Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 at 5:35pm
It's that time of year again - Mercury prize nominations. As always the shortlist has sparked debate, outrage and intrigue (who exactly are Kit Downes Trio?)
But, as one of the most credible and exciting music awards of the year, the Mercury prize consistently features something for everyone, this time around with a heavy folk-revival influence, as well as indie, rock, hip-hop and jazz all being represented.
We have all of the nominees here for you, as well as their current odds to take home the prize, all of which you can listen to now and for free on Spotify. Who are you rooting for?
Dizzee Rascal – Tongue N' Cheek (4/1)
Another nomination for 2003's winner with his fourth album Tongue N' Cheek which churned out hit after senseless hit, including Bonkers, Dance Wiv Me and Holiday. Dizzee may be the one of bookies favourite but his most commercial release to date has raised a few eyebrows with it's inclusion. Don't expect Dirtee Disco win any Ivor Novellos.
The xx – xx (4/1)
The xx received widespread critical acclaim for last year's eponymous début album which they have translated into commercial success having recently played two nights at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire and featured top of the bill at the Roundhouse. This is an amazing and unique album brimming with atmosphere and nuance. Possible winners? We think so.
Paul Weller – Wake Up the Nation (6/1)
The Modfather is back from the creative wilderness after a succession of lifeless outings with only his second ever Mercury nomination. Wake Up The Nation is both scathing and soulful, incredibly varied, immediate and succinct. His best work in over a decade could send the prize Weller's way.
Corinne Bailey Rae – The Sea (6/1)
After a tumultuous two-year hiatus following the death of her husband, Corinne Bailey Rae released the follow-up to her hugely successful 2006 début. This album has Bailey Rae's sumptuous brand of dreamy summer lullabies, alongside heartbreaking melancholy.
Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More (6/1)
Popular with broadsheet music reviewers and Radio 1, it should come as no surprise that Munford and Sons have made the shortlist - even if there are innumerable albums more worthy. An record of dreary faux-folk that is unlikely to take home the prize. Hopefully.
Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can (6/1)
More kudos from Mercury for Miss Marling who receives another nomination for her beautiful second album, I Speak Because I can. Her début, Alas, I Cannot Swim was hotly tipped to take the prize in 2008 but was ultimately beaten be a deserving Elbow, however 2010 could well be her year for what is a majestic and intriguing album. Check out our full review of the album (and Mercury success prediction) here.
Foals – Total Life Forever (8/1)
Total Life Forever is a magnificent return for Foals who were tackling their 'difficult second' album after both critical and commercial success with début, Antidotes. This record features radio friendly indie-pop with tracks such as This Orient as well as more ethereal tracks such Spanish Sahara. Undeniably one of Britain best bands and well worthy of a nomination.
Wild Beasts – Two Dancers (8/1)
Wild Beats are a band that polarize opinions of both critics and music fans alike with frontman Antony Hegarty's perturbing voice sounding like a cross between Nina Simone and the Bee Gees. Two Dancers is a lackluster album which takes itself far too seriously - which probably means it has a strong chance of wining.
Biffy Clyro – Only Revolutions (8/1)
Whether you're into the music they make or not, Biffy Clyro's dedication, hard-work and gradual elevation into commercial success has to be admired in an industry of fleeting over night successes and 'get big quick' schemers. Now on their fifth studio album the Biff are a ferocious live act which they have translated perfectly onto this brilliant record.
Villagers – Becoming a Jackal (10/1)
Villagers, aka Dublin songwriter Conor J O'Brien, could be mistook as the obligatory folk nominee the judges are so fond of including, when in actual fact he is a truly engaging artist who stands head and shoulders above the endless procession of bland troubadours. This album is both fragile, unflinching, and delivered with an understand aplomb.
Kit Downes Trio – Golden (10/1)
Arguably the biggest unknown in this year's award is British pianist Kit Downes. 2010's requisite jazz offering, Golden, also features drummer James Maddren and bassist Calum Gourlay, and while it may seem an unlikely winner, it is still an outstanding contemporary British jazz record.
