Muse – Madness

Muse-Madness

The latest track from Muse is a lo-fi anti-folk number, with singer Matt Bellamy providing hushed and delicate vocals over a sparse, minimal background. So fragile it could float away on the slightest breeze, so unassuming you could pass it on a busy street and never even realise. Nah, just kidding. It is – of course – a planet-sized, space-prog bombast-athon that sounds like the kind of thing Darth Vader would have on his iPod.

Never knowingly restrained – and all the better for it – Muse are actually at one of their lowest settings on ‘Madness’. As they tend to operate on a scale that starts at gigantic and runs up to supermassive it’s still bigger and brasher than your average song, but at least they’re keeping things interesting.

“I think we realised we had to open up,” Bellamy told Australia’s ABC Radio. “Being in a three piece band is limiting. Over the last couple of albums, we’ve really shown that we know how to do big, bombastic, theatrical crazy stuff, you know? I think the challenge has been creating something that was more subtle and understated in its delivery. I think that’s what we’ve done with ‘Madness’. I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written.”

With their gleeful embrace of the overblown and unshakeable belief that bigger is always better, Muse have often drawn comparisons with pomp-rock overlords Queen. The likeness has never been more pronounced than on ‘Madness’, which sounds uncannily like a 21st-century mutation of Mercury and Co’s ‘I Want To Break Free’. Built around a throbbing synth bassline and processed drums, it’s pretty much guitar-free until Bellamy pops up with a thoroughly Brian May-esque solo a few minutes in. Freddie would approve.

Naysayers may criticise Muse’s Queen worship and straight-faced endorsement of rock’s ludicrous excesses, but those naysayers would be wrong. As waves of ruddy-faced, banjo-twanging poshos attempt to convince us that they are earthy folk troubadors, we need Muse more than ever. The choice is simple: faux nostalgic laments concerning love among the hay bales or star-flecked space operas about alien abductions, conspiracy theories and insanity. We know which we’d pick.

Imagine Dragons – It’s Time

When your reviewer imagines dragons, it is usually to a soundtrack of galloping heavy metal or ‘Lord of the Rings’-style orchestral magnificence. Turns out I’ve been doing it wrong.

Kicking off with communal handclaps and tinkling mandolin plucks, first impressions of ‘It’s Time’ suggest we’re in for some kind of trans-Atlantic take on Mumford & Sons’ folky whimsy. However by the time the chorus rolls around we’re firmly in the anthemic stadium-rock zone. The clearest comparison is of Imagine Dragons’ Las Vegas compatriots The Killers, who have a similar knack with soaring, vaguely yearning hooks.

‘It’s Time’ is a masterclass in precision-tooled modern pop/rock. It’s as glossy as a freshly polished marble worktop and as meticulously engineered as Swiss watch. It is little surprise that Imagine Dragons are shortly embarking on their first major headline tour, one that has pretty much sold out already. The uncharitable among us might see them as nakedly careerist examples of the MOR-industrial complex, a melodic juggernaut more about money than their muse. However the band are at pains to stress their artistic bona fides, insisting that their current path is motivated by nothing more than a deep love of making music.

“In high school, we would have these career seminars where you take all of these tests and learn what kind of learner you are,” guitarist Wayne Sermon told The Aquarian. “You learn what your strengths are and what possible careers you could do. Nothing interested me except for music. No other fields, no other jobs; I just kind of have hollow feelings whenever I think about being in an office or doing anything else besides music. It’s almost like my default, I just had to do music. That’s really become the saying of our band: ‘Don’t do music if you want to do music; do it if you have to do it.’ Everyone in our band has had to do it, there is nothing else for us. We had no option, it was always full throttle right from the beginning.”

Foals – My Number

The latest slab from dance-rock outfit Foals is a tasty up tempo track called My Number. The song is the second single to be released from their latest album ‘Holy Fire’, which was listed as one of SPIN’s 50 Albums You Gotta Hear in 2013. The video which you can view above delves into the heady world of what one presumes happens at Foals’ gigs: sweating, dancing, snogging, and then the loss of normal vision until everything seems to be melting into 3D.

