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.
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”.
Chances are not many are overly familiar with the name Amel Larrieux. The former Groove Theory member/neo-soul musician has always kept a relatively low-key profile as opposed to her then contemporaries like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, or her successors like India Arie, Janelle Monae. However, she’ll forever be cool in my book on the strength of her underrated ’90s R&B gem “Get Up” along with its amazing Floria-Sigismondi-directed video.
Over the last decade, she still quietly released new music under her own label Blisslife Records, and “Afraid” is her first new single in 4 years. Not surprisingly, she hits all the sweet spots with this breezy, bright summer groove.
“Afraid” is a track that glides, gradually, gracefully building up to a cocoon of harmonies that descend like a flock of seagulls down by the seaside. It’s such a breath of fresh air to adult contemporary R&B/soul, and I’m glad to have her back on top form.
Funny hat-wearer Eliza Doolittle is a puzzle. One minute, she turned heads on the flawless Disclosure collab “You & Me”. Then she followed up with “Big When I Was Little”, a cynical attempt at prepackaged nostalgia. Then out of nowhere, she delivered another winsome performance on veteran UK garage producer Wookie’s laidback house groove “The Hype”. Then she wasted no time and went back to unleashing a plodding acoustic ballad. I know it’s a fine line between collaborations and being an ‘artiste’ but she is just so damn good at this dance vocalist thing. Maybe one day she might rethink her strategy and become a full-time chill house diva? One can dream.
For now, this Wookie jam will do.
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.
More than 2 years after its release, Birdy‘s cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” is still hovering around the lower end of iTunes Top 100. Clearly, the 17-year-old alt-pop interpreter would do just fine living off the royalties of that hit. She bravely soldiers on with a sophomore effort of original tunes anyway. “Wings” is the lead single from her upcoming album “Fire Within” (no easy poultry puns, please), and if it’s an indication of quality, then she’s got nothing to worry about stepping away from the covers.
Sonically, it’s pleasingly stuck in 2005, when the likes of Snow Patrol, Keane and Coldplay were hugely popular with their brand of sensitive indie stadium-pop. You can even sing the chorus of “Yellow” on top of it if you like. Not that I’m complaining, it’s been long enough to feel nostalgic for those days. “Wings” is stately, immaculately-produced Radio 2 pop and an immense grower of a song.
In the music video directed by the legendary Sophie Muller (who previously worked with her on “Skinny Love” and “Shelter”), Birdy seems to find herself at an ennui-laden costume party, but even I’d be pretty down too if my dress sleeves were fashioned out of steamer baskets. Watch the lovely video below.
Ever the samaritan, Birdy has also offered an MP3 of trip-hoppy album cut “All You Never Say” for the price of your email address. Go for it, it’s worth it. The instrumental middle eight is particularly beautiful.
DOWNLOAD: Birdy – All You Never Say
I look forward to adding this album to my music-for-rainy-days category.
It’s been two months since I last made a Lana Del Rey post, for that I apologize. It’s hard to keep up with her millions of leaked demos. Yesterday, another one surfaced online, and it’s such a gem it warrants its own post. “TV In Black & White” feels like (and probably was) a work in progress; the chorus is not as strong as the verses. But against Lana’s (very high) standards, this might actually be among her best leaks. She certainly knows her way around a tune. For a song about consoling your ex who’s spending the night in jail, it comes across as a lovey dovey song. Her crooning voice evokes all kinds of feelings: wistful, nostalgic, dreamy. I keep coming back to it like a recurring dream of a summer midnight drive. Lovely, just plain lovely.
STREAM: Lana Del Rey – TV In Black & White
Here’s one for the hot summer nights. Fiona Apple‘s music was never the kind that would necessarily call out for remixes, but Brooklyn-based producer MeLo-X manages to give “Every Single Night” a refreshing workout, mixing African drum rhythms, dreamy guitar riffs and a bonus rap verse with her impassioned chants. It’s a sweat-inducing jungle fever dream, but the fiery tension of the original remains. A fantastic Soundcloud find.
MP3: Fiona Apple – Every Single Night (MeLo-X APT Basement God Mix)
Ever want to hear a Björk song covered through a David Lynch filter? For 20-year-old Aussie singer/songwriter Georgi Kay has done exactly that. Choosing to reinterpret the Icelandic songstress’ 1997 single “Jóga”, she adds a touch of tranquility and road trip melancholia to the song. It’s a sparse, beautifully understated reading, and her voice reminds me of fellow Australian artist Sarah Blasko. I first heard the cover on “Top of the Lake”, a Sundance/BBC miniseries in which Georgi herself played a supporting role, and it sent chills down my spine.
Georgi, to my surprise, already had a big club hit down under, featuring on Ivan Gough & Feenixpawl’s “In My Mind” , which I used to hear all the time not knowing who the vocalist was. She also recorded her own stripped down version of it, which was released on 7″ vinyl for Record Store Day this year.
STREAM: Georgi Kay – In My Mind
Georgi Kay may take hairspiration from Frankie Cocozza, but don’t hold it against her. She’s already signed to Parlophone in the UK and is in London recording, so do expect to hear more from her soon.
Laura Marling is the Rihanna of folk. On to her fourth album in 5 years, the prolific Brit folk darling just unleashed her new single “Master Hunter” last week, and it’s a change of wind for her. It’s been a while since I heard something this upbeat from Laura, but that trademark visceral melancholy in most of her songs is not lost here.
STREAM: Laura Marling – Master Hunter
“Where Can I Go?” is another strong cut from her forthcoming album “Once I Was An Eagle”. After 3 solid albums, I have no doubt this next one will be yet another challenging but rewarding listen. Her albums always take time to marinate and grow, but once they do, oh boy do they do.
STREAM: Laura Marling – Where Can I Go?
You can also watch a nice trailer for her upcoming short film for another track, “When Brave Bird Saved”:
Bat For Lashes’ Laura was a deeply gorgeous, haunting chamber-pop ballad, the kind that doesn’t need any enhancing. Nevertheless, San-Francisco-based electronic outfit Bachelors Of Science tried to put their own twist, resulting in a beautiful downtempo reading. They pair the track with ’90s trip-hop beats and buzzsaw synths, but keep the original piano melodies in the mix. This is going straight to my late night playlist! Well done guys.
STREAM: Bat For Lashes – Laura (Bachelors Of Science Remix)
You can watch Bat For Lashes’ new video for the next single “Lilies” below – a visual feast of impressive stop-motion animation.
WATCH: Bat For Lashes – Lilies
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.
UK pop warbler Ellie Goulding capped off an amazing year with a live session for Fearne Cotton’s special Christmas show on Radio 1 yesterday. Beside acoustic renditions of “Anything Could Happen” and “Figure 8″, she also performed a lovely cover of Mariah Carey‘s festive classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. Somewhere John Lewis are kicking themselves for not having her back with this. Listen to her version right below.
Yesterday, Dermot O’Leary (pictured above in a turtleneck, naturally) had four lovely singing ladies, dubbed his “Choir of Angels”, to spread the holiday cheers on his last radio show before Christmas. Rumer, Ren Harvieu, Emily Baker and Kristina Train (a Radio 2 super girl group right there) joined the host for a chat, then each offered their take on a holiday classic. Disney-noir songstress Ren Harvieu picked Joni Mitchell’s not-so-cheery “River”, which she pulled it off beautifully.
Fellow mellow chanteuse Rumer also chimed in with her own interpretation of Ron Sexsmith’s “Maybe This Christmas”, previously covered by Tracey Thorn.
You can listen to the whole session here if you’d like, starting around the 2:17:00 mark.
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.
Tyler James gained a rejuvenated career thanks to The Voice UK, but I’ve always had goodwill for him on the strength of his two poptastic nuggets “Why Do I Do” & “Foolish”. The former Amy Winehouse’s friend is now back on Island (the label that dropped him in the past), and just released a new album entitled “A Place I Go”. Lead single “Single Tear” was a decent rewrite of “Cry Me A River”, even if I find most of the album rather rushed and MOR. I appreciate that it was a uniformed throwback to mid-’00s R&B but individually the tracks just weren’t strong enough and the production came off as dated rather than nostalgic. Not my cup of tea, I guess.
With that said, the true keeper is track 11 “Written In Stone” – co-written by Jamie Woon & ’80s singer/songwriter Nik Kershaw. It’s an elegant R&B-lite ballad with a subtle postdubstep production. You can definitely tell that Woon had a hand in writing it, and I’d love to hear his own version. James’ vocals sounded a bit strained and seasoned, compared to Woon’s buttery tones.
STREAM: Tyler James – Written In Stone
The Voice finalists are not exactly known for commercial success, but I do hope he won’t be written off just yet.
Alex Hepburn is a London-based up-and-coming artist signed to Warner, and seems to be getting a push in France. Her sound is more on the serious “real music” side, but it’s her torch-soul cover of Neneh Cherry‘s 1996 Portishead-esque single “Woman” that caught my attention. Alex’s got a raw, raspy, smoky voice that suits bare-bone soul/blues. She has a tendency to sound a bit affected on her own tracks, but for the cover, she’s got the balance just right. She’s definitely one to watch out for in 2013.
STREAM: Alex Hepburn – Woman (Neneh Cherry Cover)
And here’s an original – “Pain Is”, co-written by the notorious Linda Perry…
STREAM: Alex Hepburn – Pain Is
How many ways can you remix Lana Del Rey? Just how many producers got sent the stems every time she readies a new single? I have a feeling there must be a plethora of unreleased mixes not making the cut, when they always releasing a mixed bag of tricks. For her new Rick-Rubin-produced single “Ride”, Active Child and Photek step up to the task and deliver two of the best rejigs so far. Do check them out below!
STREAM: Lana Del Rey – Ride (Active Child Remix)
Active Child adds some seriously funky basslines and pretty harp chords with an ’80s finish.
STREAM: Lana Del Rey – Ride (Photek Remix)
Props to the legendary Photek for not turning in a token drum n’ bass mix (Special Request has filled that slot instead), and for keeping the melodies intact, making it one of the more tamed offerings from him. I still would like to hear a proper old-school jungle take on Lana though.
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)
Ellie Goulding‘s sophomore effort “Halcyon” is out this week, and you should probably have it already because it’s definitely one of the strongest pop releases this year. “Anything Could Happen” was a red herring, as the album is a big step forward – bold, experimental, and bombastic, without losing the pop charms of her debut. She shows real growth and progression as an artist. At the moment, I’m all about “Only You”, “My Blood” and the massive “Figure 8″ (which has to be the next single).
Her cover of Active Child’s “Hanging On” got a wicked bass remix by London-based producer Ahadadream, which is only available on the Spotify edition. But you can now download it for free! Have a listen below.
Just in time for Friday night, here’s the Hercules and Love Affair remix of Bat For Lashes‘ latest single “All Your Gold”. It’s a no-brainer union, since I always thought his throwback Chicago house sound would mesh well with her voice. Check it out below!
And if you haven’t seen its music video yet, please do. For me, it’s an instant classic that begs for repeated viewings. It’s beautifully choreographed, performed, filmed and edited, and those vaguely ritualistic moves Natasha Khan pulls are so captivating. This has become my second favourite video of hers beside that one. Stunning.
A lot is happening in First Aid Kit‘s world. First, the Söderberg sisters will be featuring on several tracks of the new album “The Fire and The Flame” by Blood Music, aka fellow Swede Karl-Jonas Winqvist. The lead single, “Glad That You Called”, is a charming, laidback twee-folk duet, with a cute music video of the three frolicking about in a big greenhouse.
STREAM: Blood Music feat. First Aid Kit – Glad That You Called
Secondly, the indie-folk duo has recently released a iTunes Sessions live album, featuring this harmonious cover of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot.”
STREAM: First Aid Kit – Dancing Barefoot (Patti Smith Cover)
Last but not least, their excellent album “The Lion’s Roar” will get a Limited Edition boxset edition come October 2, with 2 bonus b-sides and one brand new track/single, “Wolf”. Here’s the kaleidoscopic, forest-based video for it.
STREAM: First Aid Kit – Wolf
Have I mentioned the girls are performing in New York tonight and tomorrow too? As I said, a lot is happening in First Aid Kit’s world, and deservingly so.