Sunday 31 July 2011

Little Dragon - Ritual Union

It will probably come as a surprise that Ritual Union is the title track to the Swedish quartet's third album (out now).  Yet few people have heard of them - until now.

This track has received more radio airplay and industry attention than their previous material - and deservedly so.  Ritual Union is a subtle and unassuming, yet totally accessible electro-pop track that lyrically explores the claustraphobia of marriage.  The band are fronted by Swedish-Japanese singer Yukimi Nagano (the titular Little Dragon), whose sweet falsetto floats above crystal clear production and fluttering percussive beats.  It's a stunningly ambient combination, crafted with economic perfection.  They may be a little too cool for school, but Ritual Union is an utterly enchanting record.


Thursday 28 July 2011

Modestep - Sunlight

This one starts out innocently enough with a pleasant and summery dance track.

But fourty seconds in the bass really kicks in, the dubstep beat hits and all hell breaks loose.  Before you become numb to it, it drops in and out and then gears towards an intense drum and bass finale.  The contrast is mirrored by the comedy video, mixing innocent elderly folk and class A drugs, though the idea has been done better before.

Then again, musically it's a contrast that's been done before too in Modestep's own track Feel GoodDubstep may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Modestep does provide more accessible tracks, especially with the sing-along vocal hooks.  Try listening and not bopping your head...


Wednesday 27 July 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) - Kelly Asbury

This. Is. Sacrilege.

My initial thought before watching this film.  Surprisingly I was wrong.

Sure, adapting Romeo and Juliet into a story about garden gnomes is utterly ridiculous.  But there have been plenty of adaptations done before; at least this is an original take on Shakepseare's narrative.

The film successfuly straddles that difficult line of universality that Shrek and Toy Story have perfected.  For the kids, there's a colourful tale about those odd little statues at the bottom of the garden.  Yet for adults, there's a lot to like.  The cast comprises an abundance of British talent - the list is practically endless - and some excellent CGI brings the characters to life with impressive detail.  The music features the songs of Elton John, which is both subtle and rather crass.  There are hilarious film references aplenty.  And Shakespeare is stamped all over it, from the witty script that overflows with references, to small details that are easily glossed over.  In total, the film is undoubtedly a celebration of all that is British.  And at less than ninety minutes long, this really is an epic tale on a tiny scale.  It may not have the gravitas of Baz Lurhman's film, but it's a charming introduction to the Bard's great work.

I just don't get why there's a toilet in the garden...


Tuesday 26 July 2011

Snow Patrol - Called Out In The Dark

In my book, Snow Patrol are strong nominees for the dullest band in the world.  Take Chasing Cars - a song that comprises two notes.  That's not musical economy, that's sheer lack of creativity.

With their new material, Snow Patrol are experimenting with a new sound.  The result has a smattering of electronica, sounding more like an album track than their previous singles.  But the new sound fails to ignite a spark of interest.  Instead, Called Out In The Dark plods along as repetitively as ever.  The verse melody especially has no shape, no variation.  Coupled with Lightbody's droll and emotionless vocal, the song just doesn't go anywhere but is on one stubbornly unmoving level.

Where's the fire?  Where's the passion?


Monday 25 July 2011

Ed Sheeran - You Need Me, I Don't Need You

Though A-Team has seen huge success, Sheeran isn't just your typical acoustic-singer-songwriter-balladeer.  He clearly has a huge range of musical tastes which influence his music.  But this isn't a mere mish-mash: these influences are distilled down into a sound that is all his own.

The intro to this track alone combines a bluesy acoustic riff with beat boxing.  The hip hop rhythm continues throughout but what really takes the fore is the Jason Mraz style wordplay, filled with comic lines and pop culture references ("They say I'm up and coming like I'm f*cking in an elevator" being a personal favourite).  It's less singing and more rapping, but showcases Sheeran's songwriting ability - the lyrics depicting his rapid rise to fame.  All this is paired with a stylish, black and white hip-hop style video. 

Sheeran's music is like fusion food - taking the best bits of different musical cuisines to create a new and unique dish.  Bon appetite.


Sunday 24 July 2011

The Next Three Days (2010) - Paul Haggis

What would you do to save those you love?

It's a question often asked by filmakers; a question that pushes their characters to their limits.  With The Next Three Days, it rears its head again in a clever thriller.

When his wife is wrongly accused of murder and sent to prison, John Brennan (Russell Crowe) plots to break her out and elope with their son.  Set in a claustrophobic metropolis, the film is split into two parts: the preparation and the escape.  The first slowly but surely builds up a web of intrigue - how exactly will his plan work?  And is his wife really so innocent?  The second half then unravels in an intense and dramatic denouement, filled with clever twists and turns.  It may not be the most realistic of plots, yet it remains totally believable and will have you constantly hanging on the edge of your seat.

The film's highlights and flaws boil down to the casting.  Russell Crowe is fantastic; the film's success dependant on his performance.  His character's intent on rescuing his wife borders on quiet obsession and Crowe balances the cold and calculating husband with the warm and caring father to form a well rounded character who is easy to root for.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth Banks fails to convey the trauma of a life in prison, her performance lacking the necessary credibility.

Haggis has directed a clever thriller that successfully poses the question above.  The answer?  Anything.


Saturday 23 July 2011

Mumford & Sons - Home

Take a few minutes out of your busy day to click the link below and just chill.

This latest track from the band was recently premiered live on American radio and provides a taster of what's to come from the follow up to 'Sigh No More'.  It seems not much will change, which is definitely a good thing.  Home is a gentle track, less rousing than, say, The Cave, but still providing the warm harmonies and folk sound we're used to.  Marcus's vocals start at the very base of his range, gradually rising to the song's passionate and soaring conclusion with the lyric "Lover I'll be home in a little while".

A beautiful sentiment, beautifully performed.  In the storm of fame and success, the band still retain that sense of calm. 


Thursday 21 July 2011

Blink 182 - Up All Night

Three chords.

It's all you need to play most Blink 182 songs.  Eight years on from their last album and nothing's changed.

At first, it sounds different to their previous material - the opening riff offering a heavier, metal inspired sound.  But the song proper is typical Blink affair.  The band are aiming for a more epic sound, with vocals emphasised by reverb and an attempt at an anthemic chorus.  The trouble is, it's far too simplistic.  This could be said of most of their songs, but at least album 'Enema of the State' had a strong comedy edge and sing-along chorus hooks.  Up All Night has nothing.  It's simply terrible.


Tuesday 19 July 2011

Michael Kiwanuka - Tell Me A Tale

In need of a retro fix?  Look no further.

Those lucky enough to see Adele on her latest tour will recognise Kiwanuka as her support act.  Together they sum up the soul revival of the last few years - Adele's modern, singer-songwriter twist contrasting with Kiwanuka's totally retro, motown-jazz sound. 

Vocally, it's very reminiscent of Bill Withers, with a touch of Otis Redding for good measure; full of character and smooth as silk.  It's matched by the production's fluid orchestration.  The best part?  The jazz flute.  THE JAZZ FLUTE.  Together with the guitar, it gives a tropical, summery flavour.  It's like a laidback Bond theme, transporting you back to the 60's, foreign oceans licking the white sand.  Then there's the sax solo - 'nuff said. 

It may not be the most original sound, but there's nothing else like it at the moment.  Perfectly chilled summer goodness.

The EP Tell Me A Tale is available now.


Monday 18 July 2011

Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.  
Sometimes people just don't know when to stop. 

This has hardly been truer than of the Chili's latest single, which can only be described politely as flogging a dead horse.  Listening to the solo material of John Frusciante, it's clear that he was the creative driving force behind the band.  And now that he's left, replaced on guitar by Josh Klinghoffer, this is clearer than ever.  Aside from Anthony Kiedis's quirky lyrics, this doesn't sound like a Chili's track at all - it just has no sense of personality or groove.  Klinghoffer doesn't seem to have gelled with the band's sound, which is now focused predominantly on bass and drums. 

By other band's standards this isn't that bad.  But with a legacy that includes incredible (and contrasting) albums like 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik' and 'Californication', fans should expect a lot more.

The Chili's have officially burnt out.


Sunday 17 July 2011

The Town (2010) - Ben Affleck

Charlestown, Boston - a place where bank robberies are commonplace; those responsible revered like celebrities.  This is the setting for The Town, which begins (unsurprisingly) with a heist.

From then on, the narrative is split into two strands.  First we have Doug (Affleck), the man responsible for organising the heist, as he falls in love with Claire (Hall) - one of the victims.  Their relationship blossoms, but will she discover the truth?  Then there's Jon Hamm's FBI agent, a smarmy git on the trail of the criminals.  It's a narrative that relies heavily on dramatic irony to keep the viewer enthralled, heightened by the clever script.

This alone would have provided a tight thriller.  But as the film progresses, extraneous characters and side stories are introduced that distort the plot's focus.  And much of the film is spent waiting to see if the criminal protagonists get their comeuppance, thereby lacking in tension.  As a result, it feels a little longer than it should be.

The film does paint an atmospheric picture of Boston, the criminal underworld depicted with brutal realism.  Well acted and shot, The Town is well worth a view, though ultimately a little unsatisfying.


Saturday 16 July 2011

Leona Lewis - Collide

Over her limited career, Leona has proven herself to be the master of the ballad - from Bleeding Love to Run and I See You from the Avatar soundtrack.  Forgive Me proved she is capable of a decent up tempo track, but she's been restricted and labelled as a one-trick pony.

It's an epithet this song only fuels further - essentially a ballad dressed up in faux-dance production.  Whilst her voice soars as she sings "Crash into me at full speed" (a rather suicidal lyric), it's never given the full reign it deserves.  By not following a normal verse-chorus structure it feels unsatisfying.  And the only word to describe the production is dull.

All in all this is utter drivel.  Leona is in need of a career boost, but this track isn't it.


Friday 15 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) (2011) - David Yates

(N.B I have kept this review spoiler free for anyone not familiar with the plot)

And so it ends.  After eight long films, the series reaches its climactic final installment.  But does it live up to the hype?


But then, with hype at astronomical levels it was never going to.  What it is, is a totally fitting end to the series in the best and worst senses.

With each successive installment, the films have got darker and Deathly Hallows (Part 2) is the darkest of the lot - a film that centres squarely on death.  And the 'Part 2' in the title is highly significant, starting literally where Part 1 ended.  Individually each film feels unsatisfying - it will only be when both films are out on DVD that we can watch the full narrative unfold as originally intended.

And as a result of being essentially half a film, it does suffer from pacing issues.  After a slow start (and a slightly underwhelming set-piece involving a dragon) the film whips by pretty quickly, missing out moments from the book and not quite giving all the characters the screen time they deserve.  This, however, is the curse of the book-film and something that fans have had to contend with all series.  Hey, we're used to it by now - but that doesn't mean we can't still complain.

It does remain totally faithful to its source material though and delivers a thrilling story that is exciting with every twist and turn - the film's emotional core, involving a certain Professor, is played to perfection.  The art direction is sensational, with a coldly realised Hogwarts destroyed in sensational fashion.  Despite being so dark it's practically black and white, there are colourful moments aplenty - particularly with some incredibly inventive spell effects.  This applies to the script as well, filled with comic one-liners.  The majority of the film takes place within the 'Battle of Hogwarts', forming a spectacular backdrop to the action that can only be described as epic.  The performances are mostly limited, both in terms of screen time for some and acting ability for others.  But it's never less than utterly enjoyable - a magical end to the series.

Except it doesn't quite end where it should.  Just as the book's epilogue threatened to ruin the entire series in one fell swoop, the film's final scene almost undoes all of Yates' hard work.  It's a sickening and unnecessary finale, with the minimally made-up threesome looking mildly paedophilic.

So then, the eighth film is as magical yet flawed as the rest.  Haters will continue to hate; fans will forgive the flaws and love it endlessly.  I fall in the latter camp.

Now don't mind me, I'm off to re-read the whole series and relive my youth.


Thursday 14 July 2011

Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend

You've got to hand it to Robyn, she definitely makes the best of a bad situation.  Her biggest tracks have been about heartbreak (namely With Every Heartbeat and Dancing On My Own) but each is wrapped up in a perfect electropop package.  Call Your Girlfriend follows the same principle (though from a different angle), but why deviate from such a winning formula?

This track is the latest single from her most recent album 'Body Talk'.  It's one of the more radio friendly tracks on the album, typical of her electro style with an infectious drum beat that kicks in after thirty seconds.  Essentially it's a guide to breaking up a relationship gently - if that's even possible - which all comes down to honesty.  And honesty is the key word with much of her music, heart firmly stuck to the sleeve.

But it's the video that epitomises most what I love about Robyn.  Though in the spotlight, she dances with reckless abandon like nobody is watching: eyes closed, hands in the air, spinning in circles.  It's like she's channeling a disco-ballerina and the freedom of a toddler, shouting "this is me; deal with it" before wiping the sweat from her brow at the end.  I love that.


Monday 11 July 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) - George Nolfi

It’s a scary thought that our lives are already pre-destined.  It’s an even scarier thought that this comes down to a group of men in trilby hats and a magical book.

But that’s the premise behind this film, yet another Philip K Dick adaptation.  The problem with the narrative is that it’s all too frivolous.  The idea of these men controlling our lives is as laughable as a spy hiding behind a newspaper with eye holes in it.  They’re just not very good at their job – seemingly all it takes to alter our destinies is a modicum of intelligence.  The tiny moments in life that are “adjusted” to keep humanity on track are innocuous, thereby having little to no dramatic tension.  And much of the narrative hinges on something as flippant as chance that can so easily upset the balance of power.  The film never truly explains why David and Elise (our protagonists) are not meant to be together, yet if it was so important surely the plot would be a high-octane thrill ride of constant chasing?  Instead we’re left with a fairly soppy love story.  Sure, the central message of grabbing every moment and writing your own destiny is a winner, but it’s also tired.  It’s entertaining enough but not quite the thriller you may wish it to be.

At least the music suitably matches the sci-fi and romantic mood.  But then, it is composed by Thomas Newman – you'd expect nothing less.


Sunday 10 July 2011

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) - Tom Six

I can't decide who's the sickest - the sick bastard who came up with the premise and directed this, or the people who watch this out of sick fascination and intrigue, myself included. 


The story is now the stuff of legend.  If you haven't heard, then the title is pretty self explanatory.  Still, the anticipation is far worse than the actual gore to come - the slideshow presentation of the "operation" *bleurgh* especially.  It may apparently be medically accurate, but it's not even particularly well made and the acting is totally laughable in places.  Not that there's a lot of acting you can do in *bleurgh* that...erm...position.  It does at least cement Dieter Laser (Dr. Heiter) as one of the freakiest men in existence.

I challenge anyone to watch this without a lump in your *bleurgh* throat.  Just be prepared for some crazy, crazy dreams afterwards...



Saturday 9 July 2011

Imogen Heap - Propeller Seeds

There's far more to Imogen Heap than simply Hide & Seek, infamously used on the OC and more recently butchered by Jason DeruloExplore deeper and there's an extensive back catalogue of three quality albums (four if you include Frou Frou).  Fans have been anticipating new material - they won't be disappointed.

Initially Propeller Seeds sounds fairly basic, with predominantly crystalline percussive synth and Heap's breathy vocal.  But as the track progresses a soundscape is built with extraneous sound effects and instrumentation fading in and out of hearing, referencing a wealth of influences, from jazz to dance music.  Though some of the speech samples are a bit distracting, the depth of sound has a real three-dimensional feel; the overall effect is a sense of calm amongst a busy urban cinematic soundscape.  The sound design is subtle but really aids the storytelling of the lyrics.

And then it slowly fades out, the lyrics questioning "What does this story hold for us?".  We'll just have to wait for the album in full.


To buy the single, visit the Imogen Heap homepage.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

The Wanted - Glad You Came

The Wanted aren't your traditional boyband.  They're not Irish balladeers or American pop sensations; neither do they have the credentials of the 'man band'.  Instead they're more of a 'lad-band', lacking the charm of the former, the dance ability of the second, the talent of Gary Barlow or the looks of all three options.  And the 'lads on tour'/Hangover-esque, alcohol-infused video to this track only adds fuel to the fire.  I can't help but feel the title has a rather different connotation.

Glad You Came is all a bit JLS.  Starting in a ballad style then pumping up the volume into an Edward Maya inspired club track, it sounds very similar to One ShotAnd the lyrics are awful - "I've decided you look well on me" definitely doesn't make sense.  It's just so bland and uninspired...yet...somehow....sort of....catchy....

Pouting and out of tune singing will only get you so far though - enjoy the fame while it lasts lads.


Monday 4 July 2011

Maverick Sabre - Let Me Go

This is the first single from Maverick Sabre (a.k.a Michael Stafford), after featuring on tracks by Chase & Status and Professor Green amongst others.  Can he now make it alone?

Well, sort of.  This is the kind of track that really grabs you on first listen.  It's soul meets hip-hop - a beat that punches you in the stomach, coupled with a smooth vocal and funky horns to rub it better.  It's an enjoyable collision of genres with almost universal appeal.

Yet it's a collision that's been done before.  You never quite shake the feeling that Sabre is just Plan B mark two (Plan C?), swimming along in his wake.  The production is straight out of Mark Ronson's rule book.  And after repeated listening, the faux-Jamaican accent starts to grate.

So it's not the most original of tracks.  But that initial punch leaves a bruise that's hard to get rid of - the chorus kicks in and you'll be hard-pressed to stop your foot tapping.


Saturday 2 July 2011

Lana Del Rey - Video Games

Del Rey is a rather dichotomous character.  In her own words she's a "gangsta Nancy Sinatra" - the perfect epithet.  She's equal parts retro jazz singer and modern hip-hop pop; young and innocent yet dark and sexy.  Just take a look at the contrasting tracks on her YouTube channel.  Move over Rihanna: Del Rey is the new good girl gone bad.

Video Games is infused with a sense of lost glamour, harking back to the old Hollywood stars of the past.  It's dark and cinematic, reflected in the video - a montage of clips where old and new collide (kudos if you can name all the video game and film references).  But essential to the song's success is the vocal.  It's deep, husky and sultry, reflecting her jazz heritage and the lazy delivery is instantly cool.

The whole sound is totally individual in today's chart with a unique, beautiful vocal.  Definitely one to watch.


Friday 1 July 2011

Bjork - Crystalline

Too many people discount the Icelandic songstress as that bizarre creature from the distant, frozen North.  And too many people base this purely on It's Oh So Quiet, a song that's notably absent from her greatest hits.  Bjork is a totally unique entity - she doesn't push boundaries, for her there are no boundaries.

Crystalline is taken from her upcoming album 'Biophillia' - a concept album that takes inspiration from nature's greatest phenomenon, ranging from crystals to DNA and plate tectonics.  Her zany performance style is encapsulated in her worldwide tour which was kick-started in Manchester last night, featuring a voiceover by Sir David Attenborough and a number of uniquely crafted instruments. 

The lyrics use growing "crystalline internal nebula" beneath the earth as a metaphor for human relationships and the production mimics this perfectly.  The icy synths shiver through the music like shattering glass, expanding with syncopated rhythms.  Then in the final minute all hell is unleashed with a complete pandomonium of sound, a heavy beat introduced straight from a drum and bass track.  It's juxtaposed beautifully by the lyric "it's the sparkle you become / when you conquer anxiety", delivered with Bjork's equally ethereal and gutteral vocal.

Embrace the weirdness - Bjork's uniqueness deserves your attention.