Friday, 17 August 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 17/08/2018: Twenty One Pilots, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, False Advertising and more…
Twenty One Pilots sound less poppy, whilst The 1975 have gone the opposite way.
‘Levitate’ – Twenty One Pilots
Frontman Tyler Joseph is rapping his butt off on this new single and the beat is insane, melding 808s and raw percussion whilst topped with various moody sounds. It’s very different to the band’s usual poppy material – there’s nothing to sing along to and it probably won’t get any radio airplay, but I’m digging it (and my opinion is all that matters).
‘Don’t Forget About Me’ – Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs is an awesome band name – I’m glad they’re not a totally enormous disappointment and that they’ve got an awesome sound to match. After a slow and ethereal build-up of sparkling synths and ghostly vocals, the song starts to warp in pitch at the three-and-a-half-minute mark before breaking into a defiantly feelgood groove.
‘FOA’ – wwoman
Pittsburgh artist wwoman is actually a mman (I think). A slinky bass riff and glossy chords make up the hypnotic instrumental, which is topped with reverb-soaked wistful vocals. It reminds me of a more intimate Tame Impala.
‘Don’t Think You Wanna’ – Star The Moonlight
New York based group Star The Moonlight deliver this slice of delicious future soul. The instrumental is an amalgamation of squelchy synths, deep bass, funky clarinet and other jazzy sounds, offering a number of exciting twists and turns. Vocalist Hattie Simon meanwhile delivers some classic smoky soul singing over the top. It’s an impressive debut single that has me hungry for more.
‘You Said’ – False Advertising
I’ve featured these Manchester rockers on my blog a good few times – they’ve grown in popularity since I interviewed them, which I’m happy to see. Their latest single ‘You Said’ features their signature mix of scuzzy grungy guitars and belting anthemic vocals. They’re one of the few rock bands that I hope will never change their formula, because it’s so reliably good.
‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ – The 1975
Well, for starters, whoever came up with that obnoxious track title deserves to be slapped. As for the song itself, The 1975 are no longer ripping off INXS and now sound like Maroon 5 with a vaguely dancehall-flavoured beat and a bit of autotune slathered on top. It’s the sound of a band letting go of all authenticity and selling out to the zeitgeist. They’ll be teaming up with Drake or Cardi B next, mark my words…
Thursday, 16 August 2018
Denzel spits, sings and screeches on his most dynamic record to date.
Hip hop fans have been sleeping on Denzel Curry so long that I’m surprised they haven’t got bedsores at t his point. The fast-flowing Floridian rapper pretty much fathered Soundcloud rap – although to put him in the same category as dumbed-down goons like Lil Pump seems a bit of an insult. Denzel’s music is its own blend of ingredient (his very own musical curry) – a mix of speedy flows, angry delivery and half-trip/half-trap beats.
2016’s Imperial, an album of wall-to-wall bangers, showed how fun Denzel could be. My only gripe with this record was that it lacked dynamics, with the energy seemingly jammed in sixth gear. Denzel Curry clearly must have read my review, because if there’s one big change on this album, it’s the newfound dynamics.
Taboo (stylised TA13OO) is divided into three acts – Light, Grey and Dark. The ‘Light’ section opens the album with Denzel showing off his crooning skills (yes, this man can now sing), carrying a tone similar to Andre 3000 over a selection of lush and soulful beats. This is followed by the ‘Grey’ act, which is largely trap anthems. It then ends with the ‘Dark’ section, which borders on screamo rap with its aggressive closer ‘Black Metal Terrorist’ in which Denzel attempts to finish off the listener in a Mortal Kombat fashion.
The light/grey/dark theme doesn’t completely make sense – lyrically, there’s not much lightness on any of the tracks. Even the first act delves deep into depression (although the lyrics certainly get more unhinged, with Denzel contemplating terrorism by the end). I’m also unsure why aggressive banger ‘Sumo’ ended up on the light section, nor do I understand why ‘Vengeance’ takes a smooth jazzy turn despite being on the dark section.
Thematic discrepancies aside though, the individual tracks themselves on TA13OO are Denzel’s best so far – so much so that I’m willing to overlook the theme entirely. There are more hooks in this tracklist than a fishing store – ‘Black Balloons’ hasn’t even finished and I was already mouthing the words ‘let it flow, let it flow, let it flow by me’. As for Denzel’s delivery, this is where the newfound sense of dynamics really makes an appearance. Whilst he still throws out his hyperspeed flows on occasion, most of tracks see him reigning it in so that he can vary up the pace. ‘Switch It Up’ is the perfect example of this, in which he jumps over the 808s like an acrobat, switching his flow up (hence the title) from bar to bar.
