Showing posts with label John Hill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Hill. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Welcome to K-Pop!

By John Hill

With the overnight sensation from South Korea named PSY threatening to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, people are now hearing about K-pop, or Korean pop. While a large chunk of the world’s population has heard of K-pop acts like Super Junior and 2NE1, there has been limited success for K-pop in the US until now. Intrigued? Then check out some of our favorite current K-pop acts (all singles are available on iTunes in the US except “Dazzling Girl”).

Wonder Girls “Like Money” (featuring Akon)

While PSY may be the first K-pop artist to make the US top 10, he was not the first to make the Billboard Hot 100. That distinction goes to Wonder Girls, who reached #76 in 2009 with “Nobody.” These five ladies have done their homework over the past few years, touring the US multiple times and releasing several singles in English, including the infectious “Two Different Tears.” Their latest single “Like Money” features American singer Akon and has a BeyoncĂ© “Single Ladies” groove that has garnered them some attention on pop stations in the US as well as a tour of smaller US venues.

TVXQ “Catch Me”

One cornerstone of K-pop groups is the precise choreography that accompanies many of their single releases. With the advent of English boy bands not dancing like their predecessors (see The Wanted, One Direction), many of the industry’s top choreographers have traveled to South Korea to work with pop groups that still believe a tight dance routine will excite their fans. K-pop duo TVXQ and top choreographer Tony Testa bring a more Euro-oriented sound to their debut US single “Catch Me,” and the video (above) harkens back to the old days of Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync when boy bands were not afraid to work up a sweat on stage. “Catch Me” may be a bit too high energy to get played on pop radio, but I wouldn’t count these guys out.

SHINee “Dazzling Girl”
Another interesting trait of K-pop groups is that they often record songs in Japanese to break on to the lucrative J-pop charts in Japan. Such is the case with five-man boy band SHINee, who released their latest Japanese single “Dazzling Girl” and the video that accompanies the song earlier this month. Also note that most K-pop (and J-pop) songs also have a few English lyrics scattered in…even PSY has the words “style” and “sexy lady” in “Gangnam Style.” If you want to check out SHINee at their K-pop best, also look into “Lucifer” and “Sherlock.”

Girls’ Generation “The Boys”
American viewers got an eyeful on The Late Show with David Letterman January 31, 2012 when nine-woman K-pop group Girls’ Generation performed their debut US single “The Boys.” While the ladies didn’t chart “The Boys” here in America, their album of the same name has been a huge seller back home in South Korea. Don’t think that this will be the last American single because they most likely will give it another go now that there is more interest in K-pop.

BONUS: PSY doing the “Single Ladies” dance
I love PSY. It is very clear from the limited contact Americans have had with this guy that he does not really take himself seriously, which instantly endears him to me. But if you think the “Gangnam Style” dance was just a fluke, check out the video below of PSY learning the “Single Ladies” dance in 2011 to rock the crowd. PSY may not be built for speed, but he makes up for it in sheer effort and pure abandon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Music/Future Hits: The Wanted, Priyanka Chopra, Delta Rae

By John Hill 

If you feel like you will throw a radio out the window if you hear “Call Me Maybe” or “Gangnam Style” on the radio one more time, it may be time for a new music intervention. 

Here are three songs that I think you’ll be hearing a lot of in the near future. Check ‘em out now before they get played out! 

Priyanka Chopra “In My City”
Do you remember the Pussycat Dolls taking on Slumdog Millionaire’s “Jai Ho” and thinking “that’s pretty good?” A lot of people agreed, as the song became a worldwide hit. Now picture that instead of Nicole Scherzinger singing the lead that someone from India did and RedOne produced with guested on the track. That is exactly what we are looking at now with the debut of Bollywood star and Miss World 2000 Priyanka Chopra. “In My City” may very well be the Jam Of The Fall with the right visibility. Chopra has Interscope Records, Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter, and mega producer RedOne all behind her, so do not sleep on this one. It’s going to be huge.

