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Mathias Lilja

Mathias Lilja

Rootsy

Despite a longstanding history as a singer-songwriter stretching over a twenty-year period that has seen him front The Strollers and still maintaining a working relationship with The Maharajas, Mathias Lilja is poised to pursue the life of a solo artist with his debut record. Considering this lengthy gestation period of whether to commit to a full-length album of original material plus one cover – Townes Van Zandt’s ‘No Place To Fall’ – it only seems right that Mathias Lilja should name his first solo album under his own moniker, as the songs suggest many hours of devotion such is the quality on display. With alt-country being his preferred choice as the musical accompaniment to the personal nature of the lyrical content, Mathias Lilja sets about his business with a warning shot to those preferring to remain oblivious to the very notion that ‘Evil’ could be lurking around the next corner. ‘Don’t Fade On Me’ ups the ante further by means of brushed instrumentation working in unison with Lilja’s impassioned vocal reflecting on what might have been. Any suggestion of bad luck pursuing this Swedish singer-songwriter once again rears its head during ‘Devil’s Almanac’ that presents a rougher ride perfectly summed up by the harder edge of the guitars. ‘Give It All Away’ instantly calms the waters, however, with its predominately folk roots giving way to some pedal steel that adds a lovely aching quality to the song. ‘I Will Stay’ is the perfect example of how country music should sound if there’s a formula to be found that blends its traditional elements with a commercial appeal, as it’s an infectious tune full of bristling energy and smart lyrics and a clear indicator of how it should be done. It is this blend of styles, however, that makes Mathias Lilja’s solo album a force to be reckoned with, especially when considering the lyrically bleak and flashes of distorted guitars that stands out in complete contrast with the rest of this debut.


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Kiss Me Once

Kylie Minogue

Warner Music Norway

Incredible to think that ‘Kiss Me Once’ is Kylie Minogue’s twelfth studio album as it only seems like yesterday that the phenomenal success of ‘Fever’, with its smash hit single ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, was blaring from almost every city nightclub and student den the length and breadth of the UK. Such are the facts, however, that this new studio offering, consisting of thirteen tracks, is the first album since ‘Aphrodite’ in 2010. Opening song from ‘Kiss Me Once’ will immediately douse any doubts concerning the relevancy of Kylie Minogue in 2014 as ‘Into The Blue’ peels back the years with its uplifting qualities yet, at the same time, is reflective in its thoughts concerning past events. The immediacy of ‘Million Miles’ will translate to the dance floor in a matter of seconds with its solid dance beats. Similar suggestion can be given to ‘I Was Gonna Cancel’ as it is hip to its core and sounding not too dissimilar to Daft Punk’s recent creativity. ‘Sexy Love’ is a strong album track rather than a future single nomination and one of the highlights with its shades of funk interspersed with dance rhythms and tinges of 80s pop music. ‘Mr. President’ is an intriguing oddity that pays equal respect to Marilyn Monroe and Rihanna with its sexual tone “Ah, Mr. President!” and warped electronica that seeps into the vocals, before closing the set out with the sombre and breezy pop of ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’. ‘Kiss Me Once’ is a welcome return for Kylie Minogue, and one that is finely tuned with elements from her own past  and with those of the present that will not only appease her existing fan base but also win many new admirers.


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Grown Up (single)

Emilie Nicolas

Sony Music Norway

Emilie Nicolas takes a bow with the first instalment from her forthcoming long player due this year. The song causing a bit of a commotion is the wonderful slow burner that is ‘Grown Up’, which sounds as if it’s coming from a small remote corner of the Norwegian landscape such is the sparseness of the ingredients used. The lack of instrumentation compliments the beguiling fragility of the vocal held in ‘Grown Up’, as the song recounts a coming-of-age tale that could easily be mistaken for a separating of the ways after a troublesome relationship. Either way, Emilie Nicolas’ debut album should be one to savour judging by the qualities shown of ‘Grown Up’.


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Coming Home

Siri Vølstad Jensen

Playroom Music AS

With a growing trend for a pop country crossover, latest addition to this style is Siri Vølstad Jensen with her debut album ‘Coming Home’. Remarkably, this first outing is a product of Norway when, in fact, its contents sound a far closer relation to the country sounds emanating from Music Row in Nashville. Full marks, however, for the convincing sounds on display, which has been a lengthy process in the making and one which actually took in the sights and sounds of Nashville for a period before making a return home. With the trade secret therefore out in the open, the end product is one that is skilfully handled and once more utterly persuasive in the vocal department as ‘Burn Baby Burn’ blends a bit of the traditional country via Dolly Parton with its modern sisters the Dixie Chicks. Title song, ‘Coming Home’ leans on a more conventional country style, with acoustic guitar and strings and Siri Vølstad Jensen sounding beyond her tender years with the only giveaway being a slight vulnerability to the vocal during the chorus, that actually works in her favour due to the sincerity of the emotions expressed. This openness given by Siri Vølstad Jensen extends to ‘Whatever It Was’ and, in the process, proves to be one of the strong points of the album that once more calls for a bit of old-style country while retaining one foot in the present. The pop tendencies are more present in the up-tempo ‘Let Love’ but still not quite to the extent of Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’, for example, due to the heavier weighting of stringed instrumentation wonderfully paraded by the ballad ‘Almost You’. ‘Coming Home’ is the first landmark in the musical career of Siri Vølstad Jensen, and it is one that will prove to be a major step for this country songstress from Norway such is its overall quality.


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Mann For Min Hatt

Don Martin

Artistpartner Records

Today is the day that Don Martin lets loose his second album in less than a year with the hip-hop and inventive electronica, coupled with spoken word (street) poetry, of ‘Mann For Min Hatt’. Surprisingly, the eight songs contained within were regarded by Don Martin and his fellow cohorts as surplus stock that was simply gathering dust with nowhere to go. Surprising because the songs on offer reveal much strength in depth but there is a considerable amount of creative intrigue to win over those who remain indifferent to rap music despite its many variations.  However, as a goodwill gesture to existing supporters and those newly acquainted with the musings of this Norwegian songwriter, Don Martin made the decision to give something back and show his appreciation with a mini-album before the next full-length album. Despite the serious subject matter by way of the overt political message of ‘Boikott Israel’, narrated to large degrees in English, and local issues of ‘Straight Outta Groruddalen 2’ that concerns a valley in a northeast section of Oslo, the rest of the album gives way to its mother tongue and rightly so considering the localisms of ‘Straight Outta…’ as to portray this any other way would be a major disservice. Once more though, it is this latter song which reveals a sense of humour as there is doubt as to whether the song qualifies as a remix during its start up and it is this very humour, subtly given, that is never very far away that lends an extra layer of charm to the whole album. If you’re looking for immediate prize winners though, then the moody beats, mixed with synthesised horns, of ‘Fedora Don (feat. Boss Castro)’ and mellow edges of the title track, that is interlaced with some noticeable piano, are two such tracks from an album that is far more than its concept suggests.


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A Perfect Contradiction

Paloma Faith

RCA

Visually entertaining as well as musically, Paloma Faith is back with her third album ‘A Perfect Contradiction’. With its continuing theme of rich colours when it comes to the artwork and sense of nous by calling on the talents of Pharrel Williams to help co-write recent single ‘Can’t Rely On You’, the ‘contradiction’ implied in the title is perfectly misleading as Paloma steps up another creative gear and one that is consistently better than its predecessors. Nowhere is this more evident than the aforementioned Williams/Faith collaboration ‘Can’t Rely On You’, that is full of old school dance beats but given a modern gloss and narrated with a sassy vocal that will have you reaching for the repeat button. The traditional flavour is also captured in ‘Mouth To Mouth’ with its 80s pop influence but this time finding Paloma Faith in more restrained manner but nonetheless still compelling. The lure of Motown is all too much for ‘Take Me’ and accompanying ballad ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’; the latter of the pair revealing a vulnerability in the Paloma Faith exterior. There is a brief hiccup with the rather pedestrian ‘Other Woman’ and its familiarities with other female artists of similar ilk, but fear not as this songstress finishes in style with red-hot ‘Trouble With My Baby’ and shifting style of ‘Love Only Leaves You Lonely’.


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Slow Me Down

Sara Evans

Sony Music CMG

Crossing the divide between pop and country, Sara Evans delivers in fine fashion with latest album ‘Slow Me Down’. Having worked in collaboration with three of the eleven songs listed here and in terms of production duties with producer Mark Bright (Rascal Flatts, Lonestar et al), Sara Evans offers her own interpretation of events through her own works but also by means of a cover, for example, of Gavin DeGraw’s ‘Not Over You’. Such is the impact of this rendition of DeGraw’s song – who also lends a helping hand with harmony vocals – as Evans claims it for her own by stamping her authority all over it by means of a stirring vocal and subtler use of instrumentation that is equally affecting as its original. The collaborative work also extends to a duet with The Fray’s Isaac Slade during ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’, that is a perfect combination of Sara Evans powerful and slightly sweeter sounding vocal and Isaac Slade’s gruffer tones. If it’s a more straight country sound you’re after, however, then ‘Slow Me Down’ is not about to abandon this ship, despite containing a commercial appeal, as the likeable ‘Put My Heart Down’; steel guitar of ‘Good Love Is Hard To Find’ and wonderful ballad that is built of sturdier foundations in spite of the immediate ramifications suggested by the narrative of ‘Better Off’. By combining country music with a modern sheen of pop music that leans towards its darker edges and sometimes falling into the latter category with ‘You Never Know’ as one such example, Sara Evans has expertly blended a formula that works as a whole in order to achieve crossover appeal, but in the main create a convincing and thoroughly enjoyable body of work in the shape of ‘Slow Me Down’.


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No Mythologies To Follow

Chess Club / RCA Victor

Resembling nothing in relation to her personal record collection during her late teens with Sonic Youth and Black Flag particular favourites, Danish artist Mø (Karen Marie Ørsted) breezes in with a debut album that is full of electro-pop and moody electronica that is ‘No Mythologies To Follow’. There is a cool, mid-tempo pulse to ‘Maiden’, complete with a vocal that seems to spend its duration in the shade and remains full of curiosity. All the clocks stop during ‘Never Wanna Know’; a deeply touching ballad that resonates due to the hollow effect created by its use of percussion and giving a real sense of loss that is reminiscent of Scott Walker when in such a frame of mind. Much as has been said of Mø’s vocal capabilities and pop leanings which certainly come to the fore during the infectious ‘Red In The Grey’ and even more persuasive ‘Pilgrim’ that will certainly appease fans of both pop and indie music. Looks like Denmark has an imminent star on their books as ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ is tapping into a number of genres yet shaping a path that is distinctly Mø.


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Fire Away (single)

Ilias

Untitled

With the moody atmospheric film that was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, latest effort from singer-songwriter, and sometimes producer, Ilias is not a million miles away from the neon lit urban landscape of LA that provided the backdrop to this near masterpiece. ‘Fire Away’ was actually written around the time of recent fires that devastated parts of the Australian countryside, but there is no escaping the film score concept that influences this song. Incorporating this broader vision is the additional European flavours, that lend themselves to the aforementioned urban landscape of LA by means of electronica that knits together late-nineties flitting drum patterns and a distorted guitar for those larger splashes of sound, giving the impression of darkened clouds rapidly forming and then fully realised by way of a short yet compelling guitar riff. If the vultures are beginning to circle overhead due to sensing a sizable meal at the end of the line considering the general attempts at dispersing that ‘Fire Away’ provides, then never has such an ominous atmosphere sounded so welcoming.


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Rockabilly Roads III

Various Artists

Playground Music

Bringing things up-to-date is the latest compilation in the ‘Rockabilly Roads’ series that packs a persuasive punch with a whole line of neo-rockabilly artists from around the globe offering a modern sheen on the rockabilly genre with nearly all original material. Many of the artists present will be familiar to those in the know, with such examples as Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys, John Lindberg Trio, Pep Torres and Mike Bell & The Belltones. With a selection of eighteen tracks to whet the appetite, ‘Rockabilly Roads III’ succeeds in its concept as each and every band, while sourcing their inspirations from the fifties era, sounds current. Evidence of this modern spin on the rockabilly genre comes by way of Fanny Mae & The Dynamite Believers with their infectious ‘Hipshakin’, that sees the band strutting their wares across the chequered flooring of the local diner, only the year is now rather than the late fifties. Boz Boorer pops up with a burly cover version of ‘Cast Iron Arm’ whereas the domineering vocal and guitar of The Caezars excellent ‘Heartache Overload’ claims first prize. The unfortunately named Fatboy garners serious attention with its Roy Orbison meets Chris Isaak vocal delivery during ‘Walk Your Way’, only to be rivalled in the quality stakes by a compelling duet by way of The Hillbilly Moon Explosion with ‘My Love For Evermore’. Pick of the bunch, however, is the hard-edged rocker that is ‘Ride My Bike’ courtesy of The Troubled Three, closely pursued by a recurring theme involving motorcycles with the modern classic that is ‘The Norton Spirit’ by the mighty Blue Cats. At last, a compilation for those supporters genuinely interested in the current wave of rockabilly bands hell-bent on keeping the original rockabilly spirit alive but with a modern twist as ‘Rockabilly Roads III’ successfully displays.

 


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A Walk In The Space Between Us

Side Effects

Sony Music Norway

Sounding as if they just stepped out of a northern town in England (and Wales – see below) rather than the more idyllic surroundings of their native Sweden, Side Effects release their first album ‘A Walk InThe Space Between Us’. The close resemblance to the musical scenes emanating from the upper regions of the British landscape from the ’90s onwards is all too evident in sound, but minus the attitude, as Side Effects follow similar paths to those mined by The Coral, Super Furry Animals and a latter-day CAST, judging by the Swedes penchant for a dash of psychedelia with their afternoon tea in terms of what’s on offer here. This is all great stuff, of course, as ‘A Walk In The Space Between Us’ is an accomplished achievement and something to do with the fact that the band have been together since Sixth Form College and showing no signs of days idly wasted considering the dynamic thrust of opener ‘The Space Between Us’. The persuasive charm of ‘Feel Flows’, however, was built for lazy summer days and is followed in similar hazy fashion, before picking up a second wind, by the beguiling curiosity that is ‘Monster And The Bird’ with its suggestion of trying to be two sides of a personality that is all too much. There’s a robust edge to ‘Month Of Mist’ that becomes drowned out by its successor ‘Absence Of Control with its heady psychedelic indie rock and flashes of near feedback yet managing to hold itself together despite the implications of its song title. ‘A Walk In The Space Between Us’ is a confident debut that will have you gripped from the off, and one that comes as a pleasant surprise in terms of its appeal considering the short distance in time when bands of a similar ilk were hogging the front pages on a regular basis.


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Speed Of Sound (single)

Frøder

Sony Music Norway

Fresh off the mark with a debut single is Frøder with ‘Speed Of Sound’ that is currently doing the rounds on NRK’s P3 (Norwegian radio station) and not difficult to understand why such is the immediate appeal of the vocal delivery. Comparisons can be drawn with Florence + The Machine, especially considering the heavy use of electronica intspersed with strings that is at one moment pondering in its approach before rising to considerable heights during its chorus. On the evidence of this first offering from Frøder, there is no question of this Norwegian loitering in the wings any longer as ‘Speed Of Sound’ looks set to continue its rapid trajectory even before there is any mention of a full length player. A very impressive start indeed.



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