HEAR THIS: Ida LaFontaine Gives Us An "Anthem"

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I think I might need to move to Sweden. January 2015 gave us Zara Larsson and now I have yet another proper popstar in the making to rave about: Ms. Ida LaFontaine.

Like Zara, Ida is no rookie when it comes to making quality pop. She's sung with Mans Zelmerlov, was mentored by Danny Saucedo, and signed her first label contract when she was just 15 years old. Fast forward a few yeas and Ida is now older and wiser, now signed with the Swedish branch of Universal Music Group and prepping her upcoming album.

First out the gate is the stellar pop single that is "Anthem", an appropriate title since lyrically it is the anthem of any pop music fan. The song is the epitome of meta as Ida waxes poetic on how "everybody needs an anthem...like your heart's a kickdrum" -- a happy feeling that "Anthem" (the song) eagerly provides to the listener.

The beat is unrelenting while her vocal performance walks the line from initially quite melancholy to full-fledged joyful in the chorus. The video at times echos the carefree realness that helped propel Meghan Trainor here in the US. 

Take a listen and get your anthem on below.

PS - There's an equally lovely "acoustic version" that shows off just how fantastic Ida's voice really is available here.

HEAR THIS: Wrathschild Finally Unleashes 'Birds' EP

Monday, March 2, 2015

"It's like life on Mars, this life of ours
This life of ours out here."

My only complaint is that I want this EP to be longer.

My indie faves in Simon Curtis and Ro Danishei aka Wolfy have finally made good on their promise of new Wrathschild music via the release of Birds EP, a futuristic set of dream-pop that also includes their two ace singles "Fall In Love" and "Angeles".

While "Phoenix" and "Everest" further expand on how well Simon and Wolfy's voices are able to seamlessly blur together as a unit, I found myself more drawn to the more unique offerings on Birds. "Cosmonaut" features Wolfy talk-rapping her verses. Namesake "Birds" offers smart lyrics suggesting the freedom of being a bird rather than enduring heartbreak. It practically screams for a dance dub for  the clubs. 

And of course, there's my personal favorite, it the scorching "Mars" which stands apart from the rest of the Wrathschild material if only for its multi-layered use of instruments (so many guitar sounds!) and synth. It plays with the overall intensity -- dark and mysterious during the verses but also light and ethereal at the chorus. This duality is part of what makes the Wrathschild project so exciting. They are simply so versatile as popstars.

The Birds EP is now available for your purchase on iTunes and for perusal on Spotify.

HEAR THIS: Tori Kelly Slays "Nobody Love"

America, your next popstar is waiting on Line 2. You can stop relying on Taylor Swift. And that's an order.

Around this time last year, I was jamming out to Ms. Tori Kelly's stellar Foreward EP. Fast forward to now and serious strides have been made toward her upcoming full-length debut album with Capitol Records by way of the very. big. single. that is "Nobody Love".

Pay Attention, please. "Nobody Love" is co-written by Max Martin. That alone should be enough to get you to want to listen but there's more. Tori co-wrote the song with Max. It is 100% her transition song toward PopStar Status -- decidedly more Top 40 than any of her previous material.

Her big voice isn't forsaken however. The song is a bit schizophrenic with tempo changes and beat hiccups, lots of 90's flair, a crazy range of sung notes, and Tori kills the bridge with almost fifteen solid seconds of serious melisma that literally makes me exclaim out loud "YES!" whenever I listen to the song.

"Nobody Love" has cracked the Top 40 of Billboard's Pop Songs chart but currently sits outside the Hot 100. Help change that by buying this jam on iTunes and you too can tell folks you knew about Tori when.

#NOWKPOPPING: Shinhwa & 4minute Return to Smash the Scene

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Too often with KPOP, I get bogged down and overwhelmed with the sheer number of artists crowding the dancefloor. That's why I tend to stick with my faves and just go forward from there.

While iconic boy man band Shinhwa were never one of my obligatory faves, their sheer longevity in a marketplace rife with turnover is not just impressive -- its downright rare.

Their latest offering, "Sniper", is a slick mid-tempo with a sparse, ever-so-slightly dark whistle-beat and just enough falsetto for good measure. If teenage boys aren't your thing, rest easy knowing these grown ass men still know how to do it well.


