Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Review of '1989' by Taylor Swift

It’s been barely a week since this album’s release and already it’s turning platinum. Taylor Swift is clearly the girl on everyone’s lips right now (and the girl that most men dream of having on their lips). Football fans. Politicians. Inmates on Death Row. They’re all talking about her.

Forget ISIS. Forget Ebola. Taylor Swift’s new album is what’s important right now.
And seeing as it was so fucking important, I decided to check it out for myself.

Truth be told, I’d heard ‘Shake it Off’ before delving into this record and well, I hate to admit it, but I liked the track. As a blogger and connoisseur of indie and underground music I’m not supposed to like mainstream fodder like Taylor Swift and up until this point her country-pop had always bored me. However, her new more dancey approach to song-writing is actually starting to have some scary effects on me. The catchiness of her choruses and the upbeat instrumentals that she’s pulling out the bag are actually damn good.

It isn’t fair, I wanted to pull apart this album. I wanted to write fifty paragraphs of witty insults and nasty metaphors mean enough to make Mike Tyson cry.

However, instead I’ve actually got to do some complimenting. (Basically, if you’ve came here for a brutal panning, leave now!)

Fun Fact: Taylor Swift was born in 1989, hence the title. Perhaps as a tribute to this year, Swift has decided to throw some eighties vibes into this album. Eighties-revival is nothing new – La Roux was doing it earlier this year. What makes this record unique is the perfect subtlety of its usage, the odd synth here and there, some Fine Young Cannibals drums on ‘I Wish You Would'. It’s just enough to give the record a glimmer of nostalgia, but evened out with enough modern sounds to stop it from feeling retro.

Vocally, Taylor Swift has never sounded so bouncy. From the trap-rap-like staccato delivery of ‘Blank Space’ to the downward chromatic notes on the chorus of ‘Shake It Off’, the singing feels energetic and youthful. Intonation is the key to catchiness – not many pop singers/songwriters seem to get that these days – and this chick has it nailed, never coming across as irritating, instead always coming across as simply fun and infectious.

Yes, her lyrics aren’t great. Her description of New York in the opening track is about as insightful as a book on how to read. Still, as a lover of Kasabian and as someone who found Riff Raff’s Neon Icon entertaining, I have no real right to criticise lyricism. So long as lyrics aren’t offensive or needlessly crass, I can let them slide. In clichéd terms: it doesn’t matter what you sing, it’s how you sing it.

My biggest complaint with this album, and the reason I’m giving it three stars, is the fact that things start to get a bit samey three quarters of the way through. Cut away a few tracks towards the middle end and this could have been a solid album. I like to be teased and this record outstays its welcome. 


BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 29/10/2014: Foo Fighters, Les Sins, The Chuckle Brothers and more...

What a week for music! Taylor Swift’s been shaking up the album charts with the first platinum record of the year. Young Fathers have surprised everyone with a Mercury Prize win. Daniel Radcliffe has been dropping bars on The Tonight Show. Plus, RTJ2 - my most anticipated album of the year - has dropped (a review will be coming later, don’t you worry).

There’s been barely enough time to listen to new singles. Fortunately, I haven’t had to do much digging around. The tracks have been coming to me and here they are - the best and the worst.


'The Feast and the Famine' - Foo Fighters

First to make it into this week’s ‘the best’ category (yes, pun intended), is this alliterative entry from everyone’s favourite rock band. I wasn’t too convinced by the group’s last single, ‘Something from Nothing’, but this new track is classic Foos. The guitars are sounding fast and arena-sized and Grohl is on the money yet again with a killer chorus.

'Talk About' - Les Sins

This deep house tune from Les Sins (alter ego of US chillwave artist Toro y Moi) is one of the wooziest tracks I’ve heard in months. I feel positively drunk listening to it, but then again maybe that’s just the absinthe I’ve been glugging away at. (IT HELPED HEMINGWAY TO WRITE, SO WHY NOT ME TOO?)

'Trigger' - Sirma

Istanbul-born, New-York-based singer, Sirma, has been receiving the title ‘Turkish Bjork’ from many critics and fans. Her music’s definitely got that slight avant-garde edge to it as demonstrated in this single. The faintly creepy guitar in the verse is what drew me in. Halloween is nigh. Creepy songs ought to be popping up everywhere.

