<p>The xx</p>

The xx

Listen: The xx perform new songs live in London

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Mercury Prize winners prepping new effort with first fresh shows

The xx just kicked off a tour in time for festival season, and are bringing new songs with them.

Below, in a surprisingly well-recorded video at Chats Palace in London, a show-goer captured the Mercury Prize-winning band perform a fresh track, title still unknown, earlier this week. The thing only goes for about 2:15, but it's got that chilly guitar riff and big bass thuds that make the kids crazy.

The setlist from their Electrowerkz gig this week indicates that half of the songs played at the gig were actually new.

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<p>Bobby Brown performs with New Edition days after Whitney Houston's death in February</p>

Bobby Brown performs with New Edition days after Whitney Houston's death in February

Credit: AP Photo

Watch: Bobby Brown debuts farewell song to Whitney Houston, 'Don't Let Me Die'

UPDATE: Rep denies song is about Whitney... but still, the timing?

When Whitney Houston died in February, Sony "accidentally" spiked the price of the singer's albums. Celebrities seemingly re-engaged with the media just to be part of the dialogue on her death, to their own benefit. I've seen press releases for tribute groups who are "touring" in order to "celebrate" her legacy, a predictably profitable time in their careers. Cover songs were made in tribute and sold on iTunes.

Whitney's mom Cissy is putting out her first album of gospel songs in a decade and Lifetime is cobbling together a reality series based on the Houston family, which include the participation of Whitney's teenaged daughter Bobbi Kristina. And Houston's ex-husband Bobby Brown is putting out a new set, "Being Bobby Brown," on June 5. It's his first studio full-length since 1997.

Not every artistic expression made in the name of dead entertainers is made in the name of profit. It just comes off as very complicated, especially in the passing's immediate wake.

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<p>Sparta</p>

Sparta

Song Of The Day: Sparta's 'Chemical Feel,' first new music in six years

At the Drive-In keeping half the band busy, but not that busy

Sparta are working on a follow-up to 2006's "Threes," and new track "Chemical Feel" is the first evidence of production.

The sonic space-bound track is tough, and impeccably recorded, with crisp guitar lines funneled through pirstine pedals. Jim Ward sounds uuungggh, in the good way.

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<p>Nicki Minaj in &quot;Right By Your Side&quot;</p>

Nicki Minaj in "Right By Your Side"

Credit: VEVO

Watch: Nicki Minaj, Nas and Chris Brown combine for 'Right By My Side'

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Oh, hello Nas

"Let me see your phone..." Gotta love Nicki Minaj's gall to have a verse about checking her boyfriend's cell phone in a song that features Chris Brown.

The Young Money would-be pop-star and rapper combined with Brown for "Right By My Side," another cut from "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded." In addition to the socially repugnant pop star, Minaj also tapped another super-talent for the track, or at least the video: Nas.

The music video seemingly set up shop in the 1990s era of R&B, with Minaj's slo-mo'ed long blonde locks and wack lounge wear, and the ever-lovely Nas sporting eyeglasses like he's Nate from Boyz II Men (of course he was the cute one). Oh, a new car! Oh, a make-out session on a park bench! Kelis is somewhere, weeping and sharpening a blade.

This clip is thankfully much more cohesive than Nicki's last, neon eyesore "Starships." Where I take issue here, though, is that she spends about 75% of the time doing capital-S Serious acting for the VH1 crowd, and the rest of it goofing off. It's one kind of comedy to watch Brown try to lip-sync to his auto-tuned solo, it's another to perpetually act like its the end of a long day. The tail-end of the vid hints at a "Thriller"-like sequel, but I don't feel like dancing.

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<p>Tom Cruise and friends on the cover of June's W Magazine</p>

Tom Cruise and friends on the cover of June's W Magazine

Credit: Mario Sorrenti/W Magazine

Time's come for 'Rock of Ages': Pour some sugar on Tom Cruise

Listen to the 'Mission Impossible' star pull out some Def Leppard

Nine months ago I was standing on the Sunset Strip. It was in Florida.

That is, the set for the movie make of musical "Rock of Ages" was built in Miami, Fla., note-for-note of the famed rocker row circa the mid '80s. There's choppers and crimped hair on the extras, and it's all very dirty.

So is Tom Cruise, who plays man-child music star Stacee Jaxx in the Adam Shankman-directed flick. His locks are worn long and he's positively brimming tattoos and shabby furs. He'll be centerstage of a ensemble that includes co-leads Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, plus Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin, Mary J. Blige and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Shankman guided me and some other journalists through some Stacee footage last year in a trailer off the strip, of the 49-year-old actor playing an early 30s-something sex god with microphone. I am skeptical of "Rock of Ages," partly because I enjoyed the Broadway show and I'm leery of the scale of this project; I'm also weary of co-opting the music of my youth to force into caricature.

But I will say this: watching tape of Tom Cruise sing in the scene for Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me"? We were all fanning ourselves, more than a little bit.

I'll be publishing more on the visit to Los Angeles-by-way-of-Miami next week about this same time. Meanwhile, Cruise has been showing up on the pages of W and Playboy this week in promoting his image. Below check out a clip of Cruise's Stacee Jaxx sing some "Sugar":

<p>Baby Monster</p>

Baby Monster

Credit: Ashley Haber

Song Of The Day: Baby Monster's 'City of Lovers'

Fills that M83-shaped hole in your heart

I'm sleeping with the windows open. It's about time for some tunes that sound like it.

Baby Monster's dark "City of Lovers" tickles that same part in my heart that M83's "Midnight City" did. Synths, trotting pace, wistful choral lines... what is it with cities after dusk?

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<p>R. Kelly's &quot;Write Me Back&quot;</p>

R. Kelly's "Write Me Back"

Credit: RCA

Watch and listen: New R. Kelly 'Single' song and album release date

So much new R. Kelly is about to be in your face

I continue the exploration of my love and loathing of R. Kelly, that time-traveling horndog of R&B mysterium. Today his label RCA announced a June 26 drop date of his new album "Write Me Back," as well as lifted the veil on another new song from it, "Feelin' Single."

Like "Write's" first song-single "Share My Love," "Feelin' Single" borrows from the same strings-dripping '70s era of soul and disco, this time with Kels fondling playing with the space bars between lonliness and landing the skinny, big-boobed lady of his dreams. It goes up via digital retailers on May 29.

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<p>Rick Ross' &quot;Touch'N You&quot; featuring Usher</p>

Rick Ross' "Touch'N You" featuring Usher

Credit: Def Jam

Listen: Rick Ross and Usher reunite for new single 'Touch'N You'

Explicit jam officially kicks off 'God Forgives, I Don't' promo

It was only a couple weeks ago that Usher unzipped "Lemme See" featuring Rick Ross in promoting his new album "Looking for Myself"; now the pair are back together for another sexy back-and-forth for Rozay's new single "Touch'N You."

Def Jam is touting the track as the first official single from Ross' much-anticipated "God Forgive, I Don't" album, which he'll drop on July 31. A release says that this steamy, explicit, mainstream tune "sets the tone for what will be Ross’ most epic, most ambitious album to date."

If that's so, then look for a lot of steam-windowed R&B combos with Bawse's confident woof, because this mid-tempo bedroom jammer has Usher over-repeating his intentions of "f*ckin' you." Of course, there's a radio version available -- "Touch'N You" -- reminiscent of how Enrique Iglesias, tonight, is "lovin'" you.

Ross' rhymes work, though, and its another gangbusters combination from this team, who could benefit from each others' prowess as they drop their respective new albums. As repetitive as I think "f*ckin' you" gets, it on a meta-level reflects the actual nature of, well, f*ckin'. Good work, lit team, "Touch'N You" sounds like a definite hit.

“So that’s what I did with this project…it’s my best body of work yet. 'God Forgives, I Don’t' is a very dark story…it’s extremely lyrical. The music is next level. I’m expecting nothing but the biggest results. That’s what’s needed, and I’m going to deliver,” Ross says in a statement on his new effort. He announced it -- and new signings and albums from his Maybach Music label -- at a press conference in New York two weeks ago.

Since "Touch'N You" is the official single, that means cuts like "You the Boss" and "I Love My Bitches" were promotional, so await word if they make the final tracklist.

What do you think of the track?

<p>&quot;Snow White and the Huntsman&quot; soundtrack</p>

"Snow White and the Huntsman" soundtrack

Credit: Universal

Watch: Florence + The Machine's 'Snow White and the Huntsman' drama

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Is Flo the fairest one of all?

Want to see more clips of Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron-starring "Snow White and the Huntsman?" Florence + the Machine lift the curtain on these with their very melodramatic song "Breath of Life."

Bloody tears in slo-mo, Chris Hemsworth in slo-mo and Theron's transmogrifier in action are all featured in this primal tune, as Florence Welch is shot in black-and-white leading James Newton Howard's million-piece scoring orchestra and a choir in a fish tank vocal booth. The thing feels like it goes on forever due to all the blistering, rotting, flaming flames action, but it's really only three minutes long.

Because the VEVO folks are geniuses, a trailer for the film rolls before.

Universal Pictures will do their damndest to make Stewart look fairer than Theron throughout the flick, but in this instance -- with a powerful voice like her -- I deem Welch the fairest of them all.

The sountrack to "Snow White" will be out May 29, while the film is due in theaters on June 1.

<p>Giant Giant Sand</p>

Giant Giant Sand

Interview: Howe Gelb's Giant Giant Sand country rock opera mistake

Check out the EXCLUSIVE first-look at the album and storyboard artwork

A friend suggested I wait to publish anything on Howe Gelb’s latest project until I saw the guy play piano. Last night, the Giant Sand (now Giant Giant Sand) mastermind performed solo at Joe’s Pub in New York. I’d seen Gelb play a handful of other times – mostly when he’s on guitar, mostly with other people.

My friend was right, though. Gelb is a divine piano player, it brought in a new dimension. He has an ease around the keyboard. He likes to lay an object on some of the strings so there’s vibration and a ping when the hammer hits.
 
What I like about his playing – and his singing, and his songs – is that it’s unpretentious with a dash of tension. Gelb has made a lot of records over the last three decades, and now he’s prepared his first “country rock opera,” “Tucson.” It, too, is unpretentious; in spite of the daunting narrative structure that the term “opera” can bring to a traditional singer-songwriter, Gelb thrives in those kinds of constraints.
 
Giant Sand records have been written on the spot, in the studio or on the drive on the way to the studio. He’s played consistently with Denmark musicians Thøger T. Lund, Peter Dombernowski, Anders Pederesen and Nikolaj Heyman over the last ten years, but he’s also mixed in elements like a gospel choir or a horns sections from album to album. Or, y’know, made some sessions into an opera.
 
“Music has always been about handing it over -- music as evolution, it has to keep changing,” he said in our recent interview. He spoke from his longtime home of Tucson, the album’s namesake. “I dared myself to plan a concept, and to strip away the stuff that isn’t ‘it’ or meant for ‘it.’ I took a pretty good gamble that the songs we were gonna write are already inside of us.”
 
Gelb first had the “nagging notion” of making an opera around 1978, but like so many of his projects, he didn’t want to force it. Last year, he played music festival in Berlin, with “this big band which manifested itself by accident or by fate. None of us had gotten together until the moment we were on stage.” The event commissioned artists that represented deserts from around the world, a construct for which Gelb is well-suited. The group – who barely knew each other but tangentially all had connections to Denmark and Tuscon – began jamming on a cumbia, a seed planted that would later become “Caranito” on “Tucson.”
 
“If you’re hittin’ it, it’s gonna have a zing that you can never plan for. It got higher and higher in our set. It was wonderful night, and it was evident that something was in play.”
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