Haters quick to spew ridiculousness at the ladies of 4minute need to take several seats. There's a lot that's kind of hilarious about their latest comeback, "Crazy", like the attempts at twerking and excessive close-ups. That being said, there's a lot that's super catchy about it, too.

As much as I love 2NE1 (and worship at the alter of Ms. CL), they don't own the concept of being "the baddest". If "Crazy" is guilty of ripping off anything, it's Beyonce's current attempt at pop-ratchetry. And they do it well. With HyunA at the helm, 4minute shine brightest when they are a little bit hood and a lotta bit sleazy (yeah, I said it). I'm docking some points here because not all of the girls look totally comfortable in this concept (unlike during the What's Your Name or "Is It Poppin'?" eras) but even still, it sounds like a smash to me.

FRESH OUT THE BOX: MNEK, Raylee, Elle King, Charli XCX, Deborah Cox, & more...

Saturday, February 28, 2015

     For me, it's kind of been like you blink and suddenly February's over. March beckons TOMORROW and with it comes the end of 2015's Q1! Can you believe it? It's been a second since we've chatted strictly new music so here's a rundown of the tracks I've been playing the most. Click the titles for YouTube links to hear the songs.

ALESSO - "Cool" (feat. ROY ENGLISH)
Yes, the backing is a choice sample of Kylie Minogue's "Get Outta My Way". Think of it as an excuse to spin the entire Aphrodite album ad naseum all over again.

No, it's not the Billie of late-90's yore (pre-Doctor Who, am I right?). This Billie is from Belgium and "Give Me The Knife", an excellent slice of 80's meets early 90's-inspired discopop, is her first single.

When first perusing Sucker, this song didn't jump out at me but it's certainly grown in its appeal. Rita doesn't add too much to this but it makes sense that the two pop ladies best known in the mainstream for their featured tags on Iggy Azalea jams would pump out a good one together.

I wasn't expecting a solid multi-tempo dance banger to come from Deborah Cox. It's doubtful it will cross over but for the dance scene, this needs to be the biggest thing out there. Where my gay boys at? Let's DANCE.

Elle is the real deal, as evidenced to yours truly when I caught her during CMJ last year. Her full album, Love Stuff, came out the day before Valentine's Day (appropriate) and this one is easily my favorite and arguably the second most mainstream-friendly following single "Ex's & Oh's". It's somehow bluegrass-jangly and anthematic pop at the same time.

Again, another excuse to blare Minogue at 11. This woman can do no wrong.

This album cut from Imagine Dragon's latest leans heavy on the Kings of Leon side of things and is perhaps why I like it so much.

The former NLT-er/One Call-er has gone out on his own with his first solo offering. But wait - it gets better. A remix-ed version features...wait for...Yubin of the Wonder Girls. WHAT? When worlds collide, amirite? Obviously, cutie-pie Justin has good taste...

Island Records newcomer Madison Beer sounds fab on this dancey yet melodic cut. Very 2015 Guetta-esque.

Love her or hate her, "Living For Love" is a jam and so is this. 

The man who has written great ones for The Saturdays and Little Mix needs to be a solo star right now. This song gets stuck in my head like it's my job -- and not only that. After playing it at my workplace, it's now stuck in all of my co-workers heads, too (in the best way).

Because 1985 was a great year, wasn't it?

More nu-disco from the very capable.

This dancey jam by Norwegian teenage pop singer Raylee (real name: Charlotte Kristiansen!) is currently in the running to be Norway's 2015 entry for Eurovision via the Melodi Grand Prix competition (you might recall 2013's "I Feed You My Love" by Margaret Berger being my fave jam of that season). Whenever you couple catchy hand-clappy beats and a capable vocalist, I am there.

What a voice. Seinabo Sey exemplifies to me what I look for in the current pop music scene is: a little bit of dance, a little bit of electronic, and a whole lot of talent.

GRAMMY NIGHT 2015: Mel's Picks

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Another year gone -- and considering Taylor Swift's 1989 was released after the Grammy nomination period ended, we're sure to be inundated with her nominations next year. I tend to watch the Grammy's mostly for the performances alone but in case you're curious who I want to win, take a look at the nominees below:

Beck, Morning Phase
Beyoncé, BEYONCÉ
Ed Sheeran, x
Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour
Pharrell, G I R L

Mel's Thoughts: My personal favorite of these is G I R L, however beyond "Happy", Pharrell's full set didn't quite resonate as thoroughly as Beyonce or Sam Smith. I will go with the latter of those two for my choice of overall winner, but I'd be happy with any of these aside from the obvious dark horse -- Beck.

Sam Smith, “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)”
Taylor Swift, “Shake It Off”
Meghan Trainor, “All About That Bass”
Sia, “Chandelier”
Iggy Azalea f/Charli XCX, “Fancy”

Mel's Thoughts: 'Record of the Year' is performance based rather than the songwriting itself. It's for this reason that I feel like the winner should be either Sam Smith or Sia, preferably the former. However, if Megan Trainor pulls it out, I'd be a happy camper.

“Stay With Me,” James Napier, William Phillips & Sam Smith (Sam Smith)
“Shake It Off,” Max Martin, Shellback & Taylor Swift (Taylor Swift)
“All About That Bass,” Kevin Kadish & Meghan Trainor (Meghan Trainor)
“Chandelier,” Sia Furler & Jesse Shatkin (Sia)
“Take Me to Church,” Andrew Hozier-Byrne, songwriter (Hozier)

Mel's Thoughts: Unlike 'Record of the Year', 'Song of the Year' focuses on the songwriting in the thought that the winning song is a title that could be covered and re-covered rather than live soley in a 2014 vacuum. Despite that difference, I still think its a two-horse race between Sam Smith and Sia.

Sam Smith
Iggy Azalea
Brandy Clark

Mel's Thoughts: My fave of these? HAIM. Do I think they will win? Nope. Sam Smith is gonna clean up this year as well he should.

Paul Epworth
John Hill
Jay Joyce
Greg Kurstin
Max Martin

Mel's Thoughts: I sure do love to sip the Max Martin Kool-Aid and he did offer up one of my favorite songs this year ("Bang Bang") but for this one, I wanna hand it to Greg Kurstin.

Sam Smith, “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)”
Taylor Swift, “Shake It Off”
Meghan Trainor, “All About That Bass”
Sia, “Chandelier”
John Legend, “All of Me”

Mel's Thoughts: Sam Smith deserves a lot of awards but I don't feel like his brand of brilliance specifically qualifies as "POP" in the broad sense (I felt the same way about Adele, to be honest). Here is where Taylor Swift may edge things out -- "sick beat" and all -- but if Megan Trainor is to win any category it should be this one.

Iggy Azalea f/Charli XCX, “Fancy”
Coldplay, “A Sky Full of Stars”
A Great Big Word and Christina Aguilera, “Say Something”
Ariana Grande/Jessie J/Nicki Minaj, “Bang Bang”
Katy Perry f/Juicy J, “Dark Horse”

Mel's Thoughts: Coldplay? Here? Seriously? Sigh. Obviously I'm rooting for "Bang Bang" here but Iggy's "Fancy" might be a dark horse.

Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour
Ariana Grande, My Everything
Katy Perry, PRISM
Miley Cyrus, Bangerz
Ed Sheeran, x

Mel's Thoughts: This is sad that this is what we can choose between for Pop. Like I said before, Sam Smith doesn't ring as pure Pop. Ariana, Katy and Miley could cancel each other out (plus all of these albums were mediocre). My choice? Ed all the way.

FRESH OUT THE BOX: Hayley Kiyoko, Marina & The Diamonds, Vanbot, & More

Saturday, February 7, 2015

We're one week into February already! Q1 is flying. Here's this week's new faves. Click the song titles to hear the songs for yo' self.

If you're in the mood for some crunchy electrodance.

Reflections was pretty much a wash except for the singles (sad) but "Like Mariah" is getting a lot of buzz for a reason -- it's the one (new) morsel from 5H's debut album that's worth shouting out. Probably because of the ridiculously heavy-handed interpolation of Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby". 

It's a shame that The Stunners were put on relative ignore (by myself included) as now we can add another name next to Ms. Tinashe in their post-career success column. Like many of The Stunners gals, 23-year-old Hayley Kiyoko also has a pretty successful filmography with lots of small roles in film and television. This Side of Paradise, released this past week, is her second EP and there isn't a bad apple in the bunch.

