Friday, 30 December 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) - Brad Bird


 
Ghost Protocol is a fairly typical spy thriller.  The plot is fairly straightforward but contains all the double-crossing, nuclear weapon threats and action sequences you would expect.  A geriatric Tom Cruise, along with Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Paula Patton, group together to stop the original Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) from sparking nuclear war.

The twists and turns allow for some decent action setpieces that aschew CGI effects for some proper chases and explosions.  There are even some subtle nods to previous films in the series - Renner's fan jump especially, complete with sweat dripping as he hovers in mid-air.  The final sequence, with its ticking time bomb, hypes up the tension considerably.

The trouble is that it's impossible to take the film seriously.  The script is laughable, but the inclusion of Pegg playing (yet again) a geek with tongue stuck firmly in cheek totally undermines any tension that the film strives to achieve, as well as Cruise taking it all too seriously.  Further, though the mission may indeed seem impossible, our protagonist has more lucky escapes than Harry Potter.  The result is a film that is totally unbelievable and difficult to totall invest in.  Then there's the saccharine ending that neatly sets up future films in the series. As pure popcorn entertainment, though, it succeeds.

The recent Bond and Bourne films have introduced a darker, grittier style of spy film.  Sure, Ghost Protocol needs to differentiate itself from its peers, but it also needs to be dragged into the twenty-first century.  Instead, it's more of an hommage to the spy films of old.

3/5

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) - David Fincher



Oh Fincher.  You nearly lost me in the first two minutes.  The opening credits to his film are exceptionally well done - stylish and sexy, yet totally inappropriate.  They may have subtle references to the other novels in the series (hornets and fire), but the sequence feels more like the opening to a Bond film. 

Credits aside, this is an excellent adaptation.  The events of the novel are condensed, more so than Oplev's Swedish film.  The result is a focused narrative, without much of the extraneous material of the novel.  It's still long, but hardly noticeable owing to the compelling plot.  The odd element has been changed, with some added irony to the ending, but it has little impact.  What remains is a tight mystery that remains faithful to the original source. 

Admittedly, we are presented with simply the barebones of the story, which, to an extent, makes Blomkvist's search for the killer seem a little easier than anticipated.  However, it also allows Fincher to flex his artistic muscles.  He excels in his recreation of Sweden.  This is no Hollywood bastardisation.  His cityscapes are foreboding metropolises; his landscapes are frozen in a bleak, perpetual winter.  Even inside the wind howls and rattles the windows.  His use of light is stunning, high contrast informing the whole look of the film.  Each character is dressed in black, in stark contrast to the raging blizzard and cold, minimalist furnishings.  This is paired with an ambient soundtrack more suitable for a horror film.  Yet horrific this film is and Fincher's style heightens the danger for a tense thriller.

The characters, meanwhile, are not so black and white.  Rest assured, the casting is to be applauded, especially the two protagonists.  Daniel Craig may seem an odd choice after his recent turn as Bond, but his Blomkvist balances sex and intelligence.  Of course, the most important character is Lisbeth Salander, the titular girl.  Noomi Rapace has personified Salander in the Swedish films with her calculated malice.  Rooney Mara, however, plays a younger, more innocent girl - making her moments of brutality all the more shocking. 

The film may not be as graphic as its Swedish counterparts, but Fincher's more stylised vision remains a gripping portrayal of sexual violence.  Perhaps those opening credits are appropriate after all?  Moreover, Fincher has proved that remakes are not redundant, despite my own protestations.  After all, a great story, no matter how it is told, remains a great story.

4/5

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) - Guy Ritchie



Like the previous Holmes film, A Game of Shadows bares little resemblance to Conan Doyle's original literature.  In fact, Ritchie's films are more akin to Pirates of The Caribbean, and not least for Hans Zimmer's score.

Downey Jr's turn as Holmes shares many similarities with Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow - both charming, yet ultimately rather silly.  But, at the risk of sounding like a snob, the self-depracating humour and ridiculous disguises are not what Holmes should be about.  Downey Jr's is a scatty, cocky, pantomime Holmes who lacks the sharp focus of his novel counterpart.  The characterisation here is all wrong and makes a mockery of the original material.

