Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Review of 'Cheek to Cheek' by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga


Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga prove an unlikely but remarkable pairing on this selection of jazz standards and covers set to some fantastic big band instrumentation. Aged 88, this is an impressive vocal performance from jazz veteran Bennett but an even more impressive performance from Gaga, a girl whose a novice in comparison but showcases herself to be just as convincing a jazz singer, especially on the tracks ‘Nature Boy’ and ‘Lush Life’. Her last record, Artpop, showed signs that she might be taking baby steps away from the catchy rah-rah-rah roma-mama pop bangers, but I didn’t think she’d have the guts to challenge her fans and abandon pop altogether for Sinatra-style swing, let alone pull it off like a pro. This was a real pleasant surprise of an album that has me already growing curious as to what can we expect next from Gaga. Opera? Inuit throat singing? Death metal? 

TRACK TASTER:


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Review of 'Unknown Memory' by Yung Lean


Meet Yung Lean. He’s a white kid from Sweden whose musical style has been described as ‘sad rap’.



This is the dude’s debut full-length album. There are a million and one things wrong with this album but I don’t want to get carried away just yet with the negatives. Let’s take a moment first to examine what’s good about this record. Every cloud has a silver lining.

First thing’s first, Yung Lean is Swedish and raps in English. This is impressive. I wouldn’t be able to rap in a second language. I can’t even rap in English.

Secondly, Yung Lean definitely showcases his own style of rapping on this album. He delivers his rhymes more monotonously than any other rapper, more monotonously than most history teachers are capable of.

But that’s enough about history teachers, enough compliments for one day. Let’s discuss what makes this album suck.

The truth is Yung Lean’s ‘sad rap’ style of spitting is so dull, I felt like I was listening to paint dry. There’s nothing sad, or remotely emotional about it. He just comes across as apathetic and uninterested. Shaky auto-tune is used to spice his voice up on some tracks, but it doesn’t work. Yung Lean’s cadence seems to counter-act auto-tune, making his voice sound even more out of pitch than it was before. His flow has no rhythm and his lyrics are meanwhile garbage. ‘Smoking green like a cactus’. Honestly, what?

Listening to Yung Lean is like listening to a serious version of Lil B or Riff Raff. There's an element of trolling going on here, but its not done with any wit or conviction. I was cheering when Travis Scott turned up with a verse. It was refreshing to hear someone rapping with energy, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even like Travis Scott all that much.

So, yeah, I really don’t get the appeal of this dude. I can only imagine it’s the instrumentation that people are listening to him for. There’s a lush, moody vibe to all the beats and some really atmospheric moments that remind me of New Zealand dubtep duo, Mt. Eden. Most of these beats grow slightly stale, but they have an initial wow factor that may be enough to attract some fans. For me, this glitzy production isn’t enough to make up for the horrifically bad vocals constantly groaning away in the forefront. You can’t polish a turd, for a lack of a more polite saying. Sorry Yung Lean. Don’t expect me at any of your gigs.

TRACK TASTER:

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 24/09/2014: Run the Jewels, Jessie Ware, Lil Dicky and more...


I’ve been listening to some more music on my gramophone this week and here are my findings. Enjoy :) You can check out last week’s track reviews here.

THE BEST


'Oh My Darling, Don’t Cry' - Run the Jewels


Oh my! Get a straightjacket on this beat, because it’s insaaaane! This band released my album of the year in 2013 and, hearing this single, I’m getting pretty psyched for their next release scheduled to drop in late October. The acrobatic flows from El-P and Killer Mike here are amazing and I can’t get enough of the instrumental. The beat change at the end is so intense!

'Emitter' - Gulf


This hazy indie breakup anthem is so beautiful you can taste the nostalgia. Those sunny reverb-soaked guitars, the groovy bass and the dude’s voice almost have a New Romantic feel that I’m digging. Apparently, this band are still yet to play live, so it will be interesting to see whether they can replicate this sound outside the studio.

'Kind of … Sometimes … Maybe' - Jessie Ware


UK singer, Jessie Ware, romps up the sexiness on this new slow-grinding pop single. I haven’t been too enamoured by her previous material but this track offers some serious feels.

'Lemme Freak' - Lil Dicky


The video helps a lot with this song, a comedy hip hop track that tells the story of one guy’s quest to ‘freak’ - I’ll let you work out what that means ;) . I’m not sure if the message of this track is to keep being persistent or whether it’s just a satire of men’s sexual frustration. Whatever the case, it had me entertained. “Look, I just turned off The Departed for a movie about a bee”

THE WORST


'Pull it to the Side' - XO Man


I struggled to find bad tracks this week, until I came across this new club grime song by curly-moustached, 7ft tall UK rapper, XO Man. The beat’s alright, but the lyrics … ‘Can I make your body shake like a rattlesnake?/so I made your body shake with my rattlesnake’. It’s the dumbest innuendo I’ve heard and way too similar to the hook on Nicki Minaj’s latest single: ‘my Anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns hun’. Honestly, why the snake fetish in hip hop all of a sudden? And why hasn’t DJ Cobra cashed in yet?

