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Sam Smith Shines, Electrifies Audience at Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles [Review]


There's no doubt in my mind that Sam Smith is one of the finest and most impressive new talents to reckon with on the pop scene this year. After the success of tracks like "Latch" and "La La La" overseas, he has stepped into the limelight stateside with a firm shot at breakthrough success in America. I saw Smith's very first show in Los Angeles late last year at The Troubadour and was blown away by his confident stage presence and effortless vocal delivery. Smith has one of those rare voices that hit you right at the core and make you feel the exact intent of the song he's emoting. 

Sam Smith returned to Los Angeles this week (in conjunction with his stint at Coachella together with his pals of Disclosure) to perform at Belasco Theatre. Smith's popularity has accelerated over the last few months and he played two nights in a row at downtown's historic venue to give as many fans as possible the opportunity to see him live. One of the things that struck me immediately was how many passionate fans had lined up early to see him. That level of fan enthusiasm and commitment this early is a very important indicator of how fast things will develop for Smith.

The British soul-pop crooner played a robust set of new and existing songs including "Money On My Mind," "Nirvana" and "Leave Your Lover," the song that got him noticed and kicked off his career. He also performed the hit singles "Latch" and "La La La" that he worked on with Disclosure and Naughty Boy respectively. He also threw in a cover of Arctic Monkey's "Do I Wanna Know" for good measure.

Each and every song was presented with a dose of gravitas and a heartfelt emotion that had the crowd hanging on to each and every note. Humble yet confident, Smith's incredible soulful vocals seems to come so naturally to him as if it takes no effort at all to move his audience so deeply.

Smith encored with his current U.S. radio hit "Stay With Me" that's taken from his forthcoming debut album The Lonely Hour. It's a gospel-tinged song of majestic beauty that fit the classic Belasco perfectly. One of the night's highlights was when Howard of Disclosure joined Smith for the first part of the encore to perform an acoustic version of "Make It To Me" that was truly moving.


Prior to one of the two shows at Belasco, Smith sat down with a group of college students for an installment of GRAMMY University's Soundcheck series. Students quizzed asked Smith about his sudden rise to fame and his forthcoming debut album. "It all happened very quick for me," he tells the students.

He adds, "I moved to London when I was 18 and started working in a bar. I really hustled my way for a few years, paying rent and stuff, and then luckily I met some incredible people. I wrote a song called 'Lay Me Down' and thing just snowballed. Things from there just happened so fast."

Smith also shared with GRAMMY U students how important it is to find your own voice. Prior to his success, Smith tried out different musical styles and struggled in the music industry. Everything changed when he started writing his truth. "I found that I found myself as a writer and singer when I started speaking the truth in my music," he explains. "Don't focus on sound. Just pour who you are into a song. It's what I have done on my entire album, it's brutal honesty."

Watch the entire video below. Sam Smith The Lonely Hour will be released on June 17. Listen to his Nirvana EP on Beats Music now.(Photos via Impose Magazine)

April 19, 2014 | Permalink

Betablock3r Premieres Debut Single 'Don't Take Me Home' feat. Vic & Gab [Review]

Beta cover art

After producing a series of high-grade remixes for other artists (like this one and this one), production outfit Betablock3r is unveiling their long-awaited debut artist single today. Titled "Don't Take Me Home," the song is a brightly glowing dance-pop confection filled with resplendent synths that features the lush and airy vocals of emerging Milwaukee pop duo Vic & Gab. Play it during a late night drive, a sunset party on the beach or whenever you need a little escape from whatever is dragging you down. Betabloc3r brings out the sunshine and happy vibes with "Don't Take Me Home" no matter where you tune in.

Betablock3r's Chris and Ryan hail from Southern California while Vic & Gab reside in Wisconsin. The four worked remotely on the song that took a fresh new turn after Vic & Gab wrote vocals for an early version of the song. "Originally it sounded like a completely different from what it eventually became. We had written it and sent it out to a couple of writers, and forgot about it," Chris and Ryan write me in an email. "So one day we get an email with this old song we forgot about and these beautiful melodies that Vic and Gab wrote to it. The track took on a completely new life. We immediately loved what we heard."

In fact, Betablock3r liked Vic & Gab's ideas so much that they decided to completely rebuild the song from the ground up. "We had [Vic & Gab] head over to a studio near their hometown in Milwaukee to track the ideas they had written. When we received the vocal takes from the studio they sounded so good we decided the music wasn't cutting it anymore and rewrote the music around the vocals. There are still some remnants of the original track in there but overall it's an entirely different song."

It was an equally productive and pleasant experience for Vic & Gab. "We met Chris and Ryan over the phone and instantly clicked with them. We loved the track they originally sent us and as we started working on it we just fell more and more in love with it. The guys did a great job giving it a breath of fresh air once we were done with our vocals. We couldn't be happier with the end result."

"Don't Take Me Home" is an exciting milestone in Betablock3r's burgeoning artist and production career that has us curious for more. The single will be released everywhere on April 22. Make sure to check it out on Beats Music.

April 17, 2014 | Permalink

Swedish Dance Duo Nause Unveils New Pop Single 'Head Over Heels' [Review]


While on the topic of superb Swedish pop with the announcement of Robyn's new music today, it's a perfect time to also highlight Swedish DJ/production outfit Nause who return with a new single as well. Hause is the duo of childhood friends Jacob Criborn and Leonard Schejawho who first hit the scene in 2011 when they scored big with "Made Of" that was a massive, platinum-selling hit in Sweden.

The success of "Made Of" was followed by "Hungry Hearts" in 2012 that shot straight to number one on the Swedish pop chart. Since then, the two have continued to release a few more chart-topping singles in Sweden plus remixes for people like Afrojack, Tiesto, Britney Spears and Kaskade.

In the Swedish TV documentary series Heartbeats, Jacob and Leonard talk at length about the importance of going back to their roots and crafting big room house music after scoring big radio hits. Now, almost two years later, that experimentation with the club music that first brought them together has refreshed their artistic mojo and has led to another pop-savvy tune that will without a doubt appeal far beyond Sweden's borders.

Last week, Nause unveiled their new single "Head Over Heels" that features the vocals of Kurt Nilson. It's a fine slice of hyper-melodic dance pop that you can file right next to tracks by Avicii, Sebastian Ingrosso, Axwell, Alesso and many other of Nause's Swedish contemporaries who have made a lasting mark on the international dance and pop scene. No U.S. release date for "Head Over Heels" has been scheduled yet.

April 14, 2014 | Permalink

Full Details: Röyksopp & Robyn Release 'Do It Again' Mini Album on May 26


Finally. This the news we've been waiting for. Pop desperately needs Robyn to return and our wish will come true when the Swedish pop pixie returns next month with a new single and EP (that a press release refers to as a "mini album"). The new music is the result of her teaming with Norwegian pop maestros Röyksopp. Together they will release  the Do It Again mini album via Cherrytree Records/Interscope on May 26, 2014. "Do It Again" is the first single and will be released on April 28. The single serves as an introduction to a new Röyksopp album to be released later this year.

The new music is released in conjunction with the very highly anticipated Do It Again tour with Röyksopp and Robyn kicks off this summer in Spain at the Sonar Festival on June 13 and hits the US with stops including the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on June 29 and at Pier 97 in NYC on August 20. 

To get us mentally and physically prepared for their big pop summer take-over, Röyksopp and Robyn unveil a clip from Monument, the first track on the mini album. It goes like this:

From this brief listen, "Monument" is exactly the sound and vibe we were hoping and expecting from a Robyn and Röyksopp collaboration. The song's "grandeur and grace is as distinctive as it is moving" and was the first song where they wrote lyrics together. A defining moment on the mini album in the shape of a near ten-minute long anthem, which was inspired by a sculpture from artist Juliana Cerqueira Leite, which gave Robyn a "physical experience of what it's like to define yourself or stand for something or figure out who you are."

In a press release, Röyksopp talks a little bit more about their point of view for their new music. "This 5 track mini-album is the accumulation and embodiment of the synergy between Robyn and ourselves. We've intended this to be a diverse yet cohesive and thought through musical venture; it's meant to be an expression where pop and art reign side by side."

The press release also describes that Röyksopp and Robyn were inspired by each other's company and compelled to create something they had never done before, building on the brief moments when they had come together in the past. Having worked together on "The Girl and the Robot," which appeared on Röyksopp’s Junior album in 2009 and "None Of Dem" on Robyn’s Body Talk Pt. 1 in 2010, the Do It Again mini album sees the two artists doing just that. 

Röyksopp adds, "This doesn't sound like Röyksopp featuring Robyn or Robyn produced by Röyksopp, it's just something else entirely. The word 'collaboration' has never before been more justified in the world of music!"

Robyn (who is styled immaculately in the new promo photography) also comments on the new music. "Svein and Torbjörn and I started working on new music in the beginning of 2013, I´ve been going back and forth to Bergen to record and write with the boys up until recently. Collaborating with S & T is something I enjoy very much. In the beginning we just knew we wanted to do something together and then it started to feel more like a band thing than songs for a Röyksopp or Robyn album so we´re releasing this music together as a band you could say."

Check out a few more blurbs from this morning's announcement to get yourself prepared for the onslaught of new pop:

Redbullet  "Do It Again" is the first single taken from the mini album and is an "accidental pop song" written after a night out together in Bergen. The effervescent, effortlessly uplifting electro-pop tune started out as a rave-inspired throwback.

Redbullet   Do It Again mini album covers big thumping house with the club-ready “Sayit”, which features a near duet between Robyn and what sounds like an aroused robot.

Redbullet  On the other end of the spectrum there is the closing "Inside The Idle Hour Club," which utilizes Robyn's vocal discreetly to create a pensive, slowly evolving soundscape that's worth diving into headlong.

Redbullet  Offcial Do It Again tracklisting: 1) "Monument" 2) "Sayit" 3) "Do It Again" 4) "Every Little Thing" 5) Inside The Idle Hour Club"

April 14, 2014 | Permalink

A Few Words about Why Kaskade's Redux Deserves to be Its Own Genre


Kaskade is heading out on the road for a second series of his popular Redux show that he launched last year to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his 2003 LP It's You, It's Me. Given the unique sound and success of Redux, it may be time to formally establish Redux as its own genre. Think of it a new sub-genre of house that mashes breezy chill-out and potent deep house with a hefty dose of melody. 

Purists will likely argue that Kaskade's distinct brand of house music doesn't equal a genre, but that's not the point. I'm arguing that given his passion and pursuit of high-quality house music ever since the start of his career, Kaskade is deserving of the honor of having a genre named after his musical style. Whatever your take on it is, we can all agree that he most certainly has carved out his own unique niche and Redux is a perfect label for it.

Redux has a special meaning for the DJ/ producer given the 10 year anniversary of his breakthrough album. "The inspiration for Redux was simplicity," he writes on his website. "My intention: to play small clubs, and for all who participated to be taken back a decade, when it was all about the music. When the term 'House Music' meant something pure. I wanted to touch base with my foundation, and do it in a way that was intimate."

Like I've said before, what truly strikes me about Kaskade is that in a world that is getting saturated with commercial, run of the mill house music, he has been able to stay true to his own sound. Deeply influenced by the West Coast house sound of the late '90s, the Chicago-born DJ, producer and songwriter carved out his own unique niche by combining lush house grooves with acoustic instrumentation. Most notably on "It's You, It's Me" that truly launched his career as a musical artist.

Kaskade will play new Redux this month and next in cities small and large. In conjunction with the 2014 Redux shows, the DJ will also release a vinyl Redux EP that features some brand-new tracks including his new single "Please Say You Will" featuring Adam Klopp that he unleashed late last week.

He writes on a special website a little bit more about his intent for Redux. "Redux has graduated from being an intention to describing a revolution where our coup d’état is a reversal of time. Redux is an observance of massive sound but restrained lights, married with hedonic amounts of deep and emotive house. When you close your eyes, you’re not missing anything; you’re doing it right. Redux will not be experienced by tens of thousands, but rather, hundreds. You know, like the way we used to do it."

Most of the Redux shows are sold out, but if there's any way you can get your hands on a ticket, make sure you do. It's a show not to be missed if you love the spirit of house music.

April 13, 2014 | Permalink