Monday, 27 February 2017
In my attempts to catch up with 2016’s busy bombardment of albums, I give you this two-in-one r&b special review of The Weeknd’s Starboy and Childish Gambino’s Awaken! My Love.
Truth be told, I always wanted the The Weeknd to sell out. ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ showed us that the palm-tree-haired Canadian could make a mean dancefloor filler, and seeing it’s success, the singer has returned with a gauntlet of catchy pop tunes – although he probably should have kept the palm tree.
Admittedly, he’s still whining about how much non-committal sex he’s getting. I guess when a gold-digger wants to bury you ‘six feet under’ or when a chick is sleep-talking about bedding other guys, that’s a valid reason not to commit. I’d almost thought he’d lost trust in women altogether if it wasn’t for the penultimate track ‘Die For You’ in which I’m relieved to see him getting sappy. At least, he does it with more conviction than Drake.
Of course, it’s not really the lyrics that matter – hearing Abel get his newfound MJ croon on over some exciting electro-pop makes it all fun and feelgood. ‘False Alarm’ serves as a particularly creative surprise banger, and ‘Stargirl Interlude’ is the duo between pop’s two lost souls we’ve all been waiting for with some surprisingly emotive vocals from Lana Del Rey. And of course there are the two slick radio hits bookending the album, featuring guest robo-vocals from Daft Punk. It’s certainly a more refined album than its predecessor, managing to make sex-themed pop anthems sophisticated (I’m dismissing that Future feature) and showing off the singer’s sense of groove.
Childish Gambino’s Awaken! My Love is similarly an alteration in style for the rapper/singer, except more alternative as opposed to poppier. Whilst Gambino showed us he could offer some soul singing on his previous EP Kauai, a full-on Blaxploitation-era funk throwback was not what anyone expected. I’m still recovering from almighty opener ‘Me and Your Mama’, which segues gospel harmonies and 808s into some Hendrix-like guitars and impassioned Prince-esque screeches in a move that had my jaw on the floor. This turns out to be only one of Gambino’s impressive vocal impersonations, later tracks witnessing the singer braying like George Clinton and cooing like Macy Gray. I thought Donald Glover’s talents could stretch no further. Now I’m just waiting for him to walk on water.
Awaken! My Love might have been a flawless album if it was a little less messy at points, and perhaps if ‘California’ had been cut out the tracklist entirely – an out-of-place auto-tuned goofball that feels like it was put in there to troll us. Otherwise the record is a wackily fun and very authentic piece of retro funk. And whilst its campy horror themes may make some regard the lyrics as unimportant, there are signs that Glover may be hinting something deeper about African Americans with lines like: ‘but if he’s scared of me, how can we be free?’.
Awaken! My Love:★★★★☆
Friday, 24 February 2017
Do you like instrumental electronica? My inbox has become so flooded with it in recent weeks I’ve been practically drowning in synths and 808s – expect a lot of it from here on in. Plus other musical madness.
‘Nile’ – Opal Blue
Opening with oriental flutes, warm pianos chords and synths-that-sound-like-oriental-flutes this track floats weightlessly in air for a minute before jumping into a satisfying groove of clickety percussion. It's as ambient as it is effervescent - as suitable for meditating to as it is to running on a treadmill to. Not that I'd do either.
‘Acid tide’ – Spiders Eat Vinyl
Spiders Eat Vinyl is quite a badass band name. I was expecting a metal group. Instead, the Sheffield synth-wizards seem to specialise in zenned-out retro-flavoured soundscapes more suited for an aquarium or a planetarium. That said, this is much more textured and interesting than your usual Barnes & Noble music, plus I'm loving the nostalgic New Wave vibes.
‘Seen’ - Bruce Cohen
The cacophony of synths in the background never really settles for a melody, and yet I can’t help but find the din all weirdly hypnotic as it hums and whirrs against the looping percussion in the foreground. For all I know it could just be a dude smashing random notes on a keyboard, although I'd like to think it's more calculated than that.
‘Dark Red’ – Steve Lacy
All the members of r&b collective The Internet are releasing solo albums this year. Syd and Matt Martians have already dropped LPs – now third member Steve Lacy has decided he doesn't want to be left out. ‘Dark Red’ is our first taster of things to come. It’s a twangy forlorn soul track that opens with the singer contemplating ‘something bad’s about to happen to me’ and ends with him pleading ‘don’t leave darling/ don’t leave’. I can see why this single didn’t drop over Valentine’s week – it’s basically a pre-breakup song. Hits me right in the feels.
‘Pasta Solo’ – Myles Manley
What starts as a dainty folk ditty swiftly trails off into left-field lunacy involving pitch-shifted doops, descending pianos and a separate vocalist called Nobody who appears from nowhere. It’s absolutely crackers. I’ve still got no idea where the pasta fits in.
‘Heavy’ – Linkin Park
The problem isn’t that ‘Heavy’ isn’t heavy, or the fact that Linkin Park have ‘sold out’ – I’m pretty sure they did that years ago. The problem is that for pop-EDM this is utterly bland. It’s enough to make even The Chainsmokers yawn.
Friday, 17 February 2017
In spite of Valentine’s Day, no-one’s been getting particularly lovey-dovey this week. Miserable sods. Still, I guess, the music’s been good enough to make up for it.
‘Friend Zone’ – Thundercat
‘I’d rather play Mortal Kombat anyway…’ The funky singer-bassist wasn’t feeling the romantic Valentine’s Day vibes this week, instead using his lovably warped sense of humour to create a fiercely fed-up retaliation anthem to being friendzoned. The whole track frankly ends too quickly, but then again I could listen to those vibrant synth arpeggios all day and still be left wit blue balls. Give me this Thundercat album MY BODY IS READY
‘I’m Not Your Girl’ – Estrons
Is no-one feeling the love this week? This new punkish belter of a track from indie rockers Estrons is all about slamming the door on an unwanted ex-lover. It's mean rock bitch music for slashing your previous partner’s tyres to (not that I condone such behaviour - torching their vehicle's more effective). That section from 2:22 makes me want punch someone.
‘A Clown Drools’ - Taupe
Jazz/punk/noise collective Taupe come through with this cranium-curdler of a track ‘A Clown Drools’ from their new album Fill Up Your Lungs And Bellow. Loopy alto sax skitters over dissonant guitars and frantic percussion, offering enough melody to keep you sane but also intermittently throwing you down the rabbit hole so that you don’t get too comfortable. They’re Behold… The Arctopus turned bebop. Coincidentally, I must add, the sax player was a year above me in primary school!
‘Tired as Fuck’ – The Staves
Smoking in a music video and needlessly sweary lyrics usually give off an obnoxious I’m-trying-to-be-edgy-vibe – which is certainly the case here – but I’m willing to forgive these girls simply for the fact that these are some the most celestial vocal harmonies I’ve heard in a long while.
‘Beauty and the Beast’ – Ariana Grande & John Legend
Yuk, it sounds like a Disney song. Oh wait…
Saturday, 11 February 2017
The vanilla wafer of the rap game is back with some flashy flows and cute bars about his momma. Is this the exciting Big Sean we’ve all been waiting for – or more of the same?
Dark Sky Paradise, the Detroit emcee’s last album, had some badass beats on it and glimpses of endearing introspection, although was largely dragged down by corny bars and an utter lack of originality. On this newest record, the hip hop artist has cut out the corn and upped the soul. There are still some arrogant bangers in the mix such as ‘Bounce Back’ and ‘Moves’, but most of it is personal heart-to-heart stuff. If Dark Sky Paradise offered a window into the life of Big Sean, this new record is practically him opening the door and inviting us in for a drink.
Sharing with us his accomplishments and flaws, he manages to stay likeable. You feel like a close friend of his once the album is done. And you can’t help but feel proud for all he’s achieved as he humbly takes time to thank his mum and fans as if accepting an Oscar.
But then a bitter sense of disappointment takes over when you realise Big Sean has got to where he is by stealing the styles of every other rapper – something he’s STILL doing on this album. He spends a great deal of this album sounding like Drake (there are claims Drizzy bit his flow, but you can’t honestly tell me those moany inflections and failed relationship themes aren’t Drake-inspired?), whilst switching between Kanye, Future and Kendrick impressions for the remainder.
That isn’t to say he’s not talented. His flows are impressively versatile, delicately half-singing on tracks like ‘Same Time’ whilst picking up the tempo towards the end of ‘Voices In My Head/Stick To The Plan’ (although the droned hook ‘stick to the plaaan’ is one of the more embarrassing moments). He adjusts to each beat like a Swiss army knife, unlike his improbable guest Eminem who’s choppy flows ride the instrumental of ‘No Favors’ awkwardly like a greyhound on roller-skates.
Perhaps if Big Sean was to really work on it, he could use his capacity for flows to create some wholly distinctive flows of his own and make this his USP. He still feels like he’s jumping on trends at the moment, and whilst this album gives us all a better idea of who he is, I still can’t see where he fits into the grand scheme of things.
Friday, 10 February 2017
Some of it’s heart-wrenching. Some of it’s erotic. Some of it’s plain weird. Plus Katy Perry’s getting vaguely political??? An interesting week all round.
‘Real Death’ – Mount Eerie
Death has been a big topic in music since forever. But I can’t honestly think of a time a song themed around the topic has hit me like this. Having lost his wife last year to cancer, Phil Elverum of indie folk project Mount Eerie lays his feelings bare on the subject. Whilst previous musicians have tried to make sense of death through metaphors, allegories and morals – Phil does not know how to come to terms with his horrific reality. ‘Death is real. It’s not for singing about. It’s not for making into art’, he begins. His feelings are pure and raw, almost painfully and unbearably so. It’s some of the most heart-wrenching material ever recorded, but invigoratingly bold. Be wary when hitting play – this is heavy stuff.
‘Stendhal Syndrome’ - Idles
One man’s art is another man’s trash. This seems to be the message of the rowdy UK punks’ latest single ‘Stendhal Syndrome’, which sees the band’s big bearded bassist dancing around London galleries in front of art exhibits. The song is less about mocking people’s tastes, and more about mocking those that do the mocking – or at least that’s how I interpret it. You may just think it’s a load of ‘hot air’.
‘Coconuts’ – Anna Wise
Is it hot in here? I’m just going to open a window – the steamy combination of Anna Wise’s newfound sultry jazz croons and those smoky 808-led synths and sax is giving me palpitations. That’s not even including the video, containing all kinds of semi-arty/semi-naughty goings on. This R&b songstress keeps going from strength to strength.
‘Cool Your Heart’ - Dirty Projectors ft. D∆WN
This instrumental is utterly genre-bending. It even manages to turn slightly samba at one point. The pair’s vocals perfectly play off one another, even if the beat feels like it shouldn’t be sung over.
‘Grizzle’ – Strange U
High Focus Records are known for embracing the weird side of UK rap, but Strange U really takes the prize. Over an avant-garde beat of gristly synths and clunking percussion, he raps about having the elephant man’s skeleton in his backpack (whaat?) and preferring lasers to trainers. It’s brilliantly bonkers.
‘Chained To The Rhythm’ – Katy Perry
‘Come on, turn it up, keep it on repeat/ Stumbling around like a wasted zombie’. Sonically, it’s nice, but that chorus is horrible. It’s clunkily phrased, doesn’t rhyme and tries to make some audacious wake-up-sheeple statement that just doesn’t seem convincing coming out of Katy Perry’s cherry chapstick lips.
Friday, 3 February 2017
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 03/02/2017: Father John Misty, Thundercat, Mastodon and more...
It’s one of those weeks where I have absolutely nothing witty to say in the intro that hasn’t already been said, so let’s just dive straight in shall we…
‘The Missing Sucker’ - Horse Massage
Musical discoveries like this remind me why I run a music blog. Parping clarinets and demented guitar noodling provide a backdrop for babbling music industry spiel in this new single from Chicago weirdos Horse Massage. As if the whole thing wasn’t mad enough, the track then trails off ungracefully into a gradually slowing detuned mess. I also, love their take on playing the keyboard.
‘Silent Treatment’ – Blanck Mass
Blanck Mass is one half of elegantly-named electronic duo Fuck Buttons. According to the press release, his latest release is about the ‘problems that arise when we don’t communicate’, although there are no lyrics to support this theme (I guess that’s the point). Opening with some choral vocals the whole thing suddenly thrusts into a noisy wall of electronica before stripping itself all the way back. It’s quite the roller-coaster, so buckle up.
‘Two Wildly Different Perspectives’ – Father John Misty
Father John Misty’s upcoming album Pure Comedy is going to be a largely humourless affair judging from the cuts we’ve heard so far. As sad as I am to say goodbye to the singer’s comedic side, he does still seem to showing some sharp wit in this new track: ‘one man says ‘man, take what’s yours’/ the other says ‘live on no more than you can afford’/but either way we just possess/and everyone ends up with less’. Witty or preachy, depending on the wildly differing perspective you choose (SEE WHAT I DID THERE).
‘Show You The Way’ – Thundercat ft. Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins
Funky singer and bassist Thundercat is back for some slinky basslines, jazzy chord sequences and dreamy falsettos. It’s as gorgeously satisfying as getting that piece of sweetcorn out from between your teeth, as gorgeously satisfying as finding a fiver in an old jacket pocket, as gorgeously satisfying as relieving your bladder after a long car journey. You get the picture.
‘Show Yourself’ – Mastodon
The general consensus from metalheads seems to be that this sucks – but personally I’m digging the Foo-Fighters-esque vocal melodies and lack of bells and whistles. It may not be the Georgia group’s traditional death/sludge/prog brew, but it’s hardly pop balladry either. That strumming and drumming still has attitude.
‘I’m Better’ - Missy Elliot ft. Lamb
You’re right – you are better than this.