Sunday, 18 November 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 18/11/2018: Fontaines D.C., Old Paradice, Zayn and more...



It's time for another weekly roundup...

THE BEST:

‘Sunkissed’ – Old Paradice


Old Paradice is the new joint project of UK rapper Confucius MC and UK producer Morriarchi. Their first single together features a deliciously groovy lo-fi beat over which Confucius lays some playful bars. It comes with cool visuals that are literally rose-tinted to match the nostalgic sound of the beat. The duo have a new EP out next year titled The Last Resort.

 ‘Too Real’ – Fontaines D.C.


Is it too real for yaa?’ I love it when an Irish singer embraces their accent, although ‘singer’ probably isn’t the word here – this is more like slam poetry. It’s accompanied by some creative guitar sliding made using a beer bottle that loops in an industrial fashion. The video sees them all performing in a pub with googly eyes made out of cue ball. I don’t know what it all means (it’s clearly all too real for me), but I love it all the same.

‘Your Touch Is Tender’ – Oh Genius ft. David Verity, Mike Evans and Dopein


This new sensual single comes courtesy of UK producer Oh Genius. It features a cosmopolitan mix of guest vocalists hailing from the US and South Korea. This mix of vocal styles and the combination of soulful synths and trap percussion adds lots of dynamics to the track (my personal favourite part is at the 1 minute mark when the female vocals and sub-bass come in).

 ‘Flicker Of Empty Flags’ – Rumour Cubes


This instrumental track from London six-piece Rumour Cubes is the best political statement one could make right now considering no words can accurately describe what’s going. Opening with rolling snares, melancholy pianos and some pulsing bass, the track slowly builds into a climax of tumultuous strings and angry guitar. The band are described as post-rock, but they seem to be reaching beyond that into their very own genre. Post-post-rock?

‘Yellow’ – Good Days

New York based act Good Days are in the middle of a fascinating project – they’ve been writing and recording songs in rooms filled with a certain colour to see what impact that colour has on the musical style. ‘Yellow’ was created under yellow lighting (they’ve also recorded a ‘red’ and ‘orange’ track and have plans to cover the entire spectrum on a future release titled ROYGBIV). Glossy pianos and sunshiny vocal melodies help to give ‘Yellow’ an undeniably bright feel. The track even morphs into a Monkees-esque 60s pop song at the end complete with cheery vocal harmonies.

THE WORST:

‘No Candle, No Light’ – Zayn ft. Nicki Minaj


I’ve never understood the appeal of Zayn – he’s just a watered-down Justin Bieber. Here he sounds more flavourless than ever, backed by what may well be the most generic pop beat of 2018. As for Nicki, well done for making it into my worst tracks two weeks in a row!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Review of 'FM!' by Vince Staples



Vince knows how to cram a lot of energy into 22 minutes.

These trap bangers come in hard and fast. The Long Beach rapper has always had a knack for choosing the wildest beats conceivable, and whilst he may not have SOPHIE producing for him this time, these are still some filthy instrumentals. Most artists begin or finish on their hardest tracks, but Vince shoves them in the middle – ‘Run the Bands’, ‘FUN!’ and ‘No Bleeding’ hit like a concrete donkey (that’s a Worms reference for those that are scratching their heads).

Speaking of esoteric references, this record is full of them – not to mention generous doses of West Coast slang. As a British listener, I had to use Genius to decode a lot of these bars (I still don’t know what getting ‘chipped’ means). The lyrics may as well be gibberish to me, but there’s no denying Vince can rap. His flow is just as sharp as always, whilst his usually laid-back tone feels more spiky, bordering on Danny Brown squawking on tracks like ‘Don’t Get Chipped’ and ‘Relay’.

FM isn’t as creative as Big Fish Theory, but it’s also less messy. All the songs follow a trendy trap sound. You could argue he’s gone too radio-friendly, but it makes sense given the whole album is designed to sound like a radio playlist. The interludes are the most innovative part of the album – we get an exciting 20 glimpse of a new Earl Sweatshirt song and a not-so-exciting 20 second glimpse of a new Tyga song. Is this going to be a future feature on hip hop albums – will rappers be advertising snippets of upcoming material on other people’s records?

I would have loved to have seen Vince experimenting more as he did on Big Fish Theory, but despite this FM is still a fun listen. Its strength is its ability to shove so much into its short running time. Drake, take note.