A warm return to the Jessie James I knew and loved! Now, since getting loved-up, having a baby, and officially changing her stage name to be Jessie James Decker, her blend of country-pop still rollicks. "Clint Eastwood" is hardly re-inventing the wheel and sounds right at home with previous tunes like "Bullet", "Wanted", and "Boys In The Summer." If it ain't broke...

This Froot era is really shaping up nicely. Each new release seems to be better than the last.

Yeah, okay -- so this isn't new. At all. (Side eye at all the children potentially reading this after watching Katy Perry's halftime performance and assuming as such.) But any excuse to blast Missy works for me. I sincerely hope this means new music is in the works. Welcome Home, Missy!

Can I just say, kudos to Mr. DeGraw for stepping out of his predictable comfort zone for this? (Well, sort of.) A revamped version of "Brother" -- which was originally featured on Christian rock band Needtobreathe's fifth album, Rivers In The Wasteland and was released last year -- has been offered up to the mainstream. It was co-written by Ed Cash, who's worked with other great Christian artists like Britt Nicole and Amy Grant.

It's not yet "truly" available for consumption but this sparkling midtempo landed on Neon's Soundcloud page recently after she's been touting it around on tour for months. It's also worth mentioning it was produced by the Norwegian Dsign Music Group -- a mainstay for KPOP's SM Entertainment (most recent collabs: Jonghyun of SHINee's solo work and Super Junior's "This Is Love").

I'm such a sucker for revisionist covers. "Crazy In Love" is such an iconic song in its initial form -- its a true snapshot of Beyonce's first solo dalliances long before she was the brand entity she is today. You hear it slowed and stripped down by Sofia Karlberg and it sounds like a different story entirely.

Following an excellent debut bow in the vein of her contemporary and fellow Swede Robyn, Vanbot returns to the scene with the decidedly more ethereal and dreamy "Trooper". 


Thursday, February 5, 2015

#TBT is (yet another) column/essay idea I'm in the process of fleshing out. Rather than just facts on a song of old a la my previous Back In The Days of yore, #TBT will (ideally) be a weekly column featuring various songs that resonate to me personally in the hopes that it will also spark happy memories for you, dear reader. Rules: the song must be released within the past 10-20 years and I cannot repeat from the same year (until all years in this span are covered and then we start again), plus each column will be centered around a letter of the alphabet beginning with 'A' and so on. Got it? Then let's hop on our Time Machine...


The year was 1995. That April, I was seven years old. I like to count this time as my true awakening when it comes to popular music. I had already absorbed albums like En Vogue's Funky Divas, Whitney's The Bodyguard, and Janet Jackson's Janet. and had already begun listening to the Weekly Top 40 Countdown on the radio like a ritual. It seemed like the R&B side of things had already solidified within me when it comes to my current musical tastes. But it was around this time that the first real country song I ever connected to was released.

Truthfully -- if we're being totally accurate -- I wouldn't be introduced to this song until a few months later via the 1996 compilation disc celebrating the Grammy Award nominees. The disc included Seal's "Kiss From A Rose", Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise", Blues Traveler's "Run-Around" (Fun Fact: Blues Traveler was my first concert ever -- probably right around this time), and a breakthrough track from one woman whom Taylor Swift can thank for her entire career. I'm talking of course about Shania Twain.

We would still be a few years away from her iconic Come On Over album that truly brought her mass appeal but at this point, she was promoting her sophomore album, The Woman In Me. The project was lead by the honkey-tonkey "Who's Bed Has Your Boots Been Under?" (does it get more country than that?) but it was second single "Any Man Of Mine" that gained real resonance.

I've never been much of a country fan except when it had shades of pop appeal and you can't describe that "sub-genre" of Country music without bringing up Shania -- arguably the first (or second if you count Dolly Parton) to give country a poppy sheen.

Now, this might seem ridiculous but when I hear "Any Man Of Mine" -- even to this day -- one thing is brought to mind: being wrapped up til I was almost immobile in a jacket and snow pants and going tubing down a hill.

Um...what, you say? 

My hometown was named one of the coldest in the country. When I was a kid, my family used to have yearly outings to a ski resort that was dubbed The Skiiathon. Inventive name, yes, I know. I was too young -- and too dis-interested -- to want to ski but at these events, it was prime chance to spend the day tobogganing down a semi-steep, snow-covered hillside with my cousins. After a few hours of that, everyone trundled inside for dinner, drinks, and a lot of music was played by the nearby jukebox.

I don't like to consider my family "country" in the stereotypical sense because we really weren't. I grew up in Central Upstate New York, your typical American suburbia. It certainly isn't New York City but it's not the total boonies either. But when you're talking politics, we tended to lean a little more toward the Conservative side of things. I'm not saying that automatically connects itself to an ardent love of country music or that country music can only be loved by Republicans...but when in Rome (if you know the area of my hometown, there's a pun in that sentence).

Anywho -- I can vividly remember the ol' juke playing a lot of country. When "Achy Breaky Heart" was a thing (and boy, was it a thing) and even long after it, I can remember adults doing line dances to this song while I watched. I might have even danced along with them. "Any Man of Mine" was one of those line-dance provoking songs. As corny as it might have seemed -- even then! -- I couldn't deny just how catchy it was. 

The lyrics, co-written by Twain herself alongside her then husband Mutt Lange, when stripped of the country feel were decidedly conducive to the strong female attachments that I was already obsessed with even at that age. "I need a man who knows how the story goes / He's gotta be a heartbeatin', fine treatin', breath-takin', earthquakin' kind / Any man of mine."

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better anthem for young women than that. In fact, if anything -- if taken too literally, it might be a little too pro-female. "Any man of mine better disagree / When I say another woman's looking better than me / And when I burn him dinner and I burn it black / He better say, 'Mmm, I like it like that' / And if I change my mind a million times / I wanna hear him say, 'Yeah (Yeah) Yeah (Yeah), I like it that way!'"

However, it was that level of humor and realism that may have inadvertently drawn me to the song (and Shania) in the first place. She'd have plenty of jams to come that would encourage you to have higher standards about your choice in partner ("That Don't Impress Me Much", anyone?) but "Any Man of Mine" stands apart, surprisingly for its more authentic country charm. Would have thought?

Do you have a Shania song that speaks to you? Tell me about it the comments.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

January 2015 is in the books and we already have a new rookie popstar to root for.

Okay, so "rookie" is kind of a misnomer -- at least in the case of Sweden's own Zara Larsson. At just 17 years young, Zara has released a #1 debut album in her native Sweden, a handful of successful EPs, and is now setting her sights on the USA.

She first rose to public consciousness back in pre-Lady Gaga 2008, winning the televised reality competition Talang (read: Sweden's Got Talent). At the final stages of the competition, she wowed while singing Celine Dion's signature song, "My Heart Will Go On". She was 10 years old. Yes, really. What were you doing when you were 10?

Following a jaunt opening for Cher Lloyd's North American tour in 2013 after the success of her debut EP in Sweden, wheels began turning to package together a greatest hits EP of sorts for Zara to be released here and a few weeks back in late January, that came to fruition.

Dubbed Uncover (after her first real single in Sweden that indeed rose to the top spot on the Swedish and Norwegian charts), this EP presents the perfect balance of slick, shiny pop music with brooding, age-appropriate r&pop yearning.

The American Uncover EP features gems from previously released material like "She's Not Me" and the aforementioned "Uncover" as well as songs cherry-picked from her debut full-length 1, which was released in Sweden last October. These include the dramatic-Rihanna-midtempo-esque "Carry You Home", my fave in bouncy "Rootop" that you can view above (produced by Billboard who also did Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend"), and "Wanna Be Your Baby" (co-penned by Claude Kelly). (It also bares noting that 1 further features songwriting by the likes of two fellow Swedish super-songsmiths in Tove Lo and Erik Hassle.)

Vocally impressive and utterly relentless in intensity, Uncover is as strong an introduction as they come -- tight as a drum. My only complaint? It lacks 1's lead single -- the catchy as all get out "Bad Boys". Maybe it'll be released as a single to come stateside? I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Here's to a fruitful 2015, Ms. Larsson.

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