Monday, July 31, 2006

Found it perfect, although some did not agree

This is Darin Zanyar, or Darin, runner-up on the first season of Swedish Idol and an amazing popstar. Look at one of his videos! And another! There's real energy! Breaking things! Posing! Exaggerated gestures! And, most importantly (and unlike, say, Rihanna, who was content to make the fabulous "SOS" and then spend the video pressing up against glass, standing in front of plants, and sending text messages), Darin includes DANCING! Dance breaks, dance offs, choreographed group dance routines...we need more music videos like these.

Stand By Me--A ballad, but a catchy one; it's sort of mid-tempo-ish. It's from Darin's first album, which I don't own all of, but should probably buy, because it seems great.

Step Up--Jim Verraros, who we discussed earlier, does dance-pop. He does it well. But Darin--this song is what dance music is about. Jim's songs are great, but I think the focus on "sexiness" means that his music is, oddly enough, always restrained in some way; he's so busy trying to sound sexy that he can't go all the way with his music. Darin's music is in your face, whereas Jim's is maybe more whispered in your ear. For sheer power, fun, and danceability, I don't know if any Idol contestant can beat this song.

Want Ya--Having used up all my weird metaphors for the last song, I'll just say this: more Darin danciness. Try to resist. Different from "Step Up" a bit (I think I prefer "Step Up" more, though the lyrics in this song may be slightly better--as if lyrics were a focus here), but still powerful.

Who's That Girl - The Attic Remix (Radio Edit)--Originally a ballad, this song has been remixed to make it dancey. Since it wasn't originally designed as a dance song, it doesn't have the power of either of the previous two songs, and it's not my favorite remix in the world, but I like what it does to the song.

If you want to buy Darin's music--and how could you not?--you can get it in physical copies (first album The Anthem or second album Darin) or digital tracks (first album, second album, or B-sides).

Next up: I suspect there are a lot of good ex-Idol Swedish popstars out there (I especially think Ola's album might be good), but I don't have any songs from them, so a new country will be up next--Germany, where we'll look at an Idol whose first album I also don't have.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I guess I got it bad, and that ain't good

This is Aleksander Denstad With. Or Aleksander Denstad. Or Aleksander With. Which makes searching for information about him very fun.

In between confusing us with his name, Aleksander found time to win the most recent season of Norwegian Idol, which finished a few months ago. I'd like to tell you more about him, but all I can find (and understand) is that he is the youngest winner of Norwegian Idol and that, at some point on the show, he performed two songs by Gavid DeGraw, Seal's "Kiss From A Rose," and Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel," which at least shows good taste in music. A lot of the songs he performed on Idol had a little bit of a rock edge, which might give us an indication of his future direction.

A Little Too Perfect--Aleksander's first post-Idol single, which probably gives you an idea of what to expect. However, though this song definitely has its power ballad elements, it's also a little faster than most Idol winners' first singles. It's not really complex, but there's lots of piano and, in general, it has a fun, upbeat tone.

To buy Aleksander's single, "A Little Too Perfect," you can go here (digital version).

Since this is such a short post, I'll also bring you some other Idol-related news that you all probably know already, since it's been out for a month or so, but I just heard it. Clay Aiken's next album will be called A Thousand Different Ways, and the online American Idol blog lists it as being released September 19. That date is still unconfirmed, but it should be out this year. A studio version of a song Clay performed while on tour has leaked. It's still a rough cut and there's a good chance it won't be on the album (some people have speculated that it is from an apparently scrapped 2005 album), but, even though it's nothing revolutionary, I do like it.

1000 Days

Thanks so much to I'm Always Right and Cure for Bedbugs for including me in their links sections; they are both amazing sites and, if you haven't ever seen them before, you should definitely go look at them.

Next up: I'm officially back, so daily updates will resume! There are probably more good songs by Norwegian Idol contestants, but I don't know them (any tips?), so the next post will most likely be about a Swedish singer.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

One more thing...

I knew it. Every time I go on vacation, something important happens. People get trapped in mines. Popes die. Terri Schiavo dies. Well, it's happened again. I was browsing through Chartrigger when I discovered that not only have I missed out on a major news story, it was happening in my own hometown! Ashlee Simpson was scheduled to play a concert there when...well, really, just go read the Chartrigger summary of the whole thing. This makes me feel slightly better about initial rumors about the Click Five appearing at Ashlee's concert (who I would've liked to see but wouldn't have been able to see because of vacation) being false.

Good ol' Toledo--the last two times we made national news (if this even counts as national) were for race riots and priests killing nuns. I wish someone would remind me why I haven't left Ohio yet...

J'étais sans toi

Greetings from alternately rainy and far too hot North Carolina! I feel so out of the music loop, but the ocean and beach are helping make up for that (even if I've already managed to burn horribly). Here's what I've managed to learn, mainly from MTV:
  • I'm not hugely excited by Justin Timberlake's new music video--or rather, even after watching Making the Video, I still don't understand it (what's the whole spy plot about?)
  • More video news: Nick Lachey's new video for "I Can't Hate You Anymore" is nothing exciting, but, even though the song is pretty similar to "What's Left Of Me," "I Can't Hate You Anymore" is an improvement. I'm holding out hope that, after getting these emotional issues off his chest in this album, Nick could go on to be a good male popstar (we could use some more in the U.S.), even though it's probably more likely he'll fade out of the public eye.
  • I tried to watch Jessica Simpson and Fergie's new music videos, but since it was TRL playing them, I only saw about a minute of each and cheering covered up the audio for fifteen seconds on either end.
  • Lance Bass is coming out. I could have sworn my sister told me this months ago, so it can't be very surprising, but good for him.
  • I saw a commercial for Stefy's song "Chelsea" on MTV, which was exciting--I don't expect the song to break records, but I'd like to see it do well. UPDATE to say that I just saw TRL preview a clip of the video, which probably means it's been floating around on YouTube for weeks, but the more publicity, the better.
  • Hugely belated congratulations to Darren Hayes for getting married!
  • We met the brother of one of the boys on So You Think You Can Dance (the one who danced to "London Bridge" last night) at the beach, which is the closest I've come to meeting a celebrity...unless you count seeing the runners-up in Trading Spaces's million dollar home contest.

