Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Day of the Doctor

There's an awful lot that could be said about The Day of the Doctor, but I'll try to be brief and avoid spoilers as far as possible (but if you've not seen it yet and want to, you might still prefer to watch it before reading on...).

Firstly, let's get the most important thing out of the way - it was good. The first 30 seconds or so, before it all goes a bit adventurey, are a pleasing link from the very first episode to present day, and the last shot of the episode - without wanting to give anything away - is a nice way to round off the first 50 years of the show.

In between those opening and closing shots, there's 75 minutes of spectacle with a plot that, at least as far as I can tell, holds up to scrutiny better than many recent episodes of the series itself.

The feature-length piece also, of course, INTRODUCES JOHN HURT AS THE DOCTOR, but the lack of subtlety with which he was shoutily announced at the end of the preceding episode has been smoothed out slightly, and he fills the role nicely without stealing the show as the biggest 'name' among the cast members.

Subtlety is, for once, to be found in abundance in The Day of the Doctor, which manages simultaneously to give a nod to the classic era of the show, the early days of its modern-era revival and its current incarnation with Matt Smith at the helm of the TARDIS and of the show.

Billie Piper's appearance (again, hardly a spoiler by the time you've watched the opening credits) is handled well, allowing her to feature without getting bogged down in the Tenth Doctor/Rose storyline - which, remember, younger newcomers to the show may not have seen.

And there's a curious Wizard of Oz undercurrent throughout - look out for the ruby slippers in the Black Vault, Clara (IIRC) calling herself the 'Wicked Witch of the West' and Ingrid Oliver's character name 'Osgood' (Clara is, of course, varyingly known as Clara Oswald or simply as Oswin in previous episodes).

I've been trying to work out if the three Doctors are meant to represent the Scarecrow (Smith), Tin Man (Tennant) and Cowardly Lion (Hurt), but it's not a perfect fit - maybe it's all just my imagination.

I could spell out all of the references to the earlier Doctors, but I won't - I'll leave that for somebody far more familiar with the show than I am, and for a page that's less careful about spoilers.

But needless to say, as a viewer who came to the show in the mid to late 1980s (I wasn't born until 1983, so I like to think I have an excuse), there was enough of the spirit of Doctor Who as I knew it then, balanced nicely with the modern-day sense of the show as the new generation of fans have come to know it - not to mention a couple of surprises thrown in purely for the older fans, which seems fitting for an anniversary of such magnitude.

I do wonder how they got from the end of the previous episode to the beginning of this story, but perhaps that doesn't matter too much - it really needed to stand alone, so viewers who tuned in only for the anniversary did not feel lost from the outset, and I suspect it achieved that aim fairly well.

The focus now has to be on Peter Capaldi - it's no secret that this year's Christmas special is likely to see Matt Smith bow out and regenerate, which will ruin Christmas Day for a few kids, but never mind.

Can Capaldi continue to unite the two eras of Doctor Who? Restore The Doctor to his true, original character as a grumpy grown-up, rather than a clown? Bring back the darker side of the character and the show, for a generation of fans who came to the show as adolescents but are now reaching maturity in their own right?

I had all but written off Doctor Who until this anniversary episode; now I greet the oncoming storm with optimism. I have loved Matt Smith but, like Sylvester McCoy, he has rarely had the storylines he needed to shine to his fullest potential. Bring on Capaldi.

Friday, 22 November 2013

An Adventure in Space and Time

If you're already sick of watching Cybermen faint under the lights of The One Show studio, you probably decided not to watch An Adventure in Space and Time.

But while much of the build-up to this weekend's 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who has been bordering on the vapid, this 90-minute dramatisation frankly blew everything else out of the water, and has probably set the bar impossibly high for the 50th anniversary episode itself.

Not to worry - it's a small price to pay for what was not just a perfectly time-shifting glimpse at the show's earliest days, but also a touching tribute to The Doctor himself, William Hartnell.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Son Lux - Lanterns

The new record from Son Lux, 'Lanterns', is an energetic and uplifting fabric, a kind of musical weave that envelops the listener and begs to be played again and again.

