Sunday, 19 November 2017
When does a rock act stop being reliable and start becoming predictable?
Dave Grohl and Liam Gallagher don’t have much in common on the surface. Personality-wise they’re on polar opposite ends of the spectrum – one is a relentlessly humble crowd-pleasing ambassador of US rock, whilst the other is a straight-talking Twitter-rowing cocky jack-the-lad of Britpop fame. So why have I decided to lump them both under one review, other than being the lazy sod I am?
Hear me out. Both artists rose to fame in the 90s making catchy, stylistically-unique rock anthems and have since continued to remain omnipresent personalities in the rock scene. Even after the inevitable Oasis breakup, Liam continued to make music via his Beady Eye project, whilst Grohl has continued to front the Foo Fighters despite every other member seemingly being replaced. Each rock star has brought an influential and distinctive sound that they’ve stayed loyal to and right now they’re both at a very similar stage in their careers.
Gallagher and Grohl have both made half-hearted attempts to deviate their style in recent years. The Foos formula of epic guitars, singalong chorus and occasional screeches was traded in on their 2014 album Sonic Highways for some classic rock homages, but you could hardly call it a fresh new direction. Similarly, Liam Gallagher’s attempt to do something new with Beady Eye ended up more like a cheap imitation of The Rolling Stones, of whom Oasis were already influenced by.
Given these small deviations didn’t work, the two artists have now gone back to their original sounds. Reliability can be comforting – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But after twenty five years of the same shtick, you have to wonder whether the magic is starting to wear off.
I say this as a diehard Foos fan and a long-time Oasis lover. Both Concrete and Gold and As You Were turned out to be everything I anticipated. There’s even signs that they’re now ripping off their old songs. The Foos 9th album begins with an acoustic intro titled ‘T-shirt’ that sounds identical to the opener of 1997’s The Colour And The Shape. ‘For What Is It Worth’ meanwhile feels distinctly like a watered-down ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. These may well be deliberate self-references, but it doesn’t make them feel any less derivative.
Of course, both artists can still craft tunes that feel original and infectious enough to make you forgive the blander moments. The Foos lay down a three-hit-combo at the beginning of the record including screech-along lead single ‘Run’, groovy Aerosmith-esque ‘Make it Right’ and belting stomper ‘The Sky Is A Neighbourhood’ that almost has an Imagine Dragons tinge to it (in the best possible way). Liam’s ‘Wall of Glass’ meanwhile opens As I Were in spectacular style with squealing harmonica and bluesy guitar, whilst true anthems such as tumbling ‘I Get By’ and hazy ‘When I’m In Need’ spring up later in the tracklist.
Both artists have never tried too hard when it comes to lyrics. At this point it’s a mixture of clichés and nonsense, although Liam’s horror-themed balderdash ‘She gotta 666/ I got my crucifix/ She got a spinning head/ Likes The Ungrateful Dead’ is a lot more witty and entertaining than the Foos’ ode to aliens ‘The Sky is A Neighbourhood’. That said the Foos have the advantage that their LP is half the length of As You Were, which begins to overstay it’s welcome beyond ‘Come Back To Me’.
Gallagher and Grohl certainly have put some graft into these albums and both have a superb ear for melody and a good chorus, but both could benefit from coming up with an album concept rather than creating another medley of songs. Consider Queens of the Stone Age’s latest release – whilst I did find the production off-putting, you can’t argue that it has its own flavour. A reliable recipe works only for so long – sooner or later people want to taste something new.
Concrete and Gold by The Foo Fighters: ★★★☆☆
As You Were by Liam Gallagher: ★★★☆☆
Friday, 17 November 2017
I’ve had to take a couple weeks out of blogging to focus on other commitments (I had some brain surgery patients to attend to, plus I had to do a couple shifts on the moon for NASA), but now I’m back and ready to type away like a Hollywood computer hacker, keeping you updated on the best and worst songs on the web so that you can sleep peacefully at night.
‘Lemon’ - N.E.R.D ft. Rihanna
Pharrell Williams and his alt rap project N.E.R.D are back with their first material since 2010. The bubbly beat makes me want to get up and pop dance moves like the bald chick in the music video, not that I’d want to show her up with my dancefloor talent. Rihanna also appears on the track - not singing but rapping. Who knew she could spit bars? She’s not as good a rapper as myself, but hey, we can’t all be as amazing as me.
‘Tears’ – Kaizen
Opening with twinkly synths that could score the sad scene from a Studio Ghibli movie, the last thing I expected was to be assaulted by an ear-piercing cacophony of extreme dubstep wubs. It’s completely inappropriate. I feel like I’ve just watched the tragic stampede scene from the Lion King only for Mufasa to suddenly reanimate as a zombie and gnaw Simba’s head off. I feel violated. At the same time, I can’t help but find it impressive and amusing.
‘Someone Who Loves You’ – Loveless Death Scene
Talking of death scenes, LA psych rock act Loveless Death Scene caught my ear this week with this new melancholy track. There’s a hazy shoegaze quality to it – only the guitars have been warped with phasers rather than being swamped with reverb. Loveless Death Machine have a new EP out called Hopeless Dream Machine – my fellow music junkies can stream it here.
‘Change’ – Strangely Enough
After a build-up of Muse-like riffs and an explosive chorus, I thought I had this Brisbane rock act figured, but instead the song diverts into a guitar solo followed by a beautifully ambient interlude. 'Change' lives up to it's name by constantly changing direction (and the band live up to their name by being strange enough).
‘Walk On Water’ – Eminem ft. Beyoncé
Eminem needs to stop writing songs about writing songs. It’s getting tedious now, and it doesn’t help that he’s starting to sound like a cornier version of Macklemore. Even Beyoncé is unable to salvage it with her sappy chorus. The whole thing just ends up being a duller version of Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s ‘See You Again’.
‘X-Rated’ - MK Ultra
I've seen spheres more edgy than this cheap knock-off of Marilyn Manson.
Friday, 10 November 2017
Is ‘Soundcloud rap’ hip hop’s glorious punk phase - or a new musical low?
Are multi-coloured dreadlocks and facial tattoos the new mohawks? Or are these Soundcloud rappers just a bunch of flamboyantly-dressed amateurs spitting clichés over badly-produced trap beats? Whatever the case ‘soundcloud rap’ is now a distinctive movement. Every week a new kid with ‘Lil’ at the beginning of his name emerges from the woodwork, his hair more colourful than the last and his facial tattoo more outrageous (one rapper has even got Anne Frank’s face inked on his cheek).
Lil Pump and XXXTentacion are arguably two of the biggest names in Soundcloud rap. 2017 has seen both Florida rappers releasing their debut album. I decided to give these records a listen to see what all the fuss was about. Was I about to be converted? Would I be urged to fanatically grow dreads and tattoo my own face? Or was I about to lose faith in hip hop altogether?
Let’s start with Lil Pump’s album, which was pretty much everything I expected. The beats are stupidly loud, the delivery is stupidly catchy and the lyrics… well, they’re just stupid. I’ll admit, it was a lot more entertaining than Lil Yachty’s recent album. Pump for one has better beats, wisely avoids auto-tune and has a sense of humour (as evident through hooks like ‘selling cocaine to your grandma!’). There’s also a respect in the fact that it’s all DIYed and tracks like ‘D Rose’ are deliberately mixed to shit - it hasn’t got that sterile sheen that record label rap music has.
Nonetheless, the album’s still dumb enough to make you lose brain cells. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare sonnets, but the recycled garbage this kid comes out with isn’t far off Groot’s level of vocabulary.
XXXTentacion’s album 17 was everything I didn’t expect. Those already familiar with this controversial figure may know him for his previous Soundcloud hits ‘Look at Me’ and ‘Sipping Tea In Yo Hood’, both of which are comically beserk bangers consisting of confrontational yelling over hyper-compressed noise. When it comes to Soundcloud rap, he’s probably the least subtle of the bunch.
So where the hell did this soft emotional album come from? Offering whimpered singing over bare pianos and folksy guitars, this record has about as much banger material as a Radiohead LP. Braggadocio is replaced by introspection as X delves into his depression. The likes of ‘Jocelyn Flores’ and ‘Revenge’ are gorgeously rustic songs for a night in alone crying into a tub of Ben & Jerry's. Opening soliloquy ‘The Explanation’ had me dreading a try-hard deep album, but fortunately the album avoids being preachy, instead serving as a counselling session for X to spill out his darkest thoughts.
It’s as unexpected as were Conor McGregor to take up ballet. It’s in a different universe to Lil Pump’s album. The only thing it has in common with the other Soundcloud rap albums is its raw production – most of this LP sounds like it was recorded in X’s bedroom with the singing teetering between beautifully pained and off-key. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to compare it to anything else out there. Is this the beginning of hip hop’s emo phase? ‘Save Me’ could even be considered ‘grunge-hop’.
Whatever the case, 17 shows that Soundcloud rap has more to offer than simply lo-fi trap bangers and lyrical hedonistic gibberish. I may still listen to the odd track from Lil Pump’s debut, but X’s 17 is a fresh and new direction for hip hop that’s far more exciting.
Lil Pump by Lil Pump: ★★☆☆☆
17 by XXXTentacion: ★★★★☆
Saturday, 28 October 2017
Lo-fi music videos and creepy crawlies feature in this week’s belated track rundown.
Everytime’ – Boy Pablo
This frontman has SWAG! Short shorts and a pink hoodie are my outfit of choice when seducing the ladies. In fact, this whole music video is a sight to behold – especially the close zooms of the band members’ faces as they squint into the sun. The Norwegian kids could have won me over with the satirical goofiness of their video alone, but to top it all off the song itself is bloody phenomenal. Their dreamy sound is like shoegaze without the sopping wet reverb. It sounds oddly nostalgic, even if I haven’t heard anything like it before.
‘Time’s Been Reckless’ - Marika Hackman
Marika Hackman’s new upbeat rock single is accompanied by a music video full of creepy crawlies. Is she getting us in the mood for Halloween? Are they a visual representation of the decaying love depicted in the lyrics? Whatever the reason may be, there are bugs in the music video, so get ready to squirm in your seat.
‘Always a Secret’ – Charlotte & Magon
Ever wondered what a combination of Talking Heads and Kate Bush would sound like? Probably not. Well, this French-Israeli duo have gone ahead and created that very concoction. They call it ‘cosmic pop’, which they describe in their own brilliant terminology as ‘psychedelicious’.
‘Gud Tymes’ – DoM
The pounding drums, spooky church chimes and creepy visuals all make this an excellent tune for this time of year. The bright synths during the chorus caught me off guard, but thankfully the track doesn’t go too cheery, returning back to its menacing verse. I want to call it punk-pop – not to be confused with pop-punk which is a genre miles apart from this song.
‘One Chance To Dance’ – Joe Jonas & Naughty Boy
‘I’m no Michael Jackson’. I can’t argue with that.
Tuesday, 24 October 2017
WARNING: this is not one of those lists of campy Halloween classics like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bobby Pickett’s The Monster Mash. This list is for pure fear-chasing sadists who are ready to surrender their bowels and suffer endless nightmares for years to come. You’ll want to exorcize your speakers after listening to these records – not that Satan had any part in the creation of these albums; in fact, he’s still rocking back and forth in the corner of his bedroom after listening to these monstrosities, muttering to himself ‘Why? Why did I scar myself by reading that terrifying list on Music Related Junk?’. Basically, get off this list now if you’ve got a weak heart. You have been warned.
5) Nature Unveiled - Current 93
This 1984 cauldron of Gregorian chanting, pitched-down pianos and trippy effects-slathered chants still sounds absolutely terrifying to this day. It’s like playing with a Ouija board on shrooms. The substance of David Tibet’s incantations is difficult to make out. He could be reading off a shopping list for most the album for all I know. Not that it matters as the warped delivery would still be disturbing enough.
Amount of bricks shat: 13
4) Suicide – Suicide
There’s one track on this 1977 album titled ‘Frankie Teardrop’ which earns Suicide a place on this list. You can listen to it above if you dare. Vocalist Alan Vega narrates the twisted story of an overworked man driven to murdering his family, which would have been creepy enough itself – but then he goes and throws in some blood-curdling jump-scare shrieks. The whole album’s a little dark, but this track takes the cake.
Amount of bricks shat: 666
3) Outre - Portal
Portal make every other extreme metal band sound like Disney music. Outre is their magnum opus horribilis (basically, it’s truly harrowing shit). You know it’s going to be a bad trip as soon as those atonal murky guitars come in like some giant Frankenstein slug made of sewn-together corpses rising out of a swamp. What follows is a lightless, unforgiving descent through the audial abyss. As you claw onto any sense of hope, the album responds by dragging you deeper into its horrifying depths. Portal claim to be from Australia, but I think they may have mistaken 'down under' for the ninth circle of Hell.
Amount of bricks shat: ENOUGH TO REBUILD THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA
2) Bestial Burden - Pharmakon
After an emergency operation led her to have an unspecified organ removed, noise artist Margaret Chardiet (AKA Pharmakon) decided to release this visceral and utterly fucked-up ode to bodily mutilation. Synth drones as cold as the chopped up limbs in a psychopath’s freezer and industrial clangs darker and more distorted than a dusty VHS snuff film make up the backdrop to Margaret’s vocals, which are a mixture of tortured screams, breathless gasps and even the sound of her vomiting on one track. You’ll be listening through one headphone.
Amount of bricks shat: ENOUGH TO BUILD THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA AND THE TRUMP WALL COMBINED
1) Projekt Misanthropia - Stalaggh
Stalaggh shouldn’t exist, but it does. These bastards took it too far. ‘Stalaggh’ is a combination of the word ‘stalag’ (a Nazi concentration camp) and GH (which apparently stands for Global Holocaust). The vocals are actual screams from mental asylum patients (supposedly). It’s a cesspool of harsh noise, extreme metal and pained screeches. The same group of musicians have actually created another project titled Vorkuta under the artist name ‘Gulaggh’, which is arguably worse as it incorporates children’s screams. I’ve only listened to a couple minutes of each record and that was enough of an endurance test (you can listen to one of the tracks above as a sweet taster). This is, after all, music to be endured, not enjoyed - if you can even call it 'music'.
Amount of bricks shat: *currently still shitting*
Friday, 20 October 2017
Get your jazz hands at the ready. Lots of jazz-inspired fun this week.
‘Keep the Devil Off’ – Big K.R.I.T
Hallelujah! Praise the lord! The speedy-spitting Mississippi rapper is back with a track that can only be described as ‘gospel rap’. Over wild organs, choir harmonies and 808s, K.R.I.T bellows bars with a passion of a Pentecostal preacher. A new album is set to drop soon, the first since 2014’s Cadillactica.
‘Mosquito’ – Kode Maya
This genre-defying Finnish duo make music that’s both somehow experimental and poppy, cheery and dark. It’s not often you get a hook like ‘there’s a killer on the loose’ over washed-out synths that could appear on a Disclosure record. Then, just as you’ve got the song figured out, it completely changes direction, making way for some jazzy guitar chords, wacky pitch-shifted vocals and a beat that’s practically hip hop. It’s a true adventure into the unknown.
‘Butterfly Effect’ – Abbi Press
This New York singer’s wistful vocals are like spa treatment to my ears. But it’s the instrumental that sets this apart from everyday lounge music, starting as chilled electronica and then morphing into some glitched-out house beat.
‘Candygram’ – Valipala
Valipala dub themselves a ‘progressive r&b’ act, which is exciting as it sounds. Frontwoman Lauren Scales delivers belting Whitney-like inflections over an everchanging jazzy instrumental sporting everything from trumpets to electric guitars. The big apple band have an EP titled Mango City out today which is full of equally bananas jazz-pop hybrids ( I got carried away with the fruit references there) available to listen on their Bandcamp page here.
‘It’s Okay To Cry’ – SOPHIE
SOPHIE’s strength is claustrophobic bangers, not soppy Europop-style ballads devoid of percussion. Also where are the digital vocals? Is SOPHIE a real person now? It’s all too human.
‘I Love You Jesus’ – Trisha Paytas
Youtube’s most annoying vlogger has made a corny Christian song. Jesus wept.
Friday, 13 October 2017
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 13/10/2017: All Hail Hyena, St. Vincent, Django Django and more...
Dogs in spacesuits, trippy ghost train rides and nursery-rhyme-style choruses about popping pills. This week has it all…
‘Sabbathian’ - All Hail Hyena
All Hail Hyena have been snorting all kinds of substances as their new video for ‘Sabbathian’ demonstrates, featuring dogs in space-suits and grinning Buddha statue representations of the band members and all other manner of off-the-wall shit. It fits the frantic guitarwork and chanted vocals perfectly. ‘Sabbathian’ is straight off the nutters’ brilliant EP S T I C K € R S released earlier this year and has been entered into a competition held by Salute Music Makers – which you can check out here.
‘Pills’ – St. Vincent
St. Vincent continues to go full-on pop. The nursery rhyme style chorus and Taylor Swift vibes at the beginning had me pulling out the hair in my hipster beard yelling ‘SHE’S GONE MAINSTREAM! NOOOO!’. But wait, it’s okay – as the track progresses, St. Vincent makes it clear that this is no ordinary pop song. The instrumental morphs more times than Flubber and the final two minutes may as well be an entirely different song, evolving into some epic chamber-pop outro complete with a sax solo.
‘Tic Tac Toe’ – Django Django
Life can end up being repetitive and dull if you’re not careful. The latest upbeat twangy anthem from electro-indie cowboys Django Django centres around this theme, complete with a music video that sees the band taking a trip to the seaside and experiencing all the attractions with a routine sense of boredom. Are we all just telling ourselves that we’re having fun, but actually just living life day by day? Is it time to break the cycle? Should I quit these bloody weekly track roundups and this blog, sell all my possessions and hitchhike the world? Is that what you’re telling me to do Django Django? *MUSIC RELATED JUNK IS NOW ON HIATUS*
Shoffy – Fake Friends
With its creative blend of rapping and singing and its woozy sugary chords, this new chirpy single from LA artist Shoffy will make you truly believe life can be better without those fake friends in your life. I’m going to cut ties with all my fake friends today. But wait - what if I don’t have any friends? WAAAAAAAAAAAAH
‘And Saints’ – Sleigh Bells
This song gives me a serious case of blue balls. Those synths sounded like they were building up to something, but the whole track just kind of goes nowhere.
‘Straight Boy’ - Shamir
Before the SJWs come at me, I’m not angry at the subject matter. Straight men can be douchebags. The issue with this track is that it’s a wishy-washy two-chord snoozefest that sounds like it was recorded on a phone. Where are all the groovy dance tracks like ‘On The Regular’? A social message can still carry a groove.