Saturday, 22 March 2014

Review of "Recess" by Skrillex

After rising to fame on the back of singles and EPs, the most hated man in dubstep has finally got round to producing his first full-length. What can be expected from this album? Well, it’s Skrillex, which means lots and lots of impressively irritating electronic noises.

The opening track “All is Fair in Love and Brostep” kicks the album off with a slice of signature Skrillex – a salvo of shrill, sonic squeals (too much alliteration?). I was half-expecting the album to keep following this formula, but the producer shows that he has a multitude of noises to offer. There are squeaky fart synths such as on the track “Stranger” and robotic poodle barks on the track “Try it out”. Then there’s the track “Doompy Poomp”. I don’t know what’s going on here but it sure isn’t pleasant on the ear.

Obviously, Skrillex doesn’t set out to create warm, ambient landscapes. His music is designed for thrill-seekers. Its endorphin-releasing, speaker-testing noise for drunk people who can’t dance and rebellious teens who want to alienate their parents.

And I’d be content with this it if it wasn’t for the fact that this album is so unfocused. Yes, as diverse and creative as the various sounds are on this album, none of the tracks feel all that connected or fleshed out. He’s thrown all his ideas on the canvas willy-nilly without any care for the overall picture and what’s left is a half-arsed mess. I expected something cleaner from the man who is secretly a mop.

Skrillex in both forms

That wasn’t very nice Alasdair. Skrillex isn’t a mop, he’s a human being. Indeed, I’ve heard he’s one of the nicest and most genuine people in the music industry that you're likely to meet and so I feel almost bad for writing this negative review, but the truth is this album isn’t very good. Any record with a track called “Doompy Poomp” on it is bound to be garbage. Even the guests can’t salvage most of the record. Chance the Rapper lays down an embarrassingly poor verse on “Coast is Clear” and the Ragga Twins offer some of the most forgettable vocals in the history of mankind. Overall, Recess is an annoying ambling incohesive muddle that’s likely to sell thousands of copies because, well, its Skrillex. The greatest compliment I can give this album is that it’s not nearly as awful as that Jezebels record I listened to the other week (Review here).  


Saturday, 15 March 2014

Review of "Piñata" by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

Who’s Freddie Gibbs? Hell, I don’t know. I listened to this album for beat extraordinaire, Madlib. Transporting the listener back to the birth of hip hop, Pinata offers a backdrop of choppy, jazz samples that conjure up images of the seventies. It’s a style of beat that is uniquely Madlib’s – unoriginal to his fans perhaps, but super-original in comparison to every other beatsmith around. The only form of unoriginality on this album comes in the form of Freddie Gibbs. Who’s Freddie Gibbs? I’ve told you already, I don’t know. Hang on a moment whilst I do some research... #wikipedia

Freddie Gibbs grew up in Gary, Indiana. In 2006 he moved to California, after signing up with Interscope records. He’s released five EPs, three LPs and a ton of mixtapes. Some of his music was featured on the Grand Theft Auto V in-game radio.

Grand Theft Auto V

This was my first exposure to Freddie Gibbs. He hasn't blown me away, although there's no denying he has talent. He's adept in his flow and ability to rhyme and his lyrics show a refreshing degree of realism that's rare in the rap game nowadays. Still, I can’t help but feel his subject matter, as genuine as it is, is a bit dull. His tone of delivery isn’t very original either. Guest emcees such as Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt and Raekwon showcase this – their individual and unique style of spitting making his voice comparably bland.

Gibbs could do with finding his own motif. He should try throwing in some more tongue-in-cheek singing. His rendition of TLC’s “Waterfalls” at the end of the track “Robes” is hilarious.


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Review of "Oxymoron" by Schoolboy Q

Sell that fix, throw it cross the map/push my penis in between her lap/put my semen all down her throat/til’ Tito kilos come off that boat”. Yeah, Schoolboy Q ain’t no William Blake. This record is straightforward, boom-bap gangsta rap for blowing out Cadillac speakers. Granted, not all the tracks are aggro, thug-life trap. There’s a definite diversity to the beats demonstrated by some of the slower numbers such as the blazeworthy “Collard Greens” featuring Kendrick Lamar. There’s even an unexpected love track on here, “Studio”.

 However, despite its deviancies into prettiness, the tough guy image is where Schoolboy Q clearly feels at home. Of all the rappers signed up to Top Dawg Entertainment, Schoolboy Q has the meanest and ugliest delivery. He revels in gritty, gangster imagery and he knows how to lay down a head-bopping hook. Unfortunately, there isn’t much novelty to his subject matter.

 Oxymoron’s a fun record for the most part, with some tracks that I’m sure to return to (“Collard Greens”, “Hoover Street”, “Break the Bank”) but overall it just isn’t my jam. All the guttural “yawk, yawk!” screams and penis references are silly and just make me blush. I can’t play this stuff loud. What would my neighbours think? What would my parents think? I need poetry and introspection. Call me a nerd. That’s just how I roll.


Sunday, 9 March 2014

Review of "St Vincent" by St. Vincent

St. Vincent is a Caribbean island, the largest island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is a major exporter of bananas and is known for sporting both white AND black beaches. Its multiracial sands are not the only reason you should visit St. Vincent this summer. Do you like turtles? Why not try scuba diving in the island’s lush, blue waters?

This is a turtle

St. Vincent is also the fourth self-titled studio album by indie pop musician and Theremin player, St. Vincent. I understand some of you may be more interested in this St. Vincent rather than the Caribbean Island, which is perfectly reasonable since this is a music blog.

Below is a music video, which you can choose to watch if you so desire. Alternatively, you can choose to ignore it. It’s a free world.

Annie Erin Clarke (AKA St. Vincent) has always been a bit left-field - her lyrics consistently quirky, her multi-instrumentalist talents never going to waste. This time she’s decided to really push the boat out musically. The oom-pa-pa trumpets and parping bass in the track included above demonstrate this. Her new sound is a strange and jarring musical experience that might leave an odd taste in some people’s ears. However, the groove is undeniable and Annie’s lyrics, seemingly nonsensical at first, swiftly reveal a deeper context that is fun to decipher.

What, for example, does she mean by snorting a piece of the Berlin wall? Lines like these conjure up absurdly entertaining imagery, many employing peculiar juxtapositions “fake knife, fake ketchup” (so the knife is fake, but the ketchup is actually blood?). Most lyrically bizarre of all however has to be the ballad “I prefer your love” in which she declares “I prefer your love to Jesus”. An anti-prayer song it seems, she is declaring her love for her mother’s advice over that of religious guidance.

Sung emotively over odd Bjork-like mishmashes of instrumentation with an infectiousness and repetition of the likes of Annie Lennox, the lyrics have an abstract feel that is also enjoyably poppy in tone. The freakish circus of sounds never loses its sense of rhythm and songs are kept to a simple and modest four-minute length. In essence, St Vincent is pure, unadulterated art pop. Forget Lady Gaga’s cannibalisation of the term. This is the real deal. 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Review of "G.I.R.L." by Pharrell Williams

G.I.R.L is ten tracks of smile-inducing, breezy, funk-pop and doesn’t try to be anything more. If you’re looking for jazz flute solos, crazy time signatures and lyrics as deep as Atlantis then look elsewhere. The only experimental moment on this album is the almost-eight-minute “Lost Queen”, which is really just two songs lumped together under the same track title with some ambient wave noises thrown in the middle.

This lack of pretentiousness is what gives G.I.R.L its charm. There are also a lot of big names on this record to gawp at: Daft Punk, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake. This isn’t much of a surprise coming from Pharrell. Over the course of his career, the N.E.R.D-rapper-turned-r&b-singer-and-producer has managed to work with every musician in the known universe (probably musicians in unknown universes too). Daft Punk, Robin Thicke, Azealia Banks, 2 Chainz, Cee-lo Green, Mike Posner, Nelly, Hans Zimmer and Gary Glitter are just a handful of the artists he worked with last year alone. Okay, so I made up the bit about Gary Glitter. The point is, Pharrell has connections.

It was a daring choice to include Miley Cyrus on this album, considering how marmite a musician she is. She stars on the track “Come Get it Bae” which is an ode to the British aerospace company.

BAE = British Aerospace Engineering (that's what 'bae' means right?)

Now, as some of you may know, I’m a huge fan of Miley. You only need to read my review of Bangerz to realise that (read here). Understandably, some listeners will see her presence on this album as a pitfall. I don’t see it as a pitfall. There are far greater flaws with this album.

Yes, that’s right, I think this album sadly has flaws. This will ruffle a few people’s feathers, but I think the production is an issue on G.I.R.L. Everything is a little too clean for my liking. I’m well aware of the reputation Pharrell has as a master producer, and, yes, he knows how to polish up sounds and make them crisp. However, keeping the album sounding human is important, and some of instruments have been so overproduced on this record that they might as well all have been programmed by computers.

The lyrics also get a little too dumb in places – even by pop standards. There are corny lines littered throughout this record and whilst the majority of the tracks stay classy, even Pharrell can’t make the image of a “gushing” pussy sound smooth.

Saying that, this album’s overarching positive aura cannot be ignored. If you’re feeling down in the dumps and you want something cheap and cheerful to lift your spirits, this album is the perfect prescription. “Happy” is, in my opinion, this album’s highlight and one of the best pop singles to hit the radio in months.

The appeal of this record can also be enjoyed by multiple generations. The album's got a definite retro funky flair but is equally modern through its use of urban slang and pop culture references and use of current guest stars.