The Wanted “I Found You”
While much of the world may be going crazy for One Direction’s new single “Live While We’re Young,” the five guys of The Wanted who beat One Direction to the US are also previewing their next US album (due in 2013) by releasing “I Found You.” The opening chords sound very similar to “Glad You Came,” but don’t let that chase you off. Vocally the band sounds like they have gotten stronger since their debut EP, and lyrically there’s a maturity present that 1D are probably a decade away from hitting - if they last that long. While the single might not be as instantaneously catchy as “Glad You Came,” “I Found You” may keep The Wanted from being one-hit wonders.

Delta Rae “Morning Comes”
This one may not be as immediate as the other two songs listed here, but Delta Rae is a force to be reckoned with as they make a move for the mainstream. Consisting of two brothers and a sister, as well as three other band members, the family harmonies shine through on their major-label debut album Carry the Fire. And it’s not just any major label. Seymour Stein, credited with discovering the Ramones, the Pretenders and Madonna, signed them to his Sire Records personally. Delta Rae are currently featured on VH1’s You Oughta Know, and they are killing it live across the country, including at the Larimer Lounge here in Denver where they played on September 28. Not only do they make great music, but they are also allies in the fight for same-sex marriage rights. They dedicated “Chain on Love” to the fight against a constitutional amendment in North Carolina earlier this year banning same-sex unions.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A conversation with Rod Thomas of Bright Light Bright Light

By John Hill

If you were to ask Americans about a musician named Rod Thomas, many would confuse the name with Rob Thomas, lead singer for Matchbox Twenty. 

However, those in the know will instantly recognize Rod Thomas as the man behind UK pop act Bright Light Bright Light. As Rod describes it, the music is “melodramatic 90s tinged pop,” but the sound is fresh and current while still paying homage to the music that inspired it.

 In advance of playing multiple shows in New York this week, Rod agreed to talk about his new single “Feel It,” his Scissor Sisters connection, going on holiday in St. Tropez, and maintaining a fan base in the US. 
John Hill: Your current single "Feel It" has a fun video that was partially shot on the streets of New York. Was that during one of your trips to play shows in NYC?
Rod Thomas: I shot it in NYC in July when I was over yes. It was a blast. It was one of the nicest teams I've worked with.

JH: Early on in the video, (Scissor Sisters member) Del Marquis shows up for a cameo. While a lot of Americans may not know you, a lot more of them know Scissor Sisters. How did the collaborations with Del begin?
RT: We met in NYC back in 2009 when I was over for a few shows and meetings. He'd released some solo material that I really liked, so I emailed him and asked if he was around for a drink while I was in town, and he was. We saw Depeche Mode together and talked about music, what we were working on, and just clicked. I sent him the demo of “Cry at Films” and he liked it so he added vocals and guitar, and so started a great collaboration and friendship!

JH: And then on top of that, you've just been added as an opening act to the Scissor Sisters' UK tour. That has to be a huge bonus for your visibility in the UK.
RT: It's amazing. I mean, it's easy to forget that they have sold MILLIONS of records!! They've been one of my favourite bands since I used to play 'Laura' on its first release on my student radio show. I literally couldn't be more excited. And yes it's a huge bonus - the venues are great and I'm sure the crowds will be super fun and up for a dance.

JH: Aside from Del’s cameo, the revelation in the video is that the diva voice on "Feel It" actually comes from a man. Where did the inspiration for putting Mykal Kilgore on the record come from?
RT: Del sent me a song a few months back that had Mykal singing on it, literally a week after I'd recorded 'Feel It' and when I heard him sing I just thought "he HAS to sing on this track" - so I wrote the answering lines and asked Del if he would put us in touch and Mykal did the most AMAZING job singing those vocals. Del recorded them in his studio, so I was really happy we managed to get all three of us in the video.

JH: How is it trying to cultivate a US fan base when your visibility here is limited?
RT: It's hard. When you come from the UK you really have no idea how vast America is, but I think even at this point I've tapped into a really great kind of fan base. The NYC shows have been really, really important to me - I love that people from the other side of the world have even heard of me, let alone want to come watch, and I've met some great people. I can't wait until I get chance to tour the US properly. It's difficult to properly focus on starting the fan base in the US with so many work commitments over here, but things like Twitter and Facebook have been a really good and fun way to reach out.

JH: It seems you stumbled on an inadvertent way to get visibility in the US this summer when you were on holiday in St. Tropez with Elton John and what seemed like an entourage of hot men. How does something like that even come about?
RT: Haha. Nicely phrased! I've been friends with him quite a long time now. I used to be managed by his management company, and we kept in touch over the years. He's been very supportive of my album, so we've been talking a lot this year. I was in France, he was in France, so we went for lunch. Basically, two friends were in the same country and we met up. It just sounds insane to say that when one of your friends is one of the most iconic musicians in the world!! I'm amazed that someone as busy and as established as he is has time to constantly listen to new music, but he does. I guess it's a great way to make interesting new friends!

JH: I remember you saying a year or so back that you were working with different people to eventually have a video for every track on (BLBL’s full-length album) Make Me Believe in Hope. Is that still a thing?
RT: Yes it's still a thing. It takes time, but it's very close.

JH: What's the plan once the Scissor Sisters tour is over with and "Feel It" runs its course?
RT: There's plenty more to come don't worry.

JH: Last question...will there be a full-fledged US tour?
RT: Yes, it's just a case of when. And it can't really come soon enough!
Bright Light Bright Light is making three appearances in New York this week: October 9th at Westgay (a dance pop set); October 10th playing a solo piano set at Mercury Lounge and premiering a brand new song; and October 11th DJing at Nowhere Bar. The official release of “Feel It” is on October 29th, but his full-length Make Me Believe in Hope is out and available now. For all things Bright Light Bright Light, check out the website at

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Adele Watches the “Skyfall”

By John Hill
It has been a decade since Madonna recorded the theme song for Die Another Day, which went to number eight on the US pop chart. For those of you who have given up on seeing another Bond theme become a hit, you might want to take a seat, because Adele has come to your rescue.
There is something to be said for sticking to the style of Bond themes that the public has grown to love, which may explain why the more recent attempts by Chris Cornell and Jack White & Alicia Keys failed miserably from the last two 007 movies.

Thankfully, Adele and producer/writer Paul Epworth take “Skyfall” back to the glory days of Shirley Bassey singing “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds are Forever” without ever sounding dated. In fact, “Skyfall” sounds like a track that would have fit in well on her last album 21, just with a 77-piece symphony adding additional drama into the mix. By the time Adele reaches the end of the track, the sheer power of her vocals propelled by the swelling strings launches her into the musical stratosphere and cements her place as one of the finest vocalists making pop music (or any type of music) right now.

Come March of next year, I think Adele may need to make room on her awards cabinet for an Oscar.

While his full-time job is in education, John Hill also writes a successful music blog titled Pop Music Notes. He is also active on Twitter @popmusicnotes and lives in Denver with his partners in crime James and Bruiser.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

CD Reviews: Carly Rae Jepsen, Pink, Cher Lloyd

By John Hill

It’s October, which means that all the big box stores are gearing up for Christmas, right? And that means popular music artists are releasing new material to capitalize on the holiday shopping season. The blockbuster releases are rolling out fast and furious, so here are a few of the options being offered up for your gift-giving consideration.
Carly Rae Jepsen – This Kiss
The challenge with following up a debut single as massively popular as “Call Me Maybe” is coming up with a whole album that lives up to the hype of that first song. Carly Rae Jepsen gets about 50% of the way there with her debut US release This Kiss. While there are at least three more potential hits on This Kiss, what is notable is that the sound of those hits is not as original as “Call Me Maybe.” There is “More than a Memory” which sounds almost exactly like Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away,” the Kylie Minogue-vibed “Curiosity,” and “Beautiful,” a duet with Justin Bieber that sounds similar to the Plain White T’s “1, 2, 3, 4.” Having said all this, all of these songs will bury themselves into your brain and the first three-quarters of the album hold up well to multiple listens. This Kiss ends up being a solid if inconsistent first stab at world domination.

Pink – The Trouble With Love
Full disclosure: I am getting tired of pop artists feeling the need to put curse words into songs they know will get played on Top 40 radio simply for shock value. No artist frustrates me more with this than Pink, who appropriately used the F word to great effect on "Fuckin' Perfect" a few years back.  “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” her first single from The Truth About Love, is the opposite end of the scale, using curse words more for attention than substantial impact. In fact, “Blow Me” and several other up-tempo tracks stand as a parody of Pink’s past music that used to work because of Pink’s ability to maintain a balance between substance and shock value. Because of this, about half of The Truth About Love tries way too hard to be irreverent and shocking without much to back it up in substance.
I know that there will be long-time fans of Pink who will love the rougher upbeat tracks, but it creates a schizophrenic album that doesn’t flow well and is jarring at times. When Pink slows things down and goes into a more vulnerable mode (see “Try,” “Beam Me Up,” “The Great Escape”), her voice soars and so does the material. One track that falls in between the two extremes is “Just Give Me a Reason,” which pairs Pink with fun. lead singer Nate Ruess on a track that would fit in perfectly with fun.’s current album Some Nights. The way Pink and Ruess’s voices mesh on the chorus is magical and genuine, making for a great mid-tempo track that easily could be a single.

Cher Lloyd – Sticks + Stones
If you have been wondering what all the fuss is over The X Factor coming to the US last year, all you have to do is listen to your radio and hear exports from the UK version in rotation. One Direction appear to be the New Kids on the Block for the 21st Century, Olly Murs is slowly picking up steam at radio with his “Heart Skips a Beat,” and a feisty sprite named Cher Lloyd just celebrated her first Top 20 US hit with the upbeat “Want U Back.” Now that she is established, her debut album Sticks + Stones that was released in England last year has been repackaged for American consumption.
The biggest differences between the UK and the US versions of Sticks + Stones are the absence of US singer Mike Posner and X Factor US finalist Astro, as well as two new tracks recorded for the United States audience. I have no problem with the cameos being dropped because not only is Cher Lloyd a strong vocalist, but she also raps well enough to not embarrass herself on record. Lloyd stands out because while she is unabashedly pop on these tracks, she brings in other influences that give her songs more heft than they would show in a weaker artist’s hands. Even a song that looks like a train wreck on paper like “Swagger Jagger” has just enough substance to it to keep it from going over-the-top cheesy.

While the UK-original tracks mostly work, the two songs added for the US (next single “Oath” and “Behind the Music”) go for Avril Lavigne-like vocals and lyrics that seem to be pretty popular right now (see Taylor Swift) while still employing her rap style to punch up the attitude.  Hopefully her management and producers recognize that a talent like Lloyd does not need to chase trends when she has more than enough style to set her own trends given the right producer and writers. Still, this is a strong debut for a unique artist in a crowded pop marketplace.
While his full-time job is in education, John Hill also writes a successful music blog titled Pop Music Notes. He is also active on Twitter @popmusicnotes and lives in Denver with his partners in crime James and Bruiser.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mumford and Sons: Lovers of the Light

By John Hill

There are certain artists that seem custom-made for certain live venues. Watching U2's Live at RedRocks: Under a Blood Red Sky, you would be forgiven for thinking the red rocks that frame the amphitheater were visualized by a brilliant set designer if you didn't know that Red Rocks is nature at its finest. While Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado was already a popular venue well before 1983, the concert film announcing U2 to the world assisted the venue in becoming legendary not only for spectators but for bands as well.

Such was the case with Mumford and Sons on August 28th as they hit the stage for their first of two nights at Red Rocks. Natives to Colorado who frequent Red Rocks concerts are used to artists expressing gratitude just being able to play at such a legendary venue, and Marcus Mumford and company were no exceptions. While simply playing a show at Red Rocks is humbling to most, for Mumford and Sons it was also added pressure as both nights were filmed for inclusion in a documentary/concert film documenting their journey to this acoustic landmark. In fact, the projection screen on the right side of the stage showed some of the best footage you have ever seen at a concert, giving a good indication of the quality of what is to come with their film.

Besides putting on a lively, well-paced show, Mumford and Sons also previewed music from their just-released sophomore release Babel. Footage from the August 28th performance of their new single “I Will Wait” was released as the official video less than two weeks later (see above video). In fact, the Mumford boys played about half of Babel at Red Rocks almost a month prior to the album’s release, and yet the new songs fit right in with the familiar tracks that the crowd knew very well.

For me, the familiarity of new songs to a listener who has never heard them can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing comes from an instantaneous acceptance of the new material, but the curse comes in casual listeners not necessarily being able to discern one song from another. However, when listening to Babel, it is a small complaint for an otherwise stellar album.

When “I Will Wait” was released, many fans felt that the Mumfords were lightening up a bit, but the main themes of dealing with the struggles of life both in outward and inward interactions are still intact. While “I Will Wait” sounds like an upbeat song, the theme of asking forgiveness for some transgression and waiting for that forgiveness is not exactly uplifting.  In fact, asking for forgiveness appears a few times on Babel, most notably on highlight “Lover of the Light,” where Marcus states “I have done wrong, so build your tower,” and “Ghosts That We Knew,” with its shameful “and close my eyes from my recent disgrace.”

If you want to pay a few more dollars and pick up the Deluxe Edition of Babel, you will be rewarded with what I believe is the best cover version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” that I’ve ever heard. With original singer Paul Simon on the track and renowned steel guitarist Jerry Douglas providing a haunting accompaniment, Marcus Mumford proves he is just as adept at singing a straight-ahead story as he is in a song shrouded in metaphors. The world-weariness of Mumford’s vocals adds a grittiness to the boxer’s tale, making this remake a great companion to the shiny delivery of Simon and Garfunkel’s original.

Mumford and Sons have picked right up where they left off with debut disc Sigh No More and now have a rabid fan following that will embrace Babel and sing along with every track. From the rollicking title cut to the touching closer “Not with Haste,” both existing fans and newcomers will find something to embrace and love.
While his full-time job is in education, John Hill also writes a successful music blog titled Pop Music Notes. He is also active on Twitter @popmusicnotes and lives in Denver with his partners in crime James and Bruiser.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Music Review: Filling the musical void with The xx and Jessie Ware

By John Hill

To have a well-rounded musical palette, you need more than shiny pop songs and thumping dance beats. Whether it’s a drive through the mountains or simply chilling at home, there is a need for more laid-back music that helps stir your soul or lift the burdens of the daily grind. Fortunately, two new releases from UK acts The xx and Jessie Ware are set to fill that void as we shift in to an autumnal mode.

The xx shot to the top of critics’ Best Of lists in 2009 with their debut album xx, leading to the album’s selection as the winner of the Barclaycard Mercury Prize in 2010 for the best album released in the United Kingdom and Ireland. So how does a young band that found critical and commercial success on their first release follow that up? If you are the members of The xx, you stay true to your original indie pop sound while evolving in other directions.

What is the sound of The xx? To say it is indie pop does not do it justice, because it is fairly unique in a marketplace filled with grinding chords and driving drum and bass lines. The trio, consisting of vocalists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft and producer Jamie Smith, offer a stripped-down sound that is both expansive and minimal all at the same time. While guitar licks propel many of their songs, the vocal duo of Sim and Madley-Croft add emotional complexity to each track they appear on. Check out Madley-Croft’s heartfelt delivery of “Angels,” their first single off of Coexist as performed on Conan.

The amazing thing for me is that the way they sound on that live clip is exactly how they sound on record. While opening track “Angels” may not reflect it, Jamie Smith stated early on that Coexist would be influenced by club music. “Chained” sounds like a sleeker version of music Everything but the Girl released in their Walking Wounded era with the added bonus of both male and female vocals, but it is not all driven by beats. In fact, the first half of “Reunion” is propelled not by guitars or a drum machine, but rather a steel drum. However, the heart of Coexist lays in “Sunset,” an all-too-familiar tale of ex-lovers who see each other on the street but don’t acknowledge each other’s existence. When Madley-Croft’s and Sim’s voices entwine at the end, the sadness of knowing they both wish things were different is palpable.

Occasionally I find myself longing for the days of Soul II Soul, Lisa Stansfield and Sade ruling the Pop and R&B charts with a mixture of strong vocals, laid-back vibes and unexpected beats. While Sade pre-dated those other acts by a few years, all three acts helped redefine pop upon their releases with songs that were inherently soulful but with a pop sensibility that allowed them to reach a wider audience. Fast forward 20 plus years, and English vocalist Jessie Ware and producer Dave Okumu are bringing a similar albeit updated sound to the masses via Ware’s debut disc Devotion.

Devotion kicks off with its title track, which harkens back to the classic collaboration of Massive Attack and Tracey Thorn (of Everything but the Girl fame) on “Protection,” mixing a strong, distinct female vocal with a pulsating electronic track. From there, the record flows through a stream of soul, pop and trip hop beats that provide something for any mood. From the anthemic “Wildest Moments” to the sensual Sade-esque “Running,” Devotion delivers a sonically diverse album without losing track of the powerful vocalist that the tracks were created to showcase. Highlight track “Taking In Water” is a power ballad fitting of a woman whose voice cannot be confined to one genre, and closer “Something Inside” floats off toward the horizon, hopefully leading to Ware’s next set of musical journeys. In a business where music is written for a hook first and a vocalist somewhere further down the list, the combo of Okumu’s production and Ware’s voice are equally matched in brilliance.

While his full-time job is in education, John Hill also writes a successful music blog titled Pop Music Notes. He is also active on Twitter @popmusicnotes and lives in Denver with his partners in crime James and Bruiser.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Warren Nomi: Can You Feel "The Rush?"

By John Hill
As someone who enjoys seeing talented new artists break through into the mainstream, it can often be frustrating for me when a deserving artist on a solid independent label doesn’t get the attention they deserve. When the exception to the rule breaks through, there is a satisfaction from a fan standpoint that other people see the same promise and potential. That is what makes seeing success come around for singer/songwriter Warren Nomi all the more satisfying.
Back in April, I caught wind of Nomi and “The Rush,” and I was instantly smitten. While I initially thought “great track, but who knows what it will do,” the song stuck with me. Most of the dance pop songs getting play at Top 40 Radio right now fit a similar David Guetta-esque formula that will quickly burn out, but “The Rush” rides a slower, sexier beat that would stand out in the mix while still fitting in with no problem. The sexy lyrics fit the beat, rather than sounding like random lyrics dropped onto a hot backing track, and Warren’s delivery helps push the hotness quotient over the top.
Fast forward five months later, and “The Rush” has spent a month on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Songs chart supported by remixes from Chew Fu and Eddie Amador (FREE download sample here) and a video is on the way. Things are definitely looking up for Warren, and to capitalize on that momentum, he also released a seasonal buzz track called “This Summer I,” a laid-back electro-pop track which also has a video on the way. Click here to check out “This Summer I” and download it for FREE.
While Warren Nomi does not qualify as an LGBT artist, he enthusiastically embraces his gay fans, and with a little more exposure I am sure they will embrace him.  Say hi if you want ... this guy is VERY fan-friendly. You can check him out on Facebook as well as on Twitter, and his remixes for “The Rush” are on iTunes here, here and here. Nomi’s current deal with Citrusonic Label Group is for singles, but here’s hoping that the success of these two tracks leads to a full-length CD in the near future.
 While his full-time job is in education, John Hill also writes a successful music blog titled Pop Music Notes. He is also active on Twitter @popmusicnotes and lives in Denver with his partners in crime James and Bruiser.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Meet the MileHighGayGuy Bloggers: John Hill, Music News and Reviews

John Hill
John Hill is a self-identified chart geek who has a passion for pop music of all kinds. Along with his chart-watching that began as a boy, he has also worked in the music industry in both retail and radio capacities, along with establishing a successful music blog.

John's experience with popular music goes back to his childhood, where he maintained his own charts based off of the Billboard Hot 100. As he progressed through his teens, he wanted to work in radio, and even achieved degrees in Radio/TV and Communications during his undergraduate studies. After graduating, he was drawn to the retail side of music for close to a decade before deciding that he liked having holidays with his family.

While his full-time job is in education, he currently writes a successful music blog titled Pop Music Notes. He is also active on Twitter @popmusicnotes and lives in Denver with his partners in crime James and Bruiser.