Friday, 27 June 2014

Review of 'New Eyes' by Clean Bandit

So you think electronic music is boring. You think it’s stupid. You think it’s repetitive. Well … it is repetitive’. Whose idea was it to open the album up with this quote? If people didn’t think electronic music was stupid they will now.

Aside from the silly quote, New Eyes sets off to a fairly solid start. There’s some immediate creativity on show – the opening track, ‘Mozart’s House’, merging 8-bit techno and classical strings. There are other creative touches on this album that certainly separate Clean Bandit from being just another UK electronic act. There are tropical steel drums and harmonised auto-tuned choruses and garage beats. Unfortunately, the thing that really holds Clean Bandit back is their attempt to be poppy. They stick to safe song structures and basic melodies in an attempt to be accessible but don’t really add much catchiness. Pretty much every track features a different vocalist, but none of them deliver a chorus that sticks in my head (except for Jess Glyne on ‘Rather be’ but that’s just because of excessive radio airplay). The lack of catchiness may just be because none of the vocalists have that memorable a voice, or they simply haven’t developed a unique vocal personality. For the most part, the singers are all unknowns – a generous move made by Clean Bandit but one that hasn’t paid off.

Another problem with Clean Bandit’s style is their implementation of retro sounds. There aren’t any dubstep wubs or over-the-top drops on this album. It’s all garage and early house. Sadly, what’s missing is the sense of nostalgia. Unlike Disclosure or Lone or Machinedrum, Clean Bandit have taken the sound of the early nineties, but left out all the soul. So you think electronic music is boring? Sadly, Clean bandit’s brand of electronic music kinda is.

There is a big part of me that wants to like this album, largely because it’s so positive and summery and I like positive, summery stuff. However, the music just feels a little characterless. The only track I really dig on this record is ‘Birch’, which ironically happens to be the most downbeat single on the album. Vocalist, Eliza Shaddad, feels like she’s actually putting her heart into it and the backing instrumental is pretty atmospheric.

Overall, 'Birch' is the only track I'd recommend from this album. The title track, 'New eyes', with its rapped verses from Lizzo and harmonised autotuned chorus is one that may also be worth a listen. Personally, I’m on the fence about the harmonised autotuned chorus though. Is it supposed to sound out of tune?


Friday, 20 June 2014

Why are heavy metal music videos recently so obsessed with LARPing?

LARPing (Live Action Role-Playing) is an activity in which a bunch of nerdy adults dress up in fantasy/historical costumes and fight mock battles against one another. I didn’t know it was a thing until sludge metal band, Red Fang, introduced it to me in their 2010 music video for ‘Prehistoric Dog’. Watch it below:

For some inexplicable reason this niche activity seems to have become the focus of several other metal music videos recently, the latest being Mastodon’s ‘High Road’. Is this purely an accidental trend? Are metal bands conspiring together to promote LARPing? Will LARPing become a future component of all heavy metal music videos? 

Protest the Hero pit Trekkies against Jedi Junkies.

Mastodon's brand new single. This one's even got a storyline and jeez it's pretty emotional.

Arthurian LARPing in quite possibly the worst/most hilarious music video I've ever seen. That scream at 2:15 is my favourite part. Do watch this video. It's genuine comedy gold.

Oh, wait this isn't even metal. Looks like LARPing is crossing musical boundaries. Which genre next - trap rap?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Review of 'Esoteric Warfare' by Mayhem

This is pure black metal for black metal purists. Mayhem don’t expect everyone to get this as demonstrated by the album title. ‘Esoteric’ means ‘intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.’ I had to Google that. Black metal expands one’s vocabulary!

Unfortunately, I’m not a purist. As much as I like the old skool stuff, I like a bit of modern experimentation too. Mayhem are stuck in the past. They’re not killing each other, making necklaces out of each other's skull fragments and burning churches like they were in the nineties – they’ve fortunately moved on from that – but musically they’re still relying on the same old tricks. The riffs are heinous, the drums are ferocious, the vocals are diversely demonic and sole remaining original member, Necrobutcher, still knows how to make that bass growl. It’s all deliciously evil, but just lacks a bit of novelty. This will appeal to a lot of fans but not me.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Review of 'Reality Testing' by Lone

Matt Cutler AKA Lone is a wizard and a godsend to electronic music. Using every production trick in the book, he specialises in creating the most warm, summery, feelgood instrumental landscapes audially conceivable.