'To me, To you (bruv)' - Tinchy Stryder ft. The Chuckle Brothers

I keep rewatching this video just to check I didn’t dream it up. The Chuckle Brothers, for those of you too young or too old to remember, had a kids TV show in the 90s. Now they’re making grime music with Tinchy Stryder. I lost it at the end when the pair started busting moves in the street. Paul, Barry and Tinchy are all great sports.

'I Won’t Let you Down' - OK Go

There’s nothing like a spot of feelgood indie funk to cheer up these grey autumn days. I strongly advise checking out the music video, as it will blow your mind. Apparently, it took over 50 takes.


'Drown' - Bring Me The Horizon

Stop with this whiny emo bullshit, reclaim your testicles and start making metal again. The noughties are over.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Review of 'Hell Can Wait' by Vince Staples

What do you look for in hip hop? Catchy hooks? Tight flows? Head-bobbing well-produced beats? Realness? This EP from 21-year old Cali rapper Vince Staples has got it all. Just don’t expect any envelope pushing. Vince Staples is the perfect template of a good rapper, and nothing else. He’s the Ford Focus of the rap game. You wish there was something more wild about him, something more unique, but at the same time he does the job and you can’t help but admire that. Sing along to the choruses and watch the 808 bass shake the framed photos off your bedroom wall. 


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 22/10/2014: Chance the Rapper, Eminem, Mr. Oizo and more...

It’s been a fairly depressing week for new music. Not a bad week, just a depressing one. Songwriters worldwide have been coming down with the blues, crafting some beautifully moody and misanthropic material. I guess it’s just that time of year. Winter is coming.


'Chains' - Bad Breeding 

I live just down the road from Stevenage, the town from which these anguished hardcore punk rockers come from. It’s a not very pretty place to live and the band do a great job at reflecting this in their sound. These guys sound absolutely livid. More livid than I sound I when I stub my toe.

'Rot' - Washer

‘..all I wanna do is rot’ nonchalantly sings the frontman of this New York garage rock band. I said it was a depressing week for new music. The twangy Nirvan-esque guitars make it all the moodier.

'No Better Blues' – Chance the Rapper

Hell, even the Chance the Rapper is feeling down this week. The Chicago hip hop artist, whose last album ended with a track optimistically titled ‘Everything’s Good’, now apparently hates everything including vegetables, white people, hope and you. Full of wonderful contradictions, clearly this track is all satire. My favourite line: ‘I hate the womb, I needed room, I ate my twin.

'Bear Biscuit' – Mr. Oizo

A couple weeks back I was loving Mr. Oizo’s new track ‘Machyne’. This week, the French electronic artist has come out with an arguably more abrasive single.  You thought Skrillex’s music was obnoxious AD/HD? You ain’t heard nothing yet. 1:10 made me think my computer had crashed. 

'Landing' - Maryann

There’s nothing quite like a bit of good old #BedroomTrap. That’s what this chick has dubbed her music as. She also uses the second alias ‘Bae God’ and has an EP on the way entitled ‘THIS IS WHAT THE MOON SOUNDS LIKE’. I’m loving the production on this track. Its ultra-glossy, zero-gravity stuff  - amazingly talented work for a DIY artist. Thank you, Bae God #BedroomTrap4Life #TheMoonSoundsLikeNothingCosThere'sNoSoundInSpaceDuh


'Guts over Fear' – Eminem ft. Sia

Having to slate this song is all a bit awkward, considering the whole track is Em talking about the inability to make new music in fear of it being slated. Truth is, the subject’s all too meta, and not Who-Framed-Rodger-Rabbit cool meta. No, this is boring meta, like if I was to write an article on writer’s block and how I sometimes write reviews and don’t publish them because they’re not interesting enough. You’re nodding off already. Point is, it’s dull subject matter. The beat’s bland too and no, don't try and tell me its ironically bland.

Big thanks to Emma Garland (Noisey), James Rettig (Stereogum), Anthony Fantano (The Needledrop) and Andrew Prieto (Dingus) for introducing me to this music.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Review of 'Bestial Burden' by Pharmakon

Well, that's certainly put me off my steak and chips...

I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided to listen to this for the first time at 1 am.  I should have guessed from the rather gristly album artwork and prior exposure to Pharmakon that this wasn’t going to be half an hour of cute and fun bubblegum pop.

‘Terrifying’ doesn’t quite sum up this record. Bestial Burden is positively ‘fucked-up’.  Its thirty minutes in Auschwitz, thirty minutes of audial psychological trauma. Even psychopaths are likely to pull uneasily at their collars whilst listening to this. This is the sound of hell.

The Dr. Frankenstein behind this record is US industrial noise artist, Margaret Chardiet. She recorded this album after an emergency operation which resulted in the removal of one of her organs. This concept of bodily invasion fuels the sound of the music. The album itself is a bodily invasion, an ugly assault on all the senses. Of course, hearing is the only real sense being attacked here, but the mood is so intense you can almost see it, feel it, smell it and taste it too.

You can almost sense yourself struggling for oxygen on the first track as Chardiet breathes loudly and labouredly through the speakers at an uncomfortably close proximity. You can almost sense your heart slowing to match the creeping drums on ‘Body Betrays itself’. You can almost sense the bile in your throat during ‘Primitive Struggle’ in which Chardiet can be heard retching and vomiting.

This probably doesn’t sound very enjoyable, and indeed it isn’t. At times the building, suspenseful instrumentation and Chardiet’s tortured vocals (especially her screams which sound like she’s screeching out in agony) are so scary, so uncomfortable, so realistic that I was reaching for the pause button.

Also, what kind of a musician records themselves throwing up and expects me to enjoy it?

I think, overall, it's albums like this that make me question why it is some of us are willing to sit through discomfort and pure horror in the name of art, as indeed I sat through this whole thing. It disgusted me, but impressed me at the same time. Is it simply the adrenaline rush of being scared, the addiction to cheap thrills, that got me through this record? Was it the the deliberate attempt to sonically repel me in every possible way that beguiled me, that made me take this on as a challenge? Was it a morbid curiosity that hooked me, the same thing that leads people to slow down when passing a bad car crash? Was it an admiration for one person’s talent to scare the bejesus out of me through sound alone? Was it the disbelief that someone could sound so tortured and mental on tape and yet in interviews seem so sane? Are we all this sick, depressed and pained deep inside, and Chardiet is the only person willing to let it all out? Are negative emotions something we can switch on and off if we really put our minds to it? 

I think the very fact that this album has provoked such deep thoughts proves that this record is more than just cheap thrills. 


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Review of 'STN MTN/Kauai' by Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino is the musical alter-ego of Community actor, Donald Glover. I was a big fan of his last album, Because the Internet, (review here) and after hearing the single ‘Sober’ was pretty excited for this new release, ‘STN MTN/Kauai’.

As it turns out, this is essentially a double album. The first half, ‘STN MTN’, (shorthand for Stone Mountain) sees the actor-turned-musician donning his swag and trying to be a trap rapper, spitting over bassy instrumentals made of 808s and club synths. The second half, ‘Kauai’ (named after a Hawaiian island), in contrast is a selection of red-wine-and-slow-dance soul jams, reminiscent of Frank Ocean and Pharrell Williams. The two sides are polar opposites musically. Some people have been calling this a double ep, a double mixtape, a half-ep-half-album. Honestly why does this record terminology to be so complicated? Why can’t we call everything that’s longer one track an album and be done with it.

Talking of complicated, the supposed storyline that took place on Because the Internet continues on this album. I never did follow the narrative on the last album. Apparently, there’s a script available for fans to read who are struggling with the whole storyline thing, but quite frankly I don’t know who’s going to read that shit. Personally, I don’t listen to music for a plot. That’s what novels and films were made for.

                So let’s ignore the storyline in this review and just discuss the sound of STN MTN/Kauai. Does this ambitious one-side-trap, one-side-soul concept work? Is Childish Gambino sounding as good as he was on his last record?

