Friday, 15 June 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 15/06/2018: Big Shaq, Slaves, Death Grips and more…




Big Shaq removes his coat and Slaves are soundly oddly upbeat.

THE WORST:

‘Man Don’t Dance’ - Big Shaq


Big Shaq has taken off his jacket, but now he’s refusing to dance. Next year, I’m pretty sure he’ll be dancing and refusing to do something else. Man don’t stick to his principles. Sequels to meme songs are generally never as good, but this beat bangs hard and ‘I like my eggs with yolk, scrambled ting/ but please don’t burn my toast’ is the best opening line to a song I’ve heard all year.

‘Cut and Run’ – Slaves


Even if this is a lot less aggressive than their past work and a lot more like FIFA-game radio rock, I’m feeling the catchy lyrics and simple riffing. Also thanks for the workout video, Slaves - maybe there’s still time to work on my beach body.

‘Ha ha ha’ – Death Grips


The first minute of dissonant chaos was a bit much for me and even then I was too distracted by the disgusting artwork to enjoy the rest of the song, but the track has grown on me since – there’s so much crazy shit going on in it that I can’t help but feel a little awed by it. The track is set to feature on Death Grips’ upcoming album The Year of The Snitch  – I’m hoping there are more innovative tracks like this one on it.

‘Heterosapien’ – Shatner


Described in the band’s own words, ‘Heterosapien’ is a ‘tongue-in-cheek demolition of pseudoscience, quackery, conspiracy and other information pollution’. Musically, it’s an incredible mix of rock flavours – Shatner have been described as a mix of The Clash and the B-52s which is about as close as I can come to describing their sonic cocktail.

‘Blurs’ – Echo Vista


Echo Vista’s sound is equally hard to pin down. The layers of fluttering woodwind and gloopy synths feel like they ought to belong to two different worlds, but here they co-exist together. The vocals meanwhile weave in and out of the track. It’s a fun and unpredictable ride.  

THE WORST:  

‘Midsummer Madness’ – 88 Rising


When I saw the signees of 88 Rising had come together for a collaboration I got excited, but this is really quite underwhelming. It feels like a commercial cash grab that doesn’t let any of the artists’ personalities shine. Joji sounds like Charlie Puth.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Review of 'Ye' by Kanye West



Rapper, producer, fashion designer and nutter, Kanye West, drops his eighth record. Is it his Kanye best, or is it a Kanye mess?

Kanye’s last album The Life of Pablo took forever to be released. After a year of hype, we finally got the album and it still felt unfinished – so much so that the rapper went back and edited the album after its release because some tracks weren’t up to spec.

Contrastingly, Ye seems to have had a rather speedy promo campaign. Much of the media attention beforehand was less to do with the album and more to do with Kanye’s typically controversial antics, confessing his love for Trump on Twitter and blurting out that ‘slavery was a choice’ in an interview. The fact that he mentions the latter in the lyrics of the album shows that this record must have been put together fairly quickly.

It certainly doesn’t feel as elaborate as his past works. At 23 minutes, it’s barely an album and more like an EP. The beats meanwhile are very minimal. ‘I Thought About Killing You’ is practically a cappella for the first 2 minutes, whilst the instrumental of ‘All Mine’ is just a vocal sample and a couple 808s. 

But despite its brevity and relative sonic simplicity, this is probably the best Kanye West album I’ve heard thus far. It makes up for its short runtime and sparse instrumentation with some of the rapper’s most intimate and intricate lyrics. There are no cornballs this time around. The lyrics that try to be funny are genuinely funny such as when he rhymes ‘outcome’ and ‘without cum’. Meanwhile, the more introspective bars are packed with hidden meanings as he covers personal topics such as his negative media attention and its impact on his relationship with Kim on ‘Wouldn’t Leave’, his newfound respect for women now that he has a daughter on ‘Violent Crimes’ and his battle with mental illness on ‘I Thought About Killing You’ (which I interpret as a battle with his public and private self – hopefully he’s not referring to Kim!).

Kanye is still a raging narcissist and he clearly feels he’s misunderstood. But there are glimpses of insecurities that show that perhaps there’s another sensitive side to the confident persona that he won't let us see. It’s a voyeuristic look into the rap superstar’s psyche, which we've all been trying to pick apart for years. I’m reminded a lot of Jay-Z’s recent album – an equally personal record from a once arrogant rap veteran that’s as stripped back as it is full of meaning.

