Pop goes: Laura Mvula ‘Church Girl’ could be your Summer jam

I LOVE LOVE LOVE a musical evolution. I only recently mused how impactful Laura Mvula’s “Make me lovely” was for me and here she is with the amazing single “Church Girl” with the absolutely genius line “how can you dance with the devil on your back”.

Also, that suite is one big David Byrne-moment and I love it

Ok, so can we talk about this song? That Prince meets Janet Jackson dance glitter bomb? It’s basically a song about shedding self doubts and limitations and free yourself. According to Mvula, she wrote it after she started to realize that her self image was too tied up with the things that happened to her and the things she did. It’s actually quite transcendal how she talks about it (read it here).

“Church Girl” is the second single after the equally fantastic “Safe Passage” and leads the way to the album release for “Pink Noise” which will come out July 2nd.

I secretly hope that those jackets will become bigger and bigger with every single.

Nation of Language: Synthful pop for melancholic hours on the dancefloor

Listening to Nation of Language’s album “Introduction, Presence” and then hearing that they are from Brooklyn is like eating something amazing and hearing that it’s fried: of course it is, of course they are. The debut album of the band (which was formed in 2016) is a lovely ode to 80s dreamy synth pop, the kind for the 80s kids with impeccably starched shirts, sharp eye-liner and a cloud of sexy melancholy surrounding them at all times. The kind that dances like they’re caught inbetween time and space and the kind that you imagine only drinks wine from intricate silver cups.

I also love that of course the bass player Michael Sue-Poi is the only one who smiles in the video because bass players are the only ones who are allowed to break the melancholic 80s vampire character of any wave band on stage and in music videos, that’s like, the law.

Honestly, I am kind of obsessed with this, the lyrics that are full of rain and broken hearts, those sad gazes over to someone who left you or never even stayed to begin with. Those clean synths (Aidan Noell hitting the keys like early Depeche Mode), those incredibly warm vocals (Ian Richard Devaney who also nails the charismatic lead singer dancing) and those luring beats.

I am not quite sure the album works as a complete album because it gets a teeny bit repetitive towards the end but this might dissolve once you listen to it a few times more until you find those gorgeous details in each and every song that sometimes take their time to emerge.

However, each song is an amazing single, the melodies and incredibly catchy choruses are a sight to behold. I am quite sure you can dance through the whole album without missing a beat. Nation of Language are absolutely mesmerizing if you love 80s synth and guess what* – I do.

*chicken butt

(Dream) Pop goes: girl in red is an amazing fountain of indie bops

Ok, so now that my headline told everyone that I am an old person, I can swoon openly for Marie Ulven aka girl in red who writes and produces gorgeous pop songs that are dark, catchy and just the right kind of music to enjoy on the dancefloor but also on on your own on lonely walks, long nights or while you’re baking something because it’s the pandemic and everyone bakes and it’s much more fun with music in the background.

Hopefully, I don’t sound condescending when I say that girl in red makes music I wish I had when I was a teenager. I love the pure joy of mixing incredibly boppy tunes and lyrics that cover teen (well, to be honest also kinda universal) anxieties, hopes and dreams. When I listen to songs like “bad idea” or “i’ll die anyway”I am back on my bed, furiously writing in my diary and cutting out band pictures from magazines to put on my wall.

She’s amazing, tell me you can watch this video without being absolutely charmed when she discovers the spider’s web.

The sheer variety of girl in red‘s songs (without losing what makes her unique) also makes you giddy of what’s to come. And as much as I love the dark & sad songwriting school of young indie pop artists, I truly adore that girl in red has this whole optimistic, airy vibe that puts a spring in your step.   

You know those people who at some point say music is not what it used to be? Well, thank god for that because music nowadays is amazing and I feel like there’s a lot more freedom to explore different genres, themes and directions to express yourself and that’s truly beautiful. Just like girl in red‘s music.

Favorite Song: Suad ‘Faces’ – Restless dreams, restless minds

I have this Spotify-Playlist that is basically a deep-felt yearning I have since I can remember. The playlist is called “Roadtrip Melancholy” and features a rag-tag mixture of songs that share nothing really but make me feel like I need to pack my bags, get a haircut and leave town to move somewhere else, somewhere close to the sea, wait tables at a cheap diner, fall in love with someone who doesn’t speak much but has eyes as deep as the hole in my heart and never ever tell them about all that lying awake at night restless, thinking of them and just live with that unspoken desire, make it my own, like a heavy coat or the last memories of a dream that showed me what I always wanted and needed but that crumbles as I wake up and just leaves me feeling like I lost something irreplaceable.