Lyrically, Denzel is also on top form and equally diverse. When he’s not pulling out fun and esoteric pop culture references to anime characters and wrestlers on tracks like ‘Sumo’, the rapper confronting more serious issues such as suicide on ‘Clout Cobain’. This latter track is a fresh take on the pressures of fame – the shocking music video gives the track most of its power, but the song itself is still innovative. Even token anti-Trump track ‘Sirens’ isn’t all that bad, featuring a guest verse from J.I.D (who I keep meaning to check out more from) and a great line about how one narrow-minded white person can make a black community insular: ‘with a good girl gone bad girl/ who went gay cause of date rape/ that’s a metaphor for the US/ cause they got us in the same state’.
Denzel may not possess the poetry of a rapper like Kendrick, but he’s still got a flow and energy to rival these artists. It’s about time that he started to get recognition - already this album is converting new fans and making him the household name in hip hop that he deserves. I’ll agree that the light/grey/dark theme isn’t entirely watertight, but this doesn’t really matter to me given that the songs themselves are some of the most well-rounded and catchy rap songs to drop this year.
Saturday, 11 August 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 11/08/2018: Mikaela Davis, Hollowlove, Matthew & The Arrogant Sea and more...
‘Delivery’ – Mikaela Davis
John Lennon is back from the dead and he’s now a woman. That’s the vibe I’m getting from this epic slice of piano rock by New York harp-player-turned-singer-songwriter Mikaela Davis. It starts with just piano and then gradually builds with new instruments entering the mix. All the while, Mikaela’s bittersweet vocals remain gentle but commanding: ‘They say it’s all about delivery’.
‘Earthquake’ – Will McBride Group
North Carolina act The Will McBride Group use earthquake imagery to offer a social commentary on the times (no, it’s not a cover of the Labrinth song if the same name). Their mellow style draws influence from 70s rock acts like the Eagles and Steely Dan with a slight reggae flavouring to the guitars that gives it a unique feel.
‘SL33P’ – Quiet Man
London electro soul artist Quiet Man just wants to sleep, which is a feeling I can relate to. His latest single sees him laying sleepy spoken word verses over spiky synths before delivering an instantly catchy soulful hook. Quiet Man has been quiet for the last couple years, not releasing any material since his last track ‘Amazon’, but now has a few different singles ready for release – I’m eager to hear more.
‘Serpentine’ – Hollowlove
Canadian electropop duo Hollowlove were the last people I expected to drop an anti-Trump anthem, but I’m glad they did – this might well be one of the best anti-trump anthems I’ve heard so far (and trust me, I’ve heard a lot). The glitzy synths add to the sassiness of the lyrics. It’s one of the few protest songs that I could happily dance to.
‘Swedish Death Metal Cassette’ – Matthew & The Arrogant Sea
This couldn’t be further from Swedish death metal, but I’m digging it nonetheless. Both the lyrics and music video are humorously weird in contrast to the sombre folk delivery. It’s both beautiful and bizarre and that’s just how I like my music and the world in general.
‘F.U.B.A.R’ – Suicidal Tendencies
Punk/thrash group Suicidal Tendencies have been slowly going down hill when it comes to musical quality, but you can excuse them for not being the band they once were – there are pretty much no original band members left at this point. This may well be their cleanest and most flaccid production yet. They really have become FUBAR at this point.
Wednesday, 1 August 2018
Drake’s new double album is a drag.
I’m allergic to long albums. Upon seeing that Scorpion was 25 tracks long, I almost broke into anaphylactic shock there and then. Drake’s last album was 20 tracks long and my biggest complaint with that was that it was too long. How would I get through this without falling into a coma?
Two things pulled me through – the fact that I’ve liked a few Drake hits in the past enough to tolerate him for two hours and the fact that Drake is now a daddy and we all needed to hear him confront the topic. Celebrity scandal usually isn’t my thing, but anyone who listened to that scathing diss track from Pusha T knows that Drake needed to respond to the allegations that he was ‘hiding a child’ – if he wanted to preserve the good guy persona he’d so willingly tried to prove in the video for ‘God’s Plan’, he needed to come clean about it.
