Friday, 21 April 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 21/04/2017: Bent Knee, Pool Art, Young Dolph and more...


The threat of nuclear war is in the air. My Easter eggs are almost finished. At least we have music to fall back on. And yes, the Kendrick Lamar review is coming.

THE BEST:

‘Land Animal’ – Bent Knee


If these Boston art rockers didn’t sound bombastic I’d be worried. ‘Land Animal’ switches between jazzy, proggy and theatrical, all the while remaining utterly over the top. It rises and falls like an acrobat, changing pace and direction fervently. And just when you think you’re prepared for anything, the group chuck in some electronic ambience to show that they can do hypnosis on top of their other circus tricks. I loved their album Shiny Eyed Babies – will their new record be as bonkers?

‘Misery Porn’ – Pool Art



Mmmm, MY FAVOURITE TYPE OF PORN. According to the noise rockers themselves, the title is influenced by gritty TV shows such as The Leftovers and movies such as The Lobster that have been described as ‘misery porn’ by critics due to being so relentless in their portrayal of human suffering. It suits Pool art, who have proven on previous tracks that they’re a lugubrious bunch. Yes, this may certainly be their most uptempo track to date (the percussion is nuts), but the cavernous reverb and dingy distortion remind us that Pool Art aren’t about to turn to bubblegum pop any time soon.

‘MDMA’ - MUX


Mmmm, MY FAVOURITE PRESCRIPTION DRUG. The opening vocals and bright guitars had me expecting Alt-J-esque indie, but then the gurgling synth bass erupted from nowhere and completely threw my musical compass into disarray. Several progressions after and I had no clue what I was listening to anymore (all I can tell you is that I enjoyed it). I’m not sure where a band like MUX fits in – at an alt rock bar or a rave tent? I guess it’s the fact that they don’t fit in that makes them so exciting. Put your pills away and let these London lads be your serotonin rush.

‘Sinner’ – Philip Morgan Lewis


Consisting of just vocals and drums (with the odd squeal of dirty guitar here and there), this bluesy anthem feels mighty in spite of its minimalism. The way it’s chanted has an almost gospel feel to it. But whilst its sonic roots may be from a century ago, the production is ultra-modern allowing every sound perfect space to breathe.

‘100 Shots’ – Young Dolph


How the fuck you miss a whole hundred shots!’ I wouldn’t ordinarily call myself a Young Dolph fan, but when someone shoots your car with a hundred bullets and you come out unscathed and respond with a mean track like this, you earn my respect. Plus, that beat is the teaser of all beats. When the bass finally dropped after two and a half minutes I felt like I’d finally released a sneeze that wouldn’t come out.

THE WORST:

 ‘Good Goodbye’ – Linkin Park ft. Pusha T and Stormzy


You’d think Pusha T and Stormzy might be able to elevate this beyond generic club pop. But at this point, Linkin Park are such masters of mediocrity that they could invite anyone to feature on this track and it would still be a snoozefest.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Review of 'Memories... Do Not Open' by The Chainsmokers


‘Do not open’ is good advice. If someone bought you this album and it’s still in the polyethylene wrapping, politely return the album and then disown that friend forever.

When US EDM duo The Chainsmokers first broke the mainstream with satirical dance track ‘#SELFIE’ in 2014, their humour was entertaining, even if the crappy K-pop synth drop was an anti-climax. Since then, the Chainsmokers have grown to a star status that rivals Calvin Harris. They’ve also reached a level of blandness that rivals Calvin Harris. But rather than simply posting a video of paint drying like I did for my review of ‘Motion’, let’s get to the bottom of what makes these dudes so remarkably dull.   

How about the fact that almost every track on Memories…Do Not Open uses practically the same processed glossy pianos, the same vaguely tropical percussion and the same template chorus-style synth drops. Skipping through the album, you can barely tell when one track ends and the next begins.

But that’s not the real crime here. No, the real stinker is the fact that they’ve now lyrically become those same vapid nightclub drones that they once mocked on ‘#SELFIE’.

I could excuse a bunch of deliberately brainless bangers about twerking or Barbara Streisand. But instead we get songs that are actually trying to be ‘emotional’. I use inverted commas here because quite frankly a plank of wood has experienced more emotions than the narrators of these club drama anthems. The first song is about not getting invited to a party. And that’s supposed to be emotional?

Maybe it’s because I’m no longer sixteen years old. Maybe it’s because I’ve just arrived from Mount Eerie to this. I can only imagine that if you get thrills from this, you’ll get thrills from anything. 

TRACK TASTER:

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review of 'A Crow Looked At Me' by Mount Eerie


This might just be the most powerful record I’ve ever listened to. And trust me, I’ve listened to a lot of records.

I’m going to refrain from being my usual jokey self for this review. Centred around the recent loss of his wife to cancer, this new album from singer-songwriter Phil Elverum (aka Mount Eerie) is predictably a heavy listen. Any music that directly tackles a real life personal death is going to be a heavy listen. Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell and Sun Kil Moon’s Benji are two recent examples of albums that engaged in such subject matter, both of which I rated highly on this blog. But this album has taken things one bold step further.

Death is real,’ Phil opens the first track ‘Real Death’. ‘Someone’s there and then they’re not/ And it’s not for singing about/ It’s not for making into art.’  Phil’s voice seems calm and there’s a warmth to the guitars, but there’s something immediately alarming about how stark the production is and how direct the lyrics are. Immediately, you realise that this song is set barely a week after his partner Genevieve died – most likely written a week after. Phil sets out describing his grief, walking into rooms only to be met by emptiness, and most heart-wrenchingly, collapsing on the doorstep after receiving a parcel delivered to her, by her, for their baby daughter.

Whilst many singer-songwriters have mythologised loss, twisting it into something profound but ultimately abstract, this album lays out loss and all its personal torment in gritty detail. The tracks that follow are just as raw and insistent in their detail. It eventually becomes apparent that they are taking on a diary form, with each new song set a little longer after the death. But Phil’s grief does not subside, but only take on new forms of pain as he recounts the pain of clearing out her stuff, and later the realisation that real life memories are being replaced by photographs. Death even hangs heavy in the background as he describes in passing the burning of a nearby forest and, in a sick turn of events, the death of his counsellor.

Most striking is Phil’s refusal to give us any life lessons regarding the subject. As he states at the end of ‘Real Death’: ‘I don’t want to learn anything from this’.

This is not a fun album. It betrays all the criteria I’ve ever looked for in an album, not just through its unrelenting depictions of grief, but by relying almost wholly on context as opposed to content. Musically, the album is as basic as it gets. Having previously experimented in genres from ambient electronica to black metal and having always shown a flair for poetry, A Crow Looked At Me is contrastingly stripped back to a bluntly delivered diary of events with often nothing but an acoustic guitar to provide company – his wife’s guitar to be exact (as if this wasn’t intimate enough, the whole thing is also played on her instruments).

I spent much of this album clinging onto any glimmer of positivity and hope that I could. But Phil simply delivers blow after blow of tragedy, so much so that after a couple tracks I considered throwing in the towel. I didn’t want to hear any more, because it was real, and we spend too much of our lives avoiding the harsh reality of death. One can only hope that Phil is now slowly finding relief – his final line ‘and there she was’ may be the only glimmer of self-reassurance here, even if he is seeing an apparition, or at the very least convincing himself that he has.

This album may well be the closest you can come through music to experiencing the first-hand pain of a loved one dying. In many ways, it transcends (and that’s a word I use sparingly) the very purpose of music – although make no mistake, these are still very much songs by the very token that they are sung and set to instrumentation.

Ordinarily an album this stripped back might feel underdeveloped. However, the lack of time put into these songs is essential to the impact of the album. Phil wanted these songs to feel raw and to capture the immediate grief – had he given himself any more time to produce this album, he might have also given himself more time to fine-tune it and reassess the lyrics. By allowing the lyrics to stay raw, we are given grief without a filter – an exceptionally daring thing to do when so many men might otherwise bottle up such feelings. He is letting us into the most private pain one can experience. And yet he has turned this pain into something positive – a piece of art by all accounts and one that is revolutionary. 

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 14 April 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 14/04/2017: Machinedrum, Frank Ocean, Wavves and more...


This week’s been a drag. Just like your life – a drag. Just like your dad – a drag queen. Just like that doctor that got dragged off that United aircraft. What the fuck was all that about? Anyway, enough personal insults and dragging talk. It’s time to talk music and liven this week up.

THE BEST:

‘U Betta’ – Machinedrum


THIS NEW RUSTIE TRACK’S PRETTY GOOD, AIN’T IT? Alright, so Machinedrum may be sounding a little less like himself on this new EDM banger and a little more like a certain other electronic producer, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is good stuff. Those squealing synth chords and stupendous drops are like chewing on a mouthful of popping candy.

‘Go Down Dancing’ – Soliterre



There’s a reason disco has persisted so long. Every time I think the genre’s run its course, a new artist like Soliterre comes along with a tune like ‘Go Down Dancing’ and shows that there’s still life in the old dog yet and that funky grooves will always have a time and place. In a brave move, the Vancouver producer even manages to throw in a trumpet solo, piano solo and guitar solo all whilst somehow remaining tasteful.

‘Biking’ – Frank Ocean ft. Tyler the Creator and Jay Z


Frank has teamed up with Odd Future buddy Tyler and rap tycoon Jay Z to sing about … bikes? It turns out to be mostly allegorical, as each member cycles through bicycle metaphors whilst putting their own symbolic spin on it (puns intended). Frank’s hybrid sung-rapped vocal style and the morphing soulful beat give the track a dynamics that propels it along, even if the lyrics stay centred on bicycles. Hova seems to be largely coasting if I’m honest, but Tyler’s verse makes up for it.

 ‘Million Enemies’ – Wavves


I wasn’t sure where this track was going at first until the big fat hook hit: ‘I got enemies/ a million enemies’. It’s the garage rockers’ most singalong anthem to date, accompanied by satisfyingly scuzzy guitars, powerfully punchy drums and a glam rock themed video harking back to the days when guitarists could get away with wearing capes.

 ‘Still Young’ – Sunspots


From the 10CC-esque washes of synth vocals in the verse to the psychedelic splashes of guitar in the triumphant chorus, everything about this song feels absolutely euphoric. The message is basically YOLO but with a bit of soul behind it. Live whilst you’re young, not whilst you’re old. Kill yourself when you reach 60 (okay, maybe I’m interpreting it wrong). Whatever the case, these Leeds rockers have a uniquely mesmerising sound as invigorating as climbing a mountain.

THE WORST:

‘Wake and Bake’ – Hennessy Fyah

  1.    A weed anthem in 2017. Aren’t there enough already?
  2.      She’s white – why is she singing like that?
  3.     Turd eye’? Probably another good reason to drop the accent…
  4.      She sounds neither awake nor baked. If anything, she sounds dead.
Shall I go on?

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Review of 'Automaton' by Jamiroquai



Crazy-hat-wearing high-flying Jay Kay and his crew of funky instrumentalists have returned to the studio after seven years. Was the return of the space cowboy necessary in 2017? Or are there already enough disco/funk revival acts out there?

This decade has already witnessed the likes of ‘Uptown Funk’ and ‘Get Lucky’ topping the charts. And the underground scene already has its fair share of funk revivalists such as Thundercat and Anderson Paak. If Jamiroquai were going to jump back on the bandwagon, they’d have to come out with something a little more exciting than their 2010 adult contemporary album Rock Dust Light Star.

Automaton sees Jay continuing to deliver his signature croons, sounding slightly more worn than on previous records – probably from years of public tantrums. The lyrics are as goofy as ever, consisting largely of space babble, boogie talk and relationships with femme fatales straight out of a Bond movie. But it’s all innocently fun – if Jay  was singing about death and politics, I’d be worried.

Fortunately, the band have stepped up their game since their last record. These instrumentals are ridiculously funky and feelgood – up there with the band's Virtual-Insanity-era work. In fact, they make you realise most modern funk is more watered down than service station coffee. ‘Hot Property’'s diving bassline and outro of layered synths is audial sex, and the groove of ‘Something About You’ is enough to get a deaf man tapping his foot. There’s also clear signs of progression – ‘Automaton’ adopting robo-vocals and some sharp futuristic synths that sound like they were engineered by Martians.

