One Direction – Fireproof
The end of the year brings with it a handful of certainties. The X Factor happens. Christmas happens. That weird feeling where you start wondering what you’re doing with your life definitely happens. And One Direction release a new album. This year’s mix of bouncy first single, acoustic second single, “rockier” third single and some other stuff they let Niall co-write will be out on 17 November. Entitled FOUR (it’s their fourth album), it’s been preceded by Fireproof, a surprisingly lilting, MOR ballad that starts like a fairly straightforward One Direction album track before some lovely harmonies herald a breezy, 70s soft rock-esque chorus. Basically, having mined Mumford & Sons’ back catalogue for last year’s Story Of My Life they’ve now moved onto, er, War On Drugs. Amazing.
Seinabo Sey – Pistols At Dawn
Seinabo Sey (pronounced Say-na-bo Sea) may have lived most of her life in Sweden but the music she makes eschews the featherlight electropop of her counterparts. Born in Gambia, the daughter of the late musician Mawdo Sey, she first came to the general public’s attention last year with Younger, a yearning oddity that marries her raw, soul-flecked vocal with sparse organ for the first two minutes before careening off into a galloping, string-drenched final third. Positioned as an outsider since a very young age – “I had a hard time when I came back to Sweden and started school, because I looked different”, she told the Independent earlier this year – her music carries this sense of unease, especially in the excellent, multi-layered Hard Time. Currently working on her debut album with producer Magnus Lidehäll, who’s worked with the likes of Britney Spears and recent Playlist entrant Mapei, she’s just unleashed the darker, Pistols At Dawn. Over creeping, finger-click beats and distant piano it’s another one that starts small before gradually bubbling over, Sey’s voice swollen with emotion as she sings “why would you ever think that I’d take a bullet for you” over ghostly backing vocals and samples of gun clicks.
La Roux – Kiss And Not Tell
La Roux’s Trouble In Paradise album is one of the best things to have happened in all of 2014 and yet, despite spending its first week inside the UK Top 10, there would need to be some sort of pop miracle for it to have the impact 2009’s self-titled album had. Obviously part of the reason for its lack of immediate success can be summed up by the five-year gap between those two dates; pop doesn’t always wait around for you, even if you do have a lovely quiff. But in many ways La Roux – now basically a solo vehicle for Elly Jackson – has always felt like a pop entity wilfully out of step with what’s going on, which probably also explains why Radio 1 decided not to playlist the album’s first single, Uptight Downtown. “Maybe it’s because the songs are rubbish?” I hear some foolish people cry, well that’s clearly not the reason as sleek new single Kiss And Not Tell states in big bold print. While a lot of the narratives around the album have been negative – the split from producer Ben Langmaid; apparently hating Kanye West; the Radio 1 fall-out – this vibrant, chatline-heavy, vintage telephone-stuffed video is properly playful and knowingly camp. Also if you ring the number that keeps flashing up you get through to a mock-chatline where you can leave a message and everything.
Nick Gardner – Lose You
British-born, LA-based singer Nick Gardner recently signed to Interscope, presumably after they had a quick root around his substantial YouTube channel (not a euphemism). Having started posting cover versions and “mash-ups” on the channel since about 2008, it’s a treasure trove of vintage pop (Rocket Man by Elton John), X Factor-indebted bangers (a JLS/Cheryl Cole mash-up) and, let’s be honest, some poorly lit videos showing off a slightly dodgy bleached dye job. In August 2012, he announced – via a YouTube video, obviously – that he’d signed his deal with Interscope and now, two years after that, he’s finally popped his debut single on the internet, just in time for his appearance at London’s iTunes festival tomorrow night supporting Maroon 5. In fact, given that it settles comfortably in that nook between white-boy soul, electro and vocoder-assisted pop, it’s Adam Levine et al whose influence hangs over Lose You, at least on first listen. There’s also more than a whiff of Phil Collins about it all, not least because of the almighty electronic drum fills. Yet despite coming from a world of cover versions there’s enough on display in this elegant slice of synthpop to announce the emergence of a genuine talent.
Cathedrals – In The Dark
Just thinking out loud, but Cathedrals In The Dark would be quite a good title for an album wouldn’t it. Likely by a death metal band. Regardless, it’s also the combination of the name used by San Francisco’s Johnny Hwin and Brodie Jenkins and the title they’ve given their new single, the highlight of their recently released self-titled EP. Like a cross between a tamer, less headache-inducing Sleigh Bells and a slightly more guitar-heavy Chvrches, In The Dark gallops out of the gates over precise drum beats and textured synth flurries. The fact that they label themselves on Soundcloud as “indie” rather than “pop” is highlighted by the guitar solos that crop up in the choruses, and the dirgey middle eight, but there’s enough of a melodic pull in Jenkins’ strident vocals to keep things catchy.
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