"The Motto": Ava Max & Tiësto Unite for a Time-Traveling Party Anthem

"Believe it, we ain't got no plans to leave here..."

Paws up, Maxxinistas: our time is now.

Being a card-carrying Avatar is a full-time job, but it pays well in bangers and bops aplenty: we've got our heads and our hearts to look after, toasts to raise with all of the kings and queens on the throne, and, of course, lopsided wigs to maintain. (And also making sure our Queen doesn't fall into the lava.)

Our Lady Ava Thee Max is at it yet again, refusing to let her grip on the industry loose for even a moment, this time in the form of a tag-team with the legendary Tiësto in the form of "The Motto," a dance floor anthem released on Thursday (November 4).

The track is actually Tiësto's moment, technically: it's his third single off of his upcoming album. And honestly, he's already got a tried-and-true history with pop-club crossover records. (Kaleidoscope remains fantastic, over a decade later.)

He's become quite taken with Ava (as he should be), and enlisted the Wisconsin-born Albanian chanteuse to provide vocals on his latest club banger.

"Ava is such an exciting young talent and her beautiful voice adds such depth to the song - I cannot wait for the world to hear our collaboration. ‘The Motto’ is the party anthem keeping us dancing into 2022 as we close out a crazy year!” he said in a statement.

The slick, shadowy, blink-and-you-miss-it banger clocks in at less than 3 minutes (very 2021), and was co-penned by an early favorite of the year Claudia Valentina, Sarah Blanchard, as well as Lostboy and Pablo Bowman, who helped to helm Bebe Rexha's immaculate "Sacrifice."

It also recalls another major banger of the year from an Iconic Person in Iconic Places, Rita Ora's "Big," as the "Sweet But Psycho" siren rides the moody beats with a too-cool-for-this-club flow, which is also reminiscent of favorites like RAYE and Mabel.

The concept of "The Motto" is basically, you know...the motto.

Actually, it's all about popping bottles in the club, throwing money up and being on your grind, as one does.

"That's the motto / Drop a few bills then pop a few champagne bottles / Throwin' that money like you just won the lotto / We been up all damn summer makin' that bread and butter / Tell me, did I just stutter? / That's thе motto," Ava declares.

Does it resonate on a personal level even slightly? Of course not, but who cares? As Ava says, "The Motto" is all about "doing you."

“When Tiesto shared this record with me, I fell in love and couldn’t stop playing it. 'The Motto' is empowering - it’s about not caring, doing you, having a good time, and letting the world know!”

And to that I say: you're right, Ava. Come to think of it, we really have been up all damn summer making that bread and butter, haven't we?

"The Motto" also comes alongside a Christian Breslauer-directed, 1920's hotel-inspired visual - which basically gives Ava an excuse to opt for a dark lip and pearls.

Surely no one could be prepared for the video's opening moments, as Ava enters an elevator, opens her phone and checks...her Coinbase cryptocurrency balance. Crypto's about to go to the moon, all thanks to Miss Max!

Ava Max Crypto Coinbase

Naturally, she spills her champagne on the button board and electrocutes the elevator (not that she seems particularly bothered), transporting herself back to the Roaring Twenties, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror style.

Ava Max Luggage

Things get a little Fantasy Twist as she twirls through the hotel hallways on a luggage cart, and also a bit The Great Gatsby, as Tiesto enters in Mr. Fancypants mode to greet his guests.

Ava Max Choreography

But mostly, he's just loving the fact that Ava is strutting around unalopogetic, getting up and stomping all over the tables, breaking champagne glasses and trashing the party while dabbling in some Main Pop Girl choreography, which...honestly, work!

Is this all a bit straight culture? Perhaps. Could "The Motto" be yet another mainstream mega-smash for Miss Max? Almost surely. Get on the winning team.


Foxes Sky Love

Foxes' 'The Kick' Is Set to Be One of the First Great Albums of 2022

Foxes The Kick Album

"It's insane, but you know when you've got it..."

Forget all the 2021 end-of-year "Best Of" listicle discourse. Who needs it? It's time to talk about next year.

English singer-songwriter Louisa Rose Allen, best known as Foxes - who you all know and love from Zedd's "Clarity" surely, as well as a bunch of hits like "Youth," "Let Go for Tonight" and "Body Talk" - came roaring back in a big way over the past few months.

First, there was her Friends in the Corner EP in April, a collection of songs released over the past year, from last May's "Love Not Loving You" to "Kathleen," which arrived back in March.

Then came "Sister Ray": the official start of a new era, and the lead single from her third studio album The Kick, due out on February 11, 2022.

The ecstatic, synth-filled ode to a night of pent-up chaos and revelry was penned and produced with Ghost Culture and AMES, formally kicked off the newest chapter in September, signaling a bold step back onto the dance floor, and calling back to some of Robyn's immaculate late '00s-to-early '10s club moments, including "With Every Heartbeat" and "Dancing On My Own."

“'Sister Ray' came from a wild part of me during lockdown that was craving a night of freedom and fun again, a longing to let go. The Velvet Underground reference is a nod to describing the most debauched night you could ever imagine but in its spirit, it’s a celebration of the people you can have those indescribable times with. I wanted to encapsulate that energy in a song so I could imagine that feeling forever," she said at the time.

