I Blame Myself – Sky Ferreira

I feel like I start an exasperatingly large proportion of these posts indicating that I’ve been a fan of said artist for forever, which is totally obnoxious of me, I do apologize. That being said, I have actually been a fan of Sky Ferreira since her excellent Bloodshy & Avant produced debut One, and it has been a total rollercoaster from that point until now, which I’m sure you’re aware of if you have the internet and have read Pitchfork at any point over the past 4 or 5 years. Anyway, the endgame of this particular jumble of sentences is that I feel weirdly proud of Sky for managing to even get an album out at all, amidst all the elements conspiring against her, let alone an album so incredible.

Night Time, My Time is that rare beast, the album that manages to please (virtually) everyone – Sky’s old pop fanbase and the more alternative crowd she’s been courting of late. And amidst this glimmering jewel of an album, I Blame Myself not only holds it’s own, but shines amongst the brightest. The song is mostly fueled by a sense of angst, but don’t let that deceive you – it never feels indulgent or bratty, in fact quite the opposite. For a time, at least, Sky was known more for being a ‘model’ or a ‘socialite’, more interested in the celebrity than the music, not an artist to be taken seriously – the song feels like a mature statement of defiance, accepting and owning her past decisions and saying a colossal fuck you to those who doubted her. It’s specific and self-referential enough to hold meaning to those like myself who’ve followed Sky’s tale, anthemic and relateable enough to appeal to a wider base, it’s remarkable.

As ever with Sky, with success of any kind controversy follows. Some have banded about the word ‘racist’, suggesting that she uses the African-American back up dancers as “props”, much like her tour-mate Miley Cyrus was accused of last year. (Sidebar: Miley, Sky & Icona Pop? This sounds PHENOMENAL.) Sky, as ever, answered comprehensively and eloquently, I’m pretty happy to take her word. If you get a chance, the video is well worth a watch, although frustratingly you can only do that at the moment over here on the Ssense website.

In a way, it sums Sky up as an artist perfectly. It’s personal, dark and engaging, whilst at the same time literally functioning as a glorified advert for SSense. Commercial sensibilities mixed with a more alternative attitude, controversy, GREAT music, Sky looking badass, what more could you ask for?

Crazy Something Normal – Donkeyboy

Crazy Something Normal is the latest release from Donkeyboy, the second cut from their eagerly anticipated (by me at least) third album and it’s excellent. Donkeyboy being excellent isn’t really headline news, I find them criminally underrated – since we heard Ambitions in 2009 it’s been a steady stream of greatness from Norway’s finest. I really do think their ability to play around the poppier end of the synthpop spectrum is unparallelled and for that we should really celebrate Donkeyboy a little bit more. Seriously, can you think of another band that could have made both this and Triggerfinger and pulled it off in such a natural way? Here are five (of many) reasons why Crazy Something Normal is so fantastic:

- It’s the most commercial thing we’ve heard from Donkeyboy since Ambitions, and that’s a good thing. Of course, being Donkeyboy, there’s a synth element to the song, however this time it’s diffused with summery guitar pop. Interesting stuff, and it makes for something pretty fresh sounding, but really it’s out and out pop, and totally unapolagetic about it.

- The results are decidedly more friendly sounding than the usual Donkeyboy releases, yet there’s still a glorious detachment and sadness to it all that totally speaks to me. Upbeat sadness, totally my vibe.

- The song features a children’s choir and yet I don’t hate it, this is entirely unheard of. Not even the mighty Loreen managed to pull that off without making me stabby.

- There are some awesome WOAHHHHs in there. Like I’m sure I’ve mentioned a million times, I’m powerless to resist a good WOAHHH section.

- The video is actually pretty awesome too. Cato’s clothing game is ON (I need those print trousers in my life somehow, someone hook me up?) as is his hair game. There’s an army of dancing spray paint cans, that are actually both midlly horrifying and fun. Donkeyboy have this totally nerdly little dance with points and clicks and claps and I’m in love, seriously, they’ve never looked so attractive.

Anyone else as pumped as I am for album 3?

West Coast – Lana Del Rey

Like everyone with ears and the internet today, I want to talk Del Rey. First of all though, I’m going to cut the hyperbole – no this isn’t the best song ever omfg so amazing y u sley us like this Lana. That being said, I do think it’s nothing short of genius.

Lana Del Rey is one of my absolute all time favourites. The overriding sense of glamorous melancholy that undercuts all of her work irrevocably draws me in. I think she’s masterful in the way she combines her music with such powerful imagery, there’s something quite cinematic and poetic in all of her work that manages to capture an authenticity that I find quite beautiful. I’m definitely drawn towards an Americana vibe regardless, I did my dissertation on the works of John Cheever & Richard Yates and I felt like Born To Die operated within the same overlap on the venn diagram as those masters, somewhere in the interlink between boredom, hope, gloominess and kitsch that I find hugely appealing. And it all reached its apex in Ride, the peak of Lana Del Rey-ishness – it really felt that if Lana pushed those tropes any further it could and would have tipped into self-parody.

And this is where I think the genius comes into play. West Coast manages to capture the essence of what makes a Lana Del Rey song, and yet it moves on – it flirts with the electronic in a way that’s both dreamy and slightly menacing – it’s almost like there’s a bit of an 80s vibe happening here. Lana’s voice is characteristically stuck between bored and sultry. Thematically, it’s vintage Del Rey, bursting with classic imagery. There’s more than a touch of the Tarantino about it all. I think to evolve so subtly yet so noticeably really is the mark of a true artist, Ultraviolence already looks an incredibly intriguing prospect.

That’s without even mentioning the video. A black and white beach postcard on loop – it’s freedom, containment, ecstacy, anguish, hope, inevitability, isolation, romance and I’m obsessed.

La Vérité – Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains

Because everything sounds better in French.

Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains are another act I’ve got really into while I’ve been on my little blogging hiatus. They’re signed to Domino, and so thus are serious and credible, but ultimately they just make really well crafted, summery guitar pop and it’s really fucking great. They’ve been doing it for a while, actually – their last album E Volo Love was strong and established a pretty solid audience for the band. From personal experience, I probably played it two or three times, but after a month it fell out of my rotation and I pretty much didn’t play any of their songs again for about two years.

Whatever it was that was lacking, La Vérité has it in spades – it’s fun, infectious and so cheerful. Normally any kind of combination of those words makes me break out in hives, but I think what works so well here is that none of it seems forced or try hard. Frànçois just kind of seems like an awesome, super chill French dude who happens to make totally charming, likeable guitar pop instinctively. There’s no cynicism here, no Wombats-esque “look how mad and crazy and creative we are EEEE” to it all, no Kooks-y trying so hard about it all. Maybe the fact that they’re French adds a chicness, a glossy sheen to it all, but I don’t care how stupid it sounds, I’m buying it.

I defy ANYONE to listen to this two or three times and not smile on the inside.

Save Me (This Is An SOS) – Helena Paparizou

So it turns out I haven’t blogged for like, a month. I have a new job and I’d actually forgot how tiring this full-time work business is, and basically I’m compulsively lazy and forming my opinions into semi-coherent sentences is effort. But I HAVE been listening. A lot. A hell of a lot, actually. One of the (many) things I’ve got really into over the past month is Helena Paparizou here’s new album, One Life, especially it’s ill-fated lead single Save Me (This Is An SOS). The song isn’t new, but w0 it’s good.

Helena put Save Me out nearly a year ago to pretty much total indifference. She promoted the shit out of it in Sweden and STILL no-one cared. I have to admit, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me at the time – I remember finding it all a bit clunky and filing it in the ‘not to be listened to again’ box in my head. But then Melodifestivalen happened, somehow, after the competition ended, Survivor became one of my favourites from this year’s crop of songs. MF putting Helena back onto my radar was only a good thing, One Life was an unexpected delight, and to my total surprise Save Me (This Is An SOS) stood out as particularly great. What I find especially brilliant about the song is that it completely successfully reconciles Helena’s Greek influences with a killer Swedish production – the two sides to her background come together gloriously. I find a pop song with an ethnic vibe hard to resist, and here I think the emphasis on the laïko sound in the verses works gloriously in contrast to the vocoder heavy choruses. Helena’s voice is so full of character, charisma and personality, it exudes a whole lot of fun, energy and charm. Suddenly the clunky lyrics seem playful, tongue-in-cheek and the right side of campy. Seriously, who can resist “My heart is in distress/this is an SOS” as a lyric? The overall effect is as infectious as cholera, but in a good way.

I do find myself wondering how I could have written Save Me off when it’s clearly the brilliant throwback to her Eurovision winning glory days and the sequel to Mambo I’ve been patiently waiting for all this time. It really kicks off the album in remarkable style. There’s also a killer performance of it here at the Mad Video Music Awards in Greece mixed in with Gala’s Freed From Desire. It’s possibly not live, but who gives a fuck, girl can perform. (Sidebar – Compare Helena in that video to her album cover. It’s CRAZY how much Helena’s new hair colour is ageing her. She definitely seems to have caught a seerious case of Sanna Nielsen-esque old-before-her-time-ness over the past year. I love you Helena but please dye your hair back.)

So Now You Know – The Horrors

I told you my tastes went further than Scandi-pop. Yup, The Horrors’ third effort ‘Skying’ is one of my all time favourite albums – epic in scope, from such a diverse set of influences, synth meets shoegaze, it was just magic. So, with two songs now unveiled from upcoming album ‘Luminous’, am I still as excited for the album’s arrival?

Yes, in a word. Two things came to mind on my first listen. 1) Whilst there’s always been a psychedelic element in The Horrors’ music, it’s really at the fore here. 2) Actually, this pretty much straight-up synth-pop. Soaring, amazingly crafted, colourful synth-pop. ‘So Now You Know’ really does sound like a brilliantly organic extension of the material from ‘Skying’. The elements we all know and love from their previous releases are there – there’s the customary Horrors backdrop, an amazing patchwork of synths and distortion against which Faris’s vocals soar. The distortion on the track is, once again, magic. There’s a grandness to the whole thing without seeming cheap or overly commercial, and a familiarity to the sound balanced against the ploughing of fresh ground, both tricky feats to pull off.

The two tracks we’ve heard from ‘Luminous’ show The Horrors moving even further away from the band that made ‘Strange House’. And while that’s sure to upset a few people, I couldn’t be more pleased – this is the kind of music they really excel at making.

Hideaway – Kiesza

I posted this first last Thursday, but I was obviously so blown away by how great it was that I forgot to add the words underneath. Lolol, no I joke I was just too tired to type it seems, but it IS pretty decent.

Yeah, Kiesza is the exciting new pop thing seemingly on the verge of the big time and she’s pitched all of the ingredients perfectly here. She has a brilliant pedigree – she sang the female vocals on Donkeyboy’s ‘Triggerfinger and did a pretty amazing job. Her voice is great, distinctive, unusual. ‘Hideaway’ itself is pretty special, the kind of 90s-referencing soul/house/electro/pop vibe that hits all of the current trends, yet it does it in a way that sounds completely organic. Seriously, if Jessie Ware let loose and had some fun, she could only hope to put something as brilliant as this out. Kiesza is equally as at home on something like Annie Mac’s show as she is on Capital’s playlists – that doesn’t come around too often. Throw in a super shrewdly thought out, ready-to-go-viral one take masterpiece of a video, and there we have it. Kiesza is about to take the world by storm, some are calling her the next Robyn, and what bigger compliment can there be than that?

Seriously though, if you plan on leaving the house at any point over the next 12 months, prepare your ears to be repeatedly hit with this, and long may it continue.

Scream – Margaret Berger

Eurovision queen and otherworldly electro-pop goddess Margaret Berger has just put another song out into the universe, and it’s amazing. ‘Scream’ is the third cut from her third album ‘New Religion’, which I’ve already decided is a strong contender for album-of-the-year, or at least it will be when she eventually gets around to releasing it. HURRY UP MARGARET.

As the (actually pretty amazing) artwork tells us all, ‘Scream’ is a piece of slick, glossy, moody electro pop. Seriously, some of the lyrics are pretty dark; Somebody wept and somebody howled/ noone to save you, pray for dawn/ somebody’s gonna make you scream. There’s lots of talk of escaping from things and it’s all very gloomy and mysterious and I’d be quite freaked out by it all if it didn’t sound so good. And it really does sound good. What sets Margaret apart is her ability to turn her weakest asset, her pleasant-but-limited voice, and turn it into a strength – putting out music which trades upon a cold, disaffected almost robotic delivery. It radiates mystery and intrigue and it’s effortlessly cool.

This isn’t a new sound from Margaret, ‘Scream’ is a very logical follow-on from ‘Human Race’. In fact, this brand of gloomy electro-pop is pretty much Margaret’s trademark, and why mess with a formula that obviously works? There’s no faulting her choice of collaborators either, as this year’s most interesting prospect from Melodifestivalen, Ace Wilder, worked on the track. So while on one hand I wish Margaret had capitalised a little better on her Eurovision success, on the other hand, you can’t rush genius. More of the same please.

Our Time – Lily Allen

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Lily Allen is a fucking outstanding popstar. It doesn’t really matter if you love or hate her, she has the magnetism and energy and the “I don’t give a fuck because I’m super badass but actually underneath it all I’m quite sensetive” attitude that is REALLY missing from the stars of today, and the pop landscape is always a brighter place while she’s there. Seriously, in the past few weeks she’s sparked a big debate on what it is to be a feminist, called her recent musical output shit, put Katie Hopkins in her place on twitter, dressed up as a hot dog and put out another great song. She says exactly what she thinks, it’s mostly intelligent, profound and culturally adept but much of the time she comes across as a total asshole, and is totally unapolagetic. Lily Allen, like it or not, is the voice of hundreds-of-thousands of British teens and 20somethings.

Her music isn’t bad either. She may think it’s been shit, but I’ve actually been really into the stuff she’s been putting out of late. While it may not be as era-defining as ‘The Fear’, ‘Our Time’ is right up my street, it’s actually a really different take on the generic club pop that’s been littering the charts in recent times. It’s so chill and laid back but it still holds a euphoric edge – kind of the midway point between a Ke$ha-alike electro-diva and a guitar-strumming singer songwriter. The lyrics, as ever with a Lily Allen track, are honest, relatable, humorous and laced with irony “I got a quite good record collection/ I’ve got everything that came out on Def Jam” sticks to mind. Oh Lily, never change.

Plus – the video is pretty cool too. If you’re a fan of popstars wearing hot dog costumes (and quite frankly who isn’t a fan of that), then BRACE YOURSELF, you’re in for a treat.

Runaway Daydreamer – Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Since she Charleston-ed her way into the hearts of the nation on Strictly, things seem to have been looking up career-wise for Sophie Ellis-Bextor after a so-so few years (in terms of chart placings at least). And while fifth album Wanderlust was a huge shift stylistically, the risk seems to have paid off pretty well – I’ve grown to really quite like the prim, Russian influenced, chamber pop singer-songwriter whose emerged in recent months and it seems that critics, by-and-large, have taken to it pretty well also. Bravo Sophie (and Ed Harcourt, whose production efforts are stellar).

The second cut to be taken from the album is Runaway Daydreamer, the video for which Sophie popped online last week. And while Runaway Daydreamer isn’t what I would have chosen for a single (Birth of an Empire is brilliantly dark and dramatic) I can definitely see why it was picked. It’s lovely, string-laden and wistful, perfect for the Radio 2 listening audience she seems to be courting, and one of the few out and out upbeat tracks on the album. Wanderlust-era Sophie feels to me quite harsh and wintery, it’s the kind of album you curl up beside the fire and listen to, but in Runaway Daydreamer there’s a wonderfully dreamy Spring-like vibe all optimistic and hopeful, the perfect track to bridge into the warmer weather with.

Longtime collaborator Sophie Muller helmed the video for this one, and as ever with Sophie, it’s a classy affair, although we’ve pretty much seen it all before in the album trailer. She has quite literally never looked more beautiful. She elevates each frame into a piece of art, intent-and stern in her Russian inspired in the dining room scenes, 60s flavoured bombshell at the beach, looking super chic in sunglasses – take a screengrab from the video and it’d be enough to make Tyra proud. She’s fragile, wistful, firm, edgy, serious and yet has a sense of humour about herself all at once. I’ll even forgive those bizzarely jarring cuts and zoom ins. A truly stunning video to match a stunning song.