It should be no surprise that pop’s own Rebel Queen might eventually go rawk but Plastic Hearts is in many ways a surprisingly grown-up affair, channeling the MOR side of 80s pop-rock and country. Collaborating with Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks and Billy Idol points heavily towards the mission statement for the album but there is without doubt more gloss than guitars, despite what the leather studded elbow gloves and fashion-mullet might suggest. However, while this mix will invariably generate sneers from ‘authentic’ rock music fans it hits a bullseye in her capabilities as a performer and is huge fun to listen to.
Like everything Miley has done since Can’t Be Tamed (a record that has more in common with Plastic Hearts than you might imagine) there is a perfect concoction of visuals, artwork and fashion orbiting the music. Much like Lady Gaga’s Joanne it feels as though there is an element of cosplay to the rock ‘n’ roll persona and this extends to the songs which are peppered with with cheeky sonic and lyrical nods to her influences. But while Dead Petz remains the most believably honest and raw record she has produced this new release sits firmly on the right side of contrivance, the packaging and ephemera only serving to further enjoyment of the music.
The only dud track for me is single release Prisoner, featuring Dua Lipa, which somehow feels like the worst of both artists. Otherwise this a strong and cohesive collection of songs. Night Crawling, an absolute ear worm that would be a shameless Billy Idol pastiche if it didn’t also feature Billy Idol, perfectly encapsulates the tongue in cheek side of the album whilst Midnight Sky, WTF Do I know and title track Plastic Hearts offer a more uniquely Miley take on the genre. Surprisingly ballad heavy, the album closes with what I imagine is the only genuinely moving song to have been released named Golden G String.
Miley’s vocal talents have never really been in doubt to anyone not clouded by abstract hatred of her media image but it feels like she is finally moving into a more credible position of longevity as an artist. Plastic Hearts doesn’t quite have the exuberant joy (or, ironically, as big a middle finger) for me as Bangerz but it feels like the perfect album for her stylistically right now.
ARTIST: Miley Cyrus
TITLE: Plastic Hearts
TOP TRACKS: Night Crawling, WTF Do I Know, Midnight Sky, Golden G String
MOOD: Put another dime in the jukebox, baby
A riotous injection of day-glo, bubblegum pop punk right where we need it!
New single Ink is Sarah Sunday’s third release and it’s packed with the kind of confidence, earworm hooks and grin-inducing fun that makes it feel like she’s been beamed directly from a 1980s episode of TOTP.
Sarah lists her biggest musical influences as Avril Lavigne, Hey Monday and The Smiths which gives you a fair idea of the pleasing mix of cheeky wit and joyful defiance in her music. But on this track in particular I’d say she’s channeling the spirit of Shampoo and Helen Love topped off with a sunny early 00s EDM edge.
I absolutely love this song and if you like your rebel sneer glammed up with neon lipstick then I think you will too. But, as the peppily ‘fuck you’ lyric says, ‘if you get mad then that’s your bad’.
ARTIST: Sarah Sunday
MOOD: Peroxide petulant
Is ‘pandemic pop’ a recognised genre term yet? Because if not then I think this is it..
Unify Separate, the recently rebranded artists formerly known as US, release their new single ‘Solitude & I’ this week and it has immediately secured repeat play status for me. Described by the band as ‘an in-your-face manifesto for never, ever giving up on your dreams’ the track is a thrilling, if unexpectedly drum and bass driven, four minutes of electronic joy.
Along with the usual hallmarks of soaring, dramatic synths and Andrew Montgomery’s always elegiac vocals this release is also a definite reminder of why I think they are often at their best when the go harder and is probably my favourite of their singles since 2018′s equally epic Voyager.
Solitude & I is in a lot of ways more instantly catchy and poppy than much of their output but it also has a driving power and an exhilarating, urgent aggressiveness pushing away in the background too. Possibly because, as the band say themselves ‘these days, there’s no time to lose’.
ARTIST: Unify Separate
TITLE: Solitude & I
MOOD: Dancing with tears in my eyes
Usually when sponsored ads stalk me on Instagram it leads to antipathy but in the case of the promo clip for sumptuous, retro tinged single ‘Mushroom Cloud’ it was an instant obsession. After what felt like too long a wait despite being only a few months Must Be A Dream, the band’s debut album, is released this week on Pony Records and is pleasingly not a disappointment.
Tracks mostly divide into chuggy psychedelic pop (High On My Own, Walk On The Water, Age Of The Bored) and euphoric, dreamy swoons (Must Be A Dream, Mushroom Cloud, Voices In My Head). Whilst unabashedly scraping from some of the best parts of 60s and 70s pop-rock there is a knowingness about it that rescues it from pastiche and although the band cite ELO as an inspiration it never quite tips into silliness. In fact at points it brought to mind melodic miserabilists Tindersticks and the more sensible side of Divine Comedy along with the more obvious comparisons.
There is always a danger in sailing too close to your reference points and Tempesst are definitely teetering right on that line but the lush, warm melodies and singer Toma Banjanin’s equally lush, warm vocals pull it back from the edge. A gorgeous and suitably Autumnal release that I think will become a personal favourite.
TITLE: Must Be A Dream
MOOD: Too much to dream last night
TOP TRACKS: Mushroom Cloud, High On My Own, Age Of The Bored
It’s not been the greatest year for big pop tunes in my opinion but there’s still been a lot that I’ve loved, with a strong showing in indie-pop and electronica. Here’s my top picks from 2019:
Norman Fucking Rockwell – Lana Del Rey
Remember The Future – Ionnalee
Handfuls of Night – Penguin Cafe
First Contact – US
Fine Line – Harry Styles
Sacred Dreams – Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation
Caligula – Lingua Ignota
Silver Eater – Grace Lightman
Five V2 – White Lies
Cry – Cigarettes After Sex
The Center Won’t Hold – Sleater-Kinney
People – The 1975
DHL – Frank Ocean
Divided Cities – Mark Fernyhough
Blinding Lights – The Weeknd
Resentment – Kesha
The One – Marika Hackman
Nothing Breaks Like A Heart – Mark Ronson / Miley Cyrus
Paradise – She Drew The Gun
Ice Tea Liberace – Phebe Starr
My Name Is Dark – Grimes
As we face down the increasingly real prospect of Brexit an Englishman based between the UK and Berlin, a city already keenly aware of the impact of borders both internal and external, is better placed than most to write a gloomily romantic electro-rock torch song on the subject – and here we have just that.
Musically Mark Fernyhough’s latest single Divided Cities is a close relative of his earlier dramatic melancholia like Berlin, The Human Eye and Steal My Love but with the addition of a grittier, more urban, electronic edge first introduced on last year’s single Sidewalks and it’s fantastically dark and druggy sounding b-side Favourite.
The track is accompanied by an chic and suitably international video starring French artist Camille Schaeffer, Belarusian
synth player Julia Runova and Polish/German
electro drummer Agata D’mon. Shot amongst the imposing architecture of the German capital it captures the bittersweet relationship between the cities we inhabit and how they inhabit us.
Divided Cities also comes backed by a brilliant (and single-worthy in it’s own right) b-side Edge of Town – a hooky little beast inspired by ‘fantasising about the ghosts, decadence and demons which lurk within the darkness of the forest at the end of the garden’ and which has a more guitarsey, gothically uptempo feel. Easily as good as its parent track it’s more of a double A side really, if such things still existed in the digital age.
ARTIST: Mark Fernyhough
TITLE: Divided Cities
MOOD: Romantic political gloom