Onto today's post...only one song, and I'm not hugely excited about it, but it's all right (and I didn't bring my music collection with me, so I don't have many options).

Thierry Amiel was the runner-up to Jonatan Cerrada on the first season of Nouvelle Star. He's released one album so far and has another scheduled to be released this November. I don't own his first CD, so I may be mistaken in my judgement that most of the songs on it seem a little boring--maybe it was an attempt to prove that, though he lost to Jonatan, he was the better and more serious artist. His music is distinctively French; it doesn't follow the typical mold that, say, most U.S. pop songs do.

Sans toi--Aha! Another moment for my French skills to shine. I'm going to tentatively guess this title translates to "Without You." I hope so, because that's what this song feels like--the chorus seems like Thierry's crying out (not in anger, but not really regular sadness either--maybe desperation?) after being abandoned. It's not a ballad--it has too much energy for that. The chorus is easily the best part of the song, but the rest does an admirable job building up to that chorus cry-out.

To buy a hard copy of Thierry Amiel's CD, Paradoxes, go here; to buy a digital copy, go here.

Next up: probably Norway, but definitely back to English. I should be home on Sunday or Monday, so regular updates should return then.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

En tu camino hallaras todo lo que deseas alcanzar

Jonatan Cerrada is French (Belgium born), with Spanish parents, and so he sings in those languages--but don't let that deter you! For the longest time, I had a phobia of non-English songs, but Jonatan (along with, if I am being honest, O-Zone and Tarkan) helped break me of that. Jonatan was the winner of the first season of Nouvelle Star, the French equivalent to Pop Idol, and he may be familiar to Eurovision watchers--he represented France there in 2004. Jonatan has a good voice for the type of songs he sings: a hint of warmth, generally smooth and clean--essentially, it's not too distinguishing or distracting, which allows him to deliver great pop songs, regardless of who writes them.

A Chaque Pas--Jonatan's Eurovision song. A ballad, and a decent one (I'm pretty sure I can hear emotion in his voice, even if I can't tell what that emotion is), though I can see how this didn't fit in at Eurovision. Even though this wasn't his first post-Idol release, it sort of sounds like that kind of song.

Mon Paradis--I complained earlier this week about pop acts choosing to attach themselves to movies of questionable quality or success; this song is another example of that, since it comes from the soundtrack to the French version of Robots. Regardless of what you think of the movie, though, this song is quite good. Even with my non-existent knowledge of French (I'm pretty sure that the title translates to "My Paradise" and that Jonatan says "the truth" somewhere in the song), the chorus is almost sing-alongable. It's bouncy pop with guitars, in French.

To buy a physical copy of Jonatan's first album, Siempre 23, or second album, La Preuve du Contraire, you can go here; for digital tracks of the second album, you can go to this UK site; for digital tracks of the first or second album, you can go to this Danish site.

Next up: I'm going on vacation for a little over a week (maybe starting a blog two weeks before vacation wasn't the smartest idea). I'll try to see if I can sneak in one update sometime while I'm gone, but I don't know what sort of Internet access I'll have. The next post will also be about a French artist and a pop song hidden amonst a CD of more "serious" work. Enjoy your summers!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Where we can dance to the music 24/7

Anthony Callea has a big, pure voice; spiky hair; was runnerup on the second season of an Idol show (Australia), but has gone on to have more commercial success than the winner--notice any similarities? If you don't like Clay Aiken, though, don't let that steer you away from Anthony. Though they both have voices that sometimes sound like they might fit better beyond pop, Anthony's music is somewhat different from Clay's; it's more diverse, for one thing. Plus, he covers Backstreet Boys songs! (As a warning, my endorsement of some of Anthony's songs will probably go over just about as well as my admission that I enjoy Darius's singles.)

Rain--my first instinct is to compare Anthony to Josh Groban, and that doesn't make sense on so many levels, but I guess if that comparison was even slightly valid, you could hear it best on this song or "The Prayer." Swedish Idol contestant Ola has also performed this song and, though the versions are pretty similar, I think Ola's has a little bit of a lighter touch about it. It's a good strong power ballad (in the modern Idol sense, not in the rock sense; maybe there's a better word for this type of song, since guitars aren't really prevalent here as they are in many power ballads)--not hugely exciting, but pretty good as songs in that genre go. I have yet to work out what the chorus means, though; I suppose "she's falling like rain" is playing off the two meanings of falling (falling in love and falling because of gravity), but it's a little confusing.

Hurts So Bad--Fun and faster (though no speed demon) with some Latin-y flair. For some reason, the video feels to me like the nighttime counterpart to Gareth Gates's video for "Sunshine" (though no water is involved this time, and Gareth pulls off trying to be cool better than Anthony does...and I don't need to hear any comments about any sentence with "Gareth" and "cool" in it being an oxymoron!).

Lost in Summer--this song is sort of laid back--perfect chilling by the pool music--but at the same time, there's something vaguely dance-y about it; not "get up and dance like crazy" dancey, but maybe slow swaying. Despite the opening rain sound effects, a great summer song--sunny yet chilled, trying (trying) to seem impossibly cool. The drum (timpani? I don't know my percussion) makes the song distinctive.

When You Were My Girl--the inevitable sappy ballad, but I like this song. I am also amused by the second verse's use of "when I was your man" instead of "when you were my girl," just to make sure that all the politically correct bases were covered. The verses are all right, but it's the chorus (where the song soars) that makes the song.