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 9 November 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 09/11/2018: Ariana Grande, Earl Sweatshirt, Milk Buttons and more…



Personal pop and moody rock make up this week’s tracks.

THE BEST:

‘thank u, next’ – Ariana Grande


After several high profile breakups and the death of her ex Mac Miller, Ariana Grande is understandably done with relationships – at least for now. She’s decided she’s the only one good enough for herself right now: ‘I know they say I move on too fast/ but this one gonna last/ Cause her name is Ari/ and I’m so good with that’. It’s inspiringly positive music for facing life’s challenges, continuing the same vibe as Sweetener. I’ll admit that it’s musically a little too poppy for my liking, but the personal lyrics and Ariana’s delivery are enough to make up for this.

‘Nowhere2go’ – Earl Sweatshirt


Earl Sweatshirt also seems to be sounding more upbeat (relatively speaking – if you’ve never listened to Earl before, you’ll probably still find this suffocatingly depressive). The beat is also one of his most experimental yet – it’s a muddy mix of warped vocals, rumbling bass and shrill pops. You could argue it’s kind of directionless but then again it is titled ‘Nowhere2Go’.

 ‘Some Impression’ – Milk Buttons



I featured this alt-rock duo on my blog before and I remember them being deliciously gloomy. Opening with some time-signature-morphing riffage, this latest single from Melbourne/Brisbane-based duo Milk Buttons seems to continue in that same depressive vein. ‘Everything is going fine’ is the closing line, delivered in a dejected tone and smothered by the guitars on top so that it’s as deliberately unconvincing as possible.

‘Feel My Skin’ – Edited People


These vocals are utterly wild. I was already drawn in by the spooky guitars and mean distortion, but it’s her crazy inflections that really make this track special. They’re very Siouxsie-Sioux-inspired but with added unhinged-ness.

‘Anti romantic’ – Passive


The word ‘anti-romantic’ sums up most of the music featured this week. This track comes courtesy of Watford indie rockers Passive and it’s an intriguing mesh of sounds, containing whirring organs, close-proximity guitars and some melancholy harmonised vocal woos. The lyrics meanwhile are fairly dark, ending with the ominous line ‘I need to give up’.

THE WORST:

‘Dip’ – Tyga ft. Nicki Minaj


Horrible lyrics, although I did enjoy the beat. Thank u, next…

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Review of 'Sweetener' by Ariana Grande




The ponytailed pop princess delivers playful production and positivity on her new polished LP. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Pppppppp.

It’s happened – I’m now an Ariana Grande fan (I think they’re called Arianators, but I’m not prepared to go that far quite yet).

Whilst her previous material has been a little too plain and poppy for my liking, Sweetener sees Grande exploring a more – dare I say it – alternative sound. There are still some glaring cash grabs here such as ‘breathin’ and ‘God is a woman’, but the bulk of the tracklist sounds like it’s not trying to be radio-friendly.

This has a lot to do with the quirky production, a lot of which comes courtesy of Pharrell Williams. Raunchy title track ‘Sweetener’ is set to sugary synths and bubbly clicks, whilst ‘Borderline’ layers rave chords over bouncy trap percussion. I wouldn't be surprised if these beats were leftovers from the recent N.E.R.D album - if so they’re tasty leftovers (with the exception of ‘the light is coming’ which is ruined by its jarring sample).

The beats that aren’t produced by Pharrell are slightly more commercial, with the exception of the upbeat garage beat on ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ (which incidentally hasn’t stopped this song being a mainstream hit). Still, as glossy as these other beats are, none of them are plain boring, which keeps this album constantly engaging.

Of course, Ariana Grande’s impressive four octave spanning voice plays an important part in the equation. She does a lot of soulful harmonising and layering which makes each track feel playful – my favourite example being the jingly ‘R.E.M’ which even has some Mr-Sandman-style bum-bum-bumming in it (perhaps intentional given the sleep theme of the track). She manages to show off her range without going on obnoxious Mariah-Carey-style vocal runs, letting her voice soar for the big choruses and fade to a breathy croon for the more subdued songs.

As for the lyrics, they’re surprisingly upbeat given everything Ariana Grande has been through as of late. Her life has been turned upside down – which may well be the reason for the topsy turvy artwork – but despite this she responds to the tragedy positively with songs like closer ‘Get Well Soon’ offering a musical hug to all victims of her Manchester concert bombing and ‘everytime’ acting as a defiant breakup song with her ex Mac Miller. All in all, the tracks feel more personal and more impactful. Even if other songwriters are credited alongside her, the lyrics feel intimate, which elevates this beyond the usual generic pop.

It’s a shame that it often takes personal tragedy to bring the best music out of an artist. Since Sweetener’s release, Grande has already had to deal with further devastating news and has announced a new album which may possibly be out before 2018 is up. Will she continue to keep things as upbeat? 


TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 2 November 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 02/11/2018: Duckwrth, Slipknot, Matthew Dear and more...



I was expecting lots of creepy tunes this week given that it was Halloween, but the scariest thing I could find was a song about Batman crying.

THE BEST:

‘Fall Back’ – Duckwrth


This beat is absolutely disgusting. JUST LIKE YOUR MUM (I really am immature). It sounds like it could be a UK grime instrumental, so much so that I was genuinely surprised when the angry American-accented bars came in. LA artist Duckwrth spends most the track spitting vehemently before segueing into some brief soulful singing at the end more akin to Blood Orange. He's got an unpredictable and erratic vibe about him, supported by a video which sees him performing in a padded cell whilst being restrained on a rope by a bunch of black dudes in whiteface. I suspect there’s a socio-political message to the visuals, but right now I’m happy enjoying this artist for the music.

‘All Out Life’ – Slipknot


Slipknot are probably the most Halloweeny choice on this list. The band are back to their Iowa-style punch-somebody-in-the-face aggression with Corey setting aside his clean singing for his signature diabolic yell. My favourite part is the slam riff at 3:48 with Corey chanting ‘we are not your kind!’ over the top, transitioning into some vicious blast beats. And people still claim Slipknot aren’t metal enough?

‘Figure Me Out’ – Peluche


I’ve been trying figure this one out – what genre is this? It’s got Kate Bush-esque vocals, a groovy bassline, military drums, ambient organs and even some wailing sax towards the back end. It builds up hypnotically before ebbing away gracefully. This single comes off the band’s recently released album Unforgettable, which I mustn’t forget to check out myself.

‘Bunny’s Dream’ – Matthew Dear


Here we have another genre-defying track. It’s got glossy guitars, a house beat, some brief Lou-Reed-esque baritone vocals and a weird section with some distorted offbeat bass. It’s a trip down the rabbit hole, topped off with a video containing some wild expressive dancing.

‘Alone Again’ – James Holt


Singer-songwriter James Holt is back with another single, this time sporting a stomping Beatles-inspired instrumental. The song gets going quickly and loads several transitions into its less-than-three-minute length. It’s quite different in energy from his last single ‘Whispers’ (which I featured on this blog here), but the lyrics still offer some great breakup-themed storytelling.

THE WORST:

‘Batman Cries’ – Joe Settineri


If you laughed at this song, shame on your for being so insensitive. Batman is crying and we should cry with him.

Honestly though, is this satire or is it genuinely sincere? I feel like I struggle nowadays to tell the difference.

Friday, 26 October 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 26/10/2018: Travis Scott, Sunshine Brothers Inc., iLOVEFRiDAY and more…



Diss tracks aimed at porn stars, 'candy floss laced in acid' and soul music seductive enough to make you pregnant. 

THE BEST:

‘Discover Each Other’ – Zac Apollo


This soul single is so seductive, I’m worried that just listening to it may have made me pregnant. Set to a slowdance-worthy tempo, Zac self-harmonises his vocals over some gorgeous guitar chords. The California musician is enviably talented, playing all the instruments and producing the track himself. The single comes off of his latest album ‘Loveset’, which I may just have to listen to - although if there are any more sensual slowjams on it like this I may just have to wear condoms on my ears.

 ‘So Bad To Me’ – Sunshine Brothers Inc.


Massachusetts bands Sunshine Brother Inc are proof that there are still unique rock acts out there (although I’m not sure if you could strictly call this rock). Their new single ‘So Bad To Me’ is a mix of carnivalesque crooning, surf-rock guitars and ice-cream-van-like synth twinkles. The layers of reverb make it sound like its coming from a distant fairground, whilst the upbeat chords occasionally take a sour turn giving it a warped feel. It’s like eating candy floss laced in acid.

