Saturday, March 01, 2014

FRESH OUT THE BOX: Dan Black/Kelis, DJ Cassidy, The Fray, KONGOS, Neneh Cherry, Shakira, The Vamps & More

Top: St. Vincent, KONGOS / Bottom: DJ Cassidy, The Vamps
Due to last week's stay-cation, I missed out on a week of releases and that means double of the goodies to share with you. 

Here's the weekly rundown of what's new and what you should be paying attention to (with additional Hear This posts to follow). As always, click on the title of the songs here for YouTube links to listen for yourself.

"What's the matter / If I choose the latter?..."

File Amanda under 'Ones to Watch'. This Swedish popster breathes some soul into this track laced with funky basslines and guitar licks in the groove, her kittenish vocal draped over the top. She's signed to Universal and is crafting her debut album now. I hope this has legs -- I can't wait to hear the rest of her material.

DAN BLACK - "Hearts (feat. KELIS) (KASKADE & R3HAB Remix)"
"All these broken people / They're junkyard parts..."

You may remember Dan Black from his "Umbrella" drumkit sampling single "Symphonies" a few years back. I caught him on the road opening up for Kelis & Robyn. He's back again with Kelis in tow for "Hearts". While the original is fun, this remix comes harder. It's quite ethereal and dark despite the brighter synth in spots and therefore very much en vogue.
For more on Dan Black and that time he rocked the stage with Kelis & Robyn, click here.

DJ CASSIDY - "Calling All Hearts (feat. ROBIN THICKE & JESSIE J)"
(video preview here)
"Let love start / On the dancefloor tonight!..."

He's a DJ in the 90's sense -- less about being turnt up and more about funk and soul. DJ Cassidy, signed to Columbia, was the main DJ for Justin Timberlake & JAY-Z's Legends of The Summer tour last year and is now on the road with the embroiled Robin Thicke (along with K.Michelle). He's now offering up "Calling All Hearts" which is all kinds of ear-wormy and summery and feels like a well-remembered hit from the 70's disco. You can hate on Robin Thicke all you want to (showing him love here does do things to my psyche) but this one is pretty undeniable. I'm hoping Thicke's recent scandals won't stand in this one's way -- it's a stunner and Jessie J sounds predictably strong (and controlled -- that's important) and I miss her on this side of the pond.

THE FRAY - "Give It Away"
"If you give it all away / It's gonna come around.."

That band that so many know simply for those ballad/mid-tempo tracks that are somehow both lush and kind of snoozy ("Over My Head (Cable Car)", "How To Save A Life") have pulled a total 180 and breathed new life into their capable hands. Some will call it a sell out -- but as far as I'm concerned, it's a welcomed shakeup. Their latest disc, Helios, dropped this past week and I was blown away by how fun it is. "Love Won't Die", the lead single, was definitely not a red herring in terms of their switch up in sound -- it's clear that Maroon 5's funky grooves and Coldplay's goliath hooks were a large influence on a band I often characterized as totally in the Adult AC pocket. "Give It Away" is my current fave (and could easily fit into any of Maroon's current discography -- definitely not a bad thing). "Closer To Me" and "Hurricane" also keep the tempo up and it's to The Fray's total benefit, while "Hold My Hand" leans more toward the Chris Martin feel. Give Helios a chance and I'm sure you'll be as surprised as I was.

KONGOS - "Hey I Don't Know"
"The crown weighs heavy / Heavy as I sit back on my throne..."

Here's a new (rock-bent) group to stan over. KONGOS is a four-piece brother band from South Africa and they sound a bit like an epic mixture of the Black Keys and Kings of Leon('s early material) combined with shades of Danny Elfman whimsy. They just released their first mainstream release in Lunatic in the US and listening it gives me the feels of my initial discovery of KoL's Only By The Night. Every song is listenable and fantastic. Single "Come With Me Now" is a floor-stomper and has enough of a likeness to a Mumford & Sons or Arcade Fire to help them jump aboard this rising tidal way of Alternative Excitement. "I'm Only Joking" fits like a bit of a mature Panic! At The Disco. "Hey I Don't Know" -- my current fave of the set -- was already a solid hit internationally and has crunchy guitar and bass and is slightly Beatles-esque. These guys are pretty major.

"Don't wanna hurt nobody / No need to be uptight..."

"Crime" is the latest single from Mayor Hawthorne's fantastic Where Does This Door Go album released back in July and features current hot property Kendrick Lamar. It's a mid-tempo jam that is multi-layered and best played loud so you can really feel that bass.

NENEH CHERRY - "Blank Project"
"Leave me alone / But don't leave me lonely..."

It's a big Welcome Back week to Swedish poetry-hip hopper Neneh Cherry (fun fact: her half brother is Eagle-Eye Cherry and "Save Tonight" will always be epic) who returns after a long solo hiatus (her last record was released in 1996) via Blank Project. The set is intense and full of tribal beats and poetic rhymes. It includes a track with everyone's fave Robyn called "Out Of The Black" but I found the cut underwhelming. The title track is a fun one to spin for now but when in doubt, blare her 1988 hit "Buffalo Stance" at every opportunity.

RUPAUL - "Sissy That Walk"
"'Less they're paying your bills / Pay them b*tches no mind..."

The World's Most Famous Drag Queen released a new album this week, Born Naked, in conjunction with the premiere of the latest season of her reality competition, RuPaul's Drag Race. Single "Fly Tonight" features Frankmusik and it's fun too, but "Sissy That Walk" is all attitude and 90's dance and is an utter guilty pleasure.

SHAKIRA - "Empire"
"The stars make love to the universe / You're my wildfire every single night..."

The second single from Shakira's upcoming Shakira album dropped this week and after the cookie-cutter-ish generic "Can't Remember To Forget You" (with Rihanna), I'm glad Shak returned to a more intense feel via "Empire". This piano-assisted ballad really climaxes once the hook comes in but the ebb and flow is tasteful enough to let the song still feel very vulnerable and stripped-down. I hope this flies (since slightly similar sounding "Gypsy" didn't). We will see.
In case you missed it, you can read my review of "Can't Remember To Forget You" here.

ST. VINCENT - "Rattlesnake"
"Is that the wind finally picking up? / Is that a rattle sounding from the brush?..."

American alt-popper Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, dropped her fourth solo album this week, self-titled. If you enjoy Florence + The Machine and Charli XCX, you need to give this disc a spin. My early favorites include the frenetic "Bring Me Your Loves", catchy "Birth In Reverse", the horn-assisted single "Digital Witness" and especially feedback-synthy "Rattlesnake".

TEGAN & SARA - "Closer (Bee's Knees Remix)"
"So let's make things physical / I won't treat you like you're oh-so-typical..."

We've all heard this stomper a million times by this point but every remix released continues to add to how classic "Closer" has already become. This incarnation reinvents the song (again) with a handclappy beat straight out of the acid washed 80's.
Tegan & Sara's "I Was A Fool" was one of my favorite songs of 2013. Check out my 2013 Top 40 here.

THE VAMPS - "Wild Heart"
"Tonight we'll dance / I'll be yours and you'll be mine..."
The latest to attempt to bridge the UK to the US divide is the cuties in The Vamps who have solidified their success already in their native land in the template of McFly and Busted (or, for that matter, McBusted). However, "Wild Heart", their second single overall and the first US single, feels a bit calculated in attack -- it follows One Direction's Mumford-esque alt-pop feel of "Story Of My Life" with jangly acoustic guitar. That's definitely not a bad thing -- especially since unlike the boys in 1D, The Vamps play their own instruments and are a proper boy band (emphasis on band). It's catchy enough. Time will only tell if they catch fire here.
Read my review of their first single, "Can We Dance", here.

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