Monday, 29 May 2017
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.
Friday, 26 May 2017
‘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.
‘Swish Swish’ – Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj
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.
‘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.
‘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
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.
Friday, 12 May 2017
More music from the undisputed best blog in the universe. Better than Martian blogs. Even xenomorph blogs can’t compete.
‘American Dream’ – LCD Soundsystem
It’s been a while since these moody electro-rockers graced us with their music. Despite the euphoric tenor of the opening synths (they’re almost Christmassy) the timbres are very much cold and steely and the lyrics aren’t exactly cheery, describing casual sex as if it were Victorian coal mine work. If the track is truly a picture of the American Dream, then it’s Lady Liberty in all her glory, with bags under her eyes and cellulite and clinical depression.
‘Tongue’ – Pero Pero
The tight rock riffs drew me in but watching the duo transform into lizards certainly added to the thrills. My old piano teacher always told me a good musician needs scales behind them, but I never thought to take it literally. An album titled Lizards is in the pipeline which means we hopefully won’t have to wait long to hear more from this Berlin-based demented duo.
‘War is Hell’ – Ho99o9
Ho99o9 (pronounced 'Horror') are pretty much a more accessible Death Grips, although not so accessible that your grandmother would comfortably listen to them. The distorted bass, shrieked vocals and fucked-up guitar sampling are still a massive gut-punch to even a hardened noise-hop listener like myself. Their message against police brutality also comes three days after the shooting of a 15-year-old boy in San Diego giving the track extra impact.
‘Soap’ – Deem Spencer
Bringing down the pace somewhat, this single from Queens rapper Deem Spencer is ancient in blogging terms (it was released in January) but I couldn’t just let it slide. Sporting a pensive sleepy flow and some effortlessly poetic lyricism, Deem’s style is one of a hypnotist that lured you in and keeps you entranced. Combine the cadence of Isaiah Rashad and the riddle-spinning capability of Earl Sweatshirt and you have an idea of what to expect.
‘Fireworks’ – Miles From Kinshasa
This London-based r&b artist was born in Kinshasa in the Republic of Congo, hence the name Miles From Kinshasa. ‘Fireworks’ sees him delivering a smooth Sampha-like croon over warm synth swells and steady electronic percussion. It’s urban r&b of the highest order.
‘Bring It Back’ – Lil Yachty
With its 80s power ballad percussion, I guess this is Lil Yachty’s attempt to go old skool and ‘bring it back’. The off-key off-beat auto-tune still makes it utterly unlistenable, but props to him for trying something new.
Friday, 5 May 2017
Paramore swap out pop-punk for funk. Also, Christian trap rap is a thing.
‘I Told You So’ – Paramore
Good news to all those teens of the noughties that once hung Hayley Williams posters above their beds. Paramore are back with two new singles (the other titled ‘Hard Times’) and an imminent new album. They’ve exchanged their pop punk roots for a funkier sound reminiscent of Angles-era Strokes. But don’t worry - the hookiness and angst is still there. I’m also loving the retro-flavoured video – it’s very noir (or should I say rouge?).
‘What You Did To Me’ – Oceans
These Brighton lads have polished up their sound since I last featured them. I’m sad to see the groove has gone, but the frontman’s newfound angelic delivery makes up for it. It’s proggy post-hardcore with a touch of Erasure.
‘No Shade’ – Wavves
Despite not even being two minutes in length, this new white-knuckled thrasher packs more thrills than Wavves’ previous four singles combined. Even if the lyrics are about drinking lemonade, the buzzsaw guitars will shake you up like a shot of tequila.
‘I Love You Man’ – The I.L.Ys
Death Grips side project The I.L.Ys deliver this new satisfying slice of psych rock. With its grungy guitars and stoned ‘I love you maaan’ chorus, you might think this were some undiscovered band from the early nineties if it weren’t for digital age phasered whooshes and CGI video.
‘Fading’ – Precept
It’s been mostly rock this week. But for those wanting their electronica fix, this new Leeds producer/singer Precept has a new single ought to satisfy your appetite. Ghostly vocals and moody synths come together for a truly brooding sound.
‘Sell Out’ – ASAP Preach
This is actually a mean trap banger, but the God-fearing isn’t my thing. Plus the anti-materialist lyrics are kinda contradicted by the designer clothes and cars and mansion in the video.