Complex and thought-provoking, it's a symphony of instruments and voices that helps to drown out any stresses left over from the day, and lull you off to sleep - or help you relax or, contradictorily, help you prepare for a night out by creating a musical buffer between the working day and the evening's festivities.

Whatever you use Lanterns for - even if just to provide a soundtrack to your morning commute or journey to school - you definitely won't be bored by its detailed soundscapes and often haunting refrains, particularly in the case of Easy, which although minimalistic is one of the most sit-up-and-listen tracks on the record.

Click through to our full review below to preview Easy and other tracks from Lanterns.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Love Inks - Generation Club

It may be more than two years since Love Inks last featured on Popsiculture, back around the release date of E.S.P., but now they're back with Generation Club, and there's a whole ten more tracks to fall in love with.

For those of you who bought or remember E.S.P., Generation Club continues in the same style - an almost sensual combination of electronic sounds and purring vocals that perfectly show off lead singer Sherry LeBlanc's range.

If you're new to Love Inks, prepare yourself for something a little different from the norm. Think end-of-the-night slow-dancing on the greatest dancefloor of your life, but in the middle of the day and stone-cold sober, and... actually that sounds like a nightmare, but what I'm trying to say is, Love Inks feel like the crescendo of a great night out, but can be enjoyed at any time of day.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Crystal Stilts - Nature Noir

Nature Noir is the new album from Crystal Stilts, due out on September 16th through Sacred Bones, and it's currently having aural sex with our earholes here at Popsiculture.

It's an effortlessly stylish, stereophonic masterpiece that begs for a decent pair of headphones or set of speakers - so do yourself a favour, and give this one a listen on something other than your laptop or phone's built-in speakers; you won't regret it.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Junip - Walking Lightly

Walking Lightly, due for release on September 16th via City Slang, is a lush balance of percussion and Jose Gonzalez vocals, rich and mellow, and provides a perfect follow-up to the self-titled sophomore album released by Junip earlier this year.

You can preview the track using the SoundCloud player below, but also look out for the EP - also entitled Walking Lightly and due out on September 16th - for more tracks, including remixes by Maps, To Rococo Rot and Tobacco.

Like many people in the UK, we've been fans of Jose Gonzalez since his version of Heartbeats featured on the Sony Bravia 'bouncy balls' advert - and it's great to hear his work with Junip offering a different side to his distinctive vocals.

What's more, there's currently the chance to see Junip perform live on their European tour, which includes UK dates at:

14th Sep - Manchester, Ramsbottom Festival
15th Sep - Glasgow, No Mean City
16th Sep - Leeds, Brudenells Social Club
17th Sep - Bristol, Fleece
18th Sep - London, Shepherd's Bush Empire

It's a hectic schedule, sandwiched between further dates in France, Germany and the Benelux countries - and with the single and EP due out to coincide with the Leeds date, Junip are likely to be making a fair few appearances in the trade press over the coming weeks.

To download Walking Lightly from iTunes, use the button below, or look out for the full release of the EP if you're interested in the remixes.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Peter Capaldi is the Twelfth Doctor

In the worst-kept Doctor Who secret since the 2005 reboot episode Rose was leaked in Canada, Peter Capaldi has been named as the Twelfth Doctor, and fans seem, for the most part, to be quite happy.

As usual, I've got mixed feelings, although they're generally very positive - and it's certainly good that they haven't tried to cast another Matt Smith, who always seemed a natural for the role.

Yes, Capaldi is a rather more familiar face than is usually the case, but I think the show needs a safe pair of hands in the driving seat for now.

And to the critics who say he won't stay for long, as he'll be lured away to other (bigger?) things, I refer you to my June 2nd post and the fact that only four actors - including the two most recent Doctors, David Tennant and Matt Smith - have ever held the TARDIS keys for more than three years at a time.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Anna von Hausswolff - Ceremony

Ceremony, a spectacular, triumphant album from Sweden's Anna von Hausswolff, defies description and explanation - although naturally, I'll give it my best effort.

Let's be under no illusions though that this is not a sequence of compositions that's best heard, rather than discussed; so take full advantage of any previews you can get your hands on, or just take the plunge and buy it outright.

