Friday, 9 October 2015

New Pop Roundup

It's been a while since I've done one of these and I'm sorry - the doors to Q4 have now been opened and a load of new big releases have hit our ears at once. There's the addictive Ed Sheeran diss track from Ellie Goulding (and another she's just released); there's Gaga covering Chic for Tom Ford; there's that dire Little Mix song that sees them living in a Motown past; and there's the appalling Naughty Boy & Beyoncé collaboration that not even she seems to give two sh*ts about. There's also Sam Smith's Bond theme that's really quite good (don't @ me).

But let's forget those and focus on some lesser-known tracks you may have missed that are worthy of your precious time...

Olly Murs - Kiss Me

Olly Murs - Kiss Me

Yes, ok, Olly Murs is hardly "lesser-known". But this track is out today and it's his best track in a while - even if it's a total rip of Nick Jonas. All we need now is a Tinashe remix...

Listen: Kiss Me is out today.

Tinashe - Player (feat. Chris Brown)

Tinashe - Player (feat. Chris Brown)

Speaking of which, Tinashe also has a new single out. Is this her best? Not quite - debut album 'Aquarius' was full of great R&B tracks (Bet and 2 On especially), not that too many people took notice. Player isn't quite a game-changer, but it indicates a more pop-focused sound that should bring a much wider audience. And don't fret - there's a version that thankfully omits Chris Brown's verse.

Listen: Player is out now.

Daughter - Doing The Right Thing

Daughter - Doing The Right Thing

The icy guitars may shimmer, the beats may clatter, and Elena Tonra's gentle vocal may haunt, but it's the raw storytelling at the heart of Daughter's sound that is so arresting. Doing The Right Thing, the band's first single since debut album 'If You Leave', is no different. "But she isn't coming back for me", Tonra sings of her mother, "she's already gone". Fittingly, the music is intertwined with a heart-wrenching, captivating video. Devastating.

Listen: Doing The Right Thing is out now.

Noonie Bao - Pyramids

Noonie Bao - Pyramids

Sweden's Noonie Bao first broke through in 2012 with Do You Still Care, but has since worked predominantly as a songwriter for the likes of Avicii, Clean Bandit and Tove Styrke. Now she's emerging on her own once more, Pyramids exemplifying her quirky, punchy, catchy style that's so far been criminally underrated. She's certainly strong enough to go it alone.

Listen: Pyramids is out now.

Erik Hassle - Natural Born Lovers

Erik Hassle - Natural Born Lovers

Another singer who's gone underrated outside of his native Sweden is Erik Hassle. Funky, summer jam No Words certainly boosted his profile this year, but the nightmarish R&B-pop of Natural Born Lovers is slick, sensual and a bridge to the darker, spectral sound of his previous work. 

Listen: Natural Born Lovers is available now.

Kyla La Grange - So Sweet

Kyla La Grange - So Sweet

Kyla's last album, the spectral electro of 'Cut Your Teeth', finally brought her music to a bigger audience. Or was that the Kygo remix? Either way, she's now returning with a stomping electro-pop track that should see her blooming into the popstar she was born to be.

Listen: So Sweet is out now.

Annie - Cara Mia

Annie - Cara Mia

Later this month Norway's Annie returns with a new EP produced by Richard X, from which Cara Mia and the Eurodance-tastic Dadaday are taken. The former is perhaps a little subdued, but it's a slow-burner that will soon weedle it's way into your head. Also, the artwork is quite something.

Listen: 'Endless Vacation' is released on October 16th.

Alexx Mack - Sunglasses

Alexx Mack - Sunglasses

Another artist with a new EP out is L.A's Alexx Mack - 'Like We're Famous' is out today. Sunglasses is the lead single, a sugary rush of synths and earworms, but its 80s electro sound is given a funkier spin on Bad and Retro Romance. From these tracks, let's hope Mack becomes more Gaga-superstar and less Betty-Who-fade-into-obscurity.

Listen: 'Like We're Famous' is out now.

The 1975 - Love Me

The 1975 - Love Me

Love Me sounds more like a Red Hot Chili Peppers track from 1995 than the work of Manchester's The 1975. Yet this is the sound of the band taking a risk, their jangling funk guitars now sounding abrasive against horn stabs and electronic wobbles in a stark soundscape. It stomps, it wails and it's all sorts of brilliant.

Listen: Love Me is out now.

Anna Of The North - The Dreamer

Anna Of The North - The Dreamer

'The North' in question is, of course, Scandinavia (Norway specifically). And as the title suggests, this is dreamy, evocative and atmospheric. That may just seem like typical Scandi-pop, but once the beat kicks in the pulse quickens into spine-tingling thrills. "It's not about you anymore" she chants, gaining uplifting strength with each repetition.

Listen: The Dreamer is out now.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Rudimental - We The Generation

Rudimental - We The Generation

If there was one major criticism levelled at Rudimental’s debut ‘Home’, it was the repetition of their formula. Nobody wants an album where every track sounds the same. Creating a sound is to be commended; rinsing it to death, not so much.

Two years later we have follow-up ‘We The Generation’, an album that fails to live up to the ambition and grandeur of its title. Distilled down, Rudimental’s music essentially consists of drum and bass breakbeats, soulful guest vocals, and lots of trumpets. That’s as true now as it was before. It’s not long into opening track I Will For Love that they’ve ticked every box. Eighteen tracks later and it feels like those tick boxes are more like a noose around the band’s necks; for the listener it’s a time machine back to 2012, when breakthrough hit Feel The Love was omnipresent and the Olympics were in full swing. The only thing missing is Emeli Sandé.

Geejam Studios in Jamaica seems like the perfect place for Rudimental’s laidback vibes and trumpet calls, which now have a touch of reggae cool about them. It’s also the perfect location for these sun-dappled, alcohol-soaked summer anthems, though arriving in October you can’t help but feel they’ve missed the boat. Still, for anyone looking to recapture the warmer months, there are some incredibly polished tracks here – vibrant, energetic and infectiously rhythmic. The likes of I Will Never Let You Go and Love Ain’t Just A Word are as strong as any of their previous singles, even if they sound too familiar. The band may have their limits, but they undeniably work well within them.

It takes their vocal collaborators to force them out of their comfort zone – some more readily than others. Anne-Marie may not have appeared on ‘Home’, but she’s since toured with the band and finally features on a variety of this album’s tracks: from the pulsing 90s house of Rumour Mill, to the pop funk of Foreign World, and the subdued, Naughty Boy-esque ballad All That Love. More successful are the tracks with Ed Sheeran (the guitar-driven Lay It All On Me especially), Lianne La Havas (Needn’t Speak tackle bossa rhythms, whilst Breathe brings a disco flavour) and the late Bobby Womack (New Day adds an old school rhythm and blues feel to the typical horn stabs and frantic beats). MNEK reappears from the last album, delivering a house track whose influence is far more his own than that of Rudimental themselves. And of course there’s a track featuring Ella EyreToo Cool - which sounds like an Ella Eyre track, thereby sounding like a Rudimental track. How meta.

The result is an album that’s inconsistent and not always coherent. There are tracks here that sound like Rudimental-by-numbers with a guest vocalist tacked on. And there are tracks that sound more like the guest vocalist alone, with Rudimental’s name tacked on. Mostly, whilst the band do experiment outside of their safety zone, the risks don’t always pay off. Are Rudimental producers for other artists? Or artists in their own right? And will they forever be stuck in a time warp? These are questions that ‘We The Generation’ fails to answer.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Never Let You Go
* Rumour Mill
* Lay It All On Me

Listen: ‘We The Generation’ is available now.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Janet Jackson - Unbreakable

Janet Jackson - Unbreakable

Has Janet Jackson ever sounded so much like Michael?

Vocally at least, she’s taken on a deeper timbre that sounds eerily like his voice, with short breaths and inflections as if genuinely channelling his spirit. Musically, though, she’s always been in her brother’s shadow, never quite gaining that marriage of popularity and innovative production. Even with Michael gone, that remains the same.

In many ways, though, Janet has always been the more progressive artist and ‘Unbreakable’ proves that she still has the capacity to surprise us. That said, this album is rooted firmly in the past – thematically and musically. There’s a faint narrative here of key moments in her life – her successes, her failures, her private life – and how they link in with social and political issues. “I had this great epiphany”, she sings at the end of Shoulda Known Better, “and Rhythm Nation was the dream, I guess next time I’ll know better”. It’s followed by the beautifully touching After You Fall, clearly inspired by her brother’s death.

For the most part, ‘Unbreakable’ is a reflective album and it’s in these quieter moments that Jackson’s softer side emerges, with a vocal laden with emotional weight. Her music has always had a tension between her up-tempo dance tracks and her sexy slow-jams – the latter sound appearing on the already dated No Sleeep featuring J.Cole – but the quieter tracks exemplify the maturity at the heart of ‘Unbreakable’. Far from the naïve, youthful dreamer she used to be, you get the sense that Jackson is a wise, hardened woman who has overcome adversity to become, on the penultimate track, Well Travelled. ‘Unbreakable’ is her story.

Fittingly, then, this is musically something of an anthology of her past, covering the many genres she’s experimented with and somehow managing to sound simultaneously retro and modern. Tracks like Missy Elliot collaboration BURNITUP, No Sleeep and the soulful R&B jam of a title track all sound about ten years out of date, but there are some slick, sexy dance tracks here that fit nicely into modern tastes. Dammn Baby is Jackson in typically sexual mode accompanied by trap beats; The Great Forever takes a darker turn with its menacing bass and haunting vocal harmonies; and Night is all warm, funky synths, guitars and piano that subtly hark back to 90s hit Together Again. That Jackson has reunited with songwriting/production duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis is totally apparent in the confidence brimming from almost every track.

Dream Maker/Euphoria heralds the start of “Side 2”. Here, the album is a more experimental affair, influenced by a wide range of genres: from the R&B pop of 2 Be Loved, to the stark synth-rock sound of Take Me Away, the guitar-led ballad Lessons Learned, the minimalist finger clicks of Black Eagle, and the glorious World sounds of Well Travelled (that should’ve ended the album, rather than the jaunty Mo-Town funk of Gon’ B Alright). Jackson is pushing boundaries like she hasn’t for years, but whether she now has the popstar clout to deliver these tracks is another matter entirely.

“Am I done? Thank you”, she questions in the album’s final moments at the end of Gon’ B Alright. Part glimpse into her recording process with Jimmy Jam (we are literally jerked out of the dreamworld of her music back into cold reality), it perhaps also heralds the end of Jackson’s career. ‘Unbreakable’ neatly ties together her past, proving her indomitable spirit and solidifying the building blocks of her career and reputation. To progress from here may be a step too far.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* The Great Forever
* Shoulda Known Better
* Night

Listen: ‘Unbreakable’ is available now.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Duke Dumont @ Koko

Duke Dumont @ Koko

When is a dance act actually a pop act?

No, this isn’t a joke in need of a punch line. Looking at the charts today, it’s a legitimate question. Dance music is having something of a renaissance at the moment, with the likes of Calvin Harris, Sigala, Sigma, Kygo, Disclosure and Duke Dumont all hitting the charts. Yet when dance music is aimed squarely at mainstream pop audiences rather than rising from underground club scenes, is it really dance music in the same way? Or is chart-friendly EDM becoming a genre in itself?

It’s a debate that Duke Dumont is in the centre of. Back in 2013 he hit the top of the charts with breakthrough hit Need U (100%) featuring A*M*E, and followed it up last year with another number one (I Got U) and a number two (Won’t Look Back). Current single Ocean Drive is sure to follow suit. There’s no doubt these tracks sound like dance music, but they’re also pop bangers geared towards mainstream tastes. The British producer’s style merges 90s house, deep house and tropical house – basically everything that’s popular in dance music at the moment – into short, easy to swallow three minute packages. It’s vibrant, colourful and bass-driven, with heavy beat drops, vocal samples and catchy hooks. Essentially, it’s pop music.

Yet, at this one-off gig in Camden’s Koko, it seemed he was trying to distance himself from his pop breakthrough. Spunking his load far too early, he opened his set with Won’t Look Back followed by Need U (100%) – his two best songs – before settling into a dance set of space-age synths, bleeps, bloops and monotonous beats. Perhaps he’s craving credibility as a dance artist, but this extended dip in his set lost momentum and only served to highlight the pop power of his hits, a fact cemented by his final three tracks: a remix of Haim’s Falling, followed by his other two singles. Of course, he’s yet to release a full album, but if it follows the sounds of this gig it could well end up a mixed bag.

There’s a further issue in this debate though: when is a gig actually a club night? Dumont’s performance was essentially fist-pumping from behind a set of decks before a backdrop of psychedelic visuals and some great lasers and lighting. But does this really constitute a gig? For much of the middle portion of the night, his set was essentially background music to the dancing, drinking and conversations of the crowd, that incessant pumping fist his only interaction. The lack of featured singers not only accentuated a lack of “live” elements, but also a lack of personality. Who is Duke Dumont? After this gig, we still don’t know.

All this isn’t to belittle either genre. There is great skill in mixing and DJing; likewise it takes talent to write a pop hook. Duke Dumont seems to have both – few songs have the power to whip up a crowd like Need U (100%) – but here he operates in neutral middle ground. Dance fans will scorn his courting of mainstream tastes; pop fans will tire of the lack of personality. If Duke Dumont can favour both sides, he could be on to a winner, but that time is still yet to come.


Listen: Current single Ocean Drive is available now.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical @ The Apollo Theatre

It’s difficult to write a review of Showstopper!. After all, as an improvised musical, it is totally different every night. Like Forest Gump and his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

That, though, is the beauty of the production. Eight years in the making, after gaining huge popularity touring the UK (at the Edinburgh Fringe especially), the troupe have finally hit the West End for a limited run – the first full-length improvised musical to do so. It is, basically, every West End musical in one, plus a whole lot more.

Where else would you see a musical entitled “Making Sparks”, set in Marks & Spencers in 1883? Where a love triangle forms between founder Mr Marks, cleaner Polly and the Prime Minister? Where characters confess to their feelings in the style of Sondheim, Rent, AC-DC and more? Where the PM is introduced in a sassy Dreamgirls number? And where he eventually falls in love with a packet of Percy Pigs?

That’s what we were treated to on this particular performance. It works like so: settings, musical styles and a title are selected from options pitted by the audience, before the cast of six (and the on-stage band of musicians) must develop character, lines and songs on the spot. More pressure is applied when the action is occasionally paused for further ideas to be thrown into the mix. Surely there are faint structures in place and familiar, vaguely practiced ideas? Still, this is incredible stuff.

The cast are such intelligent, masterful performers. Not only are they quick-witted enough to think up comedy lines and lyrics on the spot, but their knowledge of theatre is so in-depth they can easily flit between styles on the fly with plenty of subtle (and not so subtle) in-jokes. This is both pastiche and parody all at once, with droll links to current affairs (from cast and audience alike) thrown in for good measure. Even if the cast aren’t always the strongest singers, they more than make up for it with comic timing, creative ideas and a sense of camaraderie that proves they are utterly in sync with one another. This is legitimately the funniest show on the West End with limitless entertainment value.

That the improvising genuinely results in a credible narrative too is testament to the skill and quick-thinking of the cast and band. And if there’s one way to judge a musical, it’s by the strength of its songs and infectious melodies – the walk-out-of-the-theatre-humming-the-tunes factor. Considering three days later I still can’t get “he’s coming, he’s coming, he’s coming to Marks and Spencer” (Dreamgirls style) or theme song “What fun! What larks! We are making sparks!” out of my head, I’d say Showstopper! is an almighty hit.


Watch: Showstopper! runs at the Apollo Theatre until 29th November.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Disclosure - Caracal

Disclosure - Caracal

Remember when dance music used to come with a radio edit? When the tracks were long and drawn out, ready to be remixed, chopped and sampled? Nowadays dance music is so common in the charts it comes in handy three minute, bite size pieces. Yet by courting the charts and not the clubs, is it really dance music anymore?

Disclosure’s latest album, ‘Caracal’, sure sounds like dance music. The tracks are structured with percussive intros and outros, and have that vibrant deep house sound the duo have become known for. Yet in interviews they’re eager to distance themselves from the dance scene – they’re producers not DJs; their new material has more of a traditional pop structure; and their influences stretch beyond deep house and garage into R&B and pop.

So is ‘Caracal’ dance masquerading as pop, or vice versa? Really, Disclosure are a pop act using their name and position as dance-influenced auteur producers as a springboard for the vocal talents of others. Would the likes of Sam Smith and AlunaGeorge have found success without featuring on the duo’s 2013 debut?

Now, however, they’ve reached such a respected position they can work with established and up-and-coming artists alike. Here Sam Smith of course makes a return on overly-familiar lead single Omen, whilst big names like The Weeknd, Miguel and Lorde all make appearances, alongside tracks from lesser-known artists including LION BABE, Kwabs, Nao and Jordan Rakei. The results, though, are a mixed bag. At their best, Disclosure are able to collaborate with artists and amalgamate varying styles. Opener Nocturnal, for instance, has a smoother R&B feel that fits with The Weeknd’s latest hit Can’t Feel My Face; Lorde’s unmistakable vocal adds an edginess to the otherwise sun-dappled synths of Magnets; and Good Intentions is as lushly produced as any of Miguel’s own work. Other tracks, though, sound like typical Disclosure with a featured vocalist: Hourglass featuring LION BABE and Holding On featuring jazz singer Gregory Porter are already dated.

And that’s the main issue with ‘Caracal’. In many ways this is simply Disclosure in default mode, an album of safe tracks that doesn’t advance their sound in any meaningful way. As a dance act, this is standard deep house music that fails to stand out from the crowd; as a pop act, they have failed to convincingly transfer their house sound into a varied pop aesthetic. Dance or pop, they are both and neither, landing in an awkward middle ground that is unlikely to appease either fanbase. It’s telling, too, that the least interesting tracks are those missing featured vocalists – Disclosure are dependent on their collaborators, not the other way around.

Occasionally they do dip a toe outside of their comfort zone. Superego shuffles in a laidback groove beneath Nao’s sultry vocals, whilst Masterpiece shows a sense of subtlety in the delicate production that’s missing elsewhere. Both tracks hint at where the duo could go next, yet are indicative of an album that overall settles in a mellow mid-tempo. This is not a genre-defying comeback; it’s less urgent, less exciting, and less vital than their seminal debut.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Magnets
* Good Intentions
* Masterpiece

Listen: ‘Caracal’ is available now.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Chvrches - Every Open Eye

Chvrches - Every Open Eye

‘Every Open Eye’ is a disappointment.

There. I’ve said it. It’s one of those albums that you want to like more than you do, especially after the critical success of debut ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’. Yet this follow up falls at that clichéd hurdle: the difficult second album. Have the Glaswegian three-piece run out of steam?

That debut has informed the “Chvrches formula” that’s rife across ‘Every Open Eye’. And it goes a little something like this:

Introductory riff that sets up the vibe of the track. Choppy, rhythmic verse. Sometimes a building pre-chorus. Expansive, anthemic chorus. Evocative, atmospheric middle eight. Rinse. Repeat.

Now, this is hardly an original formula of course. In fact, a lot of very good pop is built on it. And Chvrches still make very good pop. It’s just they used to make brilliant pop. Now it’s become formulaic.

Understandably, some of the band’s initial lustre has vanished, but ‘Every Open Eye’ feels like too much of a continuation of their debut as they adhere stoically to this formula. Sonically, too, this new music is all too familiar. It’s bold, crisp and colourful, with a heavy 80s feel. In places it’s filled with intricate details, fizzing with electric spark. In others it feels too clinical, too stark, too obviously aping their influences. And in some tracks (namely Clearest Blue and Bury It) there’s less an influence of Depeche Mode as an outright copy. It suggests a band who have run out of ideas of their own, clinging to their formula and sound.

Part of the appeal of the band’s debut was the juxtaposition of the electronic synth production with singer Lauren Mayberry’s vocal, ever sweet as she spits out venomous lyrics. Much of that grit is missing from this album. As on Bury It with its refrain “bury it and rise above”, the album’s theme is about overcoming the emotional difficulties explored in their first album. Yet it’s those difficulties that lent ‘The Bones…’ its emotional weight. ‘Every Open Eye’, by contrast, is a brighter, more positive album but it’s less arresting and lacks personality.

At least, writing to a formula has allowed the band to create some tightly formed pop. There’s the breathless Leave A Trace; the pulsing, shuddering Keep You On My Side; the fizzing Make Them Gold; and the almost bubblegum appeal of Empty Threat. Individually these are great tracks filled with earworms, but they’re undermined by that repeated formula and lack of emotional punch.

On occasion the band branch out of their confines, but with mixed results. High Enough To Carry You Over features the vocals of Martin Doherty, who fails to ignite the same spark as Mayberry. Down Side Of Me provides a welcome moment of softness, with its repeated mournful mantra of “not the same” over clipped beats – sad-pop at its best. Final track Afterglow also takes a gentle approach with its warm glow of synths, but it comes too late.

For all its failures, this isn’t a bad album by any means but by sticking to an established formula, Chvrches have become criminally predictable. ‘The Bones…’ was an unexpected joy; ‘Every Open Eye’ fails to live up to expectation.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Leave A Trace
* Empty Threat
* Down Side Of Me

Listen: ‘Every Open Eye’ is available from 25th September.

Sam Smith - Writing's On The Wall

Sam Smith - Writing's On The Wall

The last Bond theme by a male solo artist was Tom Jones’ Thunderball in 1965.

Of course, that’s not the last time we’ve heard a male voice on a Bond theme – Paul McCartney, Duran Duran, A-ha and Chris Cornell have all followed. Yet apparently being male (let alone openly gay) is reason enough for Sam Smith to be chosen for the latest film, Spectre. It’s a lazy and obvious choice, as if the producers just looked to whoever was at the top of the charts with a vaguely soulful voice.

And then you hear the song. And it makes sense.

What Smith’s managed to do, as all the best Bond themes do, is marry his own style to that classic Bond sound. As such, this is an intimate love ballad (not necessarily what you’d expect for Bond) but with lush orchestral production. Strings cascade and swirl, underpinned by deep, bombastic brass, over which Smith’s falsetto lilts gently and delicately.

If there’s one word to describe Writing’s On The Wall, though, it’s dramatic. With its contrasting sections, sudden shifts in tone and pitch, it pulls around emotion as much as Smith’s vocal leaps. It takes us on a journey. After all, this is accompanying a film. It’s meant to have drama. Smith’s song fits the bill.

Yes, it has its faults. It doesn’t particularly stray away from conventional soulful bombast. It's arresting for its mood more than an infectious melody. The end of the verses sounds like Michael Jackson's Earth Song. And Smith’s falsetto is on occasion unintelligible. But if Adele can rhyme “sky fall” and “crumble”, then Smith’s doing alright. If Spectre is anything like Writing’s On The Wall, there’s a tense emotional rollercoaster on the horizon.


Listen: Writing’s On The Wall is available now. Spectre is in cinemas from 26th October.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon

Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon

Has Lana Del Rey finally become a self-consuming parody of herself? If last year's ‘Ultraviolence’ coloured the singer as a disturbingly death-obsessed femme fatale, then ‘Honeymoon’ sees her falling further into a cinematic noir nightmare. Gone is the gritty authenticity of West Coast guitars in favour of swooning orchestral strings, like the soundtrack to her own 50s biopic drenched in monochrome. Vocally, too, she breathlessly sighs over the silken production, like a despondent Marilyn Monroe consumed by melancholy.

It’s in the lyrics, though, that ‘Honeymoon’ occasionally borders on the absurd. “I still got jazz when I got the blues”, she sings on Terrence Loves You, before quoting David Bowie’s Space Oddity (“ground control to Major Tom”). And that’s far from the only reference: “Put on that Hotel California” (God Knows I Tried); “All I hear is Billie Holiday” (The Blackest Day); the reciting of a T.S Eliot poem in interlude Burnt Norton; covering Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood in an attempt to align herself with the great singer. From here things only get weirder, reaching a peak with Salvatore that slowly descends into a repeated burble of “ahhh soft ice cream”. There’s no denying that Del Rey frequently indulges in pretentiousness as much as she revels in the luxurious production.

You get the sense, though, that she’s equally self-knowing. After all, the album as a whole opens with the lyric “We both know that it’s not fashionable to love me” on the lavishly introductory title track, whilst on Freak she invites us alluringly to “be a freak like [her], too”. Buy into her cinematic world and it’s all too easy to fall for her charm. Indeed, you can take ‘Honeymoon’ as a concept album for the femme fatale character trope, seducing you towards a post-wedding vacation that you may not ever see. As she self-references on Art Deco, “Club queen on the downtown scene prowling around at night”. Del Rey is playing a character and it’s up to you if you take her seriously.

Musically, ‘Honeymoon’ sees her in typically brooding territory, even if the downbeat mood is a little too consistent across its overly long fourteen tracks. Violins and vocals intertwine beautifully, underpinned by light hip-hop beats. There’s a grace and timelessness to her sound that haunts as much as it seduces – like her siren character it’s disturbing, sexy, and fatal. Vocally, too, she’s capable of delivering depth of emotion; throughout the album she mourns and laments as much as she knowingly coos.

And if Del Rey is herself haunted by the legacy of breakthrough hit Video Games, she’s still capable of some sublime moments of retro pop. Lead single High By The Beach is the track most obviously courting mainstream tastes with its heavy trap rhythms, but Music To Watch Boys To sets the tone of the album early on with its downwardly spiralling chorus melodies suggesting lustful inevitability accompanied by ghostly flutes. Terrence Loves You is a genuinely devastating ballad that subverts the clichéd saxophone of so many noir scores. The nagging chromaticism of Freak and its swirling synths are deliciously dangerous. And in Swan Song icy synths reflect the album's air of mystery, in what could easily be a future Bond theme.

In fact, in many ways ‘Honeymoon’ sounds like Del Rey’s bid to sing for the British spy. But it’s more than that. It’s the ode to faded noir glamour that she’s always been striving for. Far from becoming a parody, she’s reached her pinnacle, creating a complete cinematic sound world. Listen if you dare.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Music To Watch Boys To
* Freak
* Swan Song

Listen: ‘Honeymoon’ is available now.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Everest (2015) - Baltasar Kormákur

Everest (2015) - Baltasar Kormákur

Why? Why would anyone choose to scale Everest? It’s a question I pondered at the start of Everest, and one the film fails to answer.

It all begins as something of a travelogue. Back in 1996 (this is based on a true story), plucky New Zealander Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a seemingly sensible extreme sports fanatic, has set up a business in leading hiking expeditions up Mount Everest under the name Adventure Consultants. He’s not alone though. Rival companies (including one led by Scott Fischer (a heavily bearded Jake Gyllenhaal)) are also taking up groups of clients, clients that are little more than men and women taking a gap year style trip in the midst of mid-life crisis – and have paid $64,000 for the privilege. Who exactly would pay that sort of money to risk their lives?

Honestly, we never really find out. Aside from a few brief scenes that focus on the homelife of these clients (in which Keira Knightley’s chin offers an interesting Kiwi accent, and Claire Underwood from House of Cards makes an appearance), the characters are given little backstory. What’s more, once they’re up on the mountain they’re simply faceless figures in coloured mountaineering gear and oxygen masks – it’s practically impossible to tell them apart, or to care about what happens to them.

Early on we witness these people trekking to base camp and making a series of small expeditions to acclimatise themselves. So far, so little drama. There’s one key scene, though, in which journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly, another House of Cards alumni) probes the group on their reasons for the climb. Fittingly, none of them can really give a suitable answer. Sure, Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) has already scaled six of the seven major peaks, but that’s a non-answer. And as a journalist, Krakauer’s own reasons are obvious. But really, only Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) has a concrete reason for being there – to prove to his schoolchildren that great feats can be overcome. The scene is left open-ended, with any notion of dramatic impetus left out in the cold.

Admittedly there is some breathtaking cinematography that illustrates the awesome power of the mountain, sweeping overhead shots as impressive as a BBC nature documentary. Yet this is a disaster movie where the disaster is difficult to dramatize, or visualize. Aside from a violent snowstorm, the key dangers are hypothermia, lack of oxygen, freezing, or are psychological. The film, though, never delves into the minds of these characters, nor does it deliver high-octane action. Instead, these dangers are given to us early on, acting like a checklist for each of the film’s deaths.

Yes, there is a lot of death here – aside from one character who miraculously survives, amusingly emerging from the snow like a zombiefied white walker from Game of Thrones. The horrible deaths of the characters feel crushingly inevitable, further sapping dramatic energy from the narrative. And that’s before director Baltasar Kormákur drags out the plot with attempts at emotional heft. It’s far too late though, the bland narrative failing to make us care for the cast of bland characters. If anything, the film’s agenda seems to be actively dissuading the public to attempt such a disaster-filled climb.

And so I ask again: why would anyone choose to scale Everest?


Watch: Everest is out now.