Saturday, 11 August 2018

New Music Friday 10/08

Nina Nesbitt - Loyal To Me

Nina Nesbitt - Loyal To Me

Nesbitt has been slowly building up a collection of pop bops, miles away from her folky beginnings. Loyal To Me is the most pop of the lot, hailed as a return to the 90s with its staccato beats and guitar hooks. In reality, it's an above average Meghan Trainor song that's only top of NMF because it's an otherwise disappointing week.

Worth a listen.



Troye Sivan - Animal

Troye Sivan - Animal

Sivan's second album 'Bloom' is due out at the end of the month and the drip-feed release of singles is making the wait unbearable. Animal is an atmospheric jam - in his own words an "80s stadium love song" - that juxtaposes clipped beats and sparse production with the sexually charged chorus lyric "I am an animal with you." There are strong Frank Ocean vibes here too, suggesting 'Bloom' will comprise the full gamut of queer influences.

Add to playlist.



RAY BLK - Run Run

RAY BLK - Run Run

The lyrics of Run Run comprise real stories of London life, highlighting gun and knife crime in the capital. "Run, run if you wanna see the sun / We don't wanna lose another one," she sings in the chorus, though whether that's running for your life or from the police is ambiguous. All that over an addictive syncopated beat for a sound that's straddles underground and mainstream tastes.

Worth a listen.



Broods - Peach

Broods - Peach

The NZ sibling duo are back with a new song and a new sound. The synths and vocal ennui remain, but this is an altogether more buoyant, upbeat and positive single than the...well...brooding sound of their debut. They've now signed to Neon Gold/Atlantic, so we can perhaps expect a push for the mainstream - things are looking pretty peach indeed.

Worth a listen.



RÜFÜS DU SOL - Underwater

RÜFÜS DU SOL - Underwater

This is the sort of song you just get lost in. Fusing euphoric house and indie rock, the Sydney trio's new single pulses with liquid synths and driving beats that wash over and take control, held together by a lofty chant-like vocal sample. The group's new album is due out later this year and is definitely one to keep an ear out for.

Add to playlist.



Jake Shears - Clothes Off

Jake Shears - Clothes Off

This is taken from Shears' new album as a solo artist, though you'd be forgiven for assuming it's just another Scissor Sisters record. Squelching, scuzzy bass, funk guitars and that wild falsetto predominate, ensuring this slice of 70s throwback disco-glam will please fans of his previous material.

Worth a listen.



Cher - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

Cher - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

You can debate all you want whether certain soundtracks deserve to be in the album charts (goodbye 'The Greatest Showman'), but you cannot deny that Cher covering ABBA after her appearance in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the campest most brilliant thing to happen. Ever.

Add to playlist.



Friday, 3 August 2018

Broken Wings @ Theatre Royal Haymarket

Broken Wings @ Theatre Royal Haymarket

The work of Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet, is known for its themes of universal love. His poetic novel of 1912 Broken Wings may be set in Beirut and details the forbidden love between a poet and a young woman betrothed to another through arranged marriage, but his illustrative descriptions of romantic longing are relatable to us all. If Gibran is the Shakespeare of the Middle East, then Broken Wings is his Romeo and Juliet – a relatively simple love story that’s ripe for reinterpretation.

And yet, while Broken Wings has been adapted to the stage and screen before, this production from Nadim Naaman and Dad Al Fardan marks the first reworking as a musical. It also marks an original Middle Eastern musical performed on the West End, produced and performed by a majority Middle Eastern cast and crew, and for simply offering something different Broken Wings deserves to be seen.

Paralleling Gibran (and named after himself), the lead character is a poet who returns to his native Beirut after years abroad in America. There he rediscovers his home, reconnects with old friends, and meets Selma – the daughter of his father’s best friend who treats him as his own son. Gibran and Selma soon fall in love, but their love is forbidden once Selma is set to marry the seedy nephew of the local bishop.

The story itself, no doubt progressive at the time and particularly so for its feminist themes, feels a little rote today. Gibran, played by Nadim Naaman and Rob Houchen as both an older and younger man, is a typical brooding Romantic tied to his books (though both men sing in impressively rich tenors), while Irvine Iqbal’s evil Bishop Bulos Galib and Sami Lamine’s sleazy playboy Mansour Bey Galib feel like pantomime villains. As Selma, Nikita Johal displays the necessary fragility of a young woman caught between her desires and the duty of marriage, but her voice reveals great inner strength during the musical numbers. The remaining periphery cast are sadly underwritten and the lengthy plot eventually winds up at a predictable end.

What this adaptation does retain, though, is the strength of Gibran’s writing. The book brims with beautiful poetry that, along with Mira Abad’s simple yet effective set design and Nik Corrall’s costumes, depict turn of the century Beirut as a place of warmth and beauty yet held back by tradition.

Arguably, the adaptation is a little too strict with Gibran’s words. Each song is essentially a soliloquy with little repetition in its lyrics, denying the audience a hook to hold on to. The show is at its best during the full ensemble numbers led by Soophia Foroughi as Mother where we finally get a tune and some rousing singing – the impact is stunning. Elsewhere, Fardan and Naaman’s score is a beautiful mix of East meets West that’s overwhelmingly melancholic. Though performed on Western instruments, many of the melodies are distinctly Arabic with the hammered dulcimer the only Arabic instrument – more of this would have been welcome.

There’s no denying the heart of this production, but it is a melodramatic work of sweeping emotion and sentimentality, each song exhaustingly performed with head to the sky and arms aloft. It’s all too easy, though, to be swept up in that emotion, in the operatic grandeur of it all. It might be lacking a lightness of touch, but the story and the new music have a timeless and universal appeal that’s in-keeping with Gibran himself.

3/5

Watch: Broken Wings runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 4th August.


Broken Wings @ Theatre Royal Haymarket
 Photos: Marc Brenner

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Riot Act @ The Kings Head Theatre


Riot Act @ The Kings Head Theatre

Sometimes, just being gay can feel like a riotous act. But in Alexis Gregory’s new verbatim play Riot Act, he details the lives of three queer heroes who were all, in their own way, revolutionary.

Gregory interviewed three men – Michael-Anthony Nozzi, Lavinia Co-op and Paul Burston – and has used their exact words (and, significantly, their real names) to tell their stories. Nozzi was present at the Stonewall riots of 1969 that led to the gay liberation movement. Lavinia was a radical drag queen throughout 1980s London. Burston was an AIDs activist in London in the 80s and 90s. Through each monologue, Gregory explores political themes, queer life, the relationships between queer men and women, and highlighting the importance of this pivotal era in queer history.

The stories themselves are fascinating. There’s Nozzi, still a teenager, visiting the Stonewall Inn for the first time and telling in detail the brutal, horrifying violence that occurred that night. There’s Lavinia’s nights in various clubs, providing politically charged entertainment when close friends succumbed to illness. And there’s Burston barricading roads in pursuit of justice. Gregory gives each storyteller a distinct personality, with mannerisms and nuance that capture the presumed exactness of the three men he interviewed.

Yet this is recounting more than creative storytelling. The speeches are word-for-word from the interviews; that includes little bits of conversational dialogue that certainly add personality and humour, but also suggest a lack of specificity for the theatre. The stories aren’t interlinked in any way, besides overarching themes, which does provide clarity of voice. But perhaps this material would make for a more interesting film documentary with the original men, as accomplished as Gregory’s performance surely is.

What does particularly come through is the generational gap between those gay men who lived through this time and the gay youth of today. The speeches suggest a complacency in young people, neglecting the history that allows us to be so liberated in 2018. That’s what makes these stories so vital: as entertaining and tragic as they are, these are the lives of three heroes whose contribution to history deserves to be heard.

3/5

Watch: Riot Act runs at the Kings Head Theatre as part of their Queer Season until 5th August.


Riot Act @ The Kings Head Theatre

Riot Act @ The Kings Head Theatre
Photos: Dawson James

Robyn - Missing U


It’s hard to believe this is actually here. Fans have been waiting eight years since the release of ‘Body Talk’ for more solo Robyn and then out of nowhere (leak aside) a new song has finally arrived. And boy was it worth the wait.

Not much has changed over eight years. Robyn is still crying in the club, now mourning the “empty space you left behind, now you’re not here with me”. It’s a sad banger, matching melancholic lyrics with thumping production that’s polished, crystalline, euphoric. It might be typical Robyn – and it’s a template that many have copied since – but nobody else makes music quite like this.

There are so many standout musical moments in Missing U. That synth fanfare at the start and deep bass rumble announcing her return. The way that cascade of synths drops in pitch at the song’s close adding a sense of weight and finality. Those warm synth pads in the verse that never resolve. The way the melody lifts yearningly with “there’s an empty space” that opens the chorus. How the extended second verse drifts off into thoughts and dreams, “thinking how it could been”, before dropping abruptly back into the chorus. The lengthy outro that slowly breaks down and fades into nothing. 

Lyrically, too, it’s so simple yet so effective. “Now your scent on my pillow’s faded,” she sings in the first verse, “at least you left me with something”: something personal and intimate, yet so intangible, so temporary. The raw simplicity of the chorus: “Now you’re not here with me…I miss you”. By the end, all that’s left is “this residue” – a smear, impermanent.

And then there’s that final “I miss you” after the second chorus, a half shout half sigh, exasperated, desperate, tragic. This is pop at its most sublime.


Friday, 27 July 2018

New Music Friday 27/07

David Guetta feat Anne-Marie - Don't Leave Me Alone

David Guetta feat Anne-Marie - Don't Leave Me Alone

When did Guetta turn into Zedd? Or has Zedd just been Guetta in disguise? Both DJs are churning out bland EDM while smothering their female vocalists with vocoder effects. Anne-Marie is the latest in a long line of victims.

Don't bother.



Emily Burns - Test Drive

Emily Burns - Test Drive

She's released a string of brilliant singles, but now they accumulate in the debut mini-album from Emily Burns. 'Seven Scenes From The Same Summer' offers snapshots of a relationship, with Test Drive depicting its vulnerable beginnings - Burns isn't shy to admit it, but she wants to be more than just a test drive. Infectious production and a repeated "hey!" make this great pop fun, but when the biting Bitch comes later in the album you know tragedy awaits.

Worth a listen.



Charli XCX - Girls Night Out

Charli XCX - Girls Night Out

Charli XCX can do no wrong. But equally, she can do no right. Girls Night Out is yet another fun, funky electro-pop banger, all stuttering synths, bleeps and a playful chorus. But is this really going to be climbing the charts? Is Charli XCX ever going to have the success she deserves?

Worth a listen.



The Chainsmokers feat. Emily Warren - Side Effects

The Chainsmokers feat. Emily Warren - Side Effects

Emily Warren had a hand in some of the biggest tracks of the last couple of years, from Dua Lipa's New Rules and Charli XCX's Boys, to multiple tracks by the obnoxious Chainsmokers. Side Effects, though, is a change in form for the duo. Not only does it sound different, based around house piano and funk production, but it actually sounds...good?

Worth a listen.



Jungle - Heavy, California

Jungle - Heavy, California

There's no better band to listen to in a heatwave than Jungle. They are masters of hot music and Heavy, California is no different, watery guitars and shimmering falsetto vocals flickering like heat haze. They just make it all so effortless, you know?

Worth a listen.



Blood Orange - Charcoal Baby

Blood Orange - Charcoal Baby

"No one wants to be the odd one out at times," sighs Dev Hynes, "no one wants to be the negro swan." It's such a simple lyric but it has a wealth of feeling, as well as giving his forthcoming album its name. The sliding, pitch bending jazz production provides a lazy, laidback mood, but listen hard and there's more than just musical depth to lose yourself in.

Worth a listen.



Lamplighters @ Old Red Lion Theatre

Lamplighters @ Old Red Lion Theatre

Rogue Productions, the team behind Lamplighters, have worked with gaming companies like Capcom and Warner Bros. on experiential entertainment, as well as escape rooms, immersive theatre and more. Their aim is to allow audiences to play as much as watch and that's an integral part of this show: there's role playing, puzzles to solves and mysteries to uncover.

Of course, immersive theatre isn't a new phenomenon. But often it's done on expansive sets with huge budgets and fancy gimmicks, where the story is frankly difficult to follow. Here, though, there's one room, a handful of props, a willing audience and just one performer.

That performer is Neil Connolly, who manages to balance charm and childlike glee with atmospheric storytelling. He is our Spymaster for the evening and he invites us on to the stage to take part in what is essentially a play set. We are all big kids here to have fun with silly spy toys as much as to be intellectually stimulated.

Yet stimulated we are. Connolly tells us with great enthusiasm about his fascination with spies as a child and, specifically, the novels of John le Carré. It's these that inspire the plot of the show, where audience members play spies, moles, agents and everything else. We shout out ideas for plot points. We solve puzzles. We are sent on secret missions (to the bar). We dodge laser beams. We shoot and kill. But did we kill the right man?

The plot, in all honesty, isn't always easy to follow. But if anything, that's our fault more than Connolly's. Our fault for shouting out silly ideas. Our fault for underscoring at prime moments with children's toy instruments. Our fault for simply laughing too much and not paying attention.

And frankly, who cares who the mole is? Rarely is theatre this much fun. With Lamplighters, Rogue Productions take the idea of "play" literally and put it on a stage. It is rampant and chaotic, uniquely immersive, frivolously silly and hugely entertaining because of it.

4/5

Watch: Lamplighters runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 18th August.

Lamplighters @ Old Red Lion Theatre

Madagascar The Musical @ New Wimbledon Theatre

Madagascar The Musical @ New Wimbledon Theatre

We're already in the jungle. The heat is oppressive. Sweat dribbles in rivulets down our faces and backs, pooling in our seats. There are screeches and rustling all around us from tiny critters in the darkness. Apparently there's a show onstage. But right now this is survival of the fittest.

Yet if we're sweaty, then take a moment for the poor cast in full animal costumes. That's where the real jungle is, the jungle of Madagascar full of all-singing all-dancing creatures.

It starts, though, in New York City. Following the same story as the Dreamworks film on which it's based, this musical sees a lion, a zebra, a giraffe and a hippo escaping from a city zoo and, aided by some pesky penguins, end up on the island of Madagascar. But is freedom all it's cracked up to be?

At well under 90 minutes long, the show is too short to really find out. But then, when the three Madagascar films have collectively made around £2 billion for Dreamworks Animation to become one of the most successful film franchises ever, it's a fair bet that most of the audience are familiar with the story already.

It's up to this musical adaptation to bring the story alive through the magic of theatre. Being a musical, there are now songs to break up the minimal plot. They're mostly forgettable pop songs to flesh out the rather dated characters, but the cast perform them admirably. X Factor winner Matt Terry plays Alex the lion and sings in an agile tenor even if he lacks star quality, while Antoine Murray-Straughan and Timmika Ramsay bring plenty of energy as Marty the zebra and Gloria the hippo with some buoyant choreography from Fabian Aloise. Jamie Lee-Morgan's giraffe Melman throws in some token jokes to keep the adults entertained.

For a touring production, the set and lighting from designers Tom Rogers and Howard Hudson respectively are impressive, while Robert Allsopp's creature costumes mirror the same personality as the film.

Of course there are key elements of the film that the audience are looking out for. The penguins sideplot, played by members of the ensemble, is a little underplayed, though the puppeteering is amusingly expressive. But it's the rousing rendition of 'I Like To Move It' (arguably now better known for its appearance in Madagascar than for the Reel 2 Real original), as performed by Jo Parsons as King Julien the lemur, that truly has the audience going wild.

It may not try and deliver too much of a message and it doesn't live up to the Disney charm of The Lion King which it apes in its design. But Madagascar The Musical is delightfully entertaining nonetheless. Most importantly, those little monsters of the jungle thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

3/5

Watch: Madagascar The Musical is currently touring the UK.

Madagascar The Musical @ New Wimbledon Theatre

Madagascar The Musical @ New Wimbledon Theatre
Photos: Scott Ryland

Saturday, 21 July 2018

New Music Friday 20/07

The 1975 - Love It If We Made It

The 1975 - Love It If We Made It

Ok, has Matt Healy forgotten how to write a melody? After the three note hook of Give Yourself A Try, Love If It We Made It has a verse composed around...a single note. It's relentlessly monotonous. The thing is, the production of the chorus - the moment where it all expands - is lush, with funky melodic bass and vibrant guitar stabs. I'd love it if The 1975 could live up to their previous work, but so far it's just not happening.

Worth a listen.



Muse - Something Human

Muse - Something Human

When you've been going for as long as Muse, been labelled as the best live band in the world as many times as Muse, there comes a point where you have to try something different. For their next album, that difference is the 80s. Something Human is all light guitars reminiscent of Erasure and whirring, blooping synths. Besides the unmistakable voice of Matt Bellamy, it doesn't sound like Muse. And that would be ok, if the song was actually good. The video, though, is awesome.

Worth a listen.



ZAYN - Sour Diesel

ZAYN - Sour Diesel

Here's another artist doing something a bit different. Skewing away from the sultry R&B we're used to, Sour Diesel is a strutting funk-rock track. It sounds like the sort of thing Lenny Kravitz would release. Zayn's voice, however, is just far too flimsy to stand up to the production.

Worth a listen.



YONAKA - Fired Up

YONAKA - Fired Up

Finally, an artist releasing an actual rock track this week. Brighton-based Yonaka will soon be releasing their second EP; Fired Up is the lead single, depicting a passionate, reckless relationship. The band deliver strong riffs and soaring vocals from frontwoman Theresa Jarvis that deserve to be heard live, cranked up to full volume.

Worth a listen.



Zedd & Elley Duhé - Happy Now


Zedd has a thing for partnering with lesser known up-and-coming female singers...and then smothering their vocals in vocoder. He did it with Alessia Cara last year, earlier this year he did it with Maren Morris. Now he's done it with Elley Duhé, though the light playful feel of Happy Now sounds more Owl City than anything.

Don't bother.



Billie Eilish - you should see me in a crown

Billie Eilish - you should see me in a crown

Billie Eilish is the viral queen of dark, introspective pop. Since the release of her debut single Ocean Eyes in 2016, she's dropped a string of singles that have amassed millions of views. This one, though, is a little different: its verse slowly creeps up on you on a clipped beat and then lurches into a deep, menacing chorus. It's the first official single from her forthcoming debut album and is inspired, of all things, by a quote from TV show Sherlock. Soon that crown will be a permanent fixture.

Worth a listen.



Saturday, 14 July 2018

New Music Friday 13/07

Ariana Grande - God is a woman

Ariana Grande - God is a woman

After releasing one of the best pop songs of the year (and a couple of Nicki Minaj collaborations), Ariana Grande's next single from the forthcoming 'Sweetener' is a sultry ode to female sexual empowerment. "When all is said and done you'll believe God is a woman," she sings, before commanding her lover to "lay me down and let's pray." Sex here is religion and if the breathy vocals, sensual production and video full of feminine imagery don't convert you, the celestial harmonies at the end surely will.

Add to playlist.



Childish Gambino - Summer Pack EP

Childish Gambino - Summer Pack EP

Following the politically charged This Is America, Donald Glover switches to the other extreme with his 'Summer Pack' EP. After all, it's too hot to do anything in the summer besides slowing down, finding love and dancing. The glossy R&B production of Summertime Magic and Feels Like Summer is heady and sun-soaked, two tracks devoted to simple pleasures.

Add to playlist.



Sigrid - Schedules

Sigrid - Schedules

Schedules is the final track from Sigrid's 'Raw' EP and it's the most uptempo and colourful of the lot. "I think we're a hit," she notes as she takes a risk on a new relationship, synths bubbling away giddily underneath. This is Sigrid at her most fun and cheeky.

Add to playlist.



benny blanco - Eastside (with Halsey & Khalid)

benny blanco - Eastside (with Halsey & Khalid)

Producer and songwriter Benny Blanco has worked with some of the biggest names in pop, from Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5 and Justin Bieber, to Rihanna, Katy Perry and Jessie Ware. Now he's releasing a single as an artist in his own right, joined by vocalists Halsey and Khalid. It's a mix of different elements - dancehall beats, wistful guitar, and R&B melodies - that come together under Blanco's expert hand for a nostalgic take on young love.

Worth a listen.



Allie X - Not So Bad In L.A.

 Allie X - Not So Bad In L.A.

If Lana Del Rey were to go synth pop, it would probably sound a bit like this: a drawling vocal singing biting lyrics about America over hip-hop beats. There's wry humour here poking fun at the consumerist culture of the West Coast city, but the sultry beats are intoxicating.

Worth a listen.



MØ & Diplo - Sun In Our Eyes

MØ & Diplo - Sun In Our Eyes

This inseparable pair are releasing the obligatory summer track - the first from the Danish singer's forthcoming album 'Forever Neverland'. With production based on a plaintive piano hook, it's a look back at a summer romance that blinds you like the sun. It's probably most notable, though, for this amazing lyric: "I'm a dog searching for answers." Aren't we all?

Worth a listen.



Friday, 13 July 2018

Metamorphoses 2 @ Waterloo East Theatre

Metamorphoses 2 @ Waterloo East Theatre

In 2017, Off The Cliff theatre company performed Metamorphoses, a festival of visual and physical theatre based on Ovid's narrative poem. A year later and the company return with five new mini-plays based on that same source material.

It's a clever concept: taking a piece of Roman literature and transforming them into four very modern tales. Feminism, masculinity, politics and more are all explored through the eyes of gods and mortals, mixing monologues with dance and a dash of experimentation.

It's an ambitious undertaking that's something of a mixed bag. Opener 'The Tapestry' by Emma Rogerson is perhaps the most successful. Here, Ovid's tale of Philomela is smartly placed into the context of the #MeToo movement. The use of dance for Philomela's rape by Terrance shows artful subtlety where the remains of the piece are a touch heavy handed, but performances from Valenzia Spearpoint and Georgie Grier carry the drama with sincerity.

The night closes with 'A Bumper Harvest' by Christine Roberts, which sees the plight of refugees depicted through the eyes of Mors, the Roman personification of death. Powerful performances from Abdoulie Mboob and Naheen Nazmin contrast well with the matter of fact delivery from Meg Lake as Mors, asking us to question our treatment of refugees.

The three remaining pieces, though, struggle under the weight of their themes. The politics in play in Niall Urquhart's 'I Fought The State And The State Won' feel overly simplistic in a near future of fake news, and although Jonathan Brandt admirably uses the myth of Hermaphrodite to take on body dysmorphia and gender identity in 'A Couple In One', the overtly comical and cartoonish Tweedledee and Tweedledum delivery feels misguided.

Musical interludes between each piece are provided by a musical trio. Vocalists Weronika Bielecka and Olandra weave melismatic melodies and delicate harmonies in mournful union, underpinned by Samuel Creer on cello. The link between the songs and the scenes however isn't always clear, and although their music is beautiful to listen to, it unnecessarily stretches out the performance.

It is, overall, an uneven production with some moments of wonderful creative thinking that modernise the myths. At times it borders on pretentious and there's a lack of polish to the performances, but no doubt Ovid's rich work will provide plenty of material for more Metamorphoses to come.

2/5

Watch: Metamorphoses 2 runs at the Waterloo East Theatre from July 10-15th.

Ticket courtesy of London Box Office.

Metamorphoses 2 @ Waterloo East Theatre

Metamorphoses 2 @ Waterloo East Theatre
Photos: James Hall