Lullaby – Professor Green ft. Tori Kelly



The chick does a good job with the chorus but then Professor Green comes in and lays down some dull verses that had me falling asleep. I suppose I shouldn’t complain given the track is called ‘Lullaby’. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Review of 'This is all Yours' by alt-J


This is all Yours kicks off with some choppy, octave jumping ‘la-la-la’ harmonies. It then dives into some brief singing and pounding, sharp drums. This sets the scene for the unique indie-folk-electronic sound that is alt-j.

Each track on this record takes the listener on an unpredictable sonic journey. Verses and choruses are non-existent and percussion is sparse, consisting of a fickle mixture of acoustic and electronic drums. Accompanying are folky guitars and pianos and a wide array of odd eccentricities, some of which are pretty daring and would usually be dismissed as uncool and off-limits by most sane bands. I’m talking about the recorders on ‘Garden of England’, the Miley Cyrus feature on ‘Hunger of the Pine’ and the stock DJ sample sounds on ‘The Gospel of John Hunt’ that used to be on my old Yamaha keyboard.

Yes, Miley Cyrus is on this album! Like, wtf???

All these odd additions shouldn't work in the context of this album and yet they do. Maybe you could call this album unfocused in parts, but each track makes sure it fits in some characteristic alt-j moments to keep things cohesive. The album’s a mess but it’s a controlled mess held together by several overarching themes and motifs.

One of these easily identifiable themes is the constant references to ‘Nara’, a place mentioned in three of the track titles: ‘Arrival in Nara’, ‘Nara’ and ‘Leaving Nara’. Nara is a Japanese city that I’m guessing the band members have visited (well, I don’t know why else they’d keep mentioning it). There may be a Nara-related story going on in the lyrics, although I haven’t been able to make out much of it so far. The heavy use of reverb, the sound mixing and Newman’s unusual vocal tone all make the lyrics pretty tricky to decipher in places, which gets annoying, considering the few lyrics that can be interpreted sound quite interesting. ‘Turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet’ is one of the fantastically grotesque similes featured on ‘Every Little Freckle’, one that I’m still trying to get my head round.

Bizarre and abstract lyrics like this are something I look for in indie music. It shows the band have a sense of humour. Were all the lyrics serious, an album like this could risk coming across as a little pretentious, with its recorders and stock Yamaha samples. There are a lot of crazy arty-farty indie groups out there like Alt-J that think they're the second coming of The Beatles. However alt-J seem modestly nuts, which is something I like about them. 

TRACK TASTER:

Review of 'Songs of Innocence' by U2


U2 are clearly getting worried that they’re starting to lose relevance and hence fans. As a result the Irish rockers decided to dish this album out for free to everyone – fans and haters combined. Over 500 million iTunes users worldwide woke up to find that this album had been unwillingly downloaded onto their computers. The reactions have been mixed:





Songs of Innocence recently became the most deleted album in iTunes history, with multiple online tutorials springing up, guiding U2 haters ‘how to delete songs of innocence from iTunes’. At the same time, however, this marketing tactic has clearly had some positive effects (let’s face it, this isn’t a Christian act of charity, it’s a marketing ploy – a clever one). Some people who have never been too keen on U2 will have listened to this album out of curiosity, and some of those people will have been converted, as was the case with this guy. Forcing your album onto people’s computers is a certain way to reel in new fans, but like junk mail through your door, it does have an element of desperation and invasiveness to it.  

So, where do I stand with U2? Well, I’ve stood in Wembley Arena with them, a good 300 metres away and technically it was in the seated area, but whatever, I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that I’m a fan, and so I wasn’t bothered that the album was there in my iTunes without my permission. I probably would have downloaded it anyway.

Having listened to it though, I’ve got to say I'm pretty disappointed with what's on offer, and even tempted myself to delete the record from my iTunes. The Irish rockers’ catchy choruses and clever lyrics are still on display, the first track and radio single being a clear indication of that, but nothing new musically is going on here. It’s U2’s fear of losing fans coming through. They’ve created a play-it-safe mishmash of all their previous styles in order to appeal to what they think their old listeners will like. However, what made U2 so interesting in their early years was their experimentation and progression.

In order to stay relevant, U2 need to do something wildly different to what they’ve done before and it doesn’t matter what. The old fans who’ve been growing bored will then start turning their heads and listening again. There are tracks on Songs of Innocence that show hints of real creativity – ‘Raised by Wolves’ has a suspenseful build up and brilliantly explosive chorus and I like the faint vocal harmonies that come in afterwards. Other tracks however sound too derivative.

TRACK TASTER:

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 17/9/2014: Flying Lotus, Craig David, Calvin Harris and more...



So, this is what’s going to be happening every week. I’m going to listen to a bunch of new songs and then I’m going to collect the best and the worst and serve them up to you, splitting the songs into two categories - 'good’ and 'bad'. There is no lukewarm category here. There is no ‘ugly’. I spend too much of my life sitting on the fence. It’s been starting to give me haemorrhoids.

A breakdown of the categories, in case it wasn’t clear enough:

Good – tracks that go into the ‘good’ category are ones I’d recommend, they’re tracks I liked and therefore think you might like them too. Of course, you may not like them. We are all entitled to our own opinion. My opinion, however, is better than yours.

Bad – tracks that go into the bad category are ones I wouldn’t waste your time listening to. I didn’t like them. Either they’re dull, amateurish or plain offensive to the ears. You are not allowed to like these songs. I forbid you.

Anyway, enough waffling, let’s get on with these bloody track reviews.

GOOD

‘Never Catch Me’ - Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar


Kendrick and Fly-lo on the same track? There was no doubt this was going to be one helluva treat. As expected, trip-hop producer, Fly-Lo, provides some hallucinogenic and gorgeously jazzy instrumental work. The chords at the end practically gave me an outer body experience. Celebrated guest rapper, Kendrick, meanwhile delivers some of his speediest verses to date. I can barely make out what he’s saying, but he’s on fire.

‘In the House of Yes’ – Mr Twin Sister
Long Island indie-pop-electronic-multi-genre act, Mr Twin Sister, serve up a dance track with some feelgood early Bjork vibes. String swells, synth stabs, sexy vocals and sax all meld together to create an beautiful and ambient slice of retro.

‘Seduction’ - Craig David


Some of you may remember this dude from the turn of the millennium. No garage instrumentals this time but the beat is still killer, made up of chopped vocals, staccato pianos and a creeping slimy bassline.

BAD

‘Centuries’ – Fall out boy

Remember me for centuries!” It’s a pretty annoying chorus and ironic, considering I’d completely forgotten this band existed. Oh well, they’re back now, and sounding less rocky and emo than ever before. In fact, they’ve practically turned into Maroon 5. I’ll let you decide whether that’s an improvement or a downgrade.

‘Blame’ – Calvin Harris ft. Johnny Newman

Come on, Calvin, m’boy. Give us more hits like ‘Bounce’, ‘I’m not Alone’ and ‘Acceptable in the 80s’. Quit this wishy-washy crap and rediscover your sense of groove.

'That’s What She Said' – The Janoskians

The Janoskians, a bunch of sexually-frustrated Australian One-Direction-lookalikes, rip off a Reel Big Fish instrumental and crap over it with some dumb, pervy lyrics. I think you have to be a horny fourteen year old girl to appreciate this. Last time I checked, I wasn't a horny fourteen year old girl, so this is just cancer to my ears.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Review of 'Pale Communion' by Opeth


Swedish ex-Death Metal band, Opeth, continue their evolution as a prog rock band. Their last album, Heritage, marked the transition from growls and double bass drums to softer stuff. Pale Communion sees their metal side being reduced to only a few brief moments, some atonality here and there and some chugging on 'Cusp of Eternity'. The rest is straight-up prog rock. Think Rush. Think King Crimson. Think Pink Floyd. There are some great moments here. ‘Goblins’ is a killer instrumental track, more bluesy than anything the band have done before and ‘River’ even has some sweet Deep South vocal harmonies. Unfortunately, the majority of it all feels a bit dated. There aren’t any fresh key sounds - the Hammond organs feel like they’re straight off a Gentle Giant record from the early 70s. I get dad rock vibes from the whole album, which isn’t cool. In the past, the band’s death metal side has always counteracted this. Of course, I’m not saying the band need to readopt the growls and blast beats. They just need to work on modernising their sound a fair bit.

TRACK TASTER:

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Review of 'LP1' by FKA Twigs


I was in the lobby of Colombo airport at 4am when I first listened to this album. I don’t usually listen to albums in such exotic and strange locations, and maybe the setting had an effect on me, but this record truly mesmerised me from start to finish.

2014 has been a great year for rising female solo artists. London born dancer and singer, FKA Twigs, is the latest sensation to come from the underground scene. Apparently there was already a musician out there named Twigs, which is why she’s had to add the ‘FKA’ part (Formerly Known As). We’ll just call her Twigs.

A Danish girl with an unpronounceable name, Mø, released an album earlier this year which sparked my interest for its cold, nocturnal feel. I would lump Twigs under the same style – the instrumentation similarly relies on clicking 808 percussion and touches of ghostly reverb. However, Twigs’ music is undoubtedly more detailed and creative. A lot of meticulous effort has been put into the beats. There are backmasked sounds and tempo changes and all kinds of other eccentricities thrown in to keep the slow ballads, of which this album is entirely comprised of, constantly interesting.

And yet as experimental as this album is, it’s also still accessible to a degree and catchy. Hooks such as ‘when I trust you we can do it with the lights off’ are instantly memorable. The sexual nature of the lyrics definitely helps to build memorability, and some people might view it as gimmicky. However, as sexually explicit as this album is, I feel Twigs manages to maintain a certain level of classiness. Maybe it’s the graceful way in which she carries her soprano voice, or the way in which she leaves so much of it up to multiple interpretations.

Overall, there's little if anything to fault on this record. I haven’t heard pop music this fresh and forward-thinking in a long time. I usually hate this soft, ballady stuff, but here there’s so much ever-changing detail per song that there’s never a moment goes by that feels redundant.

TRACK TASTER:

Review of 'Green Language' by Rustie


Scottish electronic producer, Rustie, released his debut, Glass Swords, in 2011. It was one of my favourite records of the year, blending sounds of the eighties, 90s rave, wonky and dubstep. Everything about it was so brilliantly sugary and nostalgic. It was an ice cream sundae in audial form.

A metaphorical representation of Rustie's debut album

In contrast, Rustie’s latest release, Green Language, is like something out of Epic Meal Time. It’s so obnoxiously over-the-top and over-indulgent, it makes me want to throw up.



What’s missing on Green Language is a sense of sweetness and soul, replaced instead by lots of gimmicky trap beats, excessive drops and hi-hats played at a million bpm. A few guest vocalists such as Danny Brown, D Double E and some dude with a vocoder named Redinho make forgettable contributions. The lyrics are pants and Rustie seems to take backstage, reeling in the creativity and resorting to comparatively dull beats.

Melody seems to be pushed aside for the most part on this record. Moments can be found shoehorned into half-baked filler tracks such as ‘Tempest’ and the ambient closing title track ‘Green Language’. Most frustrating is the track, ‘A glimpse’, which just starts to get interesting before immediately and abruptly fading out. This could have been one of the more epic parts on the record, but Rustie pulls out the life support for no reason, and the track just ends there and then.

It’s almost ironic that this record is called ‘Green Language’, a colloquial term for birdsong, or so Google tells me. This album doesn't have any of the pleasant qualities of birdsong. Its artificial and abrasive and lacking in direction. If this is birdsong, then its the sound of a robotic chicken running around without a head.

I'm pretty gutted with just how big a disappointment this, considering I loved almost every aspect of Glass Swords. I suppose you could argue that this is a lot more interesting than half the trap records being released nowadays. However, in the shadow of its mighty predecessor, it just feels extremely meagre. Let's hope Rustie isn't getting rusty and that the future won't be more of this style.

TRACK TASTER:

Monday, 1 September 2014

Review of 'Jungle' by Jungle


Two male singers, one of whom has mislaid his testicles and sings entirely in falsettos, the other of whom mutters a couple octaves beneath, harmonise together accompanied by some sweet and punchy 70s grooves and Disclosure-esque synth splashes. The result is a pretty fun debut album from this London-based funk group. Fun - but a little formulaic. The constant falsetto-muttering vocal harmonies, similar grooves and constant mid-tempo speed make for twelve pretty much identical tracks. On their own, they’re all pretty decent songs, that must be said, just not as a whole album. 

TRACK TASTER:

Review of 'True That' by Michael Cera


Hollywood actor, Michael Cera, shows off his musical side, serving up a selection of strange jazz and folk instrumentals. It’s a creative little album, I’ll give him that. Unfortunately, the whole thing sounds like it was recorded with a potato. 

not just any potato either - a bad potato.
Clearly, a celebrity as successful as Cera could have rented out the best recording studio money can buy had he wanted. So why didn’t he? Well, I get the feeling Cera doesn’t really want to take this whole music career thing seriously. This is just a side-line for him, a hobby. Plus, lo-fi is what all the cool underground bands are into these days. Good sound quality is, like, sooo last year.

I'll agree to an extent, too much production can make an album feel cold and artificial, but too little can make an album just sound like shit, as is the case here (Sorry Cera). The pianos on this record sound tinny and horrible. Cera’s vocals are also very shaky and mixed badly. The only thing that’s really listenable here is the guitar.

This, combined with poorly-fleshed out songs, makes the album feel terribly amateurish. But hey that’s probably what Cera was going for.

Besides, this album could be worse. I was expecting Sex Bo-bomb-style banal indie rock, which this definitely isn’t.

Michael Cera's in-film character, Scott Pilgrim, and his band, Sex Bo-bomb


Coincidentally, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World co-star Elizabeth Mary Winstead has also released an album this year, the review of which can be read here


STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM HERE: