Friday, 9 November 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 09/11/2018: Ariana Grande, Earl Sweatshirt, Milk Buttons and more…
Personal pop and moody rock make up this week’s tracks.
‘thank u, next’ – Ariana Grande
After several high profile breakups and the death of her ex Mac Miller, Ariana Grande is understandably done with relationships – at least for now. She’s decided she’s the only one good enough for herself right now: ‘I know they say I move on too fast/ but this one gonna last/ Cause her name is Ari/ and I’m so good with that’. It’s inspiringly positive music for facing life’s challenges, continuing the same vibe as Sweetener. I’ll admit that it’s musically a little too poppy for my liking, but the personal lyrics and Ariana’s delivery are enough to make up for this.
‘Nowhere2go’ – Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt also seems to be sounding more upbeat (relatively speaking – if you’ve never listened to Earl before, you’ll probably still find this suffocatingly depressive). The beat is also one of his most experimental yet – it’s a muddy mix of warped vocals, rumbling bass and shrill pops. You could argue it’s kind of directionless but then again it is titled ‘Nowhere2Go’.
‘Some Impression’ – Milk Buttons
I featured this alt-rock duo on my blog before and I remember them being deliciously gloomy. Opening with some time-signature-morphing riffage, this latest single from Melbourne/Brisbane-based duo Milk Buttons seems to continue in that same depressive vein. ‘Everything is going fine’ is the closing line, delivered in a dejected tone and smothered by the guitars on top so that it’s as deliberately unconvincing as possible.
‘Feel My Skin’ – Edited People
These vocals are utterly wild. I was already drawn in by the spooky guitars and mean distortion, but it’s her crazy inflections that really make this track special. They’re very Siouxsie-Sioux-inspired but with added unhinged-ness.
‘Anti romantic’ – Passive
The word ‘anti-romantic’ sums up most of the music featured this week. This track comes courtesy of Watford indie rockers Passive and it’s an intriguing mesh of sounds, containing whirring organs, close-proximity guitars and some melancholy harmonised vocal woos. The lyrics meanwhile are fairly dark, ending with the ominous line ‘I need to give up’.
‘Dip’ – Tyga ft. Nicki Minaj
Horrible lyrics, although I did enjoy the beat. Thank u, next…
Tuesday, 6 November 2018
The ponytailed pop princess delivers playful production and positivity on her new polished LP. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Pppppppp.
It’s happened – I’m now an Ariana Grande fan (I think they’re called Arianators, but I’m not prepared to go that far quite yet).
Whilst her previous material has been a little too plain and poppy for my liking, Sweetener sees Grande exploring a more – dare I say it – alternative sound. There are still some glaring cash grabs here such as ‘breathin’ and ‘God is a woman’, but the bulk of the tracklist sounds like it’s not trying to be radio-friendly.
This has a lot to do with the quirky production, a lot of which comes courtesy of Pharrell Williams. Raunchy title track ‘Sweetener’ is set to sugary synths and bubbly clicks, whilst ‘Borderline’ layers rave chords over bouncy trap percussion. I wouldn't be surprised if these beats were leftovers from the recent N.E.R.D album - if so they’re tasty leftovers (with the exception of ‘the light is coming’ which is ruined by its jarring sample).
The beats that aren’t produced by Pharrell are slightly more commercial, with the exception of the upbeat garage beat on ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ (which incidentally hasn’t stopped this song being a mainstream hit). Still, as glossy as these other beats are, none of them are plain boring, which keeps this album constantly engaging.
Of course, Ariana Grande’s impressive four octave spanning voice plays an important part in the equation. She does a lot of soulful harmonising and layering which makes each track feel playful – my favourite example being the jingly ‘R.E.M’ which even has some Mr-Sandman-style bum-bum-bumming in it (perhaps intentional given the sleep theme of the track). She manages to show off her range without going on obnoxious Mariah-Carey-style vocal runs, letting her voice soar for the big choruses and fade to a breathy croon for the more subdued songs.
As for the lyrics, they’re surprisingly upbeat given everything Ariana Grande has been through as of late. Her life has been turned upside down – which may well be the reason for the topsy turvy artwork – but despite this she responds to the tragedy positively with songs like closer ‘Get Well Soon’ offering a musical hug to all victims of her Manchester concert bombing and ‘everytime’ acting as a defiant breakup song with her ex Mac Miller. All in all, the tracks feel more personal and more impactful. Even if other songwriters are credited alongside her, the lyrics feel intimate, which elevates this beyond the usual generic pop.
It’s a shame that it often takes personal tragedy to bring the best music out of an artist. Since Sweetener’s release, Grande has already had to deal with further devastating news and has announced a new album which may possibly be out before 2018 is up. Will she continue to keep things as upbeat?★★★★☆
Friday, 2 November 2018
I was expecting lots of creepy tunes this week given that it was Halloween, but the scariest thing I could find was a song about Batman crying.
‘Fall Back’ – Duckwrth
This beat is absolutely disgusting. JUST LIKE YOUR MUM (I really am immature). It sounds like it could be a UK grime instrumental, so much so that I was genuinely surprised when the angry American-accented bars came in. LA artist Duckwrth spends most the track spitting vehemently before segueing into some brief soulful singing at the end more akin to Blood Orange. He's got an unpredictable and erratic vibe about him, supported by a video which sees him performing in a padded cell whilst being restrained on a rope by a bunch of black dudes in whiteface. I suspect there’s a socio-political message to the visuals, but right now I’m happy enjoying this artist for the music.
‘All Out Life’ – Slipknot
Slipknot are probably the most Halloweeny choice on this list. The band are back to their Iowa-style punch-somebody-in-the-face aggression with Corey setting aside his clean singing for his signature diabolic yell. My favourite part is the slam riff at 3:48 with Corey chanting ‘we are not your kind!’ over the top, transitioning into some vicious blast beats. And people still claim Slipknot aren’t metal enough?
‘Figure Me Out’ – Peluche
I’ve been trying figure this one out – what genre is this? It’s got Kate Bush-esque vocals, a groovy bassline, military drums, ambient organs and even some wailing sax towards the back end. It builds up hypnotically before ebbing away gracefully. This single comes off the band’s recently released album Unforgettable, which I mustn’t forget to check out myself.
‘Bunny’s Dream’ – Matthew Dear
Here we have another genre-defying track. It’s got glossy guitars, a house beat, some brief Lou-Reed-esque baritone vocals and a weird section with some distorted offbeat bass. It’s a trip down the rabbit hole, topped off with a video containing some wild expressive dancing.
‘Alone Again’ – James Holt
Singer-songwriter James Holt is back with another single, this time sporting a stomping Beatles-inspired instrumental. The song gets going quickly and loads several transitions into its less-than-three-minute length. It’s quite different in energy from his last single ‘Whispers’ (which I featured on this blog here), but the lyrics still offer some great breakup-themed storytelling.
‘Batman Cries’ – Joe Settineri
If you laughed at this song, shame on your for being so insensitive. Batman is crying and we should cry with him.
Honestly though, is this satire or is it genuinely sincere? I feel like I struggle nowadays to tell the difference.
Friday, 26 October 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 26/10/2018: Travis Scott, Sunshine Brothers Inc., iLOVEFRiDAY and more…
Diss tracks aimed at porn stars, 'candy floss laced in acid' and soul music seductive enough to make you pregnant.
‘Discover Each Other’ – Zac Apollo
This soul single is so seductive, I’m worried that just listening to it may have made me pregnant. Set to a slowdance-worthy tempo, Zac self-harmonises his vocals over some gorgeous guitar chords. The California musician is enviably talented, playing all the instruments and producing the track himself. The single comes off of his latest album ‘Loveset’, which I may just have to listen to - although if there are any more sensual slowjams on it like this I may just have to wear condoms on my ears.
‘So Bad To Me’ – Sunshine Brothers Inc.
Massachusetts bands Sunshine Brother Inc are proof that there are still unique rock acts out there (although I’m not sure if you could strictly call this rock). Their new single ‘So Bad To Me’ is a mix of carnivalesque crooning, surf-rock guitars and ice-cream-van-like synth twinkles. The layers of reverb make it sound like its coming from a distant fairground, whilst the upbeat chords occasionally take a sour turn giving it a warped feel. It’s like eating candy floss laced in acid.
‘Porch Song’ – Orchid Mantis
Effects-slathered guitar, faraway vocals and dreamy synths make up this exciting ambient/pop hybrid from Atlanta experimental artist Orchid Mantis. It’s got a chillwave/vaporwave vibe to it, except it's clearly a lot more detailed. The track makes me want to jump out my bedroom window and fly away into the clouds, so now I have to listen to this song with the windows locked because humans can't fly and I don't want to die just yet. ‘Porch Song’ is the first single from the musician’s upcoming album ‘Yellow House’.
‘Have I Ever’ – Lili Caseley
This new quirky pop single examines how love can feel different when you finally meet that one true partner, at which point all the rest of those past relationships feel phoney. The instrumental is a creative mixture of hypnotic harp and groovy synth bass that’s simple but effective. Meanwhile, Lili’s vocals carry an upbeat but pensive tone that elevates this beyond your usual pop junk.
‘SICKO MODE’ – Travis Scott ft. Drake
I’m slowly warming to Travis Scott. His lyrics are complete nonsense and his druggy flow is the reason half these Soundcloud rappers exist, however I can’t deny that this song is fucking ace. Technically, this was released back in August, but it’s now got a new big budget video so I figured I’d discuss it (it's my blog, I MAKE THE RULES). There are three different beats in this song – it’s as if Travis was asked by his producer which beat he preferred and he simply replied ‘yes’. Drake could certainly learn a thing or two given the lack of beat transitions on Scorpion. As for the pair’s vocal performances, they both add well to the atmosphere, even I still think the lyrics are a load of baloney.
‘Mia Khalifa’ – iLOVEFRiDAY
Two awful rappers diss a porn star for a tweet that turned out to be from a fake account. It’s a shame, because if the lyrics weren't so cringe-worthy and the singing wasn't so torturous, it could actually be a pretty catchy banger.
Friday, 19 October 2018
It's time to round up the week's best and worst new tracks.
‘Tints’ – Anderson .Paak ft. Kendrick Lamar
Soulful singer/rapper Anderson .Paak and rap icon Kendrick Lamar team up for this new deliciously funky track set to appear on Paak’s upcoming album Oxnard. The lyrics seem to be about wanting privacy from the paparazzi (hence the window tints), but if I’m honest the song could be about anything and I’d still dig it – give me a funky instrumental, Paak’s soulful singing and Kendrick’s smooth flow and I’m sold.
‘Sunkissed’ – Shai Nowell ft. Nai Br.XX.
For those craving some more soul, this new entrancing track from Atlanta artist Shair Nowell ought to satiate your appetite. Lush keys, clanking percussion and a smooth bassline provide a breezy backdrop for Shai’s layered vocals, whilst guest vocalist Nai Br.XX also contributes some silky singing. It feels a bit late in the year for all these summery tunes, but I guess they do help to cheer up these dreary October days.
‘Mogambo’ – Riz MC
You may know Riz Ahmed from his acting work (apparently, he’s in the new Venom film), but on top of being an actor he’s also a rapper. This new song ‘Mogambo’ begins with a raw recording of Riz spitting angry bars over hand percussion before launching into a mean banger in which Riz proceeds to deliver several provocative and witty bars surrounding the prejudices of Asian culture. It’s similar to his work in the Swet Shop Boys, only without Heems at his side.
‘There Must Be Something In The Water’ – Niki Moss
Niki Moss is back with another kooky single that opens with a fast groovy guitar riff before taking the listener on a number of unpredictable twists and turns. The whole song is bursting with feelgood energy. I’m as eager as Niki to know what’s in the water. Is it a whole load of sugar? Is it cocaine? Whatever it is, I need it in my life.
‘Sister Jill’ – Jordan Vincent
This is truly unique stuff. The LA singer’s voice has a real theatrical vibe to it as it changes sharply in pitch and intonation, whilst the instrumental feels like some mix between rock and doo-wop.
‘1999’ – Charli XCX & Troye Sivan
Look how far we’ve come. In 1982, Prince was singing about 1999 as if it were a magical time in the distant future – now singers are looking back on it as a magical time in the distant past.
As fun as this track is, I feel like there’s enough 90s nostalgia out there already. Besides Troye Sivan was 4 years old in 1999 – I doubt he was ‘driving around listening to Shady’ at that age.
Tuesday, 16 October 2018
UK rock acts Slaves and Idles compete for the punk record of the year.
Together, Slaves and Idles have revived old-skool UK punk. They’ve taken the brains of The Clash, the teeth of the Sex Pistols and the funny bone of Ian Dury and they’ve Frankensteined them all together into a monstrous new creation. Meanwhile, their political lyrics take aim at the 21st Century world attacking everyone from London commuters to Mary Berry.
On their latest albums, both bands have decided to get less angry and more upbeat. Positive punk usually isn’t my thing – I prefer a bit of anger and confrontation - but this is Slaves and Idles, so I knew that despite the cheery album titles they couldn’t have turned into complete hippies. As it turns out, both records are fantastic. But which band really does it the best? I decided to pit both punk albums against one another.
Let’s start with the new Slaves album Acts of Fear And Acts Of Love. Still packing the same primal drums and raw riffs, the Tunbridge Wells duo have swapped out the screech-along hooks of their last album Take Control for more Britpop-inspired vocal harmonies. The result is a more melodic album, although still very rough and ready – even on the most poppy track ‘Cut and Run’ there’s still a healthy dose of feedback squealing to keep things from sounding too polished. Meanwhile, the lyrics do seem to be a little less angry – whilst the band still take the time to lambast social media braggers on ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’ and politicians on ‘Bugs’, they end the album by dismissing hatred and promoting love: ‘there’s no such thing as hate, just acts of fear and love’.
As for Bristol band Idles, their new album Joy As An Act of Resistance sees them rocking the same scuzzy bass-guitar-heavy sound as on their debut. It’s a lot less clean than Slaves’ latest album, but not entirely sloppy either as the driving Swans-like build-up of opener ‘Colossus’ shows. The lyrics are where Idles show their newfound positivity – in his slovenly snarled delivery, Joe Talbot celebrates the joys of immigration on ‘Danny Nedelko’ and tells body-conscious listeners to ‘love yourself’ on ‘Television’. It’s jarring at first to hear him offering sincere positivity, considering how cynical the band’s debut album Brutalism was and considering how harsh his vocals are, but it doesn’t feel entirely wrong either. Besides, not all the hostility is gone and tracks like ‘Samaritans’ - a dissection of toxic masculinity - are still delivered with anger.
When it comes to writing catchy songs, both bands still know how to pull out an anthemic hook. Both bands seem to like spelling things out – in the case of Slaves it’s ‘M-A-G-N-O-L-I-A’ on their tongue-and-cheek ode to magnolia paint, whilst Idles chant ‘G-R-E-A-T’ which explores the mindset of Brexiteers. Both bands also know how to balance earnestness and humour.
Overall, Slaves offer more straightforward fun. With the exception of grungy interlude ‘Daddy’, there aren’t many left-field detours on Acts of Fear And Love, which is probably the album’s only downside – as fun as the songs are to rock out to, it feels like it’s missing a sense of surprise.
Idles by contrast are entirely unpredictable. There are moments when they go entirely loopy, such as nonsensical ‘Gram Rock’ which sees Joe yelling ‘ten points to Gryffindor!’ repeatedly for no reason. Meanwhile, on the flipside, Idles are also able to get incredibly personal and serious – ‘June’ took me entirely by surprise, serving as a tortured tribute to his still born daughter that sees him wailing ‘baby shoes for sale: never worn’ agonisingly over and over again. It’s this versatility that is the reason Idles take the crown.
Acts of Fear And Love by Slaves ★★★★☆
Joy As An Act Of Resistance by Idles ★★★★★
Friday, 5 October 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 05/10/2018: John Grant, Pleasure Barge, Thom Yorke and more...
More tracks to feast your ears on.
‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’ – John Grant
This has to be one of the loopiest musical discoveries I’ve made all year. According to the Icelandic singer himself, this new single is ‘about a cheeseball doing all he can to get into a woman’s pants’. It’s set to a funky synthpop beat and is accompanied by the trippiest music video conceivable. I feel like a changed man after experiencing this song. Nothing will ever be the same again. Make sure to also check out the live performance on the Jools Holland show, which sees John Grant backed by a band inexplicably dressed up in pig masks.
‘Electric Ride’ – Pleasure Barge
Once you’ve recovered from that John Grant song, you may as well take an electric ride with Pleasure Barge and continue your dose of eccentric funk. The Manchester-based disco-house band’s five minute funk odyssey cruises along happily before taking a dark turn, at which point it begins to feel like a ride on the Willy Wonka barge. I think the song’s probably an allegory for drug abuse (hence the floating pills making up the visuals), but even if you’re not interested in the lyrics it’s still a wacky and fun tune with lots of unpredictable progressions.
‘Has Ended’ – Thom Yorke
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke is scoring a horror movie and this eerie dirge is one of the songs making up the soundtrack. It could have been easy for the experimental singer to come up with something abstract – whilst this is largely Thom moaning over ambient synth swirls, it feels more like an actual song than I anticipated. In fact, I really love the plodding bass and drums which help to give it an ominous groove.
‘Rafters’ – Clarence Clarity and A.J. Crew
Eccentric pop singer/producer Clarence Clarity and alternative hip hop artist A.J. Crew team up for this avant-garde concoction. The beat really does feel as if it’s bouncing off the ceiling and getting caught in the rafters, whilst A.J. Crew’s bars take a more cool and grounded approach.
‘Bear the Waves’ – Stray Fossa
‘Bear the Waves’ really does create the sensation of standing on a beach and letting the waves crash against you. I feel like a lot of indie bands aim for this dreamy beach vibe, but none nail it quite as perfectly as Stray Fossa have here. The guitars are so shimmery that you can practically swim in them.
‘Deadcrush’ – Alt J ft. Danny Brown
I really tried to like this - the experimental beat and Danny Brown’s verse are menacingly brilliant – but Alt-J’s vocals seem to be completely out of key with the rest of the song. Intentional or not, out of key Alt-J falsettos sadly lie beyond my threshold.
Friday, 28 September 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 28/09/2018: Young Thug (ft. Elton John), Will McBride Group, Cheap Teeth and more...
It’s time for you weekly dose of Music Related Junk.
‘Touch and Go’ – Tomas Tomas
This slick nu disco tune comes courtesy of New York musician Tomas Tomas. The funky synths are delicious, and the dude’s voice has a silky almost-Frank-Ocean quality. There’s no shortage of this kind of music out there, but this is the premium quality stuff.
‘Karma’ – Will McBride Group
The last single from this group that I featured on this blog was reggae-flavoured rock. By contrast, this sees the North Carolina band going all-out funk. The slinky bass and bluesy guitar soloing show off the bands instrumental prowess, whilst Will McBride’s vocals glide effortlessly over the top.
‘Swingtheory’ – Quickly, Quickly
This Portland-based jazztronica producer sounds like a glitchier version of Flying Lotus. The textures are so crisply produced that it’s hard to believe this producer is only 17 years old. I also love the way it progresses – especially the key change towards the end.
‘Fly on the Wall’ – Cheap Teeth
Cheap Teeth have a sound that’s as grim as their band name. The guitar melodies sound like something from a horror fairground whilst the band’s vocalist delivers a visceral half-warble, half-shrieked style of singing over the top. If you like your rock raw, this is definitely worth sinking your (cheap) teeth into.
‘High’ – Young Thug ft. Elton John
I got pretty excited at the prospect of this weird collaboration, but it turns out that it’s not a collaboration at all. No, this is simply nothing more than a remix of ‘Rocket Man’ with some Young Thug bars over the top. Basically, Young Thug butchers a classic.
‘I Swallow His Kids’ – Princess Vitarah
The obscene track title pretty much tells you exactly what to expect – Princess Vitarah definitely doesn’t make music for kids (swallowing kids is more her thing). Even the beat is awful, featuring some flute that sounds like it was ripped from 2005-era Runescape.
Friday, 21 September 2018
This week, I take a look at the new savage diss track from Eminem amongst other new songs…
‘Killshot’ – Eminem
There’s been enough beef in hip hop this year to put McDonald’s out of business. I can hardly keep up with it all.
The latest and most unprecedented is the Machine Gun Kelly/Eminem feud - a couple weeks ago Machine Gun Kelly thought it wise to release a diss track titled ‘Rap Devil’ aimed at Eminem. It was a valiant attempt with some good jabs, but now Eminem has responded with a track titled ‘Killshot’ and the result is a slaughter: ‘This is it, as big as you’re going to get, so enjoy it/ Had to give you a career to destroy it’. It’s absolutely brutal. Just goes to show, ‘you don’t wanna fuck with shady’.
‘Venice Bitch’ – Lana Del Rey
Several years ago, the prospect of a nearly ten minute Lan Del Rey track would have made me gag, but she’s matured so much since then and so has her style. ‘Venice Bitch’ starts as a nostalgic end-of-summer ballad and then goes off on a hypnotic War-on-Drugs-esque seven-minute outro featuring loopy organs and psychedelic guitars. The song refuses to end and yet it remains captivating.
‘Full Moon’ – Gator
Gator describe themselves as a ‘swamp metal’ band. Their latest single has a carnivalesque Scooby-Doo vibe, featuring trippy largely spoken vocals over distorted guitars. It’s the kind of music I didn’t realise I needed in my life.
‘Heaven’ – Charly Bliss
Before this song was even over, I wanted to sing along to the chorus: ‘Now that I’m in heaveeen’. The mean and grungy guitars give it a badass feel that prevents it being a soppy love song (which is what it is). It definitely makes me eager to hear more from this New York band.
‘Swimming Underwater’ – Django Django
This is yet another track with a deliciously catchy chorus (Django Django seem incapable of writing a chorus that isn’t catchy). A punchy snare helps to give it a mean groove, whilst the synths have a nice retro feel. In fact, I struggle to find anything I dislike about this song.
‘Tranz’ - Gorillaz
Meanwhile, this has to be the most uncatchy chorus I’ve heard in a while – what’s up with Damon’s vocals. The song seems to be about drugs (or so I assume from the music video’s creepy ending), so I guess he’s trying to make the vocals sound druggy, but it just sounds like a garbled mess.