Club Contact

The new MP3 blog from London's club Contact. The idea is to allow people to hear new music they wouldn't have otherwise found but, if anyone has any copyright issues with a particular song, i'll take the link down. Songs are only available for a limited amount of time.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Christmas

Apologies for the lack of updates, i've been in Italy. There's absolutely nothing going on in the charts over there but i did pick up some lovely jumpers. The sands of 2007 have all but slipped through the hour-glass and it's time to cast a rheumy eye over the the cultural landscape of the year we are so close to leaving behind. Rather than repeating songs i've already posted for those who weren't paying attention, i thought i'd round up a few highlights that other blogs beat me to or i simply couldn't find the energy to put up. In a superb year for singles, there's no shortage of choice.

One of the most exciting new acts of the last twelve months has been "8-bit terror-pop" duo Crystal Castles. Drawing inspiration from lo-fi eighties computer games isn't particularly revolutionary, making it sound as exciting as finally completing Shinobi after an eight-hour, finger-bleeding, red-eyed marathon is.

I have a particular phobia of hand-related accidents after my mother caught one of hers in a blender when i was ten. I like to think that Jens Lekman's beautiful Your Arms Around Me has helped me through it, in some small way.

The award for 'remix of the year' must surely go to Boys Noize for their glorious take on the newly-huge Feist's My Moon, My Man although Bonde do Role's clever decision to remove all traces of Young Jeezy from Young Jeezy's Trapstar and just shout over the top in their inimitable style makes for a worthy runner-up.

Recent years have seen a number of amazing songs about robots, Janelle Monae's Outkast-inspired cartoon pop on Violet Stars Happy Hunting gets the credit for being the first that isn't a thinly-veiled tribute to sex toys.

2007 was the year that Nashville discovered the internet and the associated geek-mocking possibilities that come with it. Brad Paisley's Online is rather warm-hearted though - embracing technology's ability to help completely reinvent yourself.

More may follow before January.......

Friday, November 23, 2007

Post 224, Blog 27

Polish teens Tola Szlagowska and Alicja Boratyn took the internet by storm with their excellent, if largely unintelligible, cover of Teddybears' Hey Boy (Get Your Ass Up) last year, earning praise from the likes of Stylus and Billboard. It would be wrong to dismiss them as one-hit-wonders however - their position at the top of the domestic pop tree was cemented by four supplementary singles and an album. The LP in question, titled "LOL", is roughly as stupid as it sounds and about twice as much fun. The highlight is Turn You On To Music, perhaps Poland's first attempt at a teen-pop / reggaeton hybrid and one that works wonders. Their unusual take on the English language is in evidence again, although it's hard to tell whether lines like "no-one said it would be furr" and "if the people stop and sturr" are simply heavily accented Slavic pronunciation or an affectation picked up from Chingy. Tragically, Wikipedia announced that "Alicja and Tola had a misunderstanding in their friendship" leading to the former leaving the band. A new album, presumably called "ROFLMAO", is set for 2008 though.

Blog 27 - Turn You On to Music

Friday, November 16, 2007

Marit To The Mob

Marit Bergman's show at the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen on Monday was a magical experience for the forty-or-so people who could be bothered to turn up. As witty and effervescent in person as she is on record, the between-song banter about her shrinking chest and having a song rejected by Kylie would have been worth coming along for on its own. Her eight-piece band (two of whom had to stand on boxes to fit on the rather small stage), cranked out fizzy, pop-punk versions of the highlights from Baby Dry Your Eye and I Think It's A Rainbow with the slickness and professionalism of an act more accustomed to huge arenas but charm enough to match any of Sweden's more lo-fi indie icons. Whether soaring through songs like Let's Just Fall In Love or bouncing around the front row of the audience, Bergman herself was as magnetic a performer as you could wish to see. Perhaps the finest moment was I Will Always Be Your Soldier, apologising for how beastly Marit had been to her elder sister when growing up in Rättvik. If she ever makes it back to London, help ensure the size of the crowd does justice to her enormous talent.

Marit Bergman - I Will Always Be Your Soldier

Friday, November 02, 2007

Dusting Off The Crates

Since the excellent Fluxblog laid some truth on the indie world, i've been digging in the archives to find records from my feckless alt-rock youth reflecting the article's core point that the cycle of hype-to-hate in the music press (which as the Klaxons will point out can now be completed within the space of a week) is nothing new. The idea that, in a scene dominated by image and the whims of a select group of "tastemakers", nobody can really invest themselves in a band lest they go out of fashion cuts to the heart of the current malaise in guitar-rock circles.

Possibly the third most famous group ever to emerge from Holland (although in contrast to Shocking Blue and Golden Earring, they do have more than one song) Bettie Serveert were a minor sensation in the US college rock world with their dreamy debut Palomine, even featuring on the soundtrack to the *cough* epoch-defining drama series My So Called Life. They never quite recaptured the interest shown in their debut and ended up rather ignored on both sides of the Atlantic. Although still going, their Dust Bunnies album was probably a last hurrah of sorts before they stopped trying for mass appeal and started making Velvet Underground cover records. The fuzzy pop of Story In A Nutshell weights in at just 1:11 but still manages to pack a few great hooks.

Sticking with our liberal, pancake-eating neighbours, former MTV presenter Marijne van der Flugt's Salad were popular on the London music scene for roughly thirty seconds before being crushed under the weight of the backlash against fellow female-fronted-rock-group Sleeper, a band so mediocre they single-handedly managed to set the cause of gender-balance in indie back four years. It also didn't particularly help that people kept referring to the lead singer as "former MTV presenter" Marijne van der Flugt. They were always just a fraction to odd to be pigeon-holed as generic and too good to deserve the tag of also-rans. Marijne makes handbags and sings in a group called Cowboy Racer these days.

Salad - Drink The Elixir

Although Evan Dando is as close to a songwriting genius as US rock produced in the 1990s, he was never quite accepted by the press. Dismissed, according to the occasion, as "too pretty", "too pop", "too strung-out" or "too self-indulgent", a disasterous appearance at Glastonbury cemented his reputation as a bumbling laughing-stock, regardless of the fact that the quality of his records has always been superb. Sleeping with every woman under the age of thirty in Boston, New York and L.A is inevitably going to make you enemies though. Although It's A Shame About Ray is probably their finest album, Big Gay Heart from Come On Feel The Lemonheads stands as my favourite of his songs.

The Lemonheads - Big Gay Heart

Indie girls have to operate to a fairly arcane set of
rules. Bookishness is mandatory but cross the
thin line into being a geek and you're in trouble. Any evidence that you might want to steal the indie boys' pristine sets of Star Wars figurines or mint-condition comics is cause for grave concern. It's unsurprising that Mary Timony never quite fitted in, coming across like she only stepped away from the Dungeons & Dragons board to eat or record pristine lo-fi pop gems.

Liz Phair made the classic mistake of recording a brilliant debut album and following it up with a series of records that didn't sound exactly the same. Even at her peak, she was always too brutal, raw and inelegant to make her the kind of safe indie crush that journalists love though. Fuck & Run shows her at her absolute best - a combination of superb pop writing and bleak, uncompromising lyrics. The final straw came a few years ago when she enlisted The Matrix to engineer a shiny out-and-out commercial attack on the charts in the style of a slightly more grown-up Avril Lavigne. She sold a comparatively huge amount but remains dead to critics.

Hard as it may be to believe, The Cardigans were briefly the best pop group in the world at one point. The sugar-sweet mixture of French, Brazilian, English and Swedish retro sounds of the Emmerdale and Life albums were combined with knowing winks and Black Sabbath covers in a way which could have been insufferably twee had it not been so perfectly executed. Sadly, the band appeared to agree with large sections of the press that they were little more than an extended joke and moved gradually away from being interesting over the course of the next ten years. Their transformation now thoroughly complete, Nina can duet with the Manic Street Preachers without anyone batting an eyelid (although this might be down to the fact that it's hard to bat your eyelids while sleeping).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Russia has a fine tradition of unconventional female singers and Elka is currently one of the most popular. Visited more frequently by the Tune Fairy than her compatriot Linda, her atmospheric Bjork-influenced electro-pop contrasts quite sharply with the ultra-glossy likes of Julia Kova. Other than the fact that her name means "Christmas tree", it's difficult to know what more i can impart. She's a woman of mystery.

Elka - Gorod Obmana

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mika! No, The Other One

Production continues apace in the Ukrainian music industry but relatively little seems to be reaching the shops at the moment. It might be because the likes of V.I.A Gra and Tina Karol are sitting on new records in anticipation of the Christmas rush or a reflection of the fact that physical releases are less of a priority in a pirate-heavy market than elsewhere but, although both have new videos in circulation, the CDs are lagging a little behind. Tragically, this means i won't be able to bring you the latest propaganda wheeze from foxy kleptocrat Yulya Timoshenko in anything other than a Youtubular format as yet.

Ballads seem to be the order of the day for the nation's pop titans and few come more epic than the adorable Mika Newton's Teplaya Reka. Karol's Nochen'ka is much more low-key but incredibly pretty as well.

Mika Newton - Teplaya Reka

Tina Karol - Nochen'ka

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Chisinau That's What I Call Music *

Coincidentally, in the same week as i returned from my adventuring, the new Michael Palin documentary on BBC1 was covering much of the same ground. One of the highlights of the slight but interesting programme was a brief section showing the peerless Zdob Si Zdub playing deep in the Moldovan countryside. Although lovely to see one of Europe's most under-valued groups get a little coverage on UK television, the piece was most notable for confirming that yes, their matronly mascot Boonika (Grandmother) is still alive and banging. Boonika Bate Doba achieved an incredible top-six finish in Moldova's first foray into Eurovision a couple of years ago despite the group receiving little or no backing from the government that still controls much of the domestic media and hailing from a country, frankly, most people in Western Europe had absolutely no idea existed. Others may have had money, friends and a Eurovision pedigree but ZsZ had a secret weapon - a twirling pensioner with a drum almost as big as she was.

Moldova is, euphemistically, a "troubled" country - notable for its extreme poverty, people trafficking and the internal conflict that has seen much of its industrial heart break off to form the unofficial "Republic" of Transdniestr so the ability to compete with the major players in the continent and come away successful was a huge source of national pride. The new Zdob Si Szub album, Ethnomecania superbly reinvents some of their previous work to add more of a traditional feel and to give more prominence to the Tsigane (Romany / Gypsy) influence that has always been a part of their work. It also contains a wonderful Russian-language cover of Kino's classic Videli Noch. As good as Gogol Bordello's Super Taranta was, this is the Gypsy-punk album of the year.

Zdob Si Zdub - Boonika Bate Doba

Zdob Si Zdub - Tiganii Si OZN

Zdob Si Zdub - Videli Noch


The News From Romania.......

is that there is no news. Romanians are eternally proud of their historic links with the Italians - sharing large parts of their language, their cuisine and, it appears, their almost complete disregard for a domestic pop industry. While folk music and the traditional songs of the Romany minority remain enormously popular, most TV and radio stations seem to devote less time to all their own pop stars put together than they do to Enrique or Fergie. In addition, unlike in most of their neighbours, it's not the easiest job to track down a record shop with a decent selection of local hits, even in the capital Bucharest. Inevitably, there is some good stuff though - the pop-rock of Voltaj is rather cute.

Romania can also boast one of the finest 90s-throwback techno-pop acts in Europe in the form of Activ. Many will have heard Visez before but it can still make me dance around my kitchen at six in the morning on a work-day.

Activ - Visez

Sunday, August 26, 2007

This time next week i'll be heading off on another adventure to Europe's wild, wild East. I'll be gone for three weeks and, assuming i make it back, will have plenty of new pop records to share. Things are going to get very Slavic very quickly so, to tide you over, i'll offer a selection of songs from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Japan.

Ayumi Hamasaki - Endless Sorrow (Single Version)

The Brilliant Green - Bye! My Boy!

Candy Lo - The Latin Night

Kelly Chen - Phone

Lee Jung-Hyun - Wa!

Angela Chang - ??

Sun Yan-Zi - Realize

Oh Mandy

Mandy Moore has, over the last seven years, successfully managed to combine a "meh" recording career with a "meh" acting one. While her films and records have helped redefine the concept of "pleasant but avoidable" her voice has developed a rather charming maturity recently that seems much better suited to covers than her own material. She has put together a nice country-tinged remake of Rihanna's monster Umbrella.

Mandy Moore - Umbrella

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hindi Mein “Disco” Kaisey Kahtey Hain?

There can't be many people under the age of thirty with vaguely Asian (or indeed Soviet) parentage who won't have seen the 1982 Hindi flick Disco Dancer at some point. It's a cult legend amongst Desis and Sovoks alike. The film tells the moving tale of one man's attempt to overcome a fear of guitars stemming from his mother's electrocution by a sabotaged six-string in order to compete for India in the International Disco Dancing Competition. Really.

M.I.A has a sampled Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy Aaja on the latest single from the terrific Kala album but the film's soundtrack boasts more than one Hindi-disco classic, including a memorable wholesale rip off of The Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star. The centrepiece song for me will always be the appropriately ridiculous I Am A Disco Dancer though, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink epic whose creative process appears to have included the thought "hmm, it's good but not quite excessive enough - why don't we throw in a section from The Sound Of Music?".

Incidentally, if anyone knows whether there is an International Disco Dancing Competition, please get in touch.

Vijay Benedict - I Am A Disco Dancer

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

J.L.G, Pour La Vie

As you are no doubt aware, it hasn't been the best of weeks for legendary European film directors. The almighty Ingmar Bergman died yesterday and Michelangelo Antonioni popped off today. Two titans of the screen have departed this mortal coil but, as they say, these things tend to come in threes. Assuming Mike Reid wasn't the other icon in the triptych, this means one more cinematic master may be set for a game of chess with the man in the black robe. It's time to launch Operation Don't Let It Be Jean-Luc Godard. If you know of his whereabouts, please do everything you can to stop him coming to a sticky end. Shepherd him across the road, cut his food up into little pieces so he can't choke, wrap him in a blanket if it turns chilly - every little helps. Alternatively, push Michael Winner under a bus and hope that The Powers That Be really liked Death Wish. Ma Ligne de Chance comes from the soundtrack to the wonderful Pierrot le Fou.

Anna Karina - Ma Ligne de Chance

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mehdi, Set, Go

Although London may be the only city in the UK where you are expected to be grateful for paying £700 a month in rent for a flat without a front door, there's nowhere to match it for live music. Canada's Chromeo are in town for Fabric Live on the 17th of August, lining up alongside Ed Banger's DJ Mehdi. Mehdi's album slipped out underneath the radar last year but it's being re-released to capitalise on his label's post-Justice publicity surge. The attention Chromeo are picking up in the press at the moment shouldn't hurt either as one of the standout tracks is a collaboration between the two.

DJ Mehdi ft Chromeo -I Am Somebody

Chromeo's compatriots Crystal Castles are playing Camden's Barfly a week earlier with The Teenagers. As someone on Youtube noted "Crystal Castles = LIFE". Believe.

Camden is, of course, most famous for its British guitar groups and, these days, British guitar groups are most famous for being rubbish. There are very rare exceptions, thankfully, and The Picture Show is one of them. The most pressing problem with the genre seems to be an incredible narrowness of scope with too many people using the same frame of reference. It's enormously refreshing to hear a band drawing influence from somewhere completely different - in this case the work of iconic Soviet rock giants Kino and Nautilus, the legacy of lead singer Alexei Haigh's formative years split between Russia and the UK. The result, a combination of Slavic folk-rock and Anglo-American indie, makes them perhaps the most intriguing unsigned band in the city at the moment. They're playing at the Water Rats near King's Cross on the 13th.

The Picture Show - The Revolutionary

One of the gigs of the year so far took place last night at the Forum in Kentish Town as the legendary Os Mutantes held two-thousand, mostly Brazilian, fans spellbound for ninety minutes of stunning tropicalia and psych-rock. They inspired the kind of devotion in their army of followers i haven't witnessed since Mylene Farmer in Paris last year, exemplified by the girl-on-girl fist fight for prime dancing space down the front. Support act Bonde do Role were terrific too - the highlight of their set being the wonderful Funk da Esfiha, a ridiculous Salt 'n' Pepa vs Grease car crash that presumably didn't make it on to With Lazers for clearance reasons.

Bonde do Role - Funk da Esfiha

Os Mutantes - Bat Macumba

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Vintage Austen, Mint Condition

Paris is the centre of the world at the moment as far as electronic music is concerned, prior to that it was Berlin and, for a little while in the mid-1990s, it was Vienna. The latter's Christopher Just and Patrick Pulsinger can be credited with reinvigorating the genre and laying some of the foundations for the rise of their neighbours - particularly with the classic I'm A Disco Dancer.

One of the most unusual stars of the electroclash boom was another Austrian, Louie Austen, a sixty-year old jazz crooner who appeared with Peaches on the brilliant (albeit nightmare inducing) Grab My Shaft. Although considered something of a novelty at the time, he's still going and has covered I'm A Disco Dancer in quite an interesting way - fleshing the one-line techno stomper out into a "proper song". He remains resolutely creepy though.

Louie Austen - Disco Dancer

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

New Gogol Bordello!

Gogol Bordello release a new album, Super Taranta!, next month. There are no great departures - it largely follows the formula of their breakthrough Gypsy Punks (Underdog World Strike) in combining traditional Eastern European instrumentation with rabble-rousing internationalist lyrics and elements of dub, rock and hip-hop. Cynical listeners may still be able to argue that they are little more than an English-language version of Leningrad or Zdob Si Dub but they remain one of the most effervescent and exciting groups in the world, as well as one of the most endearing. Their political messages have tended to be fairly broad in the past, dealing with few of the specific issues faced by Eugene Hutz' country of birth, Ukraine, or its neighbours. The excellent Zina-Marina marks something of a shift in that respect, although depth is substituted for a stirring chorus.

Gogol Bordello - Zina-Marina

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

File Under: May Be Slightly Racist

One of the more interesting developments in Russian politics recently has been the rise of the "youth movement" Nashi / Наши (Ours). Officially formed as a response to a wave of skinhead violence in Moscow and St. Petersburg, their stated aim was to provide a way for patriotic young Russians to come together to fight the neo-Nazi threat in their midst. In practice, the Kremlin-sanctioned organisation, thought to be 100,000 strong, has been accused of extending the definition of "fascists" to include British diplomats, the Estonian government and almost anyone who isn't terribly fond of Putin. The American press in particular seems to regard them, rather fancifully, as a Hitler Youth in the making. Although almost certainly a government creation and often deployed for entirely questionable political purposes, there's an idealism to many of the young members that's oddly charming, not least in the belief that grassroots involvement in politics at an early age can provide a powerful tool for social and civic regeneration.

Patriotic music, usually involving soldiers, is a huge market in Russia but it's something that tends to be the preserve of middle-aged men, at least within the mainstream - young stars have their attention turned elsewhere. One notable exception was Nashi Parni Molodtsi by Kisski, a group i once rather uncharitably described as looking like the result of a Soviet-era experiment to genetically engineer prostitutes capable of surviving a nuclear holocaust. The song itself sounds like Scooter having a fight with the Red Army Choir while their drunken girlfriends scream encouragement from the sidelines. Running through a host of national stereotypes about the Japanese, Caucasians and others, they come to the conclusion that only Russian love will do for them. As i'm sure you can imagine, the video is quite something to behold. The highlight may well be the African man trying to buy them off with exotic fruit. Although wrong on almost every conceivable level, it really is quite amazing.

Kisski - Nashi Parni Molodci

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Shotgun Wedding

The Nashville music industry isn't without its faults (rubbish fashion, dubious politics, Garth Brooks) but has a lot more going for it than many give it credit for. The combined cultural weight of Carrie Underwood and Hannah Montana have forced the genre many see as second only to hip-hop in terms of global popularity back on to the British radar, if only as a faint, distant blip that could be confused with a flock of migrating geese.

One of the more interesting aspects is the relative parity between men and women - both on-stage and behind the scenes. This strength, in combination with country's tradition of tough, emotional, narrative songs, has led to a number of taboo-breaking hits over the years, particularly where domestic violence is concerned. Rather than simply lament their predicament, the new breed have a stirring faith in the power of retributive bloodshed. Whether you want to off your abuser by poison, fire or a good, old-fashioned, hand-gun, there's a song for you. Interestingly, there tends to be a theme of community / authority indifference to abuse that seeks both to justify the vengeance and add an expressly political undercurrent to the songs.

Few can have sounded so positvely thrilled about blowing away their partner as the superb Miranda Lambert:

"I'm goin' home, gonna load my shotgun
Wait by the door and light a cigarette
If he wants a fight well now he's got one
And he ain't seen me crazy yet
He slapped my face and he shook me like a rag doll
Don't that sound like a real man?
I'm going to show him what a little girl's made of
Gunpowder and lead"

Miranda Lambert - Gunpower & Lead

My indifference to Nashville for the last half a decade, only recently dispelled by Lambert, stemmed primarily from the almost complete disregard it showed to the almighty Allison Moorer who toiled for little reward while lesser talents flourished. Her album, The Hardest Part, still stands as one of the finest of the last ten years. Despite, as a child, watching her father kill her mother before turning the gun on himself, Moorer can still aim a pistol between the eyes of a no-good son-of-a-bitch in song, although the sour ending to Ruby Jewel Was Here is unusual in the context. Send Down An Angel from The Hardest Part, on the other hand, showcases her at her most beautiful.

Allison Moorer - Ruby Jewel Was Here

Allison Moorer - Send Down An Angel

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Mighty Sparrow

Although reviews have been mixed, one the of the most eagerly anticipated films of the summer, for me, will be La Môme / La Vie en Rose, the new Edith Piaf biopic. Even leaving aside stories stemming from Piaf's own habit of mythologising her past (she probably wasn't, as often claimed, born in a gutter), there should be no shortage of drama. Almost certainly a prostitute, quite possibly a killer, Piaf's rise from the slums of Paris was propelled by gritty, scandalous tales of poverty and debauchery and one of the few truly inimitable voices in the history of popular music. So distinctive was her vibrato that original recordings had to be used for the majority of the film, nobody else could do her justice. Even in death she remains the French music industry's most successful export - as much an icon of the country as any architectural landmark. Her status and her incomparable talent pose huge problems to those seeking to cover her work - faithful renditions will almost inevitably flounder so invention and personal interpretation must come to the fore. Etienne Daho and Grace Jones, in particular, don't try to compete vocally but spin Mon Manège à Moi and La Vie En Rose out loosely and languidly. Tricatel signing Romeo offers an interesting take on La Goualante Du Pauvre Jean too.

Edith Piaf - Mon Manège à Moi

Etienne Daho - Mon Manège à Moi

Edith Piaf - La Vie En Rose

Grace Jones - La Vie En Rose

Edith Piaf - La Goualante Du Pauvre Jean

Romeo - La Goualante Du Pauvre Jean

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You Just Can't Get The 'staff These Days

Despite being rather grey, it's another unpleasantly warm day in London. Counterintuitively, as soon as the temperature hits about 18 °C the city seems infinitely grumpier. In a nation built for mild, slightly damp conditions, "continental" weather seems to ignite the kind of rage usually reserved for "continental" polticians in a significant proportion of the public. The Underground becomes a sauna, offices bake (designers tend to overlook air conditioning) and the thousands of uncoordinated, out-of-shape, middle-managers who decide to get their bikes out of storage and cycle to work mean that a stroll along the pavement at 8:30 in the morning can be roughly as dangerous as being a spectator at the Isle Of Man TT. We spend ten months looking forward to summer and two complaining about how rubbish it is.

For me, the chief drawback is that i can no longer wear my flossy Belstaff jackets. A classic British brand reborn as an icon of modern Italian fashion, Belstaff has recently found favour with American hip-hop and r&b stars as a name to drop alongside Cristal and Mercedes. The jackets feature prominently in the video for Fergie's London Bridge and Ciara's 1,2 Step, for example.

I shall have to console myself with two cracking remixes of the aforementioned artists until it starts bucketing down with rain like it's supposed to. Space Cowboy, in particular, adds the kind of giddy bounce to ol' Meth Face's third good single in a row that makes the prospect of long summer evenings working up a sweat in a packet-out club seem almost agreeable.

Fergie ft Ludacris - Glamorous (Space Cowboy Remix)

Ciara - Like A Boy (Gotdion Remix)

New! Miranda! Video!

Prisonero Video (Youtube)

Hurrah! Argentina's finest electro-pop extroverts, Miranda!, are releasing a new album shortly. Prisionero is El Disco de tu Corazón's first single. While we wait for the CD to come out, you'll have to make do with the peerless Tu Juego from Es Mentira.

Miranda! - Tu Juego

Thursday, June 07, 2007


It seems hard to believe that Ivan Shapovalov's charges released their debut album six years ago but that's what Wikipedia claims and, like most people, i can't be bothered looking for a second source to verify whether it's correct. What's certain however, is that T.A.T.u exploded at the fag end of the Napster boom. Before file sharing became semi-accountable through web-logs, if not to the RIAA then to your readers, you could get away with labelling any old toss as a leaked recording by a popular group and nobody would be much the wiser. Practically anything involving at least two Russian girls was feverishly downloaded in the hope that it was, as advertised, the latest effort from Yulya and Elena. Little came close to their magnificent brand of slightly hysterical pop but that's not to say there weren't some fairly decent knock-offs doing the rounds.

One of the best was the endearingly morose Melom by Propaganda - far and away the best thing on any of their first few albums. They later reinvented themselves as a rather excellent spangly electro-pop group with Super Detka and Yai-Ya, borrowing more than a little from Dead Or Alive.

Propaganda - Melom

Propaganda - Super Detka

Propaganda - Yai-Ya

TEMA, pictured looking glum at train station, are quite an oddity in that they appear to have been formed to bridge the gap between the tribute band and the copy-cat. Their Prosto Ya Fanatka album seems to have been intended to mirror the sound of 200 km/h down to the last detail - not simply to cash in, so they said, but because, as the name would suggest, they were such huge fans. It's a variable collection but Kto Esli Ne Ya is almost worthy of their idols.

TEMA - Kto Esli Ne Ya

I bought Leona's album, Argumenti, in Lviv last year simply because she was wearing a chequered-tartan-mini-skirt school-uniform type affair and i wondered how closely the musical influence would follow the sartorial one. The obvious answer is "quite a lot". Charmingly, she's actually pictured studying Mikhail Bulgakov on the inner sleeve, like a good Ukrainian school-girl, rather than feeling-up a hot classmate. The title track's very good.

Leona - Argumenti

Monday, June 04, 2007

Krylya Sovetov

Aleksei Balabanov's Brat and Brat 2 are probably the definitive Russian gangster films of the post-Communist era and, given how many gangsters and films about them Russia can boast, that's quite an impressive achievement. Part of the films' success can be attributed to the terrific performances of Sergei Bodrov Jr, sadly killed in an avalanche a few years ago, part again to the astutely selected soundtracks. One of the most prominent uses of music sees Bodrov's Danila wander through a film shoot in an attempt to find out which song's playing in the background. Later, in a police station where he has been taken after breaking the arm of the guard trying to eject him, he finds out it's Krylya by Nautilus Pompilius, who make an appearance themselves at key points in the film. Even a brief romance with real-life (and admirably game) pop star Irina Saltykova in Brat 2 can't shake Danila's conviction that his nation's chart music is rather horrific.

I have to confess, despite my love of Kino and others, a lot of traditional Russian rock doesn't particularly excite me. Nautilus had, until that point, been associated with an ex-girlfriend's attempts to convert me to what i saw at the time as being a rather grim, hoary musical beast. In the unlikely event that you're reading this, Sasha Ivanova, i owe you an apology. If i remember correctly however, you owe me a new saucepan so we'll call it even. They're one of the most revered Soviet-era groups and, in retrospect, i can see why. Krylya itself is undeniably beautiful.

Nautilus Pompilius - Krylya

Thanks to Alyosha from Acton's finest, The Picture Show, for the MP3.

One of the first Russian rock acts that struck a chord with me, many years ago, was Chicherina - poppier, female fronted and much more fun. They feature on the soundtrack to Brat 2.

Chicherina - Ty La-La

Chicherina - Zhara

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Although i've never been quite as allergic to Canada's answer to Mika Newton as most people, Avril Lavigne's transformation from irritable goth to Toni Basil's slutty cousin is entirely welcome. Girlfriend's reversal of the traditional process where sparky pop stars feel the need to weigh down their later records with "adult themes" and "difficult issues" is a glorious strike for immaturity in a landscape where success seems to be primarily based on how irksome you can make your impossibly privileged lifestyle seem. Really, aside from not having had a decent role since My So-Called Life, what does Jared Leto have to be grumpy about? Another rather wonderful break with convention has been Lavigne's recording of parts of the single in eight different languages - an indication that regardless of whether you live in Cologne or Sao Paolo, she's still going to take your man, bitch. The Mandarin version is hilarious while the Spanish one makes a cute companion to Belinda Peregrin's Boba Nina Nice which, remarkably, also comes in Czech, Japanese and English. That's globalisation for you.

Avril Lavigne - Girlfriend (Mandarin)

Avril Lavigne - Girlfriend (Spanish)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The most eye-catching performance of the Eurovision Song Contest was, of course, that of Verka Serduchka - alter-ego of Ukrainian comedian Andrei Danilko. Ukraine is a land where almost anything can take on a political significance and Eurovision, which in 2005 gave the nation its most visible post-Orange Revolution showcase, is naturally no exception. Protesters were out in force in the nationalist west of the country decrying Verka's selection as representative and calling for Ukraine to withdraw from the competition. Their argument was that Danilko's creation is a grotesque caricature of ethnic-Ukrainian peasant culture that paints its middle-aged women as coarse, vulgar and extremely badly behaved. Anyone who has ever taken the early morning bus from Lviv to Przemysl on a market day, however, might feel he's being a little charitable.

It's a difficult experience to describe. Comparison with a classfull of primary school children, pumped full of e-numbers, playing musical chairs in a narrowly enclosed space really can't do it justice. Once the initial brawl for seats is over, the real business begins. The business, in this case, being cross-border smuggling. Polish customs guards must wonder about the miraculous health benefits of a short trip to their side of the fence. However, if the women look morbidly obese at eight in the morning and radically slimmer a few hours later, it's largely because they initially had dozens of packets of cigarettes strapped to them like a suicide belt or six litres of vodka stuffed down their vests. In return for cakes and a fizzy drink, i was more than happy to help out - knowing that regardless of how much contraband i was carrying in my luggage, my lovely EU passport meant i was the least likely to be stopped.

Quite frankly, i don't think i've met many people the wrong side of fifty with so much energy, humour or warmth. Verka Serduchka should be regarded as an affectionate tribute to the most entertaining short-term adoptive grandmothers you could ever wish to have.

Although i wasn't sold on Dancing Lasha Tumbai at first, i've always liked Serduchka's music. Horilka and Ya Ne Ponyala are two of my favourites. Both were written by V.I.A Gra oligarch Konstantin Meladze - the latter's a cover of a song from their Stop Snyato mini-album. You can still hear my beloved Anya Sedakova as they didn't bother to re-record the backing vocals from the original.

Horilka's the Ukrainian name for vodka. Although not a huge drinker, a quick look at the contents of my freezer will show you that i'm something of a fan.

While Russian vodka can't really compare to the stuff made in Poland, it's an integral part of the nation's culture and has been celebrated in countless thousands of songs throughout the ages. One of my favourite recent efforts came from Huinya, the collaboration between Leningrad and English eccentrics, The Tiger Lillies.

Verka Serduchka - Ya Ne Ponyala

Verka Serduchka - Horilka

Leningrad & The Tiger Lillies - Vodka

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Eurovision is a cruel mistress. For the second year in a row, i committed the cardinal sin of betting before hearing the acts sing live. Russia may have had the best song but a slightly out-of-tune performance meant they lived up to their promise to blow my money, money. The contest was ultimately won by Marija Serifovic for Serbia whose Molvita was probably the most impressive vocal work-out of the night and can't be begrudged victory. It's proof that you can still capture the heart of Europe with a decent tune and powerful lungs despite looking like a chubby Chinese boy. The best discovery of the contest was probably Georgia's wonderful Sopho Khalvashi. Although excitement at having unearthed another Bjork should be tempered somewhat by the fact that most of her other songs sound like she grew up in Batumi with only the Loveboat soundtrack for company, she displays a huge amount of potential. On Adjarian Motives is one of her more interesting efforts.

Sopho Khalvashi - Visionary Dream

Sopho Khalvashi - On Adjarian Motives

Saturday, May 05, 2007

I've mentioned my love of April March, California's Ye-Ye queen, a number of times in the past so i'm delighted to see that she's experiencing an upturn in interest in the wake of Quentin Tarantino's decision to use Chick Habit, her 1994 cover of France Gall's classic Laisse Tomber Les Filles, as the title music for Death Proof. Apparently, a follow-up to her excellent Triggers has been finished for a while but there has been trouble finding a suitable label to release it on - as any number of people from Stealers Wheel to Nancy Sinatra will tell you, having Tarantino's backing can hardly hurt. Coral Bracelet and Parisville give a hint as to what we might be missing.

April March - Chick Habit

April March - Coral Bracelet

Mister Neveux ft April March - Parisville

Here's a rather adorable video of France doing the original:

More reason never to get on the wrong side of a French girl comes in the form of another of the best songs i've heard this year, I'll Kill Her by Soko. On occasion, particularly when faced with the legion of soulless, whiny, over-emoters clogging up the charts, it's easy to forget that a simple song accompanied by little more than a single guitar can still stop you dead in your tracks. It's a heart-breaking combination of vulnerability and vindictiveness.

Soko - I'll Kill Her
Sorry for the lack of updates recently. I'd like to blame it on Turkish hackers but it has been down to a combination of laziness and bandwidth issues caused by the fact i can never be bothered to take any songs down after i've posted them.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Far and away the best single of 2007 so far has been Je Veux Te Voir by Yelle. It's an absolutely scathing attack on Cuizinier from the rather enjoyable French hip-hop group TTC delivered with the bounce and flair of an early-80s Lio turned electro-crunk-princess, if that makes any sense whatsoever. It's not quite clear what he did to earn her vitriol but telelvision interviews suggest that she objected to the misogynistic lyrics of his records and decided to respond in kind. The paroles are worth posting in full for those speaking French:

"Cuizinier avec ton petit sexe entoure de poils roux
Je n’arrive pas a croire que tu puisses croire qu’on veuille de toi
Je n’y crois pas meme dans le noir, meme si tu gardes ton pyjama
Meme si tu gardes ton peignoir, en forme de tee-shirt ringard
Garde ta chemise ca limitera les degats bataaaaaaaard

Je veux te voir
Dans un film pornographique
En action avec ta bite
Forme patatoes ou bien frites
Pour tout savoir
Sur ton anatomie
Sur ton cousin Teki
Et vos accessoires fetiches

Cuizi c’est quoi
Ta position favorite
Tes performances olympiques
Mais tu n’as rien d’orgasmique
Tu es tout nu
Sous ton tablier
Pret a degainer
Mais je t’avoue rien n’y fait

Tu reves d’un Hummer fluo
Dessinee par Akroe
Mais tu n’as pas le permis
Tu prends toujours le metro

Superstar d’un soir ta vie redevient normale apres
Pas besoin de lunettes noires pour te cacher personne te reconnait
Ta carte verte t’attend mec
C’est pas des paroles en l’air
J’ai reussi à t’en faire
Une avec mon scanner
L’entree est gratuite ce soir
C’est le seul moyen pour qu’on vienne
Alors les filles on se promene
Ouais on va aux chippendales
On avait pas prevu de passer la soirée avec des rigolos
On voulait voir des pectoraux, des mecs montés comme des taureaux

Tes posters de Lil’Jon recouvrent ceux de Magic Jonhson
Ton corps est trop crunk pour assurer les dunks

Cuiziner c’est toi que je veux voir
Que je veux voir ce soir
Te faire ridiculiser par une fille qui rappe mieux que toi
J’ai pas assez de mes 10 doigts pour les compter dans la salle
Toutes ces filles coiffees comme moi qui savent
ce que tu vaux a poil "


It's rather interesting to note that the star she's most often likened to, everyone's favourite Belgian-Portuguese pop nymphet, made her best record in twenty years with a fellow TTC member, Cuizinier's cousin Teki.

Yelle - Je Veux Te Voir

Teki Latex ft Lio - Les Matins de Paris

Sunday, April 01, 2007

For reasons too uninteresting to recount at length, i spent half the week hanging about outside the Chinese Embassy in Portland Place. To drown out the sounds of increasingly angry English businessmen shouting at the girls behind the visa counter, i listened to some of my favourite Cantonese and Mandarin-language singers. The warm breeze and summery pop was enough to make you forget you were queueing for three hours for a process that takes, at most, thirty seconds if you remembered to bring all the correct forms.

Faye Wong - Wrong Number

Fan Wei Qi - ????

70/80 - ????

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Next month sees the start of London's second Balkan Fever Festival, a series of events showcasing seven of Romania and Bulgaria's finest folk groups, which should be worth a look. Another essential date for the calendars of aspiring Haidouks is June the 5th, when New York's Balkan Beat Box visit Cargo. Like Gogol Bordello (with whom they share members), they combine effervescent traditional music with modern Western influences, in this case electro and funk carioca. The excellent Bulgarian Chicks sounds like a mountain wedding remixed by Diplo.

Balkan Beat Box - Bulgarian Chicks

Thursday, March 01, 2007

My well of South American inspiration is running a little dry but 25 de Enero by Argentina's Rosal is a wonderful way to finish the run. Like the finest moments of Stereolab and Broadcast, it marries wonky electro touches to Sixties-influenced perfect-pop brilliantly. They also appear to have the Fast Show's Professor Denzil Dexter on guitar. You can download a few more songs from their cute website here.

Rosal - 25 de Enero

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Now that the American one is officially "not that bad" there's probably little shame left in being known as the Mexican Hilary Duff. Like her gringo counterpart, Belinda Peregrin Schull, has upped her game and brought in a few electro touches to her second album, Utopia. The rather excellent Ni Freud, Ni Tu Mama is the lead single.

Belinda - Ni Freud, Ni Tu Mama

Working in the exciting field of language assessment, i'm always shocked that people born this millenium are taking exams, it makes me feel horribly old. Imagine what Montala by seven-year-old reggaeton star Miguelito does.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tomorrow marks the first day of the Chinese New Year celebrations and what better way to celebrate than with Andy Lau riding an eagle?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Kasia Stankiewicz has emerged from three years of hibernation looking rather grim and gaunt - like Tilda Swinton's slightly goth Polish cousin. Mimikra, an album colder and darker than the classic Extrapop, matches the imagery perfectly.

Kasia Stankiewicz - 4 Ręce

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The more i hear from the South American underground, the more i want to plan another trip to the continent - then i remember that the last time i was there i was robbed at gunpoint twice in three days and decide that i'm probably better off ordering over the internet. If Buenos Aires' Miranda! are doing any live shows in the near future, i may be tempted again though. Famed for their outlandish theatrical performances as much as they are for their glorious falsetto synth-pop, they're deservedly one of the most popular indie acts in the Spanish-speaking world. Romix from the Es Mentira album is stunning.

Miranda! - Romix
I was in the Wood Green branch of TK Maxx yesterday morning buying a pair of mauve velvet trousers that had been reduced from £175 to £6, presumably on account of them being mauve and velvet, when i heard Big Day by Tahiti 80 being played over the public address system. Although there's only a limited amount of sympathy you can have for a band that calls its album Fosbury and then goes on to see it flop, their brand of radio-friendly pop would seem to have been perfect for the UK market. When meagre talents like The Feeling are being hailed as the greatest thing in the history of ever, it's a crime that a group doing AOR with a touch of Gainsbourg's gallic flair thrown in couldn't have made more of an impact here.

Tahiti 80 - Big Day

Saturday, January 20, 2007

It may be a little too much to hope that two South American electro acts can hold a place in the public consciousness at the same time, but Maria Daniela y su Sonido Lasser are just as worthy of praise as the celebrated Cansei de ser Sexy. The Mexicans' debut album is winging its way to me from Label Records of Buenos Aires along with lots of other interesting things.

Maria Daniela y su Sonido Lasser - Miedo
Despite the name, Ukrainian girl group Havana (or Gavana is you're a Russian) appear to have little or nothing to do with the last outpost of Communism in the Caribbean. They're not quite up there with XS or V.I.A Gra but rather good fun none the less, Divochi Rozvahi in particular.

Havana - Divochi Rozvahi

Get Well Soon Comandante!

Many of you will be aware of Fidel Castro's rather delicate medical condition at the moment. Here's a tribute of sorts by Mighty Sparrow that raises more questions than it answers.

Mighty Sparrow - Castro Eating A Banana

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Although Milk & Honey sing in a mixture of English, French and Arabic, pinch Jamaican dancehall's famous "Diwali riddim", feature an Algerian and claim to be based in Morocco, the sheer impossibility of anyone outside of Germany wanting to hire Ann Ross from Preluders gives a definite fix on their real origins. Despite being an enormously crass exercise in Orientalist cultural plundering, Habibi is really quite fantastic.

Milk & Honey - Habibi (Je T'aime)

Assuage any guilt by listening to the lovely Souad Massi afterwards.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Monika Brodka's new album might not be quite as much fun as the latter half of her debut suggested but her way with a lush ballad has not abandoned her. Much of Moje Piosenki indicates that she's still intent on becoming a tiny Polish Erykah Badu but, at first listen, there aren't all that many arrangements that do her voice and personality justice. That said, it took a while for Brodka to grow on me as well. Znam Cię Na Pamięć is the rather lovely lead single.

Monika Brodka - Znam Cię Na Pamięć

Red Alert!

Cat5! Meat Raffle! 20th January! Free entry! Amazing!

Saturday 20th January
Upstairs at Catch, 22 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, London E2 8DA (0207 729 6097)
Free entry
9pm - 2am.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Christmas!

And what better way to celebrate the start of the festive season than with a bundle of Christmas joy from the incomparable Cristina Monet?

Cristina - Things Fall Apart

Thursday, December 21, 2006

This is the new Tina Karol video. Probably not a subtle tribute to Jacques Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse but it's heartening to see that they gave her a towel to sit on. Studio floors must be quite chilly in Kyiv at this time of year. Nice coat at the end too.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

This picture really can't do justice to quite how bad Zhanna Friske's Moscow tan has become. She looks like she decided to paint her stockings on with gravy powder like a wartime housewife and liked it so much she just kept on going. Never mind, her uncomplicated Russian pop is still charming.

Zhanna Friske - Gde-To Letom
The Polish music scene seems to be in a pretty poor state these days. Aside from awful domestic attempts at hip-hop and reggae, practically the only songs you hear on the radio at the moment are by Sweden's Basshunter (the one-man Scooter who clearly still lives with his mother) and the engaging Romanian techno-pop trio Activ. Along with new or forthcoming albums from Kasia Stankiewicz and Monika Brodka, one of the few bright points of the year has been Reni Jusis' awesome Magnes. Despite threatening to go a bit trance in places, it's one of the best electro-pop records of 2006. It's more than enough to make you forgive the questionable cover of Dreadlock Holiday on her debut a few years ago. The terrific Ginger Girl is one of the highlights.

Reni Jusis - Ginger Girl
Of course, no country can truly call itself a modern Western nation without at least one Avril-Lavigne-style rebel-girl-with-guitar pop star. Ukraine was finally accepted into the fold with the release of Anomaliya by Mika Newton last year - a record that conforms to all recognised international standards on perkiness, angst and a-bit-goth-but-not-enough-to-scare-the-boys presentation. Membership of NATO can only be months away. In all seriousness, Newton is really rather good - a few steps up from her Canadian counterpart and on a par with the much improved Yulia Savicheva. I like her a lot - the irresistable punk-pop of the title track in particular. She has an
English language website too.

Mika Newton - Anomaliya

Saturday, December 16, 2006

To be perfectly honest, i have enough difficulty knowing who's currently in Ukraine's magnificent pop car-crash Via Gra without troubling myself with keeping track of all the people they have kicked out over the years. This would go some way to explaining why i didn't recognise Svetlana Loboda immediately. If memory serves me well, she was the one who replaced Anna Sedakova, went on a brief tour of Asia and was sacked when she asked to be more involved in writing the songs without ever making it to one of their records. Producer Konstantin Meladze may be regretting the decision now - her single Postoy Muschina is superb - as good as anything he has come up with in years.

Svetlana Loboda - Postoy Muschina