Into Your Heart--This song feels like one of those ballads that has been remixed into an uptempo dance song, but this is no remix. Apparently, though, Anthony originally wrote it as a ballad and the producers turned it into a dance-type number for him to record, which I think was a smart decision; since Anthony's so known for his ballads, mixing in as many uptempo numbers as possible prevents him from seeming like a one-trick pony. Even if the song or Anthony's delivery isn't really that dancey, it sounds like it is.

This is supposedly his definitive performance on Australian Idol, but for sheer entertainment value, you can't really beat this.

To buy Anthony's only album so far, Anthony Callea, go here. It is ballad heavy, but probably worth owning for the songs listed here.

Next up: back to Europe, where we'll venture into our first non-English songs.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Back soon, I hope

Poor Anthony Callea...after his post being delayed by Shannon Noll, and then the Matt Willis/Rooster/Will Young/Jim Verraros combo, I fully intended to write about him today. I even have the whole post written and everything, but ZShare hasn't been working all day. If it's not fixed by tomorrow, I guess I'll have to look into using some other service. I don't really want to use YouSendIt, Sendspace, or Rapidshare, because then you can't listen to the track before downloading it. EZArchive is a possibility...if anyone has any recommendations, I'd love to hear them.

Hopefully, everything will be better tomorrow!

(Credit to Lina and Charlotte for the photo)

Monday, July 17, 2006

You got my attention, I'm craving some more

I had plans to write about Australian Idol Season 2 runner-up Anthony Callea today. However, as excited as I am about him, those plans have to go out the window. Why? Let’s start with Stormbreaker—not so much the movie (though, having now checked out the book after hearing Paul’s recommendation, I may soon start looking forward to that, too), but the soundtrack. Do you know who will be on it?

  • Matt Willis (according to here, “Hey Kid” will be in the movie and Alex Pettyfer, the movie’s star, will have a brief cameo in the music video)
  • Rooster (working on the soundtrack, according to here)

There are many reasons why I should not be excited by this. On the Matt front, in addition to his dodgy facial hair, I am very worried that I will not adore his whole album. Also, I don’t know if he is hoping to launch himself in the US with his attachment to Stormbreaker (maybe “Hey Kid” will just be in the UK version of the credits?), but if he is: does the UK enjoy attaching its best pop artists to movies likely to flop (or at least not do too well in the US)? Cases in point:

  • Will Young: 101 Dalmations II
  • Busted: Thunderbirds
  • McFly: Just My Luck
  • Click Five: Sky High, The Shaggy Dog (OK, not British nor managed by the same people as Matt, but they have a similar style to McFly, and they deserve better work than second-class Disney movies and failing/ed MTV shows about young models)

And, in terms of Rooster, why should I be excited about a band who started off with a great first single and then declined from there (full disclosure: I haven’t heard new single “Home” yet, so maybe they’ve shaken off that trend for their new album, and I did like album track “Platinum Blind”)?

But I cannot help it. After not being able to stand the thirty second clip of “Up All Night,” I have fallen in love with the full version, and bringing together Matt Willis and Rooster for the same movie must be an indication of the other artists on the soundtrack and a recipe for success, right? Don’t answer that.

The other reason we are not looking at Anthony Callea today: I saw this video for the first time.

How absolutely amazing and sweet is that? I want to keep watching it again and again, and would, if not for how awfully sad Will looks when they start criticizing him and his jumper…but that just makes him even more endearing! I love it when you find confirmation that the good pop you like is made by a genuinely good person. In honor of this video, then, and at risk of turning into a Will Young fan blog, let’s have a Will Young song.

Who Am I--OK, yes, everyone in the UK has heard this song and seen the video for it, so I guess this is for non-UK readers (and even most of those have probably heard "Who Am I"). This was the third single off Will's third album. It's a simple song, a ballad, but the delicate and gorgeous music perfectly matches the lyrics. This may not be the first song you want to listen to when you are having a great day, but it has more emotion by the time it gets to the chorus than any of those over-the-top shouty ballads Idol winners seem required to release as their first single.

Buy Will Young's third album, Keep On, here (physical) or here (digital).

In breaking news (for me): I heard a recent demo/song by Jim Verraros; it’s a duet with someone named Jamie O’Brien, and it seems to be relatively recent—definitely more recent than Rollercoaster. I’m glad to see Jim sticking with the whole dirty club music direction, but…hmm…I’m not so sure about the song. Maybe remixes will give it some energy and my opinion of it will change. What do you all think?

Sweat--Jim Verraros and Jamie O'Brien

(Song originally found here; also available on Jamie’s MySpace)

Next up: yes, I'm aware of the irony of promising no pop-rock today and then spending the first half of my post discussing Matt Willis and Rooster. Tomorrow, we really will get to Anthony Callea.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Here I go, just me and the radio

This is Shannon Noll. He was runnerup on the first season of Australian Idol. He makes pop-rock. Lots of it. And it all tends to blur together after a little while, I've decided.

All I Want is More--no, Shannon, we do not want more. This song will probably be enough for today. Maybe I'm being unfair; I've only been listening to his music for a day, so perhaps if I listened to it some more it would grow on me. I was a little put off by the song opening up on the word "and"--did I miss the song's beginning? What happened? Shannon's voice has a little bit of a rough edge to it, and the guitars are somewhat stronger than they were on yesterday's song. This is the sort of song designed to either be played while driving fast down the highway, or maybe be playing during a movie wherein said fast driving is occurring. It's probably more rock than pop, but it's still worth a look if you like your guitars but don't really care about credibility.

To buy Shannon Noll's first album, That's What I'm Talking About, or second album, Lift, you can go here.

Instead of spending lots of time on Shannon, let's look at some other sites featuring songs by Idol finalists.