And Drake does just that on this album, saving it for the final track ‘March 14’, which ends up being a truly deep insight into the life of a single dad following reluctantly in the footsteps of his father: ‘but this champagne toast is short-lived/ I’ve got an empty crib in my empty crib’. It’s the hip hop icon and human meme’s most personal and moving song to date (the first time I almost cried at a Drake song. ALMOST) – but it’s right at the end of the album, no doubt shoehorned in last minute, so that we have to listen to the remaining 24 tracks of Drake drivel.
Admittedly, this wasn’t supposed to be an album about fatherhood, and the rest of the lyrical content is an improvement from Views, which was largely him resenting women with a few corny bars thrown in. In fact, there are some very personal tracks on Scorpion like ‘Jaded’ and ‘Emotionless’ that are practically cornball free. I even enjoyed Drake getting mean on ‘Nonstop’ as he spits ‘yeah I’m lightskinned, but I’m still a dark nigga’.
It's great to see Drake confronting the topic of duality on this album, which seems fitting for a double album. After all, the half-black/half-white, half-Catholic/half-Jewish, Canadian-American dual citizen rapper-singer knows a thing or two about having a mixed identity. It’s also interesting to see Drake divide the album into one half of mainly rapping and one half of mainly singing. The album certainly has a theme.
Sadly, it’s musically dull as dishwater. The 25 tracks may delve into genres as diverse as gospel and trap, but few of the songs actually have much direction. There are few beat changes and very few hooks – as a result each song gets dull after about 30 seconds. Only when Drake pulls out the more ambient and experimental beats as on ‘Emotionless’ does he keep things engaging and that’s largely due to the help of the personal lyrical content. Some of the guest vocalists are also able to spice things up by adding new vocal tones – particularly Michael Jackson on ‘Don’t Matter To Me’, who I wasn’t expecting to be resurrected for a Drake feature – but most of the time its just Drake rapping or singing in the same tone, showing us that it’s probably best that he continues to combine the two rather than trying to focus solely on one.
Scorpion’s marathon length hasn’t stopped it receiving more Spotify streams in a day than any other record (although the excessive promotion on Spotify definitely helped, as he appeared as the thumbnail of every playlist including totally inappropriate playlists such as Great British Breakfast and Indie Argentina). What makes Drake’s new album so streamable is perhaps the fact that it makes great background music. Its lack of hooks and beat changes make it the perfect album for zoning out to. Only when the lyrics get ultra-personal does Drake pull the listener in and I have my suspicions that most of these tracks were only thrown in at the last minute anyway (ironic, as they're some of his best). It’s an album with a lot of promise, but ultimately Drake’s biggest dud.
Saturday, 28 July 2018
The new Yoko Ono single is quite something.
‘Samaritans’ – Idles
Idles continue to be the punk act that we need right now, confronting toxic masculinity on their new pummelling single. As with many Idles songs, its poignancy lies in its simplicity as Joe Talbot gruffly barks ‘grow some balls’ along with various other emasculating insults, before declaring in the chorus ‘this is why you never see your father cry’. The guitars meanwhile remain rugged and driving, culminating into an epic climax at the end – I’m loving the pounding outros that these guys keep delivering.
‘TBT’ – Kaves
Norwich alt rock band KAVES deliver this new wild and catchy anthem ‘TBT’. From its mean intro riff to its soaring chorus, the track just keeps delivering one fun moment after the next. I hear elements of The Arctic Monkeys and The Foo Fighters mixed into their satisfying rock infusion.
‘Whispers’ – James Holt
Accompanied by a video featuring a ballet-dancing bride eerily dancing alone in a church, ‘Whispers’ is a hauntingly beautiful ballad that explores the nagging doubt of whether there was any love in a past relationship. It shifts from quietly melancholy to loudly triumphant and then back again with the singer closing the track on the unnerving whispered line ‘were those whispers just for me?’. It’s a gripping representation of the muddle of emotions that strikes after a breakup.
‘Spiders’ – Martha Hill
‘Spiders’ was actually influenced by bats (wait, what?) – a bat broke into Martha’s house and her housemate didn’t believe her, which made her consider the idea of hallucinations and feeling crazed (hence, the line ‘spiders in my head’). Sonically, it’s a web of various genres including pop, folk and soul. There’s something almost Adele-like about Martha’s vocals, whilst the instrumental features twangy guitars and a clanging warped snare.
‘Charcoal Baby’ – Blood Orange
Indie/soul experimentalist Dev Hynes (AKA Blood Orange) is sounding smoother than ever on his latest singles set to appear on a new album titled Negro Swan. This new track ‘Charcoal Baby’ explores black depression with a creative video that shows the same feelings of dejection from two different backgrounds, showing that racial insecurity extends beyond class. Detuned guitar, warped synth swells and smoky sax make up the glossy backdrop as Dev and an unnamed female singer croon over the top.
‘Warzone’ – Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono is 85 and if it wasn’t already clear she’d lost her marbles, this new single has truly confirmed it. It begins with the opening line ‘men flashing their guns and BALLS!’ (balls are a recurring theme this week) and continues to get laughably worse from then on (the constant wailing of ‘warzooone’ is truly agonising to listen to). Listen to ‘Warzone’ if you dare – just be warned that it may give you PTSD.
Friday, 20 July 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 20/07/2018: Chance the Rapper, The Internet, Guerilla Toss and more…
‘I Might Need Security’ – Chance The Rapper
Chance The Rapper just surprise attacked us with four new tracks. This is undoubtedly the best track of the bunch – it sees the Chicago rapper getting political whilst delivering playful bars like ‘They think they Heath Ledger scary, they just Jack Nichols’. The backing sample used throughout the song is both pretty and hilarious – somehow I don’t think they’ll be able to make a radio-friendly version.
‘La di da’ – The Internet
This new smooth summer jam from soul band The Internet is deliciously funky with it’s wah-soaked guitars and groovy bass playing (it sounds very Jamiroquai-inspired). Syd’s breathy vocals are as heavenly as ever, although I’m not sure why she screams ‘Bridge’ like Pharrell at the end of the track (isn’t the bridge the bit between the verse and chorus).
‘Everything’ – Kaizen
‘Everything’ is one of those rare EDM songs that can remain intense through its build-up and still serve up a satisfying pay-off. Moody bass and melancholy vocal sampling opens up the song and the whole song gets busy quickly, but then at the one minute mark the tone shifts as it hurtles into a euphoric Rustie-like trap section. Kaizen continues to be incredibly dynamic.
‘Race Car’ – Joseph Tyler
I don’t think I’ve ever heard production quite like this. Shimmering synth arpeggios and walking 808 basslines provide a bouncy cartoonish backdrop that’s like some combination of Panda Bear, N.E.R.D and Gorillaz. It pairs well with Joseph Tyler’s jubilant lyrics about defying wasted youth.
‘Meteorological’ – Guerilla Toss
Former-noise-rockers-turned-avant-garde-funk-band Guerilla Toss released a phenomenal album last year titled GT Ultra. It seems that they’re already thinking about dropping a follow-up, serving up this groovy extravaganza with a weather channel themed video. The whole instrumental creatively pitch shifts up at the end and there are more synths than ever – I’m expecting more electronica from their new release.
‘Hair Cutter’ – Animal Collective
The psychedelic experimentalists have gone back to their droney sound and if I’m honest it’s a bit dull. The vocals also have a cheap mic quality that I’m sure is intentional, but it just doesn’t work for me.
Thursday, 19 July 2018
Rhythmless hip hop and undanceable EDM – these two albums are certainly challenging.
Death Grips and SOPHIE have never tried to make music for the masses. Avant-garde hip hop outfit Death Grips have spent the last decade laying paranoid shouty vocals over noisy beats incorporating everything from chopped-up Bjork vocals to gabber. Electronic producer SOPHIE has meanwhile spent her career concocting twisted EDM singles that blend cutesy synth twinkles and dark industrial clangs layered with chipmunked vocals.
Together they’re two of the most forward-thinking artists making music right now – although some people may just see them as a bunch of arty-farty noisemakers. Personally, I’ve always loved their unbridled experimentalism, even if tracks like ‘Hot Head’ and ‘L.O.V.E’ teetered on my threshold. For the most part, beneath the digitally altered vocals and distorted synth screeches, both artists have always carried a mean sense of rhythm – something that’s always held their unconventional songs together. In fact, Death Grips’ last album Bottomless Pit was full of head-bobbing grooves, whilst SOPHIE’s debut LP Product was a gauntlet of frenetic bangers that similarly made you want to move.
But now, both artists have decided to sacrifice even their sense of groove. Have they overstepped the line and devolved into self-indulgent noodling? Or are they still masters of organised chaos?
