Category: A List

The A List (17th Feb 2019)

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Five really good new entries on the A List this week, but still nothing has topped the pop behemoths that are the Plastic Mermaids and Dua Lipa tracks. They’ve reached their three week time limit now, as has Gary Clark Jr, so this is their last week here. I expect all three of those tracks will feature highly on the Penguin’s Top 50 tracks of the year though…

1. Plastic Mermaids – Floating in a Vacuum [Final week]

My favourite track of 2019 so far. From the orchestral introduction to the playful synths, this is a track that grabs your attention.

2. Dua Lipa – Swan Song [Final week]

For my money, this is the best Dua Lipa song since 2015’s Be The One. From the tribal percussion and vocal snippets, this is a song of defiance and power “this is NOT a Swan Song”.

3. The Amazons – Mother [New Entry]

Thursday’s Track of the Day is a cracking piece of grandiose rock and roll. With a similar stuttering start to Audioslave’s Cochise and a guitar riff that is big, dirty and rough enough to knock your teeth out.

4. Fakear – Nausicaa [New Entry]

Well this is just an absolute delight for the ears. French producer Fakear has produced a collage of sounds that feel tribal, spiritual, enchanting and uplifting in equal measures. Listening to Nausicaa you’re transported away to a forrest, far from everyday life and surrounded by intrigue.

5. Sunflower Bean – Fear City 

Fear City has an assured  swagger. It sounds timeless; it could easily have been made in the 1990s or the 1970s, and it takes the essence of Veruca Salt and Joan Jett (and many other pioneers) and simply builds on that legacy.

 6. Gary Clark Jr. – This Land [Final week]

Venomous.

7. Anna Clendening – Dead End 

Simple, effective, devastating. The sense of guilt, the shame the desire to be stronger – better – shine through in every line.

8. Nick Mulvey – Moments of Surrender [New Entry]

A cover of U2’s – frankly awful – Moments of Surrender from 2009’s No Line On The Horizon. Mulvey has given it a gorgeous and delicate folk twist that sounds warm and genuine. It’s amazing that Mulvey has managed to get passed Bono’s ‘one too many sherries to hit a high note’ warbling and bring together something really rather beautiful.

9. Maggie Rogers – Burning [New Entry]

Rogers released her album Heard It In A Past Life in mid January and Burning is one of the tracks on it. Full of the joy of being in love, Burning combines the quirky dance of acts like Tune Yards and combines it with the power pop that Dua Lipa and others are banging out. It’s a winner.

10. Frankie Wah – Get Me High  [New Entry]

One of the biggest dance tracks of 2019 so far, Get Me High has strong Bicep vibes – which is meant very much as a compliment – with its trance-y melody and big beats.

The A List (10th Feb) – the best 10 new songs in the world right now

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This week’s Astral Penguins A List has four new entries, but last week’s entries continue to dominate the top of the chart. The tracks by the Plastic Mermaids, Dua Lipa and Gary Clark Jr. are truly exceptional and likely to feature highly in the end of year top 50. This is the last week for the James Blake track as it reaches its three week limit. 

1. Plastic Mermaids – Floating in a Vacuum 

My favourite track of 2019 so far. From the orchestral introduction to the playful synths, this is a track that grabs your attention. But it’s the vocals and the chorus that really gets me. There’s something deeply sad and realistic living within the simple words, well beyond the alien visuals and space vibes.

2. Dua Lipa – Swan Song 

For my money, this is the best Dua Lipa song since 2015’s Be The One. From the tribal percussion and vocal snippets, this is a song of defiance and power “this is NOT a Swan Song”.

3. Gary Clark Jr. – This Land 

This Land is venomous. You can feel the frustration and anger pour out of every single note. The video is superb. The lyrics are hard-hitting and personal. And the energy is off the chart.

4. The Cinematic Orchestra – A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life 

Featuring the unmistakable vocals of long-term collaborator Roots Manuva, A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life is an emotional journey that only gets better with every listen. “Why would you hide from yourself, Belief is here to f‌ind you” Manuva sings, over the soaring sonic landscapes underneath.

5. Sunflower Bean – Fear City [New Entry]

Fear City has an assured  swagger. It sounds timeless; it could easily have been made in the 1990s or the 1970s, and it takes the essence of Veruca Salt and Joan Jett (and many other pioneers) and simply builds on that legacy. The guitars subtly drive the track, the chorus is instantly familiar and ready to be sung by audiences everywhere, and the underlying message is of empowerment and breaking away from fear.

6. Jenny Lewis – Red Bull & Hennessy 

Jenny Lewis has returned with her first single in five years and it is giving me seriously good Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks/Lyndsey Buckingham vibes – possibly with a little dose of Kate Bush thrown in towards the end – which is just about the highest compliment I can give.

7. James Blake, ROSALIA – Barefoot In The Park [Final week]

There’s something magical about the track. It feels so enticing, but never quite real. You don’t want to move in case the spell is broken.

8. Anna Clendening – Dead End [New Entry]

Sometimes pop music can be devastating. Sometimes lyrics just jump out of a song and into you, where you feel every emotion the songwriter felt. North Carolina native Anna Clendening has penned some masterful lyrics for Dead End. Simple, effective, devastating. The sense of guilt, the shame the desire to be stronger – better – shine through in every line.

9. Lil Peep, iLoveMakonnen, Fall Out Boy – I’ve Been Waiting [New Entry]

It’s a summer song through and through, with breezy instrumentation and laid back vocals. I particularly like Patrick Stump’s vocals and the pre-chorus refrain from Lil Peep, which is just drawled vocals at their finest.

10. Tarantina – Hunter [New Entry]

An incredibly assured track where everything feels essential. The drama and intrigue only grows with every listen.

 

 

 

The A List – the best 10 new music tracks around right now (3rd February 2019)

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It’s all change on this week’s A List, with a whopping 6 new entries including a brand new top 3. We’ll be losing the Lucy Rose track this week as it has reached its three week limit, but next week’s new entries will struggle to compete against this list.

1. Plastic Mermaids – Floating in a Vacuum [New Entry]

Tuesday’s Track of the Day is my favourite of 2019 so far. From the orchestral introduction to the playful synths, this is a track that grabs your attention. But it’s the vocals and the chorus that really gets me. There’s something deeply sad and realistic living within the simple words, well beyond the alien visuals and space vibes. “the gravitational pull, only gets stronger, and every time that we fall, it hurts even longer, somewhere up in the sky, we float like a feather, but we just live out our lives, trying to hold it all together.” It’s a message of quiet stoicism. And it really, really gets me.

2. Gary Clark Jr. – This Land [New Entry]

Friday’s Track of the Day, This Land is venomous. You can feel the frustration and anger pour out of every single note. The video is superb. The lyrics are hard-hitting and personal. And the energy is off the chart.

3. Dua Lipa – Swan Song [New Entry]

For my money, this is the best Dua Lipa song since 2015’s Be The One. From the tribal percussion and vocal snippets, this is a song of defiance and power “this is NOT a Swan Song”.

4. James Blake, ROSALIA – Barefoot In The Park 

Down four places this weekend, but it still sounds enchanting. There’s something magical about the track. It feels so enticing, but never quite real. You don’t want to move in case the spell is broken.

5. Bonobo – Ibrik [New Entry]

Ibrik is the first track from the forthcoming ‘Fabric Presents Bonobo’ record, due for release on the 22nd February. As you’d expect from Bonobo, it’s full of intricate beats and an excellent melody, but there are so many layers and snippets throughout to tantalise your ears.

6. Lucy Rose – Conversation [Final week]

Conversation is full of atmosphere with some beautiful strings. Simple and yet hard-hitting, there’s an air of strength and finality surrounding the delicate vocals.

7. The Cinematic Orchestra – A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life [New Entry]

Featuring the unmistakable vocals of long-term collaborator Roots Manuva, A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life is an emotional journey that only gets better with every listen. “Why would you hide from yourself, Belief is here to f‌ind you” Manuva sings, over the soaring sonic landscapes underneath.

8. Jenny Lewis – Red Bull & Hennessy [New Entry]

Jenny Lewis has returned with her first single in five years and it is giving me seriously good Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks/Lyndsey Buckingham vibes – possibly with a little dose of Kate Bush thrown in towards the end – which is just about the highest compliment I can give.

9. Florence + The Machine – Moderation [New Entry]

“Want me to love you in moderation, Do I look moderate to you?”  Florence returns with a cracking single encompassing superb lyrics, a bluesy-pop vibe and her usual stunning vocals.

10. Me & My Toothbrush – Just Release Me 

A supremely catchy dance track that builds and dips, the guitars keep it bopping along and the vocals sound properly old school.

 

 

 

The A List – the best 10 new music tracks around right now (January 27th 2019)

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Four excellent new entries on this week’s A List, including a third number one in three weeks. This week also features the final appearance from four strong tracks, as they’ve reached the three week limit. 2019 has blessed us with plenty of excellent new music so far, but you should really be prioritising these tracks…

1. James Blake, ROSALIA – Barefoot In The Park [New Entry]

There’s something magical about the track. It feels so enticing, but never quite real. You don’t want to move in case the spell is broken. Emotionally it first feels joyous, but there’s a lurking edge of darkness that creeps into the corner of your eye.

2. Lana Del Rey – hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it [Final week]

A profoundly moving five minutes; from self-doubt to abuse to isolation, any song that has Sylvia Plath at its core will undoubtedly veer from weirdness to unimaginable suffering.

3. Me & My Toothbrush – Just Release Me [New Entry]

A supremely catchy dance track that builds and dips, the guitars keep it bopping along and the vocals sound properly old school.

4. Billie Eilish – WHEN I WAS OLDER [Final week]

Full of eery distorted vocals and minimalistic electronic production that combine to create a haunting tone that is really hard to shake off.

5. Lucy Rose – Conversation 

Conversation is full of atmosphere with some beautiful strings. Simple and yet hard-hitting, there’s an air of strength and finality surrounding the delicate vocals.

6. Goldie, James Davidson, Subjective – Rift Valley [Final week]

A track that is best played in the dark. It’s like you’re dreaming after smoking pot. Everything feels captivating yet entirely elusive. The album also became available on streaming platforms this week.

7. Fat White Family – Feet [New Entry]

Fat White Family have returned with their first single since 2016. Feet is dark, danceable and downright impressive. With it’s haunting melody, orchestral flourishes and driving percussion, it brings to mind  a marriage of Woodkid and the True Detective theme song.

8. Sam Smith, Normani – Dancing With A Stranger [Final week]

A devastatingly simple pop track full of regrets. Sam Smith does heartbreaks better than almost anyone, and the simple production on Dancing with a Stranger leaves the listener to drown in the guilt and misplaced anger of a rebound one night stand.

9. Mindchatter – Trippy [New Entry]

Trippy is probably the most apt song title of the year so far. This track has some wonderful production throughout, taking modern hip hop and r’n’b production, inverting it and giving it a low key vibe.

10. Hot Flash Heat Wave – Sky So Blue 

Sky So Blue is a lazy summer afternoon in a park, drifting off into reverie through the sheer fatigue of doing nothing at all. It’s a cocktail of synths, psychedelia and sunshine. Lots of sunshine.

 

The A List – the best 10 new music tracks around right now (January 20th 2019)

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Three new entries this week and a new number 1 for the A List. 2019 has already produced some incredible new music, but you should really be prioritising the following tracks…

1. Lana Del Rey – hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it 

Pitchfork had an interesting article looking at some of Lana’s recent work this week that I recommended checking out.  hope is a dangerous thing (etc) grows on me with every listen. The lyrics are hard to digest and yet essential listening. A profoundly moving five minutes; from self-doubt to abuse to isolation, any song that has Sylvia Plath at its core will undoubtedly veer from weirdness to unimaginable suffering.

2. Billie Eilish – WHEN I WAS OLDER 

Down one place this week, WHEN I WAS OLDER is full of eery distorted vocals and minimalistic electronic production that combine to create a haunting tone that is really hard to shake off.

3. Lucy Rose – Conversation [New Entry]

Conversation is full of atmosphere with some beautiful strings. Simple and yet hard-hitting, there’s an air of strength and finality surrounding the delicate vocals.

4. Goldie, James Davidson, Subjective – Rift Valley 

A track that is best played in the dark. It’s like you’re dreaming after smoking pot. Everything feels captivating yet entirely elusive. The album also became available on streaming platforms this week.

5. Sam Smith, Normani – Dancing With A Stranger 

A devastatingly simple pop track full of regrets. Sam Smith does heartbreaks better than almost anyone, and the simple production on Dancing with a Stranger leaves the listener to drown in the guilt and misplaced anger of a rebound one night stand.

6. Hot Flash Heat Wave – Sky So Blue [New Entry]

Friday’s Track of the Day, Sky So Blue is a lazy summer afternoon in a park, drifting off into reverie through the sheer fatigue of doing nothing at all. It’s a cocktail of synths, psychedelia and sunshine. Lots of sunshine.

7. D’Angelo – Unshaken 

Written for the Red Dead Redemption 2 soundtrack, Unshaken certainly conjures up the feelings of a western with its sparse production and solitary feel, and D’Angelo’s vocals sound superb in this lower range.

8. Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness 

Hello Happiness is a burst of energy, with a bass line straight from the 70s, electro vibes that belong in the 80s and a vocal performance that is positively timeless.

10. Catfish and the Bottlemen – Longshot 

Produced by Jacknife Lee (R.E.M., the Killers, U2), Longshot has a distinctly British optimism running through it, almost like they can’t believe something has succeeded. “Fiver says you’re wrong…”

10. Emily Brimlow – Hope [New Entry]

I don’t know if Emily Brimlow falls firmly into the ‘Christian music’ category, but it’s nice to hear a well-produced pop track speaking optimistically about God. The minimal r’n’b drum track leaves plenty of space for Brimlow’s voice and the really beautiful choral backing vocals to shine. This song is full of optimism and catchy as hell.

The A List – the best 10 new music tracks around right now

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The A List is back for 2019. Every week you’ll find here the 10 records I’m enjoying the most right now, in a – very unofficial – chart. 2019 has started strongly; the top three tracks here are all incredibly impressive and it was very hard to pick a favourite from them.

1. Billie Eilish – WHEN I WAS OLDER 

Thursday’s Track of the Day and our first number one of 2019, WHEN I WAS OLDER is full of eery distorted vocals and minimalistic electronic production that combine to create a haunting tone that is really hard to shake off.

2. Goldie, James Davidson, Subjective – Rift Valley 

Tuesday’s Track of the Day, Rift Valley is a track that is best played in the dark. It’s like you’re dreaming after smoking pot. Everything feels captivating yet entirely elusive.

3. Lana Del Rey – hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it 

I have an ongoing suspicion that all of Lana Del Rey’s melodies are variations of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. That being said, anticipation is high for her forthcoming album Norman Fucking Rockwell and I liked both 2018 singles, Venice Bitch and Mariners Apartment Complex. However hope is a (etc – wayyyy too long to write out again) feels like one of her most accomplished songs. Lyrically this is a profoundly moving five minutes; from self-doubt to abuse to isolation, any song that has Sylvia Plath at its core will undoubtedly veer from weirdness to unimaginable suffering.

4. Sam Smith, Normani – Dancing With A Stranger 

A devastatingly simple pop track full of regrets. Sam Smith does heartbreaks better than almost anyone, and the simple production on Dancing with a Stranger leaves the listener to drown in the guilt and misplaced anger of a rebound one night stand.

5. Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness 

The first Track of the Day of 2019, Hello Happiness is a burst of energy, with a bass line straight from the 70s, electro vibes that belong in the 80s and a vocal performance that is positively timeless.

6. Lizzo – Juice 

Lizzo has some swag, and having made last year’s Astral Penguins Top 50 with the massive Boys, Juice is yet another banger from the Minneapolis songstress. Super sweet production with shimmering guitars brings to mind Duran Duran era pop, and the chorus is totally infectious.

7. D’Angelo – Unshaken 

With his first release since 2014, D’Angelo returns with the brooding and hypnotic Unshaken. Written for the Red Dead Redemption 2 soundtrack, Unshaken certainly conjures up the feelings of a western with its sparse production and solitary feel, and D’Angelo’s vocals sound superb in this lower range.

8. Lauren Jauregui – More Than That 

The second former Fifth Harmony member to appear in this week’s A List, More Than That is a short slice of a slick r’n’b full of assertive lyrics and lilting melodies.

9. Catfish and the Bottlemen – Longshot 

I’ve been a fan of CatB since they came onto the scene in c. 2014. I wasn’t a massive fan of 2016’s The Ride but Longshot sounds like a good return to form. Produced by Jacknife Lee (R.E.M., the Killers, U2), Longshot has a distinctly British optimism running through it, almost like they can’t believe something has succeeded.

10. PEZNT – Freedom 

Croatian dance duo PEZNT describe themselves as “something like Village People but more village rather than people”, which is pretty baffling. What isn’t baffling is their new single Freedom, which is a straight up, uncomplicated, hands-in-the-air dance track.

 

 

The A List: 3rd April

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The A List is where we round up our ten favourite songs right now. It’s been on hold for a couple of weeks, but its back with a bang. Here they are for your listening pleasure:

 

1. Drones Club – Hurricane (New Entry)

Straddling the fence between dance and indie, the electronic chorus soars into the sky. Every listen feels familiar – it’s rooted in an early 90s baggy feel – and yet it feels absolutely fresh.

2. Gorillaz, Vince Staples  – Ascension (New Entry)

Ascension ends up sounding like a space age gospel infused pop track; it’s a little bonkers but that’s the fun of it.

3. Billie Eilish – Bellyache (New Entry)

The outrageously young Billie Eilish has delivered a stunning piece of electro pop that seems to be about, well… murder. From the stunning production to the simple yet oh-so-effective vocals (a la Lorde) Bellyache is just a joy from start to finish.

4. Daniel Trakell – Paradise (New Entry)

The song is both speaking of a paradise that is tangible and truly beautiful in the present, but also of a place that has yet to come in the afterlife.

5. Nightdubbing – Frontline

With perhaps the funkiest bass part of 2017 driving this track along, Frontline meanders between elements of house and disco to create what would be the perfect soundtrack to a day out in the sun.

6. Todd Terje – Jungelknugen (Four Tet Remix) (New Entry)
As with Four Tet’s Opus remix, Jungelknugen refuses to go where you expect it to, but continues to delight throughout. Building synths, layer upon layer of electronic waves and some out and out hands-in-the-air moments; stonkingly good.

7. Sun Lil Moon – Bergen to Trondheim (New Entry)

This is a song that skirts ever so close to being beyond the pale. Maybe I’ve listened to far too much Father John Misty, but to my ears this is one of the darkest, sarcastic and satirical songs I’ve heard in a very long time.

8. HVOB – Deus (New Entry)

Deus starts slowly, repetitive vocals coiled around intimidating synths; then the beat drops. It conjures up feelings of space travel and loneliness; danger and claustrophobia. I like this more with every listen.

9. Father John Misty – Total Entertainment Forever (New Entry)

Total Entertainment Forever is a catchy pop song with a familiarity that comes from a sound that has produced countless hits before; it’s sure to leave foots tapping. Yet then there’s the lyrics, and the biting take down of modern life.

10. Kendrick Lamar – The Heart Part 4 (New Entry)

The Heart Part 4 chops and changes in style, and certainly suffers from the braggadocious spirit that blights a lot of hip hop, yet spending a few minutes with the lyrics of this track is hugely rewarding.