For those who like their beats a little more up tempo, get excited – there’s a totally awesome Totally Extinct Enormous Dinosaurs remix.

The new album has been getting pretty rave reviews from all quarters. As well as the SPIN accolade above, NME gave the album 9/10. Drummer Jack Bevan talks about the raw immediacy of the LP: “We wanted it to be unashamedly what it is rather than covering it with foliage, essentially. There’s a lot of music out there which hints at being this big direct, massive riff or whatever but then there’s so much other stuff.. A lot of bands seem to be ashamed that, if they write a proper riff they can’t focus on it.”

Foals are playing a couple of dates over the next couple of months, including two shows at the Royal Albert Hall on 28 March 2013. To coincide with those shows, the band teaching a music workshop with music students from the London boroughs of Islington and Haringey. Students aged between 14-16 will be asking the band about their experiences in the industry. The workshop will also include a live jam session with Foals where students will play a brand new version of a track from the new album.

“The Royal Albert Hall suggested we get involved in their education programme to supplement our gigs there and we thought it sounded like a grand idea,” says Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis.

“I would have loved a similar opportunity when I was younger – I had a pretty weird taste in music but always looked to my favourite bands for inspiration. It will be a fun day and hopefully the kids will learn something of use”

Bonus joy: there’s also a fairly hilarious Foals / Village People video mashup of My Number, which you can view below…

Baauer – Harlem Shake

Diplo is surely the man with the touch of gold. Back in May 2012, Mad Decent signing Baauer released the huge and stompy dancefloor bouncer, Harlem Shake. The track had some modest success at the time, but has just smashed into the top spot on the iTunes Chart – kicking the likes of Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars into the wings!

Proof of its popularity comes in the vast variety of viral vids that have been posted in tribute to the track – which now counts in at 28,000 and rising. Some of the choicest cuts are listed for your viewing pleasure below.
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Fall Out Boy – My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)

Fallout Boy

After a four-year hiatus following last album ‘Folie à Deux’, everyone’s favourite band named after a minor Simpsons character are back. A lot has changed for the emo-pop outfit in the intervening period. Singer/guitarist Patrick Stump put out a solo album while bassist/lyricist/angular-fringed heartthrob Pete Wentz had a kid and even got round to writing a book. Add it to your Amazon wish list immediately.

However, one thing that remains unchanged is the band’s love of songs with names wordier than the average lyric sheet. Where you stand on titles like ‘Sending Postcards from a Plane Crash (Wish You Were Here)’ and ‘I’ve Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)’ is a matter for your conscience, but they definitely come in handy if you’re trying to pad out a review.

While the unwieldy monikers might still be in place, Fall Out Boy have switched things up a bit at a musical level. The new track – henceforth known as ‘MSKWYDITD(LEU)’ for reasons of brevity – steps away from the breezy emo-lite of hits like ‘Sugar, We’re Going Down’ towards anthemic Maroon 5 influenced pop rock. The track’s big shiny choruses are unlikely to alienate any of their old fans, but it’s good to see the band growing up gracefully and not simply trying to rehash past glories.

“I think that the music dictated the return,” Wentz told VH1. “We definitely wanted to make new music and we wanted to make new songs that people would be able to embrace, and hopefully relate to. We tried a couple times in the past year and it wasn’t necessarily gelling, and then we tried again and it seemed like we were making something that was a little more compelling.”

‘MSKWYDITD(LEU)’ is the first track from forthcoming new album ‘Save Rock and Roll’, sneakily announced on the same day that the single dropped. Set for release in April, it will be interesting to see how they’re new direction pans out. In the meantime, be sure to check out the video for ‘MSKWYDITD(LEU)’, which inexplicably features rapper 2 Chainz burning a load of musical instruments in the woods.

Bastille – Pompeii

Bastille’s rapid rise is a testament to the power of cooperation. Starting out as the solo bedroom project of songwriter/frontman Dan Smith, the expanded band have become one of the busiest live acts in the business. In the last year or so they’ve notched up dozens of festival appearances and regular gigs, all before they’ve even got their debut album on the shelves.

The LP ‘Bad Blood’ is now on the verge of its March 4 release, so it will be interesting to see if their recorded output lives up to the standards set by their work on stage. Judging by ‘Pompeii’, fans shouldn’t have too much to worry about. It’s a rousing and heartfelt track that throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. You’ve got some nicely pulsing synths, a tasty rolling bassline and a few group vocal breakdowns that are machine-tooled to ignite mass singalongs in big fields.

It’s a ‘more is more’ approach that initially seems somewhat odd for an act built around a single performer. Things make a little more sense when you discover that Bastille isn’t entirely a dictatorship with Smith in the Stalin role, but something far more collaborative.

“I normally start with the idea and record it quite a lot of it onto my laptop which will then get passed around to other members of the band and also a mate of mine who is a producer,” Smith told Fortitude. “When the demo gets passed around my original idea will transform with the help of different creative minds. You start to see little tweaks, ideas and improvements take shape and piece together quite nicely. It’s quite a patchwork process but I really like it.”

It’s clearly an approach that’s paying dividends, as Bastille unmistakeably sound more like a band than a disguised solo artist. To paraphrase those awful motivational posters found in the offices of terrible Brent-like businessmen: “teamwork makes the dream work.”

Karmin – Hello

Many dusty old music fans will tell you that The Beatles were one of the most inventive and groundbreaking groups in history, but what they fail to mention is that Liverpool’s favourite mop tops essentially started off as a covers band. Before they redefined the boundaries of pop, they became famous playing their own versions of blues and rock’n’roll standards to hordes of bellowing hormonal teenagers.

The purpose of this lengthy digression is to set up the idea that US hip-pop duo Karmin could be a 21st-century version of The Beatles. Please bear with me. Karmin (otherwise known as Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan) first came to widespread attention recording their own versions of tracks by the likes of Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, posting the results on YouTube. This led to the Fab Two being picked up by a major label and tasked with producing their own self-penned material. All they now need to do is produce a genre-defining body of work and this tortured comparison will be 100 percent accurate.

Anyway. While it may be too early to judge their lasting impact, ‘Hello’ suggests that Karmin at least have what it takes to make it in the current pop climate. Stylistically, it’s in the same ballpark as early inspiration Nicki Minaj, combining synth-heavy dance-influenced sections with loopy hyper-caffeinated raps. There’s even a bit that sounds suspiciously like the ‘hello, hello’ refrain from Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, proving that Karmin haven’t quite ditched their magpie tendencies.

“It’s a new sound – we like to call it swag-pop,” Heidemann told Interview.  “You’re going to hear the catchy hooks, you’re going to hear the rapping, the crazy rap verses, a lot of fast rapping and then there’s slow rapping with a lot of swag, talking about Betty Crocker in one of the songs. There’s humour, there’s amazing messages that are a lot deeper than some of the humour, lots of wordplay. I think people will be really entertained by the whole thing.”

OK, so we may have to wait a while to see if this whole Beatles thing plays out, but at least Karmin have one thing in their favour. They’re a couple in the romantic as well as musical sense, so there’s little danger of a Yoko figure turning up and knocking things off course.

 

Neon Trees – Everybody Talks

Ailing presidential candidate Mitt Romney could take some lessons from his fellow Mormons Neon Trees. While the Mittster vainly attempts to be all things to all people, the band seem content to be exactly who they are. Of course, campaigning to be the next leader of the United States and producing records that will perform well in the charts are two very different things, but people tend to know when someone is faking it.

Neon Trees’ brand of upbeat pop rock isn’t likely to lead to widespread political change, but it’s certainly effective on its own terms. ‘Everybody Talks’ has the kind of hook that burrows into your prefrontal cortex upon the very first listen and resists all attempts to dislodge it. Taken from second album ‘Picture Show’ released earlier this year, it confirms Neon Trees as producers of ear worms par excellence.

Despite the band’s obvious chart friendliness, you don’t get the impression that they’re doing anything other than what they want to do. They toiled in obscurity for a number of years before getting their big break as tour support for The Killers. The exposure served as a springboard for the launch of their first major label debut album ‘Habits’, which spawned a bona fide hit in the shape of the track ‘Animals’. Success aside, the band clearly wanted to do something different when it came to album number two.

“Our first record only had eight songs on it. I think we knew we had to make more music,” singer Tyler Glenn told Diffuser. “We’re excited because we know what type of band we are and maybe not everybody has figured it out quite yet. We know that we have a sound that’s going to continue to expand, and I think that this record ['Picture Show'] shows that. We have more tricks up our sleeves, and I think the difference between us and a lot of the new bands perhaps could be the fact that everyone seems to want it now and has to prove themselves right away. I don’t think we ever felt the need to prove ourselves to anyone in that capacity.”

It all seems to be paying off for Neon Trees. Shame the same cant be said for Mitt.

 

Enrique Iglesias Feat. Sammy Adams – Finally Found You

You may think that the impossibly handsome Latin heartthrob Enrique Iglesias has had it easy. Sure, women fall at his feet, he has a massively successful career and his girlfriend is Russian tennis minx Anna Kournikova, but he’s had a lot to live up to.

Look up ‘Latin lover’ in the encyclopaedia and you’ll almost certainly see a picture of his dad Julio. Only diets too high in cholesterol can compete with this man in setting hearts aflutter. Reputed to have slept with some 3000 women, his bedpost has so many notches it’s little more than a toothpick. And while laying waste to most of the world’s female population, he also found time to sell an absolute mountain of records. Under the circumstances, you could forgive his son any feelings of inadequacy.

Seemingly realising that he can’t compete with the old man in the lothario stakes, Enrique has moved away from the more conventional balladry of his hit ‘Hero’ towards something a little ore 21st century. ‘Finally Found You’ is a modishly autotuned slice of modern dance pop, replete with tinkly house pianos and couple of crowd pleasing ‘reach for the laser’ crescendos. Boston rapper Sammy Adams even pops up for a verse, something that definitely wouldn’t happen on a Julio Iglesias joint.

All joking aside, Enrique is clearly very happy with the way things have turned out. Speaking to Latino Fox News, he said: “If they would have told me when I was just 18 that I was going to have a career that would last so long, I’d have said it was impossible, that it was crazy that that could happen in my life, so I’m happy to be here. To be able to go out on stage every day.”

‘Finally Found You’ will be released on 25 September.

Azealia Banks – Esta Noche

If internet cred was record sales, Azealia Banks would be pulling down the kind of cash that keeps P Diddy in platinum-plated Bentleys and unicorn horn backscratchers. The New Yorker has been riding web since day one, scoring a bona fide viral smash with her delightfully foul-mouthed ‘212’. The track married sticky, party-friendly hooks with a volley of genuinely surprising C-bombs and the internet duly went crazy. No surprise that Banks found herself topping the NME’s oh-so-influential Cool List in 2011, before she’d even released a record.

But online stardom can only take you so far. Banks is currently working on her debut album proper ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’, tentatively slated for an early 2013 release. In the meantime, she’s found time to put together the mixtape ‘Fantasea’, from where ‘Esta Noche’ springs. Kicking off in a fairly subdued style, it isn’t long before the track explodes with siren shrieks and X-rated references to lady parts. Any ideas that Banks is going to tone things down seem way off the mark. Which is just the way we like it.

“I think my true, hard-core fans are people who enjoy being bad,” she recently told Vibe. “People who enjoy drinking and smoking, but wanna get it together and just don’t know how. When you really listen to my music you hear a girl who’s going through the motions. She’s experiencing men, having money, not having money, people who are trying to tell her she’s not cute, people telling her she can’t rap, she can’t dance… She’s really dealing with life. I’m not some little light-skinned bitch out here. It’s a young black girl doing this for herself, by herself. Y’all can’t keep trying to pin me up against the wall. Hip-hop has to help me not let this slip through my hands.”

Don’t believe what you’re told. Sometimes swearing is both big and clever.