Tuesday 31 January 2012

Jack White - Love Interruption

Although the White Stripes are no more, Jack White has been busy working with a number of collaborators (most notably Alicia Keys on the Quantum of Solace Bond theme). Now he's ready to release his solo material - debut album 'Blunderbuss' is available from April 23rd.

Love Interruption is the first taste of what's to come. And at just two and a half minutes, it really is just a taste. Typically sparse and rough, this is not so much a full song as a little ditty, sounding more like a demo. The guitar and clarinet intro is ripped straight from Dusty Springfield's Son of a Preacher Man. In fact, the song as a whole has a strong country-blues feel, not least for the touches of vocal harmony from Nashville's Ruby Amanfu. The gritty production emphasises the lyrics - a bitter take on love. "I want love to roll me over slowly, stick a knife inside me and twist it all around", it begins. The second verse begins unaccompanied for further impact on the line "I want love to walk right up and bite me, grab a hold of me and fight me, leave me dying on the ground". It's a single-minded, focused track with a clear purpose, probably relating to his divorce last year. Musically, however, there's just not enough content to merit repeated listening.


Listen: Love Interruption is taken from the upcoming album 'Blunderbuss' released on April 23rd.

Monday 30 January 2012

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (album)

Is her music as manufactured as her apparently fake lips? Was Video Games just a one-off? Can 'Born To Die' live up to expectations?

Three big questions that fans and critics alike are demanding answers for from Lana Del Rey's debut album.

The answer to the first, at least, is who cares? Del Rey (born Lizzy Grant) may be a carefully molded pop construct that has sent critics into a frenzy, eager to endorse or diminish her authenticity. Yet she's hardly the first to do so. Is Lady GaGa really that bizarre in reality? And artists from Nicki Minaj to Bat For Lashes have released plenty of material from the point of view of an alter ego. Even if Grant is playing a character, the focus should be on the music. Sure, cynics may say it diminishes the emotional impact of her lyrics and her persona as the constant victim is hard to swallow. But the sweeping orchestration and inventive, hip-hop inspired production more than make up for this. Her jazz-tinged vocal delivery is naturally imbued with heartache, even if her lyrics aren't.

As for Video Games, it's been a huge success, catapulting Del Rey into the limelight. As such, many of the tracks do follow the same blueprint, though it's an understandable choice. That irresistible mix of old and new, lush orchestration and contemporary beats, Hollywood glamour and cool sex appeal, is what most characterises 'Born To Die' and each track is just varied enough to keep our attention.

Off To The Races and Diet Mountain Dew do offer something a little different, living up to her own "gangsta-Nancy Sinatra" moniker. But even these drug-fuelled romps, despite their weird sex appeal, are swamped in sadness. National Anthem begins with a grandiose string introduction, though Video Games remains Del Rey's true anthem. The dark, trip-hop feel of Dark Paradise and Summertime Sadness meanwhile continue to epitomise her noir-pop with their themes of death. Lyrically, This Is What Makes Us Girls is the most believable, the lines "we don't look for heaven and we put our love first / Don't you know we'd die for it? It's a curse" reaching the essence of her music, ending the album on a feminist high. It also proves a contrast to Radio, with its chorus of "No one even knows how hard life was" and "Baby love me cause I'm playing on the radio" being difficult to take in Del Rey's manufactured pop world.

So ultimately, is 'Born To Die' worthy of your time? It doesn't quite live up to the hype and there's not enough here to negate naysayers and negative critics, those that feel her morbid music has percolated into an emptiness behind her eyes that presented itself during her Saturday Night Live performance. Those who have fallen in love with Del Rey's sad, sexy and sumptuous sonic landscape, however, will find plenty of enjoyment here. At the least, 'Born To Die' is the most talked about album of the moment. At its best, it's the seminal pop album of the year.


Gizzle's Choice:

* Born To Die
* Video Games
* Dark Paradise

Listen: 'Born To Die' is available now in standard and deluxe forms.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Jess Mills - Pixelated People

Katy B has a lot to answer for.  Though I'm not personally a fan, her album 'On A Mission' has set in motion a mainstream fashion for pop-dubstep-garage tracks.  Jess Mills is the latest to jump on the bandwagon.

To call her a Katy B copycat wouldn't be unfair.  Both girls are adequate vocalists lucky enough to work with some UK electro producers in order to catapult them towards success.  Mills is the daughter of a Labour MP, mates with Ms Dynamite and has worked predominantly with dubstep producer Breakage.  Her latest single is Pixelated People, released in anticipation for a full album later this year.

Humming sub-bass and heavily processed drums make up the production, in conjunction with Mills's breathy, ordinary vocal sung to a monotone melody.  There's nothing wrong with it - it's chart friendly and harmless enough, yet it's equally uninspiring.  She may be attractive, but it's a shame her music isn't.


Listen: Pixelated People is available now, with an album to follow later in the year.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Bad Teacher (2011) - Jake Kasdan

Two minutes in: "So what's going to happen is..."

Is this the most predictable film of the past year?  It's a hard fought accolade.

But as preposterous as the story is, you knew it would be right?  Cameron Diaz plays a, wait for it, bad teacher, who is determined to win the annual bonus so she can get a boob job. That's right people, Bad Teacher is basically one long running joke at the expense of Diaz's tits.  She quarrels with fellow teacher Miss Squirrel (Lucy Punch) in a constant game of one-upmanship that mimics Bride Wars.  And will she end up with geeky, dry-humping Mr Delacorte (Justin Timberlake - awkward?  Yes), or fun-loving rebel Mr Gettis (Jason Segal)?  Well that one's obvious.

The humour level is pretty basic, but amusing all the same.  Bad language, sexual innuendo and drug abuse are the order of the day, which centres on Diaz's rebellious Liz Halsey.  The acting is adequate at best, with the peripheral characters (such as Phyllis Smith's Miss Davies) often stealing the most laughs.  But with such a vacuous narrative, it's an easy film to make and an easy popcorn film to sit through on a cold Saturday afternoon.  And all thanks to a tiny rack.


Friday 27 January 2012

Clock Opera - Belongings

If these guys aren't on your radar, they should be.

Frontman Guy Connelly has described the music as "chop-pop", cutting and manipulating samples of both instrumental and found sounds to form something new. It's a minimalist method of composition comparable to, say, Philip Glass or Steve Reich. Take Alouette for example - what sounds like a complex harp glissando introduction actually comprises a multitude of interlaced guitar sounds.

In Belongings the production centres on a repeated piano refrain which is overlapped with liquid effect. This web of sounds accompanies Connelly's gentle vocal, which bares similarities to Elbow's Guy Garvey. As the slow-burning song progresses, the vocal is looped along with the instrumental sounds with beautiful and mesmeric effect, before the rest of the band enter with drums and fuzzy guitars for a greater sense of urgency. The B-side, Let Go The Lifeboats, is like a twisted folk song, the hypnotic music juxtaposed with a clear pop structure.

Clock Opera's music is in a similarly experimental vein to Radiohead or James Blake (the producer for their upcoming album, Graham Stewart, also worked on Radiohead's 'Kid A' and 'Amnesiac'). But don't be put off by the artistic style of composition. It may be intelligently crafted, but it's indie-pop music all the same.


Listen: A number of the band's singles are available now, whilst the album 'Ways To Forget' is released on 9th April this year.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Madeon - Icarus

Fans of Deadmau5 will lap this up.

You may already know Madeon's remix of Deadmau5's Raise Your Weapon, a remix that improves on the original considerably.  In fact, Madeon (a French pop/house/electro producer) is becoming well known for his remixes.  But now he's ready to go it alone and all at the tender age of 17.

Icarus uses a vocal sample from Raise Your Weapon, but Madeon surpasses his mentor's work to form an intricate funky house track - part Deadmau5, part Daft Punk.  Madeon's clip manipulation using the Novation launch pad is impressive - see the second video below for his Pop Culture mash-up.  Icarus is a hyper frenzy of whirling synths, bass drops and heavily sampled grooves.  It may be a little derivative in its influences, but at such a young age Madeon can be forgiven.  Judging by this awesome track, he certainly has plenty more to give.


Listen: Madeon is currently preparing a four track EP for release later in the year.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Errors - Have Some Faith In Magic

Have faith. Errors return in spectacular fashion with their new album, the follow up to 2010's 'Come Down With Me'.

If you didn't know already, Errors are an electronica band from Glasgow, signed to Mogwai's Rock Action Records label. 'Have Some Faith In Magic' is the third album from the band - and their best yet. If you haven't listened to their music then do so. Fast.

This album is a step up from their previous work. It's less metric, offering greater depth with its richer textures and bolder melodies. Though still largely instrumental, the band have branched out to include vocals, though they're used simply as another musical colour in a lush sonic landscape. This isn't just ambient music - there is much to take in, but what at first seems like sensory overload unfurls into a feast for the ears, demanding repeated listening.

With its mix of electronic and the odd live instrument, this is truly music for the technological age. Tusk opens in a blaze of guitars and synth melodies, followed by Magna Encarta with its retro, 16 bit feel. This makes way for Blank Media, which has an almost progressive Mike Oldfield feel in its production, the driving bass ostinato also sounding a bit like Thriller. Pleasure Palaces (see below) meanwhile is an absolute joy, its focus on vocal melodies providing more immediacy than the other tracks.

At times the music lurches rhythmically, at others it drifts lazily as if in slow-motion - The Knock and dreamy Cloud Chamber especially. It never stagnates though, the intricate tapestry of sounds keeping you on your toes. Earthscore paints a darker picture, its tribal drums fusing with alien synths filled with oriental flourishes. The album ends with Holus-Bolus, drifting off into a halcyonic sunset.

It's always a bit cliched to say a band have grown in confidence and assurance - that goes without saying. But with 'Have Some Faith In Magic', the band's unique electronica has surely come into its own.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Pleasure Palaces
* Earthscore

Listen: 'Have Some Faith In Magic' is released on 30th January, but is being streamed exclusively now on Drowned In Sound.

Watch: The band are touring throughout February, click here for info.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Limitless (2011) - Neil Burger

Bradley Cooper: officially the sexiest man alive.  But in Limitless he becomes superhuman.

Like in the Matrix, a simple pill will solve all your problems.  But rather than unplug you from a computer programme, it opens your mind to its full potential.  The possibilities are limitless.  When Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a struggling writer, is introduced to the top secret drug 'NZT' his world is turned upside down.  He completes his book in four days.  He wins back his girlfriend.  And he makes millions on the stock market.

But how long can this last?  Will his secret be discovered?  And if his mindpower is truly limitless, why are there so many plot holes?  With such a wonder-drug, you can't help but feel that whenever problems arise, they should've been forseen.  Morra is constantly on the verge of running out of stock - why has he not used his brainpower to source some more drugs before his supply ends?

When the drug is taken, the camera pulls us into an alternate reality.  Fish eye lens provides a panoramic view of the city; minute details are pulled into sharp focus; constant zooms pull us head first through Morra's vision.  Most of all, it turns the world from bleak and drab into a spiritual realm filled with colour, dominated by Cooper's sparkly blue eyes. 

Thankfully the film doesn't delve too far into an anti-drugs campaign, instead remaining an intriguing piece of science-fiction.  And, typically for the genre, the ending is left open to leave the viewer pondering.

So then Bradley, not just a pretty face?


Monday 23 January 2012

Chairlift - Something

Synth-pop.  Chillwave.  Dream-pop.  Whatever you want to call the current vogue for 80s derived electronic pop and its myriad of subgenres, it's certainly become an overcrowded genre.  This style of production has permeated countless artists both indie and mainstream, M83 arguably leading the pack with the outstanding single Midnight City, followed by efforts from the likes of Niki & The Dove, New Look, When Saints Go Machine and Summer Camp amongst many others .

Can Chairlift stand out from the crowd?  In short, yes.

'Something' is the follow up to 2009 album 'Does You Inspire You' from the Brooklyn-based duo - Caroline Polachek on vocals and Patrick Wimberley on production.  It's an album filled with catchy, electrifying synth-pop.

It begins with Sidewalk Safari (previously reviewed), a driving, frenetic track that crashes into your ears immediately.  From there, 'Something' is a gradual decrescendo towards closer Guilty As ChargedThe first half jumps from hook to hook: the powerful guitar of Wrong Opinion; the playful, Fleetwood Mac-esque melody of I Belong In Your Arms; the swung rhythm of Ghost Tonight; and the infectious chorus of AmanaemonesiaLater, the album takes a more chilled tone, the tracks taking on an ambient, dreamy feel.  The result is a more confident album than their previous work, tightly focused in style yet enough variety to keep the listener entertained throughout.  The production constantly surprises with its mix of electronic and acoustic instruments, whilst Polachek's dreamy vocal hovers incandescently above.  The balance perhaps takes a too sudden shift in the latter half and lacks the immediacy of the earlier tracks.  But Chairlift can be forgiven owing to a large handful of album highlights.

There may be strong competition, but Chairlift stand out from the crowd with their energetic pop.  However you choose to classify it, 'Something' is the first great synth-pop album of 2012.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Sidewalk Safari
* I Belong In Your Arms
* Ghost Tonight

Listen: 'Something' is available now.

Watch: Chairlift are currently on tour, playing London on 6th March.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Ed Sheeran @ Brixton O2 Academy, 21st January

It was just over a year ago that Ed Sheeran signed to Atlantic Records.  Prior to this milestone, he was on a one man crusade of self-promotion, sofa surfing and performing at countless gigs.  And now, after a triple platinum selling debut album and four Brit nominees, Sheeran plays Brixton Academy - his biggest gig yet and, he claims, "the best of my career".

He has his detractors, those labelling him amongst the 'new boring', diminishing his songwriting talents.  But his stage performance is a world away from listening to the album and proves them wrong.  Despite the odd contrived lyric, his music is incredibly well executed.  His gig experience shows, as he remains a consummate professional throughout, totally at ease in front of the huge crowd.  Above all, he comes across as a thoroughly nice guy - shy and unassuming in interviews, he comes alive on stage.

What's most impressive was the virtuosic nature of the gig.  With no band and little technical stage wizardry (besides a few screens and lights), the emphasis is purely on Sheeran alone.  It's all about the guitar, the voice and the "loop station".  Each song was built up layer by layer, providing an expansive sound for a solo performer that differs considerably from the production of the album, whether in the upbeat numbers or the softer moments.  Audience interaction played a big part, using call and response to involve them in the music.  Songs from '+' were mixed with covers of Jamie Woon's Wayfaring Stranger and Nina Simone's Be My Husband for some extra variety, in some cases the guitar abandoned for a totally acapella performance of singing and beatboxing.  There was even a duet with Nizlopi's Luke Concannon.  You Need Me, I Don't Need You meanwhile was transformed into a fifteen minute tour-de-force that included guest appearances from Rizzle Kicks, Devlin, Mikill Pane and Wretch32.  Sheeran's cross-appeal is perhaps his greatest asset, combining pop singer/songwriter credentials with fast paced rapping and wordplay. 

Sheeran's performance has simply been transferred from smaller to larger venues and it's commendable that little has changed over the years, each audience member having the same experience.  Yet the nature of Sheeran's solo performance is better suited to more intimate spaces rather than Brixton Academy's 5000 person capacity.  This coupled with the persistance of screaming girls did detract from the experience slightly - even Sheeran himself shushed the audience at times.  Unfortunately, though, he's now become an established heartthrob who's key demographic is teenage girls - never again will audiences listen in hushed reverence.  Those fans from early gigs therefore have an enviable position.

Then again, Sheeran has come a long way over the last year and, judging by this performance, deserves to continue his success far into the future.  After tonight, I for one have new found respect.  The 'new boring'?  I don't think so.


Saturday 21 January 2012

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) - John Hughes

What would you do with a day off from High School?

For many, Ferris Bueller epitomises the 80s.  It's a film for the MTV generation, a cult teen film to file alongside The Breakfast Club or Rushmore.  As you'd expect, the protagonist is the titular Ferris Bueller, a charismatic and precocious High School student played by a young Matthew Broderick in one of his defining roles.  By cleverly persuading his parents he is sick, he takes a day off school and, along with his friends Cameron and Sloane, explores the city in increasingly outlandish scenarios.  But who will find him out?  His parents?  His school principal?  Or his sister (played by Jennifer Grey of Dirty Dancing fame)?

The periphery characters are a collection of hilarious oddballs.  The principal (Jeffrey Jones) is a cartoon, subjected to slapstick situations in his pursuit of Ferris, whilst his secretary is wonderfully stupid.  There's even a cameo from a young Charlie Sheen as a drug addict in a police station - more hilarious now in retrospect.  Much of the humour is childish, but the whole point of the film is the reversal of social hierarchy as the teenagers outsmart the adults at every turn.  In that respect, it's almost like a teen Home Alone. 

Trouble arises with Ferris himself.  For all his charisma and asides to the viewer, he is a bit of a smart-ass prick who's careless attitude gets his friends into as much trouble as himself.  Much of the film's narrative is frustrating as the viewer awaits his comeuppance, prolonged through a series of lucky escapes.  However, the ending does provide a satisfying conclusion and the credits sequence is hilarious. 

The whole style of the film is typically 80s, the soundtrack especially providing both context and comical juxtapositions.  As such, Ferris Bueller is a classic cult film that all teens and young adults should watch.


Friday 20 January 2012

Theme Park - Milk

What with it being January, Theme Park are yet another band purported to be the 'next big thing', more exciting than a trip to Alton Towers.

Their funk-rock sound owes much to Talking Heads and (more recently) Vampire Weekend.  Frontman Miles Haughton's deadpan vocal delivery is especially reminiscent of David Byrne.  This is in conjunction with funk guitars and rich bass sustaining a suitable groove.  It's a sound that has instant appeal for fans of both pop and indie-rock, with Milk being a typical example.  It's no wonder they've recently supported Bombay Bicycle Club on tour.

On closer inspection, though, it's a sound that is overused across their material, draining its appeal.  For all their rhythmic, funk grooves, Theme Park lack a standout track with a killer hook.  There's potential here, but their songwriting needs improvement.  As such, they're not quite the high octane thrill ride you may be hoping for.


Listen: Milk is available to download now, alongside their double A-side A Mountain We Love and Wax.

Watch: Theme Park have a number of tour dates for February and March.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Christina Perri @ Shepherds Bush Empire 18th January

Jar Of Hearts was undoubtedly one of the breakthrough songs of 2011.  And it seems it was a shock to Perri.  "This is so bananas", she exclaims to the crowd.

Yet there is more to this singer/songwriter than that ubiquitous jar.  For all her pop fandom, she has the appearance of a rock star, arms covered in tattoos, channeling PJ Harvey and Alanis Morisette in her looks.  She strides across the stage with surprising ease for a 24 year old only recently thrown into the spotlight, belting out numbers in her slightly nasal voice, a twang of Avril Lavigne or Hayley Williams, but always with a fixed grin exuding girlish charm.  Her sheer glee at being on stage is infectious.

This may not be the girl you'd expect judging from her album 'lovestrong' (pictured), a collection of heartfelt, sorrowful love songs.  Her performance had an altogether rockier edge and a greater variety that certainly appeased the crowd.  Of course, Jar Of Hearts went down a storm, causing an eruption of cameras and throaty singing, yet Perri proved she is worthy of her recent success.  Numbers like Bang Bang Bang and brand new track Crazy were belted out with guitar solos and meaty drums, whilst A Thousand Years, written for the recent Twilight film, showed her pop side and a cover of Roy Orbison's Crying was included as an extra injection of variety.  There was still plenty of space for her softer songs, but these don't translate so well to stage, better suited to solo listening on headphones with a box of tissues.  As such, these portions of the set tended to drag, although they offered Perri a chance to showcase her multi-instrumental talents.

What's most creditable is Perri's overarching appeal.  Her music has enought downbeat, edgy emotion to appease the emo tweencore, but it's equally poppy, melodic and easy-listening enough for Radio 2 listeners.  Her key demographic, though, is undoubtedly the younger generation - with some of her music and lyrics lacking a certain level of maturity, it's clear that these songs were written when Perri was in her teens herself.  Sad Song is the biggeset culprit here, with its puerile opening "Today I'm gonna write a sad song, gonna make it really long, so that everyone can see, that I'm very unhappy".  Unfortunately, for all her songs' honesty, her grinning performance was a little too squeaky-clean-American, each song preceded by the story of its conception as if to justify its existence.  At last, her guard came down with Jar Of Hearts, though the audience's enthusiastic singing caused that grin to creep back onto her face. 

The support act, Marcus Foster, was a great match with his John Mayer-esque style of blues.  His songwriting had similarities with that of City And Colour, as he sang in an impressively high, raspy tenor.  It did, however, lack the expanded instrumentation of his recorded material, which is worth checking out.

It's obvious that Perri is thrilled with her place in the spotlight, but at times this displaces the real emotion at the core of her songwriting.  With a bit more grit, Perri could have an exciting career ahead of her that exceeds that of her breakthrough hit.  In the meantime, she delivered a performance that was more than a pleasant surprise.


Wednesday 18 January 2012

Sleigh Bells - Comeback Kid

Sleigh Bells are back with their...erm...comeback record.

They're not the sort of twinkly, chiming pop you might expect from their name.  You'll know them from last year's Tell 'Em and Infinity Guitars (both from album 'Treats').  Their 'noise pop' will either be a feast or torture for your ears - screaming, distorted guitars, thunderous drums and laser synths, all washed down with Alexis Krauss's playfully girlish vocals in juxtaposition.  For all its noise, their music does thankfully retain a melodic sensibility, making the harshness easier to swallow.

Comeback Kid however follows a very similar template and shows that their next album, 'Reign of Terror', won't be for everyone.  For all their cacophonous discord, Sleigh Bells are very much stuck in their ways and show no signs of progression.  The B Side Born To Lose, meanwhile, is bloody awful.  You'll either love this comeback or hate it.


Listen: Comeback Kid is available to download now, whilst the next album 'Reign of Terror' will be released on 20th February.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Will.I.Am feat. Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez - T.H.E (The Hardest Ever)

Never mind hard, it's almost too easy to slate young Will aka Good.I'm.Not.

I mean, what's his obsession with acronyms?  What's wrong with The Hardest Ever instead of the pointless T.H.E?  And did anyone else hope, when watching the video, he didn't manage to smash through the wall and instead fell flat on his face?

Production-wise this is the same "futuristic" RnB shite we all know and hate.  But the track consists of too many disparate sections that don't gel with their varying tempos - just like the collaborators.  The video reflects this, looking more like an advertisement for public transport.  I think Will's been watching too much Transformers.

J-Lo's section is harmless enough, the usual sexy-writhing-in-catsuit stuff.  But what does Mick Jagger think he's doing?  Is he that desperate for money?  Instead he proves he doesn't have the "moves like Jagger", jerking and gyrating like a prune-faced neon space alien having a fit.  It's beyond hilarious.  It's quite simply tragic.

Then there's the lyrics.  "Tell a jealous chicken I don't know what the beef is". Erm, what? "You can be a geek or be a rolling stoner" - ah, see what you did there. Then there's the hook: "You can go hard or you can go home". The only hard thing is actually listening to the whole song without crying hard, salty tears at the sheer murder of pop music.

Will's report card: must try harder.

Now go home.


Listen: Don't bother.

Monday 16 January 2012

Alpines - Cocoon

Alpines have described their music as 'night pop', fusing together the electric and the ethereal.

They're a duo consisting of Bob Matthews on production and Catherine Pockson on vocals - think Clare Maguire meets Massive Attack.  The electric production is a hypnotic maelstrom of liquid piano, pulsating synths and a trip-hop beat.  This is matched by Pockson's ethereal vocal for haunting effect, intoning breathlessly "I want you, more than I think you do" like a phantom.  Their blog is filled with artistic photos, from nature and landscapes to gothic photo shoots, and it's clear that the duo take their work seriously.  This extends to the video - simply shot but edited together with the complex beat.

Pop, however, is at the core of their sound.  It's no surprise that Alpines have previously supported The Naked And Famous and, later this year, will be supporting Oh Land and Florence + The Machine.  The electric and the ethereal fuse together in Cocoon, balancing spectral art with pop immediacy.  The only downside is the abrupt ending, which snaps the listener out of the dream far too early.


Listen:  Cocoon is available to download now, as is the EP 'Night Drive'.

Watch:  Alpines are supporting Oh Land in February and Florence + The Machine in March, both in London - click here for details.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Shame (2012) - Steve McQueen

Shame is a disturbing, psychological exploration of sexual addiction, portraying the darker side of sex.  Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, whose intense, secret sex life is gradually encroaching on his professional and personal life with detrimental effect.  The hard drive of his work computer is riddled with pornography, whilst his relationship with his sister (Sissy - Carey Mulligan) is dysfunctional at best.  When she unexpectedly moves in to his flat, slowly his compartmentalised life implodes.

In Shame, sex is an activity done in the shadows, consisting of internet hookups and random encounters in a seedy underworld, uninhibited by race or even gender.  Indeed, its shameful secrecy is its very attraction.  Yet, though the film is undoubtedly explicit and full of nudity (especially Fassbender's....ahem), sex is often merely insinuated, occuring off camera.  That is until the film's climactic ending (no pun intended), though by this point the sex appears sad and disgusting rather than arousing.  Brandon is a sexual predator, a dominating presence throughout the film.  An early scene on the subway involves a sustained, sinister glance at a young woman - she initially responds with a smile, until his sexual intentions become apparent, her internal horror clear.  He lives in a cold, sterile environment, his choice of classical music a rather Clockwork Orange esque touch.  He is the brother to American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, minus the violent, misogynistic end.  For Brandon, women are sexual objects: a need, a desire.  It's telling that with the one woman he dates before sleeping with in broad daylight (and full view), he is unable to perform.

What's most interesting about the film is what is not said, repressed in Brandon's (and, by extension, the viewer's) unconscious.  There is little dialogue and the editing pace is slow and lingering.  The result is a film that leaves the viewer pondering and filling in the blanks themselves.  In an office scene, Brandon heads for the toilet and fastidiously wipes down the seat, though the scene ends before we see if he is masturbating or just urinating.  With Mulligan's Sissy, her character is depicted through her performance of 'New York, New York' - slowed down and filled with chromaticism to reveal, through music, her broken character (despite her American accent going awry). 

The relationship between Brandon and Sissy is the most obtuse of all though.  The title certainly refers to Brandon's sexual addiction, but could it refer to an incestuous relationship in the characters' past?  Their relationship resembles a passionate affair - one moment loving, the next violent - though its true nature is never made apparent.  Tragically, it is she who pays the price for Brandon's addiction, leaving him a broken man engulfed in turmoil.

Whilst this approach does have its benefits, the viewer leaving the cinema filled with questions, one remains unanswered - what is the root of Brandon's addiction, the source of his shame?  Viewers will have their theories, but McQueen doesn't make it explicit.  As a result, the film does feel somewhat unsatisfying.  On the other hand, perhaps this is the point of Shame - sex is an everlasting addiction that can never be totally fulfilled.


Saturday 14 January 2012

The Artist (2012) - Michel Hazanavicius


The Artist is a film that proves the power of cinema.

It's the sort of cliched phrase that will be used a lot when discussing this film.  But it's also 100% accurate.

As the lights fade and the film begins, it's like entering a time portal, the audience transported to the 1920s.  Hazanavicius's film goes beyond pastiche, fully embodying the essence of pre-war Hollywood.  Cinema is distilled into its original primary components - visuals and music - with magnificent effect.

The story will be familiar to anyone who's seen Singin' In The Rain, set in a pivotal moment of cinematic historyGeorge Valentin (Dujardin) is at the height of his career as a silent movie star, but with the dawn of 'talkies' his stardom is revoked in favour of Peppy Miller (Bejo), a young dancer.  Ironically, the modern viewer experiences the reverse, from talky to silence, as we are plunged into a monochromatic time capsule, experiencing cinema literally from the position of a 1920s cinema-goer.

The plot, however, though relevant to the film in terms of historical context, is not important.  By removing speech, it allows the viewer to focus instead on the craftsmanship of Hazanavicius's work, the composition of each shot and its relationship to the music - suitable for a film about making films.  The title refers as much to the film's director as it does to the protagonist, who has exquisitely crafted the mise en scene using old cinematic techniques, with subtle nods to classic movies and delightful touches not immediately apparent.  He has successfully captured the romance of 1920s Hollywood, which is even more surprising coming from a French director.  The music, too, is exceptionally well used, combining romantic strings and jazz pieces to adjust to the changing mood.  The climactic scene especially owes much to Hitchcock and Hermann in its conjunction of music and visuals. 

Each frame is brimming with charm, owing predominantly to the central performance by Jean Dujardin.  His portrayal of Valentin perfectly embodies old fashioned bravado in an amalgamation of classic male stars: Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Clark Gable especially.  It's also a performance full of wonderful humour, but without resorting to obvious Chaplin-esque slapstick.  Uggie the dog, meanwhile, is his perfect counterpart, whilst Berenice Bejo's Peppy Miller exudes youthful beauty. 

The most interesting element of the film, however, is the unique and paradoxical position of the viewer.  The film opens with a film-within-a-film scenario - the film audience mirrored by the viewer; our amusement at seeing a silent film for the first time in a modern age mirrored by their joy of seeing a movie at all.  A dream sequence part way through is particularly arresting - Valentin suddenly hearing the sound effects of the film is as surreal for him as for the viewer.  The ending, then, totally confounds viewer expectations.  As the camera pans out to reveal another film-within-a-film scenario, the simple sound of the actors breathing (then talking) sounds completely alien, breaking the illusion of the film in a cinematic equivalent of the fourth wall.  It is the clever implementation of sound, therefore, that blurs the boundary between fantasy and reality - a surreal, abnormal world without sound becomes the norm in a bizarre aural paradox.

In this day and age of increasingly realistic CGI and special effects, it is refreshing to see a film that strips cinema to its bare bones, but tells a far more emotive story in the process.  Moreover, the time, effort and charm that went into creating the film and its performances positively oozes from the screen.  In the process, Hazanavicius has proven he is a true artist of cinema.


Friday 13 January 2012

Goldfrapp - Melancholy Sky / Yellow Halo

On February 6th Goldfrapp release 'The Singles' (pictured), a collection of their best work over the last decade/five albums.  And boy has Alison Goldfrapp released some stonking records over the years.

Yellow Halo and Melancholy Sky are the only new tracks on the album.  Over the years, Goldfrapp's sound has chilled (especially with the electro-folk of 'Seventh Tree') and these two tracks offer a laid back synth affair.  Yellow Halo, the penultimate track, is a euphoric slow-burn of layered, pulsating synths coupled with Alison's breathy, processed vocal.  The video features old footage of the band backstage and on tour - sure to bring a tear to the eyes of old fans.  Melancholy Sky, as the title suggests, is a downbeat ballad - "melancholy sky, you made me blue / still hanging on, there's nothing I can do".  The production swells with full orchestration, offering an old-fashioned feel laced with grandeur.  It marks a more mature state of mind, as opposed to the disco fuelled fun of their earlier work.

The overriding feel, though, is one of nostalgia, like the closing credits to a film.  Which begs the question - is this the end?  I bloody hope not.  NEVER LEAVE US.


Listen:  'The Singles' is released on 6th February.  For a track list, click here.

Thursday 12 January 2012

The Weeknd - The Knowing

Cinematic doesn't even begin to cut it.

The Knowing features on Canadian-Ethopian Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd's debut album 'House of Balloons', having released three albums in 2011.  This really is the future of RnB.  His closest contemporary is Drake (whose album Tesfaye features on).  His lyrics are misogynistc, dealing with women, drugs and sex.  Lots of sex.  At times they're pretty grim - the connotations of "I know what you did / I know / So I'mma let you taste her / I ain't washing my sins" are obvious.  Then (from latest album 'Echoes of Silence') there's Initiation, a song initiating a girl into sex and drugs with the double entendre "And if you get too high / Baby come over here and ride it out".  It does tend to leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

The production however is more akin to Frank Ocean, or Kanye's '808 Heartbreak'.  It's expansive - a huge, staggering beat; layers of synths and fuzzing, reverbed guitars; and Tesfaye's high-pitched vocal soaring with the line "I know everything".  It's rich, dark and surprisingly emotive, even if it errs on self-gratifying.  It's only matched by the scope of the video: incredibly stylish, gothic-futurism that is worth your attention for the full seven and a half minutes.  The overall feel is bleak to the point of post-apocalyptic.

The Weeknd is surely one of the hottest new RnB talents of the year - expect to see much more of Tesfaye's solo and collaborative work in the coming months.


Listen: All three of his albums ('House of Balloons', 'Thursday' and 'Echoes of Silence) are available from his website FOR FREE.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Kyla La Grange - Heavy Stone

Here's yet another female chanteuse to add to the ever growing list.

La Grange harks back to the likes of Stevie Nicks and can be neatly filed next to recent additions like Anna Calvi, Florence and Claire Maguire.  Her melodic lines have an Irish folk air and a tinge of American Country - which is interesting considering she's actually from Watford.  There's also a stroke of the gothic here, not least in the stylishly black and white video but the downbeat lyrics - "please don't hold me in your soul like a heavy stone / I'm carrying my cold heart home".  This is backed by faintly angst-ridden guitars, drums and strings - imagine Florence but a bit rougher around the edges.

And that's no bad thing.  It's just a shame that the chorus falls flat - catchy enough but not as anthemic as her pop rivals.  Heavy Stone is the latest single, but previous single Been Better is, excuse the pun, the better song.


Listen: Both Heavy Stone and Been Better are available to download now, along with a number of her other singles.

Watch: La Grange is playing a few gigs over the coming months: check out her website for details.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Yasmin ft Shy FX & Ms Dynamite - Light Up (The World)

Tongues away lads.  Yasmin may be one of the hottest new talents around, but does her music match her looks?

Yes and no.

Yasmin began DJing at a young age, though her breakthrough was featuring on Devlin's Runaway in 2010.  Since then, she's released two singles: her debut On My Own (also produced by Shy FX) and Finish Line (produced by Labrinth).  For her latest, she's teamed up with Ms Dynamite and her input on this record is strong.  There's a clear garage and reggae influence, with drums and sub-bass that's part jungle, part dubstep.  The production therefore fuses the old and the new, with Yasmin's vocal providing the catchy chorus hook against the carnival atmosphere.  It's a track that will easily light up dancefloors.

The trouble is that this sounds more Ms Dynamite than Yasmin, her pretty, delicate voice failing to stand up to the backing provided by her collaborators.  It's a record with a personality crisis - three artists and little cohesion.  Yasmin really should take her own advice from her debut - ditch the others and go it alone.


Listen: Light Up (The World) is released on 15th January.

Monday 9 January 2012

Gotye feat Kimbra - Somebody That I Used To Know

Is this the most beautiful chorus of the year so far?

Somebody That I Used To Know is the latest single from Belgian-Australian Wouter "Wally" De Backer, aka Gotye. It follows his previous album 'Like Drawing Blood' and precedes 'Making Mirrors' released next month. It also features Kimbra, a singer-songwriter from New Zealand who's solo work is well worth checking out.

It opens with a xylophone melody, strangely similar to Baa Baa Black Sheep.  Yet the song's simplicity belies its emotional core - the heart wrenching chorus soars, masked by childish playfulness.  "I don't even need your love but you treat me like a stranger and it feels so rough...now you're just somebody that I used to know" - the words erupt from De Backer after the restrained, hushed verse and are complimented beautifully by Kimbra's reply.  From that xylophone, the production delicately builds with the subtle injection of musical colours that mirrors the vocal journey.  It's a slow burner, but the honesty of the lyrics will draw you in and wrestle with your heartstrings.

Storytelling, lyrics and music at their best.


Listen: Somebody That I Used To Know is available now.  The album 'Making Mirrors' is released on 13th February.  Kimbra's EP 'Settle Down' will hopefully be available in the UK this year.

Watch: Gotye is on tour throughout early 2012, including London on February 29th.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Deco Child - Pray

If the names James Blake or Skream mean nothing to you, then you may as well stop reading now.

Still here?  Then you're in for a treat.

Pray is the debut single from producer Deco Child: five minutes of blissful electronica.  Imagine the minimalist style of Blake but with more of a dancefloor flavour like that of Skream or other dubstep producers.  Pray is a downbeat, mid-tempo effort full of dizzyingly layered synths and mesmeric vocal samples that sure enough live up to the track's title.  Mix in a dubstep beat and some bass drops and the result is this contemporary piece of haunting solemnity.  Let's hope there's more where this came from.


Listen: Pray, the single, is available now, whilst the EP of the same name is released on Monday.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Rendition (2007) - Gavin Hood

Rendition: A US law for the handing over of people or property from one jurisdiction to another.  For criminals, this is normally extradition.  In Rendition, this law is translated into the unorthodox interrogation of an Egyptian-American for potential information on suspected terrorists following a terrorist bombing.

What's so commendable about the film is its unbiased view of US-Middle East relations.  The film juxtaposes the good and the bad from both sides - a wife desperately seeking to save her husband and CIA agents operating with extreme prejudice; Islamic extremists and innocent victims caught up in terrorist behaviour.  The result is that it is 'Rendition' itself under question and the maltreatment and malpractice involved in the war against terrorism, rather than taking a political side.  The various narrative threads interweave into a complex, thought-provoking plot that has you questioning your own prejudices and political allegiances.  The final scenes remain open ended - what information did the prisoner know?  Was he in fact a terrorist?  It's left to you to decide.

The film isn't based on a true story but is extremely realistic, using real practices for a harrowing experience.  The fact that this could so easily happen, and does, is frightening.  It's further highlighted by some great performances by a wealth of Hollywood talent - Jake Gyllenhaal, Reece Witherspoon, Meryl Streep and Peter Sarsgaard included.  Topical and intelligently produced, Hood's film is sure to get you thinking.


Friday 6 January 2012

Charli XCX - Nuclear Seasons

Charli XCX is another artist set for big things this year, having been snapped up by Warner and releasing two singles - Stay Away and Nuclear Seasons.  Not bad for a girl of just nineteen.

She can best be described as a fusion of Marina & The Diamonds, Robyn and Florence + The Machine.  Like Marina, there's a kookiness to her approach, but with a synth-pop feel a la Robyn - all melodic hooks and fizzing synths.  There's an element of Florence goth-pop here too, the video full of dark eye makeup, floating cloths and...err...wolves.  More so, there's a sombre edge to her music, with grandiose lyrics and soaring melodies.  As a result, this track sounds like the culmination of some of the biggest female pop stars of recent years.  Stay Away, meanwhile, is all thumping drums and floating synths - quite Annie Lennox in character.

But enough of the comparisons.  Both Nuclear Seasons and Stay Away are great pop tracks in their own right, pleasing Twilight tweens and musos alike and bridging the gap between pop and cool.


Listen: The EP 'Nuclear Seasons' is available for free on her official website.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Lower Than Atlantis - If The World Was To End

Lower Than Atlantis are the oasis in a guitarist desert.  Their sound is heavy enough to please the metalheads, yet melodic enough to please pop-rock fans too.

Their new single, If The World Was To End, straddles the line between their thrashing debut album 'Bretton' and last year's more populist 'World Record'.  At times the richly distorted guitar sound smacks of classic bands like Metallica, accompanied by powerfully thrashing drums, yet with vocal melodies and harmonies like those of more recent pop-punk bands.  Over the course of their career, the band's sound has been tweaked, tightened and now consolidated into this forceful and commanding record - their best yet.

Lower Than Atlantis aren't reinventing the wheel, but amalgamating rock genres into a package with universal appeal.  They're a band that all rock fans can latch on to - and they should.


Listen: If The World Was To End will be released in February.  Hopefully a new album will follow suit.

Watch:  The band are currently on tour, with a few dates left this month.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Jason Mraz - I Won't Give Up

A slight change of pace for this, the latest single from Jason Mraz.  I Won't Give Up is more of a country ballad than his previous material, with lyrics that lack the clever wordplay he is renowned for.

Instead, this is a straightforward ditty, which works in the song's favour.  The simple melodic lines and instrumentation allow the core message to ring through - "I won't give up on us, even if the skies get rough".  It's the sort of sentiment that everyone can relate to in some way or another.  Some may find it overly sentimental, others will find it strikes a chord straight to their soul.  Undoubtedly the full video will involve excessively emotive images of people weeping and probably a not-so-subtle mention to war.  The final chorus though is positively emphatic, Mraz doubled by the backing vocals.  It's an anthemic moment - let's stick together people, "we're worth it".

It's a more obviously mainstream effort from Mr A-Z that's just on the right side of sweet.  It makes a nice contrast to his previous work, further proving (three albums in) there's far more to him than just I'm Yours.


Listen: I Won't Give Up is available now on iTunes and Spotify, with a new album due later this year.