It was an instant smash, and it wasn't long until she came around with an equally fantastic follow-up, "Dance Magic," a song scribed alongside PREP lead singer Tom Cane "about being swept up by the chemistry with someone, and not being able to see the sometimes dark reality, dancing around each other in a fantasy you’ve both created."

Bathed in slightly more vintage-sounding synthesizers, the tortured track touches on some heavier themes ("We drink too much to lose touch / And I know it's not good for me") while supplying misleadingly perky melodies, recalling some of Carly Rae Jepsen's own E•MO•TIONal brand of synth-pop.

And without missing a beat, Foxes is here yet again - and officially 3 for 3! - on Wednesday (November 3) with the third release from the record, "Sky Love," co-produced by Germany's Roosevelt and written with longtime collaborator Jonny “Ghostwriter” Harris and Jon Green, who worked on Kylie's Golden. (No, sadly, it is not an ode to Sky Ferreira.)

On her third, vaguely disco-tinged outing from the LP, Foxes explores “craving the kind of love that seems unimaginable, drives you crazy and is all-consuming. A love that feels otherworldly and like nothing you’ve felt before.”

Yet again, she's putting her faith in the dance floor: it's full of hopeful howls - "I just want a feeling, don't want to be numb" - echoing the all-too-relatable desire to be doing anything other than feeling isolated amid the pandemic, channeling some of the energy of her earliest EDM-laced endeavors.

“The record was written from a place of wanting to escape the walls of my own apartment," she says of The Kick.

"I wrote it imagining freedom and dancing and people being able to hold each other again. I spent so much time on Zoom day and night just writing words and melodies and before I knew it I’d written an album's worth of material. I felt a wild and animalistic feeling of needing and wanting to socialise again come out whilst writing and the feelings just didn’t stop. I felt like being in my apartment and being so isolated made me really dig deep into my mind and my imagination just ran wild. Most of the music is a celebration but some of the music comes from a painful place, of loss and heartbreak. I felt trapped and almost like my insides were dancing but I couldn’t express it, but in writing it allowed me to feel free again. This record feels like a new start and the ability to come back to life after such a strange time of us all being alone.”

Based on the three tracks we've heard already - plus a small, yet promising album sampler upon the album's track listing announcement - The Kick is shaping up to be one of 2022's first major records.

"Potential," indeed.

The Kick will be released on February 11, 2022, and is available to pre-order now in limited vinyl.


Conan Gray Telepath

Conan Gray, "Telepath": A Synth-Pop Ode to the One Who Keeps Crawling Back

"Call me a telepath..."

Conan Gray is kind of psychic. It's like he has ESPN or something.

After dropping his Top 5-charting debut album Kid Krow last year, including "Maniac" and the TikTok-trending "Heather," his most commercially successful hit yet, as well as a slew of singles ever since, including "Astronomy" and "People Watching," the 22-year-old singer-songwriter-Gen Z darling returned on Friday (October 29) with yet another brand new track, called "Telepath."

And from the sound of it, he could very well out-chart himself with this one.

The instantly great kiss-off finds Conan seizing the chill in the air, moving on with a swiftness (well, maybe...) across shimmering '80s synth-pop similar to The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights," supplying fiery falsetto and big belting while swatting away (well, possibly...) the lover trying to win his heart back after a split.

This autumn goodbye is also stacked, featuring some of the biggest hit-makers of the past few years: Julia Michaels, Swedish pop production prince Ilya (who's done tons with Ariana Grande, including the almighty "Into You"), and frequent Dua Lipa collaborator Caroline Ailin. Also, Max Martin is credited on the background vocals. Casual.

Lyrically, it's not unlike Our Lady Lipa's own Future Nostalgia walk-away anthem "Don't Start Now" (albeit less confident in its decision to ditch the dunce once and for all), as well as the stuff of his pal Olivia Rodrigo's own angst anthems. That "God," especially, feels very much like a nod.

"It's just so you, you're just so predictable / Won't you try something original? / Old news, reused, that's why I don't cry," he declares, unimpressed. Young love is a flame!

That earworm of a chorus is as much of a stun as one would expect from all those industry heavyweights, making disses like "I got a feelin' you'll be sendin' me trash you shoulda left in the drafts" feel misleadingly charming coming from that sweet, sweet voice.

"There you are at my door, drunk and asking me for a kiss / When yesterday you said that you hate my guts / Now you're back in love?" He might be a Swiftie, but he clearly doesn't fall for the same win-'em-back tactics laid out in "How You Get the Girl." Or...does he?

Not only is the song mercifully over 3 minutes long (a rarity in 2021!), but it's also got a bridge - and a fantastic one at that, switching up the story and suggesting that this isn't such a clean split, after all.

"But I bet you, I bet you, I bet you, I bet you I'll call you when I'm cryin', yeah / I bet you, I bet you, I bet you, I bet you'll return in perfect timing and I won't stop you from trying..." No! Don't give in, Conan! Stay strong!