If you don't know what to expect of Anna von Hausswolff, then you're in for the greatest treat of all - and you may as well enjoy it, as you'll only get to 'discover' her for the first time once.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Doctor Who...?

With the news that Matt Smith is to leave the role of The Doctor (let's call him Eleven from here on in) at the end of the show's current 50th year, Doctor Who's producers have a crucial decision to make in appointing the right actor - or actress - to take on the role of Twelve.

I've been a lifelong fan of Doctor Who, although in my case I was still only four years old when Sylvester McCoy became Seven, so don't really have clear memories of any of the Doctors who came before him.

Before I list some of the options, let's remind ourselves of the Doctors of the past:

1. William Hartnell (1963-1966), 2yrs 11mths
2. Patrick Troughton (1966-1969), 2yrs 8mths
3. Jon Pertwee (1970-1974), 4yrs 5mths
4. Tom Baker (1974-1981), 6yrs 9mths
5. Peter Davison (1981-1984), 3yrs 0mths
6. Colin Baker (1984-1986), 2yrs 9mths
7. Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989), 2yrs 3mths
8. Paul McGann (May 27th 1996), 1 day
9. Christopher Eccleston (2005), 3mths
10. David Tennant (2005-2010), 4yrs 7mths
11. Matt Smith (2010-2013), 3yrs 11mths

Although it might feel like the actor playing The Doctor has changed quite a lot since the show's return in 2005, that's actually not the case - with the exception of Eccleston's admittedly short tenure, Tennant and Smith have been two of only four actors to play the part for more than three years (with Davison piloting the TARDIS for almost exactly three years, but falling just a few days short of the milestone).

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

She & Him - Volume 3

Yes! It's finally time for She & Him's third album, Volume 3, to hit the stands, and it couldn't come soon enough for us here.

Actually, Volume 3 was released last week, but we've only just had chance to review it. But as ever, it was worth waiting for.

Virals - Wax-Work

Picking up the pace slightly from our previous post, Wax-Work is another free download, this time from Virals, AKA Shaun Hencher.

As you can see from the SoundCloud waveform below, it's a noisy affair, with plenty of guitar and cymbals, so get ready to adjust your treble if you're not a fan of the hi-hat.

Hencher just got back from appearances in the US, and is scheduled for Field Day in Victoria Park, London this weekend, with a pre-party appearance at The Shacklewell Arms on Friday.

As far as we can tell, Wax-Work has been made available pretty much for the hell of it - there's no immediate album release coming up, although once Field Day is out of the way, Hencher's planning to start working on a full-length release, which we'll bring you more details about as we receive them.

Red Velvet Band - I'm Fine

As you may have noticed over the past couple of years, we're pretty big Katie Waissel fans at Popsiculture, and like many Waissel Warriors, we're hanging on every snatched glimpse of what to expect from Red Velvet Band, when they finally get around to releasing an album.

I'm Fine probably isn't typical of what to expect - a heartfelt ballad written and recorded by Katie herself, it's a moving demo recording* free from gimmicks, and free to download via the Red Velvet Band SoundCloud page.

There's a sense of real emotion - and of real pain - underpinning I'm Fine, which anyone who's followed Katie's life in recent months won't find surprising.

Her voice, though, is as distinctive as ever, and her natural delivery of her own heart-rending vocals comes almost as a whisper, a shared secret, a burden not unburdened, but perhaps at least eased through music.

I've always adored Katie's ballads, and allowing for the fact that this is, after all, a one-woman demo track, I think it stands up there with her best efforts from the past.

Truth be told, some fans are likely to be happy with any song that carries Katie's voice - and although I count myself among them, I feel truly blessed for that to be the case.

As always, more from Red Velvet as it becomes available.

*UPDATE: Katie uploaded an updated version of the track for download via the SoundCloud page after we published this review, which brings the track up to studio quality and offers a much richer sound in general.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Small Black - Limits of Desire

New this week, Limits of Desire is the new album from Small Black, and it's not easy to find the words to describe it, but I'll try.

If, like me, you're a fan of expansive soundscapes of music, of soaring synth, haunting vocals and pulse-like beats, Limits of Desire will transport your mind to a place it's likely never been to before.

