Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Review of '4:44' by Jay-Z



Sensitive Jay-Z is better than Show-off Jay-Z.

The US rap icon has never been shy about his success. He’s spent the last thirteen albums bragging about how he’s made it. Whilst there’s no denying his accomplishments as a rapper and businessman, his more recent albums have started to feel like a broken record. Magna Carta Holy Grail was pretty much nothing but him harking on about the money and expensive paintings that he owns. We get it Jay-Z, you’re richer than us.

Expecting 4:44 to be more repetitive rodomontade, I was certainly shocked by what followed. Jay-Z has toned things down quite a notch. In fact, he’s done more than that – he’s torn the entire arrogant façade entirely away.

The opening track ‘Kill Jay Z’ is pretty much an unfiltered and savage diss track aimed at himself. Gone is the glitzy production, replaced by spliced soul sampling and a crappy microphone. It’s raw and intimate and self-deprecating - pretty much every adjective that I would have never associated with the rapper.

This song sets the tone for the born again humble Jay-Z that follows. If ‘Kill Jay Z’ wasn’t exposed enough, ‘4:44’ (the song everyone’s been talking about) serves as a complete outpouring of shame regarding his rumoured affair – not only does he admit to it but publicly apologise for it letting his flow disintegrate as the song turns into a deep confession. I didn’t think there was an honourable way to address infidelity, but Jay-Z has done it.

Not all of the album is utter self-loathing. In fact, he’s back to bragging about his fucking paintings on the ‘story of OJ’ – the only difference here is that he justifies his pride. The song delves into the fact that all African Americans descend from slaves, and therefore achieving what he has achieved is pretty damn great and worth bragging about. It’s more of a poignant statement on black success than his success alone.

Meanwhile, the likes of ‘Legacy’ explore fatherhood in a way that isn’t ordinarily cringeworthy on a hip hop record, instead exploring the idea of giving what his parents couldn’t give. ‘Family Feud’ and ‘Moonlight’ meanwhile explore generational differences as he looks upon the current rap game as an old hip hop head, laying the barbed bars we’ve always loved from the rapper: ‘please don’t talk about guns/ that you ain’t never gon’ use’.

Whilst the likes of Kanye have seemingly become more obscure and less relatable by pushing arrogance to comical extremes, Jay-Z has marched defiantly in the opposite direction, coming across more human than ever whilst still keeping glimmers of his old charm through wordplay and humour when appropriate (e.g. ‘I’m not black, I’m O.J… okay?’). It’s the best version of Hova we’ve heard in years.

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 21 July 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 21/07/2017: Lana Del Rey, Tyler the Creator, Low Chimes and more...



UPDATE: Both Tyler and Lana’s new albums are out now!

I’ve still got so many records queued up to get through. HELP

THE BEST:

‘Blood Orange’ – Low Chimes


This band’s press photos give off such a just-another-breezy-indie-band air that I almost didn’t bother listening to their material, but I’m glad I did. Folksy vocals float over glistening guitars and a rolling bass riff. It's uniquely hypnotic. Rock may be facing it’s retirement stage right now given recent stats (hip hop is now officially more popular than rock in the US), but I’m glad newcomers like this are proving that guitar music still has places to go.

‘Groupie Love’ – Lana Del Rey


These new 808 flavoured tracks that Lana’s been releasing as of late feel like some of her most upbeat music to date - relatively speaking of course. I mean, it’s still got that longing sighed-out borderline-suicidal mood about it, but the beats and A$AP Rocky’s presence make it feel more urban and energetic. It’s as if the femme fatale has moved onto wooing traplords now. And it hasn’t got Playboi Carter throwing auto-tuned yelps over it like previous single ‘Summer Bummer’.

 ‘Ain’t got time’ – Tyler, the Creator


Can we get over the fact that Tyler may or may not be gay and instead appreciate how fun this upcoming album is likely to be? His beats are only getting more wonderfully whimsical – in this case seemingly blending trap and tango – and the ‘I ain’t got tiiiiiime’ refrain is stupid but brilliant, as has always been the style of hip hop’s loopy class clown.  

‘What Is This’ – Machinedrum ft. Rosie Lowe


What is this? A certified banger m8!!! Dreamy vocals ride some sharp chord stabs accompanied by smatterings of hard percussion. It’s the producer’s usual snazzy work – ecstasy pills on a plate served under a cloche.  

THE WORST:

‘Big B’s’ – Chance the Rapper ft. Young Thug



Thugga is up to his usual sporadic spluttering and Chance sounds out of tune. You don’t need this in your life, trust me. 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Review of 'Big Fish Theory' by Vince Staples




WARNING: These beats go hard. Proceed with caution.

My first exposure to Vince was his 2014 EP Hell Can Wait. To this day, my headphones still haven’t recovered from the seismic banger that was ‘Blue Suede’. In fact, I think that bass disrupted by gut movement so much that it gave me IBS.

Since then, the Long Beach rapper has continued to be active with new material - including notorious single ‘Norf Norf’- as well as making guest appearances on seemingly every album released in the last couple years. Now he’s back with a new album Big Fish Theory - and the beats make Hell Can Wait look tame.


When the bass drops on Big Fish Theory

Experimental meanderings into shuffling garage (‘Crabs in a Bucket’, ‘Love Can Be..’) and twinkling g-funk (‘745’) kick the album’s instrumental palette off to an exciting, if not slightly messy, start. By the time outlandish live recording ‘Ramona Park in Yankee Stadium’ comes along, you start to wonder what direction Vince is taking you in. But it seems he’s simply biding time for the gauntlet of bass-heavy bangers making up the backend. If the metallic clinking of ‘Yeah Right’ doesn’t shake you up (not to mention the surprise special guest towards the end), then ‘SAMO’ will certainly suck you into its depths, oozing ominously along like a river of toxic waste. 

Vince doesn’t try to match the stupendous energy of these beats, but doesn’t need to. His shtick is his nonchalant delivery as if recording each flow whilst reclining back on a hammock. When the outrageously loud beats roll in, it almost feels as if he’s imperturbably watching the world get destroyed with lyrics such as ‘death and destruction all I see’ coming out with an unnerving calmness over the psycho-trap backdrop of ‘Party People’.  

I almost wish Vince has embraced this mood fully, rather than letting his lyrics often trail off into template gangsta rap rambling. Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that these songs are still ridiculously fun. Staples knows the staple ingredients (hooray, puns) that give his music its unique thrills – laid-back flows over in-your-face beats – and he’s pushing that sound to new extremes. If he sticks to a theme, he could be formidable.

TRACK TASTER:

Monday, 17 July 2017

Jihadi rap and Nazi punk are for hypocrites


My morbid curiosity got the better of me. Deciding to embark on an adventure into the deepest and darkest corners of Youtube - a decision that has most likely put me on numerous government watchlists - I entered ‘Jihadi music’ into the search bar...

This is what came up. 


It turns out Jihadi music isn't that difficult to find. Over in IS-controlled territory it’s commonplace, and a lot of this music has made its way onto the web. Abu Yasser’s 'Salil Sawarim' remains Islamic State’s greatest hit to date and has been used in many propaganda videos. My Arabic isn’t very good, but the disconcerting sound of clinking swords is enough to suggest that this isn’t a song about peace and love.

So, Jihadi music exists. However, what about instances of Islamic extremist music in the Western world? Surely no Western government would allow such content to exist, right?

Well, wrong. Take Prophet Zebadiah Abu-Obadiah as an example.


As well as rapping, this South Thanet radical has previously run for MP, sporting policies as absurd as forcing all women to wear a hijab and making it compulsory for everyone over the age of 50 to be euthanized with a heroin overdose to control overpopulation. Reading all this, I assumed that he had to be a joke and that calling for the beheading of Tommy Robinson and Nigel Farage was simply tongue-in-cheek hyperbole. However, this Vice documentary has me doubting this...



Zebadiah is one of the more modern and notable examples, but is hardly a lone case. Jihadi rap has existed as early as 2004, with the likes of Aki Nawaz releasing the notorious ‘Dirty Kuffar’ and several albums since with lyrics comparing Bin Laden to Che Guevara.   


Aki Nawaz is pretty much the founder of Jihadi rap. Unperturbed by the negative attention, he has commented previously on the content of the genre's music: ‘I’ll take all the blame. If they’re going to lock anyone up, they’ll lock me up’.

Should we be scared that such extremist music is out there and allowed to exist. Is this an example of freedom of speech going too far? Personally, I’m of the belief that music should give everyone a voice - regardless of how extreme that voice is. Besides, why should we fear Jihadi rap when, by its very existence, the whole genre is counter-intuitive. You can’t use hip hop - a western medium - to attack western culture. It’s effectively using the very thing you’re against to make your argument.

Amusingly, this hypocrisy is also largely what stops white supremacist music from having any conviction behind it. From the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a track I dug up called ‘White World’ by Russian rap-rock band Stolniygrad.


There's a lot of this music on the web - a worrying amount. And if you thought the lyrics were scary, you should read the comments underneath the video, which are crawling with backward full-on racist remarks.

I'll admit, the children's laughter that opens the track creeped me out (are they trying to make ethnic cleansing sound innocent?). However, once the shitty nu-metal vibes began and the dude started trying to drop bars, the song starts to reveal a hilarious contradiction. Here we have a band that want to eliminate all traces of the ‘black soot’ from Europe, and yet they’re using rap to deliver their message. By eliminating blackness, hip hop would have to go, destroying the very basis of their musical career.

Even Nazi punk in its purest form still isn’t free of this hypocrisy either. Skrewdriver are perhaps the most prominent white supremacist band to ever exist, penning songs such as ‘White Power’ (no hiding their agenda there) and promoting the ‘skinhead’ look amongst their fanbase. However, this very skinhead look, when traced back, was actually born out of black culture. Reggae and ska bands of the fifties first promoted the skinhead look complete with braces and workboots, which was adopted by white and black mods of the time. Basically, Skrewdriver’s skinhead look wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for multiculturalism.     


Perhaps what this tells us is that Western music is too cosmopolitan to be used as a weapon against one race or culture. Unless Islamic extremists are sticking to purely Islam-based music, and white supremacists are sticking to classical and folk, the message will always be contradicted.

Sadly, it's likely fellow extremist converts are too dumb to see this hypocrisy, which is where the problem lies...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Review of 'Teenage Emotions' by Lil Yachty



‘She blow that dick like a cello’.

I get it. Teenage Emotions is a middle finger against everything your average old skool head stands for. Technical flows are replaced with nursery rhyme deliveries, actual singing talent is replaced with shaky auto-tune and lyrical depth is completely sidestepped altogether. Even the title Teenage Emotions seems to exist purely to anger the tough-talking stoic traditionalists.   

But does that make Teenage Emotions a good album? Ignoring everything they stood for, did the Sex Pistols make good music? 

Ignorance can be bliss. But can we really let a line like ‘she blow that dick like a cello’ slide?  He’s publicly apologised for it not making an iota of sense – but by authenticating the fact that it’s utter nonsense, it just confirms that this album is unrevised throwaway garbage.

Much of the tracks feel like amateurish attempts to copy other artists of questionable talent in the rap game. The grating ‘Harley Harley Harley’ hook on ‘Harley’ may as well be a Fetty Wap song, whilst the likes of ‘DN freestyle’ feel like an attempt to copy the Migos. There’s no cohesive style bounding the 21 tracks together. Beats take on all kinds of flavours from 80s pop ballad to trap banger, whilst always taking on the blandest form of this genre possible. As for the Teenage Emotions title, only a handful of tracks such as ‘Lady in Yellow’ and ‘Forever Young’ stick to this emotional theme.

Cheery vibes may be the only consistent thing on this album. With the exception of ‘Peek A Boo’ and 'Dirty Mouth', there are no confrontational diss tracks, only happy trappy (crappy) rap tunes about getting laid and making it to the top. These cheery vibes may be the appeal to some. But for me it may as well be a smiley face grafittied onto the side of a skip.

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 14 July 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 14/07/2017: Tyler the Creator, Ariel Pink, Dizzee Rascal and more...



This week Coldplay are recycling song titles and Tyler the Creator is feeling lonely.

THE BEST:

‘Chinese Waiter’ – Shy Boyz



This Philly duo’s Bandcamp page is quite the spectacle. I almost got Stendhal syndrome just looking at that beautiful album cover. Straight off that LP, this new single is a groovy lo-fi tune about learning cultural appreciation through the medium of a Chinese waiter. It’s a bizarrely random thing to write a song about, and incredible for that reason alone. Can you name another song out there about Chinese waiters? No, you can’t. There you have it – these dudes are pioneers.

‘Boredom’ – Tyler, the Creator


Set to appear on the rapper’s upcoming record Scum Fuck Flower Boy (what a name for an album), this new soulful single sees the provocative rapper at his most mature yet. Like, there isn’t a single rape joke in sight. Backed by some signature jazzy chords and gospel vocal harmonies, it’s a personal exploration of loneliness that feels sincere whilst still keeping the rapper’s charm as a weirdo.

 ‘Time to live’ – Ariel Pink


Lo-fi-loving crackpot Ariel Pink will be following up his 2014 album Pom Pom soon with another serving of experimental tunes. ‘Time to Live’ turns out to be a catchy dose of Adam-Ant-esque new wave – once you get past the first three minutes of noisiness which seems to contain everything from wailing screams to fuzzy metal riffs.

‘Wot U Gonna Do?’ – Dizzee Rascal


Backed by some spooky synths and a blitzkrieg of bass, Dizzee delivers another speedy diss track in the same vein as his last single ‘Space’. Many are speculating that the rapper could be taking shots at fellow grime artist Wiley, but to be honest this track could be directed at any rapper. In fact, judging from the lyrics, it could even be an introspective diss aimed at himself! But maybe I’ve just been listening too much to that Ugly God track.

THE WORST:

‘It’s Everyday Bro’ – Jake Paul ft. Team 10


Move aside Kendrick Lamar. Jake Paul and his crew of fellow famous(?) Youtubers are here to steal the hip hop crown. My favourite line: ‘England is my city’.

‘Miracles (Someone Special)’ - Coldplay ft. Big Sean


I had to check, but yes, Coldplay already have a single named ‘Miracles’. Despite the unoriginal title however, this is probably one of their more original tracks musically in a while, sounding like a crossover between U2 and early Calvin Harris, and whilst I thought I liked it initially, I left it unable to remember a single lyric or hook – was there even a chorus? Also, Big Sean’s verse about struggling to fame feels so out of place and clichéd.  

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Review of 'Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1' by Calvin Harris



Calvin Harris delivers a feelgood funk album with a bizarre choice of vocal guests.

I was not the biggest fan of Motion. A summer anthem called ‘Summer’ and a bunch of sterile tunes with precisely timed drops convinced me that the EDM mogul was now getting robots to write his songs. A video of paint drying was all I could muster as a review.

Given that I’ve got a softspot for disco, Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1 seemed almost certain to be a superior album – and indeed it is. ‘Slide’ immediately brings its listeners to the poolside with its organic disco grooves and buttery singing courtesy of Frank Ocean. The only thing preventing me from pouring myself a pina colada and pulling out my sunlounger is the out of place presence of the Migos (we’ll come to that in a sec…).

As the tracks continue, a red carpet parade of A-list guests take to the mic. It’s enough to outdo even the recent Gorillaz album Humanz, which I described as a party round Jay Gatsby’s place. ‘Feels’ may be the greatest posse cut of the bunch featuring Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean all on one track. Here Calvin draws the best out of every guest, accompanied by a contagious Chic-esque bassline and bouncy reggae guitar strums.

Sadly Calvin’s casting decisions aren’t quite as astute for the remainder of the album. In fact, there are some tracks in which the guest choices are plain confusing. Rather than phoning up the likes of Justin Timberlake or The Weeknd to croon over these sunshiney melodies, he’s instead invited his traphouse contacts along. As a result, we get artists like Future and Lil Yachty - who should be riding rumbling 808 bass and skittering hi-hats – attempting to rap awkwardly over smooth disco instrumentals.

Some of the artists just about pull it off. Takeoff from Migos is able to match the old-skool g-funk tone of Snoop Dogg on ‘Holiday’, although his auto-tuned warbling on ‘Slide’ feels very out of place. Young Thug’s rapping on ‘Heatstroke’ meanwhile is some of his most controlled to date, even if his attempt to passionately sing ‘the love you got for mweee’ ends up like a bad Miss Piggy impression.

