Monday, 30 November 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 01/12/2015: The Killers, Animal Collective, Native Construct and more...

THE BEST:


‘Dirt Sledding’ – The Killers



US rock band The Killers release this carnivalesque rock-n-roll-flavoured Christmas song accompanied by a curious music video in which a deranged Santa throws a tomahawk at a teddy bear sporting Brandon Flowers’ face on it. I have so many questions. Why is Santa in the desert? Is the giant molar with a tutu supposed to be the tooth fairy? Are we human or are we dancer? Watch here.

‘FloriDaDa’ – Animal Collective




‘FloriDaDa’ sounds like the Beach Boys attempting a children’s party tune on acid. The track comes with the exciting announcement that the Baltimore experimental pop group will be releasing a new album early next year titled ‘Painting With’ on February 9th.

 ‘Mute’ – Native Construct



Barbershop vocal harmonies, prog metal riffs and Broadway production synths all collide in this noodling but utterly brilliant musical mindfuck (my first listen left me positively ‘mute’). Of course, a band this unsubtle could only come from Boston.

‘Someone Like You’ – Winter



What better way to begin the season with a band called ‘Winter’. Fans of shoegaze should check out this ambient track made up of warm guitars and hypnotic female vocals. The synth riff peppered throughout is slightly deranged yet somehow manages to blend in to the surrounding calm.

THE WORST:


‘VYZEE’ – SOPHIE



The little girl vocals are annoying and half the synths sound like farts. I’m also scared to know what she’s singing about: ‘squish it in your hand/ make it pop/ red and white/ tomato soup can’. That said, this track is so curiously weird I can see it growing on me.

Kill J – ‘Barbie Girl’


This dark cover of the Aqua classic has none of the cheese of the original nor any of the fun. It’s like watching a gritty, serious remake of ‘Kindergarten Cop’. Even the ‘I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world’ line has been cut out. 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Review of 'AQUARIA' by Boots


Boots (not to be confused with Little Boots, Moon Boots or Puss in Boots) is an American singer and electronic producer. Some of you may know him as the dude who produced Beyoncé’s ‘Haunted’. Some of you may now him as the dude who produced that recent FKA Twigs EP. Some of you may know him as the guest vocalist on that Run the Jewels track ‘Early’. Some of you may not know him at all, in which case don’t despair, I’m here to fill you in.

Boots
Tired of being a footnote on other people’s albums, Boots has finally got round to releasing a debut record of his own. It’s a self-produced r&b album of sorts. Such albums are popular nowadays, but Boots has his own very unique style – a moody mix of abstract beats, snarky sing-rapping and Radiohead-like croons.

It’s moody as a noir crime novel. It’s moody as a day out in slough. It’s almost as moody that Earl Sweatshirt record released earlIier this year.


Boots looking moody
There’s no faulting the atmosphere and Boot’s beatsmithing skill’s certainly shine. Percussion takes prominence, Boots experimenting with digital clicks and thuds beyond the usual 808 palette. His real talent is his ability to make these computerised drum patterns sound human, suspensefully building and layering them the way a Brazilian samba outfit might.

Ultimately, tunefulness takes a knock. Whilst there are brief moments such as the melancholy piano chords on ‘Only’, most of the instrumentals seem to do away with melody except for the occasional spot of growling bass or distorted synth. This skeletal production gives the vocals less to hide behind, and in Boots case he's hardly an exciting enough singer to compensate. He can adopt a sassy, suspenseful tone at times that is engaging such as the vocal harmonies on the title track ‘Aquaria’, but otherwise his delivery is constantly and monotonously sullen. It adds to the moody vibe, but renders every hook unnoticeable.

I can certainly say I enjoyed the album, but without earworms it feels like the kind of album I'll rarely return to. I need a good riff or chorus to lure me back. A creative percussion pattern is not enough.

TRACK TASTER:


Friday, 27 November 2015

Review of 'Purpose' by Justin Bieber


It's 2015 and Justin Bieber is no longer that mop-haired squeaky-voiced Canadian kid singing schmaltzy love songs for fourteen-year-old girls. No, he's now a fully-grown adult male human being with tats and a six-pack making club anthems for his fellow twenty-something drinkers.

As a twenty-something drinker I am now part of his target audience. I was never a fourteen-year-old girl (not that I recall anyway) and so was never a fan of his early material. Like many people, I convinced myself that I hated Justin Bieber for other reasons - that he was stuck-up and annoying, that he was a musical anti-christ responsible for all of pop music's failings, that he was behind 9/11 and that he was the cause of cancer. Now I realise that some of these beliefs may have been a little absurd (One Direction are the cause of cancer not Justin Bieber), and that the reason I didn't like Justin Bieber was simply because his music was not aimed at me.

