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.