Thursday, August 2, 2012

Popologist Panel (August): Frank Ocean, Pink, Madonna, Marina and the Diamonds

They say the third time's a charm. So for the third edition of the Popologist Panel, we have gone far and wide to tackle our most ambitious batch of new music yet. As always, we examine selections both large and small: on one end we discuss the comeback singles from pop icons Pink and No Doubt, as well as new work from indie darlings The Noisettes and Dragonette, recent UK successes (and frontwomen of imaginary bands) Marina and the Diamonds and Florence + the Machine, and from the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna. On the other end we take a look at the newest kids on the block: Cherrytree tadpoles Colette Carr and My Name is Kay, Australian DJ Havana Brown, and the undiscovered pop sensation and dancer extraordinaire Kimberly Cole teaming with an unlikely artistic partner, known to YouTube fans as Keith Apicary. Finally, we examine debut works by Frank Ocean and Luke Christopher, a pair of innovative, silver-tongued hip hop/R&B artists with prodigious and wide-ranging talents who look to challenge the norms, limits, and ultimately perceptions of genre.

There's a good crop of new stuff here you probably haven't heard, so we hope you'll check out anything here you think might interest you. As usual, there is not one piece on which we all agree; in fact, we seem to have a few more disagreements than last month! We also welcome our first guest panelist, who offers us a fresh look from a new perspective to keep us all in check. Enjoy, and please share your thoughts, whether you think we're right on or full of shit. We're very likely both.

*   *   *   *   The Popologist Panel   *   *   *   *
  • The Pop Messiah - Dean Boudreau is our lone Canadian panelist, which means he's pretty much like us but can't get Spotify and you can't send him iTunes gifts. That doesn't stop him, and his witty but wise blog, from getting it right when it comes to pop music (if not Ke$ha, who is in fact the pop Messiah). (@thepopmessiah)
  • Taking Over the Universe - Gaosalad's fabulously enjoyable young blog is another interesting mixture of two interests pop music and drag queendom.(@gaosalad)
  • Popledge - Sarah runs one of the hardest-working respectable pop music news blogs around; follow her on Twitter and you can get top-notch critical thought in betwixt posts like "ONE DIRECTION - SHIRTLESS!" (v.g.) (@popledge)
  • Vertigo Shtick - The spark that grew into Vertigo Shtick came when one overly critical-thinking arts writer noticed that there were almost no pop songs on Pitchfork's Best of the 2000s list, nor most other outlets either; it now exists to question, decipher, explicate and dispense the critical and artistic elements of mainstream pop, down to the nitty gritty details. (@vertigo_shtick)
  • Lost in a Melody - Mike Jennings is a blogger and pop aficionado from across the pond. After serving as our very first Guest Panelist last month, in a sort of Moment 4 Life deal we have asked Mike to stay on for good. (@mikeinamelody)
  • Techno School - You may know Techno School from contributions on Vertigo Shtick as dance/electronica correspondent. Based in Detroit, Techno School's blog is an interesting look at life in a new city woven into insights on today's EDM and the state of techno. (@itstechnoschool)
  • Guest Panelist: Radio Creme Brulee - Launched in 2007, Radio Creme Brulee is a Boston-based internet radio station. It aims to be an avenue of music exposure that has deteriorated significantly in the last decade by mainstream radio limiting its selection of music, shutting out most music from Europe, and most importantly misrepresenting the vastness of the global pop music landscape. (@rcremebrulee)

  • Unapologetically POP! is taking the month off. They will return for the September Panel!

    NOTE: All the music discussed in this article can be heard by clicking on the album artwork provided. Of course, we also encourage you to patronize those you enjoy by buying their material. (I did). Dates and label info are for US releases.

    *   *   *   *   Albums of the Month   *   *   *   *

    Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE (The Island Def Jam, July 10)

    Pop Messiah: I'm happy admitting I knew nothing of Frank Ocean until it hit the news that the R&B singer had posted his now legendary letter on Tumblr revealing that his first love had been a man. While some saw this as a publicity stunt and others as much ado about nothing, the fact is that Ocean's coming out publically (whether Bisexual or Gay) is a LANDMARK event for urban music, where homophobia seems to exist moreso than in perhaps any other music community. Trailblazing story aside, the other reason that people are still talking about Frank Ocean is because as it turns out, he's one fuck of a great musician! While I wouldn't say that the majority of channel ORANGE is likely to be commercially successful, there are definitely some radio friendly jams and he would sing this boy's panties off rather easily, if I wore panties... which I don't. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) Standout tracks for me were "Thinkin' Bout You," "Sweet Life," and "Lost." I might add that none of these are the tracks that directly discuss the relationship that brought such attention to this album. Those tracks: "Bad Religion" and "Forrest Gump" are decent, and significant in their use of same-sex pronouns but definitely don't emerge as highlights. Note: Prior to channel ORANGE's release, I sought out his previous releases and downloaded his last mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra for free on his website. I highly recommend checking it out as well!

    Taking/Universe: Am I terrible blogger for not knowing who the hell Frank Ocean is? I really can't figure out a whole lot to say about this release. It gave me a lot of chuckles, especially when he randomly proclaims he "ran out of Trojans" and he doesn't live in Denver. They also used the old Playstation One startup noise. Also, insert a phrase in praise of John Mayer and something off topic about Andre 3000 and you have my review of this album.

    Popledge: There is a lot to take in with this album. It isn’t just a one-spin deal, you need to keep listening to appreciate all that it has to offer, there is a lot going on in both the lyrics and the production styles on offer. I feel like I should address the recent press statement Frank made regarding a previous relationship that he had with a man. I think it's great that he revealed that fact about himself and I hope it has lifted a weight. It is best to be truthful in life and I imagine he felt like he had a secret just waiting to get out. I understand why it’s a big deal in the rap world but I do think certain members of the press and even other celebrities (cough Beyonce) over-reacted to the statement. To me music shouldn't be judged on sexuality, music is music, the sexual inclinations of the person making it does not affect whether it is good or bad.  Music is subjective to the listener, nothing more nothing less.  So whilst I admire Frank for being honest with his fans I really hope that the subsequent success of this album isn't down to the hype around his statement. Tracks I really enjoyed were ‘Fertiliser’ – I wish there was a full length version of the track available. His single ‘Pyramids’ is still a joy to listen to, I do like an artist that is braver to push a track beyond the usual 3 minutes 20 seconds mark. I also like albums that tell a story about the artists through the track and Frank definitely did that, listen to ‘Bad Religion’ for the best example of this. Overall an excellent piece of work which didn’t need the added hype.

    Vertigo Shtick: First I will say that Frank Ocean's debut album is very good, and he is a talented, imaginative new performer (well, new solo performer). His range, vocally and in terms of tone, makes for a vibrant and unpredictable listen as he explores a minimalist, DIY aesthetic that I found a bit reminiscent of Fiona Apple's latest, which is a curious comparison. The “Bennie & the Jets” ode “Super Rich Kids,” likable single “Lost,” and the haunting “Bad Religion” are standout tracks, but the album works best consumed like a novel, from start to end (he even thus names the first and last track, respectively). The nearly ten minute “Pyramids” was a bit self-indulgent and was the only time I became restless and almost bored on an otherwise well paced, consistently entertaining album. I do have issues in light of the sheer avalanche of critical acclaim this album has received, which I think has become hyperbolic but also shows a good deal of selective memory among critics hailing it as so original and unprecedented and not once mentioning Jill Scott. Her debut album Who is Jill Scott? anticipates channel ORANGE  in sound, style, dexterity, and sense of emotional openness, and her most recent album The Light of the Sun revisits the same experimental, form-varied confessional R&B with spectacular results. To feel Ocean's and Scott's work differs enough that his is not her direct descendant is one thing, but to claim that Frank Ocean has done something totally new and not even bring up Scott as a comparison is irresponsible.

    Lost in a Melody: The proper debut album from the most talked about R&B act this year begins with the comforting vintage sounds of a Playstation One being booted up, and ends (more or less) with the repeated line of “you run my mind boy, running on my mind boy” in Forrest Gump. I think it’s pretty safe to say that this album is endlessly eclectic, imaginative and brave – but more than that, there some perfect pop moments in there. From the sheer audacity of nine minute long single "Pyramids" (which could never work as a radio edit, it’s just THAT good) to tongue twistingly clever and humours lyrics like “My TV ain’t HD, that’s too real” in Sweet Life, you just never know what sample, lyric or melody is going to hit you next. This album is far from perfect, but like Janelle Monaé before him, Frank has created a strong collection of tracks that flow seamlessly thanks to his beautiful vocals and send you off into a kind of meditative trance. Oh, and Lost is fucking brilliant.

    Techno School: All the conversations surrounding Frank Ocean's sexual identity make this album interesting before I bother to press play. Good thing Ocean has a sublime voice to keep listeners attached through the 17 tracks of this album. Unfortunately, nothing really struck me about the lyrics. I feel like this is an album I need to listen to a few times before it really sinks in. The standard R&B beats (as far as this techno fan knows) make  channel ORANGE good background music, which means all the songs easily fade into each other the longer I listen to them. I'm surprised by and grateful for some of the more experimental tracks, like “White (feat. John Mayer)”. But, honestly, after listening to Luke Christopher's EP, channel ORANGE doesn't sound all that impressive.

    Radio Creme Brulee: For those looking to indulge their appetite for modern "quiet storm" music, Frank Ocean's  channel ORANGE just might be their "one stop shop". Frank Ocean is a new discovery for me. The predominant genre on channel ORANGE was somewhat of a refreshing change for me - even though it did not necessarily leave a lasting impression. The album's structure (full-length tracks interspersed with short interludes) is quite reminiscent of Janet Jackson albums. Downtempo "quiet storm" tracks dominate the album and there is no real stylistic variation across the album - which is not necessarily a bad thing for those that view albums as soundtracks to certain moods. "Sierra Leone" exemplifies the quiet storm sound encompassing a cool blend of rich harmonies, string arrangements, and even a minor tinge of a Motown era sound. Unfortunately, the tracks that follow blend into one and are quite difficult to distinguish outside the realms of their lyrical content. The album picks up some steam with the John Legend-esque "Lost". The anticipation is bumped up a notch with the interlude "White" featuring John Mayer. I cannot help but wish that this song had a vocal section. It is practically begging for one. After "White", the album once again turns into a mesh of lackluster and indistinguishable tracks. The verdict: Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE is great "Easy listening" but does not offer much in terms of radio-worthy singles. "Lost" is the only track on here that comes close to being radio-worthy. In a nutshell, the album is reasonably enjoyable but  does not break any new ground.

    Marina and the Diamonds - Electra Heart (679 Recordings, July 10)

    Pop Messiah: Like many concept albums before, Electra Heart has been crtically misunderstood. In its impeccably produced and performed glory, former indie darling Marina adopts a character and a disguise, utilizing thematic elements of Greek Tragedy to show how rejection and betrayal can shape the person we allow ourselves to become. Add to this a roster of pop music's hottest producers and you have a recipe for backlash. While as far as I'm concerned her first offering, The Family Jewels was also very pop, many professional critics tore Electra Heart to shreds, claiming that Marina was trying to shroud a good, old-fashioned shark jumping as a sort-of social commentary. I initially had these concerns as well, but upon hearing Electra Heart in its entirety and spending several months trying to sort out my own thoughts and analysis of the concept, narrative & marketing campaign, I came to the conclusion that Electra Heart is and will probably forever be a misunderstood pop masterpiece. The US release cuts a few great tracks but sees the addition of "How to Be a Heartbreaker," which is the most likely from the set to have a chance on North American radio but honestly, I don't expect the single to perform well. While in several months of soul searching, I came to understand and appreciate all of the thought that went into the album conceptually, I don't think the general public are going to put in that much time or effort and will likely choose to see Marina as the vapid character she's playing rather than the exquisitely talented artist that I truly believe she is. I'm prepared to be wrong if she blows the fuck up, however. Standouts are "Radioactive," "Lies," "Fear & Loathing" and "How to be a Heartbreaker", but every track is stellar - including the remaining tracks from the UK deluxe version. Electra Heart is definitely one of the top three albums to come out in 2012 for me (so far)!

    Taking/Universe: This is the album I have been avoiding for a while now. I knew I would either love it and be one of the masses, or hate it with an undying passion and have everyone in the bloggersphere hate me and send me death threats. Thankfully, for my own wellbeing I freaking love this album. This album is an amazing mix of American and European music, a fantastic meld of the two, with neither one dominating the other too much at any point. "Bubblegum Bitch" is definitely my favorite part of the album, with "Power & Control" and "Homewrecker" coming in close second and third respectively.

    Popledge: If you like your pop music to be intelligent and thought provoking them definitely get this album.  Marina presents a look into her young life through her lyrics, portraying herself (or the character Electra Heart) as a multi-faceted character capable of an extreme of emotions.  I still really like the track ‘Primadonna’ which provided her with some international success and ‘State of Dreaming’ was like Katy Perry’s ‘Wide Awake’ but on a deeper level. I would like to think that ‘Teen Idle’ is about Britney Spears touching on the fickle side of celebrity and the different between what is presented to the public and what actually happens behind closed doors. The last track on the album ‘Buy the Stars’ contained just a piano and Marina’s voice, whilst I love the frantic pace of some of the other tracks on the album I felt that this stood out to me just because it was so different, I would have liked another slow track on the album to balance it more. I would also not worry too much about trying to get your head around the concept of this album, just enjoy the tracks and let the music into your head!

    Vertigo Shtick: I liked this a bit more than I expected to, since I really hadn't taken to any of the many songs that came out in the leadup to its release, except “Radioactive” and then “How to Be a Heartbreaker” the week before the album dropped in the States. A lot of the songs I didn't like on their own (“Primadonna,” “Homewrecker,” “Sex Yeah”) worked much better in the context of the album. As a statement, the album is still a bit muddy but it holds together thematically and stylistically in the end and that's a major achievement. It was a bit on the slow side – I'd have liked more songs like “Bubblegum Bitch,” “How to Be a Heartbreaker” and “Radioactive,” in part because a few of the slower songs are quite excellent (“Power & Control,” “Fear and Loathing,” and my favorite, “Starring Role”) and they get muddled down surrounded by lesser and unnecessary ballads that drag the whole down a bit. I do think it's neat that even as she's playing these disaffected, superficial archetypes, she still comes across as genuine either on an emotional song or underneath the disaffected visages she takes on. Her songwriting has flashes of genius here and there, like when she couples pop cliches like "Got different people inside my head" with unexpectedly introspective "I wonder which one that they like best?" She passes this round and should advance to album three (with one extra life).

    Lost in a Melody: Thanks to her uncanny ability to write lyrics that resonate with me far more than any other artist has been able to in the history of music (not to mention the fact that she can probably churn out a stomping chorus in her sleep), Marina’s debut was not only the best release of 2010, but also one of my favourite albums of all time. Skip forward two years, and successor Electra Heart is finally in our lives. A “concept record” (debateable) chronicling the ups and downs of love through the lens of Greek tragedy, this sophomore record sounds more difficult than it really is. From the relentlessness of "Bubblegum Bitch," all the way to the stirring final moments of closer "Fear & Loathing" (an absolutely beautiful song, might I add), Electra Heart succeeds in taking the listener on an epic rollercoaster of a journey, in which Marina finds, celebrates, loses and turns her back on an intense relationship. More personal than ever before (and featuring at least one more jab at her dad), the songs never feel too bogged down, which is probably something to do with the fact that each track has fresh, current, yet unique production and flawless vocals. This CD could have literally just been Starring Role 11 times and still be the best album of 2012. Which it is, if you were still wondering.

    Techno School: And all this time, I thought “Primadonna” was a Katy Perry song! Phew. I feel better about having it stuck in my head now. The dramatic build of music in every chorus of every song makes Electra Heart feel like it's trying too hard to capture listeners' attentions, as if the lyrics and Marina's Perry-ish voice weren't enough (they are). “Teen Idle” is a brutal take on how young girls' psyches can be warped by society's expectations and focus on their appearances. But, then again, maybe this whole album is about psyches warped by the world around them. True turns to techno are few—see the very Calvin Harris-inspired “Radioactive”, but I don't mind. Nothing about the music is particularly astounding until it is paired with Marina's thoughtful lyrics, at which point it becomes entrancing and near-impossible to turn off.

    Radio Creme Brulee: One listen of Electra Heart led me to form a quick string of first impressions in my mind. First, the album is a very classy affair. Second, the album has just the right dose of electronic embellishments and hence as a whole does not sink into "generic electronic pop" territory. Third, Marina's vocals throughout the album shift between that of a seasoned vocalist and that of the typical pop starlet. This dichotomy shines through in "Primadonna." In a nutshell, Marina has some of the ingredients of a great album - and yet she falls a little short and only delivers a "good" album. Some of the tracks that do in fact venture into generic electronic pop might collectively be the undermining factor. At sixteen tracks (including two remixes), the album is also probably a lot longer than it needs to be thus diluting the core of the album - which is actually quite strong artistically. This oversight can be compared to the one Michael Jackson made on his 2001 album Invincible (the album's length detracted from the brilliant core).

    As a radio broadcaster, one of the occupational hazards I suffer from is the perennial question of "would I play any of this material on my radio station". In the context of Electra Heart, the two songs I would strongly consider for their inherent radio-worthiness are "Starring Role" and "Hypocrates". Marina and The Diamonds is definitely an artist that shows promise and I look forward to her next stage of musical evolution. Hopefully, Electra Heart is a precursor to greater material in the future.

    *   *   *   *   EPs   *   *   *   *

    Havana Brown - When the Lights Go Out (Universal Music Australia, July 17)

    Pop Messiah: There's nothing terribly bad about this EP, aside from it going out of it's way to cover pretty much all recent radio trends and mimic a handful of other pop stars. Brown has a pretty great voice and while heavily processed on most tracks, it doesn't sound like it had to be. First single "You'll Be Mine" covers the cheesy euro vibe of recent hits by Taio Cruz. "Spread a Little Love" is a far superior track to the EP's first single but sounds a little bit David Guetta. The most surprising moment on the album is in a sample of Robert Miles 90's club anthem "Children" on sexy, urban jam "One Way Trip" which ticks the obligatory dub step moments off the list. "Big Banana" features a Ke$ha-like delivery (and taste level) on the verses and the obligatory guest rap appearances. Finally, there is "Wonderland (La Da Da Da Di)" which seems to blend elements of Dev & Natalia Kills and also boasts an off-puttingly schizphrenic tempo. While I could do without the closing track, overall When the Lights Go Out is affected, but still effective.

    Taking/Universe: I really wanted to like this album. I really, really did. The lead single was a song I first encountered in a club, and I thought it was the best song I had ever heard. Pitbull was rapping like no other, the beat was pumping, and I was moving. Then I got home and looked the song up -- and it was nowhere near as great as I remembered. The entire EP falls into some kind of not bad/not great limbo. Lyrically it is uninspired and all of the beats sound very dated. "One Way Trip" is the best example of this with it's dubstep break down, which in pop music time was a fad that existed a hundred years ago. Other tracks that fail to stand out include "Big Banana", wherein she asks how big your penis is and "Spread A Little Love" which is about gay people probably. This music is probably best experienced in the way I was first subjected to it, and that is as background music for dancing against a cute boy at a club.

    Popledge: I really enjoyed the opening track ‘You’ll Be Mine’ on Havana’s EP, it reminded me of a few other pop classics, namely a bit of Jennifer Lopez mixed in with some Robyn and Cascada – a heady mix I think you’ll agree! I understand that she’s had a couple of hits outside the UK and I see no reason why she can’t transfer that into the UK with tracks like that. Another stand-out for me on the EP was ‘One Way Trip’ – it features a sample of the worldwide smash ‘Children’ by Robert Miles. I really like the production on the EP from dub-step influences to Ibiza chill-out sessions it had a bit of everything in it. On the down side ‘Big Banana’ was a big turn-off for me…I thought it was a little tacky and ‘throw away’ compared to the other tracks, Ke$ha does this kind of track better. Also it’s a penis not a banana #justsaying Luckily the last track ‘Wonderland’ peaked my interest again; it is very much an ode to 90’s clubbing scene and again I enjoyed the production, although in some places it strayed a little too close to Natalia Kills song of the same title. All in all though I enjoyed this EP – there are some great uptempo dance/pop tracks to enjoy and I get the sense that Havana knows exactly what she want her music to sound like, which is always a good thing.

    Vertigo Shtick: Australian DJ-turned-performer Havana Brown's followup to the moderate US success of her debut single “We Run the Night” (remixed in the US by RedOne and featuring Pitbull, who I always like) is pretty solid. There are two standout tracks: the Guetta-influenced “You'll Be Mine,” which goes on far longer than it ought to but doesn't tire itself out, and the Skrillex-inspired “One Way Trip,” which falls on the filthier side of dubstep than most pop dipping its toes in the wobble-wobble waters and sounds fresher and less posing or tired than most pop that still thinks dubstep breakdowns are cool these days. (I swear, dubstep is the new cerulean.) It's not as dramatic as Britney's “Inside Out” but it is in the same league. Brown has personality enough, but she's not that memorable; the same is true of the EP. Fun, pleasant, well-made; not earth-shattering, but not a bad listen.

    Lost in a Melody: This is EP is a basic collection of cheap, "We Found Love"/"Starships"/etc rip-offs that are unreasonably generic and unimaginative. HOWEVER, I’m an absolute sucker for songs like that, and the beats are ridiculously MASSIVE. Honourable mention goes to the dubstep breakdown in One Way Trip – fucking mental. It’s entertainment at its lowest form, but entertaining none the less.

    Techno School: I've already sung my praises for “We Run the Night,” and the rest of the EP continues with the same energy and danceability. Every track on When the Lights Go Out could be a radio single. The only disappointment for me was the campiness of the lyrics in “Big Banana” (everyone needs to stop trying to be Ke$ha), but thorough use of electronic techniques made up for it. “One Way Trip” stands out, somehow containing both dubsteppy musical breaks and an easygoing, summertime feel that's carried along by an echoey piano harmony. “Spread a Little Love” is also excellent, albeit a little more typical and uninspired next to the mass of Avicii-inspired pop tracks on the radio today. Props to Havana Brown for utilizing the “love will make us all gods!” trope that permeates the rave scene. I'd like to see her try to play (not headline, just play) one of the major techno festivals. This EP certainly sends across the message that Brown is trying to tap into my kind of audience.

    Radio Creme Brulee: We live in a world wherein the mainstream sound of today is defined by a small handful of producers. This, in turn, injects layers of predictable monotony in to modern pop music. Producer RedOne is one of the greatest contributors to this monotony. Sadly, he is at the helm of production on Havana Brown's When The Lights Go Out EP. All the songs blend into one mess of "dancy but disposable" trash. Even the sample of Robert Miles' "Children" on "One Way Trip" is not enough to save this EP. I would definitely pass on this album and look elsewhere for good pop music.

    Florence + the Machine - Spectrum (Say My Name) (Universal Island Records, July 8)

    Pop Messiah: I'll preface my thoughts on this remix package by saying that I'm not generally a fan of remixes. Yes, occasionally a remix emerges that actually improves upon or is (at the very least) equally amazing as the original but for the most part I always prefer songs in their non-remixed form. Luckily for Flo, I have yet to hear the album version of "Spectrum (Say My Name)" so I should be pretty unbiassed going into this. That being said, the AlunaGeorge Remix was immediately banished to Pop Hell for offenses committed against my senses and the Taito Tikaro and Flavio Zarza mix was just too long so it got left in Pop Limbo. The remaining mixes by 2012 it-guy Calvin Harris and the Maya Jane Coles mix seem to fit the dynamics of the vocal melody best, with Coles mix coming out on top of the pack for me because unlike the Harris mix, it captures the inherrent sensuality in "Spectrum."  Note: After writing this, I went back and listened to the album version. My preface still stands.

    Taking/Universe: I've gotten picked on for liking Calvin Harris stuff before, and I'm starting to see why. All of his beats sound exactly the same. This song is no different.I felt like I was listening to Cheryl "Call My Name" (She actually does say "Say my name" a few time, too). Thankfully, there are other mixes on this EP to get people that are all too familiar with Mr. Harris better acquainted with the track. I am not going to sit here and claim to know all the subgenre's of techno, or how remixes are categorized in general, but I can say that Florence has chosen some very unconventional mixes for this release. Both the AlunaGeorge Remix and the Maya Jane Coles Remix slow things down and give the track a more raw feeling than you would expect out of something that is being remixed. The final mix really gives us something that we can dance to, and given its extended length, I think that was exactly the intention. I haven't heard a lot of Florence + The Matchine before, but I do know that what I have heard isn't of the dance variety, so I find it kind of amusing that this song was re-made for the dancefloor.

    Popledge: I found it a little odd that Florence achieved their first UK number one with this track, not because it’s bad, but because I think they have produced better tracks previously. I could be the magic ‘Calvin Harris’ association though. This EP is essentially a ‘remixes’ CD, it starts off with the Harris mix before progressing onto some truly weird stuff, the AlunaGeorge mix I couldn’t stand, why mess with Florence’s voice that much? It just sounds wrong and clashing and like the CD is getting stuck in the machine, all those silly sound effects as well, it sounds like a 3 year old has got into the studio and is randomly pressing buttons on their Fisher Price toys. Just no. Maya Jane’s mix fairs a little better; it’s less about the production and more about creating an atmosphere around Florence’s voice, which to me is always the star. Track 4 on the EP is also ok but not as good as the Harris mix, I would just buy the single version and be done with it.

    Vertigo Shtick is still thinking about this EP and may update this with an ultimate response.

    Lost in a Melody: I’ve been dying to Flo to experiment with dance and electronics for so long. Let’s be clear – the Calvin Harris mix of this single is actual perfection. Despite being a complete clone of his other singles, it just transcends the song to a whole other level. And the other remixes? Well I like the wonky production on the AlunaGeorge version, but I’m not sure it works well with this song. Maya Jane Coles offers nothing special, underpinning the song with a slightly more frantic beat and what appears to be a sample from Radiohead’s last album. And the last remix is so generic it isn’t even worth talking about. It was never going to be easy sitting beside one of the biggest songs of the summer, and unfortunately none of these tracks compare in the slightest.

