'm hoping their next album will contain more of the same, and am envisioning a world tour with pat as the support, bringing her power ballads to the younger portion of the group's fan base and kick starting the 80s pop revival once and for all. 

5. mel c

each member of the spice girls has had varying success with their respective solo careers, but lately i've been paying special attention to mel c and her super camp bangers. she kicked things off with high heels last november, a collaboration with drag act sink the pink that quickly became a regular fixture in my Getting Ready playlist, and her latest single who i am contains traces of robyn's club-ready sound. 

typically the song was released just days before the UK went into lockdown, so i'm living for the day when the clubs will re-open and i can request the song incessantly. according to a recent guardian interview, mel c has been working on music with shura and little boots, best known for her iconic bangers new in town and remedy, so hopefully by the time we're allowed outside, she might have blessed us with some more new songs. 

6. michael medrano 

i first became aware of michael medrano when he released the uber dramatic love somebody else back in 2018, and he continues to produce exquisite bops such as fluids and do your thing!, his newest track that features a key change (!), something i've been hoping will return to mainstream pop music one day. but until the rest of the world catches up to his brilliance i'll be playing all these songs at full volume while dreaming of being in Tha Club. 

7. breathe carolina 

a few months before i stopped posting, i started a new series called throwback thursday, where i planned to discuss albums that my teenage self loved, and though i've not been writing much, i've still been re-listening to said albums. 

one of those is hello fascination by pop punk/electronic duo breathe carolina, the title track of which still Goes Off. so imagine my joy when i discovered they were still making music and released an album last year. the pop punk influences have been stripped back but their new electro-pop sound is one i can't get enough of. i'd highly recommend too good, july, think about you, dead and drive, and am eagerly awaiting the day they'll tour the UK. 

Friday, 10 April 2020

got everything and nothing in my life: the return of musing + lyrics

due to unforeseen circumstances, i.e. a global pandemic, i find myself making a return to this poorly neglected blog.

originally it wasn't my intention to stop writing altogether; i've gone weeks without writing and always come back to it eventually, but after yet more job-related frustrations following my last post in december, it seemed like a waste of time to spend hours writing about pop music knowing it (probably) won't ever become a full time thing. 

then in january i had yet another disastrous phone interview, but the incredibly nice woman i spoke to told me about a digital marketing training course i could complete online which would later lead to a work placement and hopefully a full time job at the company or somewhere similar.

it didn't take me long to decide this is what i needed, as i was tired of being told by numerous employers that i lacked the relevant digital marketing ~skills~ at each and every interview i attended (though it does beg the question; why ask me to go to an interview if they already feel i don't have enough experience??), so i signed up, paid for the course out of the savings that have been a life raft the last two years and ploughed through the course, anxiously awaiting the final test.

i've notoriously been terrible at any kind of exam but luckily this was multiple choice, and when i took the test in march i managed to get 93% - not bad when the pass rate was 80%. i then received a congratulatory email and was told the "careers team" would contact me about a placement within ten days, and that was when corona hit.

of course the moment i was about to get my life together, the entire country (and the world) went into lockdown to try and control the spread of the virus, so naturally my placement has been delayed until further notice. 

a few months ago, this would have felt like The End of the World, but thanks to my (now) beloved sertraline, the well-being course i completed in january and the one-on-one therapy i finished just yesterday, i feel slightly more equipped to handle my fear of the unknown, both for my own future and that of the planet too.  

if anything, this is the best i've felt in a long time as my years of Being Depressed have prepared me for the last few weeks of isolation and "social distancing", something i've been practising on and off since i was a teenager. 

while the more mentally stable among us struggle with the lack of human contact and fear of the unknown when it comes to job security and health-related issues, i've managed to relax slightly as i realised that all the things i used to worry about are now out of my control and i no longer feel the need to blame myself for any of these circumstances. 

i'm clearly not the only one who feels this way, as this article from the daily beast showed when it went ~viral~ on twitter a few days ago, racking up thousands of likes and retweets while hopefully providing an insight into what living with mental illness is like for those who've never experienced it. 

