Friday, 26 May 2017

Jam @ The Finborough Theatre

Jam @ The Finborough Theatre

There have been countless plays and films about teacher-student relationships. In the theatrical world, David Mamet’s Oleanna particularly stands out. Matt Parvin’s Jam, then, isn’t the most original setup.

The slight twist is that the 23 year old Kane (Harry Melling, best known as Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter films) is returning to his school ten years after he was a student there. He was a difficult child at school with ADHD, who made a big impact on his teacher’s life. Now he appears unannounced at the school to haunt her, claiming he’s dying from a brain tumour. But is he lying? What does he really want? Is he a ghost from the past come to terrorise, or an angel come to impart wisdom for the future?

Bella (Jasmine Hyde) is not as innocent as she seems. Initially on edge, she just as easily manipulates Kane and hides her prejudice beneath her kind teacher exterior. Did she have a hand in his behaviour? Or was she simply ill-equipped to deal with his condition?

Jam is a power play between these two characters, though it doesn’t quite hold tension throughout. The script meanders through idle chat that doesn’t always serve the narrative, though it does take the audience for a ride of peaks and troughs. Plenty of themes are covered, from its central focus on teacher-student relationships, to abuse and violence, living in the moment, and coping with mental health. It’s just not as taut as it could be to keep the audience truly on the edge of their seats throughout.

The play is led, though, by two performers who act with such visceral energy from every inch of their bodies. It’s almost as exhausting to watch as it is for the actors – in a good way. They are the perfect foil to one another and as their passions escalate the play hits a shocking climax. Hyde’s Bella is like a coil: highly strung, uptight and devastating when she unfurls. She is just as unpredictable as Kane, both manipulator and victim, fond yet fearful, compassionate yet full of contempt.

Melling is wholly convincing as Kane, a man with a multitude of issues. It’s a complex performance both physically and mentally, innocently fidgeting with his clothes and then bounding around the cage-like stage like an ape. We, like Bella, never quite know where we stand with him as he fools and manipulates us. We care for him and fear him in equal measure – something that continues long after the lights fade.

4/5

Watch: Jam runs at the Finborough Theatre until 17th June.

Photo: Hew Foster

Thursday, 25 May 2017

An Octoroon @ Orange Tree Theatre

An Octoroon @ Orange Tree Theatre

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' reimagining of Dion Boucicault's play is quite the radical reinvention, starting immediately with the very opening. Ken Nwosu, as 'BJJ' himself, steps onstage in just his underwear. It highlights his blackness, mirroring his soliloquy on the difficulties of being a black playwright. It's confrontational as he addresses the audience directly, literally sitting amongst us at one point, playing up to type. And it thoroughly tears apart the fourth wall of this play within a play, setting up a safe, stylised, performative space within which to explore race.

The core of the play remains the same: a melodramatic comedy from 1859 set on a Louisiana plantation that's to be sold to pay a debt. In the midst of negotiations, the young George who has inherited the plantation from his uncle, falls in love with his uncle's bastard daughter Zoe - the titular Octoroon, someone who's an eighth black. It's a play that, at the time, sparked controversial debate about the abolition of slavery and mixed race relations. Since then, there have been countless other plays and films exploring similar themes.

What's interesting here, though, is BJJ's treatment of the play. An old fashioned tale of slavery is heightened with fresh relevance by a modern, performative element. For starters, the performers have grotesque painted faces that make a mockery of the notion of race. Dramatic lighting adds a technological twist and cellist James Douglas brings cinematic flare through music. And the performances are rife with modernisms: from the ghetto talk of slaves Minnie (Vivian Oparah), Dido (Emmanuella Cole) and Grace (Cassie Clare), to the way Nwosu cleverly jumps between playing George and the play's villain M'Closky, to the duplicitous belle Dora played by Celeste Dodwell with cartoonish glee in her oversized dress.

These modernisms slash through the layers of the play, as if the script has been ripped apart to reveal the theatrical mechanics churning away underneath. It's a clever way of conjoining history with present day, of asking us to question a past that is still present just beneath the surface of today.

The set changes do add to the stylised performance as we witness the theatrics being unpacked and built up again before our eyes, but they also unnecessarily elongate the production and could've been implemented more smoothly. This isn't exactly a subtle play, occasionally overstating its point although there are plenty of darker, poignant moments to ponder over. It's witty, bold, controversial and haunting all at once.

4/5

Watch: An Octoroon runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 24th June.

An Octoroon @ Orange Tree Theatre

An Octoroon @ Orange Tree Theatre

An Octoroon @ Orange Tree Theatre
Photos: The Other Richard

Friday, 19 May 2017

New Music Friday 19/05

There are some big name releases this week that makes up for last week's drought. Still, that means yet another 1D solo single and yet another Katy Perry single amongst some otherwise very good pop.


Liam Payne ft. Quavo - Strip That Down


 Liam Payne & Quavo - Strip That Down

I was listening to a great podcast recently called 'And The Writer Is...' in which Savan Kotecha noted how 1D moaned in the early days about being considered a manufactured band and wanted more control over their musical output. Now they're releasing their solo material, it's clear that Kotecha was right - they need professional help. At least, though, the other members of the band have released music that suits their personalities: weed-fuelled Zayn, striving-for-authenticity Harry, forgettable Niall, basic Louis. The worst thing about Strip That Down is that by the end of listening, I still have no idea who Liam Payne really is.


Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj - Swish Swish


 Katy Perry - Swish Swish

What the hell happened to political Perry? That lasted all of... *checks Chained To The Rhythm*... 3:58. After the dire innuendo of Bon Appétit, we now have a 90s R&B throwback with a "kiss the ring" lyric and a refusal to say the word bitch that's apparently a petty diss attempt at Taylor Swift. Nicki Minaj is the best thing about it.


Plan B - In The Name Of Man


 Plan B - In The Name Of Man

From one political activist singing a diss track to another, Plan B returns with a song clearly aimed at Donald Trump, amongst other world leaders. "Hey man, what are you up to there?" he questions, "there's blood on your hands". Unlike the aggressive hip-hop of 'Ill Manors', this is a hymn-like ballad with a hard-hitting message - one that certainly needs to be spoken, but it's delivery here is a little heavy-handed.


Muse - Dig Down


Muse - Dig Down

Musically this is more 'The 2nd Law' than 'Origin of Symmetry', though its message is very 'The Resistance'. "Dig down," Matt Bellamy implores us over wobbly electronic bass, "you must find a way". There's a healthy dose of Queen here in its grandeur (though the revolutionary message is more We Will Rock You the musical), but the accompanying dystopian video is superb.


Selena Gomez - Bad Liar


 Selena Gomez - Bad Liar

I don't hate this. But I also don't love it. It's all Talking Heads sample bassline and percussion. It's light and fizzy. It's...ok. It's no Sober or Good For You, that's for sure.


Camila Cabello - Crying In The Club


 Camila Cabello - Crying In The Club

Squeaky-voiced ex-girlband member releases generic EDM-pop track that shamelessly copies Christina Aguilera's Genie In A Bottle for its hook. Next.


Royal Blood - Hook, Line & Sinker


Royal Blood - Hook, Line & Sinker

As a two-piece band, Royal Blood strip rock back to the essentials: big riffs, big drums, big vocals. The setup doesn't allow for much versatility, which is probably why their new music for the forthcoming second album doesn't seem to have advanced their sound. This is a decent follow up single to Lights Out's strong return: aggressive and catchy but ultimately limited.


Phoenix - Ti Amo


 Phoenix - Ti Amo

Ti Amo is the title track from the Parisian band's sixth album and it's so many things at once. It's fun, fizzing alt-pop, but with a darker side to its lyrics. It's a celebration of Europe with its chorus line "Love you! Ti amo! Je t'aime! ¡Te quiero!", its perennial question "Champagne or Prosecco?" and its wonderful symbol for sexual frustration "this melted gelato". It's a song about masculine sexual desperation in its refrain "don't tell me no, don't tell me no" and how men will try anything to get in someone else's pants. And its cooing falsetto "open up your legs" is both cheekily delicious and slightly creepy.


RAYE - The Line


 RAYE - The Line

Singer RAYE was named at number three on the BBC's Sound of 2017 list, but so far she's mainly featured on a handful of high profile releases from Jax Jones, Jonas Blue and Charli XCX. With The Line she's delivered a proper solo hit that amusingly and sassily details queueing to get in the club. It's a fun pop track that's bound to be soundtracking Saturday nights for the foreseeable future.


Astrid S - Party's Over


 Astrid S - Party's Over

We end this week's post with some scandi-pop - Astrid S, who's in a fierce battle with Sigrid to become Norway's premier pop act. Party's Over is basically an icy cool version of Miley Cyrus' We Can't Stop, pouring champagne and making it rain to muted synths and sharp offbeats rather than a garish cartoon. The sigh into silence in the middle eight will leave you breathless.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Paramore - After Laughter

Paramore - After Laughter

"Have Paramore always been this poppy?" I was asked earlier in the week. It's true that the band have slowly evolved from their emo-rock origins, but they've always been pop. Now they're just embracing it more.

The band's self-titled album from 2013 was something of a reset after a shift in line-up, straddling the border between their earlier sound (Fast In My CarNow) and a lighter more melodic sound (Ain't It Fun, Still Into You). Now with 'After Laughter', as the pastel coloured artwork suggests, the band have delivered something far brighter and funkier - some might even say poppier.

Opener Hard Times dazzles with its tropical guitar strums and 80s pop vibes; Rose-Coloured Boy features a fun cheerleader refrain; and Told You So bristles with fidgety, spiky rhythms and syncopations. Where their previous material was all downtrodden power chords, the production here emphasises the top line: shimmering guitars, sweet vocals, and layer upon layer of melodies. Paramore could always deliver a hook, now they're just more sophisticated.

They've also mastered that pop juxtaposition of upbeat production and sad lyrics - a nod to their emo roots whilst delivering something fresh. It's a notion that's at the heart of Fake Happy ("I been doing a good job of makin' 'em think I'm quite alright"), while on Pool the rush of love is compared to drowning. Moreover, both Hard Times and Rose-Colored Boy depict singer Hayley Williams' struggles with depression over playful, vibrant production.

The album does sag a little in its second half - its best tracks are all towards the start - but it picks up with the new wave Grudges, a track written to rekindle Williams' friendship with ex-but-now-returning drummer Zac Farro. The prevailing mood of 'Hard Times', then, is of overcoming adversity. That's fitting for a band who've struggled through multiple line-up changes and a lead singer battling with her own demons. It also makes for a brilliant pop album.

4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Hard Times
* Told You So
* Grudges

Listen: 'After Laughter' is out now.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Richard III @ Arcola Theatre

Richard III @ Arcola Theatre

In times of political strife we often look to theatre for solace and meaning, especially its tales of twisted monarchs and corrupt leaders. It's particularly prevalent now, from Arturo Ui at the Donmar, to this production of Shakespeare's Richard III at the Arcola Theatre.

Thankfully, though, director Mehmet Ergen has subtlety. Beyond the modern dress, Shakespeare's verse is put above all political allegory. It's left to the audience to pick apart the pieces and find connections.

That is perhaps to the production's detriment a little. The staging is bleak, with its fading floor tiles, scaffold staircase and bare brickwork, meaning there's little visual appeal here. That said, Britain would be a pretty dire place to live under the rule of such a Machiavellian tyrant. It's an uncluttered production that tells the narrative lucidly enough, but it feels a little drab overall.

There's a spark, however, in the leading performance from Greg Hicks. It's a disturbing, twisted physical performance as he clutches the chain connecting his hand and foot, limping and snarling his way through the text. His erratic vocal delivery depicts Richard as an unpredictable character, shifting and morphing as he manipulates those around him. One moment he's deadpan and humourless, the next he's jovial, then cruel and merciless, then charming yet predatory with an almost Cockney swagger. Some lines are rushed and lost, but he's such a magnetic stage presence that the play falls flat when this shocking antihero is absent from the stage.

Like a certain leader of our times, Richard depressingly surrounds himself with straight white old men. Yet from this grim homogeneity, it's the female characters who provide colour. Jane Bertish may only be in a couple of scenes as former queen Margaret, but she certainly threatens Hicks for the audience's attention. World weary and cynical, hers is the strong voice of feminism that all fall silent to hear. Annie Firbank follows suit as Richard's spiteful and cursing mother the Duchess of York, while Sara Powell's grieving Queen Elizabeth captures our hearts. Where the patriarchy is corrupt, these women are the unsung heroes.

3/5

Watch: Richard III runs at the Arcola Theatre until 10th June.

Richard III @ Arcola Theatre

Richard III @ Arcola Theatre
Photos: Alex Brenner

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Horizon: Zero Dawn - Guerilla Games

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Horizon’s greatest strength is its protagonist, Aloy. Here is a woman who shirks the usual gaming stereotypes of women. Neither damsel in distress nor sex symbol, she is simply human. That that seems progressive in 2017 tells you much about the industry.

Crucially, she’s a character with multiple sides to her personality that go far beyond hunter and gatherer. She is at once fiercely aggressive and powerful, yet also naïve and questioning with childlike curiosity. Above all, she’s compassionate. These varying sides are apparent in the well-written script, though it’s disappointing that the associated dialogue choices have little tangible effect. Most importantly though, she is not sexualised by the player, though many male characters do leer at her and flirt. As a man, it’s certainly an eye-opener into the everyday sexism women frequently encounter.

Horizon: Zero Dawn
As the protagonist, Aloy is emblematic of a game that champions feminism and diversity. An outcast from her tribe, she bears the weight of not only the pressures of womanhood, but of the outsider in general, fighting for recognition. Her tribe is led by matriarchs who literally live in the ‘womb’ of the mountain and, as the narrative unfolds, we explore Aloy’s origins and the pressures of a related woman striving to save humanity from extinction. This is a game about motherhood and living up to the expectations of our parents, set in a world of female leaders and often weak-minded men, all with a plethora of skin tones and sexualities. This might be a post-apocalyptic world, but in many ways it’s more progressive than our own.

It’s also a game about religion, depicted through shades of grey. Religion brings humanity together in times of crisis, giving them faith and purpose. But it also forges rifts between communities and causes people to act rashly. Each tribe encountered worships its own deities, be they gods or machines, but faith can breed false hope. Humanity, like the machines, is just as easily corrupted. Science and technology are a foil to religion but are equally flawed, capable of destroying the world as much as saving it. 

Horizon: Zero Dawn
And what a world it is! Horizon takes full advantage of the PS4 hardware to deliver a hyper-realistic vision of Earth. Where most post-apocalypse games settle for a clichéd dystopia, here nature has regained its beauty. Whether scurrying through lush forests in morning fog, running across vast fields and deserts in the harsh glare of the sun, or climbing atop a frosty mountain to watch the sun set in vivid pinks, the game never fails to stun. And that’s before you uncover the twisting sci-fi hallways beneath the surface, seemingly taken straight from Alien. I have never taken as many photos as in this game – the lighting especially is superb and the included photo mode is almost a game in itself.

Through advancements in visuals and diverse storytelling, Horizon tells a clever and gripping narrative through polished, cinematic presentation. Aloy uncovers the secrets of the past to save her future, our future ingeniously flipped into her ancient history. Her overall narrative trajectory may be familiar and the side characters may be underwritten, but for the most part the story deftly side steps convention. 

Horizon: Zero Dawn
It’s what you do in that world, though, that sometimes disappoints. For a game about robots taking over Earth, the gameplay is ironically mechanical. The player is presented with a huge map to explore – a map that rapidly and overwhelmingly fills with icons of places to visit and things to do. The brilliant storytelling is diminished to a series of checklists and quest tick boxes, the player fast travelling between locations in eager anticipation of the next story beat and ignoring the world that’s ripe for autonomous exploration. It’s an all too familiar rhythm from countless other open world games. Even the climbing and jumping is somewhat automated, complete with the odd awkward animation.

Thankfully there’s an inspired battle system. Scanning the impressively and intricately designed robots for weak points and exploiting them through an assortment of weaponry makes for satisfying combat, even if the customisation options aren’t quite as differing as I’d like. Firing arrows to dislodge a robot’s gun, feeling the chunky explosion as its armour tears off and then destroying it with its own weapon is where Horizon’s combat really shines. And that’s after you’ve overridden their A.I. and amusingly forced them to fight each other while you hide in the safety of long grass. Too bad the stealth mechanics used against the waves of repetitive human enemies are undercooked. 

Horizon: Zero Dawn
The quests also don’t offer enough variety to make use of the different gameplay systems. Much of the game is spent modifying armours and weapons, as well as collecting natural resources to craft traps and potions, but rarely does the game provide enough challenge to warrant its diverse options. Combat is great, but relying on it too heavily becomes monotonous, though the rich storytelling does allow for some exciting set pieces.

For Aloy, precision is not enough – in her training as a hunter she strives for perfection. Horizon doesn’t reach perfection, it’s progressive story held back by dated mechanics and its mix of characters not matched by varied gameplay. It’s fitting, though, that a post-apocalyptic game is so forward thinking in crucial ways – even if science brings our downfall, the diversity of humanity will always be there to be celebrated.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

The Gap In The Light @ New Diorama Theatre

The Gap In The Light @ New Diorama Theatre

"This show began as an investigation into our relationship with the things that scare us," says the programme for this new piece by Engineer Theatre Collective. We're told before the show starts that much of the first half will take place in total darkness. We're told the play is about fear and darkness will heighten our senses. The dark makes us feel vulnerable, makes our minds wander.

In reality, though, this is less exploration of fear and more let's throw the audience into darkness and see how they cope. For some, not very well.

In the first act we plummet into the oblivion of a cave with PhD student Hana and her guide Ethan. Together, they explore the darkness with head torches and clever physicality to suggest tiny crawl spaces, cracks and gaps through which to slither through. They eventually stumble upon a huge cavernous opening with an ancient secret that has deep psychological consequences for our plucky explorers. For the audience? It's a fun horror adventure that challenges our eyesight far more than our minds.

The secret to horror, though, is not to let the tension out. Turn on the lights and it all dissipates. That's what happens in the second act when we switch to the mundanity of an everyday relationship, playing out on a detailed, fully lit set. Hana has returned to London to live with husband Daniel, though she's still haunted by previous events. Without the cover of darkness, the play's flaws are all too clear: a soap opera relationship told through a script that lacks believability. A few jump scares may freak out some and there are hints of creepy atmosphere, but the play fails to make any serious points about the psychology of fear.

As a piece of schlocky horror, though, The Gap In The Light is a success. It's an enjoyable, if gimmicky, romp through the dark. But, like the expedition of the first act, it's a little too ambitious for its own good.

3/5

Watch: The Gap In The Light runs at the New Diorama Theatre until 27th May.



Photo: Alexander Nicolau

Saturday, 13 May 2017

New Music Friday 12/05

This update will be shorter than usual, because GODDAMMIT NMF is terrible this week. Singles-wise anyway - if you want something decent, go listen to Paramore. Everyone else is listening to Harry Styles anyway.


Miley Cyrus - Malibu

 Miley Cyrus - Malibu

Miley Cyrus used to be memorable. And no I'm not just talking about the twerking, the tongue, the nudity, the hammer and wrecking ball. Those things just detracted from some great pop songs, not to mention the brilliance of Party In The USA. Now though? We've got soppy love songs, country melodies, and pop-rock production. It should be a recipe for success. Instead, it's utterly, utterly forgettable.


Calvin Harris ft. Future & Khalid - Rollin

Calvin Harris - Rollin

This week Calvin Harris announced his forthcoming album with a whole load of collaborators. It marks something of a reinvention for the Scottish electro-pop producer, with the likes of US hip-hop stars Frank Ocean, Migos, Pharrell Williams, Big Sean, Lil Yachty and Snoop Dogg all featuring. Really, though, it's the continuation of a canny career writing massive hits for the world's biggest popstars. And with hip-hop dominating the charts these days, he's simply doing the same as he always has. If Rollin is anything to go by, we're in for an album that encapsulates the sound of 2017.


Sub Focus feat ALMA - Don't You Feel It

Sub Focus feat ALMA - Don't You Feel It

Producer Sub Focus specialises in massive dubstep beats and bass wobbles - they got a bit repetitive throughout 2013 album 'Torus' but Tidal Wave was the smash that broke through. This, though, is a bit sub-par if you'll excuse the pun. More interesting is featured vocalist ALMA, who's track Dye My Hair is a fun little pop bop well worth listening to on repeat.


Fred V & Grafix - Sugar

Fred V & Grafix - Sugar

Speaking of heavy beats, these two drum and bass producers have released quite a few. Sugar though is a much more mellow take, with its vocoder voice and muted synths that still incorporates some chopped up samples and chorus drops for good measure. A perfect summer jam.


Mabel - Bedroom

 Mabel - Bedroom

Mabel was nominated for the BBC Sound of way back in 2016 and so far her career has been a little underwhelming without a real breakout hit - she's still best known as Neneh Cherry's daughter. Bedroom may not be that breakout hit, but it's a visceral depiction of a twisted relationship over modern R&B production that fizzes and spurts with sexual tension.


Imagine Dragons - Whatever It Takes

 Imagine Dragons - Whatever It Takes

After the success of Radioactive from their debut album, follow up album 'Smoke + Mirrors' failed to deliver a single of the same calibre. Believer, released earlier this year, ensures that's not the case with third album 'Evolve' - so far not so much an evolution but a return to their earlier success. Whatever It Takes won't win them any new fans, but its mix of pop-rock and hip-hop is as enjoyable as the band have ever been, taking elements of 00s nu-metal and bringing them up to date.........


Linkin Park - Invisible

Linkin Park - Invisible

Sorry for the language, but really what the FUCK has happened to Linkin Park?


Friday, 5 May 2017

New Music Friday 05/05

It's that time of the week folks, and this time I'm actually writing this on a Friday which is a good start. Shame things go downhill with the actual music though...


HAIM - Want You Back

 HAIM - Want You Back

Now this is more like it. After the disappointingly "authentic" buzz track of last week, the sisters return with a proper pop banger. They no longer have a freshness of sound to wow us with unlike their debut, but this still bangs with yearning melodies, vocal harmonies, subtle touches of electronics (that descending vocal line in the middle eight!), and funky bass with which to practice your gurning.


Niall Horan - Slow Hands


Niall Horan - Slow Hands

Where most girl and boybands are known for having their individual personalities, it's funny that One Direction were just sort of collectively boring. Now they're releasing solo material and spreading their boringness in varied directions. So far, Mr Horan has gone down the acoustic route with This Town and lulled us to sleep, so much so that Slow Hands seems like a banger by comparison. I mean, it's actually got some drums in it for one, but it's a weak attempt at copying John Mayer. More of a pathetic slow clap than an erotic grope.


Harry Styles - Sweet Creature


Harry Styles - Sweet Creature

Still...Slow Hands is preferable to this desperate attempt at Bob Dylan authenticity that I can barely bring myself to listen to. I thought Styles was meant to be the talented one? The funny one? The one with a personality?


Paramore - Told You So


Paramore - Told You So

This is apparently the band's favourite track from forthcoming album 'After Laughter' and it's easy to hear why: the catchy staccato chorus lines, the syncopated bass melodies, the lyrics of overcoming adversity, the hints at tropical pop that seem to be characterising this new material. Pop-rock at its finest, this'll sound awesome live.


PVRIS - Heaven

 PVRIS - Heaven

And here's another pop-rock act making a return. Debut album 'White Noise' was released back in 2014 but didn't really make a splash until its deluxe version was released last year. Heaven is a slightly more mellow affair that's more nuanced and confident than past material. Singer Lyndsey Gunnulfsen begins in hushed, gentle tones that slowly build towards an aggressive climax towards the end; the guitars follow suit, from early atmospherics to thrashing anger.


LANY - The Breakup

 LANY - The Breakup

I'd never heard of LANY until WHERE THE HELL ARE MY FRIENDS became one of my most listened to tracks of last year. Their mix of West Coast guitars (LA) and East Coast electronics (NY) is irresistible. You can hear plenty of both in The Breakup, as well as lyrics like "'He's a total dick' is my reputation around town" and "You're at dinner looking dumb playing with your knife and fork" - kinda cringe, but also incidentally a fair description of Donald Trump.


Halsey - Eyes Closed

Halsey - Eyes Closed

I'm still a bit undecided as to whether Halsey is actually a worthy popstar or if she's just an amalgamation of pretty much every other artist popular in 2016-17. Listening to Eyes Closed it was mere seconds until I googled to confirm this was developed by The Weeknd - it absolutely reeks of his handiwork, which pretty much answers that initial question.


Kasabian - III Ray (The King)


Are Kasabian the most overrated band since Arctic Monkeys, the most overrated band since Oasis/Blur?


Sigrid - Don't Kill My Vibe

 Sigrid - Don't Kill My Vibe

That's your lot for actual singles, the rest of NMF is barely worth your time. But here's an amazing EP released today you definitely should listen to: Norway's premier popstar delivering brilliant pop choruses. Don't Kill My Vibe got everyone interested with its bold, fierce chorus ("you think you're so important to me don't you"); Plot Twist lurches into a thrashing electro chorus; and Fake Friends surprises with a gentle opening that drops into arguably the catchiest chorus of them all. The acoustic Dynamite is a bit of an afterthought - lovely as it is, it does kill the vibe a little.



Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Ed Sheeran @ O2 Arena

Ed Sheeran @ O2 Arena

Whatever you think of the biggest current popstar in the world right now, you can’t deny he’s a brilliant performer.

One man layering up every song. One man alone on the O2 stage. One man with 20,000 people in the palm of his hand.

Sheeran isn’t the first artist to use a loop pedal, but he’s certainly popularised it. His first London gig was back in 2008 – 9 years later and little has changed besides some new songs, some fancy screens, and a much…much bigger audience.

He casually saunters on to the stage and immediately launches into Castle On The Hill. There’s no pre-amble. There’s no band, no dancers. The screens light up behind him but otherwise this is a refreshingly simple performance. Where most artists strive to serve production value with extravagant staging and effects, Sheeran just stands on the stage and sings, remaining authentic to his roots and displaying confidence in his abilities. It does make you wonder where the ticket price is going though.

The emphasis is on the music – for better or worse. Audiences may be divided over Sheeran, but recent songs like Shape Of You and Galway Girl have had unrivalled success. Here, in front of a live audience, it’s easy to see why: each song carefully layered up through beats, chords and vocal harmonies building anticipation, their infectious melodies washing over the audience like a tsunami, Sheeran clearly enjoying himself onstage. The Irish number however was sorely missing its characteristic fiddles.

Other highlights included a clever blend of Don’t and New Man – even if this served to highlight the similarities between the two songs – and extended closer U Need Me, I Don’t Need You where the guitar was eventually discarded and Sheeran leaped towards the audience to rap over his own loops (“they say I’m up and coming like I’m fucking in an elevator” – still an awful/amazing lyric). I See Fire (a.k.a “The Hobbit Song”) was also extended as it morphed from a rendition of Nina Simone’s Feelin’ Good, providing a hushed and evocative centrepiece to the night.

It’s with the ballads that Sheeran gets generic and too many in the middle of the setlist cause the evening to sag. The influences are clear to see, from Marvin Gaye to Adele and Sam Smith, Sheeran revelling in soppy love songs for the older crowd and losing any sense of cool from his uptempo rap numbers. The collective sighs from the audience, however, suggest that he’s beyond being cool – to them he’s a superstar.

Indeed, an Ed Sheeran gig is a fascinating experience. Without the whizz-bang of a full band and production effects, the audience’s singing and whooping is clear to hear. Sheeran himself noted how loud everyone was, how they knew every lyric – all 20,000 of them, and that’s just one of three nights. His recent phenomenal success has been detailed with plenty of record breaking statistics, but attending his gig you see all those Spotify listeners personified, mesmerised by his talent. It’s quite the sight – and sound – to behold.

4/5

Ed Sheeran @ O2 Arena

Ed Sheeran @ O2 Arena

Ed Sheeran @ O2 Arena

Ed Sheeran @ O2 Arena

Ed Sheeran @ O2 Arena