Friday, 29 May 2015

Tom Aspaul - Revelation

Tom Aspaul - Revelation

It’s criminal that Tom Aspaul is best known for having a song stolen by Kylie.

Feels So Good was the best track on her 2014 album ‘Kiss Me Once’, but it’s actually a reworking of Aspaul’s Indiana. Does this prove Kylie’s taste in music, or Aspaul’s songwriting ability? Either way, if Kylie’s taking note, so should you.

Indiana was Aspaul’s first release after signing to Little Boots’ label in 2013 (another woman of excellent taste). That track was followed by Pioneer last year and, more recently, New Moon and Good Together. Those last two tracks feature on ‘Revelation’, a mixtape released on YouTube.

Taking inspiration from Frank Ocean, it’s all structured with interludes and radio skits. And just as Ocean’s ‘Channel Orange’ provided the sound of summer 2012, ‘Revelation’ is the perfect summer listen for 2015. Aspaul’s lush production washes over in kaleidoscopic waves of electro-funk and R&B – epitomised by the smooth grooves of Good Together. The Other Room is a quieter affair with Balearic harmonies and a catchy pop chorus; it’s followed by Chocolate II that begins with ambient synths and glittering electronica as warm and comforting as the sun’s rays, before settling into a syncopated beat. Interlude I Luh Ya then sets up the tropical flavour of Revelation.

Best of all is New Moon that samples Carly Simon’s pop classic Why – further evidence of the pop sensibility at the core of Aspaul’s sound, beneath the colourful layers of glossy production. Listening to ‘Revelation’ feels like sinking into a warm ocean, the sun shimmering against the soft rhythm of the waves. Aspaul's music simply has to be on your summer playlist.

4/5

Listen: ‘Revelation’ is available now on YouTube.

Carmen - ENO @ The Coliseum

Carmen - ENO @ The Coliseum

If opera is so frequently about passions of the heart, then Carmen must be the ultimate. Few stories bristle with sexual tension quite like this.

On a basic level, Carmen is a story about a commitment-phobe who falls for a flirt. Love and lust become inseparable, as the characters fall in and out of love at the flip of a coin, Latin fire blurring their emotions – or maybe it’s just the Spanish heat. Its themes of love and desire are easily relatable, meaning this is a story that lends itself to reinterpretation. Here, director Calixto Bieito sets the opera in modern day (now revived by Joan Anton Rechi): Don José (Eric Cutler) is one of many burly soldiers in aviator sunglasses working in a Spanish prison, who falls for the blonde Barbie bombshell Carmen (Justina Gringyte), before she runs off to her Mafia-esque gypsy friends in the desert. The cheaply tarted up Micaëla (Eleanor Dennis), José’s ignored lover from home, takes a selfie with him as a memento of her unsuccessful seduction. Escamillo (Leigh Melrose), smartly suited, is the Beckham of the bull fighting world.

If there’s one thing this Carmen nails, it’s the sex. Soldiers lustily hump the floor, knickers are hastily removed, there’s male nudity, and plenty of raw sensuality throughout. Whether this is artistic or mere titillation is down to taste. At any rate, this gritty and realistically portrayed production is perhaps aiming to engage a younger audience, but it’s torn between believability and the stylised theatricality of the genre. Some oddly static staging and overwrought melodrama hold back the storytelling.

More awkward is the libretto, translated by Christopher Cowell. As with all ENO productions, this is sung in English, immediately losing the poetry of the original French. It’s as if there are too many words and syllables to fit each melody, leading to a disjointed, rushed and staccato delivery that loses the natural rhythmic flow of the music. It’s a criticism that’s only exacerbated during the chorus numbers. ENO can’t be faulted here for adhering to their own remit, but the issues of translation seem more apparent with such a well-known piece as this.

Sir Richard Armstrong conducts a lively and buoyant orchestra, that occasionally threatens to overpower the singing. Gringyte’s Carmen has a lithe and sensual voice to match her character, believable in both her flirtations and her vulnerability; by contrast Cutler’s José sings well but somewhat lumbers around the stage area. More impressive is Dennis as Micaëla, who sings with the utmost control.

There is some wonderful yet simple imagery, but for the most part the set design of Alfons Flores leaves the set to the bare minimum: a flagpole or a car. This works for the final bullring showdown between the leads, but elsewhere it’s a little empty. As with the production as a whole, it’s as if something is missing – this is a solid, if unspectacular, performance.

3/5

Watch: Carmen runs at the Coliseum until 3rd July.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Elephant Man @ The Theatre Royal Haymarket

The Elephant Man @ The Theatre Royal Haymarket

Like the 'Elephant Man' himself, Bradley Cooper is undoubtedly the main draw in this revival of Bernard Pomerance’s Tony Award winning play. Audiences will likely be packed out to gawp at the Oscar-nominated actor throughout the play’s twelve week run, proving the marketing appeal of such star casting.

Yet The Elephant Man deserves to stand on its own right. Pomerance’s play is based on a 19th century true story and has more than a shade of Frankenstein as it similarly explores the integration of a monstrous outsider into society. Like Shelley’s monster, Joseph Merrick (Cooper) is a philosophical, Romantic thinker, childlike in his naivety and misjudged by society. Taken in by scientist Dr. Treves (Alessandro Nivola) who discovers Merrick in a circus freak show, he is introduced to high society where a tender friendship forms with actress Mrs. Kendal (Patricia Clarkson). It’s a play that touches on multiple themes: voyeurism, science vs religion, the power of art as illusion, and what it means to be a man in society.

As you might expect, the script is wordy and dense, and there’s very little ‘action’. Visually, the production is minimal, with curtains drawn across the stage to delineate time and space, and subtle lighting design from Philip S. Rosenberg that provides a sense of gothic atmosphere and shadow. Yet the play is brief and moves along at a brisk pace, presenting its themes and philosophy without outstaying its welcome (though its ending is quite sudden). It’s a thoroughly compelling and thought-provoking piece.

So what of Cooper’s acting? Those expecting prosthetics in his representation of the titular ‘Elephant Man’ will be disappointed – cleverly, his character’s disfigurement is left to the imagination beyond some remarkable physicality as Cooper expertly contorts his face and body, even when not directly involved in a scene. It’s a move that ensures we witness the man beneath the deformity, whilst still highlighting his difference. Clear yet softly spoken, Cooper’s Merrick is a compassionate and endearing character – a brilliant mind trapped in a frightening body. He’s joined on-stage by a great supporting cast. In Nivola’s Dr. Treves we witness an acute scientific mind deteriorating into a weary and protective parent, angry at the injustice of the world. Clarkson, meanwhile, capably brings to life the complex Mrs. Kendal, a woman torn between fear, friendship and motherly affection.

As the lights slowly dim on Merrick at the end of the first act, it provides a powerful image of an innocent man we cannot help but sympathise with. Cooper really does offer a stunning turn – for once that star casting is wholeheartedly worthwhile.

4/5

Watch: The Elephant Man runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 8th August.

The Elephant Man Bradley Cooper
Image: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Conchita Wurst - Conchita

Conchita Wurst - Conchita

There’s no denying that Conchita Wurst has become the new icon of Eurovision. That was clear enough from her prominence in Saturday’s competition, after proving her critics wrong in 2014 and truly rising like a phoenix to win. The sight of a bearded lady may have put off some viewers (*cough* Russia), but Wurst had the last laugh: not only did she look fantastic, her winning Bond-esque song was excellent and she proved herself to be a vocal powerhouse.

That remains very much true a year later as Wurst releases her debut album. Rise Like a Phoenix is a major highlight of ‘Conchita’, but there are plenty of other tracks on which she spreads her vocal wings. The final chorus of Up For Air sees her voice soaring to new heights, whilst Pure is a genuinely emotive vocal performance. Beneath the drag make-up is a credible and talented singer – Wurst is no gimmicky joke act.

Musically, ‘Conchita’ is something of a tick-box exercise, as you might expect. There are plenty of big pop anthems, opener You Are Unstoppable in particular, full of dramatic strings and punchy melodies. Equally, there are some euro-dance tracks to ensure that Wurst will be heard in clubs across Europe. The best of these is Firestorm, with its syncopated rhythms, euphoric pre-chorus and infectious 90s house piano. Then there’s Colours of Your Love that slowly builds towards its bassy chorus, and the fizzy pop of Somebody to Love. Elsewhere, Out of Body Experience is laced with an Arabic flavour and Where Have All the Good Men Gone is a cheeky little soul number. It’s like a whole Eurovision competition in one neat little package.

It’s all good fun, but it’s unlikely to win any awards for originality. That said, Wurst is far more of a political figure than a musical one. In that respect ‘Conchita’ is a winner. “You’re stronger than you believe!” she preaches on You Are Unstoppable; “And we won’t stop till we are sure the message is clear and understood / We’re gonna turn the tide” on Put That Fire Out; more simply “We could be heroes, tonight” on Heroes. Wurst has grown to become a symbol of equality and her music certainly does her justice.

Whether she’s able to transcend Eurovision and become a popstar in her own right remains to be seen, but listening to ‘Conchita’ it’s clear her flame will continue to burn bright for some time to come.

3/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* You Are Unstoppable
* Somebody to Love
* Firestorm

Listen: ‘Conchita’ is available now.



Monday, 25 May 2015

Brandon Flowers - The Desired Effect



Most frontmen are absolutely connected to the band they perform with. What would U2 be without Bono? Mumford and Sons would lose their namesake. And can you imagine a Chris Martin solo album? God forbid.

Kele Okereke is one of the few artists whose solo material has managed to transcend that of his band, Bloc Party. Largely that's due to the complete change in style from rock to dance, as well as the inclusion of other vocalists.

So how does Brandon Flowers fit into this scenario? This isn't his first solo album, but 2010's 'Flamingo' was little more than a copycat Killers record. Now he's done more than enough to separate himself from the band and establish himself as a credible solo artist. That, undoubtedly, is the desired effect.

But how has he achieved this when his voice is synonymous with The Killers and their drunken student night anthem Mr. Brightside? Predominantly he's thrown everything at this album in the hopes that something will stick. Most of it does.

Some tracks are more successful than others, though. Still Want You has an annoyingly childlike melody. Diggin' Up The Heart is an old-fashioned rock n roll number. Closer The Way It's Always Been is oddly traditional by comparison to the rest of the album, lacking the overall high levels of creativity.

Yet when Flowers gets it right, the results rival the best of The Killers. Opener Dreams Come True begins the album with a horn fanfare and a rhythmic African flavour that Paul Simon would be proud of. Lead single Can't Deny My Love is full on kitchen sink musical drama. Lonely Town sounds like Bruce Springsteen given a modern day makeover. And I Can Change pulses with its sample of Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy.

That last track exemplifies explicitly the huge 80s influence on 'The Desired Effect'. There are moody synths, guitar solos, heavily processed percussion, auto-tuned vocals, gospel choirs, and plenty of electronic wizardry. Flowers has well and truly used every sonic tool at his disposal - this is cinematic pop with a distinct American flair that's certainly reflected in the video for Can't Deny My Love.

Somehow it all comes together in a cohesive album. In part that's down to his recognisable vocal, but it's also because at the heart of his music - and that of The Killers - are stadium-ready, bombastic, anthemic tunes. You might not be singing tracks from this album in a sweaty club at 3am whilst drunk on Vodka RedBulls, but musically 'The Desired Effect' is far more interesting than anything Flowers did with his previous band. A fruitful solo career seems inevitable.

4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Can't Deny My Love
* I Can Change
* Lonely Town

Listen: 'The Desired Effect' is out now.




Friday, 22 May 2015

Bend It Like Beckham @ The Phoenix Theatre

Bend It Like Beckham @ The Phoenix Theatre

Did High School Musical teach us nothing? Sport and theatre don’t mix. Sadly Bend It Like Beckham does little to disprove this theory.

At its core, the show isn’t really about football at all, but there’s still very little sport involved. That’s largely because it’s so difficult to recreate the beautiful game on a stage; instead we have aerobics style choreography to cover up for a lack of ball skills and some hilarious “effects” such as a ball being flown around the stage, or being represented by a bouncing spotlight. The sport element of the show is as authentic as the Beckham lookalike who appears in a dream sequence and clumsily hides his face from the audience.

Deep down there’s an excellent and very credible story here. Directed by Gurinder Chadha and based on her own 2002 film that helped to launch the acting career of Keira Knightley’s chin, it follows eighteen year old Jess Bhamra as she joins a women’s football team in Southall, London, against the permission of her staunchly traditional Indian parents. It pulls in multiple themes that thirteen years later still resonate: the Asian diaspora struggling to integrate into British culture, issues of multi-cultural society, the generational divide of Indian families. It’s also very easy to read a homosexual narrative into the plot, something that’s blatantly referenced throughout.

Unfortunately, the show tries to achieve too much. It’s too long, there are too many characters, too many songs and a lack of subtlety as it succumbs too easily to musical theatre cheese. For the most part, it relies on clichéd and dated stereotypes of London teenagers and Indian pensioners. If you’re expecting Bollywood spectacle, think again. At times it feels like watching a live episode of The Kumars at No. 42, the audience laughing at unfunny stereotypes – as awkward as Jamie Campbell Bowers’ wooden acting as football coach Joe. The themes may be relevant, but the plot hasn’t been updated from its 2001 setting – it's meant to be a period piece, but it already feels dated.

There’s certainly great potential for this story to be told through music and song, in particular through East-meets-West musical styles. Too often, though, the music and choreography add little to the plot beyond overstating, with far too many reprises that serve only to pad out the already lengthy three hour run-time. The show is currently still in previews, but it definitely needs a good trim.

Howard Goodall’s score fails to live up to that potential, though. A handful of traditional Indian songs are beautifully performed (the mournful pre-wedding night song in particular), but shoe-horning a Tabla drum and a Tanpura beneath Western theatre songs with the odd bit of traditional singing doesn’t cut it. There’s a distinct lack of choruses to many of the songs, whilst others overlap and splice multiple melodies together so much as to be incomprehensible. It’s as if Goodall is trying to be too clever, without delivering an actual tune. The odd moment of Bhangra does liven things up with some exciting and joyful choreography, but for the most part Goodall plays it stylistically safe.

The songs are, at least, performed well by a talented cast: Natalie Dew as the calm Jess caught between cultures; Preeya Kalidas as her bridezilla sister; and Lauren Samuels as headstrong tomboy Jules. The young cast especially are endearing, lending the show as a whole a strong likeability factor, though whether you’ll be laughing at rather than with them is up for debate.

If there’s one scene that sums up the best and worst of the show it’s the aforementioned dream sequence. As with the ballet from Oklahoma!, there’s high potential for storytelling with Jess caught between East and West, but there are too many melodies in this clash of cultures – not to mention a dancing David Beckham with a dodgy haircut. If this is meant to be Bollywood with balls it doesn’t have enough of either; instead it’s just awkwardly British.

2/5

Watch: Bend It Like Beckham runs at the Phoenix Theatre, with booking until October 2015. The show officially runs from 24th June.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Little Mix - Black Magic

Little Mix - Black Magic

The '90s had the Spice Girls. The '00s had Girls Aloud. The '10s have Little Mix.

With two albums (and a third on the way), they've become the girl band of this generation. There's been some competition - Neon Jungle, G.R.L, Fifth Harmony, Stooshe (lol) to name a handful of recent examples - but Little Mix reign supreme.

The comparison with Girls Aloud is a key one: both groups formed on a reality show and have released a string of very good pop songs. For Little Mix that means DNA, Move, Salute and now Black Magic.

Where their past material has often aped the music of girl bands of the past (Destiny's Child, All Saints, En Vogue), Black Magic looks instead to the glossy pop sound of 80s female stars like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper - the beat and shimmering guitars are especially reminiscent of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

It may seem like an obvious sort of single to release, but it's something the girls do so well, combining glittering vocal harmonies with a foot stomping middle eight. Most of all it has that addictive quality of all the best pop tracks - expect this to be on repeat for much of the summer.

4/5

Listen: Black Magic is released on 10th July.




The Generation of Z @ Dept W


Trapped in a quarantined facility, you scuttle quickly and quietly through deserted corridors led by armed forces. Blood and brain juice drips down walls, ramshackle barricades block your path, and the screeches and moans of deadly zombies form a perpetual soundtrack. Narrowly escaping the clutches of the walking dead, you’re ushered into a small room to discover a prisoner who holds information that undermines your whole operation and throws your escape into disarray. Should you let him survive? The facility self-destruct sirens whir, sweat trickles down your back, and zombies are threatening to break down the doorway that serves as flimsy protection. There’s no time to lose.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is the plot of a video game. But this is The Generation of Z, a theatrical promenade performance in an abandoned warehouse in East London. You’re thrown into the midst of a zombie apocalypse and, guided by a group of soldiers, must escape. You might head to the medical bay to help treat a wounded soldier, assist a young man desperately searching for his sister, or stumble across a cure for the outbreak. No matter what, you will get blood on you.

There’s no denying that immersive theatre is currently in vogue, but a distinction needs to be made between immersive and interactive theatre. The Generation of Z does an incredible job of creating a believable world, inspired by countless horror games and films. The set design of each area is intricately detailed – the initial holding area alone is filled with missing persons posters, detritus left behind in a hurry, and blood splatters from past battles. There’s a genuine sense of history and tension that’s only heightened by the excellent cast. Clever sods will spot the odd person planted in the audience, but the lead soldiers do a great job of barking orders, relaying the story and (of course) ensuring our safety. Lose the cynical hat and it’s easy to lose yourself in this world, creeping silently and strafing around corners.

This isn’t, however, a particularly interactive show. There are the odd moments where the audience are called upon to participate, but for the most part you’re ushered through the scenario like a theme park ride. Occasionally there are choices to be made – you’ll want to go more than once to see the effects of your decisions – but the overall narrative arc and outcome are fixed. And there are always difficulties with this form of storytelling: it creates an atmosphere like no other, but the story is told through small snippets of information that are easily lost in the crackle of walkie-talkies and zombie wails. Plot points are quickly forgotten and the ending, too, comes all too suddenly with little explanation, as if the writers struggled to find a conclusion.

Then again, it’s the thrill of the action that you’ll be interested in and, by the very nature of the dangerous scenario, it’s understandable that the audience are side-lined. If you want to solve puzzles and headshot zombies then pick up a PlayStation controller. But if you’re looking for an adrenaline-fuelled ride that no standard theatre can replicate, then The Generation of Z is a must-see. Better yet, if you’re looking to truly participate, you can even sign up to be a zombie yourself.

Mmmm braaaaaaaiiiins.

4/5

Watch: The Generation of Z runs at Dept W until 5th July.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

New Pop Roundup

Pop tracks are like buses – you wait for something decent and then a load of tracks come at once. Here’s a mass catch up...


Years and Years – Shine

Years and Years – Shine

Y&Y just keep going from strength to strength. King is probably the song of the year so far, but Shine is a more than worthy follow up. Debut album ‘Communion’ is out next month, it could well be an album of the year contender.

4/5

Listen: Shine will feature on ‘Communion’ released on 10th July.




Britney Spears, Iggy Azalea – Pretty Girls

Britney Spears, Iggy Azalea – Pretty Girls

From one of the best acts of the year to the worst. This is just dire, from the weak production, to the annoying chorus hook and the embarrassing attempts at “acting” in the video. Please make it stop.

1/5

Listen: DON’T.




Leona Lewis – Fire Under My Feet

Leona Lewis – Fire Under My Feet

You split from your long term record label, what’s your next step? Copy the best-selling artist of the decade of course. She sings it well, but the comparisons to Adele are inescapable. Altogether now: “There’s a fire starting in my heart…..”

2/5

Listen: Fire Under My Feet is released on 28th June.




Alesha Dixon – The Way We Are

Alesha Dixon – The Way We Are

Here’s another artist making a return with some copycat material. At least Dixon is a little more current – this is basically Clean Bandit feat. Alesha Dixon, minus Clean Bandit. It’s fun, it’s summery, and she looks great in the video.

3/5

Listen: The Way We Are is released on 21st June.




Rita Ora – Poison

Rita Ora – Poison

And as we’re on a female pop run, here’s Rita Ora failing to live up to the potential of her Calvin Harris collaboration I Will Never Let You Down. Well, you have. Poison is a decent enough pop jam, but its chorus is just too lumbering and forgettable.

2/5

Listen: Poison is released on 28th June.




Miguel – Coffee

Miguel – Coffee

Let’s throw in a male. Coffee will feature on Miguel’s forthcoming third album ‘Wildheart’, but it may as well be an offcut from ‘Kaleidoscope Dream’. Presumably he’s spent all his money on damages to the poor girl he kicked in the head last year (that will never get old). Also, make sure you listen to the Wale-less version – his rap verse is terrible.

3/5

Listen: Coffee is available now. ‘Wildheart’ is released on 30th June.




Rudimental – Never Let You Go

Rudimental – Never Let You Go

Never Let You Go doesn’t stray too far from the band’s formula, but it’s a more relaxed affair, the usual heavy beats and horn stabs simmering beneath evocative synths. ‘We The Generation’ will likely follow suit in its lack of sonic ambition, but you can at least design your own album cover on the band’s website. More exciting is the prospect of some new featured vocalists to look out for.

3/5

Listen: ‘We The Generation’ is released on 18th September.




Lianne La Havas – Unstoppable

Lianne La Havas – Unstoppable

Also returning for Warner Music this year is Lianne La Havas, fresh from her new friendship with Prince. Unstoppable is a beautiful slice of orchestral sunshine – lazy, jazzy and with a sumptuous vocal. Perfect for relaxing summer evenings.

4/5

Listen: Unstoppable is taken from forthcoming album ‘Blood’ released on 31st July.




Adam Lambert – Underground

Adam Lambert – Underground

Ghost Town hasn’t even been released yet, but Underground is available as a pre-order bonus for forthcoming album ‘The Original High’. What begins as a piano ballad soon morphs into a whirring, R&B-tinged jam. With material like this, there’s no denying Lambert is soon to break into the UK mainstream in a very big way.

4/5

Listen: ‘The Original High’ is released on 16th June.




Lion Babe – Wonder Woman

Lion Babe – Wonder Woman

If you’re looking for sexy sounds and sexier hair, then Lion Babe have you covered. Duo Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman have crafted a soulful, fierce pop-funk track (produced by Pharrell Williams no less) that’s so sexy it should come with contraception.

4/5

Listen: Wonder Woman is available now.




Honne – Top To Toe

Honne – Top To Toe

Honne are signed to Super Recordings, the same label that launched AlunaGeorge and Bondax, but their take on soulful dance is a more sombre and romantic affair than their label mates. Top To Toe epitomises their sound – a heartbreaking lyric accompanied by warm, cinematic production. The full EP ‘Coastal Love’ is well worth a listen.

4/5

Listen: ‘Coastal Love’ is available now.




Elliphant – Love Me Badder

Elliphant – Love Me Badder

Love Me Badder is the most radio friendly of Elliphant’s output. The Swedish rapper has always straddled Jamaican dancehall and pop, but this track launches her firmly into the latter category with a big sing-along chorus, even if it’s missing the sense of cool from her previous tracks.

3/5

Listen: Love Me Badder is available now.




Aurora – Running With The Wolves

Aurora – Running With The Wolves

Continuing the Scandi theme, here’s Norway’s Aurora delivering gothic Scandi-pop at its finest. Folk melodies, guitars and heavy drums combine with a powerful electro chorus and a delicately lilting vocal. One to watch.

4/5

Listen: Running With The Wolves is available now.




Active Child – Never Far Away

Active Child – Never Far Away

With a new album on the way – ‘Mercy’ – a handful of new tracks have emerged from Active Child, including the fragile 1999 and the hypnotic Stranger. Never Far Away is the best of the bunch though, with its smooth, slinky R&B influence on his trademark crystalline sound and falsetto vocals. Just wait for the guitar licks towards the end.

4/5

Listen: ‘Mercy’ is released on 16th June.




Tiger Town – Paper Note

Tiger Town – Paper Note

Australia is delivering some brilliant pop music at the moment and this track from Sydney’s Tiger Town is a prime example. With a verse full of glittering electronic touches, it layers up the vocals and melodies towards a double chorus that’s as bright and joyful as you’d expect from a country of near perpetual sunshine.

4/5

Listen: Paper Note is “coming soon”. Apparently.




Allie X – Catch

Allie X – Catch

On first listen, Allie X’s work seems similar to Chvrches. But that’s hardly an unfortunate comparison is it? Catch is a *cough* catchy electro-pop track that’s as sparkly as its video is weird (very).

4/5

Listen: Catch is available now.




Rixton – We All Want The Same Thing

Rixton – We All Want The Same Thing

Initially this new track from the Manchester boyband is fun with its jangling guitars and falsetto vocals. Except, it doesn’t go anywhere. Instead it repeats the same melodies and production ad nauseam for just under four minutes. Inventive this isn’t.

2/5

Listen: We All Want The Same Thing is released on 7th June.




MisterWives – Our Own House

MisterWives – Our Own House

This track from NYC indie-pop band MisterWives seems to borrow heavily from all over the pop landscape: funk guitars, horn stabs, a handclap breakdown, house pianos and more. The result, though, is a bold and colourful pop song that’s so 2015 it hurts.

4/5

Listen: The band’s debut album, also called ‘Our Own House’, is available now.




Sia – California Dreamin’

San Andreas Film Poster

Only Sia could take such a well-known song and make it sound this fresh. Taken from the soundtrack to the film San Andreas, the majestic, mournful, choir-backed opening is blown wide-open, as huge as Sia’s vocal and, presumably, the disasters of the film.

4/5

Listen: The soundtrack to San Andreas is available now.




Loreen – Paper Light Revisited

Loreen – Paper Light Revisited

Lastly, just in time for Eurovision week, Queen Loreen has released a reworking of her new single Paper Light that puts an almighty donk on it. Amazing.

4/5

Listen: Paper Light is available now.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Vanbot - Perfect Storm

Vanbot Perfect Storm

Robyn has a lot to answer for. Perhaps the most highly regarded of all Sweden’s popstars of recent times, every other female arrives in her wake. That’s especially true of Vanbot, a.k.a Ester Ideskog, who has faced this uphill battle of a comparison since the release of her self-titled debut album in 2011.

It’s an obvious comparison to make, though. The electronic, dance-tinged production; the tension between melancholia and euphoria; the inescapable pop hooks. If there’s one place Robyn does excel, it’s with her candid lyrical content, but Vanbot does plenty to carve her own voice.

Arguably, Robyn herself was influenced by the dance production of The Knife, whose influence has thus trickled down into Vanbot’s sound. Indeed, this album was produced by Johannes Berglund who produced work from The Knife and I Break Horses, lending it a darker, more experimental tone in comparison to her fizzing debut. You can hear it in the bleak ambience of Shake, or the bubbling Bite the Bullet (not a million miles away from The Knife’s Heartbeats), whilst Vanbot’s vocal has a similarly distant feel.

On the surface, then, ‘Perfect Storm’ has a lot in common with the best of Swedish pop, but Vanbot is far from a copycat artist. Sure, this isn’t the most original album of the year, but as the title suggests, it takes the best bits of her major influences and perfects them into an incredibly polished collection of tracks. In many ways, ‘Perfect Storm’ is the ultimate Scandi-pop album.

The melody writing is as good as her contemporaries and the production of the album has enough quirks to stand out from the crowd. It’s when these two elements combine that Vanbot reaches her peak. Second track Trooper is the real opening of the album that pairs a yearning chorus line with whirring electro-ballad production, epitomising the album’s tender yet gritty sound. The Way You Say It and Seven both crescendo towards incessant, earworm choruses. Watching You Sleep sounds like Sonic the Hedgehog playing the bagpipes (absolutely a compliment). And Better in the Light sees Vanbot turning her hand to a heavier dance sound with a huge bass drop.

The other tracks may not have the same immediacy, but overall the album is a dark and tense affair that twists its melting pot of influences into an essential listen. There’s an intimacy to the lyrics that’s juxtaposed with widescreen appeal; a soul laid bare to the sound of expansive synths, dance rhythms and uplifting melodies.

More and more Swedish acts are beginning to break into the UK charts, with Tove Lo currently leading the charge with her uniquely naked lyrical content. Vanbot should absolutely follow suit.

4/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Trooper
* The Way You Say It
* Seven

Listen: ‘Perfect Storm’ is available now.