Now that I am part of his target audience I feel I can make a fair assessment on his music, so here we have it, a review of Justin Bieber's latest record Purpose.

Justin Bieber's belly button. Also 'Purpose' tattoo


Instrumentally, Purpose is largely electronic danceable stuff. Producers Soundz and Skrillex play a big part, but refrain from being their usual obnoxious selves. There are no dissonant dubstep drops or gaudy trap beats - the soundscape is a tasteful semi-tropical one for the most part. The big singles 'What Do You Mean?', 'Sorry' and 'Where are U Now' showcase some of the best backdrops. There are sadly some dull slowjams in the mix - the Ed-Sheeran-assisted acoustic number 'Love Yourself' and piano ballad 'Life is Worth Living' - but the rest are upbeat pop singles that make me picture myself at an evening beach party.

Bieber maintains a tasteful tone with the lyrics. Many of the songs have a personal message and aren't just cliched love songs. 'I'll Show You' sees him discussing his fame and what it's like to be constantly ogled by everyone, whilst 'Sorry' sees him apologising, perhaps for his brief rebellious stage. It's nice to see that whilst he has does some naughty things in the past - drink-driving and pissing in a restaurant mop bucket - he's not exploiting these antics. Bieber could have chosen to reinvent himself as Miley did by writing a sweary, stoner album. Thankfully this isn't the case and Bieber is able to prove that he is an adult whilst coming across as mature and likable.

Mug shot of Justin Bieber following drink-driving charges


Sadly despite the decent beats and lyrics, Bieber's vocals hold back a lot of the tracks. Like the Weeknd, Bieber relies on a rather one-dimensional whimper that's neither sad enough to connect with my heart nor sexy enough to turn me temporarily gay. Its a tone I've heard used by too many r&b vocalists, and whilst it's enough to propel the first few tracks, by the end it just sounds flat.

Maybe with time Bieber will learn to beef it up. His more personal lyrical approach and fun instrumentals have certainly made the Canadian singer more sympathetic to most folk. If he can keep hold of these elements and inject more emotional conviction into his vocal delivery, maybe then I will become a Belieber.


TRACK TASTER:



Tuesday, 24 November 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 24/11/2015: David Bowie, Savages, Fetty Wap and more...



THE BEST:


'Blackstar' - David Bowie




I fucking love David Bowie. I thought the 68-year-old singer had retired from music, but no, we have a new surprise album on the way called 'Blackstar' and this is the title track - a ten-minute-long winding prog-pop epic with strings and horns accompanied by a zany vaguely post-apocalyptic video in which an epileptic fit seems to serve as a dance.

'T.I.W.Y.G' - Savages



'This is what you get when you mess with love!' wails frontwoman Jenny Beth to the accompaniment of growling bass and intense double bass drumming. There is a slightly ambient passage towards the back end of the track, but for the most part this is all-out angriness from the all-female London rockers. Don't mess with Savages. They'll claw your ears off.

'The War Inside' - Azekel



UK R&b singer Azekel lays quivering falsettos over a pulsing electronic bassline. The mood is suspenseful as it is seductive, both the vocals and the beat threatening to crack at any moment.

'Sleep' - 'fō'



Fans of Sufjan Stevens may dig this Philly-based singer-songwriter sporting an equally unpronounceable name. Soothing vocals, delicate folksy guitars and sombre strings make for an earthy and sorrowful acoustic track.

THE WORST:


'Grandma' - Fetty Wap



Hearing the trap rapper spit about his grandma is entertaining and there must be some comical intentions behind it, but the beat blows and Fetty's flow is flat as ever.

'When We Were Young' - Adele



I was kind of hoping for a Killers cover (just as I was hoping 'Hello' was a Lionel Ritchie tribute) but obviously that would be too exciting for the queen of pop ballads. The studio version may turn out to be better, but right now I'm as enthusiastic to hear Adele's new album as I am for my next trip to the dentists.

Monday, 16 November 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 16/11/2015: Brockley Forest, Missy Elliott, Pusha T and more...


THE BEST:


'Paris' - Thundercat



As a tribute to the devastating terrorist attacks that took place this weekend in Paris, jazz fusion bassist and singer Thundercat has composed this short melancholy instrumental.