for those who are used to having a stable 9-5 job, this abundance of free time is probably quite distressing as all the structures of their daily routines have drastically changed, but for me it's provided an opportunity to get back to doing what i really love, which is writing about music. at the risk of sounding incredibly cliché, life really is too short to not do what makes you happy, even if you're not getting a paycheck from it. 

i'm incredibly aware how lucky i am to be able to stay at home and pursue my passion, and like everyone else i have immense respect for those whose work is still deemed essential, particularly the NHS. 

as a result, the sweet release of pop music now feels more important than ever as several gigs i was looking forward to - including harry styles, pet shop boys, litany and the long-awaited return of 3OH!3 (!) - have all been postponed. 

luckily i got to see the 1975 for the fifth (!) time in february and it might just have been their best show yet, partly because of how close we were to the stage - i'm certain matty made eye contact with me for most of frail state of mind, though in my cow print denim jacket i was probably quite hard to miss - and the live debut of their soon-to-be-released next single, if you're too shy (let me know), which is all my 80s dreams come to life. 

then in february i experienced what was eventually dubbed "winter pride" as the gay population of manchester turned out to see carly rae jepsen and kim petras over three nights, followed by after parties put on by pop curious? and girls night out

it was a slightly chaotic time, but finally hearing run away with me live after so many years and getting to scream the words to every kim petras song - particularly the surprise inclusion of do me on the sunday night - were some of the highlights of my entire life. 

my last foray outside was to see hannah diamond for the third time in march (mainly to hear concrete angel again) and thinking about it now feels like travelling back in time to an alternate universe.

i'm intrigued to see how we'll all cope once we're let back out into the pubs, clubs and live venues we love. will we be more conscious of those in close proximity to us, or will we carry on like nothing ever happened?

i can guarantee i'll never take going out for granted ever again, and am counting down the seconds until i can throw some glitter on my face and dance with all my favourite people, though i just hope our beloved LGBT venues across the UK will survive the lockdown and come back even stronger. 

in the meantime, i've been eagerly following charli xcx's every move as she continues to be pop's leading pioneer when it comes to releasing music in the digital age. she already helped bring the mixtape format into the pop world with number 1 angel and pop 2, before dropping her full-length self titled debut album in september last year, and this week she announced her next project would be released on may 15th. with a working title of how i'm feeling now, charli has been sharing the entire creative process of the album via twitter, instagram and zoom, including lyric ideas, demos and album artwork

the first song was released yesterday, and i continue to be amazed at charli's ability to take what was just a few snippets of a song scribbled on paper with a sharpie into a synth-laden, super-emo banger titled forever

written just before quarantine began, this track details the highs and lows of a long-distance relationship, but charli has said the rest of the songs will deal with all the emotions that arise from living in isolation.  

working with her long-time collaborator a.g. cook and producer BJ burton, the track wouldn't look out of place on a 100 gecs album, and i'm praying a collaboration with the weird and wonderful twosome (who i wrote more about here) will also feature on the album. 

while this innovative way of working is nothing new for charli, who has always loved collaborating with and elevating her fellow artists to stan twitter status, i'm curious to see if others will follow suit and create new projects entirely from the comfort of their own home. 

one of her contemporaries has already jumped on board; troye sivan took a DIY approach to his latest release take yourself home, enlisting the help of his friends and online followers to create the album artwork and lyric video all from his home in australia.

i'm sure it won't be long before pitchfork and the like begin declaring this way of working "the future of music", confirming what charli's devoted fans have always known; she's ahead of her time, and everyone else's too. 

Friday, 6 December 2019

it's gonna be okay, baby: MUNA at club academy

fresh from my latest Existential Crisis - brought on by another exhausting round of job interviews that included my third trip to london in two months - my motivation appears to have returned from war long enough for me to write about muna's incredible gig at manchester's club academy last night. 

in such a tiny venue it was easy to make my way to the barrier where i had what i consider the perfect view; slightly off to the left so i'm not facing anybody head on, as the pressure to be word perfect in front of the person singing some of my favourite songs can get a bit much sometimes. 

after an agonising few minutes, the trio took to the stage to rapturous applause before they'd even played a single note, a true sign of devotion from the loyal crowd who've waited what feels like an eternity to see the band live (me included). 

they launched straight into number one fan, the first single from their second album saves the world, and as always it was a joy to sing every word of this bouncy bop back at singer katie, whose blunt red bob shone under the spotlights, perfectly complementing her red lipstick and equally blinding smile. 

it was followed by stayway, a synth-driven Trauma Banger that hits a little too close to home every time i hear it. the next few songs felt a little unfamiliar until i realised they were from their debut album about u, which i haven't listened to for a shamefully long time. that will definitely change though, as i re-discovered my love for songs such as crying on the bathroom floor, around u and promise

next up were a couple of songs from saves the world that i didn't love when i first listened to the album, but hearing them live changed my mind, and i know i'll be playing navy, never and taken on repeat in the next few days. 

i found myself in my feelings as they played Sad Bops everything and winterbreak before changing gear and encouraging everyone to dance to the next few songs, which included pink light and hands offmy favourites from saves the world - and good news (ya-ya song); yelling the chorus at the top of my lungs was another highlight, especially considering this was one of my least favourite songs before the gig. 

after taking a moment to thank the crowd and declare manchester their "favourite city" of the UK tour, they played loudspeaker - another song with a deeply personal meaning for me - and self-acceptance anthem i know a place, the first song of theirs i fell in love with and played endlessly after seeing them support harry styles back in 2017. it'd been some time since i'd listened to it so i definitely wasn't word perfect, but it provided the perfect moment for some self-reflection as i thought about everything that's happened since then. 

i expected to be an emotional wreck for their final song, as i've cried every time i've dared to listen to it's gonna be okay, babykatie's ode to her younger self - but possibly thanks to my new antidepressants (!) i didn't shed a single tear. this newfound emotional stability still feels strange to me but i realised that this is probably how most people feel on a day-to-day basis. however, it meant that i could fully be ~present~ in the moment and as the lights went up, something strange happened; a sense of calm washed over me, i realised that it is going to be okay. 

a world away from the glitz and glamour of cher's elaborate stage show i saw a few weeks ago, muna's stripped back approach relied heavily on their free-flowing on-stage banter and of course, their blend of euphoric melodies and deeply personal lyrics which filled the tiny venue with hope. as the future becomes more uncertain every day, the healing power of pop music can never be underestimated, and muna's live show is testament to that. 

Friday, 1 November 2019

new (and old) music friday #46: dua lipa, cher, vardaan arora, kitten

at the time of writing my last post i was preparing for a city break to malaga, which mostly involved drinking copious amounts of lemon fanta and trying not to sweat off all my foundation. 

since then, several exciting things have happened, including:

a) the arrival of cher's world tour in manchester: twenty years (!) after i first heard believe via one of the cassette tapes that came with my much-loved barbie karaoke machine, i finally got to hear it live and as predicted, it was a life changing experience. it was a Proper Show which included dancers, several (excellent) costume changes, the infamous elephant and a speech about the "two times" she turned 40 which ended with the already-iconic quote "what's your granny doing tonight?". highlights included the slept-on club banger woman's world, the disco-inspired strong enough, incredible power ballad i found someone and karaoke classic if i could turn back time. there was also her tribute to ABBA, where she reprised her role as sophie's grandma in the second mamma mia film, donning a blonde wig to perform fernando, waterloo and SOS

b) charli xcx's gig at the albert hall - it goes without saying that she was incredible and a full review will follow soon - followed by my second pilgrimage to girls night out, which was by far the best pre-birthday celebration i've ever had. i've already bought my ticket for their final event of 2019 which includes entry to a lady gaga club night in the venue upstairs; this is truly what dreams are made of

c) speaking of which, i turned 24 (!!) the day after and remarkably didn't feel bad at all, despite all the horror stories i've heard about how hangovers become even more unbearable as one enters their mid 20s (help). seeing as 24 isn't a particularly significant age, it was a fairly low-key occasion, made a tad more exciting by...

d) the news that my chemical romance are performing in LA this december, which sent the entire internet into meltdown. if more tour dates don't follow i'll be devastated, as i can barely remember any of the gig when i saw them in 2011. my glow in the dark band t-shirt has been sitting in a drawer patiently waiting for this moment, though if my reaction to yesterday's news was anything to go by, i'm not sure i'll be able to handle hearing their back catalogue again. 

i'd also like to take this opportunity to remind you that i wrote about my love of danger days for vibbidi a few months ago and have started writing for them again, making my return with a review of charli's latest self-titled album.  

it's safe to say i've had a wild few weeks but any fears i had about getting older have vanished and been replaced with a sense of clarity about where my life is heading. i'm still hesitant to talk about Good Things after the dreadful year i've had, but for the first time in months i feel excited about life again and this week's new releases definitely reflect that. 

1. dua lipa

ever since she made her debut with new love back in 2015, i've been largely underwhelmed by dula peep's musical outputs, but today she finally blessed us with a decent banger by the name of don't start now. a departure from the subdued electro-pop she cut her teeth on, dua began teasing the song a few weeks ago, sporting a newly blonde bob in the promotional images, and as soon as i heard the disco-tinged, ten second teaser i knew we had a banger on our hands. the full track doesn't disappoint and i'm prepared to hear it at least twice when i go out later. 

2. vardaan arora

i've been keeping tabs on this LA-based newcomer for a few months after i fell in love with his song dance like you last year. his latest release famous perfectly captures the pressure we all feel to cultivate an engaging internet presence, but he takes it one step further as he ponders whether his friends "would like me more if i get famous", bringing to mind lily allen's iconic track the fearreleased in 2009, the song undoubtedly foreshadowed our obsession with fame and celebrity culture. 

in a 2008 interview with the observer, she said the track was about "being scared that there’s never going to be anything real anymore that isn’t sponsored" and with instagram scrambling to establish new guidelines which force influencers to disclose whether the products they're promoting are paid for advertisements and trips to the maldives "gifted" by a brand, it would seem her fears have become our day-to-day reality. 

this isn't the first time arora has been so candid about the pressure millennials feel to have our shit together; the electro-pop bop thirty under thirty vocalises those worries we all experience while scrolling through social media in the middle of the night, bombarded by yet another "i said yes" announcement and smug-looking soon-to-be homeowners posing with the keys to a house that their parents no doubt helped them buy. luckily social media has allowed us to be more open about our fears and while there are some terrifying statistics floating around the web about how much worse off we are than our parents, at least we know we're all in this together

3. HAIM

the last time i wrote about haim was in 2017 following the release of their single right now, which i was incredibly disappointed with. things continued on a downward slope with the lacklustre want you back and little of your love, so by the time they returned with the jazz (?) inspired summer girl, i feared their glory days might be over. luckily they've redeemed themselves with new single now i'm in it, which features a thudding bassline and frenetic lyrics detailing the sisters' struggle with depression; they took to twitter to elaborate further, urging fans to "take care of yourself". there's nothing i love more than a Sad Banger, so this message has been much appreciated and i can only hope their next album will prove that days are gone wasn't just a flash in the pan.

4. kitten

if there's one track i've been yelling along to at the top of my voice this week, it's ME by the alt-rock LA band kitten. sitting somewhere between MUNA, pale waves and the 1975, the track combines an 80s-inspired synth refrain with a huge guitar-led chorus and a smattering of autotuned vocals to create something new that still manages to pay homage to the past. lyrically it speaks to that part of me which still feels ~misunderstood~ as i attempt to justify my life choices and desire to pursue my dreams to family, friends and total strangers on a regular basis, but with songs like this blasting through my speakers it reassures me that i'm on the right path.

5. NCT 127

my foray into k-pop began with BTS and their alarmingly catchy track boy with luv, and i now have another obsession thanks to NCT 127 and their track highway to heaven. forget all the heavy stuff, this is pure pop perfection featuring a Huge Chorus and lyrics about a blossoming love affair. they were also kind enough to record an english version of the song, so i can yell along to it at full volume. the ten-member (!) group has collaborations with ava max and jason derulo under their belt and have appeared on good morning america, so BTS-style world domination could be on the cards. 

6. MOODY

once again i have popjustice to thank for my introduction to this danish pop sensation. her latest track leave is pure 80s pleasure, with one of the best choruses i've heard in a long time, and after bemoaning the lack of same-sex pronouns in pop music in my last post, it's so exciting to hear MOODY sing them with pride. elsewhere, taboo is a crying-in-the-club banger in the making (camila cabello? i don't know her). 

7. CHAV

as well hitting the road as a backing dancer on dorian electra's latest tour, CHAV is establishing themselves as an artist in their own right with the release of two impeccable tracks; kickin' on the floor and the super-spooky patient zero. while i'm not sure how well their stage name will translate to UK audiences - "chav" has historically been a derogatory term for working class people - this rising star might just be the one to reclaim it. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

dreaming, disappointments and desire: swim deep find their feet on emerald classics

as previously mentioned, i was lucky enough to hear emerald classics two months early and as soon as i pressed play i knew it was special. somehow the birmingham band have managed to create an idyllic blend of modern indie-pop that still pays homage to their debut album and the psychedelic sound of their second release, mothers. the ten tracks - a perfect number for a full-length album if you ask me - all have their own unique backstory. 

though the band hail from brummy, they've clearly taken inspiration from the rich musical history of my native manchester. world i share is a happy mondays-inspired track that could have been the official world cup song for england back in the 90s, capturing that sense of infectious optimism which swept across the nation, much like new order did with world in motion in 1991. interestingly enough, 0121 desire also evokes the sound of new order. musically this was my favourite track straight out of the gate, but a closer look at the lyrics further cements this as the band wrestle with conflicting feelings about their hometown. 

the album is named after a pub called the emerald, which frontman austin williams describes as "a classic irish pub" with a jukebox in the corner, and "everyone knows each other by their first name". it's the epicentre of an album that sees the band reconcile their teenage desires for success with the reality of life in a suburban town, something i know all too well. my conflicted feelings about home are perfectly summed up by the line "you wouldn't wanna leave here / you wouldn't wanna stay". though i feel like it holds me back at times, i truly can't imagine being anywhere else. 

this theme of home and family is explored further on never stop pinching myselfa dead ringer for oasis' 1998 track all around the world, it serves as a reality check of sorts. when the band took a break from touring in 2017, they struggled to balance part time jobs and making an album without the support from a major label, losing two of their original members in the process. 

nevertheless, they're able to look back on their success in a much more measured way than their teenage selves; "i'm not there but i got out / i ain't rich but i left town" muses williams. they also reflect on how much the world has changed since they first made it big in 2012, and the line "our technology is more important / our feelings are digital" perfectly sums up how our lives are now lived online.

though it seems like an upbeat 80s-inspired bop at first glance, sail away, say goodbye contrasts a euphoric melody with lyrics about williams' grandma losing her memory as dementia takes hold. having lost my own grandma to the disease this year, it's refreshing to hear it being spoken about in such positive terms. "you see life much differently / and you see things people don't see" goes the second verse, proof that it's not all doom and gloom. 

there's more of the same with top of the popsan ode to the families they left behind when world tours came calling. it's obvious they still have more they want to accomplish though,  as williams makes a pledge to his mother:"i wanna show you new york city in the snow / i wanna buy you a brand new car that just goes"

emotions run high on happy as larrie, the opening lines - "here you are, you've arrived / there's nothing here that you should fear now, you're alive" - bringing tears to my eyes as i realise that i have everything i need right here and running away to another city won't solve anything (been there, done that). this sentiment is echoed in the chorus, which reminds me that "you don't have to swim forever / cause everything is gonna be okay", while the bridge urges me to "put your arms around this house" and fully embrace the place i call home. 

lead single to feel good is a trip down memory lane as williams recounts his teenage years, which much like mine, included many trips to the job centre. the spoken word verses remind me of the streets, a garage group whose songs fit but don't you know it and dry your eyes were major hits in the UK in 2004, with the latter reaching number one on the charts, while the backing vocals from the margate social singing choir give it an almost reverential feel. 

lyrically it hits far too close to home, the chorus in particular - "it's the only reason that i do this / it's the only reason that i'm here" - serving as an ongoing reminder that it's not about the money and doing what makes me feel good will always be my number one priority.

this album has allowed me to see home in a completely new way and given me a new-found appreciation for it all over again,as i continue to grapple with the idea of leaving for a job in london, should such an opportunity arise. coupled with my new-found positivity, it reassures me that there's nothing wrong with continuing to pursue what i really want. 

the optimism of swim deep's early releases has been given a much needed reality check that fame and success don't protect you from life's ups and downs, but a little dreaming never hurt anyone. 

Friday, 18 October 2019

new (and old) music friday #45: harry styles, LIZ, miley cyrus, mabel

this week i've experienced everything from almost getting a rescue dog to yet another frustrating almost-interview, in which i arrived only to be told the digital marketing position i'd applied for had been filled and my CV had somehow been mixed up with the people who were applying for another job that involved assisting the receptionists and answering phones, i.e. my worst nightmare. 

i also returned to the job centre, something that would have devastated me a few months ago, but with my new-found attitude of Not Having A Breakdown About Every Tiny Thing, i'm trying not to let it bother me. luckily i'm heading to malaga tomorrow until tuesday, and though i'm not someone who cares about going on holiday regularly, i think some time away is definitely needed. 

but before that i have a backlog of bangers that need to be discussed.

1. harry styles 

it's hard to believe that two years have gone by since harry styles released his incredible self-titled debut album, but new single lights up picks up where he left off, albeit slightly more mellow.  
his "step into the light" could have many meanings. first, the literal feeling of stepping into the morning light when a party ends, still slightly drunk. secondly, it could be seen as an opportunity to tell the world who he really is after years of speculation about his sexuality.

fans took this idea and ran with it after the song and its (excellent) video were released on national coming out day, but by this point we really should know better than to expect a straightforward answer from him. either way, it's definitely helped me to be more comfortable with my own sexuality, and when he asks "do you know who you are?" i feel like i'm edging ever closer to an answer*. 

(*this could also be thanks to tegan and sara's newly-released memoir high school, which i read cover to cover in just two days. it's easy to think of successful artists as just that, any struggles they've previously experienced erased once they sign their names on the dotted line of a recording contract, so reading about sara's ongoing struggles with her sexuality reassures me that Coming Out isn't a singular moment that solves all of one's problems but a lifelong process. it also lead to several revelations about my own high school experiences as i realise that i actually did have feelings for all the girls i simply "admired" and "wanted to be friends with".) 

2. miley cyrus

miley cyrus has been making headlines lately thanks to her divorce from liam hemsworth and rebound relationships with both kaitlynn carter and cody simpson, all of which coincided with the release of slide away. the song was largely unmemorable, but when i saw a youtube comment about how it was like the modern equivalent of her 2008 track bottom of the ocean, i immediately felt compelled to re-listen to the accompanying album, breakout.

my 13-year-old self played this on repeat, and i'll always be of the opinion that it's miley's best work to date. 

there's something for everyone, from karaoke-friendly bops such as her country take on girls just wanna have fun, title track breakout and of course the iconic 7 things. there's also a largely unchanged remix of see you again, which is undoubtedly the best song from the hannah montana 2/meet miley cyrus album, which i owned on CD (!).  

forget greta thunberg, as wake up america proves that miley was the true inventor of climate change protests. the inspiration for the song came from an episode of the miley and mandy show, a youtube series created by cyrus and her friend mandy jiroux, which i vividly remember watching as a teenager and being devastated about its ending. in this particular episode, the duo encourage everyone to recycle, save and reuse plastic bottles, and use organic products with no harsh chemicals. perhaps if more people had followed their advice back in 2008, we wouldn't be in such a predicament now. 

most millennials have become well acquainted with the idea of "burnout" thanks to an article by buzzfeed writer anne helen petersen, but miley was once again ahead of her time as this concept is explored on the track simple song. the constant pressure cyrus experienced during her hannah montana heyday forms the basis of this track, which also features a piano backing to rival elton john (yes, really).  

there are still plenty of classic break-up songs though; highlights include these four walls, goodbye and my personal favourites, the driveway - with its avril lavigne-inspired electric guitar and fantastically dramatic chorus - and full circle, which was written about her on again/off again relationship with nick jonas 

3. SOPHIE/starrah

by far my most played this week, lock it up is yet another unreleased SOPHIE bop from 2016 which resurfaced online after being played on BBC radio 1's TNGNT show last week. why she refuses to release such bangers is beyond me, and several youtube channels have been set up as a place to find all of her unreleased songs in one place. perhaps she wants to be seen as a more ~serious~ artist as her debut album oil of every pearl's un-insides had a far more experimental feel and was nominated for a grammy this year. 

it's a world away from the carefully crafted bubblegum pop that sends fans into meltdown every time she unveils a new track, and this is no exception. featuring charli xcx collaborator starrah on vocals, my favourite thing about lock it up is the fact she uses female pronouns to describe her ~love interest~, something still rarely heard in pop music despite all the progress being made. whether we'll ever be blessed with an official version of this track remains to be seen, but for now i'll be playing it on loop and keeping my fingers crossed. 

4. kim petras 

miss petras came THROUGH with some more spooky bops with the release of turn off the light. rather than release it as volume 2, she decided to combine the songs from volume 1 to create a full length album, and i'm living for it. it's about as much enjoyment as i'll ever get from halloween, which is also my birthday, but to most people's amazement i despise dressing up and any kind of themed party. luckily death by sex, wrong turn and my favourite track there will be blood will make the occasion slightly more bearable this year, and i'm praying they'll be played at girls night out, the unofficial after party of charli xcx's manchester gig the night before halloween.  

i must also give an honourable mention to the impeccable video for icy, which is quite possibly my favourite song of the year so far, and after getting a ticket to see kim live next year i have a feeling this track will be the highlight of her set. 

5. mabel

i've never paid much attention to mabel as she's been releasing incredibly mediocre songs since 2015, and am still baffled as to why she supported harry styles on tour in 2017. her rather dull mix of pop and R&B felt totally at odds with the glam rock sound of david bowie and marc bolan which he channelled on his album. 

but everything changed with god is a dancer, a recent collaboration with tiesto. as soon as i heard this i knew it had potential to be a Huge Banger, and i can confirm that it Fucking Slaps, though that could have been thanks to the three (3) drinks i'd consumed before it was played in Tha Club. 

it's also an excellent walking-around-town song, guaranteed to make you feel like That Bitch, so i'm praying her next album will contain more of the same.

6. LIZ

last but not least it's LIZ, who i never fully got into until i heard sunscreen a few weeks ago. it's yet another unreleased bop with SOPHIE on production, but that could be set to change as LIZ replied to charli xcx's already infamous tweet asking if anyone had a link to taxi (part of me wants to believe she could be gearing up to release it but i'm trying not to get my hopes up) saying "it’s with sunscreen in PC purgatory". she later tweeted herself that she was "just kidding" as the song is "thriving" and "getting ready for its debut". this seems like a far more sincere statement than that of miss XCX, who has always enjoyed trolling her fans, so hopefully sunscreen will actually be released soon.


in the meantime i've been loving a)lottery - which is inspired by slayyyter and blackout-era britney spears in equal measure and features a flawless cameo from drag race alumni aja - and b) her latest release laguna nights which she described as "teenage dream and the one that got away mashed up together" (anyone with taste knows teenage dream is one of the best songs from the last decade) and was inspired by "the idea of lost and rekindled love, on the beach, and for one night only", while sonically it reminds me of fame-era lady gaga