So, too, does the story, which lacks the intelligence to match the detective's character.  It is filled with neither the mystery nor double-crossing you would come to expect.  Instead, it all feels cheap.  The opera scene, referencing Don Giovanni, is simply a paltry attempt to inject some much needed drama.  The use of Mozart's music also shows up an increasingly repetitive Zimmer.  Then there's the unfathomably cliched final scene which takes place over a game of chess, but ends up being an odd form of intellectual foreplay.  The homoeroticism between Holmes and Watson is less well disguised than Holme's cross-dressing.  Meanwhile Jude Law's Watson is just a typical English gentleman, whilst Noomi Rapace is present purely for some exotic sex appeal.  And Stephen Fry naked is...well...as you'd expect.

On the plus side, Ritchie's late nineteenth century Europe is a stylised imagining, the washed out feel similar to Burton's Sweeney Todd.  The fight scenes especially are well choreographed, the liberal use of hyper-sensory slow motion allowing the audience, like Holmes, to notice the smallest details, as well as acting as a visual mind-game between the protagonists.  Paradoxically, whilst these may be the most enjoyable moments of the film, they are totally out of character - Holmes is not, and should never be, an action hero.

2/5

Friday, 23 December 2011

Dry The River - No Rest



On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January. The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.


Dry The River have described their sound as "folky gospel music played by a post-punk band" which makes total sense: Mumford or Fleet Foxes-esque falsetto vocal harmonies and folk inflected melodies, lyrics that reference Soloman amd Rehoboam and an epic concoction of guitars, brass and orchestral strings.

The band are led by Norweigan-born frontman Peter Liddle.  His heritage shows - his voice and guitars reverbing across frozen fjords.  There's even a touch of the Icelandic Sigur Ros here, similarly painting spectacular vistas with their sound.  The quintet now reside in London, having had a successful year of tours and festivals across the country, which is set to continue following their Sound Of nomination. 

No Rest may begin quietly enough, but it soon expands and crescendoes into a tumult as Liddle belts out emphatically "I loved you in the best way possible".  Catchy, alt-folk pop that not so much tugs at your heartstrings but rips them out with Nordic spirit.

4/5

Listen: No Rest is available now, as is their EP 'Weights & Measures'.

Watch: Dry The River will be touring in late January and February next year.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Spector - What You Wanted


On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January. The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.


Spector are this year's Vaccines - an incredibly generic indie band who inexplicably seem to be heaped with praise.  They're also, being primarily a guitar band, in the minority.  And it's easy to see why.

The tagline on the band's website is "Nothing you haven't seen before".  Well that says it all.  Frontman Fred Macpherson alone is like a smorgasbord of recent indie vocalists - from Brandon Flowers (The Killers) to Harry McVeigh (White Lies) and Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand) amongst others.  There's a definite glumness to the vocal, matched by the lazy guitar playing.  The catchy chorus, with its sing-along feel, is very reminiscent of The Killers and there's a sprinkling of Pulp in there too.  If this was 2003, then maybe this would sound fresh.  Macpherson has even stated in an NME interview he wanted to write music for his fifteen year old self.  That's all well and good, but what about adding a new twist?  Unfortunately, it's nearly 2012 and the music industry has been saturated with trash like this for the last decade.  There's no need for more.

Yes, it's not necessarily a bad song.  And yes, with the diminishing of guitar music in the charts we should be celebrating a new, up-and-coming band.  But it's hard to get behind something so wholeheartedly dull.  

2/5

Listen:  What You Wanted was released back in September, with an album to follow next year.

Watch: Spector will be touring the UK in February


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Friends - I'm His Girl

 
On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January. The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.
 
 
Friends are like a more laidback version of The Ting Tings.  The Brooklyn based quintet formed back in 2010, naming themselves after the Beach Boys album of the same name.  They describe their sound as 'weird-pop', which is rather fitting.  Sultry bass guitar lines fuzz with driving, dry percussion, cheeky cowbell and singer Samantha Urbani's speech-song delivery.  It's a hazy mix: part nostalgia and part icy cool ennui.  I'm His Girl follows the dizzying Friend Crush - it's a catchier affair, with Urbani stating "I'm his girl" with a confident, knowing wink.  This is music for sexy, lazy afternoons which the video perfectly compliments.
 
4/5
 
Listen: Both I'm His Girl and Friend Crush are available now.
 
Watch: Friends are touring the UK in February.
 
 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Azealia Banks - 212


On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January. The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.


She topped the NME Cool List this year and is now a SO2012 nominee following her debut single 212.

Why?  Because she's a walking contradiction.

Take a look at the video.  In it she dances the conga wearing a Mickey Mouse jumper and smiles at the camera like butter wouldn't melt, all over a stonking house beat.  It shows her playful side - that is until you listen to the lyrics she raps.  Sure, they're mostly incomprehensible but they're jam packed with swear words (the 'chorus' line simply repeats "I'mma ruin you c*nt").  The lyrics are typically hip-hop, stamping her authority across the music industry with an "I don't give a f*ck" attitude, her cutesy image belying her ferocity.  It's a winning juxtaposition.

It's fast becoming a pre-requisite for female artists to both rap and sing - Nicki Minaj taking the lead, followed by X-Factor wannabe stars Cher Lloyd and Misha B.  But this Harlem girl proves she can do both, with this bombastic, heart-on-sleeve debut in addition to a cover of Interpol's Slow Hands

So her image is sorted - even if her music doesn't keep up that's half the battle won, right?

3/5


Monday, 19 December 2011

A$AP Rocky - Peso


On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January. The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement. 


He comes from Harlem, NY.

He smokes weed.

He calls his mates "niggas" and "mutha fuckas".

And he has a dollar sign in his name.

This guy isn't a rapper - he's a cliche.

But is his music any good?  No.  

Real name Rakim Mayers, he's part of the A$AP Crew - Always Strive And Prosper.  I don't think this will happen.  Peso was released earlier this year following his debut Purple Swag.  Icy synths, a laidback beat and some very dull rapping about drugs, bitches and that notorious "swagger".  And yet he has the audacity to claim his mixtape 'LiveLoveA$AP' (pictured), released back in October, is "better than a lot of people's albums".  I don't think so bruv.

1/5

Listen: Peso is available now, with an album to follow in the new year.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

Ren Harvieu - Through The Night


On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January. The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.

Harvieu holds the place in this year's poll usually reserved for the likes of Claire Maguire, Adele and Duffy - the female artist with "the voice". 

Like fellow nominee Michael Kiwanuka, her music is cemented in the past.  Orchestral colours merge with mid-tempo soul sounds - Dusty Springfield is clearly a huge influence here.  Through The Night, her debut single, wafts past like a gentle summer breeze, her voice effortlessly floating alongside vocal harmonies, string textures and plucked double bass.  Vocally, Harvieu is soft, achingly lilting and well suited to smoky jazz bar performances.  However, this music is most likely to be heard on Radio 2 and unlikely to transcend into the mainstream.  Her most obvious contemporary is Rumer - both artists have lovely voices but lack that extra something.  Yet at just 21, Harvieu has a great future ahead of her to hone her craft.

Then again, she has some tough competition in the recent explosion of internet behemoth Lana Del Rey.  They may be akin in their retro influences, but Del Rey takes the prize for her darker, sexier interpretation.

3/5

Listen: Through The Night is released on 23rd January.

Watch: Harvieu will be supporting Benjamin Francis Leftwich on his UK tour in February.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Dot Rotten - Keep It On A Low


On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January. The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.

Dot Rotten is fast becoming one of the UK's most notorious rappers.  His career began a few years ago under the pseudonym Young Dot.  After releasing a mixtape ('This Is The Beginning'), he changed his name to Dot Rotten and even released the album 'RIP Young Dot'.  He formed the OGz Crew and separately released six instrumental 'Rotten Riddims' albums that showcase his production talent, which has since seen him working with a number of grime artists, including Tinie Tempah and Wiley. More recent collaborations range from Ed Sheeran to Cher Lloyd and a feature on Teardrop, the Children in Need single. 

Rotten released the single Keep It On A Low earlier in the year.  Clearly he is an artist with experience under his belt, the production polished to a sparkling sheen.  But don't let the bright city lights and sharp suit fool you - Rotten can drop it like the best.  Though the chorus has a modern garage feel to it, the verse is derived very much from the grime scene with its grinding bass and heavy beats.  Meanwhile he raps of his love for his music and his rise to fame - his past was "grimy obvious" but now he's "rolled through the underground".

Polished grime may seem oxymoronic, but Rotten has managed to balance his past and his future - the underground with the commercial.  It's unlikely that he'll forget his roots though: as he says on Normal Human Being "remember that I'm Rotten and I'm from the hood". 

3/5

Listen: Keep It On A Low is available now from iTunes.

Watch: Rotten will be touring the UK in February.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Thirst - Set It Alight


The Thirst combine funk, rock and soul into their own unique brand of 'electric-groove'.  These four lads from Brixton, London, cite Prince and Jimi Hendrix as two of their major influences.  And it shows - bass and drum grooves melding with funk guitar riffs for vivacious and energetic effect.

Set It Alight features on the band's latest EP 'Laugh With The Sinners', following their debut album 'On The Brink' from 2008.  The track is infectiously rhythmic, with dazzling guitars and frontman Mensah Hart's dynamic vocal.  Electric-groove really is the perfect epithet.  Also on the EP is an awesome cover of Stardust's 1998 hit Music Sounds Better that hypes up the funk factor to new levels.

And best of all?  The EP is free to download from the band's website.  Don't hesitate to snap this up.

4/5

Listen:  'Laugh With The Sinners' is available now for free.

Watch: The Thirst are playing at Plan B in London on December 22nd.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Scrillex - First of the Year (Equinox)



On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January. The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.



Readers of a nervous disposition, "call 911 now".

Scrillex is fast building a reputation in the music industry, in part for his skills as a producer and partly as "the most hated man in dubstep".  Real name Sonny Moore, he hails from LA and is partly responsible for dubstep's increasing popularity in US dancehalls, despite initially being a UK underground genre.  Both his 'Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites' and 'More Monsters and Sprites' EPs are available now, the latter of which includes First of the Year (Equinox) as well as Ruffneckplayed considerably on Radio 1.

Moore's career began as the vocalist of From First To Last, an American metal band.  The influence is clear in his production work as Scrillex.  Instrumental and vocal samples are cleverly spliced together into an angry maelstrom of exploding beats and lasers, taking dubstep wobbles to the extreme.   Part music, part noise, I'd imagine audiences would be unsure whether to dance or mosh at a Scrillex gig.  Then again, each of his tracks follows a similar structural pattern.  For all its hard-hitting energy, his music does lack diversity, but with hundreds of gigs under his belt and an ever-increasing fanbase, expect to hear much more from this talented producer over the next year.

Just beware before clicking play on the video below...

3/5

Listen:  Both EPs are available now.

Watch: Scrillex will be playing nine UK dates in February.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Jamie N Commons - The Preacher



On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January.  The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.

A husky, growling voice.  A repeated acoustic guitar figure.  Religiously tinged lyrics of a man "with one hand on the trigger and one hand on the cross / Jesus and his family are the two things he’s lost". 

With such an American country/blues style, it's hard to believe that Jamie N Commons is just 22 and actually hails from Bristol.  He sings with a roaring maturity far beyond his years and sounds deeply authentic.  The Preacher is the lead track from his debut EP 'The Baron' (pictured).  It begins with a quiet intensity before the music gradually swells into a cacophony of screaming guitars and thrashing drums.  It's the sort of music to accompany long, lonely winter nights in the depths of a snow covered, twilit wasteland deep in the midst of America - a feeling that the video represents successfully.

A raw talent in the most literal sense.

4/5

Listen: The debut EP 'The Baron' is out now, with a debut coming in 2012.

Watch: Commons will be touring the UK in early 2012.


Monday, 12 December 2011

Albert Herring @ RNCM


Britten was always semi-autobiographical with his operas and Albert Herring is no exception.  In addition to its setting in a ficticious East Anglian town (where he lived), the links to Britten himself are clear.  Herring represents the triumph of the outsider, the young Albert, in the face of his overbearing mother and local community, just as Britten, a closet homosexual, was rising to prominence, rebelling against society's expectations of sexuality and experiencing life outside his hometown.  Unlike his other operas, however, this is a light-hearted comedic piece.  It also represents the triumph of youth, so it's telling that this was only his third full opera, composed at the relatively young age of thirty-four.  As such, with its themes of youthful rebellion and Albert's drunken experiences with alcohol, Herring proved a suitable choice of opera for the student singers of the RNCM.

The initial impression came from the set - gloriously ostentatious, the attention to detail (in the shop scenes especially) was staggering and continued through the costumes.  Designed by Lara Booth, she cleverly contrasted Victorian gothic architecture with elements of art nouveau to reflect the intellectual war of the generations.  The religious overtones of Lady Billows' cathedral-like dining room were obvious, yet the imposing stained-glass windows contained cheeky references to fruit which were later mirrored in the colourful trees of the banquet scene.  The only downside to the complex set was the prolonged changes between each scene, though each was a complete transformation.

The narrative of the opera is simple, centered very much on characterisation - Eric Crozier, the librettist, wrote character sketches initally before embarking on the full libretto.  This production was performed by two casts on alternative nights - I was lucky enough to see both which put their contrasting interpretations into sharp focus.  This was no more apparent than with the two Alberts.  Thomas Morss was quietly brooding, allowing the orchestra to speak his character's mind, revealing his psychological turmoil through the music.  Elgan Thomas, on the other hand, was more outspoken with his piercing and characterful tenor.  In neither case was Albert the 'simpleton' he's described as by the adults in the first Act, both delivering accomplished performances.

It has to be said that diction - of paramount importance to this form of storytelling - was exceptional across the board.  Particularly impressive however, was Eleanor Garside's Miss Wordsworth, who's diction was crystal clear, with enthusiastic characterisation and great chemistry with Jonathan Alley's Mr Gedge the vicar.  Other performances also stood out - Jenny Carson was charming as the girlish Emmie; Heather Lowe commanded the stage with authority as Florence Pike; Andrea Tweedale was wonderfully amusing as the uptight Lady Billows; and Daniel Shelvey's rich baritone was well suited to the flirtatious romance of Sid.  The two orchestras struggled at times with Britten's demanding score, but his colourful orchestration shone through nonetheless. 

This was a triumphant production, with comic acting (such as the hilarious banquet scene) fusing with sincere and technically accomplished singing (the final Act's threnody especially).  Every student involved was remarkably talented - clearly the future of opera is in safe hands.

4/5

Watch: The opera is performed this week on Tuesday 13th, Thursday 15th and Saturday 17th of December.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Niki & The Dove - DJ, Ease My Mind


On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January.  The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.

Imagine The Knife mixed with Delerium's Silence and Bjork's Hyperballad and you get the idea for this one.

Niki & The Dove are, of course, from Sweden.  Scandinavia really is the home to high quality synth pop, (what with Robyn, The Knife, When Saints Go Machine and Jonathan Johansson to name a few in recent years) and this band continue the tradition with aplomb.  The duo consists of Gustaf Karlöf and Malin Dahlström, who formed in 2010 and released two EPs this past year - 'The Fox' and 'The Drummer'. 

Their style is typical of their peers, yet favours grating synths and a darker tone of composition.  DJ, Ease My Mind, their debut single, has a real dancehall flavour, mixing trance synths with Dahlström's distinctive vocal and industrial percussion.  Their latest EP, 'The Drummer', has a brighter, neon-pop feel combined with instrumental interlude tracks, but the quirky production remains. 

Niki & The Dove may struggle to beat the established competition in the UK music industry - Robyn especially.  Yet their distinctive sound demands your attention.

4/5

Listen:  Two EP's, 'The Fox' and 'The Drummer' are both available now.

Watch:  The band have no UK tour dates for the new year as of yet.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Lost Christmas @ Waterloo East Theatre


I'll put it out there, I'm not a fan of panto.  It means that theatres are fraught with danger during the Christmas period.

Luckily, the Waterloo East Theatre have The Lost Christmas to save the holiday season. 

Laurence Mark Wythe has written a rather sweet Christmas musical which is fun for all the family.  In the present day, Santa cancels Christmas when he loses faith in the materialistic nature of the youth of today.  And in the year 3999, the world is taken over by robots and Christmas doesn't even exist.  The story brings these two timelines together in a collision of festive cheer, where young girl Sophie must journey to the North Pole to save Christmas.

It's a Christmas story with a futuristic twist, though of course retaining a sense of the cheesy "true" meaning of Christmas.  It's far from schmaltzy however, and turns away from the obvious style of panto humour.  As a result, children will be swept along with the adventure, whilst adults will appreciate the subtle innuendo.  Katie Brennan's turn as Sophie's mother, in particular her solo song Action Man, provided humorous moments aplenty for the more mature members of the audience.  Other members of the cast, such as Natalie Law as comedic (yet underused) Elfina and Erica Birtles as the wide-eyed, innocent Sophie, excelled in their respective parts - the ensemble was tightly knit and their enjoyment was infectious.

