Monday, 30 December 2013

Review of "Beyoncé" by Beyoncé


Well done Beyoncé for becoming a mother, but did little baby Ivy Blue really need to make a vocal contribution on the final track? Did we really need another duet between you and your darling husband, Jay-Z, to show us how “Drunk in Love” the two of you are? Did I really just hear you utter the line “Can you lick my skittles?” on the track “Blow”?

This latest album by Beyoncé (entitled Beyoncé) is certainly not short of corny moments. However, to call it a bad album would certainly be an insult. The rock-loving, pop-hating part of me that values its masculinity wanted to dislike this album. Beyoncé writes songs about women ruling the world and all that other stuff that men fear. Perhaps it was the lack of bra-burning and the greater focus on sexiness that made this album largely enjoyable to me. Maybe it was the fact that musically, this album was actually pretty damn decent.

The pop shackles have been broken and this new album sees Beyoncé taking a freer, less commercial approach to music, much like Lady Gaga did on her recent release, Artpop. Tracks such as Haunted break the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus song structure, whilst incorporating a wide array of R&b, hip hop and electronic instrumentals. Unlike Artpop, however this record contains charm. Lyrically, each track is introspective and meaningful. Although the songs lack a certain catchiness, they make up for it by employing an infectiously positive aura that makes it impossible not to feel proud of Beyoncé’s life achievements and proud to be alive.

It’s a sugary album, sometimes sickeningly sugary but overall gratifying. 


TRACK TASTER:


Friday, 20 December 2013

Review of "Because the Internet" by Childish Gambino


Childish Gambino is the hip hop stage name used by American actor, writer and comedian, Donald Glover. Not to be confused with Lethal Weapon actor, Danny Glover.

“Rap music? I’m too old for that shit.”
There seems to some confusion over whether Childish Gambino is a character devised by Glover or just a guise to conceal the celebrity’s true self. I will admit, it’s hard to connect with Gambino’s lyrics when you’re not sure how “real” he is. This is how I see it: Actor, Donald Glover (not to be confused with Danny Glover), has become a rapper taking on the stage name Childish Gambino, in which he plays the persona of a rich kid who is in turn pretending to be a kid from the ghetto. Have I got that right? Probably not.

Let’s put all identity issues aside and focus on the music, because the music’s the important part. This second album sees Glover getting a little less self-deprecating, overall creating a more fun listening experience. The lyrical theme throughout the record seems to be “the internet”, as the title “because the internet” suggests, with Glover filling each track with plenty of witty computer-related references and wordplay. Glover’s humorous and intelligent ability to play with language is just one of multiple talents. He raps like a true pro and even has a pretty sweet singing voice, altogether not too dissimilar in tone to that of Frank Ocean.

The smorgasbord of different flavoured beats is without a doubt one of the album’s greatest highlights. From the jazzy guitar arpeggios on “Shadows” to the bouncy synth chords on”3005” to the loopy, murky bassline on “No Exit”, the album stays captivating. It can get almost irritating how often Glover interrupts the flow of his verses and instrumentals in order to chuck in a quick quip, a obscure sound or a choppy cut. At the same time the jerky edits do add a certain aesthetic style to the album. Gambino needs his own style, as at times the album can feel all a bit messy, as if Glover is trying to throw too many ideas into the mix and they won’t all fit without spilling over the sides.


TRACK TASTER:

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Review of "Aleph" by Gesaffelstein


Aleph is a cold and dark techno journey through futuristic hell. The Dr Frankenstein behind this brilliantly evil creation is a Frenchman named Mike Lévy (aka Gesaffelstein (I hope I've spelt that correctly (lots of brackets!!!))). He produced two tracks on Kanye West’s Yeezus. It seems I can’t write a review nowadays without Kanye’s name making an impromptu appearance.
 
Yo Gestaplestein, i'm really happy for you and i'mma let you finish but Yeezus was the best album of ALL TIME!
I first discovered Gewafflestein after being exposed to his bass-heavy monster of a track, “Pursuit”. The impressive music video with its slow, suspenseful zoom-out shots might just be my favourite music video of the year. However, it’s the menacing nature of the music that helps the video to be as powerful as it is. I’m used to metal bands like Meshuggah and Rammstein chugging out such aggressive melodies. The ability to create such melodies electronically is clearly Gelatospleen’s signature.




Every beat on Aleph feels as if it were punched out on an assembly line in some dimly-lit dystopian factory. Even the softer tracks such as “Nameless” and “Values” with their brooding instrumental build ups still seem to carry a largely robotic pulse. Vocalist, Chloe Renault, offers spoken word soliloquies on two of the tracks, her lyrics made up of abstract imagery. Combined with her strange accent (what is that? Parisienne-American?) it has quite a disorientating effect.

The album is an intense listen – perhaps a little too intense as a whole. All the tracks carry good ideas, but some of these ideas could be trimmed down into two-minute teasers in order to make the entire album more digestible in one listen. Brevity is the soul of wit. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

My Top 20 Favourite Albums of 2013

The year is coming to an end and its time to have a look back at 2013's greatest albums. Here are 20 of my personal favourites.

20 – 10

20. Incitare – Volto!

Prog rock/jazz fusion album, featuring Danny Carey - the drummer from Prog metal band, Tool. Its pretentious, instrumental show-offery but I love it nonetheless.
Favourite tracks: “Drumbeaux”, “Tocino”

19. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 – Eminem

Shady’s back, bringing with him hyper-speed flows and brilliantly entertaining wordplay. The legend reaffirms his position as king of rap - or should I say, “rap god”.
Favourite tracks: “Love Game (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”, “Evil Twin”


18. Drenge – Drenge

This is angst-ridden, moody, British grunge. I like my rock n roll to be rock n roll and this holds back no punches, teeming with raw riffs to smash up your bedroom to and utterly unromantic track titles like “People in Love Make me Feel Yuck” and “I Want to Break you in Half”.
Favourite tracks: “Bloodsports”, “Let’s Pretend”

17. Abandon All Life – Nails

Only 17 minutes in length, Abandon All Life makes up for its brevity by cramming its 17 minutes with some of the heaviest, loudest, most brutal grindcore ever created. A face-melting, bone-crushing thrill ride that will probably just sound like plain, old noise to most sane people.
Favourite tracks: “God’s Cold Hands”, “Suum Cuique”

16. The Night’s Gambit – Ka

Thinking man’s hip hop. Ka delivers some truly poetic wordplay over dark yet subtle beats. Definitely give the last track, "Off the Record", a gander if you’re a hip hop fan. It’s an entire song made up of famous rap album titles.
Favourite tracks: “Jungle”, “Off the Record”

15. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

If you haven’t heard of Daft Punk, JUMP OFF A CLIFF!!!! (I'm kidding, but honestly...) The French house music giants have been stealing the radio airwaves this year, reviving disco music. A great album to chill and unwind to and a fantastic tribute to the roots of electronic music.
Favourite tracks: “Doin ‘ it right (feat Panda Bear)”, “Contact”

14. Anything in Return – Toro y Moi

Chillwave - the happy-medium between house music and lounge music - is a genre that Toro y Moi is the master of. The album makes for perfect, soothing background music with enough of a subtle groove to get the head bobbing.
Favourite tracks: “Harm in Change”, “Say That”

13. Target Earth – Voivod

Prog/thrash metal full of strange and dissonant chords and riffs that make me want to scrunch up my face like I’m eating sour sweets. Despite losing lead guitarist, Piggy, the band have managed to maintain their signature sound and honour his memory.
Favourite tracks: “Target Earth”, “Mechanical Mind”

12. Overgrown – James Blake

Ethereal, soft, electronic r&b with some beautifully tortured vocals from James Blake, drenched in ghostly reverb.
Favourite tracks: “Overgrown”, “Retrograde”






11. Government Plates – Death Grips

As forward-thinking as ever, Death Grips continue to pump out their brand of experimental, hyper-aggressive hip hop, this time making the instrumentation the emphasis. The beats are more "noided" than ever.
Favourite tracks: “Anne Bonny”, “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)”


10 – 1

10. Like Clockwork… - Queens of the Stone Age

Stoner rock band, QOTSA, get a little gloomier and less aggressive, delivering what might be their best album yet in my opinion. No track feels redundant and Josh Homme really plays with his vocal range.
Favourite tracks: “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”, “Kalopsia”, “I Appear Missing”

9. The Next Day – David Bowie

Whoever said getting older makes you less creative was wrong. At 66, Bowie shows he’s still full of musical ideas. He merges together every style he’s ever experimented with, topping it off with newly edgy lyrics and a uniquely hazy production style. Ignore the silly album cover.
Favourite tracks: “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, “If You Can See Me”, “Heat”
8. Wolf – Tyler the Creator

The Odd Future, cockroach-eating rapper is still as obnoxious as ever but I think you’d be equally obnoxious to ignore his talent. Two of the tracks see him really getting fairly emotional and there’s none of the OTT “Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School” shock value of Goblin. His jazzy, melancholy beats are brilliant too. I'm slowly becoming a Tyler fanboy.
Favourite tracks: “Jamba”, “Answer”, “Tamale”

7. Nostalgic 64 – Denzel Curry

Floridian new-kid-on-the-block rapper plays with hard-hitting trap and cloud-rap beats, spitting some truly gritty bars. “Your mama ain’t shit, your daddy ain’t shit, and then you realise that life is a bitch”. Pretty dismal but a refreshing break from all the glorified gangsta arrogance of other current hip hop artists.
Favourite tracks: “Parents”, “N64”, “Denny Cascade”

6. MBV – My Bloody Valentine

This is the shoegaze rock band’s first album in 21 years (that’s my entire lifetime!). Loud and distorted guitars play beautiful melodies creating a dreamlike state that no other band can imitate. Listening to this, I imagine myself stood on a clifftop, the music echoing at me across the sea from God’s 300ft speakers. These dudes overwhelm me.
Favourite tracks: “Only Tomorrow”, “Who Sees You”, “Wonder 2”

5. The Terror – The Flaming Lips

Hands down, the trippiest, goddamn thing I’ve ever heard! The album lives up to its name, The Terror, playing out like a nightmare. Psychadelic rock group, The Flaming Lips, are known for their avante garde tendencies, but this is on a separate plain of reality.
Favourite tracks: “Look… the Sun is Rising”, “Be Free, a Way”, “You Lust”
4. Altered State – Tesseract

Tesseract take the dissonant prog metal style of “djent” and manage to make it so melodic, that at times it feels almost ambient. The band do away with cookie monster vocals, employing new vocalist Ashe O’Hara. His clean, high register vocals expertly contrast the bassy, highly distorted guitar riffage. Metal album of the year.
Favourite tracks: “Nocturne”, “Eclipse”, “Singularity”


3. Settle – Disclosure


Disclosure revive the feelgood factor of 90s house and garage music, giving it modern production, to create some awesome, summery, glossy, energetic, babymaking music. The synth chords are smooth and sweet as hot chocolate and the vocal contributions are all flawless.
Favourite tracks: “When a Fire Starts to Burn”, “White Noise feat. AlunaGeorge”, “Voices feat. Sasha Keable”

2. The Electric Lady – Janelle Monae


Dizzying in its sheer variety, Janelle has managed to make an r&b odyssey that plays out like a movie, interspersed with orchestral interludes, comical robot radio station skits, epic guitar solos, rapped verses and whatever else she can throw at the listener. It’s a truly impressive record, due to Janelle’s divine ability to replicate pretty much every r&b vocal style out there, and it’s so fast paced that it never grows dull.
Favourite tracks: “Electric Lady”, “Dance Apocalyptic”, “Ghetto Woman”

1. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (MY ALBUM OF THE YEAR!)


This hip hop masterpiece is the work of El-P and Killer Mike, two veteran underground rappers who have decided to team up for double-awesomeness. The flows on this thing are insane, the lyrical quips are witty and the beats are massive. There are no money-making gimmicks or attempts to be preachy. The album stays fun throughout. The duo have already suggested doing more albums together in the future under the same name. I’m psyched to hear more from them!
Favourite tracks: “Banana Clipper feat. Big Boi”, “Ddfn”, “Sea Legs”

WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR?

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

13 - Black Sabbath
Comedown Machine - The Strokes
Doris - Earl Sweatshirt
One of Us is the Killer - The Dillinger Escape Plan
Acid Rap - Chance the Rapper
Vexovoid - Portal
Vapor City - Machinedrum
Ed Rec, Vol. X - EdBanger Records (Various Artists)