Monday, 29 February 2016

Review of 'Painting With' by Animal Collective


That’s the sound of me choking in case you were wondering. So fast-paced and busy is the Baltimore psychedelic pop-rockers’ latest album that there’s little time to breathe – and its brilliant!

Me whilst listening to this album

I wasn’t expecting such a direct and smothering album. In the past, Animal Collective have always revelled in atmosphere, creating slow and trippy soundscapes that are anything but stuffy.

Centipede Hz, the band’s last album, was their first real attempt to up the tempo. However, it also saw the band making several questionable alterations to their sound, Noah’s clean barbershop vocals replaced with a slovenly Julian-Casablanca-impression, whilst also trading ambient build-ups for messy indie-rock-in-a-blender noodling.

Animal Collective

In comparison, Painting With feels a little more familiar, the cleaner barbershop-style vocals making a comeback on top of synth-heavy instrumentals similar in tone to Panda Bear’s recent solo work. And instead of jumbled experimental meanderings, we’re getting actual songs this time with choruses and verses.

As a result, things are more comfortably suffocating this time around - it’s that hot dominatrix you ordered strangling you, not some starved anaconda you stumbled into whilst stranded in the Amazon rainforest.

'Comfortably suffocating'

Not that this album has anything to do with BDSM. None of the songs are remotely sexual or adult. If anything the unique palette of sounds that Animal Collective are painting with on Painting With is cartoonishly child-like. The squelching synth-bass on many tracks reminds me rather sweetly of something out of a nineties Nickelodeon programme, whilst numbers like ‘Hocus Pocus’ have a Nintendo-esque backdrop. Then there are the acrobatic vocal harmonies layered on top, undeniably some of the band’s most playful and creative to date. Recorded in same studio that Brian Wilson used to record Pet Sounds, it’s safe to say The Beach Boys are a major influence.  However, even these surf rock icons’ harmonies seem amateurish in comparison to some of the wizardly vocal arrangements going on here. Just listen to way the rising and falling wails overlap at the end of ‘On Delay’. And the way in which syllables are relayed back and forth on ‘Hocus Pocus’ with the speed of an Olympian table tennis game.

What the vocals on 'Hocus Pocus' sound like...

Admittedly there are times when the band repeat the same motif a little too often. The squelchy synth bass makes an appearance on almost every track, its interesting texture growing tiresome by the time 'Golden Gal' comes around, whilst the ping-pong vocals are similarly repeated on multiple occasions losing all novelty by the time they're recycled on ‘Recycling’.

These moments of déjà vu are thankfully few and far between, and there is enough sonic variation otherwise to keep the momentum up. ‘The Burglars’ for example introduces some speedy singing and a loopy old-timey synths into the mix, whilst ‘Bagels in Kiev’ has a chilly wintry feel about it to contrast the rest of the album's mellow, sunny mood.

Overall, the pace could be a little more mixed (the first real breather comes at the opening of the last track). However, otherwise Painting With feels anything but monochrome in its approach, bursting with colour from start to finish. 


Friday, 26 February 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 26/02/2016: Azealia Banks, Pitbull, B.o.B and more...

Forget the Grammys. Forget the Brit Awards. This is where the real music's at. Wait ... is that Pitbull? In the best tracks of the week??? THIS IS HERESY


'The Big Big Beat' - Azealia Banks

Needless to say, the beat is BIG. It’s a swanky deep house number that perfectly complements Azealia’s tongue-twister bars and dazzling singing. If only she’d quit the pointless Twitter beefs and become as sophisticated a person in real life as she is in her music.

'Grass Shack' - Guerilla Toss

Cowbells, groovy guitars, dissonant synths that sound they were produced by a broken N64 and a soliloquy about pushing a rubber band over a plastic jar – just another normal day in the life of batshit-crazy rockers Guerilla Toss. This zany cranium-curdler comes straight off the band’s new LP, Eraser Stargazer.

'Keep On, Keeping on' - Bleached

California all-female rock trio Bleached deliver this energetic rock anthem, sporting a creepy video filmed through the eyes of a stalker. The driving guitars make me want to jump in my car and go on a speeding frenzy. I'm talking 31 in a 30 zone! I'm such a madman. I don't even own a car.

'My Life In Rewind' - Eagulls

These lugubrious Leeds lads are starting to sound scarily like The Cure. Given The Cure haven’t released anything in a while, I’m willing for this band to be my substitute.

'Bad Man' - Pitbull ft. Robin Thicke, Joe Perry and Travis Barker

Despite the frightening cast, this pop-rock collaboration isn’t as hideous as I expected. If anything it’s actually rather fun – Joe Perry and Travis Barker laying down some catchy guitar and drums. It’s corny as a cornfield and I feel like a bad man for liking it.


'Flatline' - B.o.B

Ok, so I’m very late on the bandwagon with this one. US rapper B.o.B has claimed that the world is flat, which led to a debate with physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, which has led to this diss track here. Is this some cheap cry for attention? Does B.o.B seriously think the world is flat? It’s because of goofs like this guy that people don’t take hip hop seriously.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Review of 'The Life of Pablo' by Kanye West

After two years of teasingly drip-feeding us tracks (most of which didn’t make the final cut), a lot of tracklist rejigging and more name changes than Prince (first So God Help Me, then SWISH, then Waves and now The Life of Pablo), Kanye has finally decided to release his new album. But despite the long and drawn-out cooking process, it still feels half-baked.

Ima fix Wolves’ the rapper vowed on Twitter soon after the LP dropped – not that this particular track needs fixing. It's other spots on the album that lack polish – the shaky auto-tune at the end of ‘FML’, the disjointed beat backing ‘Famous’, the outro of ‘Hours’ that seems to trails off for hours, the end of ‘Fade’ that contrastingly seems to cut abruptly short (given the track title, wouldn’t a fade-out have been sensible?).

Already the Tidal version has been botched after someone accidentally uploaded the track ‘Facts’ twice instead of including the closer ‘Fade’. Given the news that Kanye might further edit this album, we may end up with several versions of the album floating around on the interwebz. This is not a good thing as some people seem to think. Kanye has not ‘reinvented the concept of an album’. Out of sheer clumsiness and indecision, he has simply released an unfinished product, and whilst it’s nice to see him attempting to fix it, I can’t help but feel that the damage is already done. It’s like selling a chair and then realising one of the legs was missing. It’s like handing in an essay and then asking to change it when the marks come back.

Kanye's new album

I’ve never been the biggest Ye fan in the world (that accolade belongs to Kanye himself), but I have always respected the wild wild West for being the creative spirit that he is. He doesn’t cater to pop appeal – he’s an artist, much like Pablo Picasso after whom this LP is christened, albeit without the stripy shirt.

Pablo Picasso

After all, despite being undercooked, this is a dish with a lot of interesting and imaginative flavours in it. The beats for one are brilliantly diverse and almost always left-field. ‘Feedback’ turns ordinarily tuneless guitar feedback into something truly tuneful. ‘Freestyle 4’ incorporates eerie strings and offbeat wooping synths creating something truly suspenseful. Then there’s ‘I Love Kanye’ which doesn’t have any instrumental at all – instead serving as an inventive a capella track about how his fans perceive him. I expected vomit-inducing narcissism but in fact it’s one of the more humble tracks here.

Rather encouragingly, there are several other glimpses of lyrical humility along the way. ‘Real Friends’ is a track about how he hasn’t always been a great friend, even slightly self-deprecating to a point: ‘I’m always blaming you, but what’s sad you’re not the problem’. And ‘Father Stretch My Hands pt. 2’ sees the musician realising he’s much like his dad, his work taking priority over friends and family: ‘Sorry I didn’t call you back, same problem my father had’. Hearing Kanye admit his mistakes and value his relationships with family and friends makes me realise that the dude does actually have a conscience. Perhaps he’s human after all.

Sadly, these moments of heart aren’t enough to outweigh Kanye’s titanic asshole ego, which dominates the rest of this album. When he’s not trying to justify his arrogance with arrogance: ‘name me one genius who ain’t crazy’, he’s poking fun at fellow celebrities and resorting to low-brow misogyny: ‘I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that bitch famous’.

Indeed, there are times when Kanye can be so outrageous that he’s funny – for example the ‘a blowjob’s better than no job’ line on 30 Hours. However, these moments of true wit are juxtaposed with an equal amount of bad and corny lines. One of Kanye’s worst habits is repeating the same bar twice as if trying to add some divine extra meaning to it, but quite often these lines aren’t special enough to be uttered once: ‘I made that bitch famous/ I made that bitch famous’. And then there’s the track ‘Facts’ which sees the Adidas partner throwing one big, biased, goofy tantrum at Nike. He’s changed the beat on the album version from the original single version, but really I think the beat wasn’t the problem: ‘couches, couches, couches, couches, which one should I pick?/ I need extra deep, I like my bitches extra thick’.

Needless to say, I’m not happy about the ‘gossiping, no-pussy-getting bloggers’ line either, although I’m not going to lose sleep over it as I’m actually quite satisfied in that department.

Anyway, let’s wrap up this rap review by agreeing that Kanye has made some baby steps towards being more likable since Yeezus – he’s proclaiming to be a genius now, not a God. The rapper does attempt to show some honest introspection and he doesn’t sacrifice his artistic integrity, crafting some truly creative songs. However, The Life of Pablo isn’t the holistic piece that former Kanye albums have been – it’s messy and piecemeal. And although somewhat subdued, Kanye’s megalomaniac side still can’t help but rear it’s ugly head. 


Friday, 19 February 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 19/02/2016: Animal Collective, Pet Shop Boys, Macklemore and more...

I apologise now for the lack of Kanye.


'War Cry' – Jaggery

Commencing with a tribal drum beat and some banshee-like-screeching, I knew immediately that this track was going to a weird one, which is good because weird is right up my alley. This happens to be the opening track to the Boston ‘avant-rock’ band’s upcoming album, Crux. Check out my review here.

'Coffee' - Kal Marks

Boston is clearly a breeding ground for bonkers bands right now. This seven-minute rock number from Exploding In Sound signees Kal Max begins with some evil sludgy doom metal riffage before abruptly making way for lighter grungy rock. I wasn’t too impressed with the tired vocals – he sounds like he could do with some coffee. Saying that, he does seem to wake up towards the end of track. In fact, he starts screaming his lungs out. Too much coffee perhaps?

'Golden Gal' – Animal Collective

The bass reminds me of Rugrats. Except soaked in Animal Collective’s usual dose of psychedelia. Basically, acid-infused Rugrats.

'The Pop Kids' – Pet Shop Boys

It’s interesting that an eighties band would want to release what sounds like a nineties house anthem in 2016. Struggling to keep with the times? In any case, it sounds bloody awesome. Time to gather up my glowsticks, my raver bracelets, my pacifier and my smiley pasties!

'No Harm' - Yes We Mystic

If Alt J and Everything Everything had a baby it would sound like this (although quite how they'd reproduce is a mystery, considering both band are all dudes).


'Spoons' – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Did he just compare his girlfriend’s belly to Gucci Mane’s? Great, now all I can imagine is Macklemore spooning Gucci Mane.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Review of 'Crux' by Jaggery

Jaggery are Boston’s latest off-the-wall offering, a self-proclaimed ‘avant rock’ group with a frontwoman named Singer Mali Sastri (that’s right – their singer is named Singer).

Their sound is quite simply genre defying – an alien mix of Bjorkish vocals, dark strings, soft pianos, and jazzy percussion. ‘Avant rock’ doesn’t do it justice. For one rock indicates guitars, of which there are surprisingly none on this record.

Is this band even from Earth? Middle Earth maybe
The band's influences are hard to pinpoint. Instrumentally,they appear to be influenced by a bit of everything. Mali's rising and falling acrobatic vocals meanwhile definitely seem Bjork-inspired, but there are points when she seemingly morphs into an entirely new singer, turning soft and angelic on 'Venus In Transition' and then shape-shifting into a raspier version of Siouxsie Sioux on 'Raskalnikov'.

Crux is the band’s third album. Given I hadn’t heard of Jaggery before this record landed in my inbox, I can’t fill you in on the band’s history. I can only assume they’ve gone under the radar for so long because of how wacky their sound is.

Thankfully these aren't the type of arty-farty avant-garders that lavish in showing off their talents with displays of maturbatory noise. These are actual songs, rather than displays of arrogant noodling, and the band has a strong sense of melody, indulging in warm chords and slinky basslines.

However, there are some moments of carnivalesque experimentation that are likely to have less tolerant listeners scrambling for the mute button - in particular the first ten seconds of the album that sees Mali screeching like a boiling kettle over a tribal drum beat.

Given the opening track is called 'War Cry' it has it's purpose, which sums up most of the experimental moments on this album. Nothing is done merely for the sake of being experimental. Instead, the band use their creative side to be playfully kooky and add depth to each song, the changing percussion rhythm of 'This Way That Way's chorus being a good example, deliberately matching the disorientated lyrical theme of the song.

This playfulness sustains itself for most of the album with the exception of  'Crux' and 'Those Who'. Here the band leash and muzzle their wild side resorting to boringly sane balladry. Fortunately, this is only a slight lull in the record and the group are able to untame themselves again, closing the album on the weirdest and most fun track of all, ‘Nijinsky’s Diaries’, a largely-spoken-word song that sees Mali yelling ‘I will blow my brains out if God wants it!’ over an instrumental freakout.

All in all, the album could be more consistently deranged. For now, the group have succeeded in solidifying a refreshingly unique sound that's unlike any other band out there. I was starting to wonder where rock was going, but maybe this is the answer. Throw away your guitars. 'Avant rock' is the way forward.

Crux drops April 29th.


Monday, 15 February 2016

Review of 'Wake Up!' by Pope Francis

My curiosity got the better of me. A rock album? By The Pope? Sadly, the premises is more exciting than the result. Firstly, the pope’s contribution isn’t all that – he doesn’t sing on any of the tracks, he doesn’t play guitar, he doesn’t even try his fingers on the bass. Instead what we get is excerpts of old speeches punctuated by songs from unknown guest musicians. These speeches are mostly in Latin and Italian. Consequently, I got very little holy insight out of them. The instrumentals meanwhile rather disappointingly aren’t all strictly rock. Opening with some Floydy synths, the album quickly meanders into Gregorian chanting, Latin and pop all of which manages to be impressively inoffensive. Most of it sounds like it’s off a Muzak CD, the kind they used to play in coffee shops and elevators back in the nineties. Only the title track, ‘Wake Up!’, is truly worthy of a horns up – a melancholy guitar-driven track produced by Italian former prog rock artist Tony Pagliuca – and even this is ‘retirement home rock’ as opposed to ‘real rock’. Oh well, it’s still better than Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz


Thursday, 11 February 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 12/02/2016: Beyoncé, James Blake, Eagulls and more...

Valentines Day is round the corner. Where are the love songs? Even Beyoncé is turning political. Prepare to get serenaded anyway.


'Pay Me' - Sam Gellaitry

I get the feeling Sam really wants us to buy his music. Let's take a break from torrenting and put a few pennies his way. He deserves it. Not even sausage factories can keep up with the amount of bangers that this 18-year-old bedroom producer churns out. This latest track to drop on his Soundcloud turns out to be pretty minimal (by Sam Gellaitry standards) but it’s dizzyingly lively nonetheless, sporting some tight vocal chops and crazy sub-bass sure to give your speakers a workout.

'Old Habits Die Hard' - Allie X 

Stereogum writer Chris DeVille nailed it when he described this group as ‘Chvrches with a little more NIN in them’. I kind of hoped for a less poppy chorus, but otherwise this track’s very fun. And yes, I'm just as confused by the spinning creepy lady in the video. 

'Lemontrees' - Eagulls

With its hazy guitar distortion and Erasure-esque croon-yelling I kind of feel like I’m listening to some beautifully moody New Wave band from the 80s whilst listening to this track. It makes me want to break out into spaced-out goth dancing.

'Formation' - Beyoncé

Jackson Five nostrils’? Red Lobster? The Illuminati? Beyoncé sings about a lot of stuff in this vaguely political new song, which people are calling a ‘black pride anthem’. It’s nothing on Kendrick Lamar if you ask me. However, the trap beat in the background is undeniably monstrous, made more impressive by some of Queen Bey's most fiery singing to date.

'Modern Soul' - James Blake

Whilst hosting his own Radio 1 show, the alternative R&B artist decided to sneak this new track into the mix. It’s a haunting slowburner from the singer-songwriter made up of his signature fragile vocals and lots of gloomy disorientating synth sounds carrying all the chill of a February night. 


'New Bohemia' – Transviolet

All this talk about ‘revolution’ and ‘new bohemia’ and she sounds like a carbon copy of Taylor Swift. Sorry love, but you’re not revolutionising anything. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Review of 'Anti' by Rihanna

Everyone’s favourite Bajan fashion icon and chart-topper Rihanna has decided to go ‘alternative’. It seems no pop star wants to release a yucky pop album any more. Lady Gaga showed she’d had enough when she dropped the vaguely arty Artpop. Beyoncé followed swiftly after with her self-titled progressive r&b record – many songs getting lyrically personal and extending the five minute mark. And who could forget Miley’s more recent exploration into psychadelia featuring The Flaming Lips and a song about a dead blowfish?