‘Porch Song’ – Orchid Mantis


Effects-slathered guitar, faraway vocals and dreamy synths make up this exciting ambient/pop hybrid from Atlanta experimental artist Orchid Mantis. It’s got a chillwave/vaporwave vibe to it, except it's clearly a lot more detailed. The track makes me want to jump out my bedroom window and fly away into the clouds, so now I have to listen to this song with the windows locked because humans can't fly and I don't want to die just yet. ‘Porch Song’ is the first single from the musician’s upcoming album ‘Yellow House’.

‘Have I Ever’ – Lili Caseley


This new quirky pop single examines how love can feel different when you finally meet that one true partner, at which point all the rest of those past relationships feel phoney. The instrumental is a creative mixture of hypnotic harp and groovy synth bass that’s simple but effective. Meanwhile, Lili’s vocals carry an upbeat but pensive tone that elevates this beyond your usual pop junk.

‘SICKO MODE’ – Travis Scott ft. Drake


I’m slowly warming to Travis Scott. His lyrics are complete nonsense and his druggy flow is the reason half these Soundcloud rappers exist, however I can’t deny that this song is fucking ace. Technically, this was released back in August, but it’s now got a new big budget video so I figured I’d discuss it (it's my blog, I MAKE THE RULES). There are three different beats in this song – it’s as if Travis was asked by his producer which beat he preferred and he simply replied ‘yes’.  Drake could certainly learn a thing or two given the lack of beat transitions on Scorpion. As for the pair’s vocal performances, they both add well to the atmosphere, even I still think the lyrics are a load of baloney.

THE WORST:

‘Mia Khalifa’ – iLOVEFRiDAY


Two awful rappers diss a porn star for a tweet that turned out to be from a fake account. It’s a shame, because if the lyrics weren't so cringe-worthy and the singing wasn't so torturous, it could actually be a pretty catchy banger. 

Friday, 19 October 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 19/10/2018: Anderson .Paak, Riz MC, Charli XCX and more…




It's time to round up the week's best and worst new tracks.

THE BEST:

‘Tints’ – Anderson .Paak ft. Kendrick Lamar


Soulful singer/rapper Anderson .Paak and rap icon Kendrick Lamar team up for this new deliciously funky track set to appear on Paak’s upcoming album Oxnard. The lyrics seem to be about wanting privacy from the paparazzi (hence the window tints), but if I’m honest the song could be about anything and I’d still dig it – give me a funky instrumental, Paak’s soulful singing and Kendrick’s smooth flow and I’m sold.

‘Sunkissed’ – Shai Nowell ft. Nai Br.XX.



For those craving some more soul, this new entrancing track from Atlanta artist Shair Nowell ought to satiate your appetite. Lush keys, clanking percussion and a smooth bassline provide a breezy backdrop for Shai’s layered vocals, whilst guest vocalist Nai Br.XX also contributes some silky singing. It feels a bit late in the year for all these summery tunes, but I guess they do help to cheer up these dreary October days.

 ‘Mogambo’ – Riz MC


You may know Riz Ahmed from his acting work (apparently, he’s in the new Venom film), but on top of being an actor he’s also a rapper. This new song ‘Mogambo’ begins with a raw recording of Riz spitting angry bars over hand percussion before launching into a mean banger in which Riz proceeds to deliver several provocative and witty bars surrounding the prejudices of Asian culture. It’s similar to his work in the Swet Shop Boys, only without Heems at his side.

 ‘There Must Be Something In The Water’ – Niki Moss


Niki Moss is back with another kooky single that opens with a fast groovy guitar riff before taking the listener on a number of unpredictable twists and turns. The whole song is bursting with feelgood energy. I’m as eager as Niki to know what’s in the water. Is it a whole load of sugar? Is it cocaine? Whatever it is, I need it in my life.

 ‘Sister Jill’ – Jordan Vincent



This is truly unique stuff. The LA singer’s voice has a real theatrical vibe to it as it changes sharply in pitch and intonation, whilst the instrumental feels like some mix between rock and doo-wop.

THE WORST:

‘1999’ – Charli XCX & Troye Sivan


Look how far we’ve come. In 1982, Prince was singing about 1999 as if it were a magical time in the distant future – now singers are looking back on it as a magical time in the distant past.

As fun as this track is, I feel like there’s enough 90s nostalgia out there already. Besides Troye Sivan was 4 years old in 1999 – I doubt he was ‘driving around listening to Shady’ at that age.