Galaxy Garden, his last album, was a neon-coloured trip that mixed spacey, hypnotic synths and nostalgic rave sounds. Matt Cutler has stripped back his sound on this album. The music is more hip hop based using more basic thunking drum patterns and less busy instrumention. The glossy colours are more subdued this time around too, although each track is still likely to invoke shivers down the listener’s spine. Hell, Lone’s music is so spine-tinglingly beautiful you’ll slip a disc.

In a way, Galaxy Garden’s flaw was that it was almost too intense throughout. Too much of a good thing caused the listener to almost get numbed to the heavenly sounds by the end of the record. Reality Testing has a raw, simplistic feel to it and whilst the sounds are pure ecstasy throughout, they aren’t quite shoved in the listener’s face as brashly. The samples of city noises – car horns and distant voices - offer a classy, urban feel to the record. I was going to name off some of my favourite tracks at this point but damn, they’re all good, from the psychotropic piano on Aurora Northen Quarter to the energetic, jaunty bounce of Airglow Fires


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Review of 'Lazaretto' by Jack White

Okay, so there’s a little too much country on this album for my liking. Do all rock musicians have to go through this phase? Is it a rite of passage?

Unlike some artists out there, Jack White does manage to infuse the Nashville sound into his style, whilst keeping a level of creativity and excitement. His lyrics are a big help. They’re deep, sometimes a little too deep for a lazy listener like myself to bother decoding i.e. ‘birds of a feather may lay together/ but the ugliest one’s always under the gun’. It sounds cool and all but the preachy proverb nature of it turns me off wanting to deconstruct it and build my own interpretation. 

Other tracks like ‘Three Women’  - a deep purple-style rock ode to group sex – appeal much more to the meat-headed rock side of me. When this album rocks, it rocks. The title track ‘Lazaretto’ and the third to last track ‘That Black Bat Licorice’ stand out for me with their infectiously groovy riffs – the gain knob set to 11. 

This is definitely a record I’ll return to as there's definitely a sense of flair here, the album being his most genre diverse yet. With repeated listens I might get more patient with the lyrics and start getting more out of it. Right now, the whole experience feels pretty lukewarm. I just wish there was less country.



Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Review of 'Niggas on the moon' by Death Grips (Disc 1 of 'the powers that b')

So this isn’t officially an album. Its half an album that has been deliberately leaked, disc 1 of what will be a double album from experimental hip hop group, Death Grips.

There’s not much I can say about this group other than that they’re fucking out there, constantly pushing musical boundaries, doing things that no other musician has tried before. My review of their last album Government Plates should be more insightful.

This new half-album-thingy is entitled ‘Niggas on the moon’ and will be disc 1 of Death Grips’ upcoming album ‘the powers that b’. This is different to anything death grips have ever done before for a variety of reasons:
  1.  It has Bjork on it. Bjork is all over this CD. Her vocals are literally on every track.
  2.  MC Ride doesn’t seem to be as angry – he’s not screaming as much on this album as on previous releases
  3.  The instrumentals are less consistent, less clean, less predictable. They’re constantly changing in rhythm and tempo and they seem busier overall
  4. Why am I numbering this list?

First time I listened to this, I wasn’t sure whether I liked it. I’m still not sure if I like it or not and so there won’t be a star rating at the end of this review (it’s only half the album anyway and I’ll give it a proper review once the whole thing drops).

 Off the bat, I really liked the glitchy Bjork vocals. They give off a unique sound I’ve never heard before. I also like the fact that MC Ride shouts less, as his lyrics are clearer as a result. Romantically named tracks ‘Have a sad cum’ and ‘Fuck me out’ get more sexual than anything Death Grips have previously released, which is interesting. What I’m finding hard to get into is the ever-changing rhythms and busy instrumentals. There’s a sense of groove and cohesion that’s missing – something that really hooked me to Death Grips in the beginning with tracks like ‘Takyon’ and ‘Guillotine’. Indeed, this messiness does help to create that disorientating, ‘noided’ feel that Death Grips are all about – but it also makes the whole thing less infectious and less catchy than previous releases.

Saying that, the more and more I listen to the album, the more and more I like it (I’ve only listened to it three times through so there’s still room for growth).

Check out ‘Niggas on the moon’ down below, if you haven’t already. Leave a comment, tell me what you thought about this semi-record-thingymajig and have a nice day :)

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Review of 'Animal Ambition' by 50 Cent

I misread the title of this album as ‘animal abortion’ the first time it was announced. I’ve been listening to too much death metal!

 ...Anyway, 50 cent. Who is he? It’s been a while since Fiddy’s last release but anyone who knows anything about hip hop will be familiar with the bulletproof business tycoon and noughties rapper and his much played hits ‘In Da Club’ and ‘Candy Shop’.

Personally, I’ve always found 50 Cent pretty mediocre. He’s definitely real (he used to be a genuine crack-dealing gangster) and I admire that about him, but his unenthusiastic delivery and run-of-the-mill lyrical content have never grabbed me. This album contains some catchy hooks here and there that I like (‘Pilot’ and ‘Hustler’), and Fiddy’s flow is always on point. There are definitely some fun moments on this album. Tracks like the self-titled ‘Animal Ambition’ stick out with its growl chorus and funky instrumental. Sadly, a lot of the other tracks are otherwise pretty generic and the guest emcees don’t offer much (I can’t stand Jadakiss’s verse on 'Irregular Heartbeat'). Also, the tracks that try to be dance floor fillers simply aren’t punchy enough for today’s standards. 'Twisted' is a nice track but it doesn’t have the energy to be blasted in a club. Props to 50 Cent for not jumping on the trap rap bandwagon though and keeping his style.

Animal Ambition is definitely an album that I can jam with and it had my head bobbing along throughout but there’s nothing outstanding about it. Fiddy fans should still check it out. Also, its worth noting that the rapper has another album coming out this September, so if you like this record you can expect more in a few months! 


Friday, 6 June 2014

Review of 'Clppng' by Clipping

Cali group, Clipping, are an experimental hip hop act with elements of industrial noise and Death-Grips-style abrasiveness thrown in. Unlike Death Grips, their emcee, Daveed Diggs, takes a traditional, clean style of rapping (i.e. no angry shouty hobo vocals). The crazy intensity and experimentation is mainly in the beats. Highlights include the minimalistically ambient track ‘Dream’, which rolls straight into the track ‘Get up’ literally featuring an alarm clock bleep as an instrumental. Then there’s the second track, ‘Body and Blood’, which has a menacing industrial Gesafflestein vibe to it. The beats are less noisy than on Clipping’s debut, Midcity, which was too harsh for me in most parts. They feel more creative and varied this time round.

Worth noting even more than the instrumentation is Daveed Diggs’ delivery. Although by no means as experimental as the beats, there are still some extremely original ideas being thrown around such as the flows on ‘Story 2’ that constantly keep morphing to match the ever-changing timing of the beat. The eery whispered chorus on ‘Dream’ also sticks out. Who whispers a chorus? Most impressive however is the speed and precision that Daveed Diggs pulls out on this record. If the first track of Midcity didn’t already wow you, then the lightning speed of this album’s ‘intro’ track certainly will.

There are moments on here that I’m not completely down with. ‘Tonight’ featuring Gangsta Boo contains an auto-tuned chorus. I already expressed my views on Auto-tune in my review of Future’s lastest album ‘Honest’. To put things mildly, I’m not a fan. The closing track – a noisy mish-mash of excerpts from the album cut and clipped together – also drags on a little too long for my liking. It’s a creative touch but isn’t pleasant on the ear and could be made more succinct.

With these issues in mind, I shouldn’t really give the album a full score. However, part of me is so impressed by the originality of this record that I feel I can overlook these two moments. Clppng might just be the most original album I hear this year! Not only does it challenge my perceptions of music, it also feels a suitable length, showcases impressing musical talent both in production and rapping ability and succeeds in invoking a whirlwind of emotions in me – the most important being suspense. The first time I heard this record was at 4am and it was such a surreal, mindblowing experience I thought I’d dreamt it the next morning. Repeated listens keep offering me new insights (I forgot to mention that the lyrics here are pretty inventive too) showing that this album also has playback value. Basically, in a nutshell, this album is straight up awesome.



Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Review of "Ghost Stories" by Coldplay

Coldplay have always had a reputation for being wishy-washy and a little depressing. However, like Radiohead, there’s no denying that the band clearly have their own identifiable sound. Never has this been clearer than on Ghost Stories which takes their traditional ethereal, melodic quality and romps it up to new heard levels. Maybe I’ve just been listening to too much angry music recently, but this album’s breezy mix of lofty synths, deep bass and electronic drum beats made for a truly hypnotic listen. The lyrics on Ghost Stories are also the most emotional I’ve heard from the band. Chris Martin’s breakup with Gwyneth Paltrow has made for an album of heartbreak. He doesn’t offer much new advice on the done-to-death subject matter, but he gets personal enough for us to share his pain.

Indeed, there isn’t much flair or punch to this album. The Avicii-aided ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ tries to take things more up-tempo only to sound more radio-friendly and the most dull track, ‘O’, finishes off the record leaving the whole experience feeling rather meagre. Although their most emotional and their most consistent sounding record, Ghost Stories also winds up being their least musically adventurous and yet somehow also their least poppy record. It’s just very average.