Anyways, Suad’s opener to her very good album “Waves” is the kind of song that you can read so much into but it touches that yearning but what kind of yearning is up to the listener. For Suad, it might be about repeating past mistakes, wanting yet not daring to look back, maybe because looking back would be to admit defeat, maybe because it would turn you to stone, maybe it would remind you of what you lost.

Suad Khalifa is a Finnish artist and of course she is from Finnland, where pop music is a banger on the dance floor but also is there to secretly hex you, so you wake up one day with naked feet on a beach because a sea witch called to you. Suad herself says that she writes very intuitively and I guess that’s the magic behind lyrics that seem so precisely about something very intimate, very specific and at the same time touch everyone differently and tenderly beckon something out of their grasp.

Favourite Song: Kings of Leon ‘The Bandit’ – Between yearning and contentment

Damn, does anyone who was a super big fan of “The Bucket” still get exited over new Kings of Leon releases? I feel like the fans of early KoL are completely detached from the fans of the current KoL and vice versa. But here’s the thing: if you ignore the squeaky clean production and bigger – much bigger – pathos of the current KoL, you still have that yearning, that heart-pumping yearning, like there surely is something out there, something waiting for you, something bigger, something exciting.

“The Bandit” is a gorgeous but also sad song. The lyrics might read like a lone ranger’s heatstroke diary entry in the middle of the desert but could just as well be about addiction and how straining it is to search that feeling of the first high, or maybe even something better, something purer. Maybe I am completely off here but lines like “And they’re walking around, with their heads in the clouds screaming, must catch the bandit, reckless abandon, rundown and stranded”, sound a lot like the worst days you might have as an addict, when you already see yourself, loath yourself but can’t help yourself.

It’s also a song that feels at its core like the – in my humble opinion – masterpiece “Because of the Times”, an album that already shed its skin of the early garage rock to create a Springsteen-esque roadtrip masterpiece of incredible songwriting, storytelling and a tugging war between the life of fame the band already had at that point and the dreamy short stories of a typical (very masculine) and aimless youth in rural America.

It’s a bit of a shame that this promising glimpse into the upcoming album is followed by a little bit of a snooze-fest called “100.000 people” a love song that sounds tired and exhausted, as if waiting for all this was maybe just a tiny bit too long. That chorus of neverending “you do”s alone makes me look at my watch, sigh audibly and drum my fingers. Or maybe it’s just the sound of contentment, which can be an awful bore if you’re not the one who’s content but the one who was invited over for tea.

Songs from the Inbox: Kima – up and coming British pop and RnB

This entry has been a bit longer in the making since some “left on read”-mails but now we’re all set. Kima is a British songwriter who contacted me due to a lovely pop-song that would fit perfectly on the “Love Actually”-soundtrack, it has this great epic Christmas/Winter-pop-ballad feel (think of Natasha Bedingfield or Leona Lewis) and that orchestral arrangement is the kind of pathos I adore. The song was written during lockdown and is supposed to give a little hope to everyone who felt/feels down like a clown in a drown pound during this time of isolation.

(Honestly, this is the kind of pop song that’s on my morning-playlist)

Kima has recently released a song for a charity project for homeless people (Shelter). It has been a hard year for all of us due to the pandemic but homeless people have suffered immensely because there were fewer people in the cities to give them some money but also, due to social distancing measures, etc. it was a lot harder for charity organisations to work with the people in need, since they often could not afford all the measures that we could take in all our privilege.

I also did a small mail interview with Kima, which you can read here because why not?

Did staying mostly at home influence the way you write songs? Did it change the way you look at your music? Was it harder/easier?

Staying at home actually did change the way I write songs! I think it made the process a lot easier, because I had so much more time to just ‘be’. Since I was reflecting so much on things that have happened in my life, my values and priorities, and the world seemed to be crashing and burning around us all – there was so much content to write about and so much time to write. I also found it really therapeutic, because the beginning of lockdown was quite scary. I’ve had to shield for 5 months because I’m considered to be at ‘extreme risk’ to getting coronavirus. At first seeing all the news headlines about the virus was absolutely terrifying! So writing music at my piano was my escape. 

Your new single “If nobody told you” is a total bop! I wondered whether you had a specific person/audience in mind when you wrote it? (Like a person you want to adress)

I wrote my new single, ‘If Nobody Told You’, as an inspirational piece to help lift people’s spirits after long periods of isolation during lockdown. While shielding in my house and with so much craziness is happening in the world, (coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter protests), it’s so easy to feel powerless. This song is written from God’s perspective and it reminds me of how God sees me, and how He sees you too. It was a reminder to me and everyone that we’re still loved, we’re still powerful, we’re still heard. We can make a lot of impact from our own homes.

Also, how did you produce it? Can you talk a bit about the process from first idea to finished song? Was it all home produced (aka lockdown-studio?)

