The American Music Awards aired last night. It was every bit the waste of time that you'd expect from a ceremony that, like the Billboard Music Awards, gives out trophies based on sales and presence (airplay, streaming, social networks, etc.) but fosters the illusion that it is awarding its already awarded stars based on merit (whatever that is). Notable moments included:
Christina Aguilera and Lana Del Rey both released collections of new music this week. Neither artist is a great diva in the neo-classic, pop sense of the word, but both have potential. To evaluate their diva status, I will shamelessly crib a comparative schism that Tyra Banks has routinely used on America's Next Top Model: each of them has what the other does not.
Brooklyn's Midnight Magic is a nine-piece contemporary disco band, complete with a horn section and a theatrical frontwoman, Tiffany Roth, whose combination of chops and camp resembles an off off off Broadway Bette Midler. Their debut album, Walking The Midnight Streets, is out today (via a PledgeMusic donation) and includes their best-known song "Beam Me Up," which has knocked around for over a year, though it sounds like it's been decades.
Backstage at this year's Electric Zoo festival, which took place Labor Day weekend on New York's Randall's Island, I had one of the least pretentious discussions about music with a person who makes it for a living that I've ever experienced. The Berlin-based producer/DJ/label owner Alex Ridha (aka Boys Noize) had just played a 75-minute set to kids who wore day-glo T-shirts and Halloween costumes, kids who'd like flock to the main stage to hear Skrillex after Ridha's in-tent set. With Skrillex's selection reverberating off the wood-paneled walls of Ridha's trailer, the 30-year-old told me about "Reality," a track he'd worked on for a year, struggling "to make it sound not busy, even though it is busy."
A highlight of the upcoming DJ-Kicks mix (out Nov. 13) by New York dance-music revivalists Hercules and Love Affair, "Release Me," finds Hercules mastermind Andy Butler binging on a variety of retro sources in an otherwise '90s-house focused context. Says Butler of his new track and its vougishly dispassionate singer:
This song is so poignant it doesn't even need to try to be poignant. I prefer this beefed-up club version to the one on Womack & Womack's 1988 album, Conscience. The xx covered this a few years ago, but like most xx remakes and basically any cover that serves to de-R&B R&B, their version is, as the British say, pants. Womack & Womack's original remains largely forgotten, which is pantser.
For the past 24 hours, there has been an influx of new pop singles and almost all of them are subdued to the point of underwhelming. Here, I'll rank them in order of my faintly praised favorites.
"Starlight," the debut single from Brooklyn disco revivalists Escort is now 6 years old, but no less relevant than it was upon release. Part of it is its nailing of disco chic (and post-disco synth squiggles), part of it is that after releasing a string of singles, the act finally released its debut last year, thereby reintroducing the song. And the newest part of it is that it's been remixed for the band's upcoming Escort Remixed, out Oct. 16. The compilation collects some already released mixes as well as some new ones, like the RAC remix of "Starlight," which we're premiering today. This beefs up the track with a more Italo-indebted bass line, while retaining the sharp strings and Adeline Michele's lush vocals. It breathes new life into a track that has shown no signs of dying.
Everything about the most recent single from British R&B duo AlunaGeorge is just slightly tweaked for weirdness and the effect is a surreal, woozy euphoria. Everything, that is, except for singer Aluna Francis's voice — every word of hers naturally sounds like the final one before the helium wears off. This is simultaneously stunning and slapstick, serious and novelty, soul and pop.
As more proof that Neneh Cherry & the Thing's wild jazz album from earlier this year, The Cherry Thing, is the gift that keeps on giving, here's a remix of the only Cherry-penned track on the album of mostly covers. Norwegian producers Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas take just a few elements from the original (some horns, a vocal sample), like Masters at Work used to back in the day, to create disco where it wasn't.
The early '90s are all over today's shallow-underground house music, but few get the decade as right as London's xxxy with his remix of British dance duo Chew Lips' "Hurricane." The original was a crunchy electro thing; this sounds like something Marc Kinchen would have squeezed in between remixing superstars in 1993 (the drum sounds are so perfectly plastic), and that is the point. This thing is teeming with hooks, my favorite being the one that opens the song/follows the proper chorus ("Don't you want a little something?...") — the jazzy phrasing mixed with the jacking house is very Herbert.
At 20-years-old, Sky Ferreira has been rebooted more times than a superhero. She's been dance pop, she's worked with Ryan Tedder, she's done an neo-alternachick thing, she's had her debut album delayed and delayed. It still hasn't arrived — "Everything Is Embarrassing" is supposed to be on her second EP, Ghost, (after last year's As If!), which is set for an October release. Nothing about it screams commercial smash, which is both reassuring (she seems committed to the art of pop) and somewhat confusing given how invested Capitol seems to be in making her a star. Whatever. Max Read and I were talking earlier today about whom exactly this song is for. All I could muster was people who are into chillwave who also like a Britney song (probably "Toxic") and maybe once contemplated buying a Stevie B 12".