Tuesday, 16 October 2018
UK rock acts Slaves and Idles compete for the punk record of the year.
Together, Slaves and Idles have revived old-skool UK punk. They’ve taken the brains of The Clash, the teeth of the Sex Pistols and the funny bone of Ian Dury and they’ve Frankensteined them all together into a monstrous new creation. Meanwhile, their political lyrics take aim at the 21st Century world attacking everyone from London commuters to Mary Berry.
On their latest albums, both bands have decided to get less angry and more upbeat. Positive punk usually isn’t my thing – I prefer a bit of anger and confrontation - but this is Slaves and Idles, so I knew that despite the cheery album titles they couldn’t have turned into complete hippies. As it turns out, both records are fantastic. But which band really does it the best? I decided to pit both punk albums against one another.
Let’s start with the new Slaves album Acts of Fear And Acts Of Love. Still packing the same primal drums and raw riffs, the Tunbridge Wells duo have swapped out the screech-along hooks of their last album Take Control for more Britpop-inspired vocal harmonies. The result is a more melodic album, although still very rough and ready – even on the most poppy track ‘Cut and Run’ there’s still a healthy dose of feedback squealing to keep things from sounding too polished. Meanwhile, the lyrics do seem to be a little less angry – whilst the band still take the time to lambast social media braggers on ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’ and politicians on ‘Bugs’, they end the album by dismissing hatred and promoting love: ‘there’s no such thing as hate, just acts of fear and love’.
As for Bristol band Idles, their new album Joy As An Act of Resistance sees them rocking the same scuzzy bass-guitar-heavy sound as on their debut. It’s a lot less clean than Slaves’ latest album, but not entirely sloppy either as the driving Swans-like build-up of opener ‘Colossus’ shows. The lyrics are where Idles show their newfound positivity – in his slovenly snarled delivery, Joe Talbot celebrates the joys of immigration on ‘Danny Nedelko’ and tells body-conscious listeners to ‘love yourself’ on ‘Television’. It’s jarring at first to hear him offering sincere positivity, considering how cynical the band’s debut album Brutalism was and considering how harsh his vocals are, but it doesn’t feel entirely wrong either. Besides, not all the hostility is gone and tracks like ‘Samaritans’ - a dissection of toxic masculinity - are still delivered with anger.
When it comes to writing catchy songs, both bands still know how to pull out an anthemic hook. Both bands seem to like spelling things out – in the case of Slaves it’s ‘M-A-G-N-O-L-I-A’ on their tongue-and-cheek ode to magnolia paint, whilst Idles chant ‘G-R-E-A-T’ which explores the mindset of Brexiteers. Both bands also know how to balance earnestness and humour.
Overall, Slaves offer more straightforward fun. With the exception of grungy interlude ‘Daddy’, there aren’t many left-field detours on Acts of Fear And Love, which is probably the album’s only downside – as fun as the songs are to rock out to, it feels like it’s missing a sense of surprise.
Idles by contrast are entirely unpredictable. There are moments when they go entirely loopy, such as nonsensical ‘Gram Rock’ which sees Joe yelling ‘ten points to Gryffindor!’ repeatedly for no reason. Meanwhile, on the flipside, Idles are also able to get incredibly personal and serious – ‘June’ took me entirely by surprise, serving as a tortured tribute to his still born daughter that sees him wailing ‘baby shoes for sale: never worn’ agonisingly over and over again. It’s this versatility that is the reason Idles take the crown.
Acts of Fear And Love by Slaves ★★★★☆
Joy As An Act Of Resistance by Idles ★★★★★
Friday, 5 October 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 05/10/2018: John Grant, Pleasure Barge, Thom Yorke and more...
More tracks to feast your ears on.
‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’ – John Grant
This has to be one of the loopiest musical discoveries I’ve made all year. According to the Icelandic singer himself, this new single is ‘about a cheeseball doing all he can to get into a woman’s pants’. It’s set to a funky synthpop beat and is accompanied by the trippiest music video conceivable. I feel like a changed man after experiencing this song. Nothing will ever be the same again. Make sure to also check out the live performance on the Jools Holland show, which sees John Grant backed by a band inexplicably dressed up in pig masks.
‘Electric Ride’ – Pleasure Barge
Once you’ve recovered from that John Grant song, you may as well take an electric ride with Pleasure Barge and continue your dose of eccentric funk. The Manchester-based disco-house band’s five minute funk odyssey cruises along happily before taking a dark turn, at which point it begins to feel like a ride on the Willy Wonka barge. I think the song’s probably an allegory for drug abuse (hence the floating pills making up the visuals), but even if you’re not interested in the lyrics it’s still a wacky and fun tune with lots of unpredictable progressions.
‘Has Ended’ – Thom Yorke
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke is scoring a horror movie and this eerie dirge is one of the songs making up the soundtrack. It could have been easy for the experimental singer to come up with something abstract – whilst this is largely Thom moaning over ambient synth swirls, it feels more like an actual song than I anticipated. In fact, I really love the plodding bass and drums which help to give it an ominous groove.
‘Rafters’ – Clarence Clarity and A.J. Crew
Eccentric pop singer/producer Clarence Clarity and alternative hip hop artist A.J. Crew team up for this avant-garde concoction. The beat really does feel as if it’s bouncing off the ceiling and getting caught in the rafters, whilst A.J. Crew’s bars take a more cool and grounded approach.
‘Bear the Waves’ – Stray Fossa
‘Bear the Waves’ really does create the sensation of standing on a beach and letting the waves crash against you. I feel like a lot of indie bands aim for this dreamy beach vibe, but none nail it quite as perfectly as Stray Fossa have here. The guitars are so shimmery that you can practically swim in them.
‘Deadcrush’ – Alt J ft. Danny Brown
I really tried to like this - the experimental beat and Danny Brown’s verse are menacingly brilliant – but Alt-J’s vocals seem to be completely out of key with the rest of the song. Intentional or not, out of key Alt-J falsettos sadly lie beyond my threshold.
Friday, 28 September 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 28/09/2018: Young Thug (ft. Elton John), Will McBride Group, Cheap Teeth and more...
It’s time for you weekly dose of Music Related Junk.
‘Touch and Go’ – Tomas Tomas
This slick nu disco tune comes courtesy of New York musician Tomas Tomas. The funky synths are delicious, and the dude’s voice has a silky almost-Frank-Ocean quality. There’s no shortage of this kind of music out there, but this is the premium quality stuff.
‘Karma’ – Will McBride Group
The last single from this group that I featured on this blog was reggae-flavoured rock. By contrast, this sees the North Carolina band going all-out funk. The slinky bass and bluesy guitar soloing show off the bands instrumental prowess, whilst Will McBride’s vocals glide effortlessly over the top.
‘Swingtheory’ – Quickly, Quickly
This Portland-based jazztronica producer sounds like a glitchier version of Flying Lotus. The textures are so crisply produced that it’s hard to believe this producer is only 17 years old. I also love the way it progresses – especially the key change towards the end.
‘Fly on the Wall’ – Cheap Teeth
Cheap Teeth have a sound that’s as grim as their band name. The guitar melodies sound like something from a horror fairground whilst the band’s vocalist delivers a visceral half-warble, half-shrieked style of singing over the top. If you like your rock raw, this is definitely worth sinking your (cheap) teeth into.
‘High’ – Young Thug ft. Elton John
I got pretty excited at the prospect of this weird collaboration, but it turns out that it’s not a collaboration at all. No, this is simply nothing more than a remix of ‘Rocket Man’ with some Young Thug bars over the top. Basically, Young Thug butchers a classic.
‘I Swallow His Kids’ – Princess Vitarah
The obscene track title pretty much tells you exactly what to expect – Princess Vitarah definitely doesn’t make music for kids (swallowing kids is more her thing). Even the beat is awful, featuring some flute that sounds like it was ripped from 2005-era Runescape.
Friday, 21 September 2018
This week, I take a look at the new savage diss track from Eminem amongst other new songs…
‘Killshot’ – Eminem
There’s been enough beef in hip hop this year to put McDonald’s out of business. I can hardly keep up with it all.
The latest and most unprecedented is the Machine Gun Kelly/Eminem feud - a couple weeks ago Machine Gun Kelly thought it wise to release a diss track titled ‘Rap Devil’ aimed at Eminem. It was a valiant attempt with some good jabs, but now Eminem has responded with a track titled ‘Killshot’ and the result is a slaughter: ‘This is it, as big as you’re going to get, so enjoy it/ Had to give you a career to destroy it’. It’s absolutely brutal. Just goes to show, ‘you don’t wanna fuck with shady’.
‘Venice Bitch’ – Lana Del Rey
Several years ago, the prospect of a nearly ten minute Lan Del Rey track would have made me gag, but she’s matured so much since then and so has her style. ‘Venice Bitch’ starts as a nostalgic end-of-summer ballad and then goes off on a hypnotic War-on-Drugs-esque seven-minute outro featuring loopy organs and psychedelic guitars. The song refuses to end and yet it remains captivating.
‘Full Moon’ – Gator
Gator describe themselves as a ‘swamp metal’ band. Their latest single has a carnivalesque Scooby-Doo vibe, featuring trippy largely spoken vocals over distorted guitars. It’s the kind of music I didn’t realise I needed in my life.
‘Heaven’ – Charly Bliss
Before this song was even over, I wanted to sing along to the chorus: ‘Now that I’m in heaveeen’. The mean and grungy guitars give it a badass feel that prevents it being a soppy love song (which is what it is). It definitely makes me eager to hear more from this New York band.
‘Swimming Underwater’ – Django Django
This is yet another track with a deliciously catchy chorus (Django Django seem incapable of writing a chorus that isn’t catchy). A punchy snare helps to give it a mean groove, whilst the synths have a nice retro feel. In fact, I struggle to find anything I dislike about this song.
‘Tranz’ - Gorillaz
Meanwhile, this has to be the most uncatchy chorus I’ve heard in a while – what’s up with Damon’s vocals. The song seems to be about drugs (or so I assume from the music video’s creepy ending), so I guess he’s trying to make the vocals sound druggy, but it just sounds like a garbled mess.
Thursday, 20 September 2018
Hide your kids. Hide your wife. Eminem is out to attack everyone on this new surprise album.
‘I feel like I wanna punch the world in the fucking face right now!’ is how Eminem chooses to open up his latest record Kamikaze. It’s immediately clear that slim shady is not a happy bunny.
For those that didn’t know, the iconic rapper’s last album Revival (released only a couple months ago) was not well-received. Many people, myself included, thought it was his worst record to date. The critics were particularly harsh – Consequence of Sound gave it an F, which Metacritic translates as a score of 0.
The disgraced hip hop legend clearly felt he had to respond to the hate. As a result, it’s been barely a few months since Revival dropped and we now have this new album.
Let’s return to that opening line: ‘I feel like I wanna punch the world in the fucking face right now!’. Eminem pretty much succeeds at punching the world in the face on first track ‘The Ringer’. He begins by lashing out at critics before then turning his sights on other modern rappers, and then finally turning on his fans. Whilst it’s more passionate than anything we heard on Revival – it isn’t pretty hearing a forty-something-year-old rapper throwing a tantrum, especially when he goes so far as to blame his fans for not getting his last album. Featuring a basic beat and no hook, it also more of a rant than a song.
Fortunately, second track ‘Greatest’ is a lot more enjoyable. Em disses other rappers in the game for bragging about their success when it’s nothing compared to his own. Rather than sounding butthurt, he delivers his hyperspeed bars with a mean swagger. Most importantly of all however, it feels like an actual song rather than a rant – it has a decent Mike-Will-Made-It beat and a tolerably singalong chorus (Em’s nasal singing voice hasn’t aged well, but at least he’s not singing corny nonsense any more).
From here on in, things get exciting. Eminem is still angry, but he sounds more composed and he proceeds in dropping some of the best verses he’s dropped in years. He collaborates with Joyner Lucas on ‘Lucky You’ (the perfect choice of guest) and delivers a flurry of bars that even sees him admitting he ‘took an L’ on Revival. He then teams up with long time ally Royce Da 5’9” on ‘Not Alike’ in which he plays the kids at their own game by jumping on a trap beat, whilst also proving he and Royce are in a different league in terms of rapping ability.
Certainly, there is a lot of arrogance to be found here, which is nothing new for Em. But unlike what was found on Revival, the arrogance feels justified. This is because Eminem spends time writing good songs and not just showing off his ability to rap at speed. The bars aren’t half as corny as on his last project and the beats and hooks are actually enjoyable – there’s not a rap-rock instrumental or Skylar Grey chorus in sight. Even a song like ‘Normal’, which delves into relationship territory (an area where Em has been known to let his corniness seep out) ends up being a fairly humorous attack on his exes (yes, even his exes are under attack).
Only towards the end of the album does the quality start to slip. ‘Kamikaze’ has some mean bars and a zany old-skool Em feel, but the constantly shouted ‘fack’ is kind of obnoxious (plus, I really don’t want to be reminded of the worst song of Em’s discography). ‘Nice Guy’ and ‘Good Guy’ meanwhile romp up the obnoxiousness with sweary choruses from Jessie Reyez whilst Em’s bars start to grow a little cheesier. Movie soundtrack ‘Venom’ then closes the album off – the album’s one and only cash grab, seemingly shoved on the end in case his new material doesn’t sell well.
Despite its weaknesses, Kamikaze is far from career suicide. It’s definitely an improvement from Revival and gives me hope that Eminem may be able to restore his legacy. Since the album’s release, he’s already been getting in feuds with the likes of Machine Gun Kelly, proving that he has more in the tank. In fact, with Kamikaze we could be witnessing the true revival of Eminem – the rapper could still do with toning down the penis references and devoting more time to songwriting rather than going off on wordy soliloquys, but at least he’s got some good production behind him now and some knockout bars that are enough to remind people not to mess with shady.
Friday, 14 September 2018
Let's talk about that new Kanye and Lil Pump track...
‘Mythos Pathos’ – The Birthday Letters
This quirky track from London act The Birthday Letters deromanticises the legends of various tragic heroes such as Hemingway and Hamlet. The mix of synth vocals and acoustic guitars making up the upbeat instrumental is what initially grabbed me though – I don’t think I’ve heard a sound quite like it before.
‘Pink Boots’ – Buke & Gase
The music video is certainly odd. As for the lyrics, I think I made out something about ‘kitchen utensils’? All that aside, this new track from Brooklyn experimental duo Buke and Gase is enjoyably creative stuff– dirty guitars follow a jilted rhythm like noisy factory machines whilst Arone Dyer’s vocals glide over the top. Apparently, these musicians often perform on instruments that they’ve crafted themselves, showing just how far they’re willing to take their inventiveness.
‘All The Way Over The Edge (Bros Don’t Talk About Anything)’ – Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam
With a band name like Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam, there’s no way I could have ignored this track submission. Fortunately, their sound is as wild as their name, consisting of fuzzy guitars and unpredictable shifts whilst the lyrics delve into the fact that ‘bros don’t talk about anything’ (us guys never share our emotions with each other until we get drunk and it all explodes out!).
‘Remarkable’ – cityGirl
New Jersey native cityGirl delivers some dreamy chillwave vibes with this new remarkable track ‘Remarkable’. Hazy vocals float over fluttering synths, carried along by a smooth bassline and steady drum beat. If I could fly (which I can’t, but sprouting wings is something I’m working on) this would be the perfect song for flying too.
‘My Blood’ – Twenty One Pilots
I’m loving everything that these guys are releasing recently. What I assumed was going to be a slow pensive ballad turns into a groovy hit with falsettos and a funky feelgood riff. These dudes have so much diversity. What next – a metal tune?
‘I Love It’ – Kanye West & Lil Pump ft. Adele Givens
This latest lyrical masterclass sees future president Kanye West teaming up with poet and philosopher Lil Pump. It also features Adele Givens – not to be confused with Adele (although that would have been interesting to hear). Eminem may as well give up now, because he’s never going to compete with bars like these.
I’M KIDDING. Of course, this song is absolute trash. The only two things Lil Pump had going for him – good beats and no autotune – have both been sacrificed in this song. As for Kanye, these are the worst bars of his career (I preferred his ‘poopity scoop’ verse earlier this year). Is he trolling us? In 2018, it's hard to tell. The music video is entertaining, I'll praise it for that – I’m loving the costumes and Kanye’s cheeky smiles.
Does Nicki Minaj deserve the title of 'queen', or is her plastic butt not worthy of the throne?
Let’s not pretend Nicki Minaj is the queen of hip hop. Although she can most definitely rap, she’s always swayed towards the more poppy side of the genre. You could certainly call her the queen of commercial rap (which incidentally can be abbreviated to c-rap), but even this title is under threat. There’s a new contender for most popular female rapper named Cardi B and she’s got just as much skill, sass and sex appeal. Does Nicki prove on Queen that Cardi is no match for her? Or is there no chance of beating Nandos-flavoured hit ‘I Like It Like That’ (because let’s face it, it's a pretty awesome tune)?
I will admit this – Nicki has some hot bars on this new album. She’s sounding meaner than ever and there are points where she definitely out-raps the likes of Cardi B. Take Biggie-inspired ‘Barbie Dreams’ as an example, which may well be the best track of her career. It’s a hilarious diss-fest that name drops every male rapper in the game before tearing them apart (including Eminem and 6ix9ine who appear as guests on the very same album!). Not only are her attacks incredibly witty (I didn’t even clock the deeper meaning behind the DJ Khaled diss first time around!), she also dedicates the trapped-up back-end of the track to showing off her ability to flow at speed.
Meanwhile, on other tracks such as ‘LLC’, she directly confronts upcoming female rappers. Her energy is fierier than ever before, even if her bars don’t carry the same weight (the line ‘tryna make a new Nicki, where the factory? They’ll never toe-to-toe on a track with me’ might have been fire had Cardi B not already proved she can ‘toe-to-toe on track’ with Nicki on the track ‘Motorsports’).
Maybe if we’d got a whole album of this gritty and witty Nicki, I’d be willing to bow down to her as queen. But alas, these moments of majestic greatness are just glimpses.
Nicki spends a good chunk of this album chasing pop appeal. Too much pure rap could stop her scoring those Spotify streams – your average music fan doesn’t want mean bars, they want softly-crooned pop ballads such as ‘Run and Hide’. It’s these tracks where she loses me by pulling out the autotune and rapping about mistrust in a relationship in a bland Drake-esque tone. Other tracks meanwhile see her resorting to collaborations with Soundcloud rappers over bland Migos-style beats – 6ixnine delivers the most meaningless bars of 2018 on ‘FEFE’, whilst ‘Chun Swae’ offers a horribly sung hook from Swae Lee in his typically prepubescent style. Here, Nicki does little to distance herself from their level of quality, staying deliberately dumbed-down because she thinks this is what sells.
Admittedly, none of these songs reach Stupid-Hoe-levels of trash (although I doubt even Lil Yachty in a submarine could reach those lows). She’s largely abandoned her annoying Roman Zolanski voice and there are less deliberately obnoxious lyrics. For the most part, the songs are just dull attempts to appeal to the masses. The irony is that despite all her efforts, Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD still beat her to the top of the charts – a still accessible yet much more alternative hip hop album. I guess sometimes it pays to experiment.