Sadly no. There are a couple big issues with this record, one being the severe lack of wit in comparison to his last release. Gambino’s punchlines and social commentary were a major factor in getting me into liking his material. Here, it all seems not up to scratch. On the trap side, Glover seems too busy getting his swag on to throw out anything intelligent and on the soul side he’s too busy getting soppy. This is a shame as it doesn’t give this album quite the personality his last record had.

The other big problem is the second half feels unfinished. There’s a demo track here called Retro (granted, it doesn’t sound like a demo, but I’d rather here the complete song). There’s also an unnecessary rehash of ‘3005’ from Because the Internet. It feels like Glover just chucked it in last minute to pad the Kauai side out.

The third big problem is that Jaden Smith makes a guest appearance on this record. Pretty self-explanatory.

Saying all this, there are some good moments here that do prevent this from being utterly bad. The instrumentals are by and large pretty damn good. No Small Talk is a banger and The Palisades features a funky beat that could be air supply. When it comes to the technical side, Gambino’s also dropping some of his best flows to date on this record and his singing is like velvet on the ears. The overenthusiastic DJ skit is also hilarious. 


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 15/10/2014: Sun Kil Moon, David Bowie, Mike Will Made it and more...

A weekly rummage through the music bloggersphere has revealed these awesome and not-so-awesome tracks. I honestly can't believe Bowie's released another single. Somebody slap me, I'm feeling dizzy #BowieFan4Life #MarryMeBowie. Okay, well that was kinda gay. Let's move on, shall we?


'Sue' -David Bowie

Dismiss it as a Spinal Tap-inspired jazz odyssey if you so desire. Personally, I think this is top notch experimental stuff from Bowie, however weird it may be. The Next Day was supposed to be his last musical endeavour, but clearly the alt rock star is full of surprises.

'You Look So Good To Me' - Thief

Aussie electro-funk artist, Thief, isn’t stealing his sound from anyone. This is one of the most unique pop tracks I’ve heard in a while. The falsetto-sung vocals and punchy guitar riff make for a chorus that’s groovy, sexy and catchy as hell.

'Fragile' - Fable

It begins with some tribal drums and steadily evolves over nine minutes into rapid fire crash cymbals, guitars and a pulsing bass riff. Female vocalist, Fable (I can't be bothered to research her actual name right now), meanwhile provides some sweet goth rock vocals over the top. The outro is also pretty bloody creepy.

'War on Drugs: Suck my Cock' - Sun Kil Moon

Folk artist Mark Kozelek AKA Sun Kil Moon serves up this ridiculous diss track aimed at indie band, The War on Drugs, who apparently drowned out his live set at Hopscotch festival. Knowing Mark’s previous tongue-in-cheek material, it’s extremely unlikely any of this track was meant with any serious intent, and even if it was I don’t care. The whole thing's absolutely hilarious. The inappropriately melancholy guitar playing makes it all the more entertaining.


'Pussy Overrated' - Mike Will Made It ft. Wiz Khalifa and Future

Do I really need to explain this choice? Isn’t the song title enough. Future’s auto-tuned warbling simply aggravates the fuck out of me, and Wiz Khalifa sounds exactly the same in every song. Track is wack!

 'Body Horror' - Dead Neanderthals

An ear-piercing saxophone squeals a single out of tune note like a boiling kettle to the accompaniment of a cacophonous drum solo. I’m open minded but not this open minded.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Review of 'You're Dead!' by Flying Lotus

LSD is bad for you. Try Flying Lotus instead. 

The electronic producer has been releasing audial hallucinogens for the last decade. His last effort, Until the Quiet Comes, was one of my favourite records of 2012, a smooth and jazzy ride through the subconscious. You’re Dead! is comparatively less smooth but ten times more jazzy, scattered with walking bass, saxophone solos, bebop pianos and drum freakouts. There’s a lot of instrumental noodling on this album that I’m still trying to work out whether I like or not. The musicianship is certainly impressive, that’s for sure.

Of course, Flying Lotus doesn’t do it all himself. Indie R&B artist, Thundercat, helps with most of the bass. Others handle the drums and keys, including Herbie Hancock. Herbie who? Oh dear, let me educate you. WARNING: THE MUSIC VIDEO BELOW IS TERRIFYING.

 Vocals are meanwhile brought by a variety of guests. Kendrick Lamar drops some fiery verses on ‘Never Catch Me’. Angel Deradoorian sings angelicly on ‘Siren song’. Snoop Dogg even makes a feature on one of the songs (or is he still referring to himself as Snoop Lion?).

Overall, with its noodling instrumentation and multiple guest stars, the whole thing ends up being one of FlyLo's busiest and most disorientating records yet. Some of it, namely the first four tracks, doesn't do much for me because its so scatterbrain. However, as chaotic as it feels, to dismiss the whole album as a mess would be ignorant. As was the case with Until the Quiet Comes, there's a huge emphasis on keeping the music flowing, and all the tracks seem to slide perfectly together like pieces of one big psychedelic jigsaw puzzle. There’s also a clear journey taking place. The album starts off epic and triumphant but begins to take a dark turn towards the end, like an acid trip gone bad.

 These darker moments towards the latter half are among some of my favourite on the album. ‘Descent into madness’ features some spooky vocal harmonies from Thundercat akin to Mike Patton and is a really chilling track. This is immediately followed by another creepy number, ‘The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep’, a bizarre and twisted track in which Flying Lotus provides vocals himself under the guise of Captain Murphy, featuring the disturbing repeated hook ‘ take another pill, take another pill’. Part of me would love to see Flying Lotus develop this side more. It makes for an interesting glimpse into the musician's possible future. 


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 08/10/2014: Azealia Banks, Mr. Oizo, Clipping and more

As the weeks go by I find myself discovering less and less crap and more and more good stuff. For this reason, there are five tracks in 'The Best' category this week, and only one track in 'The Worst'. 


'Chasing Time' - Azealia Banks

After dropping two uninspired club anthems ‘ATM Jam’ and ‘Heavy Metal and Reflective’ I was beginning to worry Azealia had lost her mojo, but now she’s brought back the soulful singing and nostalgia-soaked synths of her 1991 EP along with a killer catchy chorus, resulting in a track that’s pure gold from start to finish. 

'Sunlight' - The Magician ft. Years and Years

The early noughties vibe to this track is undeniably feelgood. It’s a pity this fantastic summer anthem is only gaining momentum now as we enter October. Watch the video to see a fat guy in speedos dancing on a beach (the thumbnail is deceptive).

'Seasonal Thaws' - Mayfair Kytes

Melbourne indie rock band, Mayfair Kytes, pull out some graceful folksy vocal harmonies on this track reminiscent of Grizzly Bear. There’s no such thing as an Autumn anthem but this is about as close as you’ll get.

'Something They Don't Know' - Clipping ft. SB the Moor, Nocando and Open Mike Eagle

One of the most experimental hip hop groups around, Clipping, serve up this new track featuring an everchanging instrumental sporting splooges of dissonant piano, trippy harps, a snake-charmer's flute and all manner of other creepy and dusty samples. Daveed Diggs, SB the Moor, Nocando and Open Mike Eagle all lay verses over the top. There's so much happening here its hard to know what to tune in on.

'Machyne' - Mr. Oizo

In the usual Mr. Oizo fashion, the French house producer creates a track that’s both addictive and yet incredibly annoying, consisting this time round of what sounds like the shrill ring of an office telephone. I was pretty sure I didn’t like this track on the first listen, but I keep finding myself returning to it.


'Turn up the Speakers' - Afrojack and Martin Garrix

This is house music at its most formulaic and generic. Turn down the speakers. You’re better off without this in your life.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Review of 'The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets' by The Marmozets