It seems being alternative has – rather contradictorily – become popular. The problem is that too many pop stars also think it’s easy. They mistake success and artistic merit as similarly achievable things. They’re not. Just because you can drop a number-one hit doesn’t mean you’re also capable of achieving a 10 on Pitchfork. No-one can achieve a 10 on Pitchfork. It’s like trying to eat a doughnut without getting sugar on your lips – physically impossible.

It’s perhaps this naivety that has led many alternative-sounding albums from pop stars to sound obnoxious, uninspired or a bit of both. I expected much the same from this new Rihanna album. The single, ‘Work’, certainly lived up to my expectations of obnoxiousness.

Workworkworkworkwork’ – what kind of cheap hook is that? It’s just repeating a single word over and over again until it sticks. At least, the left-field synthy beat is fairly cool.

It turns out there are a lot of nice quirky instrumentals on this album. From the jazzy electric keys of ‘James Joint’ to the Travis-Scott-produced stomping dissonant chords of ‘Woo’, the record definitely feels legitimately alternative.

Travis Scott looking happy to be working with Rihanna

And thankfully there aren’t actually many annoying hooks like ‘Work’ on the remainder of the record, if any hooks at all.

Rihanna’s voice is certainly prominent on these songs, but she dedicates more time to showing off the range of her voice than composing catchy choruses. Whether she’s sticking to her roots employing a Caribbean dancehall tone or experimenting with a traditional Motown croon as on ‘Love on The Brain’, she’s pushing her voice – which is more than I can say for most mainstream musicians.

This diversity makes up for the lack of earworms and dance numbers. Most of the songs are at a mid-tempo pace, but Rihanna’s attempts to tackle different styles makes each track unique from the last. Even when the tracks start to settle instrumentally for banal balladry towards the back-end of the record, Rihanna makes up for this by romping up the power in her vocals. ‘Higher’ is a short string-led number made interesting by Rihanna’s heartfelt belting, whilst soft piano number ‘Close to You’ contains some of the singer’s most intimate crooning yet.  

Me being blown away by Rihanna's singing on 'Higher'

And the lyrics aren’t embarrassing either. There’s no ‘Mary Jane Holland’ like Gaga. There’s no ‘Can I lick your skittles?’ like Bey. There’s no ‘Why they put the dick in the pussy?’ like Miley. Written mostly by Rihanna herself with the exception of a Tame Impala cover midway through, there surprisingly isn’t a single cringeworthy line. Okay, ‘Work’ is pretty crap, but otherwise Rihanna knows how to be witty. Indeed she isn’t afraid to be rude often using colourful language, but even these moments are funny rather than tasteless: ‘Let me cover your shit in glitter’.

So there we have it, I liked a Rihanna album. Shoot me. Perhaps the singer will continue down this left-field path in the future. Given Anti is already destined for the top of the charts, her choice to not go mainstream has clearly still paid off. 


Friday, 5 February 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 5/02/2016: Tom Misch, Denzel Curry, BJ The Chicago Kid and more...

Those looking for my opinion on Zayn Malik's new song will be sorely disappointed. Some songs are simply neither impressive nor unimpressive enough to write about. 


‘Make Some Light’ - Rippls

Stuttering keys, synth marimbas and chirpy vocal clippings make up this creative electronic track from unknown Soundcloud producer, Rippls. The mood is very summery – far too summery for this miserable time of the year, but oh well, I can deal with it.  

‘This Won’t Take Long...’ – Uxo

It didn’t take long. From the opening skulking riffs and angry shouty vocals I was immediately hooked on this noisy number from newly-formed metal band, Uxo. This track comes straight off the group's self-titled debut album which dropped this week.

‘Easy Love’ – Tom Misch & Carmody

20-year-old producer Tom Misch sure knows how to deliver a smooth beat. His vocals aren’t bad either, although it’s London singer Carmody’s female touch that really adds that’s extra sparkle.

‘Purposely’ – Denzel Curry

HOPE YOU DIE OF AIDS!’. As diss tracks go, this is pretty brutal. Quite what fellow Floridian rapper SpaceGhostPurpp did to deserve this is a mystery. All I know is Denzel isn’t about to kiss and make up any time soon (he sounds pumped!). The trap instrumental is also ridiculous.

‘Turning Me Up’ – BJ The Chicago Kid

Chicago singer-songwriter BJ the Chicago Kid rides some feelgood funk on this new single. Watch everybody getting their groove on in the video, available here.


'I&I' - LUH

As interesting as the dude’s voice is, I don’t feel his croaky screech really suits the bright build-up. Calm down mate, you’re not in a metal band.