Even if you're not so hooked on electronic instruments and 'big sound', there's enough here to drown out the world around you, if only for a while.

Who are Small Black?

Small Black have a distinctly northern European sound, but actually come from Brooklyn. You may have heard them several times over the years, with a self-titled EP released in 2009, studio album New Chain released in 2010, and their free mixtape download Moon Killer made available in 2011.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Little Mix ft. Missy Elliott - How Ya Doin'?

Good god this is bad. I can't imagine why Missy Elliott would put her name to this, unless she's secretly Jesy's mum or something.

I'm not gonna lie - I don't like Little Mix. I don't like the way they were forced on to an impressionable young voting audience on The X Factor.

I don't like that Jesy is continually treated as if she's the only one that matters, like some kind of propaganda bundle who exists purely to disguise any flaws in the group's musical capabilities by making it all about 'girl power' (this is not 1995, and Little Mix are definitely not The Spice Girls).

And I really don't like the ADHD-style video for How Ya Doin'?, which seems to work on the assumption that as long as everything keeps moving, and fast, nobody will notice that the song is terrible.

Really, it is - take a look:

I'm appalled. Then again, I've been appalled by everything else I've ever heard Little Mix produce, so there's little surprise there.

Thanks go to Sarah Linney for pointing out that How Ya Doin'? is actually a cover version of Curiosity Killed the Cat's 1989 hit Name and Number, which reached number 14 in the UK.

If curiosity really did kill the cat, then it must be turning in its grave at this abomination of a cover version.

I stand by my initial reply to Sarah on Twitter, that How Ya Doin'? is an "abysmal clatterbash of unnecessary noise", while Little Mix are "about as 'street' as an aqueduct".

Mixers, if you really feel the need to defend your idols on this one, comments are open below - anything unnecessarily abusive will be removed, but I'm definitely open to debate.

Torture yourself, if you must, by buying How Ya Doin'? on iTunes:

Or click the button below to educate yourself and check out some more Curiosity Killed the Cat:

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Diana Vickers - Cinderella

Diana Vickers is BACK with Cinderella, a typically infectious and upbeat summer dancefloor track that shares all the hallmarks of her recent efforts.

OK, it's no My Wicked Heart - in fact, it has quite a lot in common with Music to Make Boys Cry - but it's still pretty good, and we can already imagine Vickers bopping around on stage while singing it.

The 'lyric video' above is just a preview, so expect a full video featuring Vickers herself before the single is officially released on July 21st (the current expected release date, according to iTunes).

Until then, this is the first time the full-length audio of the song has been published, and the video should help you learn the words if you're keen to sing along.

As always, we'll be keeping an eye out for more from Diana, who's rumoured to be working on her next album.

We're not sure whether Cinderella will be on it, or if it's just a single release to tide fans over until the album is ready, but either way it's good to see a Popsiculture favourite back in action.

Click the button below to preorder Cinderella now on iTunes.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

She & Him - I Could've Been Your Girl

If you're eagerly awaiting next month's release date for She & Him's Volume 3, you're not alone - we can't wait either.

Thankfully, we're now into the realm of preview tracks, and I Could've Been Your Girl is the latest to make it on to the web for your irregular dose of Deschanel and Ward.

For a change, I'm not going to patronise the pair as being little more than a hobby of Deschanel's; too often, She & Him write-ups are dominated by talk of her TV and film career, and overlook just how good their music together really is.

I have a particular reason to love She & Him, and it's this: they sound like Christmas. Upbeat, bordering on cheesy, but without feeling the need to apologise for it.

They're a glimpse at the festive season at any time of year, without having it hammered home 24/7. In fact, that might make them better than Christmas.

I Could've Been Your Girl is no different, with plenty of similarity to She & Him's Christmas album, A Very She & Him Christmas. But again, it doesn't matter if little has changed in the general style of their 'sound' - we love She & Him just as they are.

For those of you who feel the same, I Could've Been Your Girl is a tantalising taste of what to expect in a few weeks' time, and we'll bring you more previews as and when they drop into our inbox.

Buy I Could've Been Your Girl on .

