Thursday, 31 March 2011
Sometimes, it's amazing how far a catchy hook and a bit of personality can get you. This record is a pretty standard effort from the American electro hop group, following on from previous album 'Party Rock' featuring their most famous track I'm in Miami Bitch.
Party Rock Anthem is therefore a suitable name, taking the best bits of their previous work. It's got a simple four to the floor beat. The lyrics are shallow. The dance break synth riff is ripped straight from the above mentioned track. And the effort from Pamela Anderson lookalike Lauren Bennett is totally vacuous.
But then there's that catchy hook. It's a bit repetitive, but I guarantee you won't get this out of your head. This is clearly the inspiration for the comedy video (plus a blatent 28 Days Later reference). Undoubtedly you'll see the majority of the population shuffling to this in the coming weeks. It's like a flu virus, only less healthy.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
As James Blake and Jamie Woon have proven, there's a growing trend at the moment for fusing soul with modern production techniques. Woon's Spirits represents this in a purely vocal form. It's a thoroughly contemporary sound that, with Alex Clare (amongst others), is seeping into the commercial realm.
With Too Close, Clare takes these opposing musical worlds and, whilst he doesn't really add anything new, he combines them into a great track. His soulful vocal is reminiscent of Adam Levine or Rob Thomas, accompanied by acoustic guitar in the verses. This soul sound isn't so much merged as juxtaposed with the dub-step inspired chorus. This only serves to heighten the impact of the sub-bass, though the drums feel too restrained. Consequently, it's not quite as hard hitting as previous single Up All Night, though it's still a refreshing musical recipe that deserves a download.
Despite choosing the easy, radio-friendly route, Clare has a great track in Too Close. It just doesn't quite have the inspired originality of Blake or Woon.
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
I was lucky enough to view a special screening of this film at the Electric cinema in Notting Hill today, featuring footage from the band's Warrior's Dance Festival from July last year. The film begins in Brazil, merging documentary footage of the band backstage with a gig on the South American leg of their tour. Soon, the location switches to the Milton Keynes Bowl, becoming essentially the full concert on film.
The Prodigy's speaker shattering audio translates well to film, the whole cinema vibrating with every pulse to provide a head throbbing experience. The film itself is produced with visual flair. The editing in particular is excellent, both in the opening comic juxtapositions (especially the introduction of Milton Keynes by the tourist bureau) and in the synchronisation with the music. The camera is in perpetual motion, the screen pulsing with the music's pounding rhythms. With the constant cuts, it's clear that the film compiles an insane amount of footage both of the band themselves and a psychotic audience who give new meaning to the names Warrior's Dance and Smack My Bitch Up with their violent moshing. Ultimately though, the film and the music become relentlessly monotonous and as much as you feel in the moment through the visuals, you can't help but feel 'you should've been there' - though that's a problem with most music films. My ears and eyes appreciated the moment when my bladder gave way and I ventured to the gents, the walls still rattling with the throbbing bassline. More documentary footage would've given a great insight into the band, as well as relieving the senses for a moment.
The film is screening at cinemas for one night only this Thursday 31st March. For fans of The Prodigy who didn't get to see the tour, this is a must-see.
Monday, 28 March 2011
It's the new single from t.A.T.u... I mean Katy Perry...
There's definitely a similarity with All The Things She Said by everyone's favourite Russian lesbians. On a basic level, the emphasis on sexuality is prevalent. Kanye wants to "bathe his ape" in your "milky way", whilst Katy wants to be infected "with your loving" and filled with "poison". Hmm. It's all metaphorical for an encounter with a strange lover with a "foreign touch" - makes you wonder what Mr Brand has hiding in those tight leather trousers. However, the overly wordy approach (as the video below demonstrates) prevents a real killer hook forming - this isn't as catchy as the recent Firework or California Gurls.
On the plus side, it has an edgier sound than those previous pieces of pop fluff, added to by the presence of Kanye. In fact, it's more reminiscent of her debut, I Kissed A Girl. And there we are... back on lesbians...
I kissed an alien. And I liked it.
UPDATE: The official video is now released! Wall-E inspired?! Not sure who's the alien though...