Others simply don’t try to match the mood including Nicki Minaj and Future, laying auto-tune-drenched warbling over the tropical instrumentation. They may as well be trampling over the palm trees and sunbeds in a monster truck whilst rolling coal.

Perhaps with less trap rappers and more soul singers, Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 could have been able to rival Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special. It certainly feels fresher and cooler. However in the effort to be cool, Calvin may have gone a little too far with his choice of guests.

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 7 July 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 07/07/2017: Vince Staples, Arcade Fire, Ugly God and more...



THE BEST:

 ‘Yeah Right’ – Vince Staples feat. Kendrick Lamar


Producers SOPHIE and Flume co-created this abrasive beat made up of metallic clanks and bludgeoning bass. If I’m honest, Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar could be rapping anything over the top and the beat would still win me over. 

‘Machine’ – Anomic Soul


This batshit insane single throws barbed rap verses at the listener accompanied by a constantly shifting EDM beat. The seizure-inducing video matches the wild pace of the track. Its music for taking ecstasy to – only I don’t condone that behaviour on this blog. HEROIN IS MORE MY THING.

 ‘Hotel Chevalier’ – Houndtrack

Jazzy chords pave the way for some groovy bass, followed by some steamy sax just when you thought it couldn’t sound any better. A friend of mine calls smooth house tracks like this ‘hair salon music’, and whilst I admittedly could see this being played in a hair salon, it would have to be a swanky top end one that offers champagne free with every cut and throat shaves with a golden straight razor.

‘Signs of Life’ – Arcade Fire


Win Butler and co aren’t done with disco, which has been upsetting some fans of their old-skool indie sound, but personally this new groovy stuff is more my jam.

‘Fuck Ugly God’ – Ugly God


This dude just wrote a diss track aimed at himself. He doesn’t hold back either: ‘Your networth say you go a million, but your ass don’t/ you’re a one hit wonder bitch, your whole career’s a joke’. Will Ugly God respond to this slander with another track? The haters right now are confused.

THE WORST:

‘Marilyn Monroe’ – Danielle Cohn


The likes of Miley and Justin and One Direction have all grown up and become less annoying. It was only a matter of time before a replacement came along. Read the Youtube comments – they’re gold!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Review of 'GT Ultra' by Guerilla Toss



Guerilla Toss have always been nutty as fruitcakes. But they’ve been getting tamer as the years go by.

Now on GT Ultra, the Brooklyn-via-Boston mosh-funk space-punk world-shred chump-jazz group have taken to singing about love affairs with aliens and the boredom of dying accompanied by instrumentals that sound like warped kids TV themes from the 80s. 

That may not sound like a band that's tamed down, but I assure you they have. The production is less muddy and whilst lyrics like ‘sparkling like pastry’ still don’t make much sense, at least they’re intelligible this time around. Most important of all, the band are now writing actual songs rather than masturbatory displays of noodling. It's phenomenally groovy and catchy stuff.

That isn’t to say that they’ve traded in all their mad ideas for accessibility. Arian Shafiee’s twisted guitar may not be as grating, but the synths of ‘TV Do Tell’ make up for it in their gaudiness. And whilst Kassie Carlson has eased back on the screeching, her wild incantations are still far from conventional (she even drenches ‘Crystal Run’ in wobbly auto-tune). These experimentalisms show the band to still be off-the-wall but in a playfully cartoonish way, unlike Eraser Stargazer which bordered on obnoxious, or indeed the band’s earlier back catalogue which at points was so unlistenable it made me want to strangle myself with my earphone cables.

On top of easing up on the dissonance, the band have also developed a knack for progression on this record, particularly present towards the back-end. ‘Skull Pop’ is one the group's best tracks to date, building up from an eerie synth drone into a frenetic sprinting rhythm, made more entertaining by it's deadpan musings on dying. ‘Dose Rate’ meanwhile is a steady pulsing dirge that revolves around hypnotic spoken verses before climaxing in a tempest of distortion, acting as the perfect closer.

Yes, at 29 minutes, it's certainly a succinct album. But none of it feels underdeveloped - not even 'TV Do Tell' which warrants it's brief one-and-half-minute running time by sounding like a TV ad jingle. If Guerilla Toss were once poo-flinging apes, they've now evolved into maturer mad scientists, offering purposeful experimentation rather than throwing things randomly at the canvas. The result is one of the most innovative albums around. 

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 30 June 2017

Review of 'Planetarium' by Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister



Are you ready for an album themed around the solar system? Are you ready for allegories of some of life’s deepest topics including love, war and fatherhood? Are you ready for colossal orchestral strings and titanic cosmic synthesizers?

Opening track ‘Neptune’ eases the listener in with some gliding falsettos from singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens over some delicate pianos. Classical orchestration courtesy of Nico Muhly then joins the palette for a first taste of the grandiosity to come. However, it’s ‘Jupiter’ with its distorted drums courtesy of James McAlister, fluttering guitars courtesy of Bryce Dessner and huge horns from Nico Muhly that launches the album through the stratosphere into a place of no sonic bounds – a place that the album continues to explore for its duration.

Planetarium could never be accused of not being ambitious. If anything it’s completely ostentatious and overblown. But there’s a nerdy charm to its intergalactic contents, helped by the fact that it all sounds absolutely gorgeous.

Okay, maybe gorgeous isn’t true for all of it. There are parts of the album you’ll spend clawing onto some semblance of melody or beat (as on ‘Mars’). And whilst Sufjan through a Daft Punk-esque vocoder sounds cool, Sufjan on auto-tune feels like a step too far (he reminds me of ‘Owl City’).

Me listening to 'Mars'

But, of course, all of this contributes to the album’s theme of space. Honestly, what space-themed LP would be complete without robo-vocals? As for the musical passages that collapse into dissonance, they serve only as a reminder of how overwhelmingly unfathomable the universe is, too unfathomable to be summed up by our human construct of melody (in the case of ‘Mars’, the dissonance also seems to aptly symbolise the chaos of war – Mars being the god of war).

Not all of the tracklist appears to be arranged in the most sensible way, which damages the flow of the album. Ambient instrumentals ‘Black Energy’, ‘Sun’ and ‘Tides’ are lumped together instead of separated by songs, which only seems to form a napworthy lull in the middle of the album. Other tracks meanwhile cut out abruptly at the end when they could have neatly segued into the next track.

Fortunately, for the most part, each singular track flows well. And all musicians seem to be in good form. The classical instrumentation of Nico Muhly feels cinematic enough to eat popcorn to. Sufjan’s vocals, whilst sparse and chorus-less, are still enunciated in a way that’s catchy enough to hum on repeat listens, whilst his lyrics are as poetic as ever. Bryce Dessner’s effervescent guitar playing meanwhile fits in perfectly, even if I’ve never been a fan of his band The National. Even drummer James McAlister, of whom I’m not familiar with, proves his worth with a diverse mix of raw and electronic percussion.

Will this supergroup live to make another album? It’s hard to say where they can go from here, but hopefully they may be able to improve the flow whilst maintaining their creative and emotive musicianship. If this is only a novelty project, then it’s still a memorable project for being as brilliant bombastic as it is.   

TRACK TASTER:

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 30/06/2017: Guerilla Toss, Drake, St. Vincent and more...



More new music from the best blog in the universe. Branded fidget spinners and a partnership with Google coming soon.

THE BEST:

‘Skull Pop’ – Guerilla Toss


Looking for something to listen to before you go to sleep? How about this new single from avant-garde funk/rock freaks Guerilla Toss, which lyrically ponders what it must feel like to die: ‘Will there be a warning/ when the clock stops moving?/ Will you have just 60 seconds?/ Will you find it boring?’ Continuing in the vein of their last single ‘The String Game’, this carnivalesque speedball remains experimental whilst also sounding like an actual song (unlike their early noisy noodling). In fact, some of the passages in this song are actually quite pretty - which is new for Guerilla Toss.

‘Memento Mori’ – Boris



I’ve got no idea what these dudes are singing about. Hopefully something menacing given those doomy hellacious guitars, but they could be singing instructions for baking cupcakes for all I know. It sounds like Latin (the band are from Tokyo, but it doesn’t sound like Japanese), resulting in the effect of Gregorian chanting over ominous metal riffs. For the record, Boris don’t actually like to be termed a ‘metal band’, but I’m not buying it - if this isn’t metal then the pope’s not a catholic and I’m a sane human being.  

‘Duluoz Dream’ – Sal Dulu



Moving on from heavy subject matter and heavy guitars, this new airy instrumental offers a much more drowsy and chilled out vibe for those that might want something to kick back to in the evening sun. It’s jazzy pianos and horns ride a scuffling beat, topped with some hazy Japanese vocal sampling that transports the listener to foreign lands. I thought the producer might be Japanese, but he’s in fact from Dublin. Everyone’s trying out different languages this week.

‘Lucid’ – Pat Lok ft. Oktavian


Music this feelgood should come with an adult warning. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find a CD of this in the toy section of Ann Summers. It’s got all the sparkle of a Michael Jackson hit with 2017 production. And this Oktavian dude, whoever the hell he is, has a phenomenal voice.

THE WORST:

‘Signs’ – Drake


Drake’s vital signs need to be checked because he sounds dead here and the beat may as well be ‘One Dance’ diluted.

‘New York’ – St. Vincent


The fuzzy guitars have gone, replaced by Rom-com-trailer strings and a chorus that wants to sound yearnful, but isn’t.  

Monday, 26 June 2017

Review of 'Witness' by Katy Perry



No more songs about bicurious cherry-chapstick-fuelled adventures or partying with ‘California gurls’. It’s time for Katy Perry’s I-want-to-be-a-serious-artist album.

How do you make a pop album sound sophisticated? Katy Perry thinks she has it figured. Add some songs with French titles to come across as cultured (‘Déjà vu’, ‘Bon Appetit’). Show people your political side with an angsty wake-up-sheeple track (‘Chained To The Rhythm’). Sing about Faberge eggs and roulette and other classy Bond girl stuff. End the album on a soppy romantic piano ballad (‘Into Me You See’). Voila!

All in all, Katy has swapped out cheeky for chic. But instead of sounding fresh, it just sounds like a bunch of less catchy and less interesting Lady Gaga songs. Choruses are clunkily assembled and the majority of the beats sound like watered down versions of electro-pop songs already out there. Meanwhile, the singer’s choice to describe pop fans as ‘wasted zombies’ feels like career suicide, whilst her failed attempt to make ‘into me you see’ sound like ‘intimacy’ strikes you as witty for all of about five seconds until you realise how sickeningly corny it is.

There are two diamonds in the rough – ‘Power’, which feels genuinely powerful with it’s explosive drum fill and soaring chorus, and ‘Bon Appetit’, which reclaims Katy’s sense of raunchiness with some husky food/sex innuendo.

‘Swish Swish’ feels like it was trying to be the other fun track here (and there are speculations that it could be a Taylor Swift diss track), but it’s got the most dime-a-dozen deep house beat conceivable. The sound may be more sophisticated, but the songwriting is some of her most stale yet. 

TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 23 June 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 23/06/2017: Calvin Harris, Dizzee Rascal, Queens of the Stone Age and more...



I’m back from my holiday to the moon. I know you've been longingly waiting for my return, staring out the window and crying yourself to sleep at night. There, there. It's all okay now that Music Related Junk is back. Your life is whole again.

THE BEST:


‘The N_Wrd’ – Earth2Tom & Frshrz


To this day, a certain word beginning with ‘n’ continues to spark controversy. Whilst many modern rappers use it more liberally than ever before, London hip hop collective Frshrz show that you can write a song just as well without it (even going so far as to load the rest of the track with other n words). It’s neat, novel and nimbly enunciated (I did think about writing this whole description out of n words but it knackered my noggin).

‘Feels’ – Calvin Harris ft. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry & Big Sean


EDM mogul Calvin Harris bored me with his last album of cookie-cut bangers, so much so that my review was just a video of paint drying (my most detailed review to date). Calvin clearly read my review and has now decided to return to his disco roots much to my delight. I guess it’s just as formulaic, but I’m a sucker for funky guitars, plus there are no big-ass predictable drops, plus Katy Perry isn’t trying to be political, plus Big Sean isn't trying to be Drake.

‘Space’ – Dizzee Rascal’


Dizzee’s flows on this new single are some of his most dizzying yet. In fact, these bars are so phenomenally acrobatic that I’m willing to forgive the weak hook. In fact, hearing this track, I’m almost willing to forgive that awful Robbie Williams collaboration back in 2013. Dizzee has completely redeemed himself. Balance has been restored to the universe.

‘16 Psyche’ – Chelsea Wolfe


With roots in gloomy folk, Chelsea Wolfe has gradually drifted into the world of heavy metal. Her ethereal voice pairs well with some sludgy swampland riffage, which in this instance comes courtesy of guitarist Troy Van Leewun of Queens of the Stone Age (more on these dudes later). The chorus is also impressively loud, although it doesn’t help that when adjusting the volume I accidentally revved it up to 100% during this section of the song. Still, aside from nearly rupturing my eardrums, I found this to be an enjoyable listen.

 ‘Can’t Do’ – Everything Everything


I’m loving the bass/ I’m loving the drums’. This line pretty much sums up my feelings. Also, this Manc band has to be one of the few rock groups that genuinely gets better the poppier they become. 

THE WORST:


‘The Way You Used To Do’ - Queens of the Stone Age


Mark Ronson was called upon to handle the production on this single. Did they ask him to completely muffle out the cymbals? Why do the guitars feel so lifeless too? Rock clearly isn’t Ronson’s forte. 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

OFF TO THE MOON BRB!



NO BLOG POSTS FOR 2 WEEKS.

I'M GOING ON HOLIDAY.

PLEASE, THERE'S REALLY NO NEED TO CRY ABOUT IT.

I WILL RETURN WITH A FRESH PAIR OF EARS, SO KEEP SENDING IN YOUR LOVELY MUSIC.

I MEANT IT WHEN I SAID NO DICK PICS

PEACE AND LOVE,

ALASDAIR

XXX

Friday, 2 June 2017

Review of 'Harry Styles' by Harry Styles



The ex-One Directioner doesn’t just sound more mature, he sounds middle-aged.

This is the kind of music sixty-year old washed-up rock stars produce. Okay, maybe not 'washed up', but certainly 'past one's prime'. It isn't bad. In fact, some of it’s actually rather good. ‘Carolina’ is a Steve Miller Band-esque jam complete with catchy la-la-las and some impassioned vocals. And ‘Sign of the Times’, as difficult as it is to escape from on the radio, is a big grand ballad with a lovely ascending guitar slide right before the chorus. When it comes to the sound, only ‘Two Ghosts’ takes things to boring Bryan Adams B-side level. The rest are well-produced, well-sung tunes.

That said, there’s a problem with the lyrics – they’re too mature for the 23 year old Harry Styles. He describes relationships as if looking back at a faded Polaroid through reading glasses. Combined with this lack of youth, he’s not really singing anything we haven't heard before, other than on ‘Sign Of The Times’ which is a powerful if not conveniently up-for-interpretation ballad of the times. ‘From the Dining Table’ is an intimate tale of heartbreak that also has it's moment of true beauty – it’s just a shame he ruins the sensitive mood at the beginning with a line about having a sad wank.

Having previously sung to an exclusive audience of young girls, this mature self-titled debut doesn’t seem like the wisest marketing move. But perhaps that’s what makes this album a little charming – it’s not the commercial trite we’re used to. Zayn, Liam, Pedro and the other member all seem to have left 1D for equally poppy ventures. Whilst this is hardly experimental, it’s a lot more alternative and risky. And whilst he did get help, Harry has songwriting credits on every song showing that there’s a little more authenticity going on here. 

TRACK TASTER:

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 02/06/2017: Foo Fighters, Oliver Tree, Washed Out and more…




Despite all the great songs this week covfefe

THE BEST:


‘Welcome to LA’ – Oliver Tree


Don’t be deceived by the mullet and windbreaker. Oliver Tree is a cool dude. COOLER THAN YOU’LL EVER BE. Over a groovy beat that culminates with a suave trumpet solo, the musician delivers some blistering bars against the people of LA. Everyone from ‘plastic barbies’ to ‘drug addicts in a sleeping bag’ are depicted in this lyrical painting of California’s most lovable hellhole.

‘Get Lost’ – Washed Out


Washed Out aren’t washed up. Why should they be with all the Portlandia royalties? The chillwave pioneers (I’m pluralising the band, but really it’s a one-man-project) are still making music and this time round it’s spiky jazz-house. The zonked-out vocals give me warm shivers.

‘Glitz’ – Testset



More glitchy than glitzy, this electronic instrumental is the work of mystery producer Testset and it’s pretty innovative stuff. It begins as a dense wall of digital percussion and stuttering sounds. Then midway a mighty tide of synth creeps in and washes it all away. But then it all cuts abruptly away and the track plummets back into a maelstrom of clicks and clacks and bleeps. Not to mention bloops and blaps too.

‘Run’ – Foo Fighters


The Foos are getting on a bit, but wow, didn’t realise they’d aged this much. Flashing grannies and hipster assault take place in the band’s latest video centred in a riotous retirement home. As for the tune itself, it’s sounding a lot less dad rock than their previous album’s material. There are mosh-friendly riffs, Grohl screeches and flashing grannies. No, wait that last one’s just the video. Sorry, I’m still traumatised.

‘The Lord of Lightning vs Balrog’ - King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard


This 13 minute lo-fi rock odyssey is bloody mental, which is what I expected from a song titled ‘The Lord of Lightning vs Balrog’. 

THE WORST:


‘Strip That Down’ – Liam Payne (feat. Quavo)


Generic strip club music is still a more positive direction than One Direction, I’ll give Liam that.


Monday, 29 May 2017

Review of 'Humanz' by Gorillaz



There are a lot of guests on this album. In fact, there are so many guests and so little Damon Albarn that you almost forget that it’s a Gorillaz album.

2010’s stoned eco-conscious Plastic Beach was an equally star-studded record featuring everyone from Snoop Dogg to Lou Reed to Bobby Womack. Seven years on, Damon Albarn has decided to try and outdo himself, returning with a party of guests large enough to make one Jay Gatsby’s shindigs look like a small turnout.

The result isn’t impressive, but instead claustrophobic and messy as everyone struggles to find a place. Damon can barely get a look-in himself – it’s not until track eight ‘Charger’ that the band frontman actually manages to dominate a track and even then he’s sharing it with left-field guest Grace Jones.

Clearly Damon doesn’t know what to do with this horde of guests, and so shoves guests wherever he can fit them, regardless of whether the tone of the song suits their musical style. After some slinky vocals from Kelela on ‘Submission’, the choice to have Danny Brown bulldozing in with his squawking delivery feels utterly inappropriate. And the choice to feature dark punk songstress Jehnny Beth on triumphant closer ‘We Got The Power’ is like asking Tim Burton to shoot your wedding day video.

Indeed some of the guests do fit brilliantly with the beats and themes that they’re given. ‘Ascension’ is an apocalyptic twerk-anthem – not a concept you hear every day. It’s a brilliantly infectious and energetic Vince Staples song, even if it doesn’t sound at all like a Gorillaz song.

Here lies the other main issue - the lack of authenticity. Much of the Gorillaz’ cartoonish individuality is lost, which is why I keep referring to Damon Albarn in this review and not his virtual character 2-D, because the cartoon guise is no-where to be seen. Humanz feels like the work of humans rather than animated weirdos, which may be intentional, but makes the album feel less wacky and fun. Only a handful of tracks bring back the old zany Gorillaz vibes and personally they are some of the best – namely groovy electropop jam ‘Andromeda’, quirky Brit-inflected Grace Jones collab ‘Charger’ and overblown Euro-house stomper ‘Momentz’ (which features friendly faces De La Soul).

Rather frustratingly, more fun tracks of this calibre could have made the cut, but for whatever reason Damon left them off the album and reserved them as bonus tracks including synth-funk anthem ‘The Apprentice’ and playful dance track ‘Out of Body’. This only further highlights the lack of sense going into this album – why let audial atrocities like ‘We Got The Power’ slip through the net and not include gems like 'The Apprentice'?

All in all, it’s a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth to the point that no-one knows what flavour broth it was supposed to be in the beginning. Moments like 'Momentz' are spicy, whilst others leave a sour taste in the mouth.  


TRACK TASTER:

Friday, 26 May 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 26/05/2017: Pool Art, Swet Shop Boys, Katy Perry and more...




No music videos this week. Just a tsunami of Soundcloud waveforms.

THE BEST:

‘Died Off Screen’ – Pool Art



Regular readers of my blog ought to be familiar with this Manchester noise rock duo by now. Their experimental axework is arguably some of the most creative in modern rock. Don’t believe me? Check out this track for yourself. Its clangs and squeals have opened up a whole new sonic palette to explore. But rather than simply noodling away with these clangs and squeals, the duo are able to turn this dissonance into actual structured songs. Providing respite from the abstruse first half, the band even break into a stomping melodic riff for the second half to show they’ve got a sense of groove.

‘Wake of the Dawn’ – The Gravity Drive



The Gravity Drive are only a duo, although you’d think from the grandiosity of this song that there were fifty members. The pair both sing and play a plethora of different musical instruments. To add to their novelty, they’re also a married couple. Their latest pop-rock epic starts off pretty fervently, but it’s during the soaring chorus that the magic really happens. The harmonised vocals and layers of guitar and piano all come together triumphantly. It's music for climbing a mountain to, or swimming an ocean to, or even swimming a mountain to.

‘Plants’ – Crumb



Crumb come from Boston, which is no surprise given that it's a breeding ground nowadays for weird bands. There’s nothing too eccentric about the frontwoman’s dainty vocals - they could belong to any indie band - however the drunken jazz instrumentation is all very off the wall, stumbling and swaying and soaked in gloopy effects.  

 ‘Flowers’ - Milk Buttons



Deliciously depressive vocals and inventively fucked-up guitars make up this Aussie psych rock duo’s sound. The lyrics meanwhile describe a bittersweet relationship, with a gloomily incanted chorus: ‘I wish this was not a dream’. It’s not what I was expecting given the cutesy band name and track title, and I love it all the more for it.  

 ‘Zombie’ – Swet Shop Boys



Trans-Atlantic rappers Heems and Riz Ahmed are back to talk racial identity over a Bollywood-sampling banger. Their witty bars on what it means to be a migrant will satisfy those that like their hip hop with brains, whilst the bassy bhangra beat is certain to satisfy those that prefer their hip hop with brawn.

THE WORST:

‘Swish Swish’ – Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj


The only good thing about this track is the beat, and that’s ripped straight off a Maya Jane Coles track - which has already been ripped off in the past by Nicki Minaj in 'Truffle Butter'

Friday, 19 May 2017

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 19/05/2017: Dollie Demi, Guerilla Toss, Miley Cyrus and more...



Bringing you tracks more infectious than WannaCry ransomware.

THE BEST:

‘Ruby Lips’ – Dollie Demi



With hooks this good, Dollie Demi ought to be the name on everyone’s lips. Her latest raunchy rock anthem has a Joan Jett vibe to it and sports a dirty guitar riff that’s borderline sexual. The British inflection meanwhile adds to the raw sass – too many UK female singers nowadays let their accent skip across the pond.

‘The String Game’ – Guerilla Toss



This is probably the most cohesive song that these Boston art-rockers have written and yet it’s still avant-garde enough to be left off most independent coffee bar playlists. A psychedelic swirl of synths, guitars and squelching bass makes up the nutty instrumentation. Kassie Carlson meanwhile remains a lunatic when it comes to lyricism, blathering about driving a car with an engine ‘like science fiction’. I hoped it might be a Back to the Future reference, but the rest of the song entirely flummoxed me.

‘Avalanche’ – The Screens


If the track and video feel cinematic, it’s because Neil and Colin of The Screens have a history of working in TV and film, helping to produce music for Kill Bill 2, The Sopranos, The Simpsons, The West Wing, Lost, 24, Superman Returns and Mr and Mrs Smith. The story themed lyrics depict a Scorsese-esque romance backed by lavish strings and 60s-flavoured guitars. Apparently, the pair barely met up during the recording process, creating most of the song by collaborating online.

‘Midnight Blue’ - Little Death Machine


Gloomy London electronic art rockers Little Death Machine have released this minimalist number centred around an ominous lurching bassline. I kind of hoped it would explode more towards the end, but perhaps the endless feeling of suspense was intentional, visually captured in the video which sees some dude being relentlessly stalked. Fans of this single should check out last year’s EP Dreaming In Monochrome.

‘She Is Lost’ – The Foreign Resort



I have a soft spot for all this New-wave revival stuff. The guitars and vocals have a neon glow to them and the slatherings of detune effects only add to the nostalgia. The Denmark band are offering fans the chance to make a music video for the single because they self-admittedly can’t afford to make one themselves.

THE WORST:

‘Malibu’ - Miley Cyrus


She’s taking positive steps away from her obnoxious phase with this new single. Sure, it’s the same cardboard pop-country Taylor Swift was offering in 2010 – so it still sucks. But I’ll take it over ‘why they put the dick in the pussy?’.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Review of 'Pure Comedy' by Father John Misty



Father John Misty hates the world and humanity. And he’s written some pretty piano ballads about it.

A bit of bitter misanthropy now and again can be entertaining – especially in these troubled times of Trump and terrorism and technology addiction. Pure Comedy is certainly an album designed for the here and now, whilst also looking pessimistically into the future. Preview singles suggested Pure Comedy would be anything but comical, and whilst there is a lot of sombre doomsaying to be found here, there are some relieving moments of humour such as opening lines about bedding Taylor Swift every night on an Oculus Rift (‘Total Entertainment Forever’) or, on a more dark note, stealing bedsheets from an amputee to pass off as art (‘The Memo’). But are these moments of amusement enough to offset the depressive philosophising being forced on the listener throughout. 

I enjoyed the cynicism of Josh's last album I Love you, Honeybear even if I couldn’t relate to it, which seemed to explore love and being in a relationship in the most negative light possible. Pure Comedy is even harder to relate to as it’s about viewing humanity in the most negative light possible and you can’t help but feel Josh is a bit of narcissist for the way in which he places himself above it all (and I’m aware that he directly references ‘Narcissus’ on ‘The Memo’ – an inspiration perhaps?).

The entertainment value is further damaged by the fact that not all of these Elton-John-esque epics are particularly engaging musically. There are some moments of magic such as floating beauty ‘Birdie’ and woozy waltz ‘A Bigger Paper Bag’, but other songs like ‘Leaving LA’ are a ten minute slog of wishy-washy guitar strums and airy strings.  

Indeed, that Mount Eerie project that I recently reviewed and loved was arguably ten times more depressing lyrically and even less exciting instrumentally, but it came from a deep personal place. Here, the artist has detached himself from the gloom around him, but without using the guise of a character, which made his last record gratifying. It’s the unfiltered musings of a misery guts, which I myself find difficult to digest – although others may lap it up.

That said, even if I can’t get behind his bleak world view, there’s no denying how impressive the poetry of some of the lyrics is. The opening track alone offers such witty lines as ‘The comedy of man starts like this/ our brains are way too big for our mothers hips’ and ‘their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs/ that they never have to leave’. Objectively speaking, he’s a hot-headed genius. Subjectively speaking, he’s a cold-blooded sourpuss. Together with tepid instrumentation, it’s a lukewarm listen.  


TRACK TASTER: