Musical Discoveries: July

Good afternoon, pop pickers! This month your musical fisherman is casting her net wider than ever in order to bring you the tastiest sonic guppies with which to tickle your hearing aids.

Let’s start with the beautiful Brooklynites Friends, who peddle a blissful, tropical electro-pop sound. Their new record Manifest! is the perfect summer album – ideal for posing at the beach under a large and impractical hat. They sound a bit like Banarama, if Banarama were a concession in Urban Outfitters. If they were a Florence Finds trend, they would be neon lace. Here is their song A Thing Like This – hear it shimmer as you shimmy to the cocktail bar:

If you enjoyed our mention of the lovely Regina Spektor last month, then you’ll probably already be well into Fiona Apple – another jazzy lady troubadour with talent coming out of her ears. She’s got a new album out this month and it’s had nine out of ten all over the place. This is my favourite song on it:

Lest you think we’re getting too cardigan-y, here is a track from Aluna George. They’re a frankly excellent new combo who deal in 90s-style R‘n B influenced electronica (remember TLC? Destiny‘s Child? Brandy?). If you like your pop intelligent, stylish and well produced then this pair are ones to watch. Hooks so groove-addled you won‘t realise you‘re jiggling your bottom until it‘s too late:

Blur ” target=”_blank”>Blur are playing a gig soon for some big deal sporting competition or another, I can’t remember what it’s called because nobody‘s really talked about it much this year. I don’t have much feeling one way or another about Blur – they mostly remind me of sitting on the school bus on a history trip to Ypres behind the boy I fancied (sigh). This is the first time they’ve done any new material in ages. It’s a pretty good song actually – little bit maudlin but you forget that a lot of their album tracks were:

Last but not least I’d been toying with the idea of flaunting the new Little Mix single in your face (arguing that music posts should cater for a broader range of tastes following the Florence Feedback comments) but for the sake of decorum I’m going to keep my pop knickers on this month. I tell you what though, it’s called Wings, and it is actually a bit good. They’re going head to head with Amelia Lily and Aiden Grimshaw in a hideous corporate chart battle next month… I know who my money’s on.

Penny x

Musical Discoveries… June

Good afternoon and I hope you’re ready to give Penny a warm welcome back. This month, in an effort to invite some more reader participation we’ve switched things up a bit and instead of sharing the album artwork, you can now click the images below and hear the albums and songs that Penny is reviewing. I know a lot of you read at work, but we figured if you do fancy looking into her recommendations, then it’s darn sight easier this way. Do drop us a comment if you like the new interactive style. ;)

This is it – summer is here, whether you believe it or not. Put away your moody broody music and pick some pop for June! Now, because this series is about discovering new music, we’ve decided to embed samples in with the reviews this month, so you can suck it and see…. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Regina Spektor: What We Saw From The Cheap Seats

Regina Spektor is the kind of artist I imagine hipster librarians listening to, although you’ll be pleased to know that you can enjoy her music without any formal training in the Dewey Decimal system. Incubated in the hip East Village anti-folk scene, this is Regina’s sixth album and boy has she got her trademark kooky ditties down to a fine, whimsical art. This is a really solid, consistently good record that knows exactly what it is – jazzy, poppy, stylish and intelligent. You’ll get it straight away if this is your bag (probably because it won’t be a bag, it will be a satchel).

Citizens! : Here We Are

Here’s a treat – something that’s indie enough for festival season, and yet glam enough to still be cool and interesting. Ladies (and gentlemen) of a certain age will remember how way, way back in the 1990s there was a whole army of velvet-jacket wearing, leather-trousered bands, marched into battle by Brett Anderson of Suede (Damon Albarn nicked his girlfriend, remember?). Anyway, I think this sounds a bit like all that business. Really catchy, stylish indie rock with a B-movie, David Bowie post-punk glaze. If you liked Franz Ferdinand when they were about, I think you’ll like these.

Niki & The Dove: Instinct

Swedish babies must learn to write beautiful pop music in the womb. This is the debut album from Swedish three piece Niki and the Dove – one of those buzz bands I always expect to be a bit flimsy and rubbish, except they’re not. From the soaring hits like single Tomorrow all the way down to the murky, brooding brilliance of The Gentle Roar, Niki & The Dove brandish style and substance like a shaman waving two large and impressive rain-sticks at the sky. Vocalist Malin comes on like the lovechild of Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper, flitting between a soft, lilting coo and an impassioned battlecry over a soundtrack of shimmering, glossy synths and tribal percussion. The dynamics are seductive – a sense of oncoming danger and tension building, exploding periodically into euphoria. It’s the same trick that made Hounds Of Love such an iconic album, but you can’t complain about the template being borrowed when it’s done with so much panache. They’ll get comparisons to Florence & The Machine, but they’re so much better than that.

Catcall: Warmest Place

If that all sounds a tiny bit pretentious, then Australia’s Catcall will be just the tonic. Singer/songwriter Catherine Kelleher makes catchy, bubbly music with a twist of 80s pop. This is her debut album, and though she is already beloved of music blogs and tastemakers she still has yet to break over here in the UK – unbelievable when she’s got songs as ear-wettingly hooky as Satellites and Shoulda Been. Music to lie by the pool drinking cocktails to (something fruity with a plastic monkey in). Catch her while she’s on the cusp!

Penny.

Musical Discoveries: May

It’s the second week of May (already?) and it’s a Tuesday, which means we’re welcoming Penny back with her musical discoveries. I’m already tempted by two on this list and shocked by a third, so read on and see where it’s at for music this month… and see if you can guess which are which.

Good afternoon and welcome to your music for May! Festival season is nearly upon us, and if you haven’t already had a look at the Florence Finds festival guide then hop over now, and then dust off your wellies ready for a season of outdoor music. The majority of this month’s pick of the pops have their roots in Americana – bluesy rock and country-tinged folk, all perfect for sitting around the campfire and toasting marshmallows to whilst wrapped in a million (stylish) jumpers to ward off the brisk British summer nights. And also -surprise!- there’s a Norah Jones album, just to prove I’m not a snob about anything.

Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls

Attention! Alabama Shakes are set to break the UK in a big way over the next few months. This month’s UK small venue tour sold out almost instantly, they’re in every music magazine, have done Jools Holland and basically ticked every buzz-band box required before they inevitably explode into the nation’s consciousness with their debut album Boys & Girls.

They peddle a simple, soulful sound – think the of the retro-blues of the White Stripes, or a stripped-back Kings Of Leon, then stick a lady with serious lungs and a bucket of charisma at the front and you have a recipe for success. Are the Alabama Shakes doing something new and exciting? Hell no. They are doing something unashamedly old, and they are doing it with style. You’ll be hearing a lot more from these this year though, that’s for sure.

Norah Jones: Little Broken Hearts

When I think of Norah Jones, I think of grown-ups in immaculate homes having dinner parties where they serve something with a coulis on it for pudding. I have never made anything with a coulis on it, and I have never really understood Norah Jones, in spite of her impressive music credentials -which include a boggling 9 Grammy awards. However, this new record is different. Broken Little Hearts is the result of her work with uber-producer Danger Mouse (who has worked with Gorillaz, the Black Keys and Beck among others), and the collaboration has taken her sound in a much fresher direction.

Gone are the smooth, easy-listening stylings of Come Away With Me – in their place is clever, contemporary pop production. Little Broken Hearts sounds like Norah is finally branching into the modern, and it translates pretty well. It’s not going to change the world, but I promise you don’t need coulis on your pudding to listen to this one.

Ellen & The Escapades: All The Crooked Scenes

Marked out by Glastonbury as an emerging talent in 2010 when they were invited to play the Introducing stage, Ellen and the Escapades have since garnered universal praise for their lush, sweeping folk-rock sounds. This is their very impressive debut album, and it’s certain to win them even more hearts.

From the wistful, rolling opener Run, through the Dixie stomp of hit Without You, all the way up to the nostalgic folk of Coming Back Home, Ellen and the Escapades pick you up by your braces and plant you firmly in your rocking chair on the front porch, looking out at twilight plains. No mean feat for quintet from Yorkshire. I guess the bleakness of the moors aren’t that far away from the barren landscape of a cowboy film, when you think about it. Anybody who enjoyed the First Aid Kit album (mentioned here a few months ago) will love this record too.

Jack White: Blunderbuss

If you like your Americana with a bit more growl and groove, the modern king of the blues Jack White is here to get the party started. This is his first solo album, and so eagerly anticipated that it knocked Adele’s 21 off the no.1 album slot, where she’s been lurking quite preposterously for more than a year now (seriously, surely anybody who wanted to buy that record must have it by now?). Jack made his name in the legendary White Stripes, and this record is a riff-packed monster that won’t disappoint fans.

It’s more eccentric than the Stripes, weaving a path through ramshackle rock, swampy blues and quirky country, but it’s all underpinned with solid song writing and is impressively listenable. I have to confess, the White Stripes totally passed me by, but I can’t stop putting this on. How anything so moodily rooted in the blood and guts of a marriage break-up (to model Karen Elson) can sound so completely uplifting, I have no idea. Just more proof of the genius of Jack White – if we needed it.

I’ve been falling in love with Alabama Shakes already via the radio playlist and now I want Blunderbuss to rock along to while we’re burning up the open road in the U.S. of A. later this month. A perfect soundtrack I think. Thanks Penny!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS Find Penny on her blog Bad Penny Says, or @TokaiPenny.

Florence’s Festival Guide

Despite the title, I can’t claim any credit for this one, apart from perhaps the seed of an idea. After my decision that I NEEDED to take in a festival this year and the lack of Glasto to attend, of course I turned to Penny to provide a thinking girl’s guide to the best of the rest. The stipulation to which she thankfully agreed, was no dirty teen-fests like Reading and Leeds, something suitably cool (aren’t all festivals?) and properly fun. Thanks Penny!

With Glastonbury well and truly cancelled this year, I can’t think of a better excuse to check out some of the smaller music festivals around for 2012. Why go to a big corporate event and spend entire days staring at the back of a tall person as you nurse an overpriced pint of fizzy wee? Instead you could have a boutique experience, with glamping (glamorous camping!), fine dining, amazing acts (not just music), some serious style opportunities and maybe even a holiday abroad, all for much less than some of the big hitters.

Festivals aren’t just about grebs standing in a field any more! They are multi-faceted interactive experiences not to be missed. Here are just some of my favourites this year:

Primavera
Barcelona: 30-31st May, 1-3rd June
Porto: 7-10th June

OK, so you know if a festival has both me and FF super-editor Gemma C-S going to it, it has to be pretty good, yes? Primavera is just one of the many European festivals beginning to beat the UK’s offerings into submission. Festivals abroad tend to have much more affordable ticket prices, better lineups, and budget flights often add up to less than travel in the UK. Plus, there is sunshine more or less guaranteed! Primavera is Barcelona-based, but this year has spawned a sister event in Porto, Portugal – which is where I‘m going. I’ll be staying in a city apartment (see, you don‘t even have to camp!), then sticking around after the festival finishes for a little holiday too. Primavera tends to be left-field electronic and indie bands, and this year you can expect to see Bjork, the xx, Flaming Lips among others. If you fancy the idea of a European festival but this isn’t quite your taste, try Benacissim in July, which boasts big name acts including the Stone Roses and Florence and the Machine.

Lovebox
15-17th June
Victoria Park, London

Now in its 10th year, Lovebox is one of the biggest inner-city festivals in the UK. Initially started by the people behind Groove Armada as a dance music festival, the event now takes in a broad range of genres, and is a great solution if you have a group of friends with very different tastes in music. If you don’t fancy the whole weekend, a day ticket makes a great day out, especially if you’re London based. This year the line-up features Lana Del Ray, Hot Chip, Kelis, Emeli Sande, Friendly Fires and the mighty Grace Jones.

Vintage Festival
13-15th July
Broughton House, Northamptonshire

Following up on the success of Vintage At Goodwood, Wayne Hemmingway’s Vintage Festival promises to be a dressing-up box of delights for fashionista festival-goers. The event celebrates the style, music, films and food of eras gone by, featuring dance lessons, cocktails, hair and beauty and more. Acts confirmed include Chic, St Etienne and cutesy covers from the excellent Nouvelle Vague. Would make a perfect destination for a stylish hen weekend!

Latitude
12-15th July
Southwold, Suffolk

Latitude has a reputation as the thinking person’s festival, with a formidable theatre, literature and comedy line-up including Tim Minchin and author Iain Banks, as well as musical contributions from Bat For Lashes, Paul Weller, Simple Minds and FF favourites M83 and Janelle Monae. Expect political discussion, cabaret, art and poetry in the mix. Stroking your beard is optional…

Wilderness
10-12 August
Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire

Younger, hipster sibling to the mad-as-a-sack-of-frogs Secret Garden Party, the super-stylish, teeny-tiny Wilderness festival is now in its second year. 2012 promises another whimsical affair, featuring masked balls, banquets under canopy (food-geek alert: one is with Yotam Ottolenghi!), healing treatments and wild swimming in the lake. Headline acts this year are Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Wilco and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

Beacons Festival
17-19 August
Skipton, Yorkshire Dales

In true Yorkshire fashion, the Beacons Festival simply loves music, no need for pretentious bells or whistles. You can tell the curators are really passionate about their lineup, and this year they welcome Wild Beasts, Patrick Wolf, Willy Mason and Maya Jane Coles among other critically lauded acts across a broad range of genres. If you’re a music lover this is a very strong line-up for a small, affordable festival. Gorgeous part of the world, too.

Bestival
6-9th September
Robin Hill Country Park, Isle Of Wight

A magical 4-day extravaganza that promises to make crossing an actual sea worthwhile! Bestival always features an eclectic, crowd-pleasing line-up, and this year is no exception with Stevie Wonder, New Order, The XX, Sister Sledge, De La Soul, Friendly Fires, Justice and 2ManyDJs among many treats on offer. Bestival prides itself on pairing top quality live music with a hearty dose of the quirky, boutique festival experience. There’s always a fancy dress theme (this year it‘s Wildlife) and let’s not forget the Wishing Tree Stage, the Bollywood Cocktail Lounge and an actual roller disco. A massive event that still manages to retain oodles of personality.

I’m getting excited just reading this!

So, I dont think you guys are going to need any prompting on this one… tell me, have you been to a festival, which one (yes I’ll allow discussions on the big dirty ones in the comments box) ;) and how was it?

I’m looking forward to reading your recommendations, reviews, do’s and don’ts in a proper snog/marry/avoid stylee…

Love
Rebecca
xo

Musical Discoveries: April

This afternoon, it’s time for Penny to tickle our musical tastebuds with the month’s new and noteworthy musical releases. There’s two big hitters this time around as well as two I hadn’t heard of, so please do share your thoughts as usual if we’re inspiring you to take a chance and listen to something new, or you rate Penny’s choices.

The first sunny days of the year have arrived, and with them the students covering our local parks like a travelling circus, brandishing acoustic guitars, disposable barbecues and juggling paraphernalia. Every year I become more convinced that these are not actually undergraduates, but undercover sixth formers. “Surely that girl can’t be more than 15!” I shriek. Then I realise that I am simply getting old. That’s why their outfits look ill-conceived, or like they’re going to a Reality Bites themed fancy dress party.

I’d like to think that there are some benefits to ageing, however uncool it might feel. As the years go by we get wiser (or at least more willing to laugh at our mistakes). We get more relaxed about music, too. More open to listening to new things that might not necessarily fit into our “tribe” or what we think is cool or safe. And I think we have much more fun doing it, too. So how about trying something new this spring? Go to a gig, if that‘s something different for you. Catch some jazz, go to a cheesy pop concert, whatever, just do something unexpected. For me, it was enjoying the Michael Kiwanuka album. What will it be for you?

Michael Kiwanuka: Home Again

Unlike some of his old-school soul heroes (Sam Cooke, Otis Redding), Michael Kiwanuka doesn’t have a great deal to say. There’s no burning political or emotional point to bash home here, nor is his a fresh, hip sound that we ought to deceive ourselves we are hip for listening to. This soft, easy, crooning style has been done and done to the point where you slip into it like a nicely worn pair of shoes. You know, the ones your friends think are a bit tacky, but you wear them anyway. Because you’re getting old, and you can’t always be bothered about being fashionable, and who wants to limp home with blisters anyway? Michael Kiwanuka’s voice is honey for you to dip your ears in. Sunday morning perfect.

Madonna: MDNA

Talking of getting old, here’s one lady who could almost be a granny to some of you young pups. Crazy! How would you feel about your Nan making a record that references class A drugs and includes songs with titles such as “Gang Bang” and “Girl Gone Wild” (which I believe is something to do with a wet t-shirt competition)? YOU WOULD LOVE IT. The critics have been a bit mean about this album, and it’s certainly no return to the pop genius of her early years, but she seems to be getting most of her stick for being past it and trying too hard to be cool. I am not going to stand for this, and neither should you – Madge is doing it for all us ladies growing old disgracefully. The album itself is fine. It’s a Madonna album. It has clearly been pointed at the nightclubs, it’s big and upbeat and it’s no worse than anything else she’s put out in the last 20 years. Sadly the MIA and Nicki Minaj collaborations are a bit tame, but why let your rivals steal your thunder? I just hope I’m singing about group sex and getting off my tits when I’m 53.

The Shins: Port Of Morrow

For some reason, I have always lumped the Shins into the mental dustbin where I put all bands that sound like they should be on the Juno soundtrack. You know, cute but mildly irritating indie rock. This new album is bound to get oodles of airplay on Radios 2 and 6, because it is both eagerly anticipated by music fans, and also a maturing of their jaunty, folky sound into something that sounds a bit more like Noah and the Whale. I’m not sure any of this is good news, least of all for Shins fans. However. The lead single, Simple Song, is quite brilliant and you will definitely be tripping over it for the rest of the year and wondering to yourself “what on earth is that?” Somebody on the desk next to you at work will start singing it, and it will be lodged in your head for weeks. The rest of the album is really good, but with the bouncy twee-ness of their old sound polished away, I can’t help thinking how much they sound slightly weak version of Crowded House now. Maybe I it was a tiny better when they were irritating. No pleasing some people though, eh?

Julia Holter: Ekstasis

This record pleases me though. It pleases me greatly. It’s not as instant as the previous three – far from it. This is an album you need to put on for weeks, and let it seep into your pores until suddenly you realise it has become a part of you. Julia Holter is an up and coming experimental pop musician from L.A, and she makes beautiful, weird and woozy electronic lullabies to listen to on those nights where you just can’t sleep. It’s abstract music, that somehow still manages to soothe as it challenges. The more traditionally structured songs are textured and complex, but still as sugary-soft and whispery as French pop. Meanwhile, the ambient “serious music” moments are like a soundtrack to snow falling. Delicate, beautiful and seriously impressive. If you want to take a chance this month, this should probably be it.

Seriously, I can’t believe Madonna is still going. All credit to her…! (Anybody remember this?)

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS Find Penny on her blog Bad Penny Says, or @TokaiPenny.

Musical Discoveries: March

Stand by – Penny’s back with this months instalment of musical recommendations and reviews. This monthly post is as much about Penny’s thoughts as your recommendations, so please leave a comment below if you have heard any of these or (gasp!) disagree with her summaries. We’d also love to hear any of your recommendations for new music releases so pipe up if you’ve got something to say!

Spring is Sprung! No more the Winter! Instead of being grey, damp and a bit cold, it’s now grey, damp and a bit windy instead. I don’t know about you, but I like to play music against the backdrop of seasons. A snowy winter spent with that XX album maybe, or a scorching summer with something cheerful by Phoenix. But this grey inbetween-ness we seem to spend most of our year in… what for it? I suggest something reflective, in turn melancholic and gently uplifting. Something that sounds good and romantic against a backdrop of tower blocks and traffic jams. Something you can curl up on the sofa with as you look out of the window at people walking by, their heads bent against the drizzling rain.

Emeli Sandé: Our Version of Events
I was umming and ahhing about whether to include this, but as I think it’s one of the more significant UK releases of the last month it warrants a mention. Lots of people I know love this record, and it is certainly true that Emeli Sande is a formidable writing talent. After all, she’s penned hits for Leona Lewis, Tinie Tempah and …er… Susan Boyle.

I was hoping her album would be a lot more personal and interesting than her pop outings, and it certainly is all minor keys and lovers leaving with suitcases. Sadly, I’m not sure that adds up to anything of any real weight. She has a lovely voice, it’s a glossy beast and there aren’t any stinkers. If you want a dinner party album this could be it. For me? A little bit boring, sorry Emeli. I really wanted to like it, I really did. I think I will take myself off and listen to Blue Lines by Massive Attack instead.

Lambchop: Mr. M
Now onto the good stuff! Lambchop have been around for long enough to justify their world-weary outlook – this is their eleventh studio album – and Kurt Wagner’s velvet croak is as careworn and comforting as a well-aged whiskey.

Previously I‘ve always thought of Lambchop as alt-country, but Mr M is a delicious departure. It’s smooth and jazzy as Burt Bacharach, with achingly beautiful lyrics on grief, hope and friendship that push it way beyond easy-listening kitsch and into the realms of something quite profound. Perfect rainy day headphones music.

Sharon Van Etten: Tramp
Here’s a treat. Brooklyn singer/songwriter Van Etten has worked with indie luminaries such as The Antlers and The National. These are bands you can only listen to if you own minimum of four checked shirts and have a beard (stick-on will do, ladies), so if you haven’t stumbled across them I wouldn’t worry. What’s important is that you listen to this, because Shazzer has created something quite brilliant.

It purports to be folk music, but it’s something much more raw and intimate than that. There’s the stark, sparse thump of the drum, the swooping echoes of guitar and haunting vocals that owe more to PJ Harvey and Patti Smith than any contemporary twee indie nonsense. Each song broods like a jilted lover, skulking around your house and throwing your records onto the front lawn when you‘re not looking. This is dark, epic and quite lovely. If you love Polly Jean, you’ll love this.

Penny.

PS Find Penny on her blog Bad Penny Says, or @TokaiPenny.

Musical Discoveries: February

Yaaaaaaay! it’s time for Penny to share her acid sharp and smart thoughts on this months fresh February music releases. I always love hearing what she suggests but this month is a bumper one and might just solve your V-day problems when it comes to getting a little something for the boy. ;)

They say music is the food of love, so with Valentine’s Day fast approaching I am here to feed your soul with another hearty plateful of audible treats. The following records are all romantic in their own little way, so whether you like your loving on an expensive yacht, in a log cabin in the woods, in a slinky boudoir, on a heaving dancefloor, or if (like me!) all of the above because you’re just not that picky, then there will be something for you to delight in here. Listen up, lovebirds! Here we go…

Lana Del Ray – Born to Die
If you’ve escaped the hype so far, give yourself a gold star. Lana Del Ray burst onto the internet last year to overwhelming critical acclaim, billing herself as the “gangsta Nancy Sinatra”, purring sultry anthem ‘Video Games’ and looking a million dollars. Mere months later it turns out she does more than just look expensive – she’s millionaire’s daughter Lizzie Grant whose previously flopped career is having a very PR savvy revamp. Her authenticity tainted by the whiff of record company invention, the critics start to turn on her. Lana Del Ray’s star has risen and plunged, and all while you’d popped out to make a cup of tea. The internet, eh?

This is still THE hotly anticipated album of 2012 so far, and it’s not bad at all. The sensuous, heady ‘Video Games’ is the best thing on here by a mile, but the first four songs all stand up to scrutiny, especially the brooding swagger of ‘Off To The Races‘. The production is lush and epic, Del Ray’s rich voice swoops and swoons over the beautiful orchestration. The repeated motifs of material glamour and doomed romance get a little overplayed and the quality tails off a bit towards the end, but there’s no denying the hooks are all here and it’s very stylishly done.

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
However if you’re after real emotion, there are better records out this month to spend your money on than the ones getting all the press. First Aid Kit are two Swedish sisters who also found fame on the internet when their cover of a Fleet Foxes song went viral in 2008. This is their second album, and it’s truly gorgeous.

This is folk music with a big spoonful of country, although for the most part you won’t care what it is. The sound has a fresh, modern twist which saves it from drifting into pastiche -even on the twanging ‘Emmylou‘, which goes as far as name-checking Johnny Cash. Johanna and Klara’s mournful vocals are locked in a relentlessly sweet harmony that skips over simple, plaintive guitar, singing bittersweet stories of sorrow, heartache and love that’s long settled into a weary dance. This is a wistful album crammed full of history that still manages to feel brightly inventive and authentic at every turn. They’re touring the UK this month too, with the equally impressive Samantha Crain – not to be missed.

Goldfrapp – The Singles
I’m not a normally an advocate of greatest hits collections – they tend to give me flashbacks to that scene from Alan Partridge: “favourite Beatles album? I’d have to say ‘The Best Of’!” However, when you get a cult band like Goldfrapp who have been popping out chart hits every now and then over the best part of a decade, it’s a canny way to get them all in one place. This is slick, sexy electro-pop, and when you gather all the big tunes together it’s consistently good fun.

Don’t be put off by unfamiliar song titles either – it’s surprising how many of these tracks you’ll already know. “Ooh La La”, “A&E” and “Number 1” have all been used in TV and advertising before now – I guarantee these and more are lurking around in your subconscious and you‘ll be singing into your hairbrush from the first listen. Perfect music for getting ready to go out with the girls.

2 Bears – Be Strong
When it comes to love, popular music is largely preoccupied with heartbreak and pain. Not the 2 Bears. This duo (featuring Joe Goddard of the brilliant Hot Chip) have created a record entirely concerned with the pure joy found on the dance floor.

The debt owed to the 1990s dance music scene is overwhelming – you might as well dress this album up in an over-sized smiley tee and give it a dummy to suck – but the tunes are enormous and it’s all done with a knowing wink and a true passion for the genre. Pretty much every track will have you reaching for the lasers – from the sweaty groove of ‘Bear Hug‘, through the 90s piano euphoria of ‘Work Harder’ to the anthemic house stomp of ‘Be Strong‘. This is a truly awesome dance record that you won’t be able to avoid this year. Get it now – you’ll be bear-hugging a stranger before you know it.

Penny
x

Thanks Penny – I’ve already started listening to these :)

Have you got any of these or are you thinking of making a purchase? (All of them are available along with all of Penny’s previous suggestions in Florence’s Amazon store) Do share your thoughts as always readers.

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS Find Penny on her blog Bad Penny Says, or @TokaiPenny.

Musical Discoveries… January

It’s time to welcome Penny back (a little earlier than her usual second Tuesday of the month slot) for the January edition of musical discoveries… take it away Penny!

The last of our Christmas Ferrero Rocher have been scoffed, the sales have been long reduced to bare rails and rags… January now becomes our month of endless good intentions and sensible money saving. Woop-di-doo! Don’t worry, the nice thing about music is that it’s cheap and it will keep you sane, not to mention soundtrack you through all those virtuous gym workouts as you sweat off the festive excess. And I’m here to make sure you spend that precious last tenner on something half decent.

The Black Keys – El Camino

Close your eyes and imagine. You’re standing in a field with the slightly pathetic British sunshine on your face, mud under your Hunter/Primark wellies and a pint of weak cider in your hand. That’s right, although we’re a thousand miles away from festival season, there’s no better time to start investigating the bands that are going to blow your mind in six months. The fuzzy wuzzy garage rock stomp of the Black Keys will tickle the rock buds of anybody who’s ever drunkenly punched the air to Kings Of Leon or Kasabian, and maybe even the snobby few who haven’t because they reckon that sort of thing is for people who only own two CDs and think vinyl is what you put on your kitchen floor. Luckily, the Black Keys are the boy-y, guitar-y band it’s a bit cooler to like, and this record is loads of fun. It’s chock full of hooks, executed with energy and panache and I defy you not to shake your muddy bottom to it.

EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

There’s been a lot of hype about this album and it made many critics Best Of lists at the end of 2011, so if you’re interested in new music and where it’s heading then you need to listen up. Guitarist Erika M Andersen actually released this, her debut full-length, in May last year, but it’s getting a reissue next month so I’m bringing it to your attention in case you missed it last time around. Let’s get one thing straight: this record is not for the faint hearted. There are raw, visceral drones and deeply personal lyrics which you’ll love or find self-indulgent -possibly even nonsensical. It’s got a grunge-lovin’ heart, with stream of consciousness vocals, nursery-rhyme melodies and swooping, discordant guitars making it simultaneously intimate and dizzyingly expansive. I could give you easy reference points…. songs like Red Star owe a debt to PJ Harvey, California reminds me of Patti Smith… and it’s possibly the solo record Courtney Love wishes she’d made. But that would undermine the power and individuality of EMA’s own voice. This is an artist who should be judged on her own merits. Accomplished and engaging.

Rebecca Ferguson – Heaven

Q. Why should we bother listening to anything released by X Factor contestants when it’s all dry as a bone and auto-tuned to death? A. Because sometimes it isn’t. I feel sad that so many people won’t bother to listen to this record because they’ll assume the honey-tonsilled Liverpudlian runner-up from 2010’s competition will have been locked in a studio and forced to sing the dirges that got cut from Matt Cardle’s album, and maybe wear his hand-me-down caps and eat the rejected Milky Ways out of his box of Celebrations while she’s at it. This is a lovely soul record with very little filler, and the heartbreaking “Shoulder To Shoulder” ought to make her a star, and leave Cardle flailing in her wake. Apparently she co-wrote much of the record too, as well as singing on it with her actual voice. Good on you, girl.

Escort – Escort

Sometimes when the weather is cold you just want to listen to something that will catapult you into glorious, tropical summer. Escort are a 17-piece live disco band based in Brooklyn, New York who make sunny day music so perfectly retro and sublime that I want to stick a cocktail umbrella in it. The band was started as a studio project by two house music producers who wanted to recreate the smooth sounds of the disco records they were sampling, and what they’ve achieved is seamless. Listening to it I actually feel as though I’m at the Paradise Garage with a blow wave and a flared white jumpsuit, off my block wedges on champagne and angel dust. Standout moments include singles Starlight and Cocaine Blues -the Greg Wilson re-edit of which is dance-floor dynamite- but the record is best taken as a lush whole. This may not be the most robust or challenging release of the lot, but it’s my personal favourite. Glitzy after-party music to warm your January cockles.

I have to interject here and say that I am definitely going to be giving these a listen… last month Penny recommended Janelle Monae and I haven’t stopped listening since, so I’m hoping for the soundtrack to my January amongst these reviews…

Please drop us a comment if any of these are favourites of yours or you’ll be giving them a try.

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS Find Penny on her blog Bad Penny Says, or @TokaiPenny.

Musical Discoveries… The Christmas Gift Edition

It’s time to welcome Penny B back again this morning as she solves all your Christmas gift buying dilemmas with this month’s musical discoveries. I’m going to make it a new year’s resolution to buy at least one of the suggested albums each month and broaden my musical horizons…

Your Best Mate:
Is she a good time girl who listens to anything as long as it’s GREAT? Then you need to introduce your best friend to Janelle Monae. This record is technically late 2010, but after a storming performance at Glastonbury this year and relentless praise from the critics, I couldn‘t miss out the superb Archandroid.

If I tell you Monae used to work primarily with Outkast, you’ll get an idea of the scope of what we’re working with here. This record is a journey that flits from sweet soul (Wondaland) through brooding, stylish grooves (Cold War, Dance Or Die) to the all-out devastating funk of Tightrope. You need to get your best friend into Janelle, just so you have a gig buddy when she comes back to the UK. If this record is 10/10, then her live show is 11.

Significant Other:
They always turn their nose up at the music you put on in the car, so what better way to prove to your boyfriend/husband/partner that you know your onions than by being brave and buying them a great album for Christmas. I have been mostly averse to trendy new genre Chillwave (basically a load of good-looking upper middle class Americans sitting in their bedrooms playing with echoes) but with producer Ernest Greene aka Washed Out
its dreamy, lush progressions are tuneful without ever being obvious, the production is simultaneously intimate and epic, and the whole record is a woozy joy to listen to. Watch out for the big, stadium drums and brooding synths – squint a bit and you’ll see the outline of Molly Ringwald.

Little Sister:
Were students ever this cool when we were little? When did University stop being about Neighbours twice a day and wearing your slippers to the corner shop? For the young, hip, dance music headcase in your family it has to be nutty Scotsman Rustie, with ‘Glass Swords’, a schizophrenic progressive explosion of sounds on the unfailingly cool Warp records.

I believe we have a duty to show the dubstep-loving youth of today that music can still be hectic, staggering and heavy without once being derivative. Never mind your degree, this record is an education in itself.

Dad:
For the male in your life who loves folk, rock and a good old “jam” (oh dear) on the guitar, but still has his head still firmly wedged in the 60s/70s you could do worse than pick up Ryan Adams’ latest offering ‘Ashes and Fire‘.

Don’t be put off by his prolific output (this is his thirteenth studio album), Adams is consistently good and frequently great, and this album sees him at the peak of his alt-country powers. Simple, beautiful music. I know I’m not the only one who fancies him a bit.

Aunty Pat:
Still drinking babycham and dancing up a storm on Christmas Day in your front room, your young-at-heart Aunty Pat is terminally 39. She doesn’t buy CDs anymore, so she definitely won’t have purchased the best-selling and completely excellent ‘Born This Way‘.

However, thanks to the power of the Radio 1 playlist she’ll have heard most of the songs off it by now and will insist on putting her gift on the boom box and bellowing them out while you’re all trying to play Cluedo. You can thank me later.

Big Brother:
Beer drinking muso big bro still goes to gigs. Lots of them. His record collection towers above most people’s houses. So he might have these records already. But if he doesn’t, he needs them, and you will get bonus cool points for buying them for him. If he is into scuzzy fuzzy old indie rock then I prescribe the totally retro 90s sounds of cuddly hair-bears Yuck. Their self-titled debut is completely and brilliantly comforting, and will make up for the fact he never saw Dinosaur Jr. However, if he is prone to cardigan wearing and likes arty, punky rock with glasses then I cannot over-recommend supergroup Wild Flag and their (again) self-titled (again) debut.