Saturday, 26 March 2011
A thin plastic disc carrying recorded sound in grooves on each surface, for reproduction by a record player.
Convert (sound or a performance) into a permanent form for subsequent reproduction or broadcast.
Katy B seems to have got a little confused with this. I'm sure she means the former - so why sing the latter? At first I thought she was singing "like a broken rip-cord".
Pronunciation aside, this is a fairly average pop-dance crossover. First single Katy On A Mission was a fresh dubstep-pop track, shooting the singer into the spotlight. But clearly she's struggling with fame, reduced to releasing this generic record. The garage beat is catchy enough, but the vocal is weak. More so I'm confused at the relevance of 'broken record' in the slushy lyrics - the only thing broken should be her career.
Friday, 25 March 2011
"It's a new generation of party people", J-Lo autotunes at the start.
But it's the same old story - another song about getting down and 'dirrty' on the dancefloor. She's clearly capitalising on her American Idol "success" by releasing this banal shite. Everything about this is terrible: from the airbrushed, contrived sexuality of the video, to that annoying riff that merges the Lambada song with Edward Maya's Stereo Love. Then there's Pitbull's inept rap, referencing Inception, Tonkatrucks and Donkey Kong(?!). It's got a thumping four-to-the-floor beat that I'm sure will be wrecking havok across dancefloors. But J-Lo should've left her career here and let her ass do the talking. Or maybe she's (unintentionally) done that already...
And who do we have to thank for this monstrosity? RedOne. Ugh.
Thursday, 24 March 2011
The sun's been out this week and this weekend the clocks come forward. Summer is officially on the way. What better way to celebrate than this awesome track from Friendly Fires, a taster of their upcoming album 'Pala'?
If you could distill summer and sell it in bottles, it would be something like this. Then again, the band seem to have thrown everything into this track. It's an amalgam of funk, indie-electronica and pop, with an early '90s rave flavour to it that manages to sound fresh. The heavy percussion is like the Notting Hill Carnival stampeding through your ears. There are perhaps too many layers to the production that threated to overpower the vocal, but the band manage to hold all the elements together. It's vibrant and energetic - expect to hear this on dancefloors and at festivals across the country throughout the summer months and beyond.
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Fishtank is a fitting name. It’s filmed firmly in the social realist mould, the viewer observing through the glass of the camera lens. Yet much is shot from the inside out, emphasising the central theme of entrapment for Mia (Jarvis).
She is our protagonist, but what begins as a film about her dysfunctional life on an
Essex council estate morphs into a perverted love story once she meets her mother’s boyfriend, Connor. He becomes a father figure and with him a family unit is formed. The narrative then follows a twisted oedipal trajectory as Connor straddles the boundary between father and lover, sexual tension between him and Mia growing (literally) to the point of climax with disastrous consequences.
The sense of realism is flawed due to the predictable narrative that borders on fantasy, but Jarvis gives a believable performance in a gripping, well constructed, though sometimes difficult to watch, film.
For more 150 words reviews, visit Screen150.
Monday, 21 March 2011
The year is 2111.
After years of lowering birth rates, the world is swept by a wave of ageing populations. The elderly strive to stay young, strive to stay relevant. Through advances in cybernetic research, men and women are able to modify their bodies with technology. What begins as medical aid spirals into addiction, humanity slowly mutating with prosthetic limbs, organs and artificial intelligence. Superhuman strength, exceptional intelligence and military prowess become the norm. Life is extended to infinity, humans become cybernetic gods communicating merely in a series of bleeps and bloops.
As the upgrades increase in popularity, the population soon becomes divided - those with and those without modifications; humanity versus the machines. Nuclear war breaks out and ravages the land. The earth is savagely destroyed, smothered in perpetual night, the horizon constantly aflame. All hope is lost. The machines have won, man has been ruthlessly eliminated.
And across the airwaves, George Michael's True Faith is played on a repeated loop, a constant reminder of the terrible impact of technology on humankind.
(N.B. This score is given purely for the choice of cover song)
Sunday, 20 March 2011
Rocking up to the Union Chapel, I didn't really know what to expect from this concert. But what a joy it turned out to be.
Despite the scaffolding on the exterior, the Union Chapel proved to be an impressive venue, beautifully candlelit and with great acoustics. The first piece sung by Chantage, The Old Church (Stephen Paulus, 2001) was a fitting start to the evening.
Formed in 1999, Chantage are a leading amateur choir already with accolades to their name - including the BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year 2006. Combined with the stunning vocals of the Swingle Singers, the room was brimming with vocal talent. The second piece, Tippett's Five Negro Spirituals, showed this off to the full. The songs were accompanied by new Spiritual Interludes composed by Ken Burton, conductor of the London Adventist Chorale and Croydon SDA Gospel Choir. These interludes undoubtedly contained some juicy jazz chords, but overall lacked variety and distracted from Tippett's music.
Next, three a capella pieces by the Swingle Singers - Gershwin's Fascinatin' Rhythm, a cover of Eleanor Rigby and It's Sand, Man. For me, these stole the show - eight individually incredible voices blending together with stunning effect, self-accompanied with beatboxing. Their latest album 'Ferris Wheels' is available now and definitely worth checking out. Total Praise, a gospel classic by Richard Smallwood, rounded out the first half, showing the versatility of Chantage.
The second half consisted solely of Duke Ellington's Sacred Concert. Originally premiered in 1965, it fuses Christian liturgy with jazz - a unique combination. This manifested as the Chantage classical choir accompanied by the Urban Big Band with solos by the Swingle Singers - all well controlled by conductor James Davey. With such an odd fusion, it's easy to see why the piece first received mixed reviews, but here it suited well the ambience of the evening and matched the rest of the programme. The only disappointment was a lack of encore at the end.
Overall a highly enjoyable evening, filled with inspirational singing.
Below is a taster from a previous concert of the Swingle Singers' work. Their latest album 'Ferris Wheels' is available to buy and on Spotify.
Saturday, 19 March 2011
"Agh, my eyes!"
No, not a line from a marine shot in the face by an alien, but my thoughts after just a few minutes watching this film. It's filmed entirely with a handheld camera, meant to boost the sense of realism and create a visceral, intense thrill-ride. Instead, it's a headache inducing two hours that's like watching a game of Call Of Duty minus the enjoyment and interactivity of actually holding a controller in your hand. The action is relentless and frenetic, though the close shooting disguises the poor special effects.
Then there's the "story". You already know it well: alien invasion, America saves the day. The battle boils down to a small group of multicultural, jarhead marines who encompass all the classic cliches. I actually found myself siding with the aliens, hoping they'd put an end to the toil. Any attemps at heart appear contrived and melodramatic, whilst the script (when not merely grunts and shouting) is totally laughable. It's mildly entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. Even the teenage lads in the audience, this film's clear demographic, shouted "turkey" at the credits.
"Marines never give up". In this case, I wish they would.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Zane Lowe describes this track as a combination of Nero's previous records Innocence and the previously reviewed Me And You. This is a perfect description. Guilt fuses the catchy female vocal and opening trance feel of the former with the hard-hitting energy of the latter, creating another dub-step track brimming with raw power. Like both tracks, Guilt will get your blood pumping and have you quaking on the dancefloor.
It's an awesome record on an epic scale, though my preference is for the previous efforts. I'm certainly looking forward to their forthcoming album, but I worry about where the duo can go next. With these three tracks the levels have already been pushed to the max - will a full album be too overwhelming?
Still, after the anime video of Innocence and Tron inspired video of Me And You, I'm more excited to see what the video for Guilt will be like. I'm hoping the Bladerunner-esque synths in the middle-eight will prove inspirational.
Update: The official video is now released!
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
More SO2011 goodness here, this time from the long-listed The Naked And Famous whose album 'Passive Me, Aggressive You' is finally released this week.
I reviewed the brilliant Young Blood in October last year (which you may have heard on various tv adverts recently), describing their sound as "the love-child of MGMT and Passion Pit". This rings true for Punching In A Dream, a superb slice of indie-poptronica. It's a track filled with oxymorons; the upbeat, euphoric mix of synths and distorted guitars contrasting with the melancholic lyrics - "like punching in a dream breathing life into the nightmare". This extends to the video - serene imagery of death and suicide with angelic lead singer Alisa Xayalith bathed in celestial light.
It's equally somber yet beautiful; radio-friendly, yet still appealing to indie wildchilds. The album as a whole is young, fresh and dreamy; yet roughly frayed, with jilting contrasts. Like I said before: New Zealand's not so boring anymore...
Sunday, 13 March 2011
I begin this with a warning: The Killer Inside Me is incredibly violent. This will either make you sick, or keep you sickeningly intrigued.
It's a noir thriller with a beautiful exterior and a dark, cold centre. Set in a 1950s Texan town, Casey Affleck plays Lou Reed: a deputy sheriff with an all-American outer demeanor and a terrible secret. He conducts an illicit affair with a prositute (Jessica Alba) which releases his sado-masochistic, mysoginist desires that manifest in a series of murders. The violence is infrequent, but this only increases the brutal impact. What's worse, the women have an expression of submission which is all the more difficult to watch. Yet the dark, seedy interiors contrast with the town shot in soft focus, heightening the juxtaposition between the "light which comes before the dark". Meanwhile country ballads play for ironic effect, such as Shame On You used over the credits. This contrast is present in Reed himself, with Affleck's high-pitched drawl perfectly balancing the ambiguity between good guy and sociopath.
However, strip away both the violence and puzzling narrative and the film feels a little empty, as the killer's true motive is never fully explained. I suspect the 1952 novel, with its first person narrative, psychoanalyses more convincingly the killer inside, whilst leaving the violence to your own sick imagination.
Despite the slow pace, the film will still hold your attention as it scours the depths of the killer's mind. File next to American Psycho for brave films that dare to explore the killer inside - but leave you feeling a little ill.
Saturday, 12 March 2011
Visually at least. For this revival of Puccini's opera (performed in English), director David Freeman has placed the set in the round. In the centre is a wooden structure representing a Japanese building; wooden walkways extend out in all directions and the spaces between are flooded with water, creating elegant rock pools; the subtle lighting changes glimmer beautifully on the shimmering surface, mirrored by paper lanterns and floating candles. It looked magical and when the water was drained for the second and third acts, it seemed positively barren.
This set had both positive and negative effects. The production was lifted off the page and felt truly alive and organic - like watching in 3D rather than a 2D theatrical plane. The downside of this was that often the action was obscured by the set, creating an unnecessary barrier between the audience and the singers. As a result, it was often the ensemble who stole my attention, scurrying out from around and under the stage. It lended a naturalistic feel to the production that continued through the costumes and acting, authentically replicating Japanese life.
Unfortunately, though, the set wasn't the only barrier. Kinoshita (Cio-Cio San) may not be a native English speaker, but her diction was inpenetrable. This, however, carried through to the rest of the cast, suggesting a potential fault with the hall's acoustics. Subsequently, the production failed on a fundamental level - the point of opera is to dramatise a narrative through music, but here the libretto was all but forgotten. As such, it was soley left to the orchestra to bring the emotional weight and whilst Puccini's sumptuous score was played commendably, it did at times overpower the singing.
Puccini's combination of western art music tinged with oriental pentatonicism was successfully matched by the east-meets-west concept of the production. It was a sensuory overload - stunning to watch and beautiful to listen to, the audience lavishing in the visuals as the orchestral score washed over them. The visuals are effectively just gloss to the core narrative, which here tragically took a backseat, but this production was well worth the price of admission.
Thursday, 10 March 2011
This week, Beth Ditto releases her self-titled debut EP, of which I Wrote The Book is the headline single. With her solo work, Ditto has morphed into an electro disco diva, steering her career into a new direction.
It continues on from last year's excellent Cruel Intentions with production by Simian Mobile Disco. The disco diva persona reveals a different side to Ditto's personality, proving she is more than just a heavy-hitting rock chick. The vocal feels a little restrained, as you're waiting for her to fully let loose, but it's a welcome change of tact for the singer. The production is electric, with a pleasingly retro feel. The video, too, has an almost Madonna-esque feel to it. Although I Wrote The Book is the single, the other tracks are definitely worth checking out - Open Heart Surgery in particular.
With her debut EP, Ditto is rewriting the book of her career. It's a brave choice that deserves recognition.
Wednesday, 9 March 2011
Last November I reviewed Scherzinger's Poison, a well constructed and catchy pop-dance track. Don't Hold Your Breath works in much the same way as simply a vehicle for Scherzinger to pout and look sexy, but yet again she's managed to crack out a decent track.
It's a reworking of a demo track by Keri Hilson featuring Timbaland. This original has the typical Timbaland production which I prefer, despite the robotic autotuning. With Scherzinger's version, what was once a two-way argument is now a one-woman heartbreak. The combination of slick electronica and minor tonality with a punchy, uptempo beat works well as a contemporary pop ballad, though I miss the edgier RnB production of the original. Like Poison, it's hardly innovative but is similarly a radio-friendly piece of fluff I'll happily crank up the volume for.
The video's not bad either. Nice use of lighting and...erm...wind.
Monday, 7 March 2011
The year began with reviews of the BBC SO2011 nominees. It was an exciting start, discovering new music and predicting the successes of the year.
Three months on and three of the top five nominees have released their albums: Clare Maguire, Jessie J and James Blake. Do the nominees live up to the hype? Have their nominations been a blessing or a curse?
I write this whilst listening to Clare Maguire's newly released album 'Light After Dark'. It's by no means a bad album, but it's undoubtedly a disappointment. Ain't Nobody really grabbed my attention at the tail-end of last year and I fell in love with her voice, so had high hopes for the album. Listening to each track in isolation is fine, but once you listen to the album in full, the eighties inspired (over)production is relentless. Each track aims to emulate the appeal of singles Ain't Nobody and The Last Dance, though it all spirals into repetition. It's a real shame as Maguire has an incredible voice, but the songwriting just doesn't match up, lapsing into cliché with its forgettable lyrics. Ain't Nobody, along with the stunning video, promised dark sensuality and seduction, but the full album delivers merely clichéd sentimentalism. I hope, like ironically titled final track This is not the end, the sentiment rings true - Maguire is a true vocal talent who deserves success with a second album.
What about the winner, Jessie J? Again, first single Do It Like A Dude was superb, posing a feisty version of femininity as a perfect follow-up to previous female 'Sound of' winners. Then there was Price Tag, a bubblegum pop track that totally belies her attitude and sense of cool. Unfortunately, the album has followed the template laid by Price Tag, with a series of pop ballads that seem totally unsuited to her. Then there's James Blake, whose beautiful cover of Limit To Your Love wowed critics late last year. But now the full album is out, I question whether his minimalist approach is uniquely experimental or covers for a lack of songwriting skill.
The point is that each of these artists are incredibly talented (particularly vocally), but this arguably hasn't been demonstrated in their albums. Perhaps they were released in a rush to capitalise on the hype, when ironically they could've done with a longer gestation period. Has the 'Sound of' poll raised expectations too high?
What about previous winners? When last year's winner Ellie Goulding released her debut, the critics panned her lack of innovation. It wasn't until the re-release following single Your Song that the album hit success. The number two spot went to Marina & The Diamonds, who recently stated "I'm pissed off I'm not bigger". 2009 winner Little Boots has dropped off the scene. Even Adele, who won in 2008, has only received the full attention she deserves with her second album '21'.
Of course, there are success stories. Adele has now fully come into her own and will surely be showered with further accolades and awards. Florence Welch, having taken third place in 2008 with her music machine, has famously taken the industry by storm. Recently, Hurts won Best New Band at the NME Awards 2011. In these cases, the poll brought publicity which springboarded their success, though it seems they are exceptional.
To conclude, what is the impact of the 'Sound of' poll on an artist's career? For some, it provides much needed exposure and for others it raises the hype to an unattainable level, setting them up for a disappointing fall. But the poll can't be blamed for an artist's career - it is undoubtedly an effective tool for gauging expectations. Ultimately, it's down to the artist to prove their talent. And of course, the joy of music is its subjectivity - one man's innovation is another man's cheesy pop.
Most importantly, once these acts release their second albums (and more) their longevity will be proven. Adele has succeeded - who will follow suit?
Sunday, 6 March 2011
"Now is not the time for dick measuring..."
Because against Liam Neeson, you're bound to lose.
Taken is basically a film about a father-daughter relationship. How does he prove his love? By saving her from human traffickers, kicking ass and taking names. The narrative sits somewhere between believability (female prositution being a disturbing, yet very real, problem) and silliness - with Neeson as your crime fighting "preventor" dad, you know there'll be a positive ending. The subject matter is pretty terrifying, but it takes a backseat to the fast paced, frenetic action sequences that steal the bulk of the screen time. The script is unintentionally comical at times - the above quote is just one of many gems spouted from Neeson's mouth. Sure, the film isn't going to win any Oscars, but it's an exciting thriller nonetheless.
At the least, it's confirmed Liam Neeson as celebrity father of choice.
Saturday, 5 March 2011
Despite the name, you know exactly what you're getting yourself into the moment the lights go down in the cinema.
Unknown is a pretty standard thriller starring Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger. Neeson plays Dr Martin Harris who, on a trip to Berlin, is involved in a car accident with the unwitting Gina (Kruger). Afterwards his identity is stolen and he sets out to discover why. It's got everything you'd expect - mystery, crime, car chases, plenty of action and a rather implausible plot that doesn't quite satisfy in the end. It's essentially a poor man's Bourne Identity, though the ride is thrilling enough. The special effects are a bit poor though.
For a Saturday afternoon's entertainment, it's not bad - the story is intriguing enough and the acting is credible. But once the lights go up, Unknown lives up to its name and its forgettable nature becomes clear.
Thursday, 3 March 2011
The problem with Che is that it doesn’t know whether it’s an historical dramatisation or a history lesson.
The film comes in two parts, depicting the role of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro’s right-hand-man, during the Cuban revolution. It takes on two distinct cinematic styles. Firstly, we have Che at the end of the revolution, dealing with political negotiations. It’s filmed in black and white with a handheld camera, which, along with the interview voiceover, creates a documentary, factual style. This provides a framework for the rest of the film, filmed in colour as a dramatisation of the revolution’s events. The juxtaposition is ineffective, with the main story appearing overly sentimental and the black and white sections seeming cold and overly factual by contrast. Had Soderburgh chosen one style, the film would’ve been more enjoyable.
Further, the film consists largely of short scenes and the editing lacks continuity. As such, the narrative doesn’t flow and feels more convoluted than it should. Del Toro does a convincing performance, but in general Che lacks characterisation. Had the film been only one part, the narrative would’ve been more concise, focused and entertaining.
The Cuban revolution is undoubtedly an important part of modern history, but Che is just a bore. Needless to say, I won’t be watching Part Two.
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
The Fighter strikes me as an unusual film in Hollywood - a gritty, realistic family drama without the sugar-coating. It's almost British in design, like a boxing version of Billy Elliot.
The realism stems from the documentary style of the opening interviews (providing material for the later television programme about brother Dicky (Christian Bale)). This continues with each fight, the grainy visuals and commentary replicating a television broadcast.
At the centre of the film is Mickey (Mark Wahlberg), a semi-professional boxer. The title of the film is telling - each boxing round is a fight for Mickey to find his voice, to find his independence, as he strives to balance his career with his interfering family. Often, as the family debate, the camera remains fixed on Wahlberg. He is a gentle giant, the calm rock in the centre of the dysfunctional maelstrom that is his family, led by Dicky. The problem with Bale's performance is that amongst the realistic style, he sticks out like a sore thumb - his over the top portrayal borders on caricature as he contends to steal each frame. At times, he and the rest of the family are like an American version of the Royle Family. By contrast, Wahlberg gives an understated and altogether more subtle and believable performance. However, the film belongs to Amy Adams and Michelle Leo (girlfriend and mother respectively) - their acting ability has been surely recognised by their BAFTA and Oscar nominations.
The film drops off at the end, with footage of the real Mickey and Dicky shown over the credits. It invites comparisons with the actors' performances (however credible) and ruins the illusion of the film. Altogether, though, this is a well-paced and very well acted drama that deserves its place on the nomination lists.