Friday 30 September 2011

When Saints Go Machine - Church and Law

In the dark realm of Northern Europe it's late at night, stars reflecting off the glistening snow.  And in the cold this song is played as you dance hypnotically in a drunken haze, your mind slowly sinking into the music.

Hailing from Denmark, When Saints Go Machine are another synth-pop band from Scandinavia but with a real dark edge.  If Hercules & Love Affair had an evil twin, this would be it - not least for singer Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild's weird falsettto vocal, reminiscent of Antony Hegarty.  Their album, 'Konkylie' (pictured), is at once hauntingly medieval yet brimming with gothic futurism: from hymnal ambient opener Konkylie, to the synth-pop Kelly and string-based closer Add EndsChurch organs and orchestral strings combine organically with mechanical synths, creating an almost fantastical, timeless quality.  It's Church and Law that really strikes though, its majestic intro giving way to deep, percussive synths and arresting syncopated rhythms.  It's beautifully and subtly constructed, Volsild's voice calling out to your soul like a ghost from an archaic, distant past.  I cannot recommend this track (and the album as a whole) enough.


Thursday 29 September 2011

Delilah - Go

Best known for her vocal on Chase & Status's recent Time, Delilah's solo EP 'Go' is out now, from which this track is taken.  Dominated by an effortless vocal, the track takes lyrics from Chaka Khan's classic Ain't Nobody.

Go slow-burns like a noir thriller: the liquid synth bass splashing into rain-soaked streets, Delilah the femme fatale whose breathy, spectral vocal lures you in with provocative sexuality until you're hooked.  Except you never quite get the percussive punch in the face you're hoping for.  Whilst the subdued drums do build in the final chorus, I was fully expecting a dubstep or drum and bass break to add some power to the song's climax.  Instead, Go slowly floats away into the night...


Wednesday 28 September 2011

Sak Noel - Loca People

Another piece of euro-dance-trash imported from across the pond, arriving with a four-to-the-floor thud like a sack of sh*t, accompanied by a loud "What the f***?" - and that's just the lyrics...

I lasted precisely 2:21 before turning off.  Anyone who lasts longer deserves a medal.

Yet somehow this is poised to be number one this week?  Shame on you British public.


Tuesday 27 September 2011

Frankmusik - Do It In The AM

Frankmusik is probably best known for his producing and remixing work: from Ellie Goulding's album track Wish I Stayed, to the upcoming album by Erasure.  Many forget his debut album 'Complete Me' and its quirky electro-pop, the excellent 3 Little Words especially.

But now he's lost all semblance of personality.  Latest album, 'Do It In The AM' was released this week, containing a monotonous series of souless, 80s inspired synth-pop-RnB; tracks ranging from upcoming single No I.D (about having... erm... no I.D), to the title track (about shagging in the morning).  How inspired.  The fact it features Far East Movement (of G6 fame) only fuels the fire on which this record belongs.  Annoyingly catchy, this track and album are pretty abominable.

The last track is titled Cut Me Down.  Don't tempt me.


Sunday 25 September 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) - Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Love drives us crazy; love drives us to do stupid things; but love will always triumph.

"This is cliche", remarks Steve Carell part way through the film. 


Yet again, Hollywood offers cinema audiences a film cemented on cliche.  Like the best rom-coms, Crazy, Stupid, Love presents a plethora of different characters as part of an interweaving narrative.  Each has their own story that collides with the others with apparently dramatic consequences.  The trouble is, the characters are simply shallow stereotypes whose narrative trajectories are easily predicted from the opening credits.  Nice but boring husband becomes cool womaniser; cool womaniser falls for girl who is equally "cute and sexy"; precocious children prove far more intelligent than their romantically inept parents.  The result is a film that has nothing new to say and is far less clever than the scriptwriters would have you believe.  By all accounts there are some highly amusing moments (the climactic scene where the plot threads suddenly unravel springs to mind), but this is predominantly down to the performances (see Marisa Tomei).  Even then, they offer nothing that hasn't been seen before (see Steve Carell).

Ultimately, the film is a forgettable piece of saccharine American sentimentality.  Love may conquer all, but this film fails to conquer...well...anything.


Saturday 24 September 2011

Rocky (1976) - John G Avildsen

Here’s a question: Does Rocky still stand up today after modern boxing epics?


Sure, this is the film that set up the, now well-worn out, tropes of the genre.  Big guy, big heart; shy girlfriend; everybody’s local hero turned champ; uplifting plot concerning the triumph of the poor man.  It’s just that modern boxing films have been so much more inventive.

The film hinges on its central protagonist.  Where recent efforts have delivered compelling portraits of intriguing characters, Rocky centres on a sack of meat with less personality than the pigs hanging in the factory; a character whose perpetual sniffing is only emphasised by a voice full of flu.  Someone please get this man a Strepsil.

For all its macho posturing, the empty-headed narrative is just plain sleep-inducing.  Or maybe I just fail to see the romance in two bruised and battered men punching each other to near death?


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Friday 23 September 2011

Kele feat. Lucy Taylor - What Did I Do

Kele is apparently worried he's been kicked out of Bloc Party after reports the band have been rehearsing without him.  What did he do?  More importantly, does anyone care when his solo material is of this calibre?

This deserves to ride high in the charts quicker than you can say Magnetic Man.  After 'The Boxer' featuring the single Tenderoni, What Did I Do is his most accessible material yet and the first track from upcoming EP 'The Hunter'.  Lucy Taylor takes the fore vocally, backed by slick dubstep production with fuzzing sub-bass, sharp percussive rhythms and a snapping snare drum.  The vocal melodies, backed by Kele in the chorus, are catchy and well sung - the repeated chorus refrain especially.  It may not be as progressive as some fans would like, but hey, this is undoubtedly a great record.  And the video's pretty sexy to boot.


Thursday 22 September 2011

Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris - We Found Love

It's fair to say that Rihanna has become a veritable music machine, churning out pop non-stop.  This track is the first from her upcoming album in November, her sixth album to date since her career begain in 2005.  That's one every year, except 2008.

It's also fair to say that her records have been pretty hit and miss, as you'd expect from such rapid releases.  With We Found Love, though, she's luckily hit the spot.

Technically, the artists should read "Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna" - it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect from these two, with Harris producing and Rihanna on vocal duties.  Yes this is common denominator dancehall pop, a clear continuation from Only Girl In The World and offering safe expectations for the next album.  Yes that build up would sound more fitting in a steamed up, sweaty European techno club.  And yes the chorus is a little too repetitive.  But the melodic hooks are catchy and the euphoric synths will induce fist pumping, alcohol infused dancing in clubs across the globe. 

Now what I'd really like to see accompanying this is Rihanna writhing around dressed in African tribal gear...


Wednesday 21 September 2011

Labrinth feat. Tinie Tempah - Earthquake

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is something they call a 'groundbreaker'".

It may break your speakers, but groundbreaking this isn't.  It's more a continuation of the work these two gentlemen did on Frisky.

Lyrically this could be considered offensive.  Mentioning "rampages" and "riots", the clear allusions to the London riots are unmistakable.  This extends to Tinie's rap with the explicit line "disturbing London got the whole city panicking".  As such, you could consider it an anthem condoning the violence.  Then again, this is a pretty conservative viewpoint - it's quite simply another record about a mental night out, no subtext required.

It's Labrinth's electric production that ultimately stands out.  From the open synth riff, to the dirty bass and heavy dubstep beat that will undoubtedly quake dancefloors when released next month.  Ironically enough, though, for all its crashing and banging, the most arresting moment is the acappella middle eight when the bass drops out.
"...a straight ten on the richter scale you know" raps Tinie.  I wouldn't go that far, but it's definitely a 'bangin' tuuuune'.


Monday 19 September 2011

Equilibrium (2002) - Kurt Wimmer

In a not too distant dystopian future, World War Three has wrecked havoc.  In response, extreme measures of censorship have been undertaken and the “disease” of human emotion is cured, destroying culture, feeling and the very essence of humanity.  By curing the abysmal lows, positivity has equally been eradicated, leaving society in stasis – the titular equilibrium.

Christian Bale plays a “Cleric”, an agent dispatched to capture “sense offenders”, those who fail to take their Prosium (yes, this does trigger more than the occasional snigger).  But as the population remain anaesthetised, he stops taking the medication and gradually regains his feelings and emotions – but will he be caught?

Conceptually, the film has an assured and consistent sense of style.  Filmed in pseudo black and white, the screen is cold, matched by the stone architecture and classical structures.  With its release in the early noughties, the parallels with Iraq and its potential outcomes are unavoidable, fortified by the inclusion of archive footage from World War Two.  Further, the use of religious iconography – society led by “Father” and crosses used as a visual motif – brings connotations of genocide that make a clear political comment.  The mostly electronic score equals the futuristic tone, though is effectively balanced with orchestral instruments. 

However, there is one major influence on this film: The Matrix.  The futuristic vision shares many calculating similarities - just look at the poster (pictured).  Moreover, the action sequences, with their laughable mise-en-scene, martial arts and rock music are ripped straight from the former film, akin to a video game scenario.  For all the film's clever conceptual ideas, the action threatens to ruin it in one fell swoop, proving Equilibrium has a style that is rather unoriginal.  Thankfully, Bale’s steely focus just about rises above the wooden acting of Keanu Reeves, making for a more compelling protagonist.


Sunday 18 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) - Tomas Alfredson

If you're looking for the next Bond, you won't find it here.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is its very antithesis - guns, gadgets, cars and babes switched for simple talking.  And lots of it.

The premise of the plot is plain - there's a Russian mole in the British ranks and it's up to Gary Oldman's George Smiley to uncover him.  This is dressed in a slow burning, complex web of intrigue, the suspects represented metaphorically by chess pieces and played by an impressive cast of British talent.

But the real star is the cinematography.  As a period piece for the Cold War era, the film masterfully recreates a convincing look and feel.  Each frame is precisely composed, filled with sombre tones and lighting with deep shadows.  Intense close-ups heighten the tension between the characters, whilst a propensity for distance shots and views through windows, doors and other barriers emphasise the whole idea of spying.  Not only that, it puts us in Smiley's position as we too spy on each of the suspsects.

Except, this highlights the film's biggest flaw.  The narrative focuses soley on Smiley's predicament rather than offering deep characterisation for the other men.  As such, instead of letting the audience decide for ourselves, we must blindly and impotently follow in Smiley's footsteps - we are literally the spies left out in the cold.  Further, the implications of the mole are never explicitly revealed, merely implied by the political context.  As a result, although the tension between the characters is palpable, the film lacks a sense of urgency or dramatic impetus, not helped by the slow pace.  The plot complexities are portrayed with incredible subtlety and are often difficult to follow.  Stripped down, the film actually amounts to very little.  But perhaps this was intentional, like the Cold War itself - all bark and no bite.

The cast excel with some compelling performances, even if the casting does give away the climax somewhat.  Ultimately, though, the film hinges on Smiley and with Oldman's detached, focused portrayal, he proves a far from endearing [lack of] personality.  Alberto Iglesias provides a jazz score that injects some sex into the smoky, seedy proceedings.  Otherwise, this is a film with style and visual impact but, ironically enough, very little to say.


Friday 16 September 2011

Florence + The Machine - Shake It Out

It's only a couple of weeks since What The Water Gave Me was released, yet previews of forthcoming album 'Ceremonials' have now taken place and the first single has been leaked - the bombastic Shake It Out.

Florence has been working with some American producers which, judging by this track, has clearly had an impact on her new material.  The drums here are especially reminiscent of Ryan Tedder's previous work on Halo and Bleeding Love amongst others.  Shake It Out straddles a fine line between classic Florence and X-Factor celebration song. It's kitchen sink production with zero subtlety and a huge chorus - her most accessible pop material yet.

But Florence's voice (physical and metaphorical) can be heard above the cacophony, with typically mystical lyrics.  It's a song of overwhelming positivity - equally uplifting and euphoric ("And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back / So shake him off").  Florence may have swapped her gentle etherealism for popular bombast, but Shake It Out is sure to bring her success on both sides of the Atlantic.


Thursday 15 September 2011

Matt Cardle - Run For Your Life

I don't know whether to laugh at the sheer predictability, cry at the lack of effort, vomit until my stomach cramps or simply fall asleep. 

Or all four.

Penned by new X Factor judge Gary Barlow, this is apparently the only track on the album that Cardle hasn't co-written - and tellingly it's the first single, designed to have the most impact.  From the opening chords you know what to expect - a soppy, guitar-driven, indie-pop ballad, with identikit production to Cardle's winning song, Collide.  You'd expect a little more from him, considering he showed some talent during the final stages of last year's competition.  More so, you'd expect more from Mr Barlow - clearly this is just a rejected song he thought he'd make some cash out of.

It's almost too easy to rip this utter shite into shreds.  Instead, I'll extract some choice phrases from the song itself which sum it up nicely:

"You’re worth more, you’re worth more than this"
"There’s no time, there’s no time for this"
"You’ll find more, you’ll find more than this"
"Don’t waste time, don’t waste time with this"
"So run for your life" [lest your ears bleed]


Wednesday 14 September 2011

Laura Marling - The Muse

Marling's been through a lot.  Still only 21 and three albums in, she's endured the gaining and losing of love with both frontmen Charlie Fink (Noah and the Whale) and Marcus Mumford (& Sons).  These relationships have been exposed through song for all the world to hear by all parties, so it's understandable that Marling has remained elusive, almost cold, with her own personal view.

With The Muse, jaunty opener to new album 'A Creature I Don't Know' (pictured), she reveals a new wave of confidence that extends through the full album.  The muse in question could apply to either of her previous lovers and their influence on her music, though she replies with bravado "I'm nothing but the beast / And I'll call on you when I need to feast".  The music itself has taken a shot of jazz, with stabbing piano chords and a shuffling beat, but retains its folk roots with the prominence of acoustic guitar, banjo and cello.  And of course, Marling's straightforward delivery remains with ultra clarity for her storytelling.

It paves the way for a more positive album in comparison to the fragility and melancholia of last year's 'I Speak Because I Can'.  It's only now with her third album that she's found her true voice.  And with album closer All My Rage, Marling leaves her "...rage to the sea and sun".  Finally she's over the past and ready to move on.  Let's hope the high quality of her music doesn't suffer in the process.


Tuesday 13 September 2011

Lana Del Rey - Blue Jeans

16th October 2011.

Save that date - Lana Del Rey will (finally) be releasing her first EP 'Video Games', including the sublime Video Games (obviously) and this new track.  Yet again, it's a winner.

It's fitting that these two tracks are together on one EP: Video Games a dark portrayal of devotion; Blue Jeans its heart-broken sibling.  "I stayed up waiting, anticipating and pacing / but he was chasing paper", she intones before singing sweetly "I will love you 'till the end of time".  The overall haunting production and Del Rey's lazy, bluesy delivery is almost identical to Video Games.  One trick pony?  Maybe.  But the subject of this track is far more befitting the downbeat music, the repetition of "I will love you 'till the end of time" sounding disturbingly fanatical, the cinematic and glamorous scope giving dramatic weight to the lyrics. 

Who knows what delights a full album could provide...


Monday 12 September 2011

Coldplay - Paradise


Before the new album is released later this month (with it's terrible title - what the hell does 'Mylo Xyloto' actually mean?!), the band have released another piece of pathetically pretentious posturing. 

The trouble with Coldplay is they seem to be hell bent on the idea that more is more.  It's not.  Over-production suffocates decent songwriting, though they left that far behind after 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head'.  Paradise begins with a church organ and fluttering strings - a shallow attempt at grandure - though the booming synth bass adds a modern twist to the sound.  Otherwise, they've thrown everything at this track: epic piano and guitar riffs, orchestral strings, synth effects, a sing along chorus sung by a stuttering Chris Martin.  What also annoys is the unnecessary self referencing of Every Teardop... in the second chorus - it just smacks of "head up own arse" syndrome.

What's the obsession with epic grandure?  It's as if adding more layers will help them reach some sort of musical nirvana, when in fact a return to the raw simplicity of their earlier work would be far more preferable.  Coldplay may be in paradise but their latest work is far from sublime.


Friday 9 September 2011

A New Way To Pay Old Debts @ The Rose Theatre

Despite actually being a theatre, the Rose is a rather odd choice for a production.  It was the first Elizabethan Theatre on Bankside and home to early works by Shakespeare and Marlowe, yet in its current state it’s an excavation site.  As such, the play took place on a small mezzanine area above the site which severely limited its production.

Massinger’s Jacobean comedy is well suited to the historic surroundings.  The plot tells of Sir Giles Overreach, a self-styled city man out to reap money and fame and who, inevitably, gets his comeuppance.  Its pretext is of class distinctions and greed, which to an extent still resonates today.  However, this wasn’t emphasised by the direction. 

Problems with the production stem from the venue.  By not being in a traditional theatrical space (so to speak), the production lacked proper lighting and staging.  As such, the focus was very much on the words, though they lack the same poetical value as Shakespeare and Marlowe.  It’s an incredibly wordy play that was ultimately quite difficult to follow, only heightened by the minimalist design.  Though the cast’s attempts to bring the words to life were commendable, the acting was a mixed bag.  The central protagonists failed to capture the dramatic weight of their characters, but the smaller parts proved hilarious.  Katie Brennan’s bawdy Froth was full of comedy facial expressions and David Brett’s Greedy, though short in stature, was big on laughs.  Thomas Shirley as Allworth also suitably embodied the wide-eyed innocence of his character.

This was a night full of historic interest and, once fully excavated, the Rose will make an intriguing visit.  Unfortunately, the play itself didn’t quite live up to the surroundings.


Thursday 8 September 2011

Parade @ Southwark Playhouse

Jason Robert Brown probably isn't a well known name for many West End theatre-goers.  But for the more discerning musical theatre afficionados, his music has become a holy grail.  And with productions like this - in the dim, musty vaults of the Southwark Playhouse - it's easy to see why.

Parade is a piece of high drama told through the medium of music and song.  Its intense and emotional narrative has a real earnestness that has become disassiociated with musical theatre in this day and age, what with the rise of the pop/jukebox musical.  Brown takes the genre back to its core - plot and music.  And with its themes of racism and prejudice in the deep south of America, it takes the audience to dark and harrowing places rarely explored.

What really impressed with this production was its fluidity.  By utilising traverse staging, it enabled the scenes to segue from one to the next with natural flow.  Moreover, the music of the show grows organically out of the drama and this extended to the cast who glided effortlesly from script to song and acted through the songs with admirable consistancy of tone and American accents.  The theatrical space of the vaults lent itself to the show, simultaneously allowing the expansive music to breathe and emphasising the intimacy of the piece, in addition to heightening the industrial feel of the setting.  The lighting, from either side of the traverse, was high contrast - the stage was equally hot with summer sun and cold with the chill of a jail cell, silhouettes used for great dramatic effect.  At times, the balance between the singers and the orchestra was off, but this was predominantly due to the acoustics of the space, notoriously difficult to perform in.

So what of the music?  Brown's score is stunning and here its sensitivity and emotion was played to perfection.  The cast excelled across the board, without a single weak link, each singing effortlessly yet with every fibre of their bodies.  From the quiet fragility of Leo's Hard To Speak My Heart to Lucille's resentful You Don't Know This Man, the solo numbers brought a tear to the eye.  Neck hairs shivered during the chorus numbers, each member of the cast singing in crystal clear harmony.  The cast was brimming with fresh talent, though Alastair Brookshaw's awkward, fidgeting Leo and Laura Pitt-Pulford's compelling portrayal of Lucille dominated the stage. 

Forget the shallow glitz and glamour of the West End, this production of Parade is a raw and powerful jewel in the realm of musical theatre


Wednesday 7 September 2011

Four Lions (2010) - Christopher Morris

It takes a brave director to create a comedy about terrorists, but Christopher Morris has done just that.  The four lions in question are four British Muslims who we follow through their terrorist training and subsequent attempts to declare jihad.  Their targets?  A mosque; a marathon; and a Boots.

It’s a topical comedy, typical from the creator of Brass Eye, but with a serious undertone.  The juxtaposition of their training in Pakistan and their lives in England is representative of this diaspora, outsiders in all forms of society.  But their attempts at anarchy prove hilarious: from exploding crows to insurgent videos, this is black comedy of the highest order.  The documentary-style camerawork heightens the realism of the piece, culminating in the film’s shocking conclusion.  It’s testament to the acting and script that four potential terrorists could be portrayed so endearingly.  This is British-Asian filmmaking at its best.

Roooaaar.  Click.  Boom.


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Monday 5 September 2011

Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize 2011

The nominees have been decided and the awards ceremony is fast upon us (tomorrow!).  But who will win the coveted prize?  Read on for some views on each of the nominees, complete with a Gizzle choice track...

Adele - 21
"The leader of the pack"
In commercial terms, 21 is undoubtedly the album of the year, with Adele becoming a global phenomenon.  But even artistically and vocally, this is an outstanding album - the most soulful and emotive album on the list.  So is it a sure-fire winner?  Or will the judges choose to upset the balance?  Either way, few would argue that Adele is an unworthy contender.
Gizzle's Choice - Turning Tables

Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
"The Vampy One"
Impassioned guitars plus Calvi's classically-tinged warble - it's a winning combination.  The vampy songstress has a hard exterior, but also shows her darker, more vulnerable side on this album.  Though a worthy nominee, Calvi's sound is less forward-thinking and more reminiscent of the past.
Gizzle's Choice - The Devil

Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
"The Old Boys"
Elbow have always managed to balance the commercial and the experimental.  Though less varied than their previous winning album The Seldom Seen Kid, this album offers an assured and confident tone.  The sound is calm, relaxed and warm, as evident in the beautifully hushed chorus of Lippy Kids ("Build a rocket boys...").  It's unlikely, though, that this album will bring them another trophy.
Gizzle's Choice - Lippy Kids

Everything Everything - Man Alive
"The Indie One"
The oldest album on the list, many of its tracks will be recognised.  Man Alive provides a relentless album of upbeat electro-indie-rock-pop tunes.  The production is cleverly put together; some of the lyrics not so much ("Who's gonna sit on your face when I'm gone").  At times the album is impenetrable, but the allure of their distinctive sound, falsetto vocal harmonies and catchy hooks will keep you coming back.  But album of the year?
Gizzle's Choice - MY KZ, UR BF

Ghostpoet - Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam
"The one with the best title"
Ghostpoet is pretty much the antithesis of Tinie Tempah.  Where Tinie provides urban pop records, Ghostpoet provides abstract electro production combined with a lazy vocal delivery reminiscent of Maxi Jazz of Faithless fame.  It's certainly different, but at times it's far from accessible, instead more of an acquired taste.
Gizzle's Choice - Cash and Carry Me Home

Gwilym Simcock - Good Days at Schloss Elmau
"The Abstract One"
There's always one oddball selection - Simcock provides this year's choice.  It's an album that defies genre classification.  His background as a classical pianist clearly influences his jazz composition, fusing the two together in this solo piano opus.  An immensely talented pianist, his inclusion in the nominee list is welcome, but his style is probably too niche to win outright.
Gizzle's Choice - Northern Smiles

James Blake - James Blake
"The Loner One"
The term "coffee-table dub step" has been bandied about with regards to James Blake, especially by NME.  It's true that he's taken the genre and, combined with his soulful vocal, developed it in a more experimental, artistic direction.  Interesting?  Absolutely, but for some the overly artistic approach ultimately leaves the listener unsatisfied, though his standout tracks more than make up for this.
Gizzle's Choice - Wilhelm Scream

Katy B - On A Mission
"The one that shouldn't be there"
It's not that On A Mission is an utterly terrible album.  It's that Katy B herself is probably the least talented artist on the list, she's just been lucky enough to work with some talented producers.  Sure, she's played her part in the commercialising of dub-step, but other artists have steered the genre in wildly different directions. Instead, Katy B has churned out a series of banal pop tracks - Katy On A Mission brought her into the limelight but it's been downhill since then. 
Gizzle's Choice - Katy On A Mission

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine
"The folky one"
An album of beautiful simplicity: storytelling lyrics, modern yet gentle music production and melodic shakes with Scottish folk inflections. But will a folk album ever win the Mercury prize?
Gizzle's Choice - Bats In The Attic

Metronomy - The English Riviera
"The Too-Cool-For-School One"
At first, the minimalist electro approach feels cold and clinical, songwriter Joseph Mount living up to his band's name.  But after repeated listening, The English Riviera proves rewarding: from the effortless The Look, to the disco infused The Bay and the slow-burning Love UnderlinedMetronomy are far more than just the cool kids.
Gizzle's Choice - The Bay

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
"The Veteran"
Another year, another PJ Harvey nomination.  This is her fourth acknowledgement, after two nominations and a win in 2001.  Let England Shake represents a rare example of a concept album with a strong creative vision actually working: an anti-war album that heavily references WW1.  Its patriotic, controversial view is refreshing; its creation truly artistic, even if it's not the most accessible album on the list.  The sweetly sung, alien vocal juxtaposes with the subject matter, with guitars and autoharp combining for a unique sonority.  The talk is of an artist at her creative peak, but whether she's created a winning album is another question entirely.
Gizzle's Choice - The Glorious Land

Tinie Tempah - Disc-Overy
"The Urban One"
Having already won two Brit awards and received a further two nominations, it's been a strong year for Tinie Tempah.  Could the Mercury prize be on its way too?  Unlikely.  Disc-Overy has been a hugely successful album, helping to reinvigorate the UK urban music scene.  But despite some distinctive tracks, other nominees have created more unique offerings.
Gizzle's Choice - Simply Unstoppable

The Conclusion
This year's list, as ever, spans a wide spectrum from commercial pop to creative art music and those that successfully balance the middle ground.  Though Adele is the obvious choice, it's rare that the judges have taken the simple approach.  They could just as easily choose the artistic route with PJ Harvey; the "cool" route with Metronomy; or upset the balance totally by choosing Simcock.  Whatever the outcome, the night will be filled with great performances mixed with boundless controversy either way.  Judging by the history of the competition, it really is anyone's game.

Gizzle's Choice: Toss up between PJ Harvey, Adele and Metronomy.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Doctor Faustus @ The Globe

If hell is as exciting as this production would have you believe, then count me in.

Marlowe’s morality play finds a natural home on the Globe stage for a traditional interpretation; Renaissance costumes and staging used with spellbinding effect.  Magic and dark illusion are at the forefront, as Faust gives up on science and reason by selling his soul to the devil for a life of necromancy and sorcery.  But as his hedonistic lifestyle catches up with him, he refuses redemption from God and instead is dragged to hell to forever serve Lucifer, his master. 

Though the narrative focuses on Faust, this was truly an ensemble piece.  The acting was fused with dance and physical theatre, bringing to life a menagerie of colourful characters and demonic creatures.  Stage props appeared from trap doors; fire leapt out of powerful tomes; vile demons were conjured from thin air in human, stilt-walking and puppet form; and good and bad angels, literally depicting Faust’s internal conflict and appropriately armoured with wings and horns, fought valiantly against one another.  In particular, the personified seven deadly sins celebrated the macabre and the supernatural with ghoulish style, more akin to an abominable circus.  All this was accompanied by largely percussive music – drumbeats and eerie metallic sound effects adding to the devilish charm, whilst lightly plucked lutes provided seductive allure.  On the twilit stage of the Globe, Matthew Dunster’s direction was enchanting.

The magic continued with the cast themselves.  Diction was exceptional by all the cast, allowing the narrative to be relayed with crystal clarity.  Paul Hilton successfully portrayed the conflicted Faust, whilst Arthur Darvill’s Mephistopheles was suitably demonic.  Humour was not lost though, with audience interaction, Marlowe’s pun infused script and delivery suitable for a contemporary audience – Pearce Quigley’s bawdy Robin made a hilarious clown.

Any piece at the Globe will thrive in the stunning surroundings, but this highly commendable production was truly magical.


Friday 2 September 2011

Eric Prydz - 2Night

After the infamous video, people forget how much of a tune Call On Me is.  Four years later Prydz released Pjanoo, another dancehall classic.

And now he's back with the unimaginatively titled 2Night.  Don't be fooled though, this is yet another huge tune from the Swedish DJ.  It's a close relative of Pjanoo, featuring a similar piano riff.  Prydz continues his penchant for hook laden production - this is another euphoric track to get you reaching for the stars.  For anyone lucky enough to have travelled to Ibiza this year, this track will surely get those memories flooding back.


Thursday 1 September 2011

Rock of Ages @ The Shaftesbury Theatre

Sometimes you see something that is so bad, it’s actually good.

Rock of Ages is not that show. 

Instead, it’s trying to be that show.

A musical about rock music is about as oxymoronic as you can get.  To conquer this, the writers have attempted to write this as a musical parody, even utilising a ‘musicals for dummies’ book in one joke.  Maybe if they’d bothered to read it they’d have come up with a passable show.  It’s as if the show is trying too hard to parody itself, trying too hard to be tongue-in-cheek and as a result it simply isn’t funny, with the constant self-referencing becoming tiresome.

So what’s it actually about?  Who knows, besides a sorry attempt to shoehorn as many rock clich├ęs into one show as possible, camped up to the max.  The moment you enter the theatre glam-rock is squeezed into your ears and the audience are even given fake plastic lighters to hold up during the songs.  For the male cast, what little characterisation is present is horrendously obvious, whilst the female cast spend the entire show writhing around on the floor wearing very little.  Each character's narrative trajectory is predictable and formulaic.  Of course there's a black soul singer (though the vocal by no means stood up to her stature); of course the nemesis is German - what other nationality could he possibly be?

It’s all, quite simply, childish – from the unnecessarily sexual choreography, to the immature script and odd directorial decisions.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the whole creative team turned out to be a bunch of prepubescent teenage boys who spent too much time playing Guitar Hero before excreting this drivel.  Even Jack Black could do better.  There may be some special effects, but no amount of lasers and glittery confetti can cover up the fact that this was one big mistake. 

You’d expect the music to be pretty good though, right?  Wrong.  Though there are some classic Whitesnake tunes included, it’s not a particularly good selection played by a passable band.  The final number is, predictably enough, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, therefore totally relying on Glee’s popularity.

And that’s not the only element reliant on outside sources.  The casting includes comedian Justin Lee Collins and X-Factor winner Shayne Ward to draw in the crowds.  Contrary to the misleading poster, neither have especially large roles.  JLC is far less amusing than his appearances on TV and whilst Ward does have a decent voice, his acting and American accent are appalling.  Meanwhile, Simon Lipkin and Oliver Tompsett shine in their roles, despite the awkward material, whilst the female leads were totally uninspiring.  As a whole, I’d give the cast a couple of weeks before the constant straining and shouting for high notes take its toll on their vocal chords.

Despite all this, was it actually fun to watch?  Yes, but alcoholic beverages are definitely recommended.  Either that, or do what one woman on the front row did and spend the whole time with your head buried in the programme, sobbing silently to yourself.