It’s basically the ladies from Sleater Kinney, if you know who they are, making some brilliantly catchy, discordant, bubbly guitar pop. It’s music that will make you happy, so if he doesn’t like it, steal it for yourself. You might just find your new favourite band.

Mum:
If she’s ever been a Kate Bush fan, you can’t go wrong with ‘Directors Cut‘ for your dear old Mum.

The ever-brilliant Bush has gone back over a collection of her post- Hounds Of Love tracks, stripped away some of the godawful 80s/90s production and revealed the shimmering musical gems beneath. Alternatively, if you wanted to buy your Ma the new Florence (not Finds, the other one) but she’s already gone out and bought it herself, go one better and buy Anna Calvi’s Mercury nominated effort ‘Anna Calvi’. It’s a cinematic triumph of a record. Luscious, seductive and wonderfully ambitious, I can‘t believe it‘s been so overlooked given the success of similar artists. One listen and you’ll forget about the popular stuff. Florence what? Videogames who? This is where it’s at.

So then, as always, if you know of any of these albums, love them or loathe them, please share your thoughts in the comments box. Or of course if you’d just like to leave an appreciative comment for Penny’s astounding wit and limitless musical know-how. ;)

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS Find Penny on her blog Bad Penny Says, or @TokaiPenny.

Musical Discoveries

I’m feeling pretty smug this afternoon, as I have been working hard to gather together some of the most stylish, witty and knowledgeable ladies around on their various subjects, to make sure Florence Finds is bringing you not only diverse but genuine and authentic content. As a result, I am delighted to introduce Florence’s latest contributer and Angel, the hilarious and frighteningly music savvy Penny B.

Penny will be bringing you a monthly column detailing the latest music releases, and much like Florence’s book club, I’m hoping this will give you the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and make some musical discoveries, alongside credible music reviews you can trust on more popular releases.

Take it away Penny!

As your friendly Florence Finds music correspondent and official record nerd, I’d just like to say a huge thanks to Rebecca for having me, and a great big tuneful hello to you all. Music really is a personal thing, but you’ll be pleased to hear my taste is broader than Meatloaf’s backside, so hopefully you’ll all find something in these monthly round-ups to tickle your earbuds. I’m also always up for banter in the comments section, so feel free to roll up your sleeves if I slate your favourites – these opinions are all my own, and candid they are.

Everything at the moment is sounding MASSIVE. Florence And The Machine’s “Ceremonials” has taken the overblown and put a cape on it, timesed it by ten and thrown twelvety thousand harps in for good measure. Single “Shake It Out” is going to rip up the festival circuit next summer, its pomp is perfect for uplifting big crowds in a live environment. If your patience for this sort of thing is infinite, then you will love this record – the tunes and the ideas are all present, correct and suitably epic, and Welch‘s voice is aching and flawless as always. It’s a lot of massive though, and it gets tiring. You have been warned.

Also eschewing simpler beginnings on their second album are Justice, with “Audio, Video, Disco“. These lovely hairy Frenchmen are checking their dance floor bangers at the door and opting instead for a sci-fi journey to planet Giorgio Moroder, where everything sounds a bit like the theme tune from a BBC science programme circa 1979. It is accomplished, and there are some really great, hooky moments (Newlands) and some nice cheerful electronic pop (Parade) as well as the more adventurous stuff. But I imagine I fall into a large group of Justice fans who are going to be a bit sad that there’s no Let There Be Light or D.A.N.C.E on this record. Some of the people all of the time, and all that.

So from high expectations lowered, to low expectations raised! The Nicola Roberts album “Cinderella’s Eyes” is the best thing Girls Aloud have done since, well, Girls Aloud. Single “Beat Of My Drum” and its Major Lazer stylings is a fresh little can of zingy and the following tracks don’t falter much, with “Yo-Yo“ and title track “Cinderella Eyes” being standouts. If you like quality, forward-thinking pop music then this is for you.

Also revving my space engines this month is yet another heavily produced album where the songs manage to flourish under embellishment. m83’s “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” is a densely layered double album made by a band named after a galaxy, and I really, really wanted to hate it. It is the sound of fashionable people drinking lattes in Dalston, all slick psychedelia and shoegazey echoes. But it is truly brilliant. How anything so ambient and bloody long (1:13:20) can hold my interest, I have no idea, but mastermind Anthony Gonzalez has rammed endless tunes in amongst the cosmic drifts. If you got along with the big singles from Yeasayer and Temper Trap over the last year or two, you will love this. It is glorious and colossal.

Have you bought any of the above albums? Seen them live? Can’t get them out of your head for all the right or all the wrong reasons, we’d love to hear about it and Penny will be popping by to reply to your comments. Bring them on!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS Find Penny on her blog Bad Penny Says, or @TokaiPenny