    Techno School: The variation amongst songs in this EP was so delightful that I had to listen to the original song just to sort “crazy different” remixes from “relatively true to the original” ones. Calvin Harris injected a dose of his trademark energy and transformed the song into a hopping tune being carried by his piano. AlunaGeorge, I think, had the most unique mix, almost muting the original track and overlaying it with unsettling, alien warbles, bluesy, trumpety squeaks, and the kind of self-reflecting acoustisizer notes you expect from the most mellow of dub tracks. The complete transformation is mezmerizing, making the similar but less dramatic mix by Maya Jane Coles sound kinda blah. Finally, the Taito Tikaro/Flavio Zarza remix reveals the Spanish origins of its creators, with its own complete overhaul of “Spectrum (Say My Name)”. An overbearing club beat, and not much else, rides over the song, whose vocals are again muted. It was my least favorite of the bunch.

    Radio Creme Brulee: "Spectrum" is essentially a remix album of an original many of us have not heard thus making it virtually impossible to evaluate the remixes in terms of their ability to act as enhancements of or reinterpretations of the original. Calvin Harris' remix sounds a lot like his work on "We Found Love" by Rihanna and "Let's Go" by Ne-Yo thus raising the question of whether or not his stylistic range is limited as a producer. Only time will tell.  The AlunaGeorge remix sounds more like an experiment of a music geek in his basement. Definitely not a great commercial for the song. The other two remixes are quite lackluster and lack a solid entity. The saving grace of this EP is that none of the remixes overpower the vocals. One cannot help but guess what the original version of this track sounds like.

    Luke Christopher - TMRW, TMRW (Mad Decent Protocol, June 12)

    Pop Messiah: One of the things I have enjoyed the most being a member of the Popologist Panel is that the monthly assignments have always resulted in my being exposed to (and genuinely loving) work by an artist I may not otherwise have stumbled upon or given the time of day to. Like Florrie's Late EP and Bieber's Believe, Luke Chrisopher's TMRW, TMRW mixtape is a revelation! Christopher has the flow and inventive production skills of Kanye West but is a much better singer and has a pop sensibility not unlike Drake, or perhaps B.O.B. without the hook-hoe stunt casting. He's skilled as a singer/songwriter, a self-producing MC and he's pretty easy on the eyes, too (though based on the mixtape's Intro I believe he's only 18 years old, so I should probably delete this comment.) This E.P. embodies the kind of hip-hop I enjoy: sometimes fun, sometimes hard, sometimes emotional and sometimes socially conscious. The whole EP has retro, often-soulful stylings and leaves no sample-stone unturned. "Never Been" has doo-wop vocal elements, "Malcom & Martin" samples famous quotes from Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr and the album's title refers to a sample from the classic "Tomorrow" from Broadway's Annie (perhaps a nod to Jay-Z's sampling "Hard Knock Life?") featured in the mixtape's Outro. A very promising new artist, and one I will now follow!

    Taking/Universe: I can't even grasp TMRW, TMRW. Seriously. What?

    Popledge: I really enjoyed the ‘Introduction’ track on this EP; it basically serves as a ‘fuck you’ to everyone that told him ‘no’ throughout his career. I’m not sure why anyone would turn this kind of talent down, lets face it Kanye West doesn’t do it for everyone and here is a younger version of this just begging for a chance, I’d have given it to him. Throughout this whole EP I couldn’t stop nodding my head and as a middle class English white girl I’m probably not his target audience ; ) I loved the musicality of it, his rapping voice isn’t harsh instead it draws you into his world and his vision for the future. You can hear influences throughout the EP, I got bits of Eminem, Outkast, Jay-Z, Kanye and Michael Jackson throughout different songs.

    My one criticism…and I hope this isn’t too controversial…it’s the use of the ‘N’ someone who was brought up not to say the word every time I hear someone use it I wince a little inside. I’m not black though and I’m not American so I am not going to pretend I know all about the politics of the word, just for me I don’t like the use of it in any situation. My favourite tracks were ‘100 fans’ where Luke talks about what he’d treat fans to if he only had 100 of them. I also enjoyed the sample of Fun.’s track in ‘On Fire’ and ‘Beautiful.’ There is definitely a lot to enjoy in this mixtape and for FREE then you really can’t go wrong if you like a bit of R Kelly/Kanye to watch I’m sure.

    Vertigo Shtick: I had the pleasure of meeting Luke Christopher when I was invited to his studio to interview The Voice star Mathai, who was there to lay down vocals on a track from his then-upcoming mixtape. I was impressed by him in many ways, and it was clear that a. he had a fresh sound, pointedly mixing hip hop with melodic, emotional soul, especially old soul and jazz, and b. he knew what he was doing, managing the recording session, the mixing, and writing as well as performing. TMRW, TMRW is a strong representation of Luke Christopher's particular musical concept; there are very few misfires, and the R&B and hip hop communities are right to be excited about this emerging talent. The music is all over the map: he lands major endorsement from Common who drops in for the really dirty stuff, beside whom he more than holds his own. Whether channeling Lauryn Hill on the unabashedly doo-wop “Never Been" or crooning sweet as candy 40s throwback “Roses” over a music hall piano arrangement of "I'm in the Mood for Love," Christopher is well at home whether singing, rapping, or anywhere in between.

    There's a recurring theme of A Star is (Trying to be) Born, and from the intro, where he calls enemies from his past, it's easy to see where that comes from. Christopher is 19, and does some cheeky youthful brags like "I'm living in the past like niggas who had kids" It's hard not to find the humility and optimism of “100 Fans” endearing, though; he calls out his elders early on but quickly proves to be the rare nice guy in hip hop. He also tackles some of the hypocrisies of post-Civil Rights African-Americans ("You'll probably fuck around and blame it on a racist" he says on “We Here”), and on one track he juxtaposes the very different speeches and mantras of Malcolm X and MLK while stressing that they were fighting for the same thing. It's eye-opening to hear such a pragmatic handle of civil rights issues, especially when one understands how far removed this young generation will have been from the immediate movement itself and therefore untainted by its lingering emotions and memories.

    Lost in a Melody: Look, I’m gonna be completely honest with you all. I know it looks like I’m a critical bitch that hates everything sometimes, but I do actually try my hardest to listen to new music with a very open mind. But in this instance, I genuinely could not get past the intro track on this album. A wannabe-rapper’s ode to how everyone in high school didn’t believe in his talent? Has hip-hop really not moved on from that stale, stagnant topic yet? Not for me, thanks.

    Techno School: Dude, props for having an intro AND an outro! Who does outros?! And Luke Christopher is a Lakers fan (seriously, he mentioned them at the beginning like of every song). Brownie points for that. (*Editor's note: it is actually LA Leakers, a group of DJs/MCs who worked on TMRW, TMRW*) Oh, and did I mention SWOON!?! When the man sings, he sounds like a freakin angel. And when he raps, he sounds like Kanye West, but instead of misguided vitriol, he spews out optimistic, thoughtful lyrics about being a young man climbing to fame: very Lupe Fiasco. All the postproduction in “On Fire” make it stand alone from an otherwise jazzy, summery album, and not in a good way. Likewise with the hypersexualized, somewhat objectifying lyrics in “Sex With You”. At least in that track Christopher and Common rap about making the subjects of their desire climax, and Common claims that his woman wants sex “but deserve[s] love”, which almost make up for the “white women treat me like a whistle” comment. Almost. Overall, this is a great EP that leaves me wanting more.

    Radio Creme Brulee: Luke Christopher's TMRW, TMRW suffers from the syndrome that most rap albums suffer - and that is, their propensity for their songs to sound exactly the same across the entire length of the album with little to no stylistic variation. The featured vocalists help break the monotony a little on this album but not enough to give me a reason to come back and revisit the album. Not recommended!

    *   *   *   *   Music Videos *   *   *   *

    Madonna - "Turn Up the Radio" (Boy Toy Inc/Interscope Records, July 16)

    Pop Messiah: While I knew this was going to happen the first time I heard it, I can't believe how all of the worst tracks on MDNA are being released as singles while the brilliance of "I'm Addicted." "Love Spent" and "Gang Bang" fester on an album that has likely already reached its commercial peak. The video for "Turn Up the Radio" isn't terrible. Madge looks gorgeous in that way she always does in videos and on CD covers with them airbrushing away any trace of her aging (which we've all seen otherwise). The scenery is beautiful and the concept is simple but effective for the song, which sounds like summer fluff - destined to be blared as you drive around in the summer sun much like Her Madgesty does in the video except a little less like the Pied Piper of Florence. It doesn't make me like or hate the song any more or less than I did five minutes and fourteen seconds ago, but I still think Madonna could do better with the singles & videos for this era.

    Taking/Universe: Oh, Madonna. I am contractually obligated to love you no matter what you do or they will take my gay card away, and without that I'd just be called a hipster. This was actually one of the last songs I expected to be a single, but it kind of fits, I think. I am not entirely sure what happens in the video plot wise after about a minute and a half in because the mechanic guy was way too hot for me to care about anything else going on in it. She is leading a parade of people who rudely interupt the song with their background music over and over to the point to where I wish it was just a montage instead of a music video. The video is shot in a really weird filter that makes it look like some cheap tour promotional footage. At least Madonna has great taste in eyecandy for her video. She knows who she is marketing to, so she filled her car with shirtless men and a few women who could pass for drag queens. I'm not sure why she made this video, but did I mention how hot the guys are?

    Popledge: Madonna’s body continues to defy gravity in her latest MDNA video (perhaps due to that anti-aging pod she takes around the world with her.) It reminded me of her one movie masterpiece ‘Evita’ with Madge running round Italy trying to escape the paparazzi. This MDNA campaign hasn’t worked for me in general, one of my friends went to see her in Hyde Park last week and when I asked her to sum up the gig in one word she replied with ‘weird’ and suggested that Madge was trying too hard. "Turn Up the Radio" was actually one of my favourite songs from MDNA and to me it was an obvious single choice because it was light and breezy and I thought a good song for the summer radio play-lists. I never expect Madonna to ‘grow old with grace’ but some segments in the video do look a little desperate to me, like a granny pretending to be ‘down with the kids’ she just looks a little odd sitting in a car with people who are 30 years younger than her. I wish she would put away her boobs as well…or at least resist squashing them together. It looks like she is smuggling a wrinkly babies head down there.

    Vertigo Shtick: I'm going to put as much effort into this as Madonna did: This song is bad. This video is bad. The only thing that's trying at all in this video is Madonna's Wonderbra.

    Lost in a Melody: The premise of this new Madonna video requires you to suspend your disbelief for a few seconds. Madge is desperate to hide from the prowling paparazzi who are invading her much needed private space, whilst presumably on her way to the next MDNA show where she’ll flash a nipple and have an emotional breakdown during "Like A Virgin." If "Turn Up The Radio" had nicer recorded vocals, a better video and was released as the lead single from this album, it could have been another smash hit for the Queen of Pop, but as it stands, this is a little bit embarrassing. Let’s just try and enjoy the track for what it is and pretend this never happened.

    Techno School: So, Madonna wants to get away from the cameras of the paparazzi, but in front of the cameras of hysterical fans? Okay. And she's in some European city where hookers are nearly fully-clothed and their pimps carry around hookahs like they're cigars? Fine. But does she really have to kick her poor driver out of the car at the end? The one that played all the music and helped her and her off-the-street new friends escape the perils of the city in an old-school Caddy? So selfish. I mean, I dunno, maybe this one of those things that only hardcore MDNA fans can make sense of. I'd personally much prefer to watch Kylie Minogue's dancers feeling each other up in Downtown LA, “All the Lovers” style.

    Radio Creme Brulee: "MDNA? What's that?". I guess that question rings in the minds of several pop fanatics that held their breath for one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year - MDNA by Madonna. For most of these fanatics (me included), MDNA serves as nothing more than a disappointment - despite moments of promise such as "Masterpiece". Just as it seemed like the MDNA euphoria had dissipated (almost soon after it began), it appears that Madonna has not given up and seeks to breathe life into her latest endeavor with the release of her music video for her new single "Turn Up The Radio" (which is quite enjoyable but not exactly career-defining!). On "Turn Up The Radio", Madonna makes the idea of the a "location shoot" (a concept that characterized early Duran Duran music videos) trendy again as she takes to the streets of an Italian city and rounds up guys in her chauffeur-driven car. Her sole purpose is to "rock out" with her predominantly male (and random) crew - which she does in her car and attracts loads of attention from passers-by that are taken by surprise. One of the most striking characteristics of the video is that it has a vintage "look and feel" almost making it seem like the the visuals for the entire music video were captured through an "Instagram filter". One cannot help but appreciate that minor detail in an age where artists rarely invest much artistically in their music videos (for understandable reasons - given the low ROI of music videos in today's music market).

    It is difficult not to notice how amazingly sexy Madonna looks in the video. Ever since I was a child, I always thought of Madonna as one of the more defining "eye candy" ladies of the music video world. Fortunately, at the age of 53, Madonna has still able to have that strong lure for guys like me. Some of her detractors might accuse her of not behaving her age. I applaud her for embracing her sex appeal in the way she does. Overall, "Turn Up The Radio" is quite entertaining and definitely stands out from most of what is created in today's music video world.

    Kimberly Cole - "U Make Me Wanna" (with Eddie Amador feat. Garza) (Big Beat Records, Crystal Ship Music & Citrusonic Stereophonic, June 25)

    Pop Messiah: HILARIOUS! Like a few of the artists on this month's panel assignment, I have had no exposure to Kimberly Cole's work previously aside from reading her name on a blog or two. "U Make Me Wanna" is certainly catchy and upbeat, but honestly I didn't even care about the song because I was so fascinated by featured dancer/personality: Keith. I'm in love with this bizarre dancing man's spirit and his moves really aren't that bad either. (P.S. Did that look like Ke$ha riding in the car with Kimberly at the beginning of the video? Do I just have Ke$ha on the brain today? What's happening to me!?)

    Taking/Universe: I have a love hate relationship with this video. I've known about it since the day it dropped (Big Cole fan here!), but it seemed to be a mixed bag of what ifs. The video starts off on a very amazing note, with Kimberly struttin her sexy ass around a trailer park, giving it a grunge factor, and it has some amazing dancing. To no fault of her own she suckerpunches one of her dancers. Enter Nathan J. Barnatt. Oh God. After a short segment to introduce him, the video continues. I just wish they would have went one way or another. I know what they were going for -- the juxtaposition of Nathan's creepy social awkwardness against Kimberly's sex appeal, but it just felt like I was watching two different videos. I much prefer the one with Kimberly in a leather miniskirt. No homo, bro. What is even sadder is that the rapper, the ever so sexy Garza, was busy on tour as a dancer for Nicki Minaj and was absent from the shoot. The "Director's Cut" that I was holding out hope for him to be in was pretty much the same video with the audition segment added to the beginning to catch people up on what the joke was. I have said it before and I will say it again: I don't hate this video by any means... It just was nowhere even near what I was expecting.

    Popledge: Lol! I really enjoyed watching this video and also the ‘audition’ video that sets up this video. Kimberley Cole was definitely channelling her inner Britney with those dance moves/outfits and the story-line about the ‘nerd’ showing up with his fanny pack and playing Space Channel 5 a lot on the Dreamcast – I played that game! It really made me chuckle a lot. I am guessing that the dude playing that character, Nathan, is famous in the US? I didn’t know him at all but I don’t think that mattered. However, the video made me want to view more Nathan videos rather than seeking out more of Cole’s work!

    Vertigo Shtick: First, in the interest of full disclosure, I have worked with Kimberly Cole in the past. I was drawn to her at first because her biggest single (2010's “Smack You”) and her debut LP Bad Girls Club (affiliated with the Oxygen Network show) were... are... simply phenomenal, especially for an artist who lacks major label support and the money, resources, experience and personnel that can come with it. I think this video (her second, after the similarly precocious gem for “Smack You”) encompasses much of what Kimberly Cole has to offer. For one thing, she can dance – that Tricia Miranda choreo is not for the faint of heart. She also has a great sense of humor and doesn't take herself or her music too seriously. She also knows business – hence taking full advantage of the lucky interest YouTube comic Nathan Barnatt took in the song; their pairing has brought her a huge amount of new attention. What I really love about how she incorporates him is how she manages to partake in that sexual objectification typical of how women are portrayed in the dance and pop music scene while simultaneously lampooning it, using Barnatt's over-the-top silliness to drive the point home. In a time when self-awareness seems more and more valued in our popstars, Cole, like Fergie before her, has found the best of both worlds – she's in on the joke, but she still gets to be the hot chick.

    Lost in a Melody: I’ve never really been much of a fan of those goofy, mentally incompetent, unattractive characters that then do something you wouldn’t expect and the whole thing is meant to be really comical, so this video doesn’t really tickle my funny bone as much as it is probably supposed to. The dance moves are great though, and I have to admit, I did giggle at the “I could have been directing a Hoobastank video” line. Genius.

    Techno School:
    “I coulda been directing a Hoobastank video.”
    --frustrated director
    LOL! I really didn't like the song with which I was introduced to Kimberly Cole, “Smack You”. My ears warmed up to the artist with her Eddie Amador collaboration, “Arrow Through My Heart”. “U Make Me Wanna” seals the deal: I'm now a Cole fan. Although it doesn't rise quite to the heavenly heights of a Rihanna-Calvin Harris co-production, the subtle changes in percussion and synth surprises in this song help push it past the pop limit so it can dip its toes into techno territory. And the video! The opening scene, where Cole nearly knocks out one of her backup dancers, reminds us that this video is not taking itself seriously, which keeps it lighthearded and enjoyable. Nathan Barnatt is a welcome addition to the dance team; I hope they bring him on tour. Did the video get everyone else on their feet too? Can't say I wasn't dancing by the second chorus...

    Radio Creme Brulee: Nathan Barnatt's Keith Apicary character adds the amusement factor to a music video that is better off being watched on mute. His goofy dancing, awkward confidence around the sizzling hot women in the video, and pillow fight scene with these women in one of the scenes, makes for a moderately entertaining experience - but not necessarily something that the discerning viewer will necessarily come back for. "U Make Me Wanna" is a classic example of a scenario in which the music video has been employed as a vehicle to distract from the hollowness of the music it seeks to showcase.

    *   *   *   *   Singles *   *   *   *

    No Doubt - "Settle Down" (Interscope Records, July 17)

    Pop Messiah: If the deadline for this month's Panel assignment had been few weeks ago when this song premiered, I likely would have said I was disappointed in this comeback single. Even now, I'm not entirely sure if it's more Tragic Kingdom or Rock Steady (for the record, I would much prefer the former). Overall, I would say this only works against it a bit; the single doesn't really ring in a distinct new era in No Doubt's sound but perhaps it was chosen for that very reason as a transitive re-introduction to the past. Regardless of the fact that it's nothing new for No Doubt, it is definitely something new in the endless ocean of dance-pop that is plaguing (Yes. Plaguing!) all mainstream genres right now. I'm not going to lie about it: despite my previous words, I'm hooked on "Settle Down". Everything about it is infectious; the beat goes hard and it's chock-full of hook-i-ness. Besides, Lady Gaga said I if I wasn't obsessed with it, that I was wrong, so I have to love it, right?

    Taking/Universe was unable to get in line for this selection.

    Popledge: I am a big No Doubt and Gwen Stefani fan so I’m very pleased that the two have come back together for their upcoming album ‘Push and Shove.’ I know Gwen has mentioned that their next single is even bigger than ‘Settle Down’ and that she is getting ‘Hollaback Girl’ tingles about it so that is very exciting. 'Settle Down' is a good come back song, it is more No Doubt that Stefani which I am pleased about, Gwen returns to her ska roots with ease on the track, her vocals sounding the same as back in the 90’s. It is the same in the video (which I also love with its nods to the Tragic Kingdom orange and the story-line of the band coming back together) all of No Doubt do not look a year older than they did ‘back in the day’. I would like to know their secret! Rather like the video the song for me really takes off at the chorus and when all the band are back together as one. The verses are a little forgettable for me but the ‘I’m trying to get a hold on this…get in line and settle down’ parts of the song get stuck in my head all day. I will be downloading their album with glee! Oh also one last point! I would love there to be more women in rock/fronting groups and so I’m very glad to have Gwen back, she was definitely one of my role models when I was growing up and I appreciate that this song still tells a story from a women’s perspective, something we don’t get a lot in traditionally male rock groups.

    Vertigo Shtick: I love every second of this song. It still has the new wave/ska/tropical vibe and the Gwen harmonies that define them (and a little "hella" throwback) but this is definitely not something we've heard before. They've obviously put in tremendous effort to create something new and unique for their comeback. The intro definitely says "the legends are back, and they mean business," and that extended ending is SO exciting; it just sounds like something really big is on the way. *Gets in line* *Settles down*

    Lost in a Melody: Only No Doubt could come back after 11 years and have 42 year old Gwen Stefani sing, “I’m hella positive for real, I’m all good” in their lead single. It’s not mind-blowing, but if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

    Techno School: I missed the intraband broken heart angst of Return of Saturn, and this song really tries to bring that theme back, but with a twist. Despite “Settle Down” being permeated by the bubbly airiness that colored Gwen Stefani's solo career, the track sounds very, very No Doubt. Probably because it holds the kind of reggae inspiration that we heard in one of the band's last singles—all the way back from 2001—“Underneath it All”. I'm glad the band is back together. The light whomp of the guitar and prominent snare in the background to Stefani's unforgettable voice make up for the uninspired lyics. Also, what's up with the awkward extended intro (not included on the radio edit, thank goodness)? That needs to go.

    Radio Creme Brulee: As the duration of a hiatus for an artist or band gets longer, the pressure to release something stellar increases dramatically in the event that a return to the music limelight is desired. "Settle Down" is No Doubt's first single since their cover of "It's My Life" by Talk Talk - which feels like a lifetime ago. Hence, the pressure on the band to deliver has obviously been high. Fortunately, No Doubt has risen to the challenge and has given us something that lies close the musical mid-point between the traditional No Doubt sound and that of Gwen Stefani's solo material. The song opens with a 40-second middle eastern string section accompanied by a guitar. Ethnic musical elements have always served as a rich adornment on modern pop and to see No Doubt do that that in their song is great. It truly works. If only more artists today spent time crafting a great intro such as this one. The song then breaks into the infectious harmony-infused chorus "Get Get line and Settle Down!". The verses aren't particularly memorable but even before one has time to pass judgment, the song takes another twist in its rock-tinged and addictive bridge - which is more No Doubt than Gwen Stefani. Gwen Stefani has apparently retained her inherent spunkiness and that definitely shines through in the song. Having blended an uplifting track, a chorus that will undoubtedly get stuck in the heads of pop aficionados, and a distinct signature style,  No Doubt has most certainly sown the seeds for a stellar comeback. Now, who said a hiatus was a career deal-breaker? More importantly, who said a "band" could not release a dance-worthy pop track?

    P!nk - "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" (RCA, July 9)

    Pop Messiah: There is a much-evidenced but rarely discussed curse in the world of female musicians, particularly those of the bold and agressive variety. That curse is babies. Tiny and adorable, babies are the ultimate threat to any hardened, bad girl heart. Throughout the history of music, female artists have fallen victim to this dribbling, diaper-toting menace. Let's look at a couple of examples: 1.) Singer/Songwriters Tori Amos & Alanis Morrisette, known for their dark and venomous lyrics, seemed to lose their edge after finding their happily ever after and starting a family. While I certainly wouldn't say either of them are without their moments of genius, even now, everything is very different than it was pre-babies. 2.) On the other hand, Britney Spears seemed as if she had succumbed to the curse for a moment with the schmaltzy and terrible: "Someday (I Will Understand)" (released during her pregnancy with her first son) but luckily has since rebounded with the most brilliant albums of her career.

    The question is which way is Pop music's notorious bad girl: P!nk headed? Will The Trouble With Love be her best work yet? (> I'm Not Dead) or her worst (< Try This).  With the lead single: "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)", I'd say we're not getting any closer to the answer to this question. Thankfully not another trashy pop song about oral sex (though the double entendre was surely intentional), "Blow Me..." is another break-up song, but one that floats along on a summer breeze and feels like it deserves to be blasted from a convertible as you head to the beach to find a new man without a "sick, whiskey dick" (Also, ew!). While the single seems to be dividing fans and critics, I would say it's at least as good as any first single from any of P!nk's previous albums and as we know, her albums are generally packed with brilliantly written songs - the best of which are never promoted to radio. "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" is exactly what it should be - a sassy, very catchy lead single that is a sure-fire hit and as far as I'm concerned - easily top 5 in the songs of summer 2012.

    Taking/Universe: I'm really on the fence with this song. I really, really, /really/ like Pink. She has been the only badass rocker chick to keep her IDGAF attitude and keep on making good music, but this song doesn't exactly feel like her best. The joke has been done a million times over (Jeffree Star, and a similar joke "Suck My Kiss" with both Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ultraviolet Sound), and the pun just wore a bit thin on my nerves. The song feels more like an album track than a single, which makes me very nervous for her upcoming album. Despite all the things I list against the song, it does manage to wiggle it's way into my head -- probably because my co-workers have been singing this song day after day. Let's just say I knew all of the lyrics before I actually listened to the song for the first time. 

    Popledge: I’ll be honest, I’m glad to have Pink back on the pop scene but this isn’t my favourite of her songs. I really like the guitar bits in the track and wish the track featured them more heavily. I like the message of the song though, it’s very traditionally Pink, I am not a fan of the repetitive use of the word ‘shit’ though – to me it is a little lazy. It is Pink by numbers and I’m sure her more traditional fans are happy but I wanted a bit more and perhaps something a bit different and progressive from her.

    Vertigo Shtick: I've written in detail about the reasons Pink's big post-baby comeback single is a disappointment. Disappointment isn't actually the right word; unsatisfactory might be more apropos. Pink didn't deliver her best effort and it just didn't connect; rather, she and Greg Kurstin delivered a track that's so safe, so derivitive, so pandering, so false, and so beneath the level of two of pop music's greatest talents. It doesn't help that the song is clearly not from Pink herself, lyrically – she remains happily remarried to the man her split from whom inspired her previous album Funhouse after they reconciled right as the album campaign drew to a tender close (it was Katy Perry's experience with her marriage to Russel Brand and the Teenage Dream campaign, but in reverse and with a happy ending), so we know there's nothing really behind the words Pink sings. That makes the “clever” moments (“whiskey dick,” “I think you're full of shit,” “I've/you've/we've had a shit day,” etc.) ridiculous when it's clear they were put in not from genuine feeling but simply because that's what they figured we'd buy (the profanity is so tacked on it doesn't even rhyme or fit the meter: “You think I'm just too serious/ I think you're full of shit” - that's off by two beats, and it's not like you can't rhyme with “serious,” so that means that “shit” was such currency to them that they were willing to commit a songwriting no-no). It definitely wins for best cover artwork out of this month's selections, though.