Volume 3 is due for release on May 6th; preorder it now on iTunes.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Fall Out Boy - Save Rock and Roll

Fall Out Boy have described Save Rock and Roll - an album they say was "recorded in secret from the music industry, critics, and even our fans" - as "the first record in a new chapter of Fall Out Boy".

"An artist's first record sound the way it does because it is often made without expectations," they explain on their official website.

"This is not our first record, but ... we made this music for ourselves and no-one else, at the end of the day."

You can draw your own conclusions about the outcome below, as the full album has been made available to preview via SoundCloud; it's an energetic composition with plenty of positives, even if Fall Out Boy are not normally one of your favourites.

Album opener The Phoenix has actually been available on SoundCloud for a couple of weeks, but at the time of writing, most of the other tracks from Save Rock and Roll had only been uploaded for 13 hours.

The title of this album is actually very apt - it's not soft rock, by any means, but the tracks are complex and carefully layered, with a wealth of vocals, instrumentals and effects combining to deliver an epic soundscape that is truly unique to each song.

As is so often the case - particularly with music at this kind of pace - the individual track lengths are not as long as you might first think, with most hovering around the radio-friendly four-minute mark.

However, there's enough going on at any instant to make those four minutes deliver easily as much of an audio experience as you might get with an entire mainstream pop album, making Save Rock and Roll well worth the cover price.

If this is what happens when Fall Out Boy go into hiding, let's hope we don't hear them mentioned again for another 18 months or so.

Rating: 86%

Pre-order on iTunes via the button below.


Monday, 25 March 2013

Retro Stefson - Retro Stefson

Retro Stefson's self-titled debut album hit the stands in the UK on March 25th, and it's well worth a listen, if only so you can name an Icelandic music act besides Bjork.

It's pretty funky stuff, probably best suited to have on in the background at your trendy cocktail party or, if you're cool, at your house party.

There's a decent chance of hearing it on a dancefloor too, although again it's more of a city centre sound than a cheesy suburban late-bar.

Decide for yourself with a preview of Glow below, which gives a pretty good indication of what you can expect from the album as a whole.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Dear Reader - Down Under, Mining

If you're a fan of beautiful things, the new video from Dear Reader should be just your thing. Down Under, Mining has been given a gorgeous shadow-puppet video to tell its story, which is every bit as evocative as the song itself.

The video also gives a glimpse ahead to Rivonia, the new album due out on April 8th and the third to come from Dear Reader, also known as Cheri MacNeil.

South African-born MacNeil was educated just round the corner from where, on July 11th 1963, 19 members of the African National Congress were arrested - and her third album pays tribute to that period of her life.

The arrests were largely a matter of chance - police had been told of meetings between black and white individuals at a location named Ivon; in fact, the meetings were happening at Rivonia, but several letters of its sign had faded.

MacNeil says: "That sign, with its faded lettering, makes me think about history as a whole, and how the versions we have must all have bits that have weathered away and gone missing, and how we'll never know the whole truth about anything.

"There are so many different realities overlaid on top of one another, but each of us only has the version we know."

If you're not afraid to incorporate issues like apartheid and slavery into your music collection, you can pre-order Rivonia by clicking the button below, and download it from April.

Rivonia (Bonus Track Version) - Dear Reader

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Portasound - Sacrifice EP

Portasound's four-track EP Sacrifice was out on February 11th, and while we've been a bit quiet here recently, it's an energetic production that helps to kickstart things with a bang as we get back into the swing of things for 2013.

First of all, if you're thinking four tracks is what you'd expect to get on a CD single, then in principle you're right, but in practice Sacrifice is very much an EP.

In this case, though, the 'extended' part of the play time comes not from having six or seven tracks, but from each track being at least four minutes long - not operatic in magnitude, but a long way from being just a handful of radio edits.

Combined, the play time is almost 20 minutes of auditory bliss, and the individual tracks are epic if not in terms of duration, then in their progression, layering, and sheer complexity of sound.

Give them a listen, and you'll spot the places where a different artist might have put an extra track break, and added to the playlist with a one-minute 'song' simply called 'Intro'.

For the best example of the acoustic genius that underpins this EP, skip straight to Ascension, the final track on the EP.

This could easily be lifted straight from the finale of an 80s sci-fi movie - and from me, there isn't much higher praise I can give to a tune than that.

It has the sense of a virtual world being stripped away to reveal the reality beneath, of elements interacting outside of any control, either human or otherwise.

Good electronic music has been making a resurgence in the past year or so, and this is definitely good electronic music, complemented by all of the necessary cymbal crashes and other such elements needed to flesh it out into being more than just a pre-sequenced synth track.

It's my personal high point on an overall great EP - and one that I'm delighted to finally get mentioned on Popsiculture.

Visit Portasound's artist page on iTunes:

Monday, 25 February 2013

Doldrums - Lesser Evil

Lesser Evil is the debut album from Doldrums, AKA Airick Woodhead, and while this is the first time those names have been mentioned on Popsiculture, we've been hearing them for a while here.

From the eerie opening strains of Lesser Evil - an album that starts with its own dedicated Intro track - it's clear to see why Doldrums is a name that's been whispered in our ears a few times already.

Lesser Evil is not a cynical, carefully constructed crowd-pleaser however, and in many instances it makes for quite challenging listening, while paradoxically demanding that the volume be cranked a little higher.

Each new track is pleasingly dissimilar from its predecessor, and yet there is a common thread that links the whole of this album; perhaps not anything tangible, but a general sense of identity that is there from first to last.

This album of contrasts is well worthy of 38 minutes of your life and at least one full, uninterrupted listen - and luckily for you, it's available to stream in full on SoundCloud.

So, what are we liking about Lesser Evil? For me, it's the quilt-like, patchwork nature of the piece. Individual tracks each with their own identity, yet serving as part of a coherent whole.

Track lengths vary from (not including the 1:07 Intro) 1:15 to 5:54 - tracks 2, 5, 6, 8 and 10 are the ones to buy from the standard track listing, if you judge your 'money's worth' in those terms.

And it's actually not a bad way to assess this album; track 5, Egypt, crams a remarkable audio landscape into its almost-six minutes of vocals, instrumentals and distorted breakdowns.

For once, it seems, the longer tracks really do have more to offer, and are not simply extended by virtue of repeating their chorus and/or last verse - both of which are almost meaningless concepts on the musically contortionist Lesser Evil.

Does a shorter track mean a let-down, though? Certainly not. Track 7, Singularity Acid Face, is the shortest other than the Intro, and still manages to twist and develop during its minute and 15 seconds, creating a hypnotic, serene syrup of noises that lead perfectly into its follow-up track, the album's second-longest song, Live Forever.

Listen out in this for a casual name-drop of the album title, followed by a trance-like layering of vocals, synth and drums that is so much more complex than any description could accurately convey.

If you didn't already hit play on the SoundCloud player above, now's the time - it's well worth it, even if you only listen once. And if you like Lesser Evil, click the iTunes button below to download it.

Rating: 91%

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

R H O D E S - M O R N I N G

When Alyssa Smith tells you to listen to a song, you listen to it - and that's how we just discovered R H O D E S (who we're going to call Rhodes from now on - it's just easier that way!).

M O R N I N G (which, again, we'll write as Morning from here on in...) is a recent addition to Rhodes' SoundCloud profile, and it's perfectly titled, bringing to mind lazy, sunny mornings when you wish time would stand still so you never had to get out of bed.

It's tagged under 'love', and that sentiment oozes from every line and lyric of Morning, and from every caramel-smooth fragment of vocal that's poured into this two-and-a-half-minute gem.

This isn't Rhodes' only SoundCloud addition though, so head over to his SoundCloud profile for more similarly sentimental and magically moving compositions - there are contact details on there too, if you feel like making Alyssa very happy by talent-spotting him.

Alter (play it above) contains perhaps the catchiest refrain of Rhodes' uploads so far, with the touching lyrics "It doesn't matter how long now/I'll wait for you somehow/I'll wait for you".

Its feeling of loneliness and loss is directly at odds with the story that underpins Morning, but for those of us who have tasted both the happiness and the hunger of love, it's not much of a stretch to reconcile the two into one and the same emotion.

Together with Falling, Rhodes' third upload, there's already the makings of an astounding EP here - this is certainly one artist worth watching.

Find Rhodes at: