Sunday, 28 August 2016

Review of 'Freetown Sound' by Blood Orange



Dev Hynes is the kind of guy who likes to keep changing up his style. Metaphorically speaking, he’s the kind of guy who never wears the same dress twice. Literally speaking, he’s the kind of guy who’d probably never wear a dress in the first place. But let’s not get ourselves sidetracked with cross-dressing analogies…

There have been many twists and turns to Dev’s musical career. Before he adopted his Blood Orange moniker and started making Prince-inspired synthpop, he was a wig-wearing indie/folk singer-songwriter by the name of Lightspeed Champion, and before that he was a member of a shouty dance-punk band called Test Icicles.

Dev Hynes in his previous incarnation Lightspeed Champion

On the surface, Dev seems like a pretty dynamic musician. However, despite having spent his career dabbling with every genre, when it comes to albums he can often struggle to make one song stand out from the next.

As is the case with Freetown Sound. Opening with ‘By Ourselves’, the detuned pianos and gospel vocal harmonies and smoky sax and distraught feminist rant set the album up to be an excitingly grandiose and larger-than-life experience. The pulsing bass of ‘Augustine’ combined with warm synth washes and piano splashes seemed only to encourage further excitement.

However, soon enough tracks start to bleed into one another, partially down to the fact Dev deliberately segues each track into the next, but more so down to the fault of Dev’s wishy-washy vocal performances. Consisting of soft whimpering and half-spoken murmuring, the artist tries to beef them up by swamping them in reverb, but they still come across flat amongst the surrounding mountainous production. Hooks seemingly go in one ear and out the other. And the lyrics are largely rendered incomprehensible due to the tidal wave of reverb.

Thankfully Dev’s talents as a producer are able to make up for this, spicing up the soundscape with some standout instrumental moments including the dissonant intro and spiky funk of ‘E.V.P’ and the intricate percussion of ‘Better Than Me’. Big names such as Nelly Furtado and Carly Rae Jepsen also give guest performances, offering some vocal oomph. Occasionally, the same synth textures get recycled too often. But otherwise there are enough sonic landmarks to keep the journey engaging.

Clearly the album wants to be on the same level as the likes of To Pimp A Butterfly, even dabbling with socio-political themes of race and gender. However, Dev’s vocals are unable to demand the same grip on the listener, even if his synthpop backdrops are largely fun. 

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 26 August 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 26/08/2016: Earl Sweatshirt, Isaiah Rashad, Thundercat and more ...


There were a plethora of tracks competing for a place this week. Danny Brown’s new deviant joint didn’t make the cut. Not even Metallica’s latest old skool offering was able to squeeze its way in. Eventually I was able to whittle the selection down to these six beauties. Enjoy!

THE BEST:


'Balance' - Earl Sweatshirt


It's barely a minute in length and Earl’s reliably-sloth-like stream-of-consciousness bars are nothing to write home about... BUT DAT BEAT THO. Producer Knxledge throws down some gorgeous detuned jazzy piano. And that kick drum is so buried in reverb it sounds like its coming from the core of the Earth.

 ‘I mean’ – Isaiah Rashad


Another rapper known for his lethargic style, Isaiah Rashad has clearly gone on a break from the blunts because he’s sounding more pumped up and lively than ever on this single (his tone almost reminiscent of another certain TDE-signee at times...). It could be signs of a more pumped up and lively upcoming album from the emcee.

'New Girl' - Dollie Demi



'I'm a new girl now' is a sentiment I can relate to (well, maybe not the 'girl' bit, but certainly the whole theme of positively reinventing oneself). And the contrast from verse to chorus is truly satisfying, the Manchester singer switching from rueful pop diva to revitalised rock chick.

'Put Your Finger On it' - Humble Scoundrel


These Leeds lads are here to put the 'raw' in rawk, sporting a guitar tone that's absolutely badass. If I had to put my finger on who they sound like, I'd say a more unhinged Jack White with traces of Royal Blood. See that play button? Put your finger on it.

'Bus In These Streets' - Thundercat



Over a cartoonish avant-jazz instrumental singer/bassist Thundercat sings chirpily about our unhealthy symbiotic relationship with technology. 'It's ok to disconnect sometimes' he declares, a statement I whole-heartedly agree with  (I say this whilst blogging from my phone with headphones on). I'm not sure what the man on the office chair surfing the ejaculating condom in the artwork has to do with any of it, but its certainly interesting.

THE WORST:


'Nikes' - Frank Ocean


At first I thought this was a pitched up version but it turns out the chipmunk vocals are intentional.  This doesn't bode well for what could be on Blond (I still haven't got round to listening to it!)

Watch video here.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Review of 'How To Ruin Other People's Futures' by Losers


How To Ruin Other People’s Futures is an album that’s as unfriendly as its title – which is good because after hearing industrial banger ‘This is a War’ (recently featured in my best tracks of the week) I would have been pretty disappointed had the rest of the album been meditative ambient music.

Admittedly the London electro-rockers had me worried to begin with, opening the record with some slow synth swells straight off a Banks & Taylor aquarium CD. However, it turns out I simply hadn’t bargained on the fact that Losers are a band equally as capable writing progressive build-ups as they are providing instant thrills. Opener ‘I Never Got To Say Goodbye’ eases itself in before rising cinematically, the aquarium synths making way for eerie backmasked pianos, Paul Mullen's vocals creeping their way into the mix – simmering at first before erupting like an abandoned saucepan of rice left on the boil – the whole track eventually exploding with percussion and walls of distortion. By stark contrast, second track ‘Chainsaw’ cuts straight to the chase, abrasive squealing electronica pummelling the listener from the off. Clearly, Losers aren’t lost when it comes to dynamics.

For the most part, synths substitute guitars, although the rawness and aggression is certainly one of a rock band. Tracks such as ‘The not’ and ‘Car Crash’ feel reminiscent of Death Grips minus the obnoxiousness, or Nine Inch Nails with more atmosphere. There’s even a nu metal feel to some of the songs – borrowing the angst of Limp Bizkit, but carrying the sophistication of Deftones.

Of course, none of these comparisons truly capture the band’s sound, which is teeming with so many other unique idiosyncrasies.  Take ‘Red Rag’ for example - a catchy, off-kilter speedball that sees Mullen alternating schizophrenically between whispering and screaming over a 5/4 pulsing riff interspersed with nutty piano tinkles and epic strings. Sixth track ‘Exit Plan’ meanwhile is a reverb-soaked ballad climaxing with some creepy music box tinkles, managing to sound as powerful as the remaining tracks despite its lack of percussion.

At times a sense of humour wouldn’t do a miss on the record, as the serious lyricism doesn’t always fit in with the wacky instrumentation. There’s some head-scratching  imagery on ‘Exit Plan’ including ‘orange peel guillotines’ and ‘winning with a wooden spoon’ that I’d have liked to have seen more of, and a few more fun choruses like ‘Red Rag’ would have been exciting to hear. Sane listeners may prefer the lack of theatrics, but as a non-sane listener it all feels a bit tame.

That said, I struggle to find any other flaw with this album. Three years in the making, How To Ruin Other People’s Futures has clearly had a lot of tweaking and precision put into it. But instead of getting bogged down in complexity, the band have focused this tweaking and precision into making every track as immediately hard-hitting and downright fierce as possible. The result is a mighty cold-and-steely finely-tuned tank of an album. 

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 19 August 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 19/08/2016: Stormzy, PWR BTTM, Ehiorobo and more...


My cat went to heaven this week, so I've been feeling pretty down. But I've been coping, focusing on life's little improvements. Team GB are looking very promising medal-wise in Rio and the pool is looking a lot less green. Plus things have been looking very exciting on the musical front. For one Frank Ocean has finally released an album, with rumours of another one on the way. And some of the singles released this week haven't been too shabby either...

THE BEST:

‘heir to the sugar honey queen’ - Ehiorobo


Jazzy chords, a plethora of playful percussion sounds and lyrics involving bruschetta make for one of the most creatively quirky and equally nuts r&b songs I've ever heard, courtesy of New Jersey DIY artist Ehiorobo. As for the semi-soulful vocals, I’m almost reminded of Frank Ocean. Could it be him i disguise? You don't hear from the man in months and suddenly he's everywhere...
‘Birthday Girl’ - Stormzy


Some of you may know Stormzy as the mean-spitting grime rapper behind hostile tracks like 'Scary' and 'Shut Up'. This single sees the emcee showing us that he also has a sensitive side. It’s a surprisingly tasteful love rap dedicated to his girlfriend as a birthday gift, so divergent from anything Stormzy has done before that I can scarcely believe it’s actually him (Frank, is that you again?). In any case, I’m slowly falling in love with the UK rapper. And by 'love' I mean Stormzy needs to dump his current bae and make me his birthday girl.
‘New Hampshire’ – PWR BTTM


Now that I’ve confessed my homoerotic love for Stormzy it seems like a good time to rev up the gayness and throw in some queer punk. Admittedly PWR BTTM’s latest single hasn’t got much man-love going on in it. In fact, it seems to be a bleak slit-your-wrists anthem to the apocalypse that describes all the birds in the sky dying and the sun dying (basically a lot of dying) - hardly the cheery stimulant i needed after this shitty week, but still I’m curiously charmed by how openly and boundlessly depressing it all is. Positivity has been done to death. Let’s all jump off a bridge.
'Raygun' - Anthony & the mountain


Anthony & the Mountain is a self-proclaimed 'savage pop' singer and pianist, also a queer artist (lots of gays this week – if you don’t like it, you can fuck off...). Crazy lyrics about finding a razor in his wallet are delivered with a sauntering rock star vocal tone, set to some bright and squelchy electronica. I'm led to think that this is what Queens of the Stone Age might sound like were they were to embrace synthpop.
‘Marco Polo’ - China lane


I've been repping the Chinese vibes lately (read my interview with Wei Zhongle). Admittedly, this UK indie pop group’s new single struck me as pretty standard at first, but slowly it builds into something triumphant and utterly intoxicating, fat warm synths and oriental flutes sealing the deal. Yes, China Lane are up my alley.
THE WORST:
'Pawn In The Game' - The Holy Virus

I could probably excuse the lo-fi production and video if this prog rock act had a sense of humour, but judging from the ‘Human Trafficking’ themed lyrics they take themselves very seriously.

Monday, 15 August 2016

INTRODUCING: Wei Zhongle


Meet Wei Zhongle.

They’re a Chicago-based indie rock group that describe themselves on social media as ‘avant uke/bass’. Twangy chorus-soaked guitars, slinky fretless bass, psychedelia-tinged vocals and kooky clarinets make up their madcap sound. Their melodies meanwhile draw heavily from traditional Chinese courtroom music. 

Their latest album Nice Mask Over An Ugly Face sees them tightening up their sound, the result being punchier, groovier and overall weirder. Think Holy-Fire-era Foals were they to lose their marbles and go oriental whilst incorporating distorted clarinet solos. That's what Wei Zhongle sound like.



Having scoured the internet for more background information on the band and came up empty-handed, I hoped an interview may be able to provide more insight into the inner workings of the mysterious group. The band responded to my interview opportunity with the following opening statement.

‘Wei Zhongle are currently being held at an undisclosed location due to ongoing investigations. These answers are being provided through a surrogate and are as follows’ 

Ongoing investigations? I was unable to gleam further information from the group, however I did manage to get into an enlightening discussion involving Woody Allen and Obama. Read on below…


If Wei Zhongle was a pizza what toppings would it have?

WZ (Wei Zhongle): Wei Zhongle is a Hawaiian pizza, but traditional Chicago-style Hawaiian pizza: deep-dish with gummy worms instead of pineapple, and curried goat instead of ham. Pigs are our friends. 

I tried doing some Google research into your band name and came across this article (my Chinese isn’t too good): https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%A1%9B%E4%BB%B2%E6%A8%82 Who was Wei Zhongle and what made you guys name your band after him?

WZ: Answer redacted due to ongoing investigations. 

There’s a heavy Chinese influence in your music. Have you guys ever been to China?

WZ: Thank you for noticing. Yes. Once. It was nice. Hope to go back. 

Theres a heavy Martian influence in your music. Have you guys ever been to Mars?

WZ: Thank you for noticing. Yes. Once. It was nice. Hope to go back. 

Your new album is titled ‘Nice Mask Over An Ugly Face’. What or who inspired the title?

WZAnswer redacted due to ongoing investigations.

There’s some crazy clarinet playing on this album. Who do you look to for clarinet inspiration?

WZ: Benny Goodman, primarily. Also, John Goodman. And Mr Goodbars. Woody Allen plays very nicely, too. And softly.

How did the ‘Wei Zhongle Drives Very Fast Tour’ go? How fast did you drive?

WZ: As fast as our diplomatic immunity will allow us. 

What’s the Chicago music scene like and are there any bands right now that you think people ought to know about?




 This music video is quite the trip. Who is the creepy claw lady and where can I get a psychedelic portal hat?

WZ: You are the creepy claw lady and the psychedelic portal hat is right in front of you. It's in front of all of us. Don't look too hard.

What does the future hold for Wei Zhongle?

WZ: I am confused by your question. The future has not yet happened. The past held goodness. A hand holds flowers. A bowl holds fruit. 


Follow Wei Zhongle at @wei_zhongle


Thursday, 11 August 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 12/08/2016: Flex, Swet Shop Boys, Gypsy & The Cat and more...



Flex? The Swet Shop Boys? Gypsy & The Cat? Never heard of any of them. What a load of hipster twaddle. What kind of pretentious asshole writes this blog, anyhow? I'm unsubscribing...

THE BEST:


'Meditate' - Flex


Floating jazzy chords and some smooth stream-of-consciousness bars make for some dreamy hip hop from this Portugal-born UK-based rapper Flex. Apparently he's only 19!

Hungry for more tasty music from Flex? Sink your teeth into his brand new EP Soul Food over at Bandcamp.

'T5' - Swet Shop Boys



'TSA always want to burst my bubble/ always get a random check when I rock the stubble'. Nobody likes to be mistaken for a terrorist. For brown-skinned people going through airport security it's a continuous problem, one that the Swet Shop Boys have decided to confront with this new song 'T5'. Consisting of brown-skinned buddies Heems of Das Racist and UK actor/musician Riz MC, the newly-formed duo tackle racial profiling head on with some playful bars and a badass spiky beat. 

'Give and Take' - Gypsy & the Cat



Someone help me out - from which classical piece is that gorgeous piano part at 2:35 ripped from? I've been searching for it for months. In any case, I didn't expect to hear it weaved into this fun psychedelic pop anthem. The two members of this Melbourne duo used to be DJs. Now one is a gypsy and the other is a cat.

'Slow' – Taka Perry ft. Jordi



Another Aussie duo of sorts, EDM producer Taka Perry and upcoming vocalist Jordi team up for this slow and seductive electropop number 'Slow'. The beat has a Lion-King-esque vibe thanks to those xylophones or marimbas or whatever those tribal pitched percussion sounds are.

'Fallin’ - Jean Tonique


I'll never get bored of wet splodgy detuned fifth chords. This track's practically teeming with them. I'll have to give the rest of this Parisienne producer's work a peruse.

THE WORST:


'Y’all Ain’t Trappin' – 7k (Makaveli the Don 2pac Reborn)



Wow  ... that's ...  that's quite a lot of auto-tune. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but he makes Desiigner sound like he had elocution lessons. The hyped-up intro and '2pac Reborn' claim seemingly make it all the more horrifyingly obscene. 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Review of 'California' by Blink-182



What’s my age again? Oh, yes, twenty three (nobody likes you when you’re twenty three).

Pop punk has never been my genre of choice. Even as a teenager, most of it seemed all too samey and cornily sentimental – the stupidly happy guitars, the whiny vocals, the whole socially-awkward-adolescent act. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t occasionally enjoyed the odd classic, maybe even been known to sing along drunk to ‘I Miss You’ in my best DeLonge drawl. However when it comes to the bulk of the genre – the Fallout Boys and All Time Lows of this world – it all just makes me groan at how manufactured the whole American-college-kid-misfit-whose-just-discovered-girls image has become. You can’t pretend to be misfits if a thousand other bands sound just like you.

Blink certainly pioneered this image and a small part of me unrealistically hoped that Blink may be capable of bringing new life to pop punk in 2016. Alas, this couldn’t be further from the result. California might as well be mechanical. The lyrics are clunky made up of dumb hooks like ‘life’s too short to last long’, the vocals sound like they’ve been touched up with auto-tune and the guitars are overproduced to the point of being sterile. The only thing that sounds alive and human is Travis Barker’s drumming. Diehard pop-punk fans will lap it up, but to me this just sounds like Blink trying to rip off the very artists they influenced (‘Los Angeles’ could be a Fallout Boy song), whilst simultaneously sounding more wooden than Pinocchio.  


Thursday, 4 August 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 05/08/2016: Clipping, Mallrat, Losers and more...



It's all a bit left-field this week. Prepare to be left bemused.


THE BEST:


'By The Tide' - Danika & Maxo



Glitchy electronic jazz. This is what they’ll be playing in lounge bars on the moon in fifty years time. You heard it here first.

'This is a War' - Losers


Speaking of the future, UK electronica/rock outfit Losers are dropping an album soon charmingly titled How To Ruin Other People’s Futures, and have released this new unsubtle single from it titled ‘This Is A War’. It opens with explosive percussion and slowly builds into an industrial blitzkrieg. Just when you think it can’t get any more intense, it seemingly does. 2:40 is batshit insane.

'Baby Don’t Sleep' - clipping.


We waste a third of our lives asleep. My genius solution – don’t sleep. And what better way to stay awake than to listen to this Californian noise-hop trio’s new angry song on repeat. The noisy beat may well be their most abrasive yet.  And Daveed Diggs’ bars are some of his most unsettling to date.

'Uninvited' - Mallrat



New-Zealand-based singer Mallrat (the self-proclaimed ‘Hannah Montana of the Rap Game’) delivers this groovy dance-pop single about wanting to be uninvited from a crap party. It’s a situation we can all relate to – being dragged to our partner’s niece’s dog’s bar mitzvah and being forced to make small talk with strangers before retreating to the corner to awkwardly sip beer and send fake texts. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend this song to the DJ next time you’re in this situation – the host of the party may take offence. Although this may be a good thing as you’ll get what you wish for.

'Windows' - Sugar Candy Mountain


Drowsy guitars and gliding vocals make for some smoky psychedelic rock from this Californian duo Sugar Candy Mountain (their band name reminds me of those Charlie The Unicorn videos). The band describe themselves on their Facebook page like so: ‘If Brian Wilson had dropped acid on the beach in Brazil and decided to record an album with Os Mutantes and The Flaming Lips, it would sound like this’.

THE WORST:


'Hare Baller' – BGB Films


I try not to rip on amateurs like this but this song is all levels of awful, plus the dude with the shades needs to remember to wear sunscreen.