'Rubicon' - Brockley Forest




Quite what this bluesy-rock jam has to do with exotic fruit juice, Rubicon, is beyond me. That end riff is certainly sweet, I'll give them that. (There's an Italian river called the Rubicon but I like the idea of the Bristol rock duo singing about juice more.)

'WTF (Where They From)' - Missy Elliott ft. Pharrell Williams




It's time to get your freak on! Female hip hop legend Missy Elliott is back with a new banger that's right in tone with her previous hits - sporting a wild beat, a guest verse from Pharrell Williams (he raps!) and some big-budget visuals. Missy Elliott's dance choreography never disappoints.

'Untouchable' - Pusha T




Even if Pusha T's rhymes rarely make sense as a whole, there's something beautifully vivid about his use of language: 'Let's take the scenic route/ I could show you the strange fruit/ It's looking like Beirut/ They open the washbay, I climb it like K2'. The 'scenic route' really does sum up his rapping style.

THE WORST:


'Merry Christmas Everybody' - Train


Bleeding heck, it's that time of year already. Sorry, I'm not ready for Christmas songs yet - especially a Slade cover. The original is torture enough.

'Sorry' - Rick Ross ft. Chris Brown




It's nice to hear Chris Brown sincerely apologising for all that Rihanna business. I kind of nodded off when Rick Ross turned up though. Is there a more mediocre rapper in the game? He's the hip hop equivalent of beige, the hip hop equivalent of dry toast. Listen to this song if you like beige and dry toast.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Review of 'Me' by Empress Of


This new avant-garde dance-pop album is the masterful work of Honduran-American singer-songwriter Lorely Rodriguez AKA Empress of.

Empress of what? I tried googling an explanation behind the artist's name but came back empty-handed. Unsurprisingly, a lot of fans have been asking the same question, so much so that Lorely almost titled her album 'what? lol' so that the album text would read 'Empress of what? Lol'.

However, for better or worse, she decided against that idea, instead titling the album 'Me' as to read 'Empress of Me', which is fitting considering all the songs on this record are about taking charge of oneself. Following a personal breakup and produced and written in the solitude of her Mexico City lakehouse, 'Me' is an album inspired by being left on one's lonesome. The lyrics see Lorely indecisively coming to terms with her newfound single-ness, mourning the loss of her ex one moment and fiercely embracing her independence the next: 'Can I get up off my knees and find a rhythm of my own?'. It's an album about letting go of that bae that used to whip you, whilst at the same time wanting them back. It's an album about being your own empress but not quite knowing how.

Empress Of  looking troubled


Vocally, Lorely captures this inner turmoil well - sounding both positively bouncy and dejectedly sighful. This inner turmoil is also reflected in the quirky beats (produced by Lorely herself!). The energy is upbeat and danceable but the sounds used are twisted and pained, comprised of over-distorted digital drums and sour synths. The most noticeable example of this is the track 'Water Water', which starts with sad wails over dissonant chord splodges, later evolving into a bright house tune of sorts.

Clearly the aim is to create a confused mixture of emotions. The result is a sound that is entirely unique. To some degree you could call these pop songs - they're catchy and charmingly simple in structure. However, the strange palette of sounds and the tortured lyrics add a complexity that prevents any of these from being radio-worthy, appealing more to underground junkies like myself. I guess there are slightly Bjork-ish tones to her voice, but otherwise she's the empress of her own musical style.


TRACK TASTER:


Monday, 9 November 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 9/11/2015: SOPHIE, Take That, Rustie and more...

THE BEST:


'Just Some Kids' - Piers James



Over some tasty self-produced boom bap drums and smooth synths, London rapper Piers James delivers this laid-back song about enjoying youth. I’m reminded of Tyler the Creator’s ‘Parade’ minus the obnoxiousness.

'L.O.V.E' - SOPHIE



Made up largely of harsh noise, this latest track from UK producer will have a lot of people scrambling for the mute button. For some strange reason, I love it. Am I mentally well? Can pain be pleasant? Is that why people eat vindaloo? Is that why Tough Mudder exists? In any case, your welcome to give this track a listen. It’s humorous if nothing else – especially those tinkly interludes towards the back end of the track juxtaposed against the ominous din like Barney the Dinosaur spliced into The Exorcist. 

'Hey Boy' - Take That



Yuck, Take That?! My mum listens to them. Sadly, I can’t get enough of this new single. The funk is undeniable. Maybe if I close my eyes and imagine its Duran Duran it’ll all be okay.

'Peace Upzzz' - Rustie



Opening with some blindingly bright tremolo synths, this new instrumental from the Scottish producer teases and teases until finally allowing some percussion to break through. Rustie’s biggest mistake recently in his tracks has been hurling too much at the listener too soon, so I am glad to see him restraining himself a little.

'Shakes' - World Champion



Unknown Aussie duo World Champion deliver this upbeat indie dance number. Drowsy vocals and distant synths add a psychedelic edge. It’s like Tame Impala and The Stone Roses have had a baby.

THE WORST:


The Knocks & Matthew Koma – I Wish (My Taylor Swift)


A song about Taylor Swift? Is this what pop stars have resorted to – singing about other pop stars? I can’t wait for Taylor Swift to write a song about The Knocks and Matthew Koma. 

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Review of 'Delirium' by Ellie Goulding


Ellie Goulding has a voice like a cartoon mouse on helium. I’m not sure it’s a cadence I’m entirely keen on, but I respect it’s individuality. Without this vocal tone, the UK singer would arguably have nothing going for her, especially apparent on this album which instrumentally is nothing more than a bunch of watered-down eighties synthpop tracks that wouldn’t sound out of place on Taylor Swift’s last record nor Carly Rae Jepsen’s. The intro is vaguely gothic and avant-garde, I guess. And the twangy guitars on ‘On My Mind’ sound like something The Police might have played with. However, these brief moments do nothing to spice up an otherwise vanilla pop album. 

TRACK TASTER:

Monday, 2 November 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 2/11/2015: Timbaland, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Pink Lung and more...


THE BEST:


'Nebula' - Sam Gellaitry



Sometimes I think I could be a bedroom producer. Then I hear a track like this and I’m immediately inclined to delete FL studio and take up fishing or some other hobby instead.

'Uncertain' - Kelly Lee Owens



If you’ve ever wanted to feel like the floating hot wax in a lava lamp then this zero-gravity psych-pop song from London singer Kelly Lee Owens ought to fulfil your weird fantasy.

'Them Jeans' - Timbaland ft. Migos



What’s in them jeans?’. Timbaland’s dirty talk lyrics are nothing special, and I’m not even going to pretend to be a Migos fan. If I’m totally honest I’m just in love with the old-skool beat. Did Timbaland produce it? It sounds like DJ Mustard but upped in tempo.

'Hey, You’re Mine' - A Sunny Day in Glasgow



Philly dream pop collective, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, fortunately have a sound that is just as imaginative as their band name. ‘Hey, You’re Mine’ is their latest single – a sparkly marching shoegaze song about being proudly in love with someone. The mood is overwhelmingly triumphant. I feel like climbing a mountain after listening to this song.

'Chinese Watermelon' – Pink Lung


Canadian rock bands White Lung and Pink Mountaintops have merged to create Pink Lung. I’m not familiar with either of the previous bands but after hearing this theatrical jam, I may have to explore both group’s back catalogues. A Halloween-themed music video supplements the song, the majority of which is utterly bonkers and nonsensical. I expected nothing less from a song named ‘Chinese Watermelon’.

THE WORST:


'Walnuts' - Chief Keef



Chicago emcee, Chief Keef, delivers this rambling ode to bitches and marijuana performed with all the energy of a wounded snail. 

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Review of 'The Anthropocene Extinction' by Cattle Decapitation


San Diego deathgrind band Cattle Decapitation have dropped the hippy ethos. No longer are all their members vegetarians and no longer do they write songs about mankind's mistreatment of animals. Instead, they've turned to psychopathic songs about their hatred of humanity. Their last album contained romantic song titles such as ‘A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat’ and ‘Dead Set on Suicide’. This album meanwhile settles for less explicit (but equally misanthropic) titles such as ‘Not Suitable For Life’ and ‘The Burden of Seven Billion’. Fittingly evil lyrics ensue, all to the accompaniment of blast beats, machine gun riffs and bowel-emptying breakdowns. Cattle Decapitation have never been softies sonically. On this record they attempt to show off their entire arsenal of extreme techniques. Most metal bands are a one trick pony but Cattle Decapitation seem to be both masters of breakneck speed and crawling sludge. Their vocalist Travis Ryan also shows impressive versatility – alternating between death growls, black metal screeches and a unique semi-sung snarl that sounds like its being delivered by a toothless pirate. Occasionally, the band don’t quite know how to integrate all their ideas into a flowing song – shoving riffs and  interludes together in a start-stop motion. It’s all very exciting, albeit a little messy.