I Am Kloot – Sky at Night (10/1)
I Am Kloot are a band that, while popular with indie aficionados, have never truly broke through intro the mainstream while consistently producing album after album of brilliantly wry, poetic music - much a like fellow Manc band Elbow who were considered indie also-rans up until 2008's Mercury Prize winning The Seldom Seen Kid. Could this finally be I am Kloot's time?
Monday, July 19th, 2010 at 9:22pm
Eliza Doolittle - Eliza Doolittle
Can you remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Great film wasn't it. Well that's what Eliza Doolittle sounds like (in an abstract analogous way) - a wry commentary on real life infused with carefree cartoon-like melodies.
Take first single Skinny Genes for example, with its twinkling keys and doo-wop bass. Vocally, she is somewhere between Lilly Allen and Corinne Bailey Rae as she chirps, "I really don't like your skinny jeans/ So take them off for me/ Show me what you got underneath."
The wacky pop continues on the bounding Go Home and breezy Rollerblades, while on Smokey Room she bemoans, "You got your Gucci bag on / Yeah 'cause that's so original / Have you forgot yourself lately / I guess it doesn't matter if you got the right shades on", while being far from trailblazing herself.
This lack of any underlying originality perfectly sums up the album as a whole. Underneath all of the bonkers backing and zany turns of phrase Eliza Doolittle does not offer much in the way of advancing what Kate Nash and the likes have already done, and done considerably better.
Eliza Doolittle is an inviting, easy listen, and will sound good in the sun, but apart from a couple of stand-out tracks (Skinny Genes and MoneyBox) there is very little else of any real substance. 5/10
Monday, July 19th, 2010 at 2:02pm
Professor Green - Alive Till I'm Dead
Much like fellow underground-rapper-turned-popstar, Example, Professor Green signed to Mike Skinner's record label The Beats. Following Skinner holding a funeral for the label (literally), citing that: “It just comes down to the fact that the traditional record label is dead”, Green was once again labelless. But after a successful battle rap career (check that out here) and with major label's current penchant for grime artists, it was only a matter of time before Stephen Manderson broke into the mainstream.
Said breakthrough came in the shape of the INXS sampled I Need You Tonight, which is actually one of the weakest tracks on Manderson's debut release. Whether it was pressure from Virgin to produce a viable hit or it was Pro's idea, it showcases the rapper's ability but is far from a true reflection of Alive Till I'm Dead. Much like current single Just Be Good To Me featuring Lilly Allen which includes another shameless sample, this time from Beats International.
Green is at his best when his flows are fast, furious, and frank. First track Kids That Love To Dance (feat. Emeli Sandé) is all about drugs, run-ins, and tongue-in-cheek kidnapping - which is where the inevitable Eminem comparisons creep in. Monster is equally as frenetic, featuring former stable mate Example and such Mathersian rhymes as "Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde / Saw a chick walk in with a big behind / Now I'm stalking my victim I'm / Unrecognisable 'cause I'm in disguise."
Alive Till I'm Dead loses its way on some of the slower tracks such as Closing The Door (feat. Fink) and Where Do We Go (feat. Shereen Shabanaa) before returning to Eminem at his most grandiose and indignant on Goodnight.
The recent wave of underground urban talent washing over mainstream music shows no signs of breaking any time soon, and with Alive Till I'm Dead Professor Green is riding pretty high amongst them. 7/10
Monday, July 19th, 2010 at 1:11pm
30 Seconds To Mars - Closer To The Edge
Although perhaps not a household name as an actor, Jared Leto has been in some great films - Fight Club, Girl Interrupted, American Psycho, Requiem for a Dream. Such a credible movie career makes it all the more surprising that, at 38 years of age, he is still peddling this inane, teen-angst, emo-pop. Closer To The Edge is a completely joyless and pointless affair, however solace can at least be taken in recalling Mr Leto's demise in both Fight Club and American Psycho (he got his face rearranged and had a run-in with an axe, for those who missed them).
Adam Lambert - Whataya Want From Me
More vacuous, meaningless, pop-by-numbers from American Idol reject Adam Lambert. The spelling of 'Whataya' is annoying, the amount of times it's used (19 by our reckoning) is infuriating and old squealing daft trousers himself, Justin Hawkins, has contributed to his album - need we say anymore?
Diana Vickers - The Boy Who Murdered Love
Considering the words located directly above this review, you might expect an equally vitriolic tirade directed towards, fellow talent show wannabe, little Di Vickers. Well, we're awfully sorry to disappoint you caustic word fans, but this is actually, pretty damn good. The Boy Who Murdered Love is somewhere between Robyn and Kylie at her Stuart Price-produced best. See, pretty damn good!
LCD Soundsystem - I Can Change
I Can Change is the latest single from LCD Soundsystem's spectacular third album, This Is Happening. "And love is a murderer, love is a murderer / But if she calls you tonight / Everything is all right" croons James Murphy over his unique brand of dance-rock wich is found in fizzing, sleazy, synth mode here. Another release of the highest caliber from one of the coolest and most unconventional musicians of recent times.
Dirty Projectors - Stillness Is The Move
Prolific Brooklyn based rock-tinkerers, Dirty Projectors, are back (not that they are ever away for very long) with the re-release of Stillness Is The Move, taken from last year's Bitte Orca. This is by far their most accessible work from an otherwise creatively restless Dave Longstreth and co, beginning with funk drums and twisted organs and culminating in melancholy strings.
Monday, July 19th, 2010 at 9:30am
Last month we brought you some brilliant playlists from SMP genius clabbe who put together a collection of music which includes every single R&B Billboard number one from 1975 to 1983 (you can read about them here if you like).
This time around he has been hard at work collecting the chart toppers from 1964 to 1975 just for you, the SMP listener. So, to repay his kindness we think you should add him as friend by clicking here and read on for a review of the playlists he has made.
1965: the Billboard number one R&B hits
This round of playlist begins in 1965 with the music, as always, in chronological order. Click here for classics from Solomon Burke, Marvin Gaye and James Brown.
1966: the Billboard number one R&B hits
1966 brought an event which, based on this year's shambolic performance, will never happen again in our life time. England winning the World Cup. It also brough legendary tunes from the likes of Sam & Dave, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder.
1967: the Billboard number one R&B hits
'67 saw the release of one of the greatest albums of all time in Sgt. Pepper's. It wasn't a bad year for R&B either with tunes like Soul Man, Jimmy Mack and I Was Made To Love Her all featured here.
1968: the Billboard number one R&B hits
1968 saw the first Big Mac go on sale (49 cents apparently), The Beatles record Hey Jude and the birth of Celine Dion. Never mind though, because for all of her musical atrocities there is a back catalogue of Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding to balance things out, all of which have tunes in this brilliant playlist.
1969: the Billboard number one R&B hits
If you fancy a bit of '69 action you will find tunes from Sly & The Family Stone, The Isley Brothers, Diana Ross, Joe Simon and many more.
1970: the Billboard number one R&B hits
As we enter the 70's the classics just keep on coming in a breakthrough year for the Jackson 5. Pick of the crop here includes I Want You Back and ABC as well as Stevie Wonder - Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours), Tyrone Davis - Turn Back The Hands Of Time and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - The Tears Of A Clown - Single Version (Mono).
1971: the Billboard number one R&B hits
Hello there 1971, what have you got for us? What’s Going On, Spanish Harlem, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) and Mister Big Stuff. That'll do nicely, thank you very much.
1973 the Billboard number one R&B hits
We are aware that there is no 1972 included here but when the music is this good in '73, who cares? Stevie Wonder - Superstition, The O’Jays - Love Train and The Temptations - Masterpiece I hear you say. Well not me, that's for sure.
1974 the Billboard number one R&B hits
We round up another amazing selection of playlists in 1974 with Al Green, Kool & The Gang, Chaka Khan and a veritable feast of various other musical legends. Get clicking!
Once again many thanks to clabbe for the wonderful playlists.
Friday, July 16th, 2010 at 9:38am
Did you know that here at SMP we have lots of really great groups for you to join and then share your favourite tunes with like-minded music geeks. You did? Great. But if you didn't then you should really read on.
If you scroll to the bottom of our home page there is a section cryptically named 'Groups' and this is where you can find all of our, well, groups.
Simply click on the one you like the look of, have a read and if you like what they've got to say, join. Simple as that.
We've put together a list of some of the most popular groups to get you stared.
As you may have guessed from the title, this is a group dedicated to all the Spotify music that makes you feel good. Created by MonaFims, this group has a playlist that you can add your own personal favourite happy tracks to by clicking here. So far there are tunes from Nick Drake, Death Cab For Cutie, Damien Rice, Iron & Wine and many more. What will you add?
This is another cracking group set up by SMP user Victor Gustavsson for people 'who really love music.' If your a person and you love music this group sounds perfect for you. We suggest you join immediately by clicking here.
This is not a group for over-indulgent guitarists who like thrashing their axe around near an amp. No, this is a group for those who want to hear comments on their SMP playlists from fellow users. If you're up for some of that click here.
I remember some lads fighting for our right to party back in the 80s so it is only fair that you pay tribute to those brave soldiers by joining this group. Once you've done that you're free to snoop around all the brilliant party playlists already available and add your own. P-A-R-T-WHY? Because it is a really good group, that's why.
For all you skinny jean sporting, straw hat wearing, indie fans out there this is the playlist for you. Click your mouse here for all the latest indie playlists on offer.
This is just a taste of some of the groups available, why not have a browse through for yourself or create one of your own.
Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 4:20pm
The Coral - Butterfly House
2002 was once again an exciting time for British guitar music after the barren period which proceeded the inevitable burst of the Britpop bubble. One of the breakthrough acts of this period was The Coral, who burst onto the scene in a flurry of mad psychedelia and melodic 60s pop. This was part of the Wirrel band's charm, not only were they brilliant musicians with a captivating frontman in James Skelly, they could turn their hand to both chart bothering gems such as Dreaming Of You and insane freak-outs à la Skeletal Key.
Since their eponymous debut album The Coral have been one of the most consistent bands in the country. While most of their peers from the beginning of the decade fell by the wayside, they have been a dependable source of a quality music.
The words 'dependable' and 'quality',however, are not necessarily the most complimentary words to associated a band with. So with the loss of a founder member and the ominous release of the 'Singles Collection' has the good ship Coral lost its way.
Butterfly House is not so much a band that have lost their way, but decided upon a different course - playing to their strengths and with superb results. This album, even for The Coral's high standards, is a lush, sumptuous body of work with beautiful harmonies, guitars, chimes, strings and the occasional experimental psychedelic sounds we have come to expect.
Walking In The Winter showcases Skelly's voice at its most crooning over intricate guitars, 1000 years is classic Coral and the perfect summer soundtrack complete with phased vocals and trippy guitar solo while album opener, the epic Walkerian More Than A Lover, is another stand-out track.
Butterfly House may not feature anything as left-field as Skeleton Key but it is the work of a band constantly developing and progressing their sound without the need to completely reinvent it. Another solid outing from one of Britain most criminally underrated bands. 8/10
Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 1:26pm
M.I.A - Maya
It's fair to say M.I.A has never been much of a traditionalist - and here's why. Officially, the name of this album is /\/\ /\ Y /\, she had a massive public barney with New York Times journalist Lynn Hirschberg on the eve of its release and she commissioned one of the most talked about music videos of recent times featuring massive blokes with massive guns terrorising massive gingers (this will sound unintelligible if you haven't seen the video so please feel free to click here). Couple this with her penchant for politicised lyrics and her unreticent interview style and you have an extraordinary pop star.
It is for the above reasons, not mention some of most seminal and ground-breaking albums of the 21st century, that Mathangi 'Maya' Arulpragasam stands out as a fascinating artists in a world of sapless, homogenous pop gimps - and also why here at SMP we have been eagerly awaiting her third studio release.
From laconic album opener, The Message, into second track Steppin Up it is clear that M.I.A is in ferocious spirits, "You know who I am / I run this fucking club." The beats are as aggressive as ever also with dubstep producer de jour Rusko, aka Christopher Mercer, at the controls. As well as the Leeds man, Blaqstarr and long-time collaborators Diplo and Switch make up an impressive production team.
The beats and lyrics are equally as potent on fidgeting banger Teqkilla, the rumbling and relentless Lovalot and the vicious Born Free (the one with that video) with its savage drums and spiteful lyrics. The most telling of which sees Maya vitriolically spitting "And I don't wanna be that fake?, but you can do it / And imitators, yeah, speak it".
It is true that M.I.A has heavily influenced and been imitated by today's crop of electronic musicians and while M.I.A's sound may no longer be as 'what the hell is this' shocking as it used to, she is still sonically head and shoulders above the chasing pack.
She also showcases tracks on Maya that are much more accessible, but still quite mad, than on previous outings. On XXXO, Tell Me Why and Space, her rat-tat-tat delivery is replaced with enchanting singing.
When you begin your career smashing boundaries and driving genres head first into each other, all the while packaging it in a wonderfully anomalous aesthetic, future releases will inevitably seem less groundbreaking. This is certainly the case with Maya, but that does not detract from what is an amazing album by a peerless pop star. 8/10
Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 11:38am
Janelle Monae - The Archandroid
Janelle Monae then - just another pointless R&B warbler senselessly backed by some big name (literally) rappers? Well, emphatically, no.
You see, Miss Monae is just about the most interesting thing to happen to rhythm 'n' bores and hip-pop in a long, long time - not to mention her backing from of a couple of small time hip-hop chancers named Big Boi and Diddy.
Let's begin with her appearance. You will never see Janelle bumbling about like a drag-queen playing dress up in Madonna's 80s wardrobe with cans of Coke in her hair. No, bespoke suits, bow ties and braces are the order of the day for JM. Then there's her moves. She dances like the illegitimate offspring of James Brown and Mick Jagger (see what we mean by clicking here.). Last, and most importantly, is her voice which is both brilliant and diverse - one minute it's Etta James, the next it's verging on Kate Bush.
It is this multiplicity that perfectly summarises The Archandroid, an artist with so much creativity bubbling up inside of her that it is released in spectacular bursts of blues, funk, soul, hip-hop, electro, rock 'n' roll, I could go on, all the while remaining composed and succinct. No mean feat for an 18 track album.
The Archandroid is a concept album which unfolds in tales that take in an eclectic range of genres. There are the funk-stompers such as Tightrope, the big pop-diva numbers like Cold War, the sumptuous Sir Greendown which sounds like Air at their most delicate, the creeping rock 'n' roll of Come Alive [War Of The Roses], all punctuated by show tunes, disco, slow soul jams and culminating in the string laden, jazz and tribal percussion epic that is BaBopByeYa. It is both ridiculous and dazzling.
With The Archandroid Jenalle Monae has grabbed what it means to be a pop star by the scruff of the neck and dragged it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. This is what pop can and should be. Not a diluted, pastiche caricature but unique, exciting and mesmerizing. Quite simply one of the most exciting albums of the year so far. 9/10
Tuesday, July 13th, 2010 at 9:19am
The Dream - Love King
You may not be familiar with The Dream, aka Terius Youngdell Nash, but you will have undoubtedly heard at least one of his songs. One of the biggest chart hits of recent years, Rihanna's Umbrella, was written by the Atlanta man and, apparently, he also sings a bit himself.
Now on his third album, Nash has never obtained the commercial success in the UK that he has achieved across the pond. So perhaps Love King will give British R&B fans an insight into the real Dream, his thoughts, musings and outlook on the world. All of which can be summed up in one word. Females.
As the less than cryptic, but incredibly bombastic, title suggests, The Dream has one main hobbie in life which is the pursuit of women and all the trappings that go with it, to put it politely - which Mr Nash certainly doesn't. Prime example, Panties To The Side.
Elsewhere, the theme of Love King of is consistent, R-Kelly style sex-epics. The lyrics are at times farcical, "And you can't match a love like mine / It's like tryin to rob me with a BB gun /But my love gets it poppin like the Taliban" croons Nash on Sex Intelligent ("I make every nigga irrelevant / I'm sex intelligent").
The production is tight if a little repetitive and obvious at times, featuring the obligatory R&B vocoder. The tracks all feel very similar not only in lyrical content but in terms of the music. The Dream can undeniably sing, and he has a natural swagger to his music that does propel Love King ahead of most of the R&B-pop albums around at the moment. The album has already been heralded as a success stateside and could be The Dream's first real smash in the UK in a chart which is becoming increasingly dominated by urban music. 6/10
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