Popsound, though written in Dutch, is featuring (South African) Idols finalist David Fourie. The song's in Afrikaans, but it's really good; nice and bouncy, with a little bit of guitar, but lots of good electronic effects.

Into the Groove has a gorgeous mid-tempo song by an Idols finalist from Holland, Jim Bakkum.

As mentioned earlier, Tip Tip Pop recently featured Christina Christian and a nice Latin-y song.

Finally, because I can't wholeheartedly endorse today's Idol contestant, here's a song I'm currently adoring.

Every Girl I've Wanted--Don't Stop the Pop introduced me to Jon, who was on a non-Idol TV singing competition in Denmark. This is the Jon vs. Musikk version of Jon's single "Every Girl I've Wanted," and it's perfect summery dance goodness. At some point while listening to this song, the thought crossed my mind that one could make a comparison between it and O-Town's "Liquid Dreams," because both compare the traits of the girl they love to the traits of celebrities. But really, the two songs aren't anything alike; for one, Jon doesn't sound creepy about it. For another, this song has handclaps, swirling background electronic effects, and maybe a hint of sort of "ethnic" flair (Latin?). Just try to listen to it without smiling.

To buy Jon's first album, This Side Up; second album, Today Is A Good Day (To Fall In Love); or any remixes, you can go here (physical format) or here (digital format).

Next up: not pop-rock! Onto the second season of Australian Idol.

(Apologies to Shannon Noll if I was overly just took forever to upload his song.)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

(S)he'll alway's leave with your sanity

I have to thank I'm Always Right and CFB Goes Pop for alerting me to today's artist's existence. In fact, you should really read IAR's post on Rob Mills. Really, after reading that, how could I not want to find out more about Mr. Mills?

Rob Mills, or Millsy, was on the first season of Australian Idol; he placed fifth. Since I didn't follow Rob on Idol, I can't really speak to his singing ability, but singing ability, though useful, is often the least important factor in a successful song. Whether or not Rob can really sing (who knows? I don't! And he can certainly sing better than me), he has given us a great, great song.

Ms. Vanity--classic pop-rock. Really. I can't totally say why I love this song, but I do; it's all I can do to prevent myself shouting out "YOU'LL NEVER BE! WHAT SHE NEEDS!" and pumping my fist in the air whenever the chorus hits. It has an infectious enthusiasm about it; not quite the Busted or McFly bouncing-off-the-walls energy, but more a nod-your-head vibe (and maybe jumping up and down). It strikes the perfect balance between sincerity and a knowing wink at the audience. Whether the song is a joke gone surprisingly good (this is Rob Mills, so we can't really take it too seriously, but really, it's a rather good song, isn't it?) or a good song given an extra sense of fun by who's delivering it (the Idol factory produces a good song and serendipitously gives it to the right singer), I'm not sure, but however we ended up with Ms. Vanity, it is pretty much the embodiment of pop-rock fun.

At this point, I've probably talked the song up too much and you all will be disappointed with it--so, maybe you'd be better off if you forgot everything I just wrote and imagined that I described it as "a decent pop-rock song." I will recommend listening to it at high volumes, though; I think it makes it sound better.

You can buy Rob Mills's album, Up All Night, here; since it apparently didn't do that well, it should be selling for much cheaper than it is, but there's always a markup, isn't there (hence the single song today--the single was cheaper than the whole CD)?

Next up: I was planning to move on to Australian Idol's second season, but I found some tracks by the first season runnerup, so we'll probably do that instead. Unless I decide they're not any good. But, as we've seen so far (Darius? Rob Mills? Clay Aiken?), I'm relatively easy to please (there really are pop songs I don't like, I swear...), so you can probably count on some Shannon Noll tomorrow.

Friday, July 14, 2006

What is going on upstairs, I think, predominantly air

Guy Sebastian: the Australian equivalent to Will Young or Kelly Clarkson. Well, perhaps not quite--though I enjoy most Kelly and Will songs, there are only a few Guy songs I like. I do own--and like--first album single "All I Need Is You," but the only version of it I have is from iTunes. As a result, I only have one good song for you all today (though I'll throw in one other). If you watch American Idol, you might have seen Guy perform or heard Carrie Underwood sing Guy's single "Angels Brought Me Here." Guy, famous for his apparently now-gone afro, won the first season of Australian Idol, and, though his first album had a lot more success than his second, he is still doing well commercially and is going to release the first single from his third album soon. In the meantime, he's appearing on It Takes Two, the Australian version of UK show Just The Two of Us (for American readers, it's apparently something like a singing version of Dancing With The Stars), in which celebrities not known for singing duet with professional singers. Wikipedia says he's also planning on releasing a gospel album in the US this year.

In exciting (?) news, all of today's songs are in mp3 format, so you can actually hear them before you decide if you want to download them (definitely a good thing, considering today's songs probably won't have wide appeal)'s not a permanent change, since most of the songs I own are in m4a, but, when I can, I'll try to get them in mp3.

Oh Oh--from Guy's second album, Beautiful Life, "Oh Oh" is a mildly urban-influenced dance pop (though not dance pop in the sense of, say, "Call On Me") tune that gives us a "classic" pop euphemism. I don't really know what the message of Guy's song is (is he truly telling the girl to leave him alone? or is he just overwhelmed but sorta loving it?); I suppose I could bother to look up the lyrics, which I can never seem to totally understand, but every time I hear this song I'm too distracted by the grooviness of it to think about further research. I don't want to talk this song up too much--it is far from my favorite song by an Idol finalist. It is dancey (just listening to it stationarily makes it not feel quite right), but it's not totally club-friendly, so it makes sense that it would be remixed. Unfortunately...

Oh Oh (Cutfather & Joe Remix)--this may be the weirdest remix I've heard. It takes a sort of dancey song and makes it less dancey. The guitar is played up a bit, the song's slowed down a bit, and the random effects seem more prevalent; it's like someone tried to make the song funkier and add a hint of some sort of "flavor" (maybe a bit of Latin flair?), but didn't really know what funky meant. It's the sort of remix I picture playing in some dusty, dirty, off-the-road cantina, where maybe some of the clientele decide to dance, and maybe one couple knows what they're doing and can turn in a nice Spanish-influenced slowish dance, but the rest of the dancers just end up looking awkward.

You can buy either of Guy's albums, Just As I Am or Beautiful Life, here, but I'd probably recommend buying singles instead (available from the same place), though I don't own the albums, so I can't say for sure.

Next up: staying in Australia, we have a post with only one song, but it's a good one.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I'm just a girl, get used to it

To be honest, I'm not really excited about either of today's Idol finalists, but the songs are all right, I suppose (with a ringing endorsement like that, how can you not want to continue reading?). Up first is Diana DeGarmo, runnerup (to Fantasia) during Season 3. Diana was pretty young during the competition--16, I think--and I was never that impressed with her during it; after LaToya was voted off, my interest in the season declined a lot. Diana's first album, Blue Skies, did pleasantly surprise me, but only by being all right. She seems like a nice girl, and I think she can sing, but she does tend to turn her songs into big, melodramatic productions. Case in point...

Emotional--This song was the first to jump out at me when I listened to the album, and it's probably the catchiest song Diana has. After a few listens, though, I realized that, though it's sort of catchy, it's also sort of depressing, and I've yet to figure out quite the proper mood to listen to it in. It's got the big, voice-showing-off crescendos typical of Idol, but is more midtempo than it is a ballad.

Cardboard Castles--not my favorite Diana song (that would probably still be Emotional, as perplexed as I am by that song), but it does seem to get more approval from those knowledgeable about pop, so here it is. It's more sophisticated than Emotional (lyrically and music-wise), and, though it still has dramatic, showing-off-the-voice parts, they aren't quite as over the top, and Diana allows herself to sing quietly in some places.

Carrie Underwood won the fourth season of American Idol after a battle between pseudo-rock (Bo Bice) and pseudo-country (Carrie). Whether it was Carrie's sweetness, looks, or voice (or maybe all three) that resulted in her win, I'm not sure. I haven't listened to her whole CD, so she might have some hidden gems on it; however, I think it might be a bit too country for me.

Some Hearts--I do enjoy country-pop now and then (blame my family for exposing me to Faith Hill and Shania Twain), and, if you don't mid a bit of country influencing what really is a pop song, Some Hearts is pretty good. Some of the backing effects (though not Carrie's voice and certainly not the chorus), especially at the beginning, remind me of Kimberley Locke's 8th World Wonder. I think it could be a little catchier than it is (though I don't know what they could have done), but it's probably my favorite of today's songs; nice, mid-tempo, with, of course, the typical lowerkey (in sound) verses and "let's-show-off-the-voice-a-little-more" chorus.

To buy Diana DeGarmo's CD, Blue Skies, you can go here (hard copy) or here (digital); to buy Carrie Underwood's CD, Some Hearts, you can go here (hard copy) or here (digital). The digital shops aren't direct links to that artist; you'll have to search for the artist's name.

Next up: we'll continue our westward and southward movement by heading to Australia.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Made my coffee like I always do

I was pretty much rooting for Clay Aiken from his first appearance on American Idol Season 2. His voice is amazing and, though it may be a bit more Broadway than traditional pop, it can be harnessed towards making excellent pop songs. He finished second that season, behind Ruben Studdard, but so far has had more commercial success. More important than commercial success, though, is the quality of his songs.

Invisible--Yes, I know the lyrics here are sort of stalkerish. I still love this song. I was shocked--SHOCKED!--to discover that this was a cover of a song by Irish group D-side. And, based on the low-quality 30 second clip I found of the original online, pretty much all that changed was the vocal. I would never have guessed, though; the song fits Clay's voice perfectly. It's mid/uptempo pop, soaring in bits, and, even if Clay never sounds particularly heartbroken, his voice is so smooth and melodic that the song is listenable just because of what it sounds like, not what it's saying.

When You Say You Love Me--another mid to up-tempo song. Not as soaring as Invisible, and probably not single-worthy, but with a bit of a catchy chorus. I think I heard that this song was written by Darren Hayes (ex-Savage Garden, now a soloist), though I'm not sure if he performed it (maybe it was a B-side somewhere, or under consideration for his use? I don't think it was on either of his albums), but I would be interested to hear his version, if he did.

The Way--more ballad than either of the previous two songs. Although you're not really hearing the Broadway-ness of Clay's voice throughout most of this song (though there are parts like that near the end), the song still works, which I think shows that Clay could be a really good popstar.

Build Me Up Buttercup--live, from American Idol. AI is so filled with ballads that I was always hoping for a more uptempo song from Clay so he would stand out more. The night he performed this song, he also performed Solitaire, which was probably his most praised performance for the entire season. However, I love his version of Buttercup; I'm generally skeptical of covers, but I'd love a version of this on his next album. (Credit for this song goes to FCA Media; now, if only that site could find a clear and complete copy of Clay singing Kyrie, I'd be really happy).

Continuing the theme of AI2 finalists who've aimed themselves at the Adult Contemporary chart, we also have Kimberley Locke, the third place finisher. The second season of American Idol was its best, I think--the top three finalists (Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, and Kimberley Locke; if I remember correctly, they were all in the same semifinal--Clay only made it to the final because of the wildcard show) were all really good but also interesting. Rubben and Clay were probably always the favorites, but as time went on, someone began to challenge them: Kimberley Locke. She showed consistent improvement each week--so much so that, though she ultimately lost to Clay and Rubben, she was a legitimate threat to them.

8th World Wonder--This song never quite took off as it should have. Besides on American Idol, I only ever heard it once, inside a store in a mall. It's good pop, more like Clay's "Invisible" than Kelly's "Miss Independent" (just in terms of subgenre of pop). Mid to uptempo, and Kimberley's voice is pretty powerful in the chorus.

Wrong--This is just a little more like "Miss Independent"--the sort of angry chick sound (yes, I know Kelly isn't really mad in that song, but it's an angry-sounding delivery). The beginning is a little deceptive, as it sounds like it's going to maybe go ballad, but by the time Kimberley's voice hits, you can tell this is no ballad. As much as I love Clay and see a lot of potential in him, I think Kimberley actually made the stronger first album; it's more diverse and has more personality (I think "Invisible" was a very strong single, but the rest of the album blurs together and doesn't have many stand-out high points). That makes it a shame, then, that I don't really like her new single, Supawoman; it's all right, but, since it's pretty much just a generic R&B song, her new direction means I probably won't like her next album as much.

To buy Clay's album, Measure of a Man, go here (physical) or here (digital; not a direct link--you'll have to search for his name). For Kimberley's album, One Love, go here (physical) or here (digital).

Next up: finishing up American Idol with a quick look at two women from seasons 3 and 4. Then, finally, we can move beyond the UK and US!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Come on baby make your move

This is Jim Verraros (who, incidentally, passes one of the most important tests for a male popstar: does his hair look good both spiked and straightened?). Unless you are a clubber, Jim is one of the lesser-known American Idols. He finished in the top ten during the first season (which, as I've mentioned, I didn't watch until near the end, so I'm not sure how good he was on it). He's also constantly cited as being the only American Idol finalist to (now) be openly gay (though, from what I understand, Season 4's Anwar Robinson might be, too). He's apparently been in an indie movie, Sloppy Seconds, but the real reason to love Jim is his music. I suspect--though I don't know--that he may not be the strongest of vocalists to come off the show, because his songs tend to use a lot of backing vocals, especially female backing vocals. He's also, on many of his songs, trying to sing sexily (is that a word?). I can't see mainstream radio ever picking up on Jim, but he plays to his strengths (if the focus is on a sexy voice, not one that fills up an auditorium, it doesn't matter if he isn't a Kelly Clarkson-esque singer) and as a result has come up with some really good songs. We'll start out with something a little more traditional, though.

Outside--a pop-rocker. Good. But it's hard to get too excited about, given what we still have coming.

You Turn It On--Jim's debut single, although 99% of America (well, maybe 95%) has never heard of it. That's a shame, because it's a good dance-pop track.

Move--Well, the beginning of this song is...interesting. Jim may have taken trying to sound sexy a step too far at the beginning, but, hey, it may work for some people. Another dance-pop song.... I'd like to write more about these dance-pop tracks, but I'm not sure how else to describe them. They are great pop tracks, different from what you're used to hearing from Idol finalists--Will Young and Kelly Clarkson may get all the praise for breaking the Idol mold, but I think Jim's style is the farthest away from typical Idol fare. These tracks are great because they both demand and coax you into dancing--and, because of Jim's delivery and the beats backing him up, you want to.

You're Getting Crazy--Did I mention that Jim's tracks aren't just stylistically a big departure a big departure from normal Idol stuff? In terms of material covered, they are pretty different, too. I'd probably give Jim a PG-13 rating (though some tracks--not included here--are somewhat more explicit). More dance-pop, equally good--what else is there to say?

If you like your music with a little shinier and glitzier, or just would like the songs to be a little faster, head over to the random (in the best possible way!) but always fun Spark*Pop for a couple of remixes of Jim's tracks.

You can buy Jim's CD, Rollercoaster, as a physical copy here and digitally on iTunes (in the US and UK); he's also available on eMusic, if you're signed up for that.

For more music by American Idol 1 finalists, head over to the rarities-filled blog Tip Top Pop, where you can download a Christina Christian track.

Next up: two second season American Idol finalists.

Monday, July 10, 2006

We started out friends

Ah, Kelly Clarkson--really, what is there left to say? She's firmly established herself as a popstar, one whose singles, by now, are almost guaranteed to do well, and generally deservedly so (though I do hope she stops using "Breakaway" as the source; good as that album is, it's probably given up just as many singles as it can). She's also set a difficult precedent for any future Idols to follow, both in commercial success and in defining a new path for pop music. In truth, you all will probably have heard all of the songs of hers I'll provide today, but they are all good (plus, I want an opportunity to throw my two cents in about them).

Miss Independent--already trying to be edgier, Kelly? Though this single was from her first album, hints of "Breakaway"'s rock-influenced direction are apparent here. This song somehow manages to feel like a girl power anthem but ultimately is about falling in love.

Since U Been Gone--everyone knows this song. It's great, top class, even if it has inspired countless knock-offs and made "pure" pop's struggle to survive--already greatly complicated by Busted in the UK and R&B's invasion of the charts in the US--more difficult.

Behind These Hazel Eyes--I think I prefer this song to Since U Been Gone. Also great, also known by everyone. Kelly's songs tend to sound better when you're either, a) surrounded by a bunch of people and shouting the words along with her, or b) driving alone in your car and can sing along, with only periodic concerned glances from passing cars to distract you. They're very "big"-sounding. I'm not really liking potential third album track "Go;" it feels a bit same-y to me, either lacking a hook or without any real high points or changes throughout it, maybe? I don't know where Kelly can go from here if she wants to keep being innovative, but hopefully she'll come up with something (any artist who actually gets pop music played on US radio will probably get my support, but I hope Ford only got "Go" because it was one of the weaker tracks on the album).

I like Kelly's music, but since it's already so well-known, I thought I'd throw in her not-so-successful runnerup, Justin Guarini, today, too. I didn't watch the first season of American Idol until near the end, but, from what I saw, there's no reason he shouldn't have had at least decent success. Part of the problem was probably timing; his album wasn't released for a while after the show and, because of his contract, couldn't really do anything until after Kelly was established (except, of course, film "From Justin to Kelly," the flop of which might have hurt him, too). However, I do think his first album wasn't as strong as Kelly's; it lacked stand-out songs that would make good singles and draw people into the album.

Thinking of You--a ballad, and fairly pretty. This song is close to being catchy--a few lines in the chorus really get your hopes up, but, ultimately, the song feels like it's missing something.

If You Wanna--Funkier, also decent, but also not incredibly amazing. It's a good departure from typical Idol fare, though, which makes me wonder if, if his album had met with more success, Justin could have gone in a really good and interesting direction.

If you want to buy albums by Kelly Clarkson, you can get physical copies here and digital copies here. For Justin Guarini's album, go here, for physical copies, or here, for digital copies (the latter isn't a direct link, so you'll have to search for Justin's name; it's also in German, but it's easy enough to navigate).

Finally, if you really like Kelly and Justin, you can go to the great, often-updated music site Static From The Floor Below to download the soundtrack for "From Justin to Kelly" (which I haven't seen; can it really be that awful?). Huge thanks to Zappin' It To Ya for mentioning me; I love that site (thank goodness it's updated every day)!

Next up: another American Idol 1 finalist, who's at least a little less well-known and wants to take you on a "Rollercoaster" ride.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Cooked and hooked like a junkie

Darius Danesh (pictured here on a single cover, since he seems dead set on choosing the worst possible photos for his album covers, or at least the first one), more commonly known as Darius, took third during the first season of Pop Idol. However, that wasn't his first experience with musical reality TV shows; he first brush with fame came from his appearance on the show Popstars, where his hairstyle and rendition of "Baby One More Time" made him a national laughingstock. However, when he reappeared (sporting a much better haircut and without his dodgy mustache) on the UK's radar during Pop Idol, he did much better, taking third. He's often accused of making bland, middle-of-the-road pop, but I think he has actually released some of the most fun and poppy (albeit cheesy) singles to come out of the UK. I tend to prefer upbeat songs to ballads, so the selections today will avoid Darius's ballads (which is maybe odd, since "Live Twice" was probably his most "credible" hit).

Rushes--probably my favorite Darius track. So upbeat, so catchy, and so fun! I loved this track from the moment I heard it, and still can't understand why people dislike his music so much--this is supposedly boring? Ah well, we each have our own tastes, I suppose.

Dive In--the other contender for best Darius song, and the song that should have been his fourth single, instead of "Girl in the Moon." More upbeat, catchy pop (and yes, Darius uses acoustic guitars, but all acoustic guitars do not = bad music!)

How Do You Like It?--Darius's second album was an attempt to have a maturer sound--and maturity, in pop, often seems to mean less good. However, it's still worth owning, especially since many of the best tracks were never released as singles. The lyrics to this song--well, maybe we should just ignore them (I think the title's pretty self-explanatory); "How Do You Like It?" is more like Darius's first album (and doesn't have the somewhat overbearing piano of decent second album first single "Kinda Love") and proved to me that I didn't really care what a song was about, so long as it sounded good.

Love to Love--Darius goes rock--ish. With surprisingly good results. There are many people who don't like this track, but I think it's just as catchy as any pop song--and, if rock elements are shamelessly and cheaply stolen in the service of making catchy pop, I don't really mind.

Bootylicious/Faith--If you already don't like Darius, you probably won't think much of his decision to cover a Destiny's Child song and dub himself "bootylicious." And yes, "Faith" is a cover of the George Michael song (wow, two George Michael references in two days! Maybe I should actually listen to some more of his songs, if he's going to keep appearing this frequently). There's somewhat of an annoying applause-filled gap in the middle because it was recorded live, but this track was a B-side, so it's of decent quality for a live track. I really love the idea of this cover, and though I think it would've sounded better in studio, it was probably fun to watch live. Not hugely crazy about the actual track, but since it's not on either album, I thought I'd include it for some variety and an attempt--however weak--at rarity.

To buy Darius's music, you can go here for physical CD's and here for digital tracks (his first album was "Dive In" and his second was "Live Twice").

Next up: onto American Idol (I've yet to hear really phenomenal tracks from any other Pop Idol finalists; if you know of some, I'd love to hear about them)--no real rarities tomorrow (you'll probably have heard all the tracks), but a necessary step in our Idol journey--and it'll get more interesting later, I promise (/hope)!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Maybe I've gotten over your goodbye by now

Gareth Gates was the runnerup on the first Pop Idol series in the UK. Apparently, he got a lot of publicity for his stammer--but that stammer has never stopped him from releasing top pop tunes. Gareth is also a little bit of a divisive figure--often mocked, often dragged into Will vs. Gareth debates and used as the supposed counterpoint to Will's success story. His singles run seems, to me, more than decent, and I don't really understand why you can't like both (or accept differences in opinion), but what really matters is the songs, right? So let's get to those.

(Apologies in advance for what will probably be a long post; I just have more rare-ish things from Gareth than I do from Will.)

Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake)--Gareth's first non-cover single and what I think of as his first release. It's sort of a mid-tempo affair that seems to somehow be both ballad and up-tempo influenced. Probably the best produced track from his debut album (it sounds like it had a lot of effort put into it, whereas one could argue, as Amazon does, that some of the songs on his debut album"could be attained with a cheap keyboard's demo function;" there are some great tracks on it, but his second album just sounds more complete--mature-er in the best possible sense), but what a track it is! Excellent!

Sunshine--from Gareth's second album. Upon first listen, this song didn't really jump out at me, but it soon grows into something just as bright and happy as you would expect with a name like this. And it has a video that is definitely worth watching.

All Cried Out--while "Sunshine" is all smiles and beams of light because of a relationship going right, "All Cried Out" is the complete opposite in theme--a song about a relationship that's ended and the moment when, whether you've gotten over its end or are just too tired to cry any longer, the tears stop falling. So, of course, it's a ballad--but the least ballad-ish ballad I've ever heard. You know how Shayne Ward's "No Promises" manages to kick itself up a beat to be somewhat bouncy and mid-tempo for a ballad? Well, this song does that even better; it never drags or plods and, surprisingly for a ballad, it's catchy.

Gareth's second album has a good number of great tracks (and really should have done better than it did), but this post is already probaby intimidating enough :) I'm really excited to share these next two songs, though; I don't think they're widely heard, especially in their full versions. Lots and lots of credit goes to GPG, for finding the original 30 second clips, and Florrie, for ripping the full versions once they were found.

Face Myself--Gareth has been working on his third album for quite some time now and, with his recent split from his record company, who knows if we'll ever hear it (I hold out hope, since he's still with his management company). Let's hope so, because Gareth makes some of the best pop tunes I know. Even Gareth, though, isn't immune to the recent infiltration of the pop scene by guitars. This (full-length) demo, recorded for his third album but probably not going to be on it, does have a little, little bit of a rockier edge--an attempt to be hipper. Don't worry, though--this is an "a1-using-guitars-on-Make-It-Good" attempt at hipness, not an "I'd-really-rather-be-in-Fightstar" kind.

Something Right--another demo, which I guess is more "pure pop." I've heard someone compare it to George Michael but, not knowing that much about George Michael, I can't really say (I'm going to guess it's quite different). "Face Myself" is probably more exciting, but this song is a grower.

Phew! You all are probably on Gareth overload right now, right? He does have a lot of really good tracks I'd love you all to hear (more from his second album and his B-sides), but I'll try to hold off for a while. Please, please, please: if you like the songs, buy his albums, either hard copy or digitally.

Up next: another divisive Popstar (both in that he sings pop music and once appeared on "Popstars").

Friday, July 07, 2006

How can I live when I want to be free?

Will Young was the winner of the first Pop Idol--the first "Idol" series to appear anywhere. He, much like American Idol 1 winner Kelly Clarkson (or, more accurately, Kelly would be like Will) has been the most successful of the Pop Idol finalists--3 albums into his career, his popularity shows no sign of waning (he recently topped a "favorite British singer of all time" poll) and, though no one has forgotten that he was "discovered" on Pop Idol, he has proved himself to be an artist in his own right. His "survival" is often credited to his willingness to follow his own path instead of adhering to the style the record company might prefer; his style of pop is a little jazzy. He also seems like an amazing person. So, onto the songs!

Evergreen--Will's first single and a Westlife cover (though I didn't know that when I first heard it). Most people--even Will--seem to look down on this song now, compared to his later career, but it wasn't until I heard it (several months after knowing about Will's existence) that I knew I had found a Will song I could really like (I had really wanted to like his music, but the slow jazzy numbers I had heard beforehand weren't instantly appealing to me; I've since decided many of Will's songs are growers). Like most Idol winners' first songs, it's a ballad, but a great one, sung with emotion but far from being over-the-top in delivery.

Love The One You're With--a non-single from Will's second album and another cover, but an amazing one! Fun, uptempo, and a throwback to an older era. Will's distinctive voice fits perfectly with this song--which might be my favorite Will track.

Switch It On--an uptempo single! Still Will's distinctive style, but it's great to hear him get away from ballads (which, admittedly, he does very well). The music video for this is a must-see.

Happiness--Oddly enough, I first heard this when Will performed it on a dancing show. Also mid to uptempo, but with more higher-octave stuff than "Switch It On."

Don't Cha--Will's first appearance on Jo Whiley's Live Lounge gave the world his much-raved-over cover of "Hey Ya." There's something to be said, though, for the talent it must take to turn a Pussycat Dolls song (OK, technically, Tori Alamaze song) into a fun, still jazzy, male-vocaled version of its former self. The fact that Will is gay gives a whole new meaning to the song.

If you like the songs, you can buy Will's albums in hard copies here and digitally here (or on iTunes, if you live in the UK; the US iTunes used to have his first two albums, but they decided to get rid of them in the past few weeks). Definitely look out for "All Time Love" and "Who Am I," Will's two most recent singles (both gorgeous ballads, if growers for me).

Up next: a Pop Idol runnerup who seems to inspire strong emotions--one way or the other--wherever he goes. I should have a few tracks that are at least a little rarer than today's (ish).

Prepped for Pop?

Welcome to my pop blog! One year ago, I could not have cared less about music. Half a year ago, I wasn't even aware that there were (amazing) music scenes outside of the United States.

Suffice to say, things have changed. Now, I can't get enough pop music. However, my late start means that I have a lot to catch up on. This blog is to share my pop music discoveries. Those of you who know pop will probably know a lot of these songs--but not all, I hope. For other novices to the pop world, I hope to be able to, for you, shorten the learning curve I went through (and am definitely still going through). As much as I hope to share music with you all, though, I'd love to hear suggestions or extra information about any of the songs or artists I do post.

I'll be starting off with a feature on "Idol" contestants around the world (only the good ones/ones I know of, though). Reality TV shows are often blamed for harming music, and they certainly have led to some questionable songs getting released, but they've also given us some top-quality music that too often gets lumped into the category of "if it's from reality TV, it can't be good." And what better place to start our exploration of the Idol franchise than the UK, which set the whole thing off? Many of you will probably be familiar with the UK and American shows, which I'll be discussing first, but I do hope to provide a few lesser-heard songs...and please stick around, because it'll get better (and go beyond those two countries)--I hope.