Image

Hearing this for the first time today, I genuinely thought that I was being played some remix of an obscure ABBA B-side.  With its frothy, sugary choruses and squelchy, cheesy beats resonating beneath, the latest track to be revealed from Metronomy’s upcoming album (incidentally, also called Love Letters) is a joy to listen to.  The song bursts to life with spiralling keyboards and yearning, romantic lyrics from the delicate intonations of Joseph Mount and that euphoric ’70s pop punch of Anna Prior’s chorus, all melting nicely into some warm and smooth caramel trumpet jams.

Between the sheer catchiness of the music itself and lines like, “From far across the sea / they fly from you to me / but still I get no sleep / oh, my love / don’t be mad / ‘cos I’ll keep on writing / love letters”, it’s hard not to be a little bit besotted with Love Letters.  The video was also directed by Michel Gondry, which makes for some pretty wonderful watching.

The other taste of the new album last year was the dazzling lovelorn shuffle of I’m Aquarius, with the beautiful caress of the looped female vocals singing, “shoop-doop-doop-ahhh”.  Between that and the title track, then, it would seem Love Letters is an album to get very excited about.

You can pre-order the album (out March 10th on Because Records) from here.

Collaborations are always a fun aspect in any genre, but I think ’90s/’00s R&B had some particularly great examples of artists coming together and creating some one-off wonders.  There are a whole host of excellent tracks which highlight this idea, but I’d say that some of the best of these efforts were between male hip-hop artists and female R&B artists.  This set-up of one male, one female allowed for sometimes sugary, romantic numbers, but just as easily lent themselves to some all-out sleazy vibes.  The male hip-hop star and female R&B/pop singer collaboration is one that lives on into the 2010s, and it tends to go down very well – however, I firmly maintain the glory days are those of Ja Rule doing collaborations with pretty much every female artist going, living it large.

I don’t think there’s any point in denying that there is a whole lot of misogyny and over-sexualisation of women in ’90s/’00s R&B and hip-hop (B2K, I love you, but these lyrics are a wee bit questionable), but if Robin Thicke has taught us anything this year, it’s that pop music in general has a tendency to be pretty sexist.  Luckily for this era of R&B, ladies like Destiny’s Child and TLC kept the girl power going – but that’s a topic for another post.  For now, here are seven (sometimes a little bit sexist) classics of male-female duets, rooted in ’90s/’00s R&B:

Read More

BLOGSOUND_2014_AVP1-300x168

I am, as ever, somewhat behind in terms of what is going on in the blogging world, but a few days ago the long list for the UK Blog Sound of 2014 was revealed.  With 59 UK-based blogs voting this year, the idea of the list is to give an alternative to the “BBC Sound of” list, which offers an insight into the cumulative tastes of various bloggers and the artists they are most excited about.  Given that the Blog Sound list is always an great look into emerging music – the 2011 list contained Alt-J and Bastille, neither of whom were mentioned in the BBC list that year – and also given that I voted in the poll myself, I thought it was only fitting to post the long list here.

The shortlist, with the winner and runners up, will be revealed on January 2nd.  You can keep up to date on Twitter by following #blogsound2014

I’ll give more insightful thoughts on the list, along with letting you know who my votes went to, in January when the top three are revealed.  For now, here is the long list and a list of the blogs who voted, along with some music, all of which is very much worth listening to – some exquisite and exciting vibes in here:

 

BANKS


EMBERS


GEORGE EZRA

(I wrote about him here)


HELLA BETTER DANCER

(Actually delighted that they still exist, I interviewed them back in the questionably written Music Journal days – read it here)


HOCKEYSMITH


HONEYBLOOD


IYES


KHUSHI

(I wrote about him here.)


LYLA FOY


MARIKA HACKMAN


MT WOLF

(They have unfortunately announced their split and are, therefore, no longer really going to be a Sound of 2014… but check them out anyway, they have some lovely, haunting Bat For Lashes-esque vibes.)


ROYAL BLOOD


RHODES


SIVU


SOPHIE JAMIESON


WOLF ALICE

And these are the participating blogs:

17 SecondsA Pocket Full Of SeedsAll NoiseAlphabet BandsBeat SurrenderBoth Bars OnBrapscallionsBreaking More Waves,Brighton Music BlogCat From JapanDaisy DigitalDetails Of My LifeDon’t Watch Me DancingDots and DashesDrunken Werewolf,Eaten By MonstersEchoes and DustElectronic RumoursFaded GlamourGod Is In The TVGold Flake PaintHearty VibesI Love PieIn Love Not LimboJust Music That I LikeKilling MoonLike 1999Little Indie BlogsLove Music : Love LifeMusic Broke My BonesMusic LiberationMusic Like Dirt, My Band’s Better Than Your BandMy Day By Day MusicNot Many ExpertsPeenkoPop DodgerRepeat ButtonScientists Of SoundScottish FictionSkeletorySleep In MusicSome Of It Is TrueSound InfluxSounds Good To MeSounds Of Now MusicSweeping The NationThe Blue WalrusThe Devil Has The Best TunaThe Electricity ClubThe Evening’s EmpireThe Mad MackerelThe Metaphorical BoatThe Sound Of ConfusionThe UnderclassedThe VPMEThis Must Be PopThoughts On MusicWhen The Gramophone Rings

Lou_Reed_HS_Yearbook_(1)sdfsdfsdf

The above picture is taken from Lou Reed’s 1959 high school year book and that line about taking life as it comes is kind of perfect I think.  I sort of felt the need to write at least something here today having now had a couple hours to process the fact that one of my favourite artists has died.  I adore The Velvet Underground and between that sublime body of work and his solo oeuvre, Lou Reed’s music means a lot to me.  He was just so cool with that seductive, nonchalant sprechgesang; the perpetual sunglasses; the fact he was part of the Factory crew with Andy Warhol; and, of course, those frank, beautiful lyrics about drugs and would-be romances.

Nico, Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground at The Castle, 1965And yet in spite of that whole casual, indifferent demeanour he was always so incredibly enthused and passionate about creating and appreciating music and, yeah, sometimes it wasn’t great (I’m thinking mainly of the Metallica collaboration), but more often than not Lou Reed produced music of otherworldly quality, pushing the boundaries of the underground art scene and paving the way for innovative, exciting new sounds.

I’m not really sure what else to write, because nothing I write will do him justice or explain how much I love him and his music and how much it means.  I guess this lyric from ‘Berlin’ kind of sums it up for me anyway.

“oh babe I’m gonna miss you now that you’re gone”

RIP.

wonyeabor

For those wondering about the lack of ‘For the love of R&B’ posts, I have decided I have enough material to make that an ongoing feature for a good while, but while the sun is still shining and I’m in a pretty great mood, I thought I would share a recent excellent musical addition to my life  – Nigeria’s William Onyeabor. Purveyor and pioneer of the most delicious sugary sweet electro-funk, his music twinkles and dazzles and makes me want to jive like nothing else.  Lush, warm swathes of keyboards and synths and gentle, joyous vocals, this stuff is surely the musical definition of euphoria.

In October, as a part of their World Psychedelic Classics series, Luaka Bop will be releasing a 14-track album of Onyeabor’s work, Who is William Onyeabor?, whilst attempting to solve the mystery of who exactly Onyeabor is.  The story goes that, after self-releasing music between 1978-85 the artist became a Born-Again Christian and turned his back on his musical past, refusing to speak of it again.  Which is just such a shame when you consider the beautifully fluid, intricate electronic songs he composed, aplomb with this ridiculously fun sense of sway and strut.

Needless to say, Who is William Onyeabor? is looking to be a very exciting prospect indeed.  You can get a free download of the great ‘Good Name’ below.  The album will be out on Luaka Bop on October 15th.

aaliyahageaintnothing

In 1991, at the age of 12, a girl named Aaliyah signed a record deal with Jive Records.  When I was 12 I was drooling over all my Harry Potter volumes and complaining about food getting stuck in my orthodontia, but I digress.  The point is that this girl was clearly unusually talented with her gentle, ethereal vocals – this was made all the more clear when, in 1994, her debut album ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number’ was released.

There was some weird controversy about what exactly was going down with Aaliyah and the producer for the album, R Kelly, who she purportedly illegally married…Potential weirdness of her personal affairs aside, the album was a clear indicator that a star was born.  While it is, in my opinion, far from Aaliyah’s best work, it very much marks the beginning of that new sound which would typify ’90s R&B.; those swinging beats and smooth, gentle-as-a-caress keyboards, all topped off with those beautiful, harmonious vocals.  There’s whispering and romance and it’s all a little bit cheesy and coolly theatrical with just the right amount of fierce attitude – such was the R&B of the ’90s, and it was great.

And I think if there’s an artist whose oeuvre really encapsulates what R&B in the ’90s and early ’00s was as a whole, it has to be Aaliyah.  We go from that gentle but not necessarily that innovative-sounding soulful pop at the beginning of her career to her moving record labels and getting a new producer who would essentially define what good, interesting R&B was.  I’m talking, of course, of the wonderful Timbaland with his Midas touch.  Aaliyah’s second album, ‘One in a Million’ was produced by the incredible combination of him and Missy Elliott and suddenly the music got a bit strange; weird, sparse, staccato instrumentation; jaunty, otherworldly vocals.  And man, it was amazing.

Timbaland’s fantastic production went one further on Aaliyah’s eponymous third album – the final one released in her sadly short lifetime.  ‘Aaliyah’ is a genuinely incredible album.  Middle-eastern flavours, rich and weird instrumentation and Aaliyah’s ridiculously pretty vocals floating above it all.  This was new, it was exciting and experimental; it was a direction that I think is only really being rekindled now in the genre, over ten years later.  It is not an exaggeration to say that it is among my favourite albums and this remains one of my all-time favourite songs:

That strange eastern vibe, those sublime vocals; this song never stops striking me afresh with how excellent Aaliyah was.  The lyrics got more interesting as she got older too – more clandestine, more sensual.

I could go on for a good while singing the girl’s praises but, in short: if you want to know about solo female R&B artists of the ’90s and early ’00s, Aaliyah had the whole package.

envogue

“This is part of your carefully crafted music blog writing alternative persona. So alternative you swing far left enough to traverse the spectrum picking up terribly trashy pop music in the process but making it at the same time an acceptable part of your image.”

I laughed when a friend described my musical tastes as such, because I didn’t think it was a view that anyone would sincerely hold about what I listen to.  But then I recently read an excellent article over on Stereogum about The O.C. and the gentrification of indie rock .  It proposes that, in an age where there seems to be something akin to a landfill of indie guitar bands, to be interested in guitar rock is just not, well, that interesting.  At one point the article notes, “if you want to pop wheelies on the zeitgeist, you dabble in EDM or R&B or hip-hop or black metal — anything but indie rock”.  I don’t think whether it’s “cool” or not will ever affect just how much I love, say, The Strokes – nor should it; it’s a horrendous notion.  You love the music you love, regardless of how it’s perceived by others.  Similarly, then, I would hate for anyone to think that my love of R&B and pop is feigned for the purposes of looking alternative or something similarly ridiculous.

While there were certainly Bollywood songs I knew when I was little and while my dad loves telling the story of how I used to sit in the bathroom singing 2 Become 1 to myself when I was four, the R&B of the ’90s and early ’00s is, I think, the first music I ever properly fell in love with of my own accord.  A significant number of my CDs are from the genre – off the top of my head, there are singles and albums by the likes of Brandy, Destiny’s Child and Mary J. Blige amongst the stacks in my room.  When I was nine I was considering getting a Kelly Rowland hair cut.  Sister Sister wasn’t just a TV show, it was a lifestyle choice (and can be heavily credited for my love of Blackstreet and all things Motown).  At the age of ten a friend and I once did a very questionable dance routine to Christina Milian in a school assembly.  This music is always going to mean a lot to me – though perhaps less so the music of Ms Milan.

So yes, I thought it was about time I expressed my adoration for the genre and address it with the proper affection it deserves by writing a series of posts primarily about ’90s and ’00s R&B.  I’ll be taking a chronological look at the ladies, the fellas, the groups – and, well, realistically that’s about it, but we’ll see – over the coming week or so.

First off, though, I thought an introduction of sorts was necessary.  What exactly is R&B?  An older generation might rightly associate it with African-American funk and soul and jazz – that’s certainly the original Rhythm and Blues, and where the name comes from.  But from the ’80s onwards, the name began to cover something a little different – contemporary R&B was and is a much more electronic-based genre with a lush and polished (if occasionally a bit urban and gritty) sound that, generally speaking, has a lot of crossover with what’s going on in hip-hop at the same time.  It’s such exciting, varied music, with artists taking hold of the original Rhythm and Blues sounds and using them in completely new ways.

So yes.  I hope the next few posts do justice to this excellent period of this excellent genre.

Here’s a little gem to whet your appetites:

 

Also, click here for the link to a top quality mid-90s R&B mixtape by Onra and Lexis, which will similarly help you get down in preparation for the coming posts.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 236 other followers