The playlist from last night's show : 
Vaccines - Post Break Up Sex
Beady Eye - The Roller

Gary Numan - Cars (The Pleasure Principle)
Martin Solveig ft. Dragonette - Hello

Two Door Cinema Club - What You Know (Tourist History)

Adele - Someone Like You (21)

Pete Townshend - Face the Face (White City : A Novel)

Mountain - My Lady (Nantucket Sleighride)

The Fab Four Freakout :
 Vangelis & the Minis - Girl
Beatles - Kansas City
Beatles - Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds (Sgt Peppers)

Go! Team - Buy Nothing Day

Hollywood Tramp - Beautiful Game (Lies About the Truth)

Red River Dialect - Distant Man (White Diamonds)

Gong - Eat That Phone Book Coda (Angel's Egg)
Jack Penate - Have I Been a Fool (Matinee)...and this week's UK Top 5 : 5). Chase & Status - Blind Faith (new)4). Diddy-Dirty Money - Coming Home (non-mover)3). Adele - Rolling In the Deep (-1)2). Bruno Mars - Grenade (-1)1). Ke$ha - We R Who We R (new)Top 5 Analysis and review tomorrow!
 
 
The England Swings show, based in Northern Virginia, brings you the best, brightest, newest, and coolest music from the United Kingdom on a weekly basis. You can hear us at 6:00 p.m. ET : 

In Northern Virginia : Cox and Verizon digital cable channel 37
In Reston, Virginia : Comcast channel 27
Anywhere else in the world : http://www.fcac.org/webr

This week, we have an amazing show for you! Just look at this line-up : 

Vaccines

Beady Eye

Two Door Cinema Club 

Adele

Gong

Jack Penate

Plus lots more! Including a song from unsigned London band Hollywood Tramp - and!

The Fab Four Freakout : The Beatles, with rare tracks

UK Music News : Who is nominated for best album in this year's Brit Awards?

Top 5 Countdown : The best-selling songs in the UK TODAY, with a new number one!

For a unique musical experience, with tunes you won't hear anywhere else, tune in!
 
 
Tipped in the BBC Sound of 2011 poll, we've been hearing about Anna Calvi for a couple of months now. Late last year, she released the single "Jezebel/Moulinette", giving us a small taste of what we might expect. 

And what we can expect is a lot of drama. Calvi has stated that she comes from a background of operatic and classical music, and that adds some color to her style, which can be described, perhaps, as "pop weirdness". 

On her new album, there are no songs which don't slip into this weirdness at some point. It's difficult to draw a reference point for her, because her way of doing things is an amalgam of many different influences. 

I'll try, though. Take Patti Smith, and trace a line through it backwards to the Shadows circa "Apache", then add in some healthy scrawls of Chris Isaak, Velvet Underground, and - more recently - Beach House and the xx. That's about as close as I'm going to get. 

However, the whole puzzle seems to fall together in odd ways, reminding me of nothing else than early Roxy Music. The basic structures of Calvi's songs are straightforward poppery, but there are enough bizarro details added to twist it into something not quite retro, not quite modern. It's like a whole album of "In Every Dream Home a Heartache". 

Opener "Rider To the Sea" is nearly instrumental, and consists of those Isaak-like guitar lines. Anna's voice enters subtly during the last minute or so, crooning wordless and ominous "oooohh"s. 

We really get started with "No More Words", and now her style of singing becomes evident. She's strong and full of drama, but not so much that it becomes a parody or even ever becomes unpalatable. She walks a thin line here, and in general on the rest of the album, but she manages to stay balanced for most of the time. 

Some highlights, then : 

"Suzanne and I", just like the earlier released "Jezebel", starts with a hard-hit drumbeat, and leads to an irresistable chorus. Along the way, there's a stop for the requisite weirdness : this time it's an atonal middle part that sounds like the soundtrack for "2001 : A Space Odyssey" when the apemen encounter the black monolith. 

This same effect turns up in "First We Kiss", this time working off an old Motown beat. It's a strange and mostly effective juxtaposition of sounds, and that's what Anna Calvi seems to be going for much of the time. 

"Blackout" sends us more into Pretenders territory, but again the oddness intrudes, this time with weirdly pulsing background vocals. The bluesy "I'll Be Your Man" follows, which is vaguely threatening. There are a lot of dynamics in this tune, as Anna segues back and forth between softer and louder parts. 

"Morning Light" uses an organic and effective bass line as its center, and here the backing vocals are whispered. The whole effect is dramatic again; Anna seems to thrive on this. Closing number "Love Won't Be Leaving" has some riffs in it, but the drama almost overwhelms it this time, in the form of frequently crashing (and unnecessary) cymbals. 

If there's one thing I would pick out to criticize about what Anna is doing, I would yell "Flush the cymbals!" at her. They tend to get in everywhere, and with the drama that she's already got going in the voice and guitar, they become intrusive after a while. 

Most critics have agreed that this record is "thinking out of the box" when it comes to pop music, and that's absolutely true. There's no one around right now that sounds remotely like Anna Calvi, and that's a point in her favor. 

I still can't recommend the album wholeheartedly to your average Britney/Kylie/Cheryl fan, though, because it might just be out of the comfort zone of those listeners. I can say that the album is worth a listen by those who want a few new twists in their popular music regimen.

That is, if you can get past the cymbals. 

I give Anna Calvi a 7 on the England Swings scale of 1-10 for her debut offering. 
 
 
Here's the playlist from last evening's England Swings show : Glasvegas - The World Is Yours (2011)Wire - Adapt (Red Barked Tree) (2011)Electric Light Orchestra - Living Thing (A New World Record) (1976)Pete & the Pirates - Winter 1 (2011)Noah & the Whale - Wild Thing (2011)Anna Calvi - Suzanne and I (Anna Calvi) (2011)Alan Parsons Project - Days Are Numbers (Vulture Culture) (1984)Spencer Davis Group - Gimme Some Loving (1966)The Fab Four Freakout : Beatles - How Do You Do ItBeatles - Wild Honey Pie (The Beatles) (1968)Beatles - The Long and Winding Road (1970)Beatles - I'm Down (1964)Hadouken! - Oxygen (2011)Broadcast - Come On Let's Go (2000)Dukes - Friday On My Mind (1965)Sam Harrison - Just the Way You Are (2011)Those Dancing Days - ****arias (2011)Monotonix - Before I Pass Away (2011)...and this week's top 5 songs in the UK : 5). Wretch 32 - Traktor (new)4). Diddy-Dirty Money - Coming Home (new)3). Jessie J - Do It Like a Dude (-1)2). Adele - Rolling In the Deep (new)1). Bruno Mars - Grenade (non-mover)TOP 5 ANALYSIS and REVIEWTwo Thousand Eleven has finally arrived, as the deadwood in the top 5 is cleared out to make room for three new entries. All told, there were six new entries in the top ten, so I think we can infer that the record-buying public is saturated with Matt Cardle and Rihanna, and is ready to move on to new horizons. Coming in at number 5 this week, Germaine Scott - better known as Wretch 32 - has his first top 5 hit ever with "Traktor". The song is way cool, in my opinion. It has a sort of sliding, reggaefied rhythm that catches the attention. The rapping is right on cue. There are all sorts of Easter eggs as well, including a vibrating bass line, a screech that sounds like an attenuated crow, and the vocals of "L" carrying the song through the middle. I'm thinking that the uniqueness of the song shows the same sort of creativity that we heard last year around this time with Tinie Tempah. I like it a lot. I give it an 8.5 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.Sean Combs tries a new approach to his music with the Diddy-Dirty Money track "Coming Home", which hits the chart at number 4 this week. It might be new for him, but it's older for us - it has the same sort of structure as Eminem's "Stan", which featured the sample of Dido's "Thank You". That was many years ago, and Diddy doesn't really improve on the idea. That said, the song isn't bad at all, and features the sort of rap-antics that Eminem started and Kanye West has recently perfected. On top of all this, there are sampled strings that add some depth to the tune. I'm not sure that it should have done better than Wretch 32, but it's more than tolerable. I give it a 7.Jessie J slides a space to number 3 this week with "Do It Like a Dude", a song which I still find hilarious. What's amusing me in particular this week is the choppiness of the lyrics, where there's hardly a sentence completed. I mean, "Stop stop I've arrived"? Wow. Not only that, but there's an essential Britishness about the whole thing that cracks me up as well - she adds the word "then" to "I can do it like a man". Jessie has created a song for the ages, or at least for this month. I give it an 8. Hey, there's the new Adele at number 2! "Rolling In the Deep" is about as far removed from her other number 2 single - that's "Chasing Pavements" - as it can be. The tune has a blues feel, whereas "Pavements" was pure pop, complete with swooping strings. Adele is a lot more energetic here, and the vocals are well done indeed. Adele was always the true star of the glut of post-Winehouse females that filled the market a couple of years ago. She does nothing here to diminish her reputation. The song has some subtleties as well, including the the handclaps and the background vocals. Nice. I give it an 8.5. I'll own up to the fact that Bruno Mars' "Grenade" is finally beginning to grow on me. There's no way that the song has the universal appeal that "Just the Way You Are" had, but it's a slick and well-produced piece of pop. Bruno is definitely the voice of the present, and this song is nothing if not well-sung. At first impression, the song seems sparser than the previous hit, but there's actually some cool stuff going on here. My favorite at the moment : the double tracked "Mad woman/Bad woman" bit. So the charts are getting interesting again. What will next week bring?
 
 
Excitement! Thrills! ACTION!

You can find all that at least musicallly on the England Swings show today at 6:00 p.m. ET : 

In Northern Virginia : Cox and Verizon digital cable channel 37
In Reston, Virginia : Comcast channel 27
Anywhere else in the known (and unknown) world : http://www.fcac.org/webr

The England Swings show plays the best, brightest, newest, and coolest music from the United Kingdom on a weekly basis at the above locations and time. This week, we've got so much going on that it's exciting! : 

New tracks by Glasvegas (yes!), Wire, Noah & the Whale, and Anna Calvi.

Older songs by ELO, Spencer Davis, and little-known Dutch band the Dukes.

A cover version of a very popular song by up-and-coming unsigned artist Sam Harrison. 

The Fab Four Freakout with rare Beatles tracks.

UK Music News, with our ongoing announcements of the Brit Awards nominations.

UK Top 5, where we play the top songs in the UK right now. 

Lots more!

Treat your ears to some excitement today by tuning in, won't you?
 
 
So there's an ice storm in the Washington, DC metro area today, and that means the newspaper didn't come until later in the day. Say what you will about the imminent death of the daily physical paper, I'll hold onto my Washington Post until it fades into the distance.

 I was all set to review the new Decemberists album, and Chris Richards in the Post beat me to it. In a review which also included a stab at the new Iron and Wine album, he moaned about the current state of indie music and how it's become predictable and boring. He chastised Colin Meloy for living in the wrong century. 

That's not the review I would have written. 

Nope, I really like "The King Is Dead". Mr. Richards seems to have missed the point of the whole thing. Yes, the Decemberists have tended to some pretension in the past. Colin Meloy does frequently write lyrics about seasons changing and yellow bonnets. 

But this album is the result of a band at the top of their form. If you've liked anything about the Decemberists in the past, you'll love this record. The Decemberists have tightened up their sound, and have ended up sounding a bit more like the Eagles than Fairport Convention. 

Opening track "Don't Carry It All" is a coiled, taut construction of harmonica, acoustic guitar, and mandolins which is near-perfect in execution. And that's just the beginning! "Calamity Song" and "Rise To Me" are next, showing a confidence and brightness that we always knew the band was capable of. It's like all the pieces of the puzzle that is the Decemberists have fallen into place and produced a cohesive sound that is uniquely their own. 

Yes, it still owes something to the "trad. arranged by" bands of the British seventies, and veers a bit closer to Fleet Foxes than it's done before, but this is the epitome of the Decemberists coming into their own. 

The album is almost completely driven by acoustic guitars, with only a few exceptions. Most of the songs adhere to the folk spectrum, but there are a couple of tunes that take their cue from the first few albums by R.E.M., with the added bonus of Peter Buck (of R.E.M.!) on guitar. "Down By the Water", and "This Is Why We Fight" sound much more in the American tradition than, say, "Rox In the Box", which could have fit in on an early Steeleye Span record. 

Then we've got "All Arise!", which is decidedly American C&W flavored. While it's not a bad song, it's actually a bit comical, because it sounds like a Pacific Northwest indie group trying to do Nashville. 

We've got a pair of "hymns" devoted to January and June, both of which are lovely ballads which are in the pastoral tradition. The album ends with the most morose song on the record, "Dear Avery". Colin Meloy has said that the song is a sort of "letter from a mother to a soldier". The song is a low-key address to the separation and loneliness suffered by parents and children during a time of war. Big topic, for sure, but the song does it justice. No matter what the Washington Post says, this is an album worth listening to. The variety of the music, the tightness of the band, and the flow of the songwriting all come together to give us the first great record of 2011. On the England Swings scale of 1-10, I give the Decemberists a 9.
 
 
Last night on the England Swings show, in addition to our mix of new and old tunes, we presented songs by several unsigned performers from the UK. Those are noted below, along with information about them : 

Vaccines - If You Wanna
Frankie & the Heartstrings - Hunger

Rolling Stones - Beast Of Burden (Some Girls)
Jamiroquai - Lifeline (Rock Dust Light Star)

Kamakaze - What I Need
Kamakaze - Give It To Me 
 - This unsigned foursome hails from Birmingham. You can find free mixtapes from them by googling kamakazeuk. They also have videos available on YouTube, and their music is distributed digitally by HMV, among others.

Wretch 32 - Traktor
Chase & Status - Blind Faith

The Fab Four Freakout : 

Danielle Denin - Je Lis Dans Tes Yeux
Beatles - Happiness Is a Warm Gun (The Beatles)
Beatles - Step Inside Love (Los Paranoias)
Beatles - Being For the Benefit Of Mr. Kite (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)

Jodie Connor - Now Or Never
Eliza Doolittle - Rollerblades (Eliza Doolittle)

Free - Wishing Well (Heartbreaker)
Amen Corner - If Paradise (Is Half As Nice)

Sam Harrison - Sticks and Stones
 - Sam is from Sheffield, and was in the finals of "Live and Unsigned 2010". You can reach him on Facebook, or view videos on YouTube, by looking for "SamHarrisonOfficial". 

Stormy Monday - Beat Of the City (Almost Souled Out)
 - Stormy Monday comes from Newcastle, and contains Tom Johnson of Hexachord Hex as songwriter, guitarist, and keyboard player. Check out http://www.myspace.com/hexachordhex for more information.

Chilly Gonzales - You Can Dance

...and this week's top 5 songs in the UK : 

5). Matt Cardle - When We Collide (-3)
4). Katy B - Lights On (non-mover)
3). Rihanna - What's My Name (-2)
2). Jessie J - Do It Like a Dude (+3)
1). Bruno Mars - Grenade (new)

TOP 5 ANALYSIS and REVIEW

Yet another change at the top marks this week's top 5, as Bruno Mars' second single (not including his guest appearance with B.o.B) sells over 150,000 copies - an unusual occurrence in the depths of January. 

Matt Cardle, X Factor 2010 winner, has had one of the biggest hits in the show's history with "When We Collide". The song hangs in the top 5 this week, dropping three places to number 5. 

Chalk it up to wise song choice on the part of the television show moguls. Whereas "When We Collide" is not a perfect adaptation of Biffy Clyro's "Many Of Horror", it is adequate enough to provide pleasant listening even after five weeks in the top 5 - three of which were spent at number one. On the England Swings scale of 1-10, Matt gets a 7.

Katy B doesn't budge from the number 4 position this week, which is as high as it's gotten. The song is inconsequential and fizzy, making it the sort of tune which will be forgetten in six months time. I think we could expect better from Katy, and perhaps we'll get better in the future. For now, though, even the Ms. Dynamite appearance on the tune doesn't really elevate it. I give it a 6. 

Rihanna's "What's My Name" broke records last week by being the fifth consecutive number one by the singer in as many years. Easily the best track that she's done since "Umbrella", the song seems fated to be a one-week number one on both sides of the Atlantic, as she drops to number 3 on the UK charts. 

The track remains bright and hooky, with beautifully pitched production. I give it a 7.5 on the scale. 

The first star of 2011 continues her rise, as Jessie J's "Do It Like a Dude" ascends three places to land at number 2 this week. Criticism of the track seems to center on the idea that it may not be representative of Jessie's talents, being filtered and autotuned to the point that it's hard to discern what sort of singer she is. 

This is all true, but as a novelty the record succeeds admirably. It has a rough, original sound to it, and one can distinguish the rise of a major talent. There's little doubt that Jessie will release songs in the future that are, perhaps, more indicative of her status as a performer. "Do It" does cement her as a strong songwriter. 

Here's Bruno Mars, the sensation of 2010, back again with the second major single of his career. "Grenade" stands in sharp contrast to "Just the Way You Are", though - it's not sweet or pretty. It would fall under the category of "R&B angst" songs instead. The storyline is that there's a fellow who would risk anything for his love, but it's not reciprocated. This sets the stage for vocal histrionics and some gross lyrical imagery - "I'd catch a grenade for ya/Throw my hand on a blade for ya". Ugh. 

I profess not to like the song as much as "Just the Way You Are", although it might be growing on me. I give it a 6. 

Yes, there's a new album review coming this week!
 
 
The England Swings Show TODAY : January 16, 2011

The England Swings show always brings you the best, brightest, newest, and coolest music from the United Kingdom. This week, we have a plethora of unsigned bands that have sent us some amazing music, as well as our usual mix of old and new tunes. 

Tune in this week to hear tracks by :

Kamakaze
Sam Harrison
Stormy Monday

All of these are unsigned bands that have great music for you to listen to. We'll also be playing new tracks by Wretch 32, Chase and Status, Eliza Doolittle, and more. Our regular features : 

The Fab Four Ferakout : Beatles songs!
UK Music News : We share the nominations for the Brit Awards 2011.
Top 5 Countdown : The best-selling songs in the UK TODAY. 

You can hear us at 6:00 p.m. ET : 

In Northern Virginia : Cox and Verizon digital cable channel 37
In Reston, Virginia : Comcast channel 27
Anywhere else in the world : http://www.fcac.org/webr

See you there!
 
 
The first "new" show of the new year : 

Wombats - Jump Into the Fog
Chapel Club - Surfacing

Elvis Costello - (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea (This Year's Model)
Everything Everything - Photoshop Handsome (Man Alive)

Badly Drawn Boy - I Saw You Walk Away (It's What I'm Thinking Pt. 1 - Photographing Snowflakes)

Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street (RIP 1947-2011)

David Bowie - Fame (Young Americans)
Donovan - Hurdy Gurdy Man
Adam Faith - Message To Martha

The Fab Four Freakout : 

Vangelis & the Minis - And I Love Her
Beatles - Oh! Darling (Abbey Road)
Beatles - Please Mr. Postman (With the Beatles)

Joy Formidable - Austere
Biffy Clyro - Bubbles (Only Revolutions)

Clockwise - I Don't Know 

PJ Harvey - Written On the Forehead
Foundations - In the Bad Bad Old Days

...and this week's UK Top 5 : 

5). Jessie J - Do It Like a Dude (new)
4). Katy B - Lights On (re-entry)
3). Black Eyed Peas - The Time (Dirty Bit) (non-mover)
2). Matt Cardle - When We Collide (-1)
1). Rihanna - What's My Name (+1)

TOP 5 ANALYSIS and REVIEW

The doldrums of January were expected to continue to have an effect on the British charts this week, without many new releases. "Next week!" we chart aficionados said. 

But the season starts a little early with a couple of unexpected songs charting higher than had been foretold. Sure, the top of the chart still managed to keep three songs that have been in the top 5 for four weeks or more. But what a nice surprise otherwise!

Jessie J first released "Do It Like a Dude" back in November, but the promotion remained low-key and the song attracted little attention. 

Now the tune takes off, and introduces us to the first new talent of the year. Jessica Cornish (Jessie J) has actually made an impact before this, since she co-wrote Miley Cyrus' "Party In the USA". That song was Miley's biggest hit ever in her home country, but only achieved middling-hit status in the UK. Now we've got Jessie's first proper single, and it's a jokey affair that's not meant to be taken seriously. 

Here's the thing, though - the song has potential to cross over. It's funny, and it's catchy, and it will probably catch the teenage zeitgeist worldwide. Expect to hear it on American radio soon. 

I give Jessie J an 8 on the England Swings scale of 1-10. Give it a listen if you haven't heard it yet. 

Katy B comes back to her highest position this week with "Lights On" clocking in at number 4. Vaguely urban, vaguely techno, and far removed from her dubstep origins, the song is a mishmosh of styles. It sounds a little thin, actually, and reminds me of nothing more than Daniel Bedingfield's homemade "Gotta Get Thru This" from eleven years ago. I give it a 6.5.

The Black Eyed Peas manage to hold onto the number 3 position with "The Time (Dirty Bit)". You'd think that with all the talent in the group, that they could move on from the whole poppin' bottles/I'm in da club kind of subject matter. Is that all they got? Whatever happened to grand themes like in "Where Is the Love?"? 

The song has probably not met their expectations in the USA, although it moved from number 9 to 7 this week. It was only at number 1 in America for a week, and it doesn't seem to want to go back there. Contrast this with "I Gotta Feeling", which was at the top for approximately 8,201,583 weeks last year. It could be that the BEP has worn out the welcome mat. 

This song, while not an abomination, is a waste. I give it a 4 this week. 

Matt Cardle, the 2010 X Factor winner, finally relinquishes the top and slides to number 2 this week. His version of Biffy Clyro's "Many Of Horror", conveniently retitled "When We Collide", is still among the best of immediate X Factor songs. He does an honest and mostly effective job on the vocals, and the arrangement is only mildly cloying. Put this next to Joe McElderry's "The Climb" from last year, and it shows that Simon Cowell and Syco Records have finally smartened up a little. I give the song a 6 this week. 

Rihanna bounces into chart history this week, as "What's My Name" goes to number 1. For those of you that missed it, that means that she's had a number one hit for five consecutive years, a feat that rivals Elvis, and something not even achieved by Madonna. 

The song she's accomplished this with is, luckily, one of her better tunes. It's got the sort of chorus that immediately adheres to brain cells, the production is perfect, and she's got the smooth-voiced Drake on backup, although his contribution is perhaps limited in its appeal. I give it an 8 again this week. 

No new album reviews this week, because, um, there are no new albums. We'll pick that up when the time comes, though!
 
 
Our first "non-special" show of 2011 is shaping up to be, well, pretty special. The England Swings show is on the air every Sunday playing the best, brightest, newest, and coolest music from the United Kingdom. This week, there will be new songs from the Wombats, Chapel Club, and Badly Drawn Boy, and older tunes by David Bowie, Donovan, and - of course - Gerry Rafferty. Plus lots more!

We'll return to all our regular features this week as well, including :

The Fab Four Freakout : featuring an early Beatles cover by Vangelis!
UK Music News : Who topped the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll?
Top 5 Countdown : the biggest-selling songs in the UK TODAY!

You can tune in at 6:00 p.m. ET :

In Northern Virginia : Cox and Verizon digital cable channel 37
In Reston, Virginia : Comcast channel 27
Anywhere else in the world : http://www.fcac.org/webr

Join us this evening, and this year, as we present exciting music you won't hear anywhere else!