The choice of guest vocalists is probably my only gripe with this album. ‘Ghost Town’ could have been the best track on the album, featuring some incredible bars about Kanye’s struggles with being understood and some triumphant gospel-flavoured chords – but the singing from PARTYNEXTDOOR and Kid Cudi is almost unlistenable. PARTYNEXTDOOR’s mumbled crooning sounds like a dying sheep and Kid Cudi’s moaning sounds like a kid on the edge of tears. It makes Kanye’s sung verses sound good, and even they’re a little shaky.

The vocals could have done with some tweaking in the studio (or perhaps he should have hired singers rather than rappers to do the singing). Otherwise, I’m glad much of this album has been left rough and ready. It’s an outburst of Kanye’s feelings and had he spent too long in the studio tweaking the lyrics and the beats, he could have ended up taking away some of the exciting rawness. It frustrates me that so many other reviews on the web are letting Kanye’s political views distort their views on him as a musician – particularly considering the lack of politics on this album. Kanye’s cryptic personality has always been the most interesting thing about him, and its fascinating to see him looking inwards rather than outwards. 


TRACK TASTER:

 

Friday, 1 June 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 01/06/2018: James Blake, The Internet, Idles and more...



How the hell is it June already?

THE BEST:

‘Don’t Miss It’ – James Blake



James Blake’s upcoming album could well be his best yet. First, he delivered the ethereal and jittery ‘If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead’ and now he’s returned to haunt us with this new track ‘Don’t Miss It’ featuring ghostly vocals and chillingly heartfelt lyrics on recovering from loss. It comes with a creative lyric video recorded on iCloud notes (it’s certainly one way to shoot a music video on a budget).

‘Come Over’ – The Internet



I first discovered The Internet on the internet about a year and a half ago only to discover that the soul group had pretty much broken up – all its members were releasing solo projects and whilst there was no official breakup it felt like an Odd Future situation. However, it seems The Internet are now back online with a new laid back single ‘Come Over’. Stomping drums and slow funky guitars accompany Syd’s breathy vocals in a signature display of smoothness.  

‘Honey’ – Mike Green


For those craving some more smooth funk this week, Mike Green’s moody electropop single ‘Honey’ is certain to satisfy your ears. It’s got a sweet and sticky groove with some interesting synth textures going on. Mike’s vocals also have a Pharrell flavour to them that’s very cool.

‘Colossus’ – Idles


UK punks Idles release their first new single since 2017’s aptly-named album Brutalism. It’s a slow-builder that gets menacingly louder and angrier before exploding into a speedy thrasher. There are also plenty of standout lines: ‘I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin/ I put homophobes in coffins’.

‘Red Flowers’ - Pink Fireball


Pink Fireball transform themselves into comic book characters in the new video for their latest single ‘Red Flowers’. Musically, it’s an all-out bluesy jam-fest that packs as much energy into its three minutes as it can. I’m particularly loving the groovy riff that comes in around the two minute after the solos – it made me break out into involuntary air guitar to the point that I broke a sweat.

THE WORST:

‘Scio Rap’ – Luke Ayers



An Australian scientologist ruins an absolutely amazing beat with some clunky rapped bars about the brilliance of scientology. This is what happens when you have lots of money but no talent.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 19/05/2018: Disclosure, The Chromatics, Death Grips and more...



Whilst you've been obsessing over the royal wedding and debating whether its Yanny or Laurel, I've been hunting down the latest and greatest tunes (P.S. it's definitely Laurel).

THE BEST:

‘The List’ – Moonchild


Where has this band been my whole life? The singer’s silky vocals and the jazzy instrumentation are heavenly. I’m also loving the music video featuring a chick dancing in a supermarket, although I do think it was little unnecessary of her to walk out the store at the end without paying! Shoplifting ain’t cool.

‘Ultimatum’ – Disclosure ft. Fatoumata Diawara


Disclosure will never be the deep house dons that they once were, but this new tune is still an enjoyable listen. Added to their usual mix of thudding percussion and synth swells is some African singing and jazzy piano chords. Is there a new album brewing?

‘Black Walls’ – The Chromatics


This Portland synthpop band have been making cinematic scores for movies and TV shows for a decade now – some of their most famous examples being Twin Peaks and Drive. Their latest single ‘Black Walls’ continues to play with same seductive serial killer vibes, featuring sighed out vocals and melancholy synthesizers and some kid talking at the beginning.

 ‘Black Paint’ – Death Grips


Yes, there’s a ‘Black Walls’ and a ‘Black Paint’ this week. In the build-up to their new album The Year Of The Snitch, experimental hip hop act Death Grips have released two singles so far – ‘Streaky’ and this new single ‘Black Paint’. Whilst ‘Streaky’ was mostly synths, this new track is mostly guitars. In fact, it’s pretty much a hardcore punk song with a few digital sound effects thrown in here and there. It’s abrasive and catchy and has me completely stumped as to what to expect on their next record.

THE WORST:

 ‘Girls’ – Rita Ora ft. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha & Charli XCX


This anthem for bicurious girls doesn’t seem to have gone down well in the gay community. Personally, I don’t see what’s so offensive about it other than sounding like a cheap knock-off of Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’.

Friday, 11 May 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 11/05/2018: Childish Gambino, LSD, Florence + The Machine and more...



My thoughts on the new tracks from Childish Gambino, LSD, Florence + The Machine and more…

THE BEST:

‘This is America’ – Childish Gambino



It’s an early call to make, but this has got to be music video of the year surely? Rapper/actor Donald Glover AKA Childish Gambino is making a clear statement on how we’re so focused on being entertained that we turn a blind eye to the chaos around us – his wacky dancing distracts us from the rioting going on in the background. The shocking scenes of gun violence also show how we’ve become numbed to it thanks to the other Donald’s refusal to bring in gun laws. It’s as if Gambino is trying rip away the veil disguising America’s ugly self, symbolised musically by the abrupt transition from happy-clappy gospel-infused pop to sinister bass-heavy trap. I’m personally not too keen on Gambino settling for mumble rap, but I guess the biggest statements sometimes require the fewest words.

‘Stammering Bill’ – LICE



Bristol rock band LICE have a sound that is deliciously dishevelled. The detuned bluesy guitars and erratic yelped vocals threaten to fall apart at any moment like some crudely assembled vehicle out of Mad Max, and yet the song continues to power along riding head-bobbing grooves. LICE happen to be signed to Balley Records – the label owned by IDLES frontman Joe Talbot. Could this label be the UK’s answer to Exploding In Sound?

 ‘Boyfriend’ – Ex Void


‘Boyfriend’ is the perfect anthem for anyone sick of their partner’s lack of attention. The instrumentation is a perfect mix of happy apathy and anger, switching between bouncy pop-rock and angry punk. It’s the sound of wanting to not give a damn, when really you can’t help but feel a little pissed off beneath it all.

‘Genius’ – LSD



LSD is a pop supergroup containing Labrinth, Sia and Diplo – three artists that I’ve never really cared for. Together however they seem to have unlocked something quite cool. ‘Genius’ sound like a mix of urban pop and Broadway theatre. Both Labrinth and Sia let loose their theatrical side, whilst Diplo refrains from dropping his usual annoying loopy synths for more epic sounding instrumentation. I can tell lots of people are going to be hooked on LSD.

THE WORST:

‘Priice Tag’ – Desiigner



Desiigner is only popular because he had Kanye as his PR man. There are already enough rappers making this kind of music. Desiigner hasn’t even got multi-coloured dreads. There’s literally nothing interesting about him.

‘Hunger’ – Florence + The Machine



Sorry, but I couldn’t listen to the end. Florence’s wa-a-a-arbling only seems to have got more warbly.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Double Review: 'Virtue' by The Voidz and 'Boarding House Reach' by Jack White




Julian Casablancas adopts auto-tune and Jack White raps. Somehow it all works.

Noughties indie posterboys Julian Casabalancas (formerly of the Strokes) and Jack White (formerly of the White Stripes) may have just saved rock music. I was starting to give up on the genre, thinking it had run its course. Rock music has after all been around for over 50 years. In the last decade, hip hop seems to be the genre where all the groundbreaking creativity is going on, whilst new rock acts continue to rely on revival movements. All along I should have known what was needed to give rock it's much needed sense of freshness – rock needed to start blending elements of hip hop.

Yes, rock and hip hop are no strangers to one another, they've been crossing paths since the days of the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine. However, there have also been a number of ugly mutations. Just take a look at Limp Bizkit or Kid Cudi’s Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven – two instances that make you pray wilfully for rock and hip hop to never cross paths again. However, these were just poorly-bred hybrids. Rock and rap can work together with enough fine-tuning of ingredients as these two records show.


Casablancas’s new project The Voidz is primarily a rock band – their 2014 debut album Tyranny was a scuzzy rock record through and through. Virtue on the other hand is a lot more than a rock album. It’s second track ‘QYURRYUS’ is evidence of this – a pulsing electrorock anthem that sees Julian chanting like a Native American shaman before throwing out some auto-tune soaked vocal runs at the end. It's completely nuts and unlike any rock tune you've ever experienced. Following it are a number of other experimental tunes each with their own urban influences. ‘AlieNNatioN’ borders on being a Gorillaz song with its moody groove, whilst ‘My Friends The Walls’ contains digital vocal harmonies, playing out like a T-Pain version of 'Bohemian Rapsody'. It’s a rock album that's not just borrowing ideas from hip hop - it's taking hip hop sounds and pushing them forward.

Jack White’s Boarding House Reach meanwhile is an equally experimental rock album. At it’s core, it’s riding the traditional bluesy sound that every other Jack White album has rode. However, there are now synthesizers and drum patterns thrown in to disrupt the status quo - and not just your average synths and beats. ‘Hypermisophoniac’ buries a funky blues-rock tune beneath a distractingly dissonant sequence of bleeps, managing to be both frustrating and fascinating. ‘Respect Commander’ meanwhile rides a sped up drum loop complete with orchestra hits. Of course, the urban flavours don’t end there – take ‘Ice Station Zebra’ in which Jack White can discernibly be heard rapping.


Both rockers go where most rockers dare not go. And yet, miraculously, none of it feels awkward. Julian Casablancas’s auto-tune wailing suits the demented vibe of the music, whilst Jack White’s rapped verse feels tastefully done. It’s not like they've donned gold chains and grills and starting producing videos surrounded by twerking women – the hip hop influence is subtle, with loopy guitar solos and meaty riffs still taking prominence. They know the limits of their whiteness.

There were moments on both albums where I wasn’t so keen, largely for other aspects of the music. Casablancas's lyrics sometimes border on pretentiousness on Virtue – particularly the garbled nonsense of ‘Wink’. Jack White meanwhile can’t help but delve into some country on ‘What’s Done is Done’ and even some classical on ‘Humoresque’ – two genres I have no interest in (although the jazzy outro of the latter track is nice). 

This doesn’t take away from the fact that both albums are still enjoyably innovative - sometimes the best albums have to play with ideas that don't appeal to everyone. Overall, I'm more taken aback by Boarding House Reach in which there's absolutely no filler - even the interludes, topped with spoken word passages about the dangers of technology, feel like they need to be there. Virtue sometimes relies too hard on being experimental purely for the sake of being experimental as on 'Black Hole', which could have been an awesome noise rock thrasher if it wasn't deliberately soaked in toilet bowl lo-fi production. 'Just because something's popular doesn't make it good' is one of the lyrics on this album - true, but just because something experimental doesn't make it good either. I'm still loving Virtue, but Jack White still takes the prize on Boarding House Reach for managing to compose experimental tracks that are still good songs when you strip back the kookiness.

Virtue by The Voidz 
Boarding House Reach by Jakc White 

Saturday, 28 April 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 28/04/2018: Machinedrum, Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and more...



Truth be told, it’s all been a bit crap this week…

THE BEST:

‘Hype Up’ – Machinedrum


After much searching, this was the only track I could find that I genuinely enjoyed this week. Alternating between slow swells and energetic spikes, these synths certainly do get you hyped. I’m been loving the upbeat tone of Machinedrum’s recent singles – they’re more immediate and infectious.

THE WORST:

‘Let’s Party All Night’ – Three Beat Slide


Corny family projects like Three Beat Slide make me want to vomit. Why can’t they just stick to karaoke? To be honest, ‘Let’s Party All Night’ could have had the potential to be a fun Junior-Senior-like party track – but there’s no forgiving those vocals.

‘German’ – EO


Do you remember ‘German Whip’? Well, this track by EO is pretty much a watered-down version with some auto-tune slathered on top. To make matters worse, EO doesn’t even drive a German car – he’s only 16 and doesn’t even have a provisional license.

‘Lift Yourself’ – Kanye West


Kanye has been spending the week on Twitter posting some pretty controversial things, declaring his love for Donald Trump and even posting a picture of his MAGA cap. When I heard he’d released a new single last night, I thought perhaps this would be his redeeming moment, but no it seems like he’s still intent on trolling us. After a long build up of soul sampling and digital drums, ‘Lift Yourself’ sees Kanye dropping his first verse of the year, which turns out to be a load of gobbledegook: ‘poopy-di scoop/ scoop-diddy-whoop/ whoop-di-scoop-di-poop’. Whaaat?

Listen here.

 ‘Herojuana Blunts’ – A$AP Rocky


Part of me wants to enjoy this new trippy single from A$AP Rocky – the detuned lo-fi production is certainly interesting. However, the garbled druggy nonsense that makes up the lyrics just doesn’t do it for me (at least it's more comprehensible than that Kanye track).