Norwegian singer/songwriter Ane Brun managed to bring out the subtleties in Beyoncé‘s gargantuan ballad “Halo”. Her chamber-folk rendition is a pared-down, understated acoustic affair with Swedish cellist Linnea Olsson on strings duty. It’s a nice break from the drum-heavy bombast of Ryan Tedder’s original production.
You can find “Halo” on her latest double album “Rarities”, collecting her rare tracks from over the years.
Lately the music scene has witnessed the inevitable antithesis to EDM. A small wave of new acts makes music that is more likely to gently stroke a listener’s chin, rather than shout at one’s face threatening to ‘drop’. London Grammar are UK’s brightest new hope. Already scoring a #2 album across the pond, the band is making their way to America. A mix between The XX, Florence & The Machine and Sia, London Grammar’s sound is really as stately and deceptively modest as the name suggests. At times they also remind me of Trespassers William too.
I first got hooked on early single “Metal & Dust”, a gorgeous trip-hop throwback that knows when to hold and release. Follow-up single “Wasting My Young Years” is one of those ballads that might send a lump down your throat in an appropriate mood. It might actually rival the grandeur of Sia’s “Breathe Me”, and I don’t say that lightly. However, “Strong” is the one with mass appeal, landing them their first Top 20 single in Britain. The old-school drum-and-bass High Contrast remix confirms that they sound just as good over block rockin’ beats.
As nice as the electronic embellishment around their production is, it’s Hannah Reid’s powerhouse vocals that took center in every song. Her guest vocals on Disclosure’s “Help Me Lose My Mind” is a thing of sunset-in-Ibiza beauty. For such a new band, they’re really building up a solid discography.
STREAM: London Grammar – Metal & Dust
Check out their US tour dates after the jump.
Moving away from the lush, dreamy soundscapes of her second album, Oh Land returns with something a little more adventurous. For her third full-length entitled “Wish Bone”, the Danish songstress works with producer Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio). Her relocation to Brooklyn really shows in the new batch of songs. Lead single “Renaissance Girls” is a fun celebration of female empowerment in the form of an infectious synth-pop tune. The girl-power sentiment is cool in a post-Lilith-Fair way, and the immaculately choreographed music video is AMAZING. She really put her ballet dancer skills to good use!
There’s also a lovely new video for the quirky “Pyromaniac”. She’s really nailing it down on the visual side this era. Her hair alone is divine, I can’t tell what exact shade it is (light blue greyish blond?), but she rocks it.
You can now stream the entire album on New York Times. FYI, the track co-written with former tourmate Sia is “Green Card”.
My favorite Norwegian Erlend Øye has returned with his first solo outing in 12 years. It’s a single called “La Prima Estate”, it’s in Italian, and it’s amazing in the most unexpected ways. Let me count the ways of its amazingness:
- THAT ARTWORK. Loud is the new quiet!
- How amazingly random it is. Apparently, the one half of Kings of Convenience is now living in Italy, and the song is his homage to ’70s Italo easy-listening folk-pop, popular in Norway at the time. He did his research, and it showed. It’s a totally unexpected re-introduction, but for a man whose past repertoire ranges from acoustic folk to Berlin indie techno, I shouldn’t be so surprised.
- Even though I don’t understand a word, it still sounds like the giddiest piece of jet-set-ready summer music. Jens Lekman would be proud.
- THE VIDEO, shot on location in Siracusa Sicily. Who are all these twee geeks dancing like fools, bursting with unadulterated joy? Prepare to grin like an idiot.
As a bonus, here’s a video of Erlend Øye casually performing a cover of Pet Shop Boys‘ 1996 single “Se a vida é (That’s the Way Life Is)” on an abandoned rooftop. So chill.
We might not’ve been exactly vocal about this in the past (apols) but we love Summer Camp, aka UK power duo of Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley. They wrote some very listenable pop tunes.
Now that they’re back for another round with album no. 2, the band has stepped their game up. Current single “Fresh” is what you get when you put the following ingredients in a blender and press “Mix”: Disney string samples, Beach Boys ghost harmonies, funky disco bassline, ’90s Britpop, Tumblr irony, and of course, ’80s John Hughes teen angst. A delicious smoothie, you’d agree.
The charming and colorful music video directed by Lucy Needs is one of those performance videos where the artist has to learn to lip sync to their song backwards. Watch as Elizabeth reiterate Jarvis Cocker’s question “Do you remember the first time?” (can you spot the other Pulp reference?).
Postiljonen is the next big Swedish export, and they have delivered a stunning debut album in “Skyer”. I can only describe the Stockholm-based trio’s music as panoramic, multi-textured road-trip synth-pop. The ’80s synth and sax riffs are larger than life, while wispy, murmuring vocals are mixed like an afterdream, hazy and unobtrusive, interspersed with dialogue samples from unidentified, possibly non-existent films. As is the case with shoegazing dream-pop, due of its unique construct, you probably won’t remember much of the lyrics or melodies, but there’s enough ear candy to keep coming back and peel at the layers. The 10-track album is short and sweet, with the more upbeat numbers (Supreme, We Raise Our Hearts, Skying High) sequenced in between ambient, filmic ones (Rivers, Plastic Panorama). There is also an unlikely, spectral cover take on Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know”, gloomily retitled as “All That We Had Is Lost”. “Atlantis” – the current single – makes a perfect album closer, thanks to its monster saxophone action and a nocturnal, melancholic back-of-a-taxi-cab mood. If you like M83, or The Naked And Famous, then Postiljonen’s widescreen after-hours pop is for you.
Check out the music video for Atlantis below, and album highlight “We Raise Our Hearts”.
STREAM: Postiljonen – We Raise Our Hearts
Perfect summer indie pop alert!
The Proper Ornaments are my new favorite Soundcloud discovery. Their new single “Waiting For The Summer” is everything I wanted in a song with that title. The UK band lovingly crafts that timeless jangle-pop sound: dreamy, short and sweet, and more than ideal for a sunny day in the park. This was so good I immediately searched for all their past releases to listen. Apparently, one of the band members James Hoare is also in Veronica Falls, another favorite English indie band of mine, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Take my word for it, press play and enjoy.
STREAM: The Proper Ornaments – Waiting For The Summer
And here’s the equally lovely b-side “Candy”:
STREAM: The Proper Ornaments – Candy
Bonus points for the band name, which I presume to be an homage to a Free Design song of the same name.
“Waiting For The Summer” is out now on Lo Recordings. Their album is expected for a late summer release. In the meantime, grab a free download of a track from 2011, “Shining Bright”.
Way back in 2005, British duo The Boy Least Likely To released “Be Gentle With Me”, a perfect indie pop song with an adorable video featuring animal puppets playing instruments and a pre-Office Rashida Jones playing the manic pixie dream girl. 8 years later, for their third studio album “The Great Perhaps”, Owen & Pete Hobbs are still hopelessly twee, quietly chucking out little pop gems about the woes of love and growing up. New single “It Could’ve Been Me” is one of its (many) highlights. A duet with the ever-lovely Gwenno Saunders from The Pipettes, it finally got a suitably meet-cute music video which you can view right below. Just try not to grow anime eyes all over afterwards. You’ve been warned.
I love it when a song/artist came out of nowhere and elicited a strong response in me. The mysterious London-based Oscar Scheller only has 3 songs on his Soundcloud, but “Never Told You” is the one to check. By first listen, I was taken aback by how it all feels so instant and familiar, down to the rave piano chords. It took me right back to 2006, the height of my twee pop phase, during which there was a resurgence of these fey indie kids making catchy C86-inspired bedroom pop with Morrissey and Sarah Records as their blueprint. I still have fond memories of discovering that scene for the first time, and “Never Told You” sounds just like it came from that period, like it belongs on Labrador Records beside Suburban Kids With Biblical Names. Twee-pop has that nostalgic yet ageless quality. You can try to grow up, but the twee it stays, waiting for a nice sunny day to pop back in for a cup of tea. Lovely, lovely stuff.
STREAM: Oscar – Never Told You
Empress Of is the moniker of Lorely Rodriguez, Brooklyn-based songstress signed to Terrible Records, label home of Solange and Chairlift. Considering the label’s pedigree, it should come as no surprise that her new track “Hat Trick” is a total dream-pop choon. It’s subdued, ethereal ’80s synth-pop at its smoothest, with slick production and silky sweet vocals. In a nutshell, it sounds like St. Vincent produced by Dev Hynes (Blood Orange). The only flaw I can find is that it’s too damn short! With this, Empress Of has unofficially joined the like-minded crystal-ball pop league of Twin Sister, Class Actress and Glasser. Now excuse me while I go hit repeat one more time.
STREAM: Empress Of – Hat Trick
It’s been a while since I last heard of Japanese folkster/multi-instrumentalist Shugo Tokumaru, but he has returned with a gorgeous stop-motion video for his lovely new single “Katachi”. Clearly a lot of time and effort was put into this labour of love, and the visuals work so well with the beautiful soothing harmonies. That it’s sung in Japanese probably adds to its warm, earthy charm. Make this your required Sunday morning viewing, then grab a free download of another track “Decorate” right below.
I don’t know much indie-rock duo Foxygen, but I’m glad I didn’t let their questionable band name put me off. “San Francisco”, from their awesomely-titled album “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic”, is a sweet throwback to ’70s AM rock, and also doubles as an out-of-context unofficial West Coast anthem. With its off-kilter, bookish charm, “San Francisco” sits comfortably somewhere between a Wes Anderson soundtrack and a pitched theme song for a non-existent The OC reboot. Its ’70s easy-going sunny vibe is certainly a pleasant distraction from the dreary East Coast weather lately. I haven’t checked out the album yet, but I do hope there’s a dozen more of these.
STREAM: Foxygen – San Francisco
My favorite Canadian indie-pop band Stars were responsible for one of the most infectiou songs of 2012, with the equally amazing title “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It”. The Montreal-based quintet just generously put up a free EP entitled “Far From Hold”, featuring alternate “Breakglass” versions of album tracks from their latest “The North”, as well as a cover of The Smiths‘ b-side “Asleep”. The latter was actually recorded back in 2010 for a charity children’s music album called “Sing Me To Sleep – Indie Lullabies”. Suffice to say their intimate, low-key take on the song won’t just appeal to hip babies!
I love me some ’60s-loving duo side projects. I can name a handful off the top of my head: The Last Shadow Puppets, Cat’s Eyes, Scarlett Johansson & Pete Yorn, Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, James Levy & The Blood Red Rose. Now Adam Green (The Moldy Peaches) and Binki Shapiro (Little Joy), are the latest to channel the Nancy/Lee dynamic with a self-tiled LP out January 29. The opening track “Here I Am” is a playful and sweet love song, with the tried-and-true deep-voiced-male/honey-voiced-female combination that guarantees an immediate spot on your local Starbucks playlist. Expect more loveliness like this when the album drops. Enjoy it while you can, since these kinds of projects hardly last beyond one album.
STREAM: Adam Green & Binki Shapiro – Collage (James Gang Cover)
You might have known Rachel Zeffira as one half of Cat’s Eyes, the unjustly underrated ’60s-pop side project of Faris Badwan of The Horrors fame. Now the classically-trained Canadian multi-instrumentalist/singer is ready to venture on her own solo debut “The Deserters”, out this March in North America on Paper Bag Records. First single “Here On In” is ethereal dream-pop lushly crafted, with a certain Gallic cool that recalls Air or Charlotte Gainsbourg. Her airy, bewitching vocals float weightlessly above a bed of strings, synths and spectral harmonies. It’s beautifully arranged nocturnal music for fans of shoegaze and retro-minded indie pop. Therefore, it makes total sense that she chose to cover My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When” for the flip side. Check out both tracks below, and keep a close watch for more to come. The owls are not what they seem.
STREAM: Rachel Zeffira – Here On In
STREAM: Rachel Zeffira – To Here Knows When (My Bloody Valentine Cover)
It’s not Christmas at PLHQ without Theoretical Girl‘s annual Musical Advent Calendar to look forward to every day, and this year’s proves to be an extra jolly season. Taking song requests from Facebook fans, the English indie-pop maven adds her own charming lo-fi touch to a widely eclectic range of choice selections from The Cardigans, The Strokes, Francoise Hardy, Neil Young, Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, Ronettes, Buddy Holly and more (and even a forgotten Longpigs classic)! Her sweet voice makes everything sound lovely and festive. For this post, I pick four of my favorites. Make a cup of tea, get comfy, and enjoy them below.
Theoretical Girl – Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young)
Theoretical Girl – Erase/Rewind (The Cardigans)
Theoretical Girl – Someday (The Strokes)
Theoretical Girl – All Over The World (Francoise Hardy)
You can stream and download all covers for free , including those from previous years, at her Soundcloud. Theoretical Girl is currently working on her second album.
Frida Sundemo was previous known as simply Frida in Japan. The breezy-cutesy bossa-nova-tinged songs from her 2010 debut album “Dear, Let It Out” managed to strike a chord with the Japanese audience. Granted, she was not the first Swede indie girl to conquer Japan. Two years later, she has stunningly reinvented herself as Frida Sundemo, the next big Swedish synth-pop starlet.
“Indigo” is the kind of song that came out of nowhere and catch you by surprise. Her sweet vocals against the aggro synth backdrop made for a striking combo. It’s clear she has graduated from the same School of Pop as Robyn, Lykke Li, and Tove Styrke. It’s electro-pop perfection that only the Swedes can effortlessly offer in spades.
And here’s a different side from her early career, the sweet lounge ditty “Towers”:
One of the most promising acts for 2013? I think so.
Saint Saviour excels at making spooky, grown-up art-pop, and she’s been honing those skills by recording covers and giving them away on her Soundcloud. Among her latest is a tongue-in-cheek dubstep-ified cover of infamous ’80s power ballad “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. The Groove Armada collaborator has also provided her own lilting take on Mazzy Star’s ’90s shoegaze classic “Fade Into You”.
On the original-material front, her new single “Tightrope” is a beautiful heartbreak lullaby that would make Kate Bush proud. The chord progression also reminds me of Radiohead’s “Creep”, does it not? It’s by far one of her strongest tracks. Here’s the official video for it.
STREAM: Saint Saviour – Tightrope (Radio Edit)
Chart Music is the new joint project of Le Prix and Roger Gunnarsson, both of whom have worked with Sally Shapiro, Johan Agebjörn, Cloetta Paris and Queen of Hearts. If you don’t know any of those names, educate yourself. If you do, then you probably know what to expect. The first song from the Stockholm-based duo is “When You Lied”, featuring Viktor Ginner on vocals, and it’s a gorgeous piece of melancholy heart-on-sleeve anorak twee-pop blub-a-thon. Influences include italo disco, ’80s synth-pop and John Hughes films. If you don’t feel something when the middle eight’s instrumental breakdown glides in, then you sir need to check your pulse!
STREAM: Chart Music – When You Lied
An accompanying video was made of clips from obscure 1986 teen flick Lucas. Prepared to get your sad eyes on.
Swedish indie-pop veterans Acid House Kings have been enjoying a resurgence lately. They just reissued most of their back catalogue, as well as invited friends and fans to remix their most popular track “This Heart is a Stone” (it was on a Korean ice cream commercial featuring Drew Barrymore don’t cha know). Out of the whopping number of 12 remixes, here are my two cherry picks. The Perfect Nines mix goes for the jangly C86 Sarah Records sound which I adore, while the Sunny Intervals opt for relaxing Sunday-morning vibes. Both give a fresh take on the original without straying too far from its roots. Have a lovely listen below.
STREAM: Acid House Kings – This Heart is a Stone (Sunny Intervals Remix)
Mysterious Aussie/Swedish twin duo Saint Lou Lou managed to win me over with just one perfect little gem of downtempo dream-pop. “Maybe You”, their first and only song to date, is a sublime synth-pop ballad with an ’80s-indebted ‘quiet storm’ vibe. It’s melancholy yet hopeful, subdued yet tender. It’s the kind of track you can imagine yourself hearing on the radio in the back of a taxi cab on a rainy late-summer night. In fact, I’m surprised they didn’t add thunderstorm sound effects to the intro, so I guess I’ll make do with an open tab of Rainymood.com.
The music video is a gorgeous, sensually-shot black-and-white slo-mo affair. Watch it below, and check out some excellent remixes after the jump.
More than a year ago, a song called “Human Love” was uploaded on Sunday Girl‘s Soundcloud account, and then quickly removed, as the tentative single got cancelled. I was among the few lucky ones who got to hear it before it got pulled, and it remains one of her finest tunes. Fast forward to 2012 and she’s still stuck ‘in development’, bar from the sporadical one-off singles. Then a few days ago, a new version of the song magically appeared on Soundcloud. Apparently, it was put online by the management company of producer/mixer Adrian Hall, who worked on it. It’s unclear whether this mix is recent or not, but it does have different vocals, and a more ‘serious artiste’ rock edge. This is about as close as we get to something new from Ms. Jade. Check it out below.
And the wait continues…
It is quite sad to hear that War Of Words are no more. The protégés of Ben Langmaid (aka La Roux’s other half), the short-lived British alt-pop duo only managed to put out 2 songs (4, if you count the remixes) on the Popjustice Hi-Fi label before finally calling it a day. And such good songs they were. “Battleground” is my favorite out of the two. Despite being an umpteenth attempt at recreating another “Unfinished Sympathy”, it was a well-written heartfelt tune that showcased their soulful ’90s dance-diva throwback sound best. I always thought the girls had raw potential not fully realized yet. While they certainly have fantastic powerhouse pipes, I wasn’t entirely convinced on their image: they didn’t have a conventional malleable pop-star look, but didn’t find a quite right styling either, and they seem to have zero presence in their videos (which I’m not sure is premeditated or not). Still, it was clear the band was still in the early stages and I was genuinely waiting for more to come. It’s a shame we lost yet another promising but ill-fated female pop duo (RIP Mini Viva, Oh My!). Hopefully, we’ll still have Icona Pop to root for…
STREAM: War Of Words – Battleground