    Lost in a Melody: The production on this track (which, as a few people have already pointed out, is very Two Door Cinema Club) is what saves it from sounding like just another dated, shouty pop-rock anthem from P!nk. That probably would have gone down a treat anyway, but "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" manages to still have her signature chart-topping formula in there, whilst still sounding like a brand new chapter in her career. Extra kudos goes to her for avoiding the usual route of releasing a slightly more comical lead single.

    Techno School: I have a slight P!nk weakness. Every song she releases is a guilty pleasure for me. I find myself pumping up the volume every time “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” comes on the radio. Especially after I've had a shit day, which happens often. The Modest Mouse-borrowed intro and rock-heavy instrumentals, paired with painfully relatable lyrics, make for a mighty catchy song. This isn't exactly an innovative tune, as it kind of sounds like every other song P!nk has released recently, and there is none of the off-the-wall genre play that is becoming more and more common for Top 40 tracks, but whatever formula P!nk uses works for me. I won't get sick of hearing it for at least another month. Thumbs up.

    Radio Creme Brulee: Breakup songs typically take the form of down-tempo or mid-tempo melancholy. On "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)", Pink steers clear from nursing her wounds and instead opts to celebrate the feeling of empowerment that comes from turning single again with an uptempo track. Her song is directed at her ex. She openly characterizes the privileges she will indulge in as she turns single again ("I'll dress nice, I'll look good, I'll go dancing alone, I'll laugh, I'll get drunk, I'll take somebody home"). She also chastises her ex for his lapses in judgment ("You will pay for your sins, you'll be sorry my dear, All the lies, all the wise, will be crystal clear"). Lyrically, this song could very well become the anthem for girls that seek empowerment over heartbreak and depression as a tool to deal with a breakup. Sonically, the song does not stray far from the sound that dominates most pop music today. Hence, it runs a risk of getting mixed with the rest. That being said, the song's lyrical content will ring true with many and will undoubtedly help cement the song's commercial appeal.

    Colette Carr - "Like I Got a Gun" (Interscope Records, June 26)

    Pop Messiah: Don't let the melancholy bit of piano on the intro fool you, "Like I Got a Gun" is no emotional ballad. Truthfully, I don't know a lot of Carr's material, though we follow each other on Twitter and as I type these words I realize that makes me a terrible person. I didn't know she was known as a rapper until I just looked it up on Wikipedia. While I would say that this track has a good concept, is catchy and decently-written, Carr's vocal delivery on the hook as she repeats "Everybody put your hands up, like I got a gun" isn't hard enough for me to buy-in to this song lyrically. I get that perhaps the choice was made to perform it in a sing-song coo in order to avoid it sounding violent but a little bit more aggression might have made this pop more for me. It's ok, but chances are I won't be adding it to my most-frequented playlists anytime soon.

    Taking/Universe: How do I even go about this song. Let me start by saying I don't think this is really the best intro to Colette. As a matter of fact, in order to get to what I feel the proper introduction to Colette, you would have to go back to her now extinct original mixtape, Sex Sells. The song is, however, a good represntation of who she is. Her sense of humor is there. Her rap is there. All that is missing is that hint of elctro-pop that is sort of her alternate music identity (think Dev, only younger). The song features a lot of recycled lyrics, which seem clever to new listeners, and are a throwback for long time fans. The song is a hot summer jam, making Colette, at least for me, the queen of summer jams, having two in a row now after last year's "(We Do It) Primo".

    Popledge: I remember Colette saying in an interview that Britney Spears was one of her role models, so I got this girls back. How would I describe this song? To me it’s like a more chilled out version of Nicki Minaj’s rap heavy tracks and akin to Natalia Kills music which I also adore. I am not a fan of songs about guns, but I guess in her native America and at her rap gigs in the US it goes over well. I found her voice and the beat of the song really easy to listen to, it’s a catchy track and I think she’ll do well but it just isn’t my taste in music.

    Vertigo Shtick: This is the first solo track of hers I've tried out (I did hear her cheesy, slightly underage-creepy duet “No ID” with Frankmusik), and she's not offensive. I'm not sure she's necessary – I hear Kreayshaun and Dev in this song but without improvement on either to speak of, and My Name is Kay really fills this role/does this style better than all three of them, and has a lot more to her act as well. I think Carr could be an interesting act if she shows some additional facets and a broader range in persona and musicality, although I admit again that I've only heard this song. Having heard it, I'm open to hearing more but I don't know that I'll be seeking her out. Although Cherrytree is really one of the more nurturing labels for artists looking to find and create a unique persona, so she is in good hands.

    Lost in a Melody: Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this song. The beat is cool, the lyrics are and the vocals are sleazy and sharp. But the reason the likes of Ke$ha and (to some extent) Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are able to produce better versions of the same thing is because they get that it needs to be fierce and yet also be a bit tongue in cheek. I don’t feel like there’s any humour in this song, which makes it come across as too arrogant.

    Techno School: Ugh. I'm sure my knee-jerk reaction to this song where Colette Carr keeps insisting that I “put up [my] hands like [she] got a gun” is partially based on the recent massacre in Colorado. And the insistence that listeners take off their clothes “cause [she] said so” (at gunpoint) is a little too sexual assault-y for my taste, especially disappointing that it's coming from a woman. Personal reservations aside, though, I find myself wondering what Carr is bringing to the table, other than awkward raps like “my life is better than a boustier” that suggest a middle-class upbringing. The rest of the song is chock-full-of boring cliches. At least Nadia Oh's predictable lyrics are backed by some insane dubstep. This song ain't got nothin.

    Radio Creme Brulee: My introduction to Colette Carr was her duet "No ID" with British pop star Vincent Frank (aka Frankmusik). The song was pleasant enough and definitely set the benchmark for my expectations from Colette Carr. Unfortunately, Colette Carr highly under-delivers on those expectations with "Like I Got A Gun". Her entire vocal section features her rapping over generic beats that are not even remotely memorable. It is scary that younger artists think that this template for music is their key to stardom. "Better luck next time Colette! Try singing again. Your inherent talents lie closer to THAT end of the vocal spectrum!".

    Dragonette - "Rocket Ship" (Dragonette Inc, June 20)

    Pop Messiah: With their last (brilliant) single: "Let it Go," Dragonette seemed like they might have taken a small step toward a significantly more mainstream sound after what I felt was a weak album in 2009's Fixin to Thrill. Hipsters everywhere feared the loss of their poppiest faves whom they were still willing to publically admit they enjoy. With "Rocket Ship" (also brilliant!) they can now heave a collective sigh of relief. Dragonette are still pulling out sophistocated, sassy, rock-infused electro-pop and this foot-stomping track has only solidified my excitedment to hear the rest of their upcoming LP Body Parts. Loving it!

    Taking/Universe: 2012 is the year that all of my faves have decided it is appropraite to make their comeback. The VeronicasElecrovamp, No Doubt, and now even Dragonette is jumping back into the mix. This song is just what you would expect to hear from them. The lead vocals are light and distinctive, allowing anybody to instantly know who they are listening to once the song starts, which is truly a good thing in todays same-sounding music world. The song itself is not exactly a single, but a sneak peek to the new LP coming out in September, Body Parts. The official single, "Let It Go" is a it more conventional than this, as I am pretty sure this song was a treat to long time fans to keep them going until the big release. "Rocket Ship" only further proves that Dragonette is the king of Electro-rock. Would it be too contraversial to say "Move over Adam Lambert?" Yes? Well then allow me to say it again. Move over Adam Lambert, the real heirs to the electro-rock throne have come back to take over.

    Popledge: I imagine most readers will know this group from their hit with Martin Solveig entitled ‘Hello’ – if you live in the UK and watch the X Factor you might remember the contestants covered this song as one of their more successful cover attempts. I saw this group live when they supported the Sugababes back in 2007 and they impressed me with their electro-pop sounds, now I think they have welcomed in a little more of a commercial sound but have managed to keep their sound too. It’s not their strongest single to date, it doesn’t excite me to listen to it again, but I would have it as part of an uber cool summer play-list.

    Vertigo Shtick: I have decided I like Dragonette, thanks entirely to this song. It breaks a tie held by my two previous experiences - “Hello” (with Martin Solveig, which I liked) and official lead single from upcoming album Bodyparts, “Let It Go” (which I didn't). This is a very likable, groovy glam-lectric song with cool lyrics like “Never been in magazines, ain’t seen me on the TV/But you pin me like a poster to the wall.” The extended middle eight is a great energy buildup, and in fact the whole track is really well paced. You get exactly what you want without it becoming predictable or dull. “Rocket Ship” places Dragonette alongside Sam Sparro and above Scissor Sisters and Eva Simons as the best practitioners of this particular current style/trend in pop.

    Lost in a Melody: I can’t print my opinion of this song online for everyone to see, because I don’t want to be forced off Twitter after a torrent of abuse. Sorry.

    Techno School: "Rocket Ship" has all the otherworldly, numbed out vibe of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs without the angry undertone. I'd still place this song firmly in the “rock” category of music, but it shares some nifty tricks and sounds with techno tracks, and I think there's a lot of potential for Dragonette to be a serious crossover act. The synthed-out keyboard beat that carries the tune along is very rakin to electro, and the hasty transition to traditional instruments for the chorus make the song really explode with sound, bringing the listener closer to the overwhelming feeling that someone is flying their theoretical rocket ship, for instance, into some theoretical empty pit in your heart. Nicely done. The sharply enunciated syllables of the verses and the warm, round “oooh”s of the chorus complement each other well and keep this listener wanting more. Can't wait to check out this album when it's released! Also, hey Dragonette, I see you are based in Toronto...come to the other side of the river and let's hang out! Dance party at The Majestic!

    Radio Creme Brulee: Fans of electro-pop might warm up to Dragonette's latest offering "Rocket Ship" - the lead single off their upcoming album Body Parts. While I am a electropop fan, I do get the impression that many artists/bands that make music in that realm of the musical spectrum suffer from the need to conform thus making it very difficult for them to retain an identity that belongs exclusively to them. Sadly, Dragonette suffers from the exact same syndrome and that is reflected on "Rocket Ship". I for one hope this song is not representative of the rest of the material on Body Parts.

    My Name is Kay - "This Is The Life" (Interscope, July 17)

    Pop Messiah: In my experience, soundtracks to dance movies (like Step Up: Revolution) generally are all about beats and production and not at all about vocals or lyrics. "This is the Life" is no exception. The energy is undeniable and when the build up explodes in the track's most climactic moments it's very easy to get lost in the power of it all.  If I were someone who enjoys music purely for the beats and overall danceability, then "This is the Life" would be great but I personally find the lyrics offensively simple and predictable. While I agree that dance music about dancing should be fun and light, it doesn't have to be a cliche.

    Taking/Universe: Two things turned me off about this song from the beginning: The first being it is by My Name Is Kay and second is that is is featured on Step Up: Revolution (I mean did we really need another Step Up Movie?). Against my better judgement I gave the song a listen, and I have to say that MNIK is finally making music that I can tolerate. Her debut EP was ghastly, and I'm happy to say this song is a definite step in the right direction for her. This is the type of song I would love to go out dancing to. Her voice still bothers me a bit, but I am having a hard time putting my finger on exactly what it is about it that is so off.

    Popledge: I believe this is from one of the ‘Step Up’ movies – I must admit to not having seen any of those films. I can see why it was picked for the sound-track – when I listen to the track I imagine people spinning around on their heads. I checked out how she looked on her official YouTube channel and her look definitely fits the kind of music she is making – I think there is a real gap in the market for a more dance-orientated female artist at the moment with the creative edginess she has. Again, the song isn’t quite to my taste but I did enjoy listening to it and I think there are a lot of young people that will identify with Kay and her music – one to watch!

    Vertigo Shtick: Starts off not too promising, but it has menace in it! Being from the Step Up: Revolution  soundtrack, it doesn't let Kay's personality come through much, but it's a good demonstration of the kind of techno work she does. It gets a bit repetitive but probably works in the movie. Not her best showpiece, but its good.

    Lost in a Melody: Like Havana Brown before, this song is effortlessly generic – but once again the breakdown saves it from becoming a complete disaster. I like that it’s slightly rockier than most similar tracks. If it came on in a club, I’d probably enjoy it, but I can’t see this making it’s way into my iTunes anytime soon. Is dance pop over yet?

    Techno School: Dude, did I hear this on the Space Jam soundtrack way back when? Something about “This is the Life” sounds dated. I'm sure this song is a great backdrop to the dancers of Step Up: Revolution, for which this is part of the soundtrack, but without visuals it sounds disjoint and unfinished. The constant switch from etheral, faded singing to J-Lo-esque commanding vocals to the scratchy dance-break instrumental doesn't do the ear any good. And “This is the Life” commits a cardinal sin in my book: many layers of sound all follow the same exact beat, making for a brute of a track that makes me less want to dance than move to the next song.

    Radio Creme Brulee felt with all the stepping up, someone ought to volunteer to step down from this selection.

    Noisettes - "That Girl" (Mercury Records, August 13)

    Pop Messiah: This track is deliciously 50/60's flavored and I'm immediately in love! Ín a time where pop has become so homogenized, it's refreshing to hear someone daring to go against the grain a little, even if it is a complete throwback and not a bold move forward into the future of music. The fact remains that when many of us think of classic oldies, even those of us who weren't around in these times think about the era that this song emulates. This was a time when artists were fewer and the act of buying and enjoying music was significantly more expensive, difficult and therefore valued by many. In so-effectively mimicking this nostalgic vibe, Noisettes just may have created an instant 2012 classic. A bit of malt shop, jukebox-ready Pop Heaven!

    Taking/Universe: Upon first listening to this song I thought to myself "What the hell is David thinking including this horrible pile of trash in this month's list" and then I paid attention past the first three seconds, and I actually started to fall in love with the song. Their name is reminiscent of an older era of music and so is their sound. The song may have references texting and Twitter, but the song has that same vibe and purity of an old early 70's radio pop song. Given their other more modern single, "Winner", I don't expect their entire album to sound like this track, but I can certainly say that this song is a breath of fresh air from today's techno and dubstep overflow.

    Popledge: I really want Noisettes to be know as more than a one hit wonder for that damn car advert featuring ‘Don’t Upset the Rhythm’ their talent far exceeds that one song. I really enjoyed the vocals on this track and it was a pleasant surprise when the male voice joined Shingai’s on the track. There is a lovely retro and happy feel to this track – it reminded me in places of Amy Winehouse’s sound combined with Charlotte Hatherley’s debut album (thumbs up if you know Charlotte was in the Irish rock band ‘Ash’). To me there is nothing to dislike with this song, it’s quirky, British, memorable and deserves more recognition that it will probably achieve.

    Vertigo Shtick: A Noisettes song will always have an advantage with me going in because I like the band's shtick in the first place: an unabashedly upbeat 50s/60s girl group throwback fronted by a British woman of Zimbabwean descent (stop and picture how awesome that is). “That Girl,” like the other songs of theirs I've heard, has that same sort of aggressively cheerful vibe as “Call Me Maybe,” although it's delivered on an ornate porcelain serving dish sparkling with gems and other precious metals where “Call Me Maybe” is driven home via sledgehammer. I particularly like the role Shingai Shoniwa, the vocalist, plays on this song: you know, the cool gal pal a la Mila Kunis who goes to ballgames and drinks beer in sports bars with you but it's totally platonic, right? She tries to play it cool while pointing out that another girl who's been hanging around obviously wants you and you're oblivious, ha ha ha. But we start to suspect that the lady doth protest too much, and finally we get a revelatory key change that's a musical equivalent to fountain swelling and lights flashing and a gasp of “Oh my God, I love Josh!” Try getting through it without cracking a smile.

    Lost in a Melody: Losing a member of the band could have made Noisettes one third less amazing, but fortunately "That Girl" is a great comeback. It’s not as instant as their biggest hits, but I’m really digging the retro style (which obviously compliments the vocals perfectly and should fit well on the current UK radio landscape) and after a couple of listens, it’s difficult to get the swinging chorus out of your head. Not that you’d want to. Hope this does well for them.

    Techno School: I was wondering when someone would attempt to fill the glaring musical vacancy left by the late Amy Winehouse (the world is worse without ya, honey). “That Girl” actually takes the retro vibe a little further than the jazzy vibe, much to my dismay—this song screams 1960s—but it's nice to hear someone other than Adele tackle this style. More than the music, I really appreciate the lyrics to this song about a poor girl in love with an oblivious tool who spends his days taking shots while checking out twitter. Who knew a song about unreturned feelings of love could be so...uppity?

    Radio Creme Brulee: I suffer from a positive bias towards bands that opt to deviate from the pop herd and embrace a sound that is reminiscent of an earlier era. Noisettes does this very well on their new single "That Girl". The tune is catchy. The vocals are a little Winehouse-esque but the song is still very "pop". Based on this single alone, I consider Noisettes a band worth keeping on your radar.

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    Tune in the first Thursday of every month for a new Popologist Panel! Find all monthly editions here.

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