It’s hard to place a genre label on this UK rock act. They seem to embrace every sound your average rock-loving noughties teen was into and meld it into a fun cocktail, sporting early-Arctic-Monkeys riffage, mathcore time signatures and angsty female screamo vocals somewhere on the spectrum between Paramore and Rolo Tomassi. The result is something that should sound 'sooo last decade', but instead sounds entirely fresh. Catchiness makes the band’s sound all the more likeable, with lead singer Becca MacIntyre shrieking out some killer hooks – the first two tracks being prime examples. Amongst the thirteen songs, my favourite moments are the crazier numbers such as the schizophrenic ‘Vibetech’ and metal-riff-laden ‘Particle’. There are an equal number of more accessible moments, which I’m not as keen on, but I understand will appeal more to certain people. The closing track, ‘Back to You’, teeters on the edge of being a soppy emo ballad. That said, no part of this record is plain soft and boring. Perhaps because the female vocal touch, I ignorantly expected more emotional slow jams, but instead the band keeps things loud and distorted for pretty much all thirteen tracks, with fun being the focus and schmaltziness being largely and thankfully swept aside. 


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 1/10/2014: Childish Gambino, Mastodon, Meghan Trainor and more...

Its been another fantastic week for singles. I've chosen to select four of the best tracks and two of the worst, as will hopefully become the standard from now. Picking the 'best' tracks of the week proved pretty tricky considering there were so many good singles dropping.


'Everything’s Kool' - Scrufizzer

London grime emcee, Scrufizzer, is back sporting his ‘fizzy flow’ and a killer bassy beat that’s sure to get your neighbours complaining. His upcoming EP, Fizzology, will be out soon and should be a banger.

'Sober' - Childish Gambino

Actor, singer, rapper and whatever else he fancies, Donald Glover (AKA Childish Gambino), delivers this pretty track from his recent EP, featuring some of his sweetest singing to date. I'm also loving the bouncy instrumental, which has an epic interlude towards the end.

'The Motherload' - Mastodon

Straight off of the metal band's new album, Once More 'Round the Sun, comes this single 'The Motherload' with a powerful belted chorus that harks back to the days of Judas Priest. It comes with a brand new video, which has been stirring up some controversy amongst fans. To sum it up, Mastodon becomes Asstodon.

'I Know'  - Shift K3y

I’m a sucker for these bubbly garage-revival Ibiza tunes. Sometimes you need a break from all that obnoxious dubtep and trap. The music video accompanying the track is pretty creative too, although I do feel like an involuntary stalker watching it, plus after seeing Mastodon's video I'm all butted out.


'All About that Bass' – Meghan Trainor

Technically this isn't a brand new single. It's been in the charts about a month, but I felt compelled to talk about it, because its burrowed its way into my brain and it's driving me insane. Don't get me wrong, I respect the subject matter. Its admirable to hear a girl speaking out for all the larger ladies out there, but, honestly, did the hook have to be so bloody annoying! 'ALL ABOUT DAT BASS, BOUT DAT BASS, NO TREBLE!' It makes me want to rip my ears off, which isn’t something I look for in my music.

'9TS (90s Baby)' - Redlight

I was expecting gratuitous 90s nostalgia, but there is no nostalgia here. Instead, Redlight serves up a cheap more-eighties-than-nineties house beat featuring some chick chanting ‘are you a nineties baby’ several times over the top and, yeah, it sucks.

Review of 'The Physical World' by Death From Above 1979

Anyone who was starting to fear rock n roll was dead should check out this record. After a decade’s break, this Canadian rock duo return with their second full-length album. The riffs are loud and infectious, soaked in fuzz and set to groovy drum patterns (cowbell included!). The vocals meanwhile are energetic and in-your-face. ‘Where have all the virgins gone?’ sounds the risqué hook on the third track. There’s no pussyfooting around here lyrically.

 I haven’t listened to the band’s much raved debut album, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, so I can’t say whether Death from Above are at the same level as they were ten years ago. However, from a first-time listener’s perspective, this is easily one of the best rock records I’ve heard all year. The pacing is brilliant, alternating between fast thrashy chugs, mid-tempo grooves and several slower sludgy moments including the ballad, ‘White is Red’ (in fact, calling it a ballad might be a bit of a stretch), and the symphonic closing title track, ‘The Physical World’. There are lots of creative moments peppered throughout too. The guitar squeals on ‘Gemini’ sound almost alien.

‘Crystal Ball’ and ‘Nothing Left’ are probably the weakest tracks here and the album’s only let-downs. They lack the power and memorability of other songs. This doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a very solid release though and one i'll be jamming for weeks.