Monday 31 January 2011

Panic! At The Disco - The Ballad of Mona Lisa

After a two year hiatus, Panic! are back.  And now for their third album, Vices & Virtues, they've been reduced to a duo - Brendan Urie (singer and multi-instrumentalist) and Spencer Smith (drums).

But don't panic fans, their sound is by no means diminished.  Where the main single (Nine in the afternoon) from their second album was very much a piece of light-hearted pop-rock, The Ballad of Mona Lisa takes a slightly heavier approach.  It still bares all the hallmarks of a Panic! track, with Urie's unmistakable vocals, driving bass and drums, lyrics with inner rhymes and singing through a loudspeaker (Muse style).  It does, however, lack the immediacy and quirky personality of their earlier material - the likes of We write sins, not tragedies and The only difference between martyrdom and suicide is press coverage (why such long names?!).

In short, fans will lap this up.  But haters won't be converted.

The official video isn't released yet, but you can view a teaser trailer here.


Friday 28 January 2011

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) - Justin Chadwick

115 minutes of fictionalised, sexed-up history with a bit of Natalie Portman thrown in.

This Tudor love-in is a darker take on the tropes of the heritage genre: incest, love triangles, adultery, deceit, manipulative fathers, a pompous script, lavish costumes and, here, an all-star cast of foreigners playing a bunch of romping, horny English monarchs.

It’s all highly romanticised and melodramatic for what is, essentially, a narrative about sex, be it subtle seduction in public, or intense, secret meetings behind closed doors.  But which Boleyn girl will the King choose to lie with on a permanent basis?  Which can provide him with the son he desires?  Why, the dark-haired sexy one of course.  Portman’s preparation for Black Swan?  I think not.

Anyone who paid attention in history class will know the outcome of the film’s events.  Instead, the obvious attractions of the protagonists will just about hold your interest.  Just.


For more 150 word film reviews, visit Screen150.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Avril Lavigne - What The Hell

Poor Avril.  She's gone from complicated to conflicted.

You see, she's clearly no longer a girl, but she's by no means turned into a woman just yet.  She's more of a....wogirl.

The video begins with her waking up wearing next to nothing after a night know.  Though, judging by the rest of the video, Avril has grown into quite the cock tease - I feel sorry for the poor bloke chasing after her (then again, why bother?).  And yet her womanly features and "what the hell" attitude apparently justify acting like a little brat.  If by acting "reckless" you mean faintly crashing a car, flirting with basketball players, leading a man astray and shopping in vintage shops in a contrived attempt to be cool.

Indeed, the message of the song seems to be I'm a woman now, which means I can shirk all forms of responsibility.  Yet her sound hasn't evolved much over the past few years.  It's all wrapped up in a sugary, bubblegum pop package, tied up with a fake pink bow - enough to get your kid sister jumping on her bed, singing into a hairbrush and attempting to be an eency bit rebellious.  Avril has turned into every twelve year old punk's wet dream.

And yet, somehow....oh...what the hell... I actually quite like it.  It's that damn chorus hook - it's catchier than chlamydia.  I challenge you to listen to this once and not have the tune in your head the rest of the day.

Shoot me now.


Wednesday 26 January 2011

Benjamin Francis Leftwich - Pictures

File this one with Scott Matthews, Sufjan Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel and Bon Iver.

Yep, it's another acoustic singer-songwriter.  But the beautiful simplicity of this combination is everlasting and a pure antidote for those turned off by overproduced manufactured pop.  Ok, Leftwich doesn't really bring anything new to the table; the guitar riff is a little repetitive; and the ending is unexpectedly sudden, as if he just ran out of ideas.  But this is a calming and reflective track, Leftwich's beautiful vocal quivering delicately across the airwaves.  The video too is very well shot - but close your eyes if you don't like snakes...  

Whether he can hold his own amongst the aforementioned artists, however, is up for debate.  Though undoubtedly a great track, I'm not sure if Leftwich's music particularly stands out, besides being new.

The Pictures EP is out on March 7th.  Previous track Atlas Hands is also worth checking out.


Tuesday 25 January 2011

Chase & Status feat. Liam Bailey - Blind Faith

Heading out this weekend?  Crack this bad boy on then.

Seriously.  Dance wizards Chase & Status have done it again with an awesome dub-step inspired track to get you hyped up for the weekend.  In fact, screw the weekend - just put it on now.

Bailey's vocal in the verses provide a dark, almost mournful sound.  This builds towards the two-step, ecstatic chorus using a sample by Loleatta Holloway.  It's all energetically produced - put this on and try not to dance.  It's an absolute winner.  The video evokes nostalgia for the rave days of the early '90s, but Blind Faith is very much a modern dance classic.

Also, go and listen to End Credits which features Plan B - another shining example of the duo's talents.

Finally, Liam Bailey's solo work is worth a listen - he's reminiscent of a modern Bob Marley meets Amy Winehouse.  Check out You Better Leave Me.


Monday 24 January 2011

James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream


Like his other tracks (Limit to Your Love, CMYK), The Wilhelm Scream follows the old adage 'less is more'.  For Blake, it's a winning formula.

The track is a constant crescendo expertly pitched, the sonority gradually expanding with layers of reverb added to the main synthesiser line and vocal, punctuated by the guitar riff and subtle percussion.  It's a hypnotic effect, lulling you into a mesmeric state of mind.  Just look at the audience in the video below - suspense hanging in the air, each person daring the others to breathe.  When the instruments drop out as the track reaches its peak, it's a magical shift.

And then there's Blake's beautiful, soulful voice plucking the heart-strings like the aforementioned guitar riff.  He may be falling, but we might as well fall with him.

The Wilhelm Scream features on the upcoming self-titled album, released February 7th.


Sunday 23 January 2011

The Joy Formidable - I Don't Want To See You Like This

Joyful and Formidable are definitely words you'd use to describe this band.  This track is the latest single from the Welsh three piece, whose indie rock sound has influences of new wave bands like Blondie and The Cure.  Heavily reverbed, roaring guitars; forceful, complex drum patterns; and a raw female vocal - it's an expansive sound that mirrors the crashing waves of the video and the sublime elemental image of the cover art. 

The band have gradually got bigger and better since they formed back in 2007 (see first single Austere) and are proving they are a force to be reckoned with.


Saturday 22 January 2011

Requiem for a Dream (2000) - Darren Aronofsky

Nothing I say can prepare you for this.

Aronofsky’s second film is a highly disturbing cinematic representation of addiction.  His frenetic directorial style pushes cinematic limits to the extreme: the pacing is sometimes spaced-out and languid and at other times hyperactive with frequent use of swift cuts and montages; at times the camera is still, at others it judders out of control; the camera cuts from extreme close up shots to distant long shots.  The music and use of sound further the disturbing ambience from distortion to silence.

It dizzyingly puts you in the position of the four protagonists as their lives plummet into desperation and despair, fuelled by their addictions and dependencies, peppered with cruel yet sublime fantasies.

And then the last harrowing half hour hits, despair and fantasy reaching fever pitch, a whirlwind of events that push the characters, and the viewer, to the very limits of humanity.


For more 150 word reviews visit Screen150.

Friday 21 January 2011

Black Swan (2011) - Darren Aronofsky


Not the ballet world's view of Black Swan.  Instead, it has generally criticised the film for it's stereotypical portrayal of dancers and in particular, Portman's unprofessional balletic performance.  But such a view is not only over-critical, it's actually missing the point of the film.  Yes, Portman is not a ballet dancer and hasn't had years of training, but this makes her believable performance all the more commendable.  More so, the film is not about ballet, it's about seeking perfection. 

Portman plays Nina: a fragile, helpless, innocent girl given the role of the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake by a New York ballet company.  The role requires the dancer to perform both the white and the black swan, the good and the bad.  She is a perfectionist, her own worst enemy, but in her strive for perfection she must learn to let go and release her dark side, her inner demons and her sexuality.  As such, the relatively simple plot (which somewhat parallels the story of Swan Lake) unfolds as an intense psychological exploration of Nina's multifaceted personality.  The film blurs the boundaries of reality and fantasy in its dissection of the darkest corners of Nina's mind, creating layers of ambiguity that will have you questioning every moment of the film from beginning to end.  It is therefore a film that will reward multiple viewings.

Ultimately, perfection is a question of balance - ying and yang.  The duality of this theme plays out in the exceptional direction by Aronofsky, who exploits a number of cinematic techniques.  The colour is almost completely drained from the film, giving a stark, monochromatic visual effect to highlight the contrast of black and white.  This is further reflected in the costumes.  Also apparent is the visual motif of the mirror, from the rehearsal mirror to the mirrors in Nina's flat - there are often literally two (or more) Nina's on screen at once.  By extension, the use of mirror imagery, perception and optical illusion is cleverly utilised.  The music, too, employs distortion - Mansell has taken Tchaikovsky's original score but manipulated it, providing something familiar yet twisted.

With the focus on its core theme, Black Swan transcends its balletic context - the metaphor of perfection applies to all forms of art and beyond (the screenplay originally concerned an actress, not a dancer).  The performances and the direction are equally exquisite, frightening and thought-provoking.  Black Swan is surely deserving of all the praise it has received.  It is a masterpiece by all involved.


Wednesday 19 January 2011

Adele - Rolling in the Deep

There's a real immediacy to Rolling in the Deep.  With next to no introduction, Adele's incredible voice grabs you by the balls and it's clear that she is the focus of the track and your attention. 

No longer must we endure the slushy production of Chasing Pavements.  Instead, this track bears more resemblance to Hometown Glory and Make You Feel My Love with its simply produced raw emotion.  But this is a break-up song that punches you in the gut.  As the opening lines suggest, the song begins with a burning fire and reaches a fever pitch in the chorus - an outburst straight from the heart.  The lyrics too have a powerfully straightforward message.  Adele wears her heart on her sleeve - the song, like her, is full of sass and attitude.  As she sings: "don't underestimate the things that I will do".

Download it.  Listen to it.  Let the raw emotion grab you by the balls.  But don't cross her - you could well be the subject of her next song.


Tuesday 18 January 2011

White Lies - Bigger Than Us

White Lies have been around for a couple of years now, for many first appearing on the radar as nominees for the BBC Sound of 2009.  Two years later and their second album Ritual has just been released, from which Bigger Than Us is the predominant single.

Reviews haven't been hugely favourable for the album as a whole, but few can deny the appeal of this track.  Their sound has been likened to Joy Division and Interpol, though the band haven't cited these as intentional influences (the video, however, is clearly influenced by ET).  Lyrically, the band focus on themes that are...well...bigger than us - religion, life, death - whilst attempting to write music to match these grandiose ideas.  For the most part they're successful: alternative rock tinged with electro, driving percussion and Harry McVeigh's soaring baritone.

The band's real strength, though, is their capacity to write euphoric choruses.  Bigger Than Us is no exception, with the minimal verses rising to an expansive soundscape.  It's anthemic, epic and will sound brilliant when White Lies undoubtedly do the rounds at this year's festivals.


Sunday 16 January 2011

Brother - Time Machine

In a recent NME interview, frontman Lee Newell spouts "Honestly, we hate everything.  Everything's rubbish".

What, Lee, even your own band?

Well, yes actually.  The band spend much of the interview giving scathing remarks as to the state of the British music industry, but Brother are no better themselves.  Hailing from Slough, the lads' overt ambition stems from their fear of wasting their lives and wanting to escape their hometown (NB. having never been to Slough, I by no means share this opinion).  What better thing to do than turn to music? 

The trouble is, they seem to have underestimated the amount of musical talent required to 'make it' in the business.  Instead, they've compensated with sheer audacity - their introductory YouTube video featuring amusingly cliched attempts to live up to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle is embarassing - and declare cocksure comments about being the future of British music.

How wrong they are.

Brother have (apparently) pioneered Grit-pop.  Essentially, their sound is best described as a mix of Oasis and Arctic Monkeys and is a throwback to the Brit-pop bands of the early '90s.  Unlike the recent revivals of Blur, Pulp et al (as well as Liam Gallagher's newly established band: Beady Eye) who, in their day, were novel enough to inspire a whole musical movemet, Brother bring nothing fresh to the table.  Their songs may have some memorable hooks, but their musical ability is so basic that this must be sheer luck.  It's apt, then, that this track is entitled Time Machine: the lads are twenty years too late.


Saturday 15 January 2011

Tinie Tempah feat. Ellie Goulding - Wonderman

Tinie Tempah (Tinie? Mr Tempah?) is leading the Brit Award charge with four nominations and performed this track with Ellie Goulding for the first time at the Brit launch party (see video below), sixth release from album Disc-overy.

Tinie has undoubtedly had a huge year, but ever since he burst onto the scene with his drum and bass infused hip-hop, telling us about his very wild lifestyle and the amount of clothes at his aunt's house, I haven't been convinced.  With this track, though, my opinion is changing.  He's finally learnt some new rap-rhythms to play around with and the bass and beat are intoxicating.  The band in the live version below are particularly tight and the performance overall is sterling.

Unfortunately, though Wonderman is lacking a real killer hook.  Largely, this is down to Goulding's input - her unique, delicate voice is totally overpowered by Tinie's storming rapping and production.  It's a shame, as a collaboration between two of the UK's brightest stars showed such promise.

He may have four Brit nominations, but Tinie hasn't quite hit 'wonderman' status.


Friday 14 January 2011

Lupe Fiasco - The Show Goes On

Remember Lupe Fiasco?  You'll probably remember his 2007 hit SuperstarIf you don't, where the hell were you?!

The Show Goes On is the first single from his new album Lasers and samples Modest Mouse's brilliant 2004 track Float On.  Of course it's given a hip-hop makeover and follows on from other recent rap artists creating hybrid hip-hop and rock music such as Tinie Tempah's (annoying) Written in the StarsFloat On is a great anthemic record and The Show Goes On subsumes a similar vibe.  It's got a catchy hook, slick production and makes a great pop record, so is in a similar vein to Superstar. 

On the other hand, this track wouldn't sound out of place on Kanye's Graduation album (2007) - certainly a compliment, but indicates that it perhaps lacks a certain unique quality.  As such, although I'm sure it will see success in the charts, it feels a little stale.  I wonder, then, if this anthemic style of hip-hop is more a step backwards than a progression.


Thursday 13 January 2011

127 hours (2011) - Danny Boyle

How do you fill a feature film with more than just a man cutting off his own arm?

With quite a bit actually.

A tale of unimaginable human willpower and resolve, 127 hours is an incredibly stylistic film.  Boyle's keen sense for aesthetics is given full reign, using clever visual effects and perspectives to delve into the psyche of a man in an extraordinary situation, largely through flashbacks and hallucinations.  In particular, his use of sound is excellent - not only with his ironic choice of music (Bill Withers - Lovely Day?!) and the compositions by A.R. Rahman, but with his hyperbolic sound effects.  It's essentially a well paced lesson in how to delay the inevitable.  That is, until the hackneyed ending, including an appearance from the real Aron Ralston which brings a jarring shot of reality, rather than the intended emotional impact.

Ultimately, though, the film is flawed.  Anticipation builds right from the outset so that the tiniest of moments will have you writhing in your seat.  It's testament to the power of the film, yet it's less a film and more an experience.  And not a very pleasant one.  As it finally got to the climactic moment, I couldn't help but feel "why am I watching this?".  Once that's over, you feel a great sense of relief - not just for Aron, but relief that you too survived.  It's a horrible, gruesome subject matter and a horribly gruesome (yet stylish) film.

Remind me never to go climbing.  Ever.


Wednesday 12 January 2011

Bruno Mars - Grenade

What's that I hear?  Another disgusting love song on the airwaves?  Why, it must be every young girl's favourite crooner, Bruno Mars, who has a serious need to man the hell up.

Once again, his saccharine brand of pop-R'n'B is set to top the charts this week.  He seems to have hit on a winning formula.  You see, every girl wishes they were 'You'.

Not content with claiming that 'you're amazing, just the way you are' and having girls across the country collapse into fits of glee, Mars now desperately begs 'You'.  He will literally do anything for 'You' - whether catching grenades, jumping in front of trains, or taking bullets to the brain.  But it seems 'You' has given Mars a hard slap around the face, because 'You' won't do the same.

Unlucky Bruno.  Who do you think you are, Superman?


Britney Spears - Hold It Against Me

Oh how the mighty have fallen: from innocent schoolgirl hitting the charts, to poptastic toxic siren, to this...shite. 

Here, Britney is reduced to a generic nobody autotuning her way over a computerised dance beat.  Contrary to her early days, this criminally has no personality.  At all. 

That is, until the dub-step middle eight.  Finally, something vaguely interesting and modern, perhaps hinting at the direction of her new album.  And yet, it's incredibly jarring - not only with the rest of the track, but sounding alien to everyone's favourite popstar.  The video is yet unreleased (see below to hear the track), but you can guarantee some sort of lame dance break here.  She's not a girl, but she's well past her sell-by date.

And yes Britney - I will hold it against you.


Tuesday 11 January 2011

Brothers (2009) - Jim Sheridan

In need of a Natalie Portman fix in preparation for the upcoming Black Swan?  Can't stop hankering after Jake Gyllenhaal after the recent Love & Other Drugs?  Well Brothers may just satiate your appetite.

Two brothers: Sam (Tobey Maguire) the all-American marine serving time in Afghanistan and Tommy (Gyllenhaal) recently released from prison.  When Sam is presumed missing in action, Tommy is left to comfort his wife Grace (Portman) and family.  Can Tommy live up to Sam's memory?  Will the after effects of war destroy the family or bring them together?

Does anyone really care?

You see, you can probably guess the rest of the plot from here on.  It's another example of a film hijacking the war in the Middle East to provide some emotional weight to a weak, unbelievable plot that is otherwise a fairly straightforward family drama.  The film attempts to explore the psyche of those who suffer the turmoil of war, but is never quite convincing and never quite tugs hard enough at the heartstrings.  The (otherwise talented) actors do their best with the script and its many plot holes, but the film fails to become anything more than another romantic drama in a similar vein to Pearl Harbour or Armageddon.  It's perfectly watchable and by no means a bad film.  It's just not that great either.

Thankfully, the obvious attractions of the leading cast are enough to keep you watching.  Just.


Monday 10 January 2011

Revolutionary Road (2008) - Sam Mendes

It's difficult not to compare Revolutionary Road to Mendes' previous film American Beauty (1999).  Whilst the latter is the better, more iconic film, the former is still excellent viewing.

Thematically, the two films share the same revolutionary ideology.  Two revolutions are taking place here.  On the surface, the film explores a couple's disappointment in the American Dream and the entrapment of suburban living in mid-1950s Connecticut.  Like American Beauty, the frame is suffused with red, white and blue.  As the film continues, the real revolution emerges - that of April (Winslet), the real desperate housewife, striving for independance and to escape her life dominated by stifling masculinity (her husband Frank (DiCaprio)).  Her attempts at emancipation are the driving force of the drama, though her feminist views are perceived as insane - personified literally in John (Shannon), a local asylum patient.  April wishes to move to Paris, to become more than the robotic shell she has turned into and although Frank is initially willing, the draw of financial and professional success cues him to change his mind.  The couples' conflicting views push their relationship to extreme measures.

It's an intense film with two intense, convincing performances from Winslet and DiCaprio, with Winslet, once again, proving she is one of our greatest national treasures.  Mendes takes a minimalist approach to the filmmaking, focusing our attention on the imploding couple.  The cinematography is static, like the characters' lives, and Thomas Newman provides a minimalist score used delicately and sparingly.

Revolutionary Road explores a sensitive subject matter and a period in history that helped to shape our modern society.  It may lack the comedic aspects and popular iconography of American Beauty, but it is surely deserving of your attention.


Sunday 9 January 2011

The King's Speech (2011) - Tom Hooper

Much of the buzz around this film has concerned the performance of Colin Firth.  The film as a whole, however, deserves to be celebrated.

It's essentially a simple plot of a man coming to terms with power and responsibility.  To conquer his speech impediment, Bertie (Firth) employs the help of Lionel (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist.  His sessions are more a lesson in psychology, but prove the need for friendship - it's lonely at the top.  Simultaneously, the future King must come to terms with the private lives of his family and prepare a gloomily shot England for war.  The climax of the film has a rather odd effect of provoking celebration and joy for a most solemn moment - the commencement of WW2 - but the film's closing on Lionel rather than the King is poignant.

Rush and Firth have fantastic chemistry, each working as a foil for the other.  Both performances are exceptional, bringing believability to a clever, witty script full of both comic irony and pathos.  It's difficult to imagine Firth not winning the Best Actor awards for his endearing performance.  The dialogue heavy script is brought to life by a wealth of British acting talent, as well as a relatively unknown director.  It is shot simply, allowing the performances to shine through.  The film also retains historical fidelity through the use of official audio and visual footage.  It feels strange that events that took place not so long ago are now considered part of history, aided by the inclusion of a young Queen Elizabeth for a contemporary link.  The largely elderly, monarchist audience certainly approved.

At it's core though, the film is incredibly British.  The costumes, the locations, the clever and relevant Shakespeare quotations and the eloquent accents are all there, creating a film that celebrates Britain and deserves to be celebrated.

God s-save the (fuck fuck fuck) K-K-King.


Saturday 8 January 2011

BBC Sound of 2011 Nominee list

The fifteen nominees decided, the top five finalised and the winner congratulated: the BBC SO2011 poll is now complete. 

See below for a full list of nominees, beginning with the top five, with links to their Gizzle Reviews.

1. Jessie J - 4/5
2. James Blake - 4/5
3. The Vaccines - 1/5
4. Jamie Woon - 4/5
5. Clare Maguire - 5/5

Anna Calvi - 3/5
Daley - 2/5
Esben & The Witch - 3/5
Jai Paul - 4/5
Mona - 4/5
Nero - 4/5
The Naked & Famous - 4/5
Warpaint - 2/5
Wretch 32 - 1/5
Yuck - 4/5

Wretch 32 - Traktor

I'm going to try and make this review diplomatic.  I'm sure for grime and urban music lovers this is a great quality piece of music.  I'm just not one of them.

Real name Jermaine Sinclair, Wretch 32 is set to be the next big UK Urban star.  I'll start with the good.  The middle-eight is the best bit of this track, with a cool piano riff shining through.  But it only seems that way in context.

As a whole, Traktor is relentless, monotonous noise.  The beat is bearable for a short while, but is in need of a small thing called 'variation'.  The rapping contains apparently intelligent lyrics such as "My lifestyle's terribly wild/But you never catch me on Jeremy Kyle".  The video is likely to induce epileptic fits.  And altogether it brings nothing new to the table, unlike many of the other SO2011 nominees.

To top it all off, he can't spell.  And for the record, 'Imma' is not a word. 

That's about as diplomatic as I get.


Anna Calvi - Jezebel

The first thing you'll notice here is the distinctive voice.  Many of her influences are from the classical realm, including Debussy and Maria Callas, which come through in her classically-tinged voice.  Equal parts haunting and gutsy, with a warbling vibrato, Calvi comes across as a strong-willed femme fatale, if a little frightening.

Next is her guitar playing - Spanish Flamenco rhythms played with a hint of distortion.  Beneath this are harmonium and forceful percussion.  Together, the overall soundworld is like nothing else around at the moment.

This track, originally made famous by Edith Piaf, is released as a double A-side along with Moulinette.  With Jezebel, Calvi gives an intense and dynamic performance.  Her vampiric sensibility is an aquired taste, but her uniqueness is nonetheless worth celebrating.


Thursday 6 January 2011

Jai Paul - BTSTU

Some songs are just too difficult to fully take in on first hearing.  BTSTU is one of those tracks.  The beat is instantly catchy and the falsetto voice is endearing.  But despite it's melodic core, the track seems almost impenetrable and schizophrenic in it's sampling, clear influences ranging from hip-hop, electro, pop, funk and soul.

Yet somehow it works.  After repeated listening, you dig deeper and begin to comprehend the intricate layering of the synths and samples, the stabbing electro hooks dig their claws deeper into your brain and you realise that cutesy voice is actually singing "don't f*ck with me, don't f*ck with me".  It's brilliantly crafted and this fresh talent is deserving of his SO2011 nomination. 

No idea what the title means though...


Wednesday 5 January 2011

Mona - Trouble On The Way

"Devotion. Faith. Abandonment. The ecstasy of salvation, the salvation of ecstasy…"

This may sound a little over the top, but it stems from this Nashville quartet's Christian roots.  The band are incredibly ambitious - in a recent NME interview they stated "We're from middle America. We're all about McDonald's and Starbucks and Walmart. Let's do it big and do it for everyone". 

Their euphoric, visceral sound follows on from this fiery determination - an alt rock band with aggressive guitars, melodic hooks and drum beats to get your blood pumping.  Trouble On The Way is their latest single and has this raucous appeal in spades, as does their first release Listen To Your Love ("This film should be played loud"!)

The band's passion shines through in their music and, in the rising trend for rock'n'roll, Mona are on the brink of success - what they've been so diligently and unapologetically striving for.


Tuesday 4 January 2011

The Vaccines - Post Break-Up Sex

Dull and in need of a shot up the arse.

Seriously.  Why is this band poised to be the next big thing?  2011 is supposed to be seeing a return to guitar bands and rock and roll.  But The Vaccines are hardly cutting edge, more a throwback to late '90s indie and undeserving of the hype surrounding them.  Monotonous, out of tune vocals.  Repetitive rhythm guitar.  Elementary chord progression.  A sorry excuse for a guitar solo.  Personally, something a little more progressive is needed to win SO2011.  For an alternative track listen to Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra) - a 1:28 track that sounds more like a football chant.

To top it off, in the video even the band look soulless and uninspired by their own music.  If they find it so tedious, how are the rest of us supposed to feel?


Monday 3 January 2011

Clare Maguire - Ain't Nobody

This week, the BBC are announcing the top five SO2011 nominees in reverse order.  At number five, it's Clare Maguire.

And deservedly so - Maguire is certainly high up on my list.  The music is all about the voice: a deep, belting voice capable of epic and dramatic proportions.  At times it's haunting and vulnerable, at times it's powerful and almost operatic.  But it's certainly distinctive - comparisons with Florence Welch are unfounded.  Her image is dark and gothic, though this is slightly unintentional: "I always wanted the image to be more seductive and almost pin-up, rather than goth".  The video to this track doesn't help, set in a barren, dusty valley, hair and clothes floating around her, face shrouded in mystery.  It suits the song though and it's brilliantly produced - simple, but with powerful and beautiful imagery.

Ain't Nobody is her debut single.  The poetic, romantic lyrics border on obsession and are dressed up in slick production: deep, electro bass; pounding drums; emotive strings.  Together with the vocals, it's a unique and exciting sonority - Clare Maguire is an absolute marvel.  Bring on the album Light After Dark. 

Still not convinced?  Here's a live version for your delectation.  I can't recommend it enough.

Still not convinced?  Another excellent track, You're Electric, is currently the iTunes free single of the week (but finishes today!).  No excuses.


Saturday 1 January 2011

Love & Other Drugs (2010) - Edward Zwick

Never mind 150 words, I can do this in five: “two beautiful people having sex”.  

And lots of it.  But when they are this beautiful, can you really blame them?  Think the audience may be getting bored?  Simple - just whip your boobs out.  And while you’re at it, get…well…”at it”.  You could quite conceivably rename this to “Sex & Nothing Else”.

But that would be harsh.  Sex aside, it’s got romance and comedy but isn’t your typical rom-com - it’s actually got some substance to it.  It’s got two beautiful people who don’t just rely on obvious sexual chemistry, but actually do a good job of acting too.  And it’s also got a great 90s soundtrack.  Love & Other Drugs is simply a nice little romantic film to make you feel all warm inside, without the sickly sweetness.

And, for the record, it’s got some sex in it.  Just a warning.


For more 150 word reviews visit Screen150.

Esben & The Witch - The Marching Song

Their music has been described as "Nightmare Pop" and there really is no other more fitting description.  Just take a look at the video below - it's pretty horrific.

Hailing from Brighton, this SO2011 nominated trio are set to release their debut album later this month.  Vocalist Rachel Davies has shades of Florence about her, but just as that celestial harp fluttering machine is angelic, Esben & The Witch are it's hellish antithesis stemming from you deepest, darkest fantasies.  The Marching Song has a heavy, distorted guitar focused sound which, reflecting the title, is relentless.  It's atmospheric and experimental with lyrics inspired by nature, literature and mythology.  The only trouble is that the song feels like it's building towards a tumultuous climax which never really hits.

Still, it's an interesting sound - also worth checking out are tracks About This Peninsula and Lucia, at the Precipice which include a more electronic feel.  If you count Portishead, Bat For Lashes and Bjork amongst your favourite artists you need this band in your life.