The set, consisting of stacked presents to represent the various buildings, was cleverly implemented - simple yet appropriate.  Most importantly, the songs were filled with toe-tapping tunes played solely and commendably by Jodie Oliver on piano, which the audience couldn't help but sing along to as they left the auditorium.

A small-scale yet utterly lovely show, The Lost Christmas perfectly embodies the festive spirit.

4/5

Watch: The Lost Christmas is on at the Waterloo East Theatre until the 23rd December.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Frank Ocean - Novocane


On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January.  The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.


You may recognise this guy's name from his collaborative work on Kanye and Jay-Z's 'Watch The Throne', specifically on No Church In The Wild and Made In AmericaIn fact, Novocane has a similarly dark and gritty production to No Church In The Wild - it's unclear who influenced who in this respect but as all three artists are signed to Def Jam and wrote these songs around early summer 2011, there's clearly been some crossover.  Further collaborations include writing Beyonce's I Miss You from recent album '4' - in retrospect indicative of Ocean's style.

Now, Ocean (real name Christopher Francis Ocean) is set for big things next year in his own right, with Novocane as the debut single.  On it, he sings of a "model broad with the Hollywood smile / Stripper booty and rack like wow", who yearns to be a dentist (hence the title) and sends our protagonist high - "But there's no drug around quite like what I found in you".  Just imagine if he and Usher discovered a girl with a "booty like wow oh wow" AND a "rack like wow".  Mind officially blown. 

Still, the lyrics are hardly the "visionary shit" Ocean would have you believe.  Instead, the highlight is the production - twilit synths, subtle vocoder and vocal harmonies, sexy basslines and the obligatory throbbing sub-bass.  It may not be the most inventive track ever, but it's a style that is at the forefront of popular music.  I suspect we'll be seeing far more of Ocean in the very near future.

4/5

Listen: Novocane is available on iTunes now, with his debut album TBA 2012.


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Daughter @ St Giles-in-the-Fields


Having reviewed Youth a few weeks ago, I had high hopes for this gig.  Daughter did not disappoint.

St Giles-in-the-Fields proved to be the perfect venue for Daughter's ambient pop: dramatic and dimly lit, Christmas tree glinting in the corner and fairy lights sparkling and twisting along mic stands.  The coupling of venue and music gave the evening a sort of spiritual feel, the audience sinking into reverence.

Daughter's sound centres on front woman Elena Tonra - her breathy, delicate vocals and open-hearted lyrics.  Youth's "And if you're in love you are the lucky one / 'cause most of us are bitter over someone" is enough to secure that lump in your throat every time.  Heavily reverbed guitars dominate and each note echoed around the church with magical effect.  The band members deftly switched between electric, acoustic and bass guitars, sometimes played with a violin bow (reminiscent of Sigur Ros).  The overall sound was moody and atmospheric, each song just as beautiful as the last.  What also stood out was the dynamic range: from guitar strings plucked tenderly to thick chords strummed with emotive force, each song a crescendo to a cacophony of liquid guitars and thumping drums.  Youth was an obvious highlight, as was Love's heartfelt lyrics - both tracks available on current EP 'Wild Youth'.  The set also comprised songs from their previous EP 'His Young Heart' - Landfill and acoustic track The Woods were particularly captivating.

The final song featured a totally reimagined version of Hot Chip's Ready for the Floor that stunned the attentive audience, their ears lingering on each reverberation of the final chord, daring each other to start the applause first.  The set was spellbinding - if you get the opportunity to see this band live you'd be a fool to miss out.

4/5

Listen: Both EPs 'The Wild Youth' and 'His Young Heart' are out now.  Listen here or on iTunes.

Watch: Daughter continue to tour in the new year.  Londoners can catch them at the Islington Assembly Hall on April 12th.


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Rebecca Ferguson - Heaven


History has shown that it's better to be a runner-up on X-Factor, with Olly Murs, JLS and One Direction showing the way.  And now Rebecca Ferguson can be added to that list.  So don't worry Misha B...

'Heaven' is a genuine surprise.  Her choice of retro-motown is obvious, but the standard on offer is unexpected.  It's far better than Cardle's vanilla debut.

Ferguson has co-written every song on the album and whilst some of the lyrics are questionable, it's surprisingly emotive, authentic and, most of all, honest.  The ballads particularly impress: Ferguson gently intones "real love is free" on Shoulder to Shoulder above a softly lilting piano accompaniment, which similarly features on Teach Me How To Be LovedFighting Suspicions meanwhile begins as a slow jazz ballad, which builds into a mid-tempo funk groove; Too Good To Lose has a synth bass for an injection of modernity; and Fairytale provides a more up-tempo offering.  Album opener (and current single) Nothing's Real But Love is an early low point however, epitomising the overall Radio 2 feel of the album. 

Ferguson's vocal certainly has a distinctive tone and shines throughout, somehow managing to make almost everything sound mournful (in a good way).  It proves she's capable of some heart-on-sleeve emotion.  Whether her voice has a beautiful fragility to it, or is simply shaky, however, is up for debate.  Even so, the X-Factor judges always chat about finding "a recording voice" - well they've definitely found it here.

As a whole, 'Heaven' is just on the right side of old-fashioned.  It's by no means innovative and it does drag a little, lacking a sparkling standout track.  Yet again, though, the runner-up has triumphed.

3/5

Gizzle Choice Tracks:
* Shoulder To Shoulder
* Too Good To Lose

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

StooShe - Betty Woz Gone


On December 5th the BBC announced the nominees for the BBC Sound of 2012, with the final shortlisted five being announced in early January.  The Gizzle will be reviewing each of the fifteen longlisted nominees leading up to the final announcement.

So let's get the worst out of the way first eh?

StooShe are who X-Factor's Little Mix wish they were.  Imagine three Cher Lloyds rapping and singing in a girl band and you get the idea.  This is the sort of British urban-pop that Tulisa would wet herself over (they even supported N-Dubz on tour).

The frustrating thing is that these three girls (two of which were recruited in a Topshop?!) can actually sing pretty well.  Betty Woz Gone is their debut single, apparently based on a true story of "the life of Betty", a young mother more interested in getting off her face on the "sniff sniff sniffy" than looking after her kids.  Sure, the message of 'say no to drugs or you'll look like a nob' is at least positive, but it just sounds like three young brats mouthing off with some colourful language dressed up in a bubblegum package.  Quite frankly, this is irritating as hell.

My advice?  Don't do drugs, stop swearing, learn some grammar and, most importantly, grow up.

1/5

Monday, 5 December 2011

Amy Winehouse - Lioness: Hidden Treasures


Now don't get me wrong, the death of Amy Winehouse was a tragic loss of talent.  A unique vocalist, she will be sorely missed.  But is this really a fitting tribute?

The title of this album is somewhat misleading.  As with many albums of this type, there's a reason these tracks were previously unreleased - treasures they ain't.  Three of the tracks, Tears Dry, Valerie and Wake Up Alone, are merely demo versions of songs we all know and love.  They may be fascinating musical excursions, but ultimately they don't stand up to the "official" versions.  Then there are covers such as Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and The Girl From Ipanema, classic songs given the Winehouse treatment but not worth the price of admission.

Then we're left with the new songs.  They cover the full range of stylistic influences, from the modern soul of Like Smoke featuring a rap by Nas, to the classy jazz of Body And Soul, the duet with Tony Bennett.  The album highlight is Half Time, with an opening reminiscent of Corinne Bailey Rae that smoothly glides into a piece of jazz-soul complete with flute and vibraphone.  But we equally have to endure Our Day Will Come, the current saccharine and (now) ironically titled single.  If this is indicative of her next album, it hardly reveals a change of direction.  Like her previous material, the album certainly continues to show off Winehouse's outstanding vocal ability, but isn't anything particularly new and lacks the gutsy punch of tracks like Rehab or You Know I'm No Good.

Really, this is just another example of a greedy record company capitalising on a grievous situation.  Would re-releases of her previous albums not have sufficed?  Only Winehouse afficianados need apply.

2/5

Gizzle Choice Tracks
* Half Time
* Tears Dry

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Ed Byrne: Crowd Pleaser @ The Hammersmith Apollo



The evening began with Jack Woodward who, at 90 years old, is the oldest stand-up comedian in the UK.  His few short minutes on stage provided a thoroughly heartwarming start to the proceedings.

