Niall Horan: Lonely This Christmas

Last Friday saw the release of ‘Put A Little Love On Me’, the latest single from ex-Directioner Niall Horan.

The song is a textbook breakup ballad; the 26 year-old crooner unpicks the aftermath of a failed relationship against a backdrop of Adele-esque piano chords and judiciously placed strings. Lightly decorated with sparse percussion, the track is satisfyingly simple.

‘Put A Little Love On Me’ bears little to no resemblance to the Norman Cooke-inspired groove of Horan’s previous single, ‘Nice To Meet Ya’. Indeed, it’s far easier to spot shades of past 1D hits (think ‘Night Changes’ and ‘Little Things’) in this song’s gentle melodic resolutions.

Whilst it’s certainly true that One Direction weren’t famed for their nuanced songwriting, Horan’s lyrics are pleasantly earnest:

‘When the lights come up and there’s no shadows dancin’

I look around as my heart is collapsin’

‘Cause you’re the only one I need

To put a little love on me’

With his sophomore solo album slated for release early in the new year, Horan will inevitably find himself competing for chart space with his former bandmates, each of whom have released new music in recent weeks. Who will 1D’s fractured fanbase choose as their champion?

Panic! at the Disco: A Song Worth Melting For

‘Into The Unknown’, the musical big-hitter from Disney’s ‘Frozen 2’ is an indisputably infectious power anthem. Even before the release of the animated film’s much anticipated release date, the impact of this song alone was enough to diagnose us all with a bad case of ‘Frozen’ fever.

Whilst Brendon Urie was perhaps not the most obvious choice to give this soprano showstopper its chart-friendly makeover, he’s worked magic on the track.

Channeling his inner snow queen in a flurry of epic glam rock, Panic! does justice to the original vision of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the formidable songwriting duo behind both ‘Frozen’ soundtracks. Their explosive arrangement employs punchy guitar riffs, swelling strings and the band’s trademark muted brass, all lavishly decorating Urie’s other-worldly vocals. A high-octane bridge is powerfully punctuated with bright orchestra hits, the perfect musical companion to the track’s growing lyrical tension:

‘Are you out there?

Do you know me?

Can you feel me?

Can you show me?’

With delicious minor chords and a total earworm of a chorus, ‘Into The Unknown’ is a surefire hit. Whether this rousing bop will fill the giant (snow) shoes of its highly addictive predecessor ‘Let It Go’ remains to be seen. Does it warm your frozen heart?

Oliver Northam: An Impressive Folk Tale

Oliver Northam is singer, songwriter and, above all, accomplished storyteller. Based in Melbourne, he’s been stirring things up in the folk-pop scene with the help of his band, ‘The Elsewheres’. His debut single, ‘Into His Arms’, was released earlier this year.

The song chronicles the demise of a doomed relationship; with every line, Northam paints a melancholy picture of regret and lost love:

‘Kicking stones against the garden fence
counting my mistakes as they fall
mother said ‘don’t take that girl for granted, else you lose her for good’’

With catchy scalic melodies and a foot-stomping beat, the track uses music to cleverly juxtapose its admittedly bleak theming.

‘Into His Arms’ is distinctive in its smart use of instrumental forces. Vocally, Northam’s husky baritone recalls the likes of Marcus Mumford, oozing passion with every word. The young Aussie’s band lends a punchy nine-piece ensemble to the track; lush strings sprinkle depth and colour over rousing guitar, whilst a brief break boasts a delicious arrangement of Salvation Army-style brass.

With charming and earnest poeticism, Oliver Northam has succeeded in penning a track that is both sonically and lyrically profound. His unique take on composition eschews the banjo-strumming bonhomie of traditional folk-pop, instead bringing raw emotion to the fore. As an up and coming artist, he’s well worth making a song and dance about.

KiTTN: The Cat’s Out of the Bag

KiTTN is one of the most exciting new names in contemporary hip hop. Originally heralding from Chicago, but now based in New York, she’s a self-made artist who’s conjuring up a musical storm with a combination of sharp-tongued rap and infectious drum loops. Her new single, ‘Turn It Up’, is available to download now.

Growing up with a passion for poetry, KiTTN picked up songwriting just two years ago. ‘Turn It Up’, a contemporary ode to self-belief, sees her innate strengths as a wordsmith put to good use. Illustrating the complex duality of her own pursuit of happiness, as well as her refusal to back down in the face of adversity, KiTTN’s lyrics succeed, first and foremost, in their universal significance:

‘I been waitin’ all day to get these words off of my chest,

Sometimes I feel I struggle just to say I did my best’

The song is personal and anecdotal, yet thoroughly relatable. KiTTN’s rhymes are slick; the singularity of her vocal tone communicates both an unwavering defiance and effortless confidence.

Opening with a sparkling soundscape of minor broken chords, ‘Turn It Up’ is a fun, danceable composition. Combining elements of old-school hip hop with spacey synths and a fierce breakbeat chorus, the track neatly treads a path between old and new influences.

‘Turn It Up’ is a musical testament to KiTTN’s raw talent for lyricism and authentic performance. With plans to release her debut EP early in the new year, the future is looking bright for this fast-talking feline.

Find ‘Turn It Up’ on Spotify here:

Amazing Gracie: An Alternative Artist to Watch

Gracie Martin is a young singer-songwriter with a serious flair for the dramatic. An emotive and gifted musician, she’s impressively navigating the indie scene with heartfelt poeticism and pleasingly quirky melodies. Her latest musical project, lovingly named ‘Gracie Martin and The So Beautifuls’, is proving to be the next big thing in alternative pop. Her latest single, entitled ‘10%’, was released earlier this week.

Everything about this new track is wildly theatrical. A haze of fantastical folk, ‘10%’ unpacks all the frustration and anguish that comes with investing in a relationship that turns out to be entirely one-sided:

‘Are you racking up a big check

Just to leave me 10%?’

Gracie’s portrayal of rejection feels strikingly personal; under her guise of cleverly crafted metaphors lie shades of vulnerability and melancholia.

Musically, ‘10%’ channels the likes of Imogen Heap, and even Björk, in its experimental instrumentation. Opening with plucked broken chords, the track flirts with moments of dissonance and uncertainty. Orchestral-style swells repeatedly give way to total silence, punctuated only by the song’s pounding drums.

All in all, ‘10%’ gives us plenty to be excited about. Gracie’s dulcet vocal is smooth and emotive; her higher register evokes artists as diverse as MARINA and Kate Bush, and as such bridges a gap between alternative scenes both past and present. I’m 100% a fan.

Leon C: It’s All Folk and Mirrors on a Reflective New Single

Leon C is a folk rock up-and-comer with an innate musicality and a distinct flair for poetry. Originally heralding from Southampton, the young singer’s résumé boasts an impressive background in live performance, as well as almost a decade of classical guitar experience. ‘I Was Meant To Love’ is the name of his upcoming single, his second release of 2019.

From start to finish, this track is a masterclass in alternative songwriting. An introspective portrait of millennial malaise, ‘I Was Meant To Love’ explores identity and purpose through a combination of personal observations and cleverly crafted similes:

‘When all you do is sing and shout,

Like a cigarette it just burns out’

Leon C’s lyrics display a pleasing maturity; listeners will connect to this tale of inner turmoil via his thoughtful delivery and oh-so-relatable existentialism.

Stylistically, the track suggests an impressive musical vocabulary on Leon’s part. It’s easy to spot Simon and Garfunkel in his cyclical guitar motif, and Bob Dylan in his melodic coherence. Equally, fans of the likes of The Lumineers will find familiarity in the track’s textural landscape, which builds to a delicious instrumental break with soft splashed piano.

‘I Was Meant To Love’ is a triumph of modern folk, revealing Leon C to be both a consummate musician and articulate lyricist. Through intuitive melodies and polished production, the young artist has crafted a song that shines in its effortless simplicity. Clearly, I was meant to love this track.

Find ‘I Was Meant To Love’ on Spotify this Saturday (02/11/19). Meanwhile, check out Leon’s previous work here:

Instagram: @leoncmusic

Facebook + Youtube: Leon C Music

Kero Kero Bonito: A New Testament to their Talent

Kero Kero Bonito are making serious waves in the indie pop landscape. Currently mid-way through their North American tour, the London-based trio continues to charm audiences with their unique blend of dreamy synth pop. Their latest work, a three track EP entitled ‘Civilisation I’, was released without warning at the end of last month.

The new collection opens with ‘Battle Lines’, an up-tempo romp which masks an underlying message of generational malaise under a bed of heady 8-bit style synths. Drawing on her own Japanese heritage, singer Sarah Midori Perry’s melodies play with pentatonic scales, acknowledging the group’s bilingual beginnings for the benefit of long-time fans.

The pan pipe pitch bends of lead single ‘When the Fires Come’ bring issues of climate change and environmental destruction to the fore. ‘The River’ follows up with similar predictions for a bleak future. Choral accompaniment bolsters the track’s religious allusions, which arrive in the form of references to a ‘great flood’:

‘When Earth is submerging

And heaven is open

The river will carry all of us to

Where we belong’

‘Civilisation I’ is an effective sonic portrait of millennial anxiety. Drowning in poetic existentialism, Kero Kero Bonito find success through an experimental combination of sombre lyricism and retro art pop. With such a wide range of musical influence, this highly dystopian EP almost seems to occupy a liminal space, somewhere between past and future. 1984, perhaps?

Susie: New Kid on the Block

Susie is the next big thing in alternative pop. At just fifteen years old, the Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter is an up-and-comer with a staggering sense of personal identity and an innate musicality.

Her nine-track debut ‘Blonde Wave’ was released earlier this month.

The album is a pleasingly eclectic twist on traditional notions of ‘teen pop’. Don’t be fooled by Susie’s relative youth; she’s a musical old soul. Her haunting vocals match those of a young Regina Spektor, whilst her crunchy harmonies and layered vocals recall some of Sia’s earliest work (see ‘Smile Too Wide’ in particular).

Lead single ‘Bummer Summer’ is a dreamy reflection on the ups and downs of adolescence, set to a ninties-inspired funk beat. Susie evokes the likes of Izzy Bizu with her breathy high register, dancing through leaping melodic lines over a bed of retro synths.

Despite the overriding mood of the album being one of teenage angst, ‘Blonde Wave’ can’t help but feel more like a collection of lullabies. From the nods to old-school jazz on ‘Winter in Southern California’ to the gentle melismas of ‘Dream on Darling’, these songs are warm, cozy and satisfying.

‘Blonde Wave’ is an album for both the young and young at heart. Susie’s melodies are quirky and assured; her voice carries a maturity far greater than her fifteen years. With such a promising debut, she’s sure to continue to make waves, blonde or otherwise.

Listen to ‘Blonde Wave’ on Spotify:

MIKA: He Can Be Anything You Like

Four years since his last release, MIKA is back. ‘My Name is Michael Holbrook’ hit shelves on Friday, and marks a curious musical renaissance for the 36 year-old superstar.

The 13-track LP opens with ‘Tiny Love’, an unmistakably rock-opera style feat which sees our new leading man, ‘Michael Holbrook’, falling head over heels:

‘And if it all goes bad

And our love sits like the sun,

I’d give up a hundred thousand loves

For just this one.’

Lustful bop ‘Ice Cream’ follows, in a ‘Club Tropicana’-esque wave of synths and sensuality. ‘Platform Ballerinas’ and ‘Sanremo’ are similarly up-tempo romps, which can’t help but sound like Ricky Martin B-sides. That, in itself, is no bad thing: the singer leaves ample room for more pensive and personal subject matter elsewhere on the album. Take ‘Paloma’, a heartfelt ode to MIKA’s sister which references her near-fatal fall from an apartment window back in 2010. Through seventh chords and sombre strings, we see a childlike vulnerability that had not reared its head over the course of the singer’s four previous studio albums.

‘My Name is Michael Holbrook’ is an undeniably robust collection of new music; whilst there’s admittedly no stand-out ‘Grace Kelly’ moment here, there’s impressive lyrical substance set to the tunes of classic 80s dance pop. Will MIKA manage to disrupt the charts with this hodgepodge selection of George Michael-tinged tunes? I suppose I gotta have faith.

ZAYN: Bouncing Back with a New Release

Almost a year since the release of his second solo album, ZAYN is back with a colourful new collaboration. The track is a reworking of electropop trio SHAED’s breakout hit ‘Trampoline’, and breaks a notable social media hiatus for the former One Directioner.

‘Trampoline’ first rose to prominence as the soundtrack to last year’s MacBook Air ad, with its minimalistic, lilting melodies sending it straight to the top of the Billboard alternative chart. The lyrics weave a positive tale of repurposing feelings of doubt and dread, turning them into something altogether more comforting:

‘Wait, if I’m on fire

How am I so deep in love?

When I dream of dyin’

I never feel so loved’

This remix retains all the best elements of the original, from mellow synths and clicks to a spacey whistled bass ‘drop’. There are no new lyrics here; instead, ZAYN splits the vocals with SHAED’s lead singer Chelsea Lee. Their octave doubled lines and teasing imitation lead to a satisfying coherence between the two voices, whilst Malik’s smokey vocal textures cement the song’s dreamy musical landscape.

‘Trampoline’ serves to highlight ZAYN’s incredibly successful transition from teen heartthrob to respectable musician. With the track set to top mainstream charts in the coming weeks, perhaps this should’ve been the one he called ‘Best Song Ever’.