Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Kesha - Rainbow

Kesha - Rainbow

Some of the best art comes from difficult circumstances. And few circumstances are as difficult (to put it lightly) as Kesha's legal battle with former producer and alleged abuser Dr Luke.

Now free from her previous contract and finally able to release new music, Kesha has done just that. 'Rainbow' is an occasionally brilliant release that's also bloated and inconsistent.

Indeed "release" is the right word: indicative of how cathartic this third album is. Kesha wrings out every ounce of anger, pain, suffering, relief and fierce empowerment, and pours it into the lyrics of 'Rainbow'. It's an album that thrives on the idea of overcoming adversity to an almost fetishistic degree.

Or at the least, it's about finding peace in moving on. "Do your worst, 'cause nothing's gonna stop me now," she claims on Let 'Em Talk, while explicitly on Learn To Let Go she notes "life ain't always fair, but hell is living in resentment" before planning to "exorcise the demons inside me".

And you can't blame her for that. Despite all the insinuations towards Dr Luke and the legal case that brim from every track - too numerous to mention directly - 'Rainbow' is ultimately an album of positivity. As the title suggests, peace comes after the storm.

There are carefree moments that show Kesha letting her hair down and just enjoying making music: the thrashing, almost teenage glee of Let 'Em Talk, or the moment she giggles in the second verse of the stomping feminist anthem Woman at the silliness of her own lyrics. In these moments, Kesha is a joy to listen to.

Yet she's at her most captivating on the album's standout track, Praying. Clearly directed at Dr Luke, it's a plaintive ballad that gradually builds and soars to a euphoric epiphany at the realisation of her freedom, that high note in the bridge symbolic of her pain literally escaping her body. Vocally too Kesha has never sounded better than on this song, as if leaching power from her suffering.

The problem with 'Rainbow' is that Kesha occasionally tips too far into preaching territory. On Hymn for instance she positions herself as a martyr singing a "hymn for the hymnless" that feels too overblown - one of many examples of a lack of subtlety to the writing throughout the album. In attempting to make her suffering universal, the album too often feels like an episode of Glee in its trite "togetherness".

Musically 'Rainbow' feels chaotic, lurching from gentle ballads to punk rock and synth pop. It's all underpinned with a country sensibility that's at best tongue in cheek (the cowboy parody Hunt You Down) and at worst irritating (the faux-cutesy Godzilla). There are more hits than misses though.

Both mentally and musically, 'Rainbow' is certainly wiping the slate clean for Kesha. It marks an exciting and long-awaited return of one of pop's most brilliant stars, but what's more exciting is what's to come next.

3/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Let 'Em Talk
* Woman
* Praying

Listen: 'Rainbow' is out now.


Saturday, 12 August 2017

New Music Friday 11/8

After spending last weekend at Brighton Pride, the NMF updates return (don't worry, you didn't miss anything anyway). Here's all the key tracks released this week (now let's go and listen to Kesha)...



Avicii + Rita Ora - Lonely Together

 Avicii + Rita Ora - Lonely Together

This has all the makings of a basic banger: EDM mainstay Avicii coming out of "retirement" (he's only 27!) to release a new EP; Rita Ora offering up some overly processed vocals as part of her current comeback. But I just can't bring myself to hate this: the yearning melody, the bass in the chorus drop, the infectious oscillating synths. It's three minutes of wonderful pop.



P!nk - What About Us

P!nk - What About Us

We're so used to the rock-pop singles from P!nk that releasing this plaintive track seems a strange choice, but it's also refreshing. A low-key political statement, she's outdone Katy Perry in the purposeful pop stakes: "what about us?" she cries, "man you fooled us, enough is enough." I hope Trump is listening.



Stefflon Don, French Montana - Hurtin' Me

 Stefflon Don, French Montana - Hurtin' Me

She's released a string of singles, featured on a track with Jeremih, and now British-Jamaican rapper Stefflon Don has teamed up with French Montana for this new release. Joining patois lyrics and dancehall beats with the sort of tropical pop and reggaeton sounds storming the charts at the moment, she's managed to sum up much of 2017 in this big single set to soundtrack your weekend.



Gabrielle Aplin - Waking Up Slow

 Gabrielle Aplin - Waking Up Slow

After making her name with folky acoustic ballads, Aplin has more recently turned to electro-pop and sounds all the better for it on her new 'Avalon' EP. Her songwriting talents are far from abandoned, but now they're accompanied by catchy synth hooks and an injection of tempo. It creates a rush of a pop song that matches the chorus lyrics: "All my nights taste like gold, yeah when I'm with you it's like everything glows."



Maja Francis - I'm Not A Disco

 Maja Francis - I'm Not A Disco

This week's Scandi moment, Universal's Maja Francis releases a new track in which she protests she's not a disco over glorious neon synths, softly bubbling bass and subtle beats that while not strictly disco, are certainly influenced by it.



Loreen & Elliphant - Jungle

  Loreen & Elliphant - Jungle

Yep, there's always room for another Swedish track. The greatest Eurovision winner joins forces with the country's reggae/jungle star - the result is a brilliant mix of their two styles, all dirty rhythms and melancholic, sinuous melodies.



Bebe Rexha - (Not) The One

  Bebe Rexha - (Not) The One

This is probably the best track on Rexha's new EP 'All Your Fault: Pt. 2'. She's yet to really have a proper smash single here in the UK, but her output is fairly consistent at least. This track not only makes great use of parentheses in the title, but has a pretty catchy chorus to boot.



Tori Amos - Up The Creek

 Tori Amos - Up The Creek

This is the second track Amos has revealed off her forthcoming 15th (!) album 'Native Invader'. Lyrically this feels explicitly political ("we may just survive if the militia of the mind arm against those climate blind"), but sonically alone this is amazing: dark electronica, urgent strings, a crying guitar solo, trademark piano, and a perpetual beat that keeps you on your toes. Gothic pop at its finest.



Ella Eyre feat. Ty Dolla $ign - Ego

 Ella Eyre feat. Ty Dolla $ign - Ego

I'm not sure if Ella Eyre is really going to have a moment bigger than her feature on Rudimental's Waiting All Night, and this lazy pop track with a lazy rap feature isn't going to help matters.



Jessie J - Real Deal

Jessie J - Real Deal

Pop singer attempts to regain credibility with lame hip-hop influenced track, but undermines it all with a collaboration with M&Ms. LOL.



Saturday, 29 July 2017

New Music Friday 28/07

Guys, there are actually some really good songs in this week's NMF!! Scroll down, listen and enjoy.


Charli XCX – Boys

Charli XCX – Boys

It’s the video everyone’s talking about and yes it’s a super cute marketing ploy to go viral that cleverly flips notions of modern masculinity on its head. But let’s not discount the song either – catchy as hell with pristinely crystalline production, it’s surely one of her best songs and ably bridges the gap between mainstream bubblegum pop and the computer music of her 'Vroom Vroom' EP. I’m also a big fan of the Super Mario coin effects.



Jessie Ware – Midnight

 Jessie Ware – Midnight

In Ware’s own words, Midnight is “the song I’ve always wanted to be able to sing but perhaps didn’t have the confidence until now.” Thank God she has. This new single from her forthcoming third album is a sublime piece of soulful pop that marries the love and anxiety of a long term relationship (“don’t let me fall through, now that I need you,” she sings in the chorus), with its lush, glorious chorus springing from a tense, dissonant verse. Vocally too Ware has never sounded better, her delicate voice finding new power and warmth. Her third album is due later this year and cannot come soon enough.



Snakehips & Anne-Marie – Either Way feat. Joey Bada$$

 Snakehips & Anne-Marie – Either Way feat. Joey Bada$$

Perennial feature vocalist Anne-Marie follows Zayn Malik, MØ, Tinashe and more as the latest artist to team up with British duo Snakehips. Either Way is a slinky, effortlessly cool electro-pop track that may not have the same chart impact as her work with Clean Bandit or solo singles, but proves Anne-Marie is far more than a cheesy pop artist singing her child to sleep. As for Snakehips, they’re building up quite the collection of hit songs as the producers du jour – expect a Beyoncé collaboration or something soon enough.



Ke$ha – Learn To Let Go

Kesha – Learn To Let Go

Unable to release music for so long, Ke$ha is now whacking out the songs on a weekly basis. Learn To Let Go is a more traditional Ke$ha track, with a strong hook and rock-tinged pop production. Basically it sounds like Max Martin could’ve written it, the highest form of pop praise. Lyrically, though, it’s another cathartic (if not very subtle) release as the singer finds redemption in moving on from her traumatic past – something that comes across in the joyful video.



KWAYE – Sweetest Life

KWAYE – Sweetest Life

All 90s house influences and silky smooth vocals mixed up with modern R&B, this track is as sweet as the title suggests. It’s the latest track from the British singer’s ‘Solar’ EP and with its funk chorus like a warm embrace, it’s a welcome four minute respite of positivity. Plus it’s got a flippin’ saxophone in it.



The Killers – Run For Cover

 The Killers – Run For Cover

This is the next track to be released from the band’s forthcoming album ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’ following The Man from a couple of weeks back. Compared with that bonkers track, this is a more straightforward stadium rock track but it soars like only The Killers can do. From the opening, the driving guitars set the tone and there’s no let-up throughout. Don’t run for cover, give in to the rush.



Susanne Sundfør feat John Grant – Mountaineers


 Susanne Sundfør feat John Grant – Mountaineers

John Grant’s vocal calls out over an ominous synth pedal. The layers achingly build, Sundfør’s haunting vocal gradually taking over, the synths shifting and morphing into glorious chords, the choir joins with angelic harmony to create an almighty crescendo, before the sounds peter out and the dust settles. ‘Music For People In Trouble’ is going to be one hell of an album.



Purity Ring – Asido

 Purity Ring – Asido

Few bands write lyrics as gothic as Purity Ring. “From a black widow’s reckoning your fortuitous spine opened up like a marionette,” goes the opening line, all sung in Megan James’ distinctively fragile vocal laced with autotune. “Feel as lonely as I do,” she implores repeatedly in the chorus over sparse production, looming bass and glittering arpeggios hanging like jewels in the vast abyss. Asido has been released solely to commemorate the release of their debut album five years ago, but there’s surely more to come from them soon.



Julia Michaels – Worst In Me


Michaels seems to have come out of nowhere after the success of Issues. But Worst In Me, taken from  debut album 'Nervous System', is full of such heartbreaking, relatable tragedy that it’s hard to ignore. “But maybe it’s the worst in me that’s bringing out the worst in you,” she questions, “I know we could fix these kinks but the worst in me doesn’t want to”. And with a vocal trembling with such fear and pain, it’s no surprise this track is based on her own experience in her last relationship. The brutal honesty of this song is arresting like few others in current pop.



Jay Hardway – Need It

 Jay Hardway – Need It

After all that downbeat heartache, it’s time to lighten up with some cheesy dance music, this time courtesy of Dutch DJ Jay Hardway. The lyrics have a touch of sadness, but the Daft Punk synths and infectious beat make this a perfect summer track.



Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life

Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life

'Lust For Life' really isn't far removed from Lana's previous albums: cinematic, nostalgia-soaked Americana with a hip-hop twist. But before you can criticise her for a lack of ideas, it's clear that her sound is more pertinent than ever. Ahead of her time with the 2012 'Born To Die', this femme fatale has come into her own as the tragic voice of a nation - a nation in mourning, lusting after the romance of a glamorous past.

Her music has always been inherently American, but she's developed an acute social conscience here. "God bless America," she sings juxtaposed with the sound of gunshots, "and all the beautiful women in it". It doesn't take much to read her vehement hatred of Trump in these songs. On When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing she demands we "cut a rug, lean into the fucking youth" before questioning "is it the end of an era? Is it the end of America?". And Coachella - Woodstock In My Mind might be the most Lana Del Rey song of all time: the mix of pop references and trap beats with hipster cool and wistfulness, questioning wearily "what's it all for? Will it be okay?".

This triptych of songs form the core of 'Lust For Life', yet she does push her own boundaries elsewhere. Summer Bummer and Groupie Love see her delving further into hip-hop, both featuring A$AP Rocky. In truth the rapping is unnecessary, the songs meandering without really landing and her breathy voice coming off as whiny. In the opposite direction is the Max Martin penned and produced title track with The Weeknd - a clear bid to storm the charts but far from the best work from either artist.

'Lust For Life' is at its most enjoyable when Lana conforms to our expectations: morose yet deliciously sexual and slightly dead behind the eyes. It's moody pop that's beautiful and transporting and this fifth album has plenty of it: the aching longing in the melodies of Love; the slightly bonkers 13 Beaches; the sensual seductive tones of Cherry ("bitch!"); the brooding menace of In My Feelings; the woozy doom-laden Heroin in which she explores the drug-like pull of fame. And on Beautiful People Beautiful Problems she realises her nostalgic fantasy by singing with Stevie Nicks, truly pairing past and present (that's counting the nod to Video Games in the lyrics).

Few of these songs are really pop singles, but Lana Del Rey continues to buck current trends by offering a complete album that together represents a single vision. It might lack the freshness of her debut but now she sounds more self-assured than ever, revelling in melodrama and darkness at a time when for many light seems so distant.

4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Cherry
* In My Feelings
* Heroin

Listen: 'Lust For Life' is out now.




Saturday, 22 July 2017

New Music Friday 21/07

Coming to you a day late after spending yesterday listening to Linkin Park, there's not much worth your time in this week's New Music Friday list. I'm off to listen to Papercut on repeat. RIP Chester Bennington.


Louis Tomlinson feat. Bebe Rexha & Digital Farm Animals - Back To You

Louis Tomlinson feat. Bebe Rexha & Digital Farm Animals - Back To You

Now signed to Sony and developing his own record label, Tomlinson is aiming to follow in the footsteps of Simon Cowell. To his credit, his choice of collaborators here is savvy: Digital Farm Animals, the British DJ/producer who co-wrote Dua Lipa's Be The One; Bebe Rexha, the rising American pop singer. Yet that doesn't change the fact Back To You is a boring, forgettable song chosen by someone with zero taste. If you're gonna make it in the industry you sure as hell need a hit - and this isn't it.



Vera Blue - Lady Powers

Vera Blue - Lady Powers

This totally should've been on the soundtrack to Wonder Woman. Instead, it's taken from the Australian singer's second album 'Perennial' but still has something of a superhero theme. "I'm not gonna beg for your respect," she sings in the chorus over menacing, pulsing synths, "I shouldn't have to use my lady, lady, lady, lady powers". BAM. POW.



PRETTYMUCH - Would You Mind

PRETTYMUCH - Would You Mind

Touted as the new One Direction, PRETTYMUCH are the next boyband to be put together by Simon Cowell. They've so far spent their time putting up covers on Instagram, seemingly impressing people with their ability to sing in harmony, dance and play instruments - as if no other boyband in history as managed such a feat. Still, unlike his other bands, these lot are from the US and Canada rather than the UK, so their sound is a throwback to the 90s heyday of Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and New Kids On The Block. Perhaps they can appeal to older fans as much as the tweens. The name is awful though.



KStewart - Sex 4 Breakfast

KStewart - Sex 4 Breakfast

Clearly the 90s are in, then. The London singer is yet to have a proper hit, but the hand claps, funk bass and whirring synths of this track have old school appeal. No matter how much "extra cream" she offers though, Prince's Breakfast Can Wait is a more subtle, mature take on the same theme.



Ghosted feat. Kamille - Get Some

Ghosted, Kamille - Get Some

And here's another not so subtle sex jam. "When you call and I'm horny," this electro-ballad begins, the cooing autotuned vocals belying its desperation. Then in the chorus: "I don't need no candelight, you just need to fuck me right, guess I ain't the loving kind, I just need to get some." That's honest at least.



WSTRN feat. Alkaline - Txtin'

 WSTRN feat. Alkaline - Txtin'

The addictive In2 was released way back in 2015 and although the London collective have released a handful of singles since then, none of them have quite hit the mark in the same way. Txtin' though is their best track since that debut, featuring dancehall artist Alkaline for some extra clout. It doesn't quite have a strong enough hook, but rhythmically it's infectious.



Lykke Li - Unchained Melody

Lykke Li - Unchained Melody

Considering the Swede's third album 'I Never Learn' was a gut-wrenching, visceral depiction of heartbreak, you can trust her to deliver an incredibly haunting version of this classic. It's a song she's sung many times live, but now we have a proper studio version to enjoy. Backed solely by piano, her raw vocal really brings out the pain of the lyrics, while her repetition of "to the sea" and "wait for me" roll on achingly for eternity.



Sunday, 16 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Yes it's another reboot of Spider-Man. But this time he's a wannabe Avenger, Marvel creating a different take on an origin story as the titular teen finds his power but without the spider bite - literally and figuratively.

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, 15 year old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is taken back home to New York and performs his superhero duties under the guise of "the Stark internship". Mainly, that involves helping old ladies with directions or apprehending bike thieves. He is, simply, a bored teen struggling to live up to his identity and desperate to impress Tony Stark (Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr) once more. Parents gone, Peter's daddy issues are instead directed towards Stark as his surrogate father. And while Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is his legal guardian, Karen his "suit lady" plays an equally motherly role.

Homecoming is a superhero film as teen fantasy, Peter balancing his secret life with schoolwork, competing in the academic decathlon team, escaping detention and, of course, impressing his crush enough to invite her to the homecoming dance. All that while rebelling against his surrogate father and discovering numerous powers within the suit he's been given. Even then he struggles to control them: he clumsily chases after villains with pubescent comical effect. His geeky best mate Ned (Jacob Batalon) is the only person he shares his power with, Ned keen to live up to the "man in the chair" side-kick character and living vicariously through Peter - just as we do.

It's a film of vibrant, youthful charm that's a mile away from the "with great power comes great responsibility" theme of the earlier films. The tone is far from serious and while this does make it all feel shallow, it's typical of Marvel's cinematic style that fits with Spider-Man far more than their other characters. He's a playful hero, wisecracking as he incapacitates his enemies to ensure that tongue is firmly in cheek throughout the enjoyable action sequences. The boyish and charming Holland succeeds at this comedy with aplomb.

"I'm nothing without the suit," Parker eventually pleads to Stark. And that's disappointingly true. Rather than discovering physical powers, he unlocks abilities in his suit. This ultimately undermines the character, tying him to Stark and his money rather than relying on himself. That is, until the predictable cheesy hero climax.

And then there's the bad guy. Initially underdeveloped, Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes / Vulture is just a bitter man who lost his job, stumbled across some alien tech left over from a previous film and miraculously utilises it to create a flying mech suit (his casting a nod to Birdman?) in a somehow secret underground base. It's one of many unbelievable moments in a film that asks us to suspend our disbelief too many times.

Then it all gets political. In the final face-off between Spidey and Vulture, he spouts a speech about revolting against those at the top with money, his aim to fight against the establishment and show them who's boss like some cackling Trumpian villain. Maybe, though, it's Stark who's playing the role of Trump: a businessman with too much money and too much power.

Either way, they're both ultimately thwarted by the youth: Peter Parker. Homecoming might be a typical Marvel film and a childish take on the notorious superhero, but like Spider-Man himself the film evolves with surprising maturity.

3/5

Watch: Spider-Man: Homecoming is out now.

Friday, 14 July 2017

New Music Friday 14/07

Lots to get through this week, so let's get cracking shall we?


Ke$ha feat. The Dap-Kings Horns - Woman

Ke$ha - Woman

Just a week after she unveiled Praying, Ke$ha has unleashed Woman - a stomping feminist anthem with funk-soul group The Dap-Kings Horns. The song was written as a response to Trump's pussy grabbing comment - "I'm a motherfucking woman, baby!" she furiously roars in the chorus. But when her singing erupts into giggles in the second verse, you know that Ke$ha is back stronger than ever and having fun.



Selena Gomez feat. Gucci Mane - Fetish

 Selena Gomez feat. Gucci Mane - Fetish

Fetish is essentially Good For You part two, but not as good. Dark, sensual R&B with a hip-hop beat, a rap feature and a sexual theme ("you've got a fetish for my love") - it ticks all the boxes, but it lacks the catchy hook and originality to be a massive hit.



Lana Del Rey - Summer Bummer feat. A$AP Rocky & Playboy Carti / Groupie Love feat. A$AP Rocky

 Lana Del Rey - Summer Bummer

Summer Bummer might just be one of the best song titles ever. But from these two tracks released in anticipation of forthcoming album 'Lust For Life', Lana's star might be fading. They're more hip-hop infused than ever and while that's a direction she's been gradually moving towards from the beginning of her career, it feels like she's struggling to remain relevant. Her whining vocals meanwhile are beginning to grate. Bummer.



MY - Hate On Myself

MY - Hate On Myself

Swedish synth-pop. Carly Rae Jepsen levels of bright production and catchy melodies. Lyrics tinged with sadness over a vibrant chorus. This is simply brilliant pop from an artist whose name is impossible to Google.



Demi Lovato - Sorry Not Sorry

 Demi Lovato - Sorry Not Sorry

You should be for this hun.



Tigertown - Warriors

 Tigertown - Warriors

The Australian group's EP 'Papernote' from 2015 was a fizzy pop delight. Warriors follows suit, with bigger beats, vocals that soar and a double chorus of greatness. Highly enjoyable.



Loreen - Body

 Loreen - Body

Loreen has certainly stuck to a formula since the phenomenal Eurovision juggernaut Euphoria, but it's suited her just fine resulting in a string of (under-appreciated) electro-bangers. Body is no different: sexual and mysterious, with tinges of Middle-Eastern melodies.



Echosmith - Goodbye

 Echosmith - Goodbye

Unless you remember Cool Kids from the band's 2013 debut album, this is likely more of a hello than a goodbye. Yet where that album was all tweeny guitar-pop, Goodbye ramps up the pop with slicker production, a catchy chorus and tropical melodies. If this is goodbye, then please come back for more.



Galantis - True Feeling

 Galantis - True Feeling

The Swedish EDM duo are releasing new album 'The Aviary' in a couple of month's time, which is great news for fans who like to listen to the same song across ten tracks. Still, you can't deny the infectious happiness their music seems to instil - True Feeling is no different.



Bonzai - I Feel Alright

Bonzai - I Feel Alright

The Dublin-raised singer has already released a handful of EPs, but for the unfamiliar I Feel Alright makes a strong impression. Produced by Mura Masa (and sounding very different from his work), this is a fun pop track that erupts into an infectious bass-heavy chorus. "Bonzai, search for my name like a Holy Grail," she sings in the second verse - and don't forget it.



MNEK - Paradise

MNEK - Paradise

MNEK jumps on to the current trend for reworking 90s classics by stealing Ultra Nate's Free and turning it into some choppy R&B. His soulful vocal adds a sultry element over the top, though he's such a strong songwriter it makes you wish for something more original.



Raphaella  - Turn Around

Raphaella  - Turn Around

I'm cheating with this one as technically it was released last week, but this sultry jam from the Brit-Persian artist is too good to pass up. Sparse production lets the beats breathe beneath a yearning vocal that hovers deftly above, while Persian instruments rub shoulders with alt-electro sounds. It's a mesmerising concoction.





Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The Drag @ The National Theatre

The Drag @ The National Theatre

Who knew that Mae West was such a brilliant queer playwright? Best known as an actress and Vaudeville star, West wrote a number of plays including this rarely performed work which was first performed at Poli's Park burlesque house in Connecticut in 1927 but closed after a handful of performances for violating obscenity laws. West even received a ten-day jail sentence.

The play was recently revived as a one-off rehearsed-reading by the National Theatre as part of its LGBT+ Readings season to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Even in this form, the play is a riveting comedy-drama that, under the direction of Polly Stenham, reveals West's bold writing and radical thinking.

In structure, this is a traditional comedy of manners in the spirit of Oscar Wilde or Noël Coward. The plot revolves around a socialite of the upper class - the son of a homophobic judge and married to the daughter of a gay conversion therapist - who revels in debauched parties, while his servants look on knowingly. The characters mostly perform to type (fools, schemers, jealous lovers) with little development, the focus instead on satire and witticisms. So far, so stiff.

And yet, as you'd expect from a sexual provocateur as West, The Drag is a scandalous affair. Its central protagonist is revealed to be homosexual, his marriage concealing a secret life of male affairs and drag balls. By subverting such a traditional genre, the implication is that, as one character remarks, gay people are all among us whether you know it or not. Nowadays this thinking is normality, but it was outrageous at the time.

Further, there's the sheer bawdiness of the humour. West's script is full of double entendres and innuendo - in particular, there are raucously funny scenes involving drag queens openly bitching and flirting with one another. It's bold and eccentric writing that in present day takes on new life: as a diverse audience we're in on the sly jokes offered with a wink, finding humour where before there was only horror.

What's most remarkable of all, though, is West's authenticity as a queer voice. The Drag encapsulates so much of queer culture from a woman who spent much of her time in queer spaces and was an advocate for gay rights. In writing the play, for instance, she employed specifically gay actors and it's not hard to image the drag scenes being improvised - it's like watching Ru Paul's Drag Race in sepia tones.

It's the seriousness of the monologues that are truly eye-opening, however, proving West isn't just a master of comedy. There's the doctor who, despite being a gay conversion therapist, offers radical views on the treatment of homosexuals as equals. There's the young man caught up in the affair, desperate, frightened, unsure of himself. And there's the seemingly omniscient female assistant to the doctor, perhaps representing West herself in the midst of the drama. In fact, it's not hard to read West's political views in much of the writing, most of all in the clashes with the judge character that could reflect West's own run-ins with the law.

The Drag is not just a riotously funny comedy that should be snapped up for a full performance by The National, it remains a hugely empowering piece of queer theatre some 90 years after it was written. Further, it's a play that cements West as both a key queer playwright and a writer far ahead of her time, fearlessly pushing boundaries no matter what the consequence. To use her own famous phrase, "when I'm good I'm very good, but when I'm bad I'm better".


Watch: The Drag was performed as part of The National Theatre's LGBT+ Readings season.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

HAIM - Something To Tell You

Haim - Something To Tell You

HAIM launched the campaign for their second album with an in-studio video for new track Right Now. While the sisters are known for their catchy pop hooks and dance routines as much as being instrumentalists, this video focused more than ever on the latter. It posed them as authentic ‘real’ musicians, hard at work in the studio, visibly making music, headphones on and concentrating. Where’s the fun?

Right Now, though, was the right track to launch with. ‘Something To Tell You’ is the more serious follow-up to their debut ‘Days Are Gone’ – an album with tracks written when the girls were still teenagers. Now they’re showing off their musicianship, their production skills, their more complex songwriting. It certainly sounds like a HAIM album, but something’s missing.

As with their debut, HAIM take the soft-rock of the ‘70s and ‘80s (Fleetwood Mac most notably of all) and whip it up with modern pop and R&B. That’s at its most prevalent on You Never Knew, co-written with Dev Hynes. The laidback tropical feel of its groove all covered in glittering sparkles, it’s immediately recognisable as his work but tempered with the cascading acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies that make HAIM…HAIM. It’s there too in the subtly driving Nothing’s Wrong that sounds straight from Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tango In The Night’, it’s in the stuttering R&B rhythms and funk guitars of Ready For You (co-written with Twin Shadow), the clattering percussion and bubbling bass of the title track.

They’ve also incorporated that mainstay of pop: upbeat production with aching melancholy. Kept Me Crying for instance details hanging on the phone for a lost lover (“Kept me crying for so long my tears have dried,” sings Danielle) while drums beat incessantly. There’s a simplicity to the lyrics that really hits home, with lines like “sleeping back to back, you’re turning away” on Nothing’s Wrong, or there’s lead single Want You Back that repeats “just know that I want you back” with yearning desperation over funk guitars and piano chords of quiet finality.

It’s rhythm that ties their sound together, be it funk grooves, laidback shuffles, or pointed vocal hooks with a delivery that’s heavy on the consonants. Yet this hinders the melody writing, which tends to consist of short rhythmic phrases, giving their music its distinctive character – the songs are all quite literally bops – but lacking a sense of flow or lyricism. In attempting a hook-laden pop sound, the music just sounds choppy and, ironically, unmemorable. As a result, most of ‘Something To Tell You’ lacks the immediacy of their debut and the album lacks a real killer track to draw in pop fans. It takes time for these songs to unfurl.

Instead, the sisters have focused on cementing their sound. And while ‘Something To Tell You’ doesn’t stray too far from the familiar - owing to the continued production of Ariel Rechtshaid - there’s still room for some experimentation. Little Of Your Love has more of a doo-wop feel though it feels a little saccharine; Found It In Silence revolves around an urgent string refrain that mostly eschews the girls’ trademark guitars; and Walking Away is all sparsely hushed synths and minimalist percussion.

That brings us back to Right Now, a track that encapsulates much of ‘Something To Tell You’. Its lyrics depict a love gone unresolved and in its structure the song slowly develops without reaching a true climax, layering up its roaring guitars and thunderous drums over simple piano chords. It’s a clever integration of music and lyrics, the lack of resolution as frustrating for us to hear as for the protagonist. This is, right now, a new era for the band – one of serious musicianship and pop-rock rooted in sadness. You won’t find much dancing here.

3/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Nothing’s Wrong
* Something To Tell You
* Right Now

Listen: ‘Something To Tell You’ is out now.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

New Music Friday 07/07

After a weekend of being proud at Pride, it's time to catch up on some music for the week...


Ke$ha - Praying


No guesses for who this song is about. After probably the highest profile legal case in recent music history, Ke$ha pours her heart and soul into this comeback track. And it really is a comeback, rising from the courtroom ashes with an empowering ballad written with Macklemore's Ryan Lewis. The song's message is detailed in a Lenny Letter piece, but really it's an anthem for overcoming any form of struggle and coming out stronger in the end, that high note in the middle eight a soaring moment of catharsis. (The vocals are a bit shouty though, let's be honest)



Zedd & Liam Payne - Get Low

Zedd feat. Liam Payne - Get Low

This is the second single from Liam Payne after the pretty abysmal Strip That Down. Get Low is just as generic, this time swapping light hip-hop for tropical house courtesy of Zedd. It's smooth and sultry enough but haven't we heard this a million times before?



Coldplay - A L I E N S

Coldplay - A L I E N S

This is probably one of the best tracks Coldplay have released in recent memory, partly because it's so different for them. It harks back to the cold electronica of 'Ghost Stories', all clipped beats and whirring synths. Still, Coldplay doing experimentation is basically Radiohead on a bad day. Writing a song in 5/4 time just comes off as pretentious.



AlunaGeorge - Turn Up The Love

AlunaGeorge - Turn Up The Love

Listening to Turn Up The Love, I can't help but feel AlunaGeorge are running out of ideas. It's another dancehall flecked electro pop track with tropical beats and a title Jessie J would be proud of. They're currently on tour with Coldplay so let's hope that a) that doesn't rub off on them and b) they're given some room to develop further before the next release. Still, I'm a big fan of the pop "hey!".



Lewis Capaldi - Lost On You

 Lewis Capaldi - Lost On You

This sounds like James Bay offering up a track for some American teen drama: the lead girl has tragically died in a car crash / drug overdose and this song is played over a montage of tears, ending on the rebellious boyfriend silently weeping. Sadly, this isn't Dr Who's son.



HONNE - Just Dance

HONNE - Just Dance

The London duo's alt-pop electronica hasn't quite received widespread acclaim, so now they're back with a radio friendly hit that's part Disclosure part Todd Terje: vibrant and funky and summery and fun. It might be a cynical way of widening their appeal, but damn if it isn't working. And that's even with the chorus lyric "there's a kind of sweetness oozing out of you". Eugh.



Four Tet - Two Thousand And Seventeen

 Four Tet - Two Thousand And Seventeen

The indie blogs are already getting excited about this track being the precursor to a new album later this year. Meanwhile I'm still mesmerised by this song's plaintive, quietly mournful beauty. The dulcimer melody sends tingles down the spine among a whirling soundscape that's like relaxing in a calming crystalline pool. Stunning.



James Hype feat. Kelli-Leigh - More Than Friends

James Hype feat. Kelli-Leigh - More Than Friends

Can everyone stop ruining old classics please?