Byrne followed, with a set of observational comedy.  His subject matter ran the full gamut of topics, acting as something of a checklist - sexism, sexuality, racism, religion and even animal rights.  Yet he came across as a thoroughly nice bloke, managing not to offend anyone despite the precarious subjects.  Talk of his newborn son predominated though - clearly a proud father, everything from vomit to "talking to you as a parent" was discussed.  As a result, the humour levels ranged from clever political satire to base potty humour - as the name suggests, there really was something for everyone here.  Particularly funny were the early jokes on interplanetary trash talk and nerd ons - has anyone else noticed until now that Ed Byrne is an anogram for "be nerdy"?

Each topic was deftly tackled, Byrne flowing from joke to joke with ease.  At times, his delivery was a little too fast paced and difficult to follow, though this is equally a criticism of the sound levels and acoustics of the Apollo.  What also impressed were Byrne's quick witted responses to audience reactions, improvising with speed and confidence.  The night was well structured, the final jokes building to a crescendo that cleverly pieced together elements from the whole set with hilarious results.

The night flew by, leaving the audience with fixed grins and aching faces.  Hats off.

4/5

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die


First there was Video Games.

Then there was the B-side, Video Games Mark-II a.k.a Blue Jeans.

Now there's the follow up single, Video Games Mark-III a.k.a Born To Die.

Ok, maybe that's a little harsh.  Sure, Del Rey has a slightly repetitive formula, but her distinctive, languid vocals and dark, sombre brand of nostalgia-pop have taken the music industry by storm.  And rightly so - her haunting glamour deserves to reign supreme.

Born To Die, as the title suggests, is typically fatalistic and morbidly dramatic.  The lyrics, depicting (as ever) a doomed romance, are powerful but ultimately uplifting - in the face of death we must make the most of the time we have.  "Choose your last words, this is the last time / Cause you and I, we were born to die", she sings in her whiskey-soaked tones.  The production is similar to Video Games, but with a more rhythmic emphasis akin to Blue Jeans, the processed drums pulsing throughout.  It may not be as instantly catchy as her debut, but it's no less epic or emotional.  It remains to be seen whether she can maintain this momentum for a full album, but no doubt I'll be at the front of the queue on release day.

Video Games has become the benchmark for each of Del Rey's subsequent tracks, but Born To Die is arguably her best track yet.  It's released in late January, along with her debut album of the same name.

5/5




Friday, 2 December 2011

Daley - Those Who Wait


A year ago, Daley was nominated in the longlist for the BBC Sound of 2011 list.  Since then he's done...well seemingly not much.  On closer inspection though, Daley released an EP back in August as a free download.  The title track, Those Who Wait, explains why it's been a surprisingly quiet year for Daley - "good things come...".

Previously, I reviewed Rainy Day and was left less than impressed.  Whilst Daley certainly has a decent voice, his songwriting left something to be desired and his schmaltzy soul style felt self-indulgent.  A large part of this was the vocal gymnastics - he often sings like he has a chip on his shoulder, determined to prove his worth in the music industry.  To an extent, this still stands on his EP. 

Yet Those Who Wait proves that when the voice and the song click, it's a smooth-as-silk, magical combination.  The lyrics are well written and easy to relate to, if a little cliched - the documentation of Daley's rise to fame could be taken as slightly arrogant.  But the production is a modern take on RnB Soul: a slow beat, sexy yet sparse bassline, sparkling synths and some beautiful vocal harmonies. 

The EP is well worth checking out.  As long as his future material stays in this vein, the future is bright for Daley.  Let's hope his full debut album is worth the wait.

4/5

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Killers - The Cowboys' Christmas Ball


IT'S NEARLY CHRISTMAS!  And that means the Christmas classics will be resurfacing and the odd new song will try and take hold of our festive spirit.  This will be the fifth Christmas song from The Killers in as many years and is released today, World Aids Day, with proceeds heading to the (RED) campaign.

Now at Christmas, I'm all for a bit of cheese - preferably the edible kind, accompanied by some grapes and crackers.  But this song just takes the biscuit.  It's appalling.  Brandon Flowers tells us a tale of the Cowboys' Christmas Ball "way out in Nevada / where the Truckee's waters flow", filled with horribly cliched cowboy tropes.  As such, it's an American Country romp that, structurally, repeats the same music over and over and is at odds with the anthemic choruses of the band's previous material.  It's quite simply annoying as hell - is Christmas an excuse for bad music? 

Then again, at the least it's a bit of fun.  Now excuse me while I grab my line dancing shoes and gatecrash this Cowboy Ball - as long as there's cheese...

1/5