‘Nights Out In The Jungle’ is really the only dud in the mix – an attempt at funk-flavoured hip hop that’s tasteful but seems to just plod on aimlessly for four minutes. All in all, this may not be a ground-breaking album, but if you’re looking for cartoonishly-vibrant dance music without the pop filter or Hiatus Kaiyote-esque noodling, this album is your lifeline.

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 7 April 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 07/04/2017: Alt-J, Liana Banks, Sufjan Stevens and more...



This week, I give you horny music courtesy of Alt-J and auto-tune courtesy of Sufjan Stevens.

THE BEST:


‘In Cold Blood’ – Alt-J


Few bands can get away with reeling off binary code at the beginning of a song. But Alt-J have always been charmingly nerdy (I still haven’t got over the Yamaha DJ samples on their last album). The fact that the instrumental is also distractingly nuts also helps. There are big fat horns and synthesizer arpeggios, and just when you thought you’d heard it all, the band hit you with a climatic key change.

‘Whispers’ – AbiChan



AbiChan is the new project by Abi Harding. She sings and plays sax – although not at the same time. She also used to be a member of noughties rock band The Zutons. Remember them? Mind you, I wouldn’t entering this song expecting Zutons-esque rock. Abi’s new direction is distinctly soul-flavoured, although seems to uniquely draw soul influences from multiple generations. The twangy guitars and smoky saxophone feel retro, whilst the glossy synths feel current.

‘Marske Woods’ – Dome Hall


This Newcastle-based band are a hard bunch to categorise. They’ve got a saxophone and a keyboard in there, but they’re more indie rock than soul. And their vocalist sounds like Father John Misty. It’s a wonderful broth of rustic flavours they’ve got going on and I’m intrigued to hear more.

‘Ghost’ – Liana Banks



This unsigned New Yorker’s new r&b jam is about hooking up with someone, having a good time and then both ‘ghosting’ one another. For the oldies that don’t understand modern slang, ‘ghosting’ means ignoring and cutting off all communication. Or perhaps she’s literally singing about transforming into a ghost. In any case, this track is brilliantly catchy and surprisingly effective given how simplistic the instrumental is, consisting of a couple chords and the occasional splash of 808s.

'My Lover Cindy' - Marika Hackman



Last time I checked in on this singer-songwriter, she was writing sinister folk songs about drowning. She seems to have taken on a more bouncy alt-rock style since then, but the lyrics are still not exactly sunshine and rainbows, sung from the perspective of a toxic partner whose only interest is to use: 'Cos I'm a greedy pig/ i'm gonna get my fix/ I'm gonna keep my eyes on the prize and suck you dry, I will'.

THE WORST:


‘Saturn’ – Sufjan Stevens ft. Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister


Sufjan, what in Hell’s name is this? Leave that auto-tune alone.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Review of 'Emperor of Sand' by Mastodon



For the first four tracks, Mastodon had me worried.

The belting choruses were catchier than ever. Devilishly catchy. But where was the artsy creativity and chest-pummelling aggression? After already becoming more toned down on Once More ‘Round The Sun, had these dudes finally decided to pack in prog metal for full-on Foos-esque arena rock?

Fortunately not. Emperor of Sand is as album that needs time to warm up and stretch it's muscles, because once it reaches fifth track ‘Roots Remain’, it finds its stride. The songs stay terse, but become more dynamic - juxtaposing fleshy distortion with light spacey twanging. And then like a round of shots ordered at the end the night, they leave their heaviest tracks for the album’s finale – two riff-laden bruisers ‘Andromeda’ and ‘Scorpion Breath’ and an eight-minute leviathan ‘Jaguar God’ that builds slowly before plummeting into a mean thrash section topped off with a melancholy axe solo.

At this stage, Mastodon seem to be juggling their crowds well – catering to the fans of their more hooky new stuff and their heavy old shit. Personally, I’d like to see the singalong choruses of the first half and savage instrumentation of the second half of this record melded together more. Regardless, this is still a hard-hitting gauntlet of tunes. 

TRACK TASTER: