Tag Archives: Pop

The Ruby Suns – Christopher (2013)

The Ruby Suns - Christopher (2013)

The Ruby Suns are nominally an indie-pop band from New Zealand and this is their fourth album.

To me, it sounds like an 80s electropop revival rather than indie-pop. The music is really retro, but all brought together with a modern club sound; it reminds me of all sorts of stuff from the 80s, such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Tears For Fears, etc. But the club sound is just too much for me.

There is some really interesting music behind the main direction, but I just can’t get past the cliched club sound and I just don’t like it, at all.

Spotify link: The Ruby Suns – Christopher
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Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa (2013)

Rokia Traoré - Beautiful Africa (2013)

Rokia Traoré is a Malian guitarist and singer/songwriter. Beautiful Africa is a beautiful folk-pop album, sung mostly in her native Bamana language, though there is also French (Melancolie; Beautiful Africa).

The album opener, Lalla, gives a good indication of the entire album, a simple but effective beat is joined in quick succession by an acoustic guitar and ngoni (a Malian instrument, a kind of lute), backing vocals and Traoré’s beautiful voice, wonderfully warm full, with an oh-so-slight gravel quality, but mostly smooth. The track, as most of the album, is in a celebratory mood, upbeat and joyousA track like Ka Moun Ke introduces a pretty sweet bassline to the mix driving the track forward, as also in Melancolie.

In contrast to much of the album, N’teri is a beautiful slow introspective track, with a sombre, slow beat, and subtle ngoni  melody, the music taking a backseat to Traoré’s beatifully sorrowful voice. Without knowledge of the language, I couldn’t tell you the context, but it feels like a griot tribute to the recently deceased.

A lovely album, a beautiful voice and a treat to listen to.

Favourite tracks: N’Teri, Kouma, Ka Moun Ke

Spotify link: Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa
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Alice Russell – To Dust (2013)

Alice Russell - To Dust (2013)

Alice Russell is a British soul singer who has worked with the likes of trip-hop producer Quantic, as well as nu-jazznik Nostalgia 77, and David Byrne and Fatboy Slim.

From the start, it is obvious that Russell is on top form. Her voice has to be one of the best in Britain. The album begins well enough, A to Z is an interesting and inventive take on songwriting, done really well and Heartbreaker Pt. 2 has a Stevie Wonder sound with funky organ, although with chilled beats. And here’s where my disappointment starts. While Russell is on the whole fantastic, the backing music, especially the rhythm section, just sounds completely lacklustre on some tracks.

I also feel like there is a certain amount of kowtowing to the pop-industry’s expected sound; Let’s Go (Breakdown) is pure chart-style pop and I feel it is really lacking in quality, especially at the end when it seems to fade out just as it is getting going. This is followed by Drinking Song (Interlude), another song with a really poppy chorus, although Russell sounds more in touch with her normal mode in the verse.

There are some great tracks, though. Citizens is a great trip-hop track, with a looped piano riff lumbering onwards; Twin Peaks shows Russell’s soulful sound so well, unrushed and  sounding like classic Diana Ross; and Hard & Strong is a catchy upbeat number.

Overall, I was disappointed. Great singing, not so great production.

Favourite tracks: Twin Peaks, Citizens, Hard & Strong

Spotify link: Alice Russell – To Dust
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The Piano Guys – The Piano Guys (2012)

The Piano Guys - The Piano Guys (2012)

The Piano Guys are an American group who found fame through YouTube by posting modern arrangments and mashups of classical music and classical arrangements of pop songs. Intrigued? Well, so was I!

The first thing that strikes me is that this is an incredibly geeky album. Due to the nature of the music played, if you are not au fait with the homages, you are going to have a lesser experience than those who “are in on the joke” as it were.

Sadly, I feel this is true on this album; I don’t particularly listen to contemporary pop music, so I don’t know the originals of a number of these. Some, despite my not knowing them, work in their own respect (Pepone (Paradise) is a take on Coldplay in an African style; Adele’s Rolling In The Deep is a very nice tune), but some I feel that there is something missing on some that would perhaps be there if you knew the track (David Guetta’s Titanium on Titanium/Pavane, and Without You; Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years; One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful; )

Some of the pieces that work really well tend to be those which derive from sources other than pop; the modern arrangements of predominantly classical pieces and the soundtrack pieces. Code Name Vivaldi is a mash up between Vivaldi and music from the Bourne Identity, Beethoven’s 5 Pieces is music from Beethoven’s Fifth with Secrets by OneRepublic. Then there is the fantastically fun Cello Wars, a take on various pieces of Star Wars music, beginning with the Imperial March, followed by Duel Of The Fates, May The Force Be With You, the Main Theme, and the Cantina Band (on accordion; played by Darth Vader in the video). The Cello Song is an arrangement of Bach’s Cello Suite Number 1, which, with added sequenced beat, is quite interesting to listen to, and Bring Him Home is from Les Miserables and quite a beautiful track.

I have to say that I am not opposed to the principle of interchanging music styles; in fact, the move from pop music to different arrangements is where jazz mostly comes from, especially jazz standards in the bebop era, and in reading about them, I learn that it is the videos that matter a lot in these arrangements; however, on the whole I was not inspired by the album, though there are a few gems herein. And, in themselves, those gems are worth seeking out.

Favourite tracks: Cello Wars, Pepone (Paradise), The Cello Song

Spotify link: The Piano Guys – The Piano Guys
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