Death Grips’ Year Of The Snitch was the first of the two albums that I listened to and the first thing that struck me was how little hip hop influence was left and how much more rock influence there is. In fact, you could argue Death Grips are pretty much a rock band at this point. Many of the tracks are accompanied by satisfying guitar riffs – ‘Black Paint’ might be one of Death Grip’s best tracks to date with a sludgy Melvins-like riff driving it along. Much of the percussion is live drumming rather than digital beats, courtesy of long-time member Zach Hill, further adding to the rock sound. As for MC Ride’s barked vocals, they’ve always seemed closer to hardcore punk chanting than rapping anyway, and here they’re more punky than ever.
Whilst there are still some rhythmic anthems such as driving opener ‘Death Grips is Online’ and poppy misfit ‘Streaky’, much of the album is messier and more chaotic than its predecessors. ‘The Horn Section’ is essentially a drum solo with some glitchy synths layered on top, whilst ‘Shitshow’ layers speedy yelling over blast beats. Along with its rock flavourings, much of it comes across like a prog rock record – especially carnivalesque ‘The Fear’.
The jilted rhythms are just another attempt by Death Grips to be as extreme and ‘noided’ as possible. Given the lyrics are so deliberately garbled and the sounds are so abrasive, there’s very little cohesion left to grip onto. Fortunately, Death Grips do seem to have compensated this with a little more humour, mocking how absurd they’ve become with ‘Shitshow’ and closing track ‘Disappointed’. And whilst the lyrics are still very much dark (many of the tracks have Satanic references and themes of death), there are less tritones and eerie sounds in their music, substituted with a more bouncy demented vibe. Repeat listens definitely make it more digestible – but I’m still having a hard time loving something that’s so grooveless.
Moving on to SOPHIE’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-insides, the producer has also taken steps to further reduce her accessibility. Much of her previous tracks have been combinations of noisy and cutesy such as ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Hard’, but now she’s divided the two sounds up. The songs are either bright, atmospheric tunes or bludgeoning bangers – only on closer ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ are the two allowed to meet (and the track title even seems to divide them into two parts).
SOPHIE’s dark and industrial persona is the one I love the most - singles ‘Ponyboy’ and ‘Faceshopping’ tap into this side. ‘Ponyboy’ is sex dungeon music with bass blasts that ring out like gunshots, whilst ‘Faceshopping’ covers the topic of materialism to the accompaniment of signature metallic screeches.
I’m not quite as big a fan of her softer side – ‘It’s Okay To Cry’ serves as a soppy poppy opener that does nothing for me. Other than being a bit mushy, part of the reason these tracks don’t work for me is that SOPHIE has stripped away most of the percussion. She’s done this on a previous song ‘Just Like You Never Said Goodbye’, but now multiple songs have no percussion, seemingly building up without a drop, leading them to feel almost unfinished. Obviously, this is a deliberate choice to do away with the EDM cliché of a ‘drop’ and push electronic music forward, but it makes a song like ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’ feel like a load of unresolved tension. ‘Pretending’ gets away with it as it’s pretty much a time-stretched ambient track (and a thrilling one at that), but ‘It’s Okay To Cry Doesn’t’. Even harder track ‘Not Okay’ is sorely missing some cymbals and snares (along with being criminally short).
Of course, perhaps the aim of having less percussion and less danceabilty is to simply to reinforce the feeling of cold artificiality that SOPHIE seems to be celebrating all over this album. Not only are much of the track titles direct references to artificiality (e.g. ‘Pretending’, ‘Immaterial’ and ‘Whole New World/Pretend New World’), but the lyrics are also centred around themes of fakeness such as the clever materialistic wordplay on ‘Faceshopping’ or the identity crisis that is 'Immaterial'. 'It's Not Okay' and 'It's Okay To Cry' could be references to faking emotions. There's even the question of SOPHIE's gender - given that she is a transgender artist, perhaps she's also alluding to the artificiality of identity in this respect. And of course there's the music itself, built from scratch out of waveforms rather than using preset sounds to sound as plastic as possible. Perhaps this time around she decided percussion was too artificial to have its place in this album. Something that is danceable is too human.
As on Death Grips’ Year of the Snitch, a lack of groove is also a deliberate choice to push sonic boundaries. From an objective standpoint, both albums achieve what they set out to do – they’re adventurous and intentionally challenging. The likes of ‘Black Paint’ and ‘Ponyboy’ have enough immediacy to give these albums some replay value and I think both albums have great themes to pick apart, but only time will tell if I can grow to love the use of unrhythmic percussion – in the case of Death Grips it’s too busy, whilst in the case of SOPHIE it’s too bare.
Year of the Snitch by Death Grips ★★★☆☆
Oil of Every Pearl's Un-insides by SOPHIE ★★★☆☆