The sparkling song is such an obvious hit, I've got a feeeeeeling..."Telepath" is only going to lead to even more massive things to come in the very near future for Conan Gray.

Kid Krow is still available as a limited cassette at Urban Outfitters.


Ayumi Hamasaki Trance Album Complete Edition

Ayumi Hamasaki's Trance Remix Albums Get the Reissues They Deserve

Ayumi Hamasaki Trance Album Reissue

Before Dawn of Chromatica, before Club Future Nostalgia, before B In The Mix, before The Remixes, there was ayu-mi-x, Ayumi Hamasaki's debut remix album.

Almost immediately after the Empress of J-Pop™'s career first took off with a song for xx in 1999, she followed up two months later with a collection of remixes and acoustic orchestral versions of her first hits, including "Poker Face," You," "Trust," "For My Dear..." and "Depend on You."

Granted, the concept for the release wasn't necessarily...her idea at first.

"Honestly, when my producer Max Matsuura talked about remixes, there was resistance on my part. I wasn't at all okay with it. My producer and I talked about [ayu-mi-x] and decided on it together, but I don't really get remixes. Still, [Matsuura] is a producer who's been influenced for years, decades even, by dance music, and has worked a lot on the 'remix' genre, so he really persisted in explaining it to me, and eventually I came to an agreement with him," she reportedly told Beatfreak that year.

It was the right call, regardless of who led the charge: ayu-mi-x proved to be the start of an incredible run of non-stop, acoustic and Eurobeat remix records, reflecting the sound of the clubs at the time and moving hundreds of thousands of albums in sales, including follow-up Super Eurobeat Presents Ayu-ro Mix, which became the seventh-highest selling remix album of all time.

As 2001 rolled around, in between her albums Duty and I Am..., she released Cyber Trance Presents Ayu Trance in September, leaning into the top taste-making DJs and producers of the European trance world at the time who, just like Ayumi, are still going strong today, including Armin Van Buuren, Ferry Corsten and Above & Beyond, who had just come off of releasing their impeccable mix of Madonna's "What It Feels Like for a Girl."

Having a bunch of remixers tackle Ayu's big tracks - including "M," "UNITE!" "evolution," and "Fly High" - was a very cool, ahead-of-its-time move, and an impressive cross-cultural musical collaboration, given the way that access to international music at that time was much more limited.

In fact, it also garnered some of Ayumi's earliest crossover success at a time when that was relatively unheard of, with her songs being played at European festivals, and her name even creeping up the charts abroad: she hit No. 11 on the British club chart and No. 2 on the German chart, among other territories.

Her name was also shortened to "Ayu" on some vinyl and CD pressings, as well as being included on coveted dance compilations like Ministry of Sound's The Annual. (I'll forever be kicking myself for not purchasing the entire set of Ayu mix vinyls briefly housed at Bookoff in NYC a few years ago.)

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cyber Trance Presents Ayu Trance, Avex released the -COMPLETE EDITION- of the album in September, an expansion of the original 14-track set to 48 tracks, which features a bunch of different versions of those mixes only found on 12" promo vinyls, or territory-limited releases, or just entirely unreleased until now.

It's perfect for trance enthusiasts, early '00s nostalgia seekers and, of course, Team Ayu diehards. Luckily, I'm all three.

They're not stopping there, either: Cyber TRANCE presents ayu trance 2 -COMPLETE EDITION- is coming November 17. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: And we're here now.

2002's Cyber TRANCE presents ayu trance 2 is now available in COMPLETE EDITION form.

Like the first release, the 30-track set includes rare 12" promo vinyl or region-specific remixes, and songs like the incredible, Ferry Corsten-produced "Connected" from I Am... (my favorite Ayu album!), which went on to be a club hit across Europe, as well as Rank 1's mix of Inuyasha theme Dearest.

Also exciting: the album was original in non-stop mix form (a very pre-Confessions on a Dance Floor move), meaning the tracks were never available to listen to individually...until now.

Ayumi Hamasaki Above & Beyond Velfarre

Also amazing? This new (old) photo of Ayu that came with the press release, which was originally posted by the Cyber TRANCE brand on Twitter.

Avex describes the photo as "taken way back on September 30, 2001, when British trance group Above & Beyond were performing at an ‘ayu trance’ release party at renowned Tokyo mega-club velfarre; the photo captures the moment the three young artists were joined on stage by Hamasaki herself, making a surprise guest appearance. This rare memento of a special moment in Japanese and British trance music history reignited the excitement of fans around the world."

Honestly, incredibly legendary.

The 20th anniversary releases of Cyber Trance Presents Ayu Trance are now on streaming and available to download, and if you're looking for the physicals of the original albums, there are occasionally some kicking around used on Amazon.



CHVRCHES Screen Violence

CHVRCHES Extend the 'Screen Violence,' Right in Time for Halloween

"I turned into a killer, I'm insane..."

It's Hallowe'en weekend, which means it's time to go out there and make the exact same mistakes you do every other weekend, just while wearing a bad wig.

That also means it's Halloween playlist season, which means rounding up the smattering of pop songs that are even vaguely related to something spooky: your "Disturbia," your "Scary," your "Monster"...you know the drill by now. (Remember BooMuse?)

Tired of the same ol' terrifying tracks? Have no fear. Well, actually do: CHVRCHES is here with some chilling cuts to add to the collection.

The Scottish trio already showed up early to the eerie party back at the end of August with their exceptional fourth studio album, Screen Violence, a horror-inspired collection of chilly, jagged, urgent synth-pop brilliance full of slasher-friendly imagery, including "He Said She Said," "Good Girls" (which was also remixed by Halloween score legend John Carpenter) and "How Not to Drown" with The Cure's iconic Robert Smith. There's also my personal favorite, "Violent Delights" - not (yet) a single, but still a standout of the year, as with the entirety of the LP.

Much to our pre-All Hallows' Eve delight, CHVRCHES revealed they weren't quite done with the release just yet.

As with many album releases amid The New Normal™ and the Age of Streaming, the band decided to extend the shelf life of their still-fresh-out-the-oven concoction with an additional three songs, as part of the Director's Cut edition (a most fitting title), released Friday (October 29).

And from the track titles alone, you already know you're in for an absolute scream of a good time.

"This album was thematically so different to previous CHVRCHES albums that it would have been rude of us to let Halloween come and go without injecting some more Screen Violence into it. 'Killer', 'Bitter End' and 'Screaming' were all started in 2020 and finished just after the album was released. As any good horror fan knows, just because the film ends, it doesn't mean the story does," says frontwoman Lauren Mayberry of the additional tunes.

All three tracks provide an excellent expansion of the Screen Violence universe, lyrically touching on all things screen and violent.

"Killer" is the instant knockout, grabbing the killer's knife and turning it around for a cold-blooded declaration: "I turned into a killer, I'm insane / I'll cry you a river down the drain / Are you entertained?" Who's afraid of who now, Mr. Ghostface?

"Screaming," meanwhile, has some tortured and introspective lyrics that cut deep ("Time's been stealing all my dreams / And I no longer look the part"), while "Bitter End" provides a crashing, crushing last plea for an escape: "Teach me the sound that can take me away / Play it again and again until I find rapture..."

It's an entirely appropriate new finale for the album - for now, until the inevitable sequel and/or reboot rolls around.

The idea that these songs didn't make the album the first time around, and nearly went unheard? Now, that's pretty damn frightening. Happy Halloween!

Screen Violence is out now on vinyl.


Kylie Minogue Jessie Ware Kiss of Life

"Kiss of Life": Kylie Minogue & Jessie Ware Meet in the Middle of the Dance Floor

"Give me the kiss of life..."

During the most locked-down, isolated of days amid the pandemilovato last year, several of our most beloved artists sought to keep us sane by supplying a much-needed escape via the dance floor in our minds - two of whom being Jessie Ware with What's Your Pleasure? and Kylie Minogue with Disco.

Jessie, as a person of good taste, has been a ride-or-die Kylie stan from the beginning. Kylie has grown quite fond of Jessie herself, to the point where the Red Blooded Woman went over for a bit of wine and dining on Jessie's podcast, leading to a casual chat about conjuring up a potential collapse - err, collaboration - together.

As it turned out, the two weren't just paying lip service to the fans: they really did hop in the studio together, and just over a year since their dinner together, the fruit of their labor is now featured on Kylie's Disco: Guest List Edition, out on November 12.

And, yes, as if there were any doubt: it's the fun, flirty, campy, fabulous, big ol' disco duet we all wished and hoped it would be.

If "Kiss of Life," out Friday (October 29), sounds more What's Your Pleasure? than Disco, that's because it is: the song was co-crafted and produced by much of the Pleasure team: James Ford, Danny Parker and Shungudzo. Accordingly, it brings the studied sound of worn disco vinyls from yesteryear into the modern era, much like the rest of Jessie's rich and masterful LP.

It's also very playful, full of sultry, certifiably Minogue-friendly breathy come-ons ("I've been paaaatient, I've been puuurrfect..."), with ample talk of sweet sugar highs and delicious kisses aplenty. Seriously, it's a lot of kisses ("Kiss it..."), but then, what else would one expect from the Kiss Me Once Kween herself?

"Kiss of Life" is just honesty in advertising, anyway: it's added at least several years to mine.

To borrow a line from another fave, these two have chemistry like apple and cinnamon, purring, yelping and cooing across the funky bass and euphoric strings, especially when they hit their stride and trade off teases together in the second verse: "Cherry syrup on my tongue (Ah) / How about a little fun? (Ah) / I make it higher, baby / I make it wilder, baby / I make it hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot..." Heaven!

Not only is the song a tasty disco delight through and through, it also plays like the most perfect musical middle ground between the two reigning dance floor divas. No lazy, slapped-on verse here! This feels organic and right, like a real collaboration.

In fact, far from just a one-off moment, this "Kiss" feels like it could be the start of a sweet, sweet partnership. Collaborative EP next, please? Or, at the very least, a joint Disco Pleasure tour? In the round, with a crowd dancing under a disco ball? We should be so lucky, lucky, lucky.

Upon the song's release, Jessie had a fangirl moment on her Instagram, and it's actually quite charming.

"If you'd told me when I was a child that one day I would release a song with KYLIE I would have said ‘huh!?! ABSOLUTELY NO CHANCE!’ I grew up with her on my telly, in our family car journeys on the tape player and emblazoned on my t-shirt in a love heart (I wish I still had that t-shirt). It's been utterly amazing and inspiring to watch the Queen work. We have a song out and I’m still saying ‘Huh?! No chance’. However, my husband did say I had a little swagger to my step today and asked ‘is that because you have a tune out with Kylie Minogue today?’ Yes Sam, it is, I’m thrilled, proud and so excited to unleash this collaboration on the world. This wouldn’t have been possible without @jamesellisford @shungudzo @modelchild_____ and OF COURSE, her majesty, @kylieminogue herself. Thank you, thank you, thank you Universe!"

Between this and her double-drag fantasy with Olly Alexander on "A Second to Midnight," Kylie Minogue truly is in the business of making dreams come true.

Disco: Guest List Edition is available to pre-order on vinyl now.


Aly & AJ Am I Alright

"Am I Alright": Aly & AJ Provide a Perfect Indie-Pop Self Check-In

"It can’t be just me who's running on empty / It can't be just me who feels this way..."

Aly & AJ want to know: you alright, babes? And to that I say: good question!

In this wildly weird year of The New Normal™, admittedly, there haven't been a ton of records that have managed to grab my attention for too long before I go back to seeking refuge in a pile of pop classics. (And by that, I mean the Paradiso Girls' "Patron Tequila.")

That doesn't mean there's been no good music this year. Clearly, there've been plenty of bops! It's just been hard to focus my energy on anything new much at all past familiar routines. And Great British Bake-Off binges. Anyway.

The sister act responsible for providing the world's finest (now expletive-friendly!) Potential Break-Up Song arrived back in May with a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun (or just a touch of the beat..., if you're nasty), an exceptional release, and one I've returned to throughout the year for the finer feelings of a sun-soaked, contemplative getaway. (I even got around to doing a review. Rare for 2021!)

One of the more recent recurring music industry moves - although it's by no means a new concept - is the reissue. More and more, it feels like our favorite acts are extending the shelf life of their records in this Brave New World of streaming with deluxe editions after a few months. And honestly? No complaints here, especially at a time of uncertain touring schedules and staggered re-openings around the world, requiring artists to get clever with extending eras.

Aly & AJ already did it before with Ten Years, and they're doing it again with their 2021 record with a deluxe edition on the way in early 2022, which you can pre-order now.

On Friday (October 22), following the release of "Get Over Here" last month, the girls dropped a second brand new gem called "Am I Alright," which effortlessly folds into the rest of their stunner of an album with a propulsive drum beat (much like the album's namesake, "Don't Need Nothing"), sun-soaked guitar strums and a melancholy, nostalgic haze.

Every line of the song, written with Allie Crystal and Larzz Principato (who co-wrote Dua Lipa's "IDGAF"), feels all too relatable, echoing the same sentiments many of us have probably felt over the past nearly two years - if not much longer.

"You could say that I’m leaning on depression, but I'm pushing it away / You could say it’s a cry for attention, but I'm on the verge of breaking," they declare before diving into a question that's likely haunted many of us: "Am I alright? Am I alright? Am I?"

“Sometimes it’s hard to ask ourselves if we are in a healthy headspace. This song asks that question very simply without the implications of judgement getting in the way,” the girls said of the song.

It's a gorgeous ode to feeling stagnant ("I'm nеver happy when it rains in LA / And when it's sunny, I feel thе same") and, in my head at least, a distant spiritual cousin to elusive chanteuse Sky Ferreira's "Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)." Remember, it's good to check in with yourself and others.

As with a lot of their latest record, Aly & AJ have really managed to capture the overall mood of this particularly meh moment in the world, while simultaneously providing some beautiful, much-needed escapism along the way.

I'm alright, all things considered. Hope you're alright out there, too.

a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun (Deluxe Edition) is available to pre-order on vinyl.


Shygirl Cleo

"Cleo": Shygirl Steps Into Her Spotlight

"You got me feeling like a movie star..."

There are several perfectly good reasons for Shygirl to feel like a movie star at the moment.

After dropping her Blu performance film this summer (which is a great introductory medley if you're unfamiliar with her music), as well as big dick-beckoning bop "BDE" with slowthai, the Rihanna runway-approved 28-year-old English rapper-singer-DJ darling just made an appearance on the remix of "Sour Candy" for Dawn of Chromatica, Lady Gaga's chaotic cool kid collective of a remix album squeezed out between doing jazz duty and accent work on House of Gucci.

As of Tuesday (October 26), Shygirl's got a new offering, which appears to be the first release off of her upcoming debut album, and it's called "Cleo."

As opposed to some of the more hectic, sweat-drenched, in-your-face beats on her ALIAS EP, "Cleo" is a bit dreamier and dramatic comparatively, taking its time to feel its own fantasy while still rooted in clubland.