Thankfully I have a home studio set up! It’s suuuper basic and is essentially just a laptop, microphone, audio interface and reflection filter but it’s good enough that I can record full on singles from there. I work with a producer who lives in Birmingham, so for this song I did a first draft on Logic Pro of what I wanted it to sound like, with the strings and the orchestral feel. Then I sent it to him and he added his magic to it!

If you were to write an album, would you want to stick to a genre or rather explore different musical avenues?

I would definitely explore! I’m planning on releasing an EP in early 2021, and it will definitely be ‘multi-genre’, I have been described as ‘genre bending’ and I absolutely love that title. There are so many different sounds that influence my music. Being in the Welsh National Youth Opera when I was younger made me fall in love with classical music. Then at home, the sounds of Motown music and gospel defined my childhood. So I have a wide array of influences, which definitely reflects in my music. I did previously struggle with the thought of not having one specific “sound”, but I think that’s such a closed and archaic way to approach music. I think a degree of variety within an artist is authentic and also really interesting for listeners too! They’ll never know exactly what to expect.

I am also super interested how performing for youtube differs from performing on stage. Does it change the way you sing, do you have to prepare differently?

This is such a good question! I think performing for videos is a lot more laid-back and relaxed. I’m aware that if I’m doing too much, or too expressive, it might come across strangely on camera and I might look like a bit of a psychopath. But in real life, on stage, there are no limits. I can literally be as crazy as I want (well, nearly as crazy as I want to be!).

Also, I am obsessed with Wales (spent an exchange year there and will never shut up about it), what would the three hot spots in Pontypridd be? Just in case, we’ll ever get to travel again.

Oooh what a cool question! I think it’s awesome that you spent a year in Wales! I mean, Ponty is a small town but there are still some things to see and do. If you go, check out the Old Bridge which, when it was built, was the longest single spanning bridge in Europe. Pontypridd has a lot of beautiful countryside, which I think people forget, so do take the time to go for walks.   

Favorite Song: Shamir “Running” – don’t lose yourself for other people

It’s been a while since I fell in love with a breezy pop song but here it is and it’s a beauty and it’s sad, like the best Robyn/SIA-dance bop, I love it!

Apart from being a gorgeous song to sway on the dancefloor, eyes half closed, arms stretched into the air, “Running” is also about all the compromises we make to be with and around others and how that can hurt us. According to newsbreak.com, Shamir wrote the song about a toxic group of friends and how it affected his mental health to be around cis-people who drained Shamir with the pressure of accommodating them (Shamir is non-binary but according to an older tweet prefers “he/him” over “they” which is why I use he/him in this review, I gladly change it, though, if Shamir has changed his preferences) .

I think even though we are moving further along when it comes to not just accepting but respecting people who are not conforming to our weird outdated societal rules and gender “norms” but it’s still incredibly difficult to navigate through daily life if you are not white, cis and heterosexual because micro-aggressions are a bitch and all those prejudices are so ingrained that even people who want to do better still manage to say and do hurtful things.

So this is a beautiful reminder how exhausting it can be, to feel like you have to conform even though it kills you inside.

By the way, while we’re at it, how amazing is Shamir’s song “Hell”? It’s like a gorgeous sad 80s garage romance trapped in a dream, I am in LOVE!

Favorite Song: Tunde Olaniran ‘Namesake’ is too powerful

With more than 10 years under its belt, this blog sometimes manages to surprise me with a “how the heck did I not write about this artist yet?” and discovering that I had missed Tunde Olaniran, even though their banger ‘Namesake’ blew me right out of the hemisphere when I first heard it years ago, was one of those cases. Damn, that’s a long sentence for saying: let’s right that wrong.

 

 

Ok, so first of all, ‘Namesake’ is the kind of self-acceptance hymn that takes autobiographical themes from the artist and spreads them out to the listeners reality, creating a way to relate and to let the song be bigger in its meaning than the initial interpretation suggests. Also, from its production to the vocals to the overall journey this song takes you on, this is a bop if I’ve ever seen one but the kind that pushes you from behind, makes you stand a little taller, feel a little bit cooler and move just a little smoother. It’s the kind of song that destroys the dancefloor.

 

Second, Olaniran is the kind of artist who does every genre and somewhat is beyond genre, the kind of joyful surprise of pop music that has a bite to it and likes to take turns. Their music is just a big bag full of fun surprises and honestly, I was thrown when I read that they come from Flint, Michigan because “Namesake” alone has such a strong British vibe (and that’s a compliment).

 

Also, Tunde’s most recent song “Jean Grey” is absolutely brilliant because it starts vocally like the most gorgeous ballad but also has the lyrics “Purely psionic bitch” and it’s a song about overcoming past wounds but it’s also a nerdy ode to one of the most controversial of X-People (I am not disrespecting Jean Grey by calling her an X-Men, what is this?). Look, if geeky pop music can be this cool all the time, please.  

 

Favorite Song: Shea Diamond ‘I Am America’ – Beautiful pop anthem

Geez, what is this year even? I thought, 2020 would be weird enough with Brexit and the US presidential race going into its first gear but no, first there’s a freaking worldwide pandemic, so everyone has to stay at home and then yet another case of police brutality in America turns into a worldwide movement, so everyone has to go out again.

In the middle of that, there’s daily life, with all its mundane routines, like washing dishes, going to work, watching a Netflix show and tweeting about it. It’s exhausting which I why I haven’t blogged much in May. First of all, I didn’t know what to say and second of all, I was just tired because people still don’t get the whole “don’t shoot/hurt/imprison people just because they are Black”-plea and honestly want to argue how it’s just about *checks notes* being nice to police officers and nothing will happen.

But here’s a glimmer of hope: those protests are a good thing. The escalations on side of the police are not, but the protests, they are a good thing. They grew from local US protests to global protests that also address racism in the respective countries (Germany, for example, has its own fair share of police brutality and racial profiling). Second, in the age of social media, there is not just more space for horrible people but also for nuance. This means, that these protests can include how all Black people need to be protected, including her/him/they.

 

Yes, bask in the glory of all your favourite people (amongst others: some Drag Queen fame with Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela and Eureka, actress Angelica Ross doing the “Risky Business”-version you never knew you needed, and writer-performer Alok Vaid-Menon)

Which brings me to Shea Diamond and her gorgeous, dance banger of a song “I Am America”. First of all – that song is the kind of song that gets the screams when it comes up in the club, the rush onto the dancefloor and then a lot of awkward and a very few amazing dance moves. It has the trumpets, it has that beat and it has Shea Diamond’s amazing vocals.

The song is about how Shea has a right to take her place in the world, no matter what other people might say. And this is just the thing, isn’t it? Just because people don’t tolerate other people, doesn’t mean that they have to vanish. This is not a Wendy’s, Mam! It’s a gorgeous anthem because the lyrics are straight-on, great for shouting along even if you can’t sing like Shea (I mean, most of us can’t) and it’s such a simple message with such a heavy, complex undercurrent. This is a song that can be sung by all the many many many people who are not welcome in America but who are part of it just the same.

I also recommend “Don’t Shoot” which is lyrically heavy stuff because it tells the story of Shea and how hard her way was as a Black Trans woman in America. The title itself, obviously, refers to police brutality against Black people.

 

If you really think that this is not really a problem, I urge you to look at videos how Black parents teach their children how to behave in front of the police. It’s absolutely devastating (also: following the rules will not keep Black people save, it’s a way to reduce the risk which is fucking tragic in and on itself).

Also, this video is three years old, this is not a current production because this issue is ongoing and ongoing and ongoing … And this is just a compilation, they did a whole SERIES on this.

Bat for Lashes: “Lost Girls” – the “Lost Boys”-remake we waited for

A concept album about a vampire girl gang in LA mixed up with a love story and inspired by 80s pop music as well as 80s horror movies – maybe it’s just me but there’s few things that are that close to my heart’s desires and I am more than thrilled that Natasha Khan has again resurrected Bat for Lashes after quite a long time since her last album.

 

The Bride” was her first array into concept album territory and while beautiful and haunting, it was also very heavy. What else do you expect from a story about a bride who lost her husband and goes on a roadtrip to grief.

However, “Lost Girls”, is naturally a lot more fun, sexy and dangerous. The album itself is an amazing beast. It’s basically a soundtrack, a proper soundtrack with catchy pop tunes, musical themes, dance numbers and all in all, it feels like the only thing missing is the movie.

 

Inspired by 80s vampire movies like “Lost Boys” (probably responsible for the album title) the much darker “Near Dark” or the much sexier ” The Hunger”, the album tells the story of vampire lady Nikki Pink who drives and roams around with her gang of female vampire bikers. Apparently, it’s also somewhat of a love story, so it’s like all those 80s vampire movies but told from the female perspective.

Apart from the wide range of synth-infused sounds, with “Feel for you” being the disco jam for sweaty LA nights and “The Hunger” feeling more like the “Cry little Sister”-inspired darker sound, the album has a lot of fun with the concept and the sounds. There’s even a “Lost Boys”-saxophone solo in “Vampires” which is very hilarious but also a lot less cringe-cheesy than the original inspiration.

 

All in all, this is a beautiful album that is full of excitement. Whereas “The Bride” was an incredibly sad, dark and heavy album, “Lost Girls” feels like Natasha Khan really wanted to have fun with this one, trying new things out, writing some bops as well as her trademark ethereal siren songs that fit very well into a synth package (and into the vampire theme).