Sigur Rós – Valtari

I was so excited to learn that one of my favourite Icelandic bands, Sigur Rós, had recently released  new album! And I couldn’t believe that I didn’t hear about it sooner! The fact that I haven’t talked about them sooner is even more offensive! Sigur Rós started making music in the early-mid nineties. They have a minimalist/ethereal sound that is truly incredible. It is very easy to get completely lost when their music envelops you. They also have a lot of classical influence in their sound. The lead singer, Jónsi Birgisson, has a spine-tingly falsetto voice that is perfect for their music. His voice is one of the most recognizable features in their songs, as well as musical techniques like the bowed guitar. When I first saw a video of them playing bowed guitar, I immediately had to whip out my cello bow and my guitar – magic!

The band’s international success came with the release of their second album, Ágætis byrjun, in 1999. Critics hailed the albums as one of the greats of its time. Songs from the album found their way into a lot of media, including the film Vanilla Sky and TV show Queer As Folk.  Jónsi’s signature style of vibrato bowing on his guitar started to become a defining feature for their music. In 2002, the band released one of my favourite albums, ( ). Upon its release, all of the tracks and album itself were untitled, but they later gave them titles on their website. All of the lyrics on the album are sung in “Volenska” – also called “Hopelandic” – which is a completely artificial language made up of Icelandic phonemes. As a linguist/music theorist, this is something that I find incredibly fascinating!

Their fourth album, Takk… (“Thanks…”) goes back to the distinctive sound of their second album in a more rock oriented structure with greater use of the guitar, and was released in September 2005. “Hoppípolla” (“Puddle jumping”), the second official single from Takk…, was released in November alongside a new studio remake of “Hafsól”  (Sun”), a song that was previously released on the band’s 1997 debut, Von. “Hoppípolla” was used in the trailers for the BBC’s natural history series Planet Earth in 2006, as well as the closing credits for the 2006 FA Cup final, ITV’s coverage of the 2006 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, advertisements for the BBC’s coverage of England games during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, on television advertisements for RTÉ’s Gaelic games coverage in Ireland, and on an advertisement for Oxfam. It was also used in the final scene of the movie Penelope, for the trailer of the film Children of Men and for the trailer of the film Slumdog Millionaire.  This song is also used in the trailer for the Disney movie Earth. This is another one of my favourite albums.

I completely missed the release of their fifth album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (“With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly”) in 2008 and must immediately remedy this. Stylistically different from their earlier releases, it featured fewer strings and more guitar, and had more pop-oriented songs, described as “the group’s most accessible effort” while maintaining the “majestic beauty that defines the band’s music.” Fun fact: the final track “All Alright” is the band’s first to be sung in English, though all the other lyrics are in Icelandic.

And that brings us toValtari. Bassist Georg Hólm described the album as having “more electronic stuff than before” but not being “a dance album”. I loved it right away. It has exactly the sound I’ve come to expect from the group, while being fresh at the same time. There’s really no other way to describe it as simply beautiful, haunting, and yet optimistic. Sigur Rós have given a dozen film makers the same budget and asked them to create whatever comes in to their head when they listen to songs from the band’s forthcoming album. The idea is to abandon the usual approval process from Sigur Rós, and allow film makers utmost creative freedom. The band has stated: “We never meant our music to come with a pre-programmed emotional response. We don’t want to tell anyone how to feel and what to take from it. With the films, we have literally no idea what the directors are going to come back with. None of them know what the others are doing, so hopefully it could be interesting”.

On 21 May, Sigur Rós released a video for the track “Ég Anda”, which is filmed by Ragnar Kjartansson. It is the first video from the Valtari mystery film experiment. The video shows how we should proceed if someone starts to choke.

On 6 June, Sigur Rós released a video for the track “Varúð”, which is filmed by Inga Birgisdóttir, who is the Valtari cover designer and the director of Ekki Múkk music video. It’s the second video from the Valtari mystery film experiment.  The video for  “Fjögur píanó” has sparked great controversy for having a brief bit of male genitalia – that of Shia Labeouf – especially as concerns Youtube’s nudity policies. I for one will never understand why America is so afraid of penis, but I digress… anyway the video is actually incredible.

Check out their website: Sigur Rós.  Fun fact, I was looking at their website while posting this and turns out they are in the States in July! Just bought tickets! Weekend in Philidelphia – here I come! ^___^ So excited!!!

 

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Eric Saade

Eric Saade is a Swedish artist who I first saw last year when he was representing Sweden in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. His entry, “Popular”, was one of my favourite entries. I thought for sure he was going to win, and after half of the countries had awarded their points, Saade was at the top. But finally he ended the competition in 3rd place. But after this year’s Eurovision I decided to find some music from recent contestants I’d enjoyed and I was stumbled upon some Eric Saade magic!

Saade started off in 2007 in Swedish boyband What’s Up! (who I must soon look into to fuel my guilty pleasure of boy band pop!) He left the group in 2009 to pursue his solo career. That summer, Saade hosted the Swedish music competition My Camp Rock, a camp inspirated by the Disney Channel movie Camp Rock. He also hosted the nationwide contest Julia’s Shooting Stars. In January 2010, Saade won one Scandipop Award in the category Brightest New Hope for 2010, marking his breakthrough in the Swedish pop world.

In March 2010, Saade was nominated for one Marcel Bezençon Award (Melodifestivalen) in the category Press Award for “Manboy”. He also won one in the category Artistic Award for the same song. Saade released his first solo album Masquerade on May 19th, 2011, which reached #2 in Sweden and reached Gold status there. After the album’s release, Saade went on his first tour called Masquerade Tour the summer of 2010 with 24 concerts in Sweden. In January 2011, Saade was nominated for six Scandipop Awards in the categories Best Single from a New Artist for “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Manboy”, Best Male Single for the same songs, Best Male Album for Masquerade and Best New Artist. He also won two awards in the categories Best Album from a New Artist for Masquerade and Best Male!

In May 2011, Saade was nominated for two Marcel Bezençon Awards in the categories Artistic Award and Press Award for “Popular”. Also in May 2011, it was announced that Saade would release two albums in 2011 called Saade Vol. 1 and Saade Vol. 2 in Sweden. The first one was released on June 29th, 2011 in Sweden and Norway. The album reached #1 in Sweden, sold over 50.000 copies and reached Platinum status in July 2011 there. It also reached #16 in Finland. This year Saade is nominated for six Scandipop Awards in the categories Best Male, Readers Favourite of 2011, Best Male Album for Saade Vol. 1 and Saade Vol. 2, Best Male Single for “Popular” and Best Remix for “Popular (SoundFactory Remix)”. Saade is also nominated for one Grammi in the category Best Song for “Popular”. From March-April 2012, Saade was on his third Swedish tour, called Pop Explosion Concert 2012 with 15 concerts.

I find Saade’s music absolutely fun Europop! A lot of Youtube videos have comments comparing his to Justin Bieber, and though I’m a Be-lieber myself, I hate the comparison, and I think Eric Saade is much better. You can see his influence from 90s boybands and especially Michael Jackson in his videos, particularly his dancing. His videos are definitely fun to watch. I haven’t listened to his three albums in their entirety but from what I’ve seen and watched I know Eric Saade is magic. “Popular” is definitely one of the best!

Check out his site: Eric Saade

 

 


Roman Lob

Roman Lob is a German singer/songwriter from Düsseldorf. I first saw him in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, where he represented Germany, and I knew I had to find his album. Apart from this solo career, Lob is the lead singer of the band Rooftop Kingdom, an alternative-rock band from Neuwied (which I haven’t found any info on yet!), and also a founding member of the metal-core band Days of Despite. In 2006, Lob had competed in German casting show Deutschland sucht den Superstar but had to quit due to a vocal cord infection. In 2008, he took part in the competition to represent Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest 2008 in Belgrade, as a part of the boy band G12P – Germany 12 Points, but their song “When The Boys Come” was not chosen to compete in the national final. But this year Lob represented Germany solo, and achieved 8th place in the finals with 110 points.

Changesis Lob’s debut album, released in April this year, after being selected to represent Germany for this year’s Eurovision in Baku, Azerbaijan. It peaked at number 9 in Germany, and as far as I know has only been released in German-speaking Germany, which is just a shame. I absolutely love the album myself. The lead single, “Standing Still”, from this year’s Eurovision is wonderful. As soon as I saw his performance I began a frantic search for his album! I love his voice, it’s just so mellow and beautiful. The album is a light sort of pop/rock and is really just a great listen. It has a vibe that I haven’t heard in a while. I foresee this album being played over and over in my car. I have to say that Germany has given me some great artists including Roman Lob and Lena recently, particularly from Eurovision. Good job Germany!

Check out his website: Roman Lob and more unplugged action:

 

 


Eurovision 2012 – Baku, Azerbaijan

I can’t believe it’s already that time of year, and I can’t believe it’s come and gone! – Eurovision 2012, hosted in last year’s winning country, Azerbaijan. The contest’s 2012 motto: “Light Your Fire”, adapted from the country’s nickname: Land of Fire. As usual the abundance of Europop was awesome! I was incredibly sad to see Poland not participating this year, but many that did were incredible. I thought Finland’s entry by Pernilla Karlsson, “När jag blundar”, was a great song. It was a beautiful performance, and I liked it’s quiet power.

Russia’s entry this year was very amusing. Buranovskiye Babushki, a group of eight elderly grandmothers from the village of Buranovo, Udmurtia, halfway between the Volga and the Urals in Russia. Their disco-esque song, “Party for Everybody”, was actually damn catchy, and this performance was adorable! Best part? The group had entered the contest before in 2010!

I really enjoyed Germany’s entry this year as well. Roman Lob’s “Standing Still” is mellow, catchy, and just a great song! It may be my favourite song from this year, at least I know I’m going to hunt for more music from Roman Lob in the future (it doesn’t hurt that he’s super cute!)  The song came in 8th place in the final round.

But this year’s winner was Loreen, with the song “Euphoria”. This song was incredible. A perfect example of euro-dance/club music. The slow build up, the powerful chorus – it’s just simply epic. There is no doubt this was the year’s winner. Last year Sweden placed third with the song “Popular” (one of my favourite entries from 2011). I can’t wait for more of Loreen’s music! And I can’t wait for next year’s Eurovision!

You can watch the contest online and see all the magic yourselves: Eurovision

 

 

 

 


Björk – Homogenic

I was in the car listening to this album today and thinking about how absolutely incredible it is. I would without a doubt have to say this is one of my top 5 favourite albums of all time. Björk is one of my favourite artists ever, and books could be written on her genius, her music, and her career (in fact there are several! This is one I’ve been dying to get, the first real book that is focused on the music itself:  Björk) But for now I choose to focus on the brilliance and musical experience that is Homogenic.

Homogenic is  Björk’s fourth studio album, released in September 1997. The album marked a change in her music’s style, a more trip-hop/electronica sound with acoustic stringed instruments. Before we even begin to talk about the album, we must talk about the album cover:  themes of the album are reflected in the album cover designed by Alexander McQueen. Björk had approached McQueen explaining to him the person who wrote Homogenic‘s songs was someone who “had to become a warrior. A warrior who had to fight not with weapons, but with love. I had 10 kilos of hair on my head, and special contact lenses and a manicure that prevented me from eating with my fingers, and gaffer tape around my waist and high clogs so I couldn’t walk easily”. Grant Scott says, “It’s an amazing composition: every element balances; every line leads where it should, all framing an enigmatic face, staring into your eyes through artificially-wide pupils”, about the cover taken by photographer Nick Knight. I have seen Homogenic‘s cover praised highly in many photo magazine articles as well, and is always high on any list of “best album covers”.

Now on to the music! The music of Homogenic is simply cosmic. From start to finish the album is a work of genius. The beats are raw, the sound worlds created by Björk are – to quote the album’s “Jóga” – ’emotional landscapes’ that could only come from Iceland, and only from  Björk. “Jóga”, the second track on the album, is one of my favourite, and one of 5 singles to come from the album. Written with Icelandic poet Sjón, because  Björk wanted to have “epic” lyrics – and this is without doubt achieved. The song is so emotional, so entrancing. I must share a video of PS22 chorus singing this:

I cried when I first saw this. Firstly, there needs to be more music educators like this man. These kids are feeling this song, and singing it with emotions which I never thought possible in children of their ages. The most amazing part is some of their faces as they sing, and how the song can inspire then to feel such musical passion.

“Bachelorette” is without doubt my favourite song on the album, and one of my absolute favourite songs of all time. Sometimes I listen to it over and over. The lyrics are simply incredible. Just an amazing piece of poetry. The heavy beat throughout the song is something that moves me. It is hypnotic. I can’t help but drift away into another world of music ecstasy when I listen. I can’t even put into words how much I love this song. And the video is another brilliant piece of art. Funny story: when listening to this one evening with a bunch of friends, a good friend and I both envisioned this music playing behind the orgy seen of the Penthouse movie Caligula. (X-rated so I won’t post a vid!) but for those who are curious, hunt down a clip of that scene and play this song with it. It’s uncanny.

“Alarm Call”, the album’s 8th track, contains one of my favourite stanzas in all music lyric history: “I want to go on a mountain-top /With a radio and good batteries/And play a joyous tune and/Free the human race/From suffering”. Something about that just speaks truth. The song of course is amazing and it has another amazing video. The remix for the video is different from the video, and I prefer the original on the album, but they are both great!

Now you cannot talk about his album, or  Björk’s videos and not mention “All is Full of Love”. The song is ambient bliss. It completely envelops you. The electronic sounds and flow are painfully sensual. The video is one of the greatest videos of all time. As a piece of art it is on permanent display in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Incredible. The video is just as sensual as the song. This is a video that everyone must watch at least once in their lives. The remix for the video is for me much preferred to the album’s, the one remix I wish had been on the album instead! I once watched this video at least ten times with my good friend Monique, overwhelmed by it’s pure sensuality.

Homogenic has been hailed as critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine calls it “if not the greatest electronic album of all time, it’s certainly the greatest of its decade”.


Sinik

Sinik is another French rapper I’ve been enjoying lately. He has been around since 1996, when he formed the group Amalgame with three of his friends. The collective evolved and became the Ul’Team Atom. After several mixtapes he released his first EP, Malsain, on the 3.5.7. label in 2000. In 2001, he met Karim et Nabil with whom he established the label Six o Nine. His meeting with Diam’s was a decisive turning point in his career. The two rappers have toured frequently together and have a more than professional relationship, considering themselves “brother & sister”.

January 1st 2005 saw the release of “La Main Sur le Coeur”, his first album with Warner Bros, which became a double gold disc. His second album, “Sang Froid”, was released on April 3rd 2006. It is also a double gold CD. Sinik also performs under other names: Malsain, L’assassin, and S.I.N.I.K. One of my favourite albums of his is Le Cote Malsain, released as L’assassin. It has the sound I’ve fallen in love with in French hip-hop though I can’t quite describe what that sound is! It’s definitely in the beats and instrumentation. This album definitely has some amazing piano parts, and choir/symphonic epicness that is pretty awesome. In fact I think this two-CD album has become one of my absolute favourite French hip-hop albums!

Check out his website: Sinik. Apparently a new album is coming out May 21st! I can’t wait!


Fonky Family

Fonky Family are a French hip-hop group from Marseilles. The group consists of four rappers: Le Rat Luciano, Menzo, Don Choa and Sat; producer Pone, DJ Djel;  dancer Blaze; singer Karima; and manager Faf Larage. Fonky Family made their first appearance on the French hip hop scene in 1994, after IAM had paved the way for new hip hop artists originating from Marseille. Their first album, Si Dieu Veut, came out in 1997 and soon received a gold album. Karima left the group before the release of the album.  After numerous collaborations with different members of IAM on their solo albums, the group released an extended play (EP) record with six live and edited titles, titled Hors série volume 1, in spring 1999. Hors série volume 2 was released in 2000.

 

The group’s second album, Art de rue, came out in 2001. After that, many members of the group chose to pursue solo careers: Le Rat Luciano had already released a solo album in 2000, and Sat and Don Choa followed in 2001 and 2002 respectively. DJ Djel produced two compilations in 2001 and 2003. In January 2006, Fonky Family released their third album Marginale Musique (Jive/Sony BMG), which debuted on the French charts straight at number one.

 

This is another group I haven’t been able to find a ton of info on but I have definitely been enjoying their albums. I think that their latest album, Marginale Musique, has been my favourite. I really liked the music on that album. The sound was also a little more polished. But I’ve enjoyed the other albums immensely as well.

 

Check out their site: Fonky Family


La Fouine

La Fouine is a French rapper I stumbled upon in my recent quest for expanding my French hip-hop collection. He released his first album, Bourré au sonin 2005. His second album, Aller-Retour, was released in 2007. I haven’t been able to get a hold of the first, but I do have Aller-Retour,  and it is a great album. One of my favourite tracks on the album, “Tombé Pour Elle” features Amel Bent, who is my absolute favourite French artist! =) La Fouine also released Mes Repères in 2009 and his newest album, La Fouine vs. Laouni, in 2011. This latest album was inspired by his dual personalities: the first one La Fouine, character he created for “entertaining people; La Fouine is very cunning, materialistic, bad boy and so vulgar … it’s not really me”. The second one Laouni (his real name) is about things he lived in his youth; here his rap is sincere and moving. The week of album’s release, more than 25,621 copies were sold in France, A major feat for a hip hop artist. He has also his own label “Banlieue Sale Music” and his own clothing line called “Street Swagg”.

 

Between albums, La Fouine has released 5 mixtapes, which I think are my favourites. I have listened to both volumes of Capitale du Crime which were released after Aller-Retour and La Fouine vs. Laouni respectively. The mixtapes have some absolutely amazing collaborations with other great artists, and the styles are so wonderfully varied. It’s a true smörgåsbord for the ears!  I wish I knew more about him but check out his music and watch some of his videos! (He actually has a ton!)

And of course check out his website: La Fouine

 

 


Nneka

 Nneka is a Nigerian-German hip-hop/soul singer. She was born and raised in Nigeria, but went to Germany at 18 to pursue her career in singing (along with a degree in Anthropology!) Nneka has worked closely with German beat-maker DJ Farhot. She first gained attention as an opening act for Sean Paul at Hamburg Stadtpark, and shortly after began working on her debut album. She finished recording the album in the autumn of 2005: Victim of Truth. It was released not only in Germany but also in England, France, Netherlands, Nigeria and Japan. The album earned rave reviews from the media, the UK’s Sunday Times later declared it “the year’s most criminally overlooked album”, comparing it favourably to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (one of the greatest albums of all time! I was listening to it earlier tonight!).

Her second album, No Longer at Ease, was released in 2008. Most of the songs are political, talking about the plight of the Niger Delta and the corruption Nigeria. The lead single from it, ‘Heartbeat’, became her first song to break into the German Top 50. In September 2009, the song entered the UK Singles Chart at number twenty. In November 2009, Nneka staged her first concert tour of the United States where she performed shows in New York City, Vienna (Washington DC), Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Furthermore she was a special guest on The Roots Jam session. Her first US release Concrete Jungle was set for 2 February 2010.

Soul is Heavy is the third album by singer Nneka. It was released on 18 March 2012 in the U.K. In a recent interview Nneka stated that the album is “a bit more of a “band” sound this time around, a mix of digital and organic music. Still very me, though. It deals with issues that have to do with the day-to-day life of people: corruption, false prophecies, religion, war conflict…” The album is definitely of a somewhat different style from her previous two, but it is amazing, and still so very Nneka. I love her voice. I think it’s very raw and emotional. You can hear for sure the African roots in her beats and I think it gives a sort of “earthy” quality to her songs. If nothing else, Nneka’s music is incredibly powerful. 

 

 


Hocus Pocus

Sometimes I am bewildered by how magical music is. After I found Keny Arkana, I decided I should try to find some more French hip-hop, and have I struck gold. Hocus Pocus is a French hip-hop/jazz/soul /funk band from Nates. That’s right, a hip-hop-jazz band. Could this be real? The group was formed in 1995 and had some attention throughout the 90s, but really became popular in 2006 for their LP 73 Touches. They have had 5 albums to date, and I have gotten my hands only two so far but I will hunt for the rest!

Obviously the music is just wonderful. The group’s music has been described as a mix of all hip-hop true elements with live instrumentation influenced by jazz, soul & funk music. The merging of these styles is an incredible blend, it is smooth, it is funky, and it is real. So far I have only listened to their latest album, 16 Pièces, but as a whole it is a truly spectacular work. I don’t even know what to say, as I listen it just gets better…so listen!!!!