Following a minute-long Chromatica interlude-like string introduction (fitting), the song's beat drops, co-produced by Shygirl, Jakwob and Sega Bodega, recalling Maya Jane Coles' "What They Say," the backbone of several pop hits in recent years, including Nicki Minaj's "Truffle Butter," Tinie Tempah and Zara Larsson's "Girls Like" - and Gaga's "Sour Candy." (Again, fitting.)

Shygirl cooly delivers confident declaration after declaration - "I'm the ruler of the world / Bеtter catch it all on camera" - commanding the dance floor across the four-to-the-floor beat. The third verse throws in a fun horn element - a touch of "Mr. Saxobeat" energy, almost - before those elegant strings reappear in the song's tranced-out final moments, not entirely unlike the Queen of Pop's Confessions on a Dance Floor.

After years of critically acclaimed releases and co-signs by the best under-the-radar tastemakers and mainstream superstars alike, Shygirl certainly seems poised to have her biggest moment yet. All eyes on me, indeed.


Tove Styrke Start Walking

"Start Walking": Tove Styrke Feels Her Dansband Fantasy With a Sad Swede-Pop Banger

"Say the words, either way it's gonna hurt..."

Nothing is certain in this world except death, taxes, and good pop music coming out of Scandinavia.

Tove Stryke's at it again with a brand new bop, following this summer's "Mood Swings," her first release in three years since 2018's Sway. And this time, she's really gone and done the damn thing. (Huge week for Swedish Idol contestants - magical, if you will!)

The 28-year-old singer-songwriter hopped into the studio with an enviable array of songwriting and production talent, including Dua Lipa collaborators Caroline Ailin and Sly, Lostboy (who has done great stuff with Griff) and Pablo Bowman.

The end result is "Start Walking," out on Friday (October 22), a misleadingly sad pop banger, and the latest, greatest addition to the Crying at the Discotheque genre, full of dance-the-tears-away gems that we love, crave and relate to way too deeply on the dance floor.

"Say the words, no one wants to say the words, we're holding onto nothing, but nobody here is talking," she laments across a misleadingly chipper dance-pop beat.

I mean, this line alone: "I ain't scared of feelin' lonelinеss / I'm scared of watchin' my life pass while I makе somethin' bad last." Oof. Felt!

“[It's] a song I made together with some amazing writers and producers and I’m obsessed with it. It’s an upbeat song with sad lyrics, which is my favorite combination. It’s about a person who knows a relationship is over, and how it sucks to actually be the one to leave but you know there is no other way," Tove says.

Much to our delight, the catchy cut arrives alongside an amusing, imaginative Oskar Gullstrand-directed music video featuring “Tove Styrkez,” a fictional dansband, as they tour around Sweden in the '70s. (A fun fact: the possessive suffix "s" is often replaced by "z" in dansband names.)

Dans-who? Allow Ms. Styrke to explain the concept to the non-Swedes...

“I love the insane music video we made for the single. It’s about a Swedish ‘dansband’ with supernatural powers. ‘Dansband’ is a signature style of Swedish pop music that has drawn huge audiences dancing cheek to cheek around the country for decades. My dad played in one of these bands – they were called Max Fenders – in the 1970’s which is where the idea for the video initially comes from. Think Stranger Things, but the 70’s, showcasing cheesy pop band culture, set on the roads of deep Sweden. I can’t believe such video did not already exist, so I simply had to make it… Get ready for thunder, lightning, lasers and ‘Tove Styrkez!’”

Think Carrie, Scandipop style. The lesson is: don't overwork Tove and her traveling dansband, lest you're looking for a lightning bolt to the face.

Sometimes the best bet really is to just start walking. Are you ready, boots?


Agnes Magic Still Exists

Agnes' 'Magic Still Exists' Offers Hope for the Dance Floor (Review)

"What today seems like insanity, tomorrow might be reality..."

Agnes is no stranger to the dance floor.

Arguably, she's almost always been there: after kicking off her Idol 2005 win with her 2005 self-titled debut and follow-up Stronger a year later, she found her footing with 2008's euphoric dance-pop foray Dance Love Pop, including lead single "On & On" and the soaring, string-laden global smash of a re-leeeee-ase you surely know and love her best for, "Release Me."

A few years later, she dug deeper still onto the dance floor with 2012's incredible Veritas, and took a few years off to regroup and refocus before returning with the entrancing Nothing Can Compare EP in 2019, a more experimental offering, inspired by Donna Summer and Paris Is Burning, that showcased an artist still in transition.

But with her fifth studio album Magic Still Exists, released Friday (October 22), the Swedish vocal powerhouse has never sounded so sure of exactly who and where she's meant to be right now.

The tight set of 11 tracks - four of which are interludes, which truthfully makes this more of an EP - arrives ahead of a series of singles: last year's "Fingers Crossed" set the tone for the sound of the rest of the record; a kind of ecstatic dance floor devotional - or, in her own words, "spiritual disco."

“Disco for me – it’s the sound of being free...even though it can be sad, it can be dark, it always has this kind of uplifting thing around it…it’s like you stand on top of a mountain, you feel like the wind in your hair,” she told MuuMuse last year.

"You want to be free, you want to express yourself, and I think when people are free and do what they are supposed to do, you vibrate on another level, and that’s what you’re supposed to do."

Agnes began to carve out more of the record, influenced by acts like Giorgio Moroder, Sun Ra and Sylvester, with a throbbing emancipation anthem of a follow-up in the form of "24 Hours" - one of the year's best songs, easily. "Here Comes the Night" came next, with an invitation to the after-hours for the dreamers across a ABBA-esque synth flare.

With track titles like "Spiritual Awakening," "The Soul Has No Gender" and "Love & Appreciation," Magic could come across as cliché as "Live, Love, Laugh" scrawled across a disco ball.

Instead, the inclusive sentiments throughout the record ring thoroughly sincere, recalling all the best pop queen messaging from past decades, from Madonna's "Express Yourself" to Kelis' "Emancipate."

The hypnotic "XX," complete with Daft Punk vocoders, feels like the shimmering final project from a graduate of Confessions on a Dance Floor University, while the strutting, space-age "Selfmade" recalls dance floor commanders Róisín Murphy, Grace Jones and Giorgio Moroder, as she barks out declarations across an "I Feel Love"-esque beat - "We live every minute, delete and replace / It's all or nothing!" - before a slow drift outward into the cosmos.

"Love & Appreciation," meanwhile, is the album's most joyous and euphoric singalong, full of soulful, uplifting crooning - "sweeeeet love and good vibrations," specifically - as the distant sound of a raucous party pumps through the speakers.

That competition-winning voice is just as sturdy, emotive and impressive as ever, captured best in the record's final moments on "Magic Still Exists," the sole slow moment, as she powerfully belts affirmation after affirmation across a piano: "Free your mind and free your body," she repeats like a mantra.

"For all the nights you were the last one to go home, not 'cause you're lonely, you're just holding onto hope," she declares on the toast to life. "We don't have to close our eyes and make a wish, with you I know that magic still exists."

Magic Still Exists is a collection of epiphanies about what it means to be human and our need to constantly search for something bigger, something more. The album was made together with friends and the process has therefore been very intimate. Something that made me relax, let go and have fun with it," she says of the album.

2021 will go down as one weird gray area; a year of rocky transition, with stop-start efforts to safely reopen as the world grapples with getting used to whatever the "New Normal" is meant to look like amid a pandemic with no clear end in sight. It's easy to feel lost, discouraged and hopeless.

Agnes' Magic Still Exists is a warm bout of ecstatic encouragement in an uncertain world. (And yes, it could have been a few more songs longer.)

Like the very best of 2020's dance records during more severe stages of lockdown - Lady Gaga's Chromatica, Kylie Minogue's Disco, Jessie Ware's What's Your Pleasure? and Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia, among others - the transportive record is a standout of the year, full of familiar sonic references provoking nostalgia for better days, and pulsating prayers for nights still to come.
 
 


Kylie Minogue Olly Alexander Second to Midnight

"A Second to Midnight": Kylie Minogue & Years & Years Shine Like a Light in the Dark (And Do Drag!)

Kylie™ made the dreary days of lockdown a whole lot brighter last year with her 15th studio album Disco, a loving ode to the genre, and a most necessary nostalgic escape in the bleakest of days.

One year later, things aren't...worse necessarily, but we're not back to normal yet, either. Whatever that means.

And so, to supply us with another encouraging dance-pop pick-me-up, the Anti-Depressant of Pop is back at it in the form of Disco: Guest List Edition.

The repackage, arriving on November 12, comes with a whole array of remixes and new songs with guest stars, including "Kiss of Life" with Jessie Ware (yes, it's finally happening), Dua Lipa (with her "Real Groove" remix), and the legendary "I Will Survive" crooner Gloria Gaynor on "Can't Stop Writing Songs About You."

And then, there's "A Second to Midnight," starring Years & Years' Olly Alexander, out Wednesday (October 6).

Not satisfied with taking us to another galaxy on her remix of Years & Years' "Starstruck" earlier in the year, Kylie evidently had even more in mind for Olly, who is officially living out the dream of Minogue stans worldwide.

"I had so much fun with Olly - I hope you love it!" Kylie says of their fantastic latest collaboration, crafted alongside Disco collaborators Duck Blackwell and the iconic Biff Stannard, as well as Martin Sjølie of Rachel Stevens' "Funky Dory" and "Dumb Dumb" fame (!).

The shimmering and sleek, instantly great track fits in perfectly with the rest of the euphoric, nostalgic stuff of Disco, full of strings, catchy melodies and distant memories of a dance floor ("Remember back in '99 / We danced like maniacs all night") while chasing the clock, which just keeps ticking the tock.

The Fever queen and the Years & Years star take turns on the verses, making a complimentary musical pair once again, especially as they trade off on the bridge, with Kylie's signature breathy come-ons and Olly's impassioned yelps: "So love, run / Freedom / Go on / Get some (Oh, get some) / Dig (Dig!), deep (deep!) / Let (Let!), go (go!) / Oh (Oh!), oh (oh!)"

And then, there's the music video, starring Kylie and Olly both supplying the full "Shocked"/"What Do I Have to Do?" styling fantasy, directed by longtime collaborator Sophie Muller, filmed at London’s historic Collins' Music Hall.

Together, the two shimmy, thrust and twirl 'round as they croon their joyful tune, as the massive space eventually fills out, sort of Savage x Fenty Vol. 3 show style, with dozens of enthusiastic dancers donning Kylie and Olly face masks.

Kylie Minogue Olly Alexander Second to Midnight

And no, your eyes do not deceive you: it's a split-second drag duo fantasy throughout. Condragulations: you're both the winners of this week's challenge, baby!

Of course, the Marvelous Ms. Minogue certainly didn't need to revisit and re-release her 2020 studio album for us a year later. But as always, Kylie remains one of the most consistently generous and satisfying pop stars of our generation, constantly giving us more, more, more - and we're so lucky, lucky, lucky.

Disco: Guest List Edition will be released on November 12.


Kelly Clarkson Christmas Isn't Canceled Just You

Kelly Clarkson Kicks Off Christmas With a Festive Middle Finger

Kelly Clarkson is having a very different kind of Christmas this year. Maybe you are too.

As nice as it'd be if everyone was feeling lovey-dovey this coming holiday season, the sober(REFERENCE)ing truth is that some of us just don't get that warm and fuzzy feeling at the thought of snuggling up close and roasting chestnuts on an open fire with certain others, be it former friends and/or estranged family members. Or maybe ex-husbands. Who knows?

But that certainly doesn't mean the holidays have to suck.

Kelly, Forever The One, True Idol gifted us with an incredible Christmas album nearly a decade (!) ago called Wrapped In Red, including modern classic "Underneath the Tree."

This year, ahead of the release of her highly anticipated follow-up to her 2017 studio album The Meaning of Life, she's back with a second holiday album called When Christmas Comes Around..., out on October 15 - and she's not exactly tip-toeing around the drama happening in her personal life while diving headfirst into the holidays.

And to start things off, she's giving a little kick to Santa's sack in the form of “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)."

The lively and festive sleigh ride is full of blaring horns, big ol' heaven-sent vocals and snow-filled jingle bells - and it just happens to be as eviscerating and empowering as much of her discography.

"You ruin all my favorite things / But you won't take Christmas from me," she declares. A little messy divorce isn't going to put a damper on decking the goddamn halls, thank you very much.

"I'll be hanging every light I find in this house / Playin' Christmas music so loud / This year Christmas won't be quite so blue / And I'm gonna shout too much and dance in the snow / Drink just enough to let us go / Christmas isn't canceled...just you."

There are a bunch of self-references to her own songs and covers from her first Christmas album scattered within the lyrics as well, including “Winter Dreams,” her ode to her now ex.

That's where we met / Like a winter dream and I bet / I wasn't the first, and I won't be the last / Underneath that mistletoe, you've been so bad.” Oof. A shady little sleigh ride, indeed.

It's cheery. It's pissed. It's defiant. It's all very Kelly.

“My purpose for choosing this lyric for being the title of this project was to bring forth a sense of reality to the fact that we are probably all in very different places emotionally ‘when Christmas comes around.’ Some of us consumed with a new love, some of us reminded of loss, some filled with optimism for the coming new year, others elated for some much deserved time away from the chaos our work lives can sometimes bring us," she explains of the record.

"Wherever you are, and whatever you may be experiencing, I wanted everyone to be able to connect to a message on this album. Each year you may even have a new favorite depending on where you are in your life, but while change can be unpredictable there is no better time of year, in my opinion, to breathe hope into one’s life and let possibility wander.”

Truthfully, it's a refreshing concept: a more realistic Christmas album that doesn't try to entirely jolly out the noise. And if anyone were to carry out an emotional roller coaster on ice, it's our beloved "Behind These Hazel Eyes" powerhouse.

When Christmas Comes Around Kelly Clarkson

The 15-track collection includes both originals and classics, including “Santa, Can’t You Hear Me," a collaboration with her Voice co-coach and noted Clarkson stan Ariana Grande (a lyrical nod to Britney's own Christmas classic and/or cover, perhaps?), Chris Stapleton ("Glow"), who she's covered before, and last year's "Under the Mistletoe" with Brett Eldrege.

While the set still looks largely joyous, there are other some eyebrow raises: besides "Canceled," there's a track called "Merry Christmas (To The One I Used To Know)." Oh, my.

Her My December (It Gets Colder) is coming. Well, maybe.

When Christmas Comes Around... track listing

1. Merry Christmas Baby
2. It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
3. Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)
4. Merry Christmas (To The One I Used To Know)
5. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
6. Glow (feat. Chris Stapleton)
7. Santa Baby
8. Santa, Can’t You Hear Me (feat. Ariana Grande)
9. Last Christmas
10. Jingle Bell Rock
11. Blessed
12. Christmas Come Early
13. Under The Mistletoe (feat. Brett Eldredge)
14. All I Want For Christmas Is You
15. Christmas Eve