Saturday, 28 July 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 28/07/2018: Blood Orange, Idles, Yoko Ono and more…

The new Yoko Ono single is quite something.


‘Samaritans’ – Idles

Idles continue to be the punk act that we need right now, confronting toxic masculinity on their new pummelling single. As with many Idles songs, its poignancy lies in its simplicity as Joe Talbot gruffly barks ‘grow some balls’ along with various other emasculating insults, before declaring in the chorus ‘this is why you never see your father cry’. The guitars meanwhile remain rugged and driving, culminating into an epic climax at the end – I’m loving the pounding outros that these guys keep delivering.

‘TBT’ – Kaves

Norwich alt rock band KAVES deliver this new wild and catchy anthem ‘TBT’. From its mean intro riff to its soaring chorus, the track just keeps delivering one fun moment after the next. I hear elements of The Arctic Monkeys and The Foo Fighters mixed into their satisfying rock infusion.

‘Whispers’ – James Holt

Accompanied by a video featuring a ballet-dancing bride eerily dancing alone in a church, ‘Whispers’ is a hauntingly beautiful ballad that explores the nagging doubt of whether there was any love in a past relationship. It shifts from quietly melancholy to loudly triumphant and then back again with the singer closing the track on the unnerving whispered line ‘were those whispers just for me?’. It’s a gripping representation of the muddle of emotions that strikes after a breakup.

‘Spiders’ – Martha Hill

‘Spiders’ was actually influenced by bats (wait, what?) – a bat broke into Martha’s house and her housemate didn’t believe her, which made her consider the idea of hallucinations and feeling crazed (hence, the line ‘spiders in my head’). Sonically, it’s a web of various genres including pop, folk and soul. There’s something almost Adele-like about Martha’s vocals, whilst the instrumental features twangy guitars and a clanging warped snare.

‘Charcoal Baby’ – Blood Orange

Indie/soul experimentalist Dev Hynes (AKA Blood Orange) is sounding smoother than ever on his latest singles set to appear on a new album titled Negro Swan. This new track ‘Charcoal Baby’ explores black depression with a creative video that shows the same feelings of dejection from two different backgrounds, showing that racial insecurity extends beyond class. Detuned guitar, warped synth swells and smoky sax make up the glossy backdrop as Dev and an unnamed female singer croon over the top.


‘Warzone’ – Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono is 85 and if it wasn’t already clear she’d lost her marbles, this new single has truly confirmed it. It begins with the opening line ‘men flashing their guns and BALLS!’ (balls are a recurring theme this week) and continues to get laughably worse from then on (the constant wailing of ‘warzooone’ is truly agonising to listen to). Listen to ‘Warzone’ if you dare – just be warned that it may give you PTSD.

Friday, 20 July 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 20/07/2018: Chance the Rapper, The Internet, Guerilla Toss and more…


‘I Might Need Security’ – Chance The Rapper

Chance The Rapper just surprise attacked us with four new tracks. This is undoubtedly the best track of the bunch – it sees the Chicago rapper getting political whilst delivering playful bars like ‘They think they Heath Ledger scary, they just Jack Nichols’. The backing sample used throughout the song is both pretty and hilarious – somehow I don’t think they’ll be able to make a radio-friendly version.

‘La di da’ – The Internet

This new smooth summer jam from soul band The Internet is deliciously funky with it’s wah-soaked guitars and groovy bass playing (it sounds very Jamiroquai-inspired). Syd’s breathy vocals are as heavenly as ever, although I’m not sure why she screams ‘Bridge’ like Pharrell at the end of the track (isn’t the bridge the bit between the verse and chorus).

‘Everything’ – Kaizen

‘Everything’ is one of those rare EDM songs that can remain intense through its build-up and still serve up a satisfying pay-off. Moody bass and melancholy vocal sampling opens up the song and the whole song gets busy quickly, but then at the one minute mark the tone shifts as it hurtles into a euphoric Rustie-like trap section. Kaizen continues to be incredibly dynamic.

‘Race Car’ – Joseph Tyler

I don’t think I’ve ever heard production quite like this. Shimmering synth arpeggios and walking 808 basslines provide a bouncy cartoonish backdrop that’s like some combination of Panda Bear, N.E.R.D and Gorillaz. It pairs well with Joseph Tyler’s jubilant lyrics about defying wasted youth.  

‘Meteorological’ – Guerilla Toss

Former-noise-rockers-turned-avant-garde-funk-band Guerilla Toss released a phenomenal album last year titled GT Ultra. It seems that they’re already thinking about dropping a follow-up, serving up this groovy extravaganza with a weather channel themed video. The whole instrumental creatively pitch shifts up at the end and there are more synths than ever – I’m expecting more electronica from their new release.


‘Hair Cutter’ – Animal Collective

The psychedelic experimentalists have gone back to their droney sound and if I’m honest it’s a bit dull. The vocals also have a cheap mic quality that I’m sure is intentional, but it just doesn’t work for me.   

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Double Review: 'Year of the Snitch' by Death Grips and 'Oil of Every Pearl's Un-insides' by SOPHIE

Rhythmless hip hop and undanceable EDM – these two albums are certainly challenging.

Death Grips and SOPHIE have never tried to make music for the masses. Avant-garde hip hop outfit Death Grips have spent the last decade laying paranoid shouty vocals over noisy beats incorporating everything from chopped-up Bjork vocals to gabber. Electronic producer SOPHIE has meanwhile spent her career concocting twisted EDM singles that blend cutesy synth twinkles and dark industrial clangs layered with chipmunked vocals.

Together they’re two of the most forward-thinking artists making music right now – although some people may just see them as a bunch of arty-farty noisemakers. Personally, I’ve always loved their unbridled experimentalism, even if tracks like ‘Hot Head’ and ‘L.O.V.E’ teetered on my threshold. For the most part, beneath the digitally altered vocals and distorted synth screeches, both artists have always carried a mean sense of rhythm – something that’s always held their unconventional songs together. In fact, Death Grips’ last album Bottomless Pit was full of head-bobbing grooves, whilst SOPHIE’s debut LP Product was a gauntlet of frenetic bangers that similarly made you want to move.

But now, both artists have decided to sacrifice even their sense of groove. Have they overstepped the line and devolved into self-indulgent noodling? Or are they still masters of organised chaos?

Death Grips’ Year Of The Snitch was the first of the two albums that I listened to and the first thing that struck me was how little hip hop influence was left and how much more rock influence there is. In fact, you could argue Death Grips are pretty much a rock band at this point. Many of the tracks are accompanied by satisfying guitar riffs – ‘Black Paint’ might be one of Death Grip’s best tracks to date with a sludgy Melvins-like riff driving it along. Much of the percussion is live drumming rather than digital beats, courtesy of long-time member Zach Hill, further adding to the rock sound. As for MC Ride’s barked vocals, they’ve always seemed closer to hardcore punk chanting than rapping anyway, and here they’re more punky than ever.

Whilst there are still some rhythmic anthems such as driving opener ‘Death Grips is Online’ and poppy misfit ‘Streaky’, much of the album is messier and more chaotic than its predecessors. ‘The Horn Section’ is essentially a drum solo with some glitchy synths layered on top, whilst ‘Shitshow’ layers speedy yelling over blast beats. Along with its rock flavourings, much of it comes across like a prog rock record – especially carnivalesque ‘The Fear’.

The jilted rhythms are just another attempt by Death Grips to be as extreme and ‘noided’ as possible. Given the lyrics are so deliberately garbled and the sounds are so abrasive, there’s very little cohesion left to grip onto. Fortunately, Death Grips do seem to have compensated this with a little more humour, mocking how absurd they’ve become with ‘Shitshow’ and closing track ‘Disappointed’. And whilst the lyrics are still very much dark (many of the tracks have Satanic references and themes of death), there are less tritones and eerie sounds in their music, substituted with a more bouncy demented vibe. Repeat listens definitely make it more digestible – but I’m still having a hard time loving something that’s so grooveless.

Moving on to SOPHIE’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-insides, the producer has also taken steps to further reduce her accessibility. Much of her previous tracks have been combinations of noisy and cutesy such as ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Hard’, but now she’s divided the two sounds up. The songs are either bright, atmospheric tunes or bludgeoning bangers – only on closer ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ are the two allowed to meet (and the track title even seems to divide them into two parts).

SOPHIE’s dark and industrial persona is the one I love the most  - singles ‘Ponyboy’ and ‘Faceshopping’ tap into this side. ‘Ponyboy’ is sex dungeon music with bass blasts that ring out like gunshots, whilst ‘Faceshopping’ covers the topic of materialism to the accompaniment of signature metallic screeches.

I’m not quite as big a fan of her softer side – ‘It’s Okay To Cry’ serves as a soppy poppy opener that does nothing for me. Other than being a bit mushy, part of the reason these tracks don’t work for me is that SOPHIE has stripped away most of the percussion. She’s done this on a previous song ‘Just Like You Never Said Goodbye’, but now multiple songs have no percussion, seemingly building up without a drop, leading them to feel almost unfinished. Obviously, this is a deliberate choice to do away with the EDM cliché of a ‘drop’ and push electronic music forward, but it makes a song like ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’ feel like a load of unresolved tension. ‘Pretending’ gets away with it as it’s pretty much a time-stretched ambient track (and a thrilling one at that), but ‘It’s Okay To Cry Doesn’t’. Even harder track ‘Not Okay’ is sorely missing some cymbals and snares (along with being criminally short).

Of course, perhaps the aim of having less percussion and less danceabilty is to simply to reinforce the feeling of cold artificiality that SOPHIE seems to be celebrating all over this album. Not only are much of the track titles direct references to artificiality (e.g. ‘Pretending’, ‘Immaterial’ and ‘Whole New World/Pretend New World’), but the lyrics are also centred around themes of fakeness such as the clever materialistic wordplay on ‘Faceshopping’ or the identity crisis that is 'Immaterial'. 'It's Not Okay' and 'It's Okay To Cry' could be references to faking emotions. There's even the question of SOPHIE's gender - given that she is a transgender artist, perhaps she's also alluding to the artificiality of identity in this respect. And of course there's the music itself, built from scratch out of waveforms rather than using preset sounds to sound as plastic as possible. Perhaps this time around she decided percussion was too artificial to have its place in this album. Something that is danceable is too human.

As on Death Grips’ Year of the Snitch, a lack of groove is also a deliberate choice to push sonic boundaries. From an objective standpoint, both albums achieve what they set out to do – they’re adventurous and intentionally challenging. The likes of ‘Black Paint’ and ‘Ponyboy’ have enough immediacy to give these albums some replay value and I think both albums have great themes to pick apart, but only time will tell if I can grow to love the use of unrhythmic percussion – in the case of Death Grips it’s too busy, whilst in the case of SOPHIE it’s too bare.

Year of the Snitch by Death Grips 
Oil of Every Pearl's Un-insides by SOPHIE 

Sunday, 15 July 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 15/07/2018: Milk White Throat, Hollowlove, The Molochs and more…

This week I decided to take a break from the popular hits circulating the web and focus solely on the ton of submissions in my inbox (I’ve meaning to catch up for a while!). Here are some of the best (and worst) underground tunes that I came across.


‘Nearly Alive’ – Milk White Throat

The drummer of this Brighton prog metal outfit must be an octopus or a robot (or maybe a robot octopus). The percussion work is absolutely mental - particularly that tumultuous breakdown at the five minute mark! Evoking a sound similar to The Mars Volta but with a more thrashy edge, Milk White Throat deliver an eight minute rock masterpiece that keeps you hooked from start to finish with its multiple transitions. It must take some stamina to play this live! The band’s upcoming EP House of Fire is out August 3rd.

 ‘Hazard Lights’ – Hollowlove

Spiky synths make way for some breathy crooning followed by some surprise touches of jazzy piano in this seductive and pulsing new synthpop track by Canadian duo Hollowlove. They sound a bit like an updated version of the Pet Shop Boys. There’s a longer mix of the track for those that want more, but this concise radio cut makes for more easy listening.

 ‘I Wanna Say To You’ – The Molochs

This hazy new track by LA band The Molochs looks and sounds like a 90s Britpop single (with maybe a few Velvet Underground undertones thrown in). But despite the retro feel, there’s also something fresh about the snarky lyrics and vaguely psychedelic guitar.

‘Soylent Green’ – Niki Moss

Portuguese multi-instrumentalist and singer Niki Moss drops this electropop/rock hybrid ‘Soylent Green’. It’s a mixture of bright synths, chirpy vocals and groovy guitars. If you’re looking for something feelgood to bob your head to, this is your jam. I'm also loving the cute animated video.

 ‘In The Fields’ – Simon D James

The violins in the opening of this song made me think this was going to be your average village fete folk tune, but it turns out to be a lot more creative than that. There's some creative piano and guitar during the verse that give the track a unique character – it’s folk as you’ve never heard it before.


 ‘Bring It On’ - ???

It’s time for more terrible scientology rap. This one seems like it was conceived in a boardroom as an attempt to market scientology to young people and the result is a horrifically corny attempt to be hip: ‘How about we make a rap video? Young people love their rap! Can we get a token black guy to do some breakdancing?’.