Monday 30 April 2012

The Neighbourhood - Sweater Weather

"It's too cold for you here, now, so let me hold both your hands in the holes of my sweater".

It's a pretty cutesy line from LA's newest hipsters, whose mystique keeps our attention solely on their music.  Sweater Weather follows the release of Female Robbery in anticipation of the quintet's debut EP 'I'm Sorry' released in May.

The Neighbourhood operate in a post-Lana world where retro is king - from the slide guitar sound, to the black and white videos (Female Robbery's Hitchcockian imagery) and the final third of Sweater Weather that is more than a little suggestive of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game.  But this being 2012, that's not all.  It all begins with a pounding hip hop beat and the rhythms of the vocal delivery border on rap.  It's an irresistible and hypnotic fusion of styles that's utterly 'now'.

It's the lyrics that tug at the heartstrings most though. Sexually-charged lines like "No shirt. No blouse. Just Us" depict teenage love with perfect economy of words.  That central chorus lyric and its catchy melody are key though.  Who says cool can't be charming?


Listen: Sweater Weather is released on the band's debut EP 'I'm Sorry' coming in May.

Sunday 29 April 2012

50/50 (2012) - Jonathan Levine

Although it's listed as a comedy, there's a serious drama under the hood of 50/50.  The film's success stems from its true story inspiration, based upon writer Will Reiser's own experiences.  Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his family and best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) must learn to deal with his illness and the 50-50 odds of his survival.  With cancer being such an issue in this day and age, the narrative trajectory feels potently real.

Director Levine has struck a commendable balance between humour and pensive honesty, sweetness and sadness.  The humour mostly derives from Rogen and, although Kyle is a character we've seen him play countless times before, he is the perfect foil to Adam.  The film and script certainly has a quirky feel, similar to 500 Days of Summer, which may seem like style over substance, but there's real heart here.  It's a very human story, with likeable characters we genuinely care about.  Gordon-Levitt's performance depicts an empathetic character, proving his worth as a truly talented actor.  Equally, Anna Kendrick's cutesy style is well suited to the role of Katherine, Adam's therapist.

50/50 is an incredibly moving experience.  Its light-hearted comedy mixes with moments of sadness for a heart-warming tale that even the most hardened of audiences will struggle not to find upsetting.


Saturday 28 April 2012

Avengers Assemble (2012) - Joss Whedon

Superhero films really are hit and miss, ranging from the highs of Iron Man, Thor and the Batman films to the dismal lows of Daredevil, Captain America and recent flop Green Lantern.  But are six heroes better than one?  Avengers Assemble brings together the elite squad with the aim of creating the perfect fighting team.  Instead, they form a volatile mix - much like the film itself.

The plot and script are far and away the film's weakest elements.  The narrative is a load of nonsense about an alien invasion, forcing Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to form 'The Avengers' to save the day.  The script is quite simply pitifully bad, filled with appallingly unfunny one-liners and lines that state the bleedingly obvious.  Case in point: Captain America "Wait, you need a plan of attack!", Iron Man "I have a plan. Attack!".  Thor's "he's adopted" line also stands out as utterly dire.

Still, you're not watching this for its story, really.  Undoubtedly, bringing these characters together provides opportunity for some very cool moments which fans are sure to lap up (the Iron Man vs Thor battle springs to mind).  The problem is that their individual films are very different in style and don't necessarily gel together.  Iron Man (Downey Jr) is well known for his laddish comedy, yet here he's reduced to a joke, despite having some of the best action moments.  Likewise, the mythology of Thor (Hemsworth) forms much of the backbone of the story, but taken out of context his character feels stilted.  Meanwhile Evans's Captain America is as brainless as ever, whilst without separate films to support them, Johansson's Black Widow and Renner's Hawkeye are vastly underdeveloped.  Ruffalo succeeds where others have failed at playing Hulk, a rather meek scientist who fears for his own abilities.  However, a superhero film is only as good as its villain and, although his motives are fairly convoluted (especially to anyone who hasn't watched Thor), Tom Hiddleston's Loki is excellently played, rising above the other more established actors.  The rest of the cast are perfunctory at best.

Amongst these flaws, Whedon's direction is well executed.  Avengers Assemble is certainly a stylish film and his camera work is surprisingly abstract at times.  The music, on the other hand, is utilised in the corniest of ways to ensure maximum cringe potential.

But despite all this, it's the action you're after and here the film tirelessly delivers.  The CGI effects are outstanding, but moreover the action sequences are superbly choreographed and (unlike the plot) manage to combine the best bits of each characters' powers.  There's even room for some comedy, usually stemming from Hulk at the expense of the others.

As far as blockbusters go, Avengers Assemble offers some of the best action you're likely to see this year.  It's a shame then that it's framed by some of the worst dialogue put on the big screen.


Friday 27 April 2012

A Soldier and a Maker – Guildhall School @ Barbican Pit Theatre

“He’s a very intense man”.

A quote said of this play's protagonist Ivor Gurney, that relates to the production as a whole.  Along with this intensity is a moving portrayal of the twentieth century artist.

Ivor Bertie Gurney was born in 1890 and grew up in Gloucestershire.  A composer and poet, he fought in the First World War but sadly spent his last years in an asylum.  As such, his work is often disregarded as that of a madman.  This production seeks to unveil his output and, in the process, questions the fine line between madness and genius.

‘A Soldier and a Maker’ is a new work of both fact and fiction by Iain Burnside.  The narrative traces the life of Gurney, the script taken from his poetry and his letters and includes musical interludes from his vocal works.  Although dramatic license has been used, this is a mostly accurate account.  The first half takes place largely in the war, juxtaposing Gurney the soldier with his colleagues at the Royal College of Music where he studied.  This creates counterpoint between the source and the perception of his work; the horror of war and the lives of those on the home front.  This continues in the second act.  Taking place in the asylum, Gurney’s madness is treated as shellshock but through his poetry and songs the audience can see through his psychotic episodes to the misunderstood artist beneath.  Like Beethoven, who he is so often compared with in the script, Gurney is a tragic hero.

The set design is particularly impressive.  A series of images surround the stage space which collectively represent both a war-torn environment and Gurney’s deteriorating and broken frame of mind.  Gothic and abstract, yet equally beautiful, the changes of lighting give the impression of both oppressive foreboding and celestial brightness.

Most impressive though is Richard Goulding’s outstanding performance as Gurney.  Though there is the odd weak link in the cast in terms of acting, the male ensemble are particularly strong and natural with some superb singing.  Goulding, however, holds the production together.  An acting alumnus of the Guildhall School, he is able to find lighter moments of comedy within the darkness for a believable and sympathetic depiction of the central character that could so easily have gone awry. 


Watch: 'A Solder and a Maker' runs until the 28th April.

Thursday 26 April 2012

The Staves - The Motherlode

Are three voices better than one?  The Staves certainly think so.  Indeed, it's their close harmonies that set them apart from other folk artists of the moment.  Wisely and Slow - the third track on this, their second EP (following last year's 'Mexico') - is predominantly acapella and proves a suitable showcase for the sisters' hushed voices uniting as one.

Elsewhere, the most remarkable moment of Pay Us No Mind is the "I don't give a f*ck" lyric - not something you'd expect to emerge from the lips of such pure voices in an otherwise slightly dull track.  Title track The Motherlode is more upbeat, its gently lilting guitars float beneath three sublimely soft voices.  As a whole The Staves have created a delicate and exquisite sound, but the beauty of their three voices doesn't quite make up for their lack of grit - despite the odd lyrical shock.


Listen: 'The Motherlode' is available now, as is their previous EP 'Mexico'.  A full album is expected later in the year.

Watch: The sisters are currently touring the UK.  US fans can catch them supporting Bon Iver.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Poliça - Give You The Ghost

Slowly but surely Poliça are gathering an immense following.  Recently added to celebrity fans Jay-Z and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon are the festival crowds of Coachella and SXSW.  The release of this, their debut album, is sure to drum up immeasurable support.  Their unique sound takes elements of RnB, hip-hop and electronica in a whole new direction, with its melodic basslines, hypnotic drum patterns, darkly resonant synth pads and Channy Leaneagh's ghostly vocals.  Following a split from her husband, 'Give You The Ghost' is a deeply evocative breakup record that hits the core of this emotion.

There are two key components to the Poliça sound - the drums and Leaneagh's vocal.  The band distinctively have two drummers, creating a heavy emphasis on percussion.  As such, they're able to flip from a subtle patter into an eruption of crashing cymbals and thundering snares.  Debut single Lay Your Cards Out epitomises this perfectly with its constant, nuanced crescendo.  Leaneagh's vocal is characterised by the use of vocoder and reverb effects, but don't let that put you off.  The lyrics are often incomprehensible, but the overall effect is as haunting as the album's title would have you believe.  Whilst the densely processed vocals often drift into the overall texture of the music, they're an integral part of the band's appeal.

Following Lay Your Cards Out, Dark Star is the obvious choice for the next single.  Less dreamy than the other tracks, it offers more of a hook-laden punch and the use of brass adds a funk element that counterpoints the ghostly delivery of the chorus lyric "Ain't no man in this world who can pull me down from my dark star".  Elsewhere, the band stick stoically to their sound with Lay Your Cards Out as the album's centrepiece.  Whilst this does border on repetitive, their unique sound has an utterly mesmeric effect that lifts them above the competition - from the oscillating, distorted synths of opener Amongster to the funk-tinged bass of closing track Leading To Death.

Poliça positively ooze cool and 'Give You The Ghost' is an album at the forefront of popular music development.  Expect plenty of copycats in the next few months.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Amongster
* Dark Star
* Lay Your Cards Out

Listen: 'Give You The Ghost' is available now.

Poliça will tour the US next month, hitting UK shores in June.



Tuesday 24 April 2012

Santigold - Master Of My Make-Believe

She's back.  It's been four years since the release of Santigold's self-titled debut album (then spelt Santogold), vomiting up gold and some excellent music to become one of 2008's top breakthrough artists.  'Master Of My Make-Believe' has been well worth the wait and proves that taking the time to craft a worthy follow-up not only results in one of the songs of the year so far in single Disparate Youth, but a full album of hits.

What's most commendable with Santigold's work is her unique sound.  Where 'Santogold' tended to alternate between the afro-reggae-RnB of L.E.S Artistes and the dark, aggresive hip-hop of Creator, this new album consolidates the sound into a more focused effort.  The reggae and afro-beats underpin much of the music, complimenting the gritty guitars and synths to form a truly multicultural sound that spans a range of genres - God From the Machine being a prime example.  Elsewhere, Pirate In The Water has a distinctly 80s reggae flavour and the brilliant This Isn't Our Parade uses marimba for a suggestion of Africa, whilst its various bleeps and bloops could easily be taken from a Postal Service track.

The recent release of Disparate Youth and its significant radio airplay has shown that Santigold can cross over to the mainstream, with its slick production and "ooh ah" vocal hook, but the album as a whole is more suited to indie circles.  This is certainly serious pop music, which shuns the lighthearted fun of current trends.  She's more than capable of writing a good hook though and Disparate Youth is very much an anthem for today's teenagers.  Other tracks like Fame, with its "we all want the fame" chorus, Freak Like Me ("you look good on Photoshop") and The Riot's Gone are lyrically modern records that speak to today's demographic.  Cheeky lyrics culminate with Look At These Hoes, a sort of edgier Nicki Minaj pastiche ("killer!").  Vocally, Santigold may not be the strongest singer but her musical voice reveals a real talent that slowly unfurls after repeated listening.

'Master Of My Make-Believe' is an edgy, tight album from one of the UK's coolest female artists.  With work that's stylistically difficult to define, Santigold's place in the industry after a four year hiatus may be in jeopardy, but this is aggressive, urban music that demands your attention.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Disparate Youth
* This Isn't Our Parade
* Look At These Hoes

Listen: 'Master Of My Make-Believe' is available now.

Watch: Santigold is touring the US for much of the next few months.

Monday 23 April 2012

Martin Solveig - The Night Out (Madeon remix)

Madeon strikes again.

It may be a boring old Monday, but if you're looking for your next weekend anthem, you've found it right here.  First came Solveig's The Night Out - a perfectly decent club track with a simple guitar hook and catchy vocals.  It's far less annoying than Hello.

Enter Madeon.  Yet again the seventeen year old hits the mark.  Upping the tempo, swapping guitars for piano and (most importantly) mixing in his unique chopping and cutting has resulted in a huge funky house track.  Add in a Daft Punk style breakdown and this is bound to be the soundtrack to your night out.

This remix is big.  Can Madeon do no wrong?


Listen: The Night Out is released on 20th May, including this Madeon remix.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Carmen @ The Kings Head Theatre

The sultry siren; the sexy senorita.  Carmen is an iconic figure in opera.  Yet with this production, The Kings Head are changing the face of Bizet's leading woman.  It's a daring choice, one that nearly comes off.

This really isn't the Carmen you know and love.  Nineteenth century Spain is switched to a modern day brothel with a libretto that is drastically chopped.  Straight away we're thrown into the drama as the pub itself erupts into the habanera before the cast even hit the stage.  It's a visceral experience, the singers perched along the bar within touching distance, which suits the sexually charged atmosphere of the opera.

Yet by beginning the opera at this point, much of the exposition is lost.  The major impact of this is on the relationship between Don Jose and Carmen, which occurs too suddenly and with little explanation, despite some chemistry between the actors.  Indeed, the whole narrative whips by in under ninety minutes - so fast-paced that it's difficult to keep up with.  And musically, this is more 'Carmen: The Greatest Hits', though with a cast of just seven they cope well with the vocal demands.  The grandeur of the orchestra is reduced to just piano (Elspeth Wilkes) and guitar (Rosie Hopkins), but the latter at least adds a Spanish flavour reminiscent of the opera's origins.  The modern libretto cleverly updates the narrative, but feels a little too streamlined and borders on melodrama.

Where the tempestuous relationship between the protagonists should be at the core of the opera, with this production it shifts to its modern concept.  The set is suitably grimy and jam-packed with details.  Rodula Gaitanou's direction, meanwhile, had some ingenuous touches, like the gypsy song sung through a microphone with lights and wind machine.  The cast sang excellently, Fleur Bray (Frasquita) and Olivia Barry (Mercedes) especially providing comedy to counteract the high drama, although Simon Meadows role as Escamillo was greatly diminished.  Andrew Bain easily rose to the vocal demands of Don Jose, but it was Flora McIntosh's Carmen who truly shone with a husky undertone to her sexually charged, lyrical lines.

Despite the cuts and short length, this was a focused production and a modern take on a classic.  It may not be for opera purists, but this Carmen is certainly inventive.


Watch: Carmen runs until the 2nd May.

Saturday 21 April 2012

Yadi - Guillotine

London-based singer Yadi has finally dropped her debut EP having signed to Warner Brothers in the past year.  Fear not, she is certainly one to keep an eye on.

'Guillotine' contains four tracks of sumptuous gothic electro pop.  Her style marks a half way house between Marina & The Diamonds's quirkiness and the ethereal weirdness of Grimes.  It's aggressively rhythmic: militaristic drums colliding with fragments of synth hooks, all welded together by catchy pop melodies.  Take Gold which juxtaposes heavy percussion with Yadi's soaring vocal; or Paper Rose with its softly lilting piano opening that expands into a glorious chorus with a real sense of urgency.  Lyrically, these love songs span the spectrum of feminism, from the bold and dominant queen of Guillotine claiming "I can make you say you love me", to the delicate fragility of Paper Rose that so easily tears.  It's the title track that stands out most, with it's percussive march to the scaffold - catchy, expertly and intricately produced and defiantly performed.  Equally, when stripped back these tracks remain full of impact (see video below).  
If Yadi isn't on your radar, she damn well should be.


Listen: 'Guillotine' is available now.

Friday 20 April 2012

Cheryl (Cole) - Call My Name

What's in a name?  Cheryl Cole has always been more about the brand than the music, but I point blank refuse to just call her Cheryl.  She's not quite at Madonna or Britney status yet.  Still, it ties in with her new single as a clever marketing ploy.  It's all clearly a step away from her past, to differentiate herself from Ashley, which the chorus line "how do you think it feels when you call my name?" succinctly sums up.

Let's get the bad out of the way first.  Call My Name is yet another Calvin Harris infected track.  Essentially, this is Chezza's We Found Love, but thankfully minus the annoying ravey breakdown.  It's also missing the personality of Rihanna's vocal and instead we must settle for Cole's bland, over-processed voice.  Although it's not as good as RiRi's track, it's miles better than the recent Let's Go.  And if you can stop yourself from singing "Every day I'm shuffling" in the pause you're doing better than me.

Then again, this is actually a pretty decent pop record.  It might not be original, but once the chorus kicks in ("I love you too much to let GOOOO") it's rave central.  And that "uh oh oh oh" vocal hook towards the end is catchy as hell.  After a string of terrible singles, Cole is back in Fight For This Love territory.  Basically, this is a guaranteed number one hit.


Listen:  Call My Name is released on June 10th and is taken from forthcoming album 'A Million Lights' released a week later on June 18th.

The video has now been released and it's....pretty dreadful?!

Thursday 19 April 2012

Linkin Park - Burn It Down

After four major albums, nu metal rockers Linkin Park are returning to their roots for their upcoming fifth album 'Living Things' (pictured).  'A Thousand Suns' took the band in a more experimental direction, but the band are keen to return to a more familiar sound and re-establish themselves in the popular sphere.

Burn It Down is the first single from 'Living Things' and, as you'd expect, it's a stonker.  When the chorus kicks in you're hit by a wall of sound - guitars, keys, drums and Chester Bennington's soaring vocal.  This isn't quite a return to the band's original sound though.  Burn It Down contains none of the screaming metal of 'Hybrid Theory' but is closer to the softer rock of 'Meteora'.  It may not hit the highs of Numb or Somewhere I Belong and it's not their catchiest track, but it's still an anthemic rock record that fans of the band will lap up, paving the way for another brilliant album.  Let's hope that opening lyric "the cycle repeated" is taken to heart and the band can return to their former glory.


Listen: Burn It Down is available now and is taken from forthcoming album 'Living Things' released on June 25th.

Watch: Linkin Park will be touring Europe over the summer.  Lucky Americans can catch the band in August when they co-headline with Incubus

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Nelly Furtado - Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)

It's been six years since Nelly Furtado released 'Loose', the album that made her a global superstar - with a little help from Timbaland of course.  Now the promiscuous girl returns and certainly lives up to that moniker.

Vocally Big Hoops is familiar Rihanna territory.  Yes Nelly came first, but this is a million miles away from I'm Like A Bird.  The "eh eh eh" moments and sexually charged lyrics ("I don't wanna talk about sex wanna express myself tonight") would be typical for the bajan singer but for Nelly they're a modern continuation of her 'Loose' work.  It is missing a true vocal hook though, the repeated refrain "the bigger the better" hardly constitutes a catchy melody.

It's Darkchild's production that makes this track stand out though.  The beat settles into a sexy groove, surrounded by whizzing synth pads, that will undoubtedly have dancers winding and grinding.  And then the final third kicks in, taking the lyric "I can go fast or I can go slow" to heart with a drum and bass break Bjork-style.  It elevates the track from mediocrity, ensuring it will be played extensively on release.


Listen: Big Hoops is taken from forthcoming album 'T.S.I (The Spirit Indestructible)' released in June.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Chicane - Thousand Mile Stare

Chicane has been responsible for some of the best dance anthems out there, namely Offshore, Saltwater and Don't Give Up.  After sixteen years in the business, 'Thousand Mile Stare' is the producer's fifth album but at this point things are beginning to run stale.

Following Poppiholla, a reworking of Sigur Ros's Hoppipolla that featured on last album 'Giants', the Icelandic band have clearly had a large influence on Chicane - right down to the track names.  He's attempted to meld his chilled electronica with the band's icy aesthetic, as if Ibiza has been caught in a new ice age.  Unfortunately, this fusion lacks the intricately layered synths of the former and the drama of the latter.  The use of glockenspiel and piano in opening track Hljop, with its slow build up, is very reminiscent of the band's work.  The presence of Vigri on vocals fortifies this, Vigri being another Icelandic band who recorded at Sigur Ros studio.

Elsewhere, this is standard affair for Chicane.  Many of the tracks share the same chord sequence, not only with each other but with tracks from past albums; likewise, melodically this is familiar territory.  Second track The Nothing Song is an obvious counterpart to Middledistancerunner from 'Giants', whilst the beat of Playing Fields is taken straight from No Ordinary Morning from 'Behind The Sun'.  Chicane relies too heavily on the same instrumentation and this album contains little of the glittering production fans are used to, which is disappointing.

That said, Chicane has still crafted an album of beautiful electronica.  There are some moments of pure magic - the drum entry in Windbreaks; the "you can have it all" build up of Solaruppras; the middle eastern chanting of Goldfish.  And with Going Deep Chicane does return to his Ibiza roots, the rap sounding all a bit Faithless but amongst the relaxed tunes, this sounds too jarring.  Flotsam and Jetsam meanwhile hearkens back to Offshore and his past glory days, despite its melodic hook sounding too similar to Where Do I Start.

An immensely talented producer, Chicane is almost incapable of creating a bad album.  Yet, unfortunately, 'Thousand Mile Stare' just doesn't quite hit his self-created high standards.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Windbreaks
* Solaruppras 
* Goldfish
* Flotsam and Jetsam

Listen: 'Thousand Mile Stare' is available now.

Monday 16 April 2012

Jason Mraz - Love Is A Four Letter Word

Mr A-Z is known for his mellow tunes.  And his latest album is typically laid back.  Too laid back.

Gone are the days of his upbeat funk tracks in favour of a Radio 2 friendly snore-fest that's more likely to please your Mum.  Like his previous work, Love Is A Four Letter Word mixes elements of country, jazz and funk but leans too heavily on the lounge-jazz.  The result is a slice of pop-easy-listening that at times hints at his past glory and at others goes a bit Olly Murs.

Recent single I Won't Give Up is the main highlight, a country ballad that's a little overtly sentimental but easily to relate to.  Unfortunately this lyric style is sustained throughout, ranging from the romantic to the absurd.  The cleverly intricate and rhythmic wordplay is gone for a more flowing melodic style.  This certainly offers a chance for a sing-along, but on tracks like Everything Is Sound with its "Hallelujah" chorus it feels more like an American church group outing to the forest, singing round the campfire and cooking marshmallows.

Then there's the production, which fails to make up for the lyrical lack of interest.  Almost every track is a slow ballad, all acoustic guitars, gentle percussion, lilting strings and the occasional funked up bass.  It's certainly a warm, mellow sound but the album is missing both an irresistible pop effort (an I'm Yours equivalent) and the soft rock of earlier album 'Waiting For My Rocket To Come'.  What undoubtedly impresses though is Mraz's vocal.  Smooth and soft, he rises through to falsetto with effortless ease and adds an emotional content the music is overall lacking.  This extends to some rich vocal harmonies, particularly in bonus track I'm Coming Over.

In essence, Mraz has lost his cool.  His talent as a musician still rings true, but his sense of fun is M.I.A, replaced by soppy lounge-jazz.  A good album to fall asleep to.


Gizzle's Choice:
* I Won't Give Up
* I'm Coming Over (the secret track!)

Listen: 'Love Is A Four Letter Word' is available now.

Watch: Mraz is touring the world all year, arriving in London in December.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Aliens (1986) - James Cameron

What better way to prepare for Ridley Scott's upcoming Prometheus than by watching what many consider to be the peak of the Alien series - James Cameron's sequel.

Aliens is to Alien what Terminator 2 is to Terminator - bigger, better and more action packed.  But it loses none of the tension of the original, the constant threat of the iconic creatures escalated from one to hundreds, the intensity knuckle-bitingly palpable. 

Fifty years after the events of the first film, Ripley awakens from frozen sleep and is sent with a team of navy grunts to investigate a human colony based on the alien homeworld.  Of course, they walk into more than they bargained for.  The colony seemingly deserted, the team discover not only the titular aliens but their queen and must escape whilst destroying the base.  Over the course of the narrative, the soldiers turn from grunts to heroes we genuinely care about and the aliens are as terrifying as ever.  Cameron's action sequences are expertly directed - as we've all come to expect.

Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, though, is the star of the series.  It's easy to take a feminist stance on the films with its central heroine, but Cameron certainly heightens these elements.  Aliens is essentially a film about motherly love.  Her own daughter dead, Ripley becomes a surrogate mother to young surviver Newt and voluntarily becomes her protector.  Likewise, the alien queen represents the future of her species, the film's climax involving her protecting her young.  The parallels are clear, the feminist stance offering a twist on the science-fiction genre which has fuelled the appeal of the series.

Not only this, but as one of Cameron's earliest films, Aliens (along with the first Terminator film) cemented him as one of the pre-eminent action film directors that paved the way for the Terminator sequel and, most recently, Avatar.  And with both the re-release of Titanic and the release of Prometheus edging ever closer, there's no better time to catch up on this slice of cinematic history.


Saturday 14 April 2012

King Charles - Lady Percy

I can't decide whether I love or hate this. 

King Charles, aka Charles Costa, has most recently been seen supporting Mumford & Sons on their UK and US tours, but previously he formed the band Adventure Playground which toured with the likes of Laura Marling and Noah And The Whale before splitting in 2008.  Now a solo artist, Lady Percy is the single in anticipation for debut album 'LoveBlood' in May.

On the one hand, Lady Percy is instantly likeable.  Upbeat, lively, rhythmic and catchy, it's got everything you could want from a pop song.  As soon as the opening guitar riff starts, you know straight away that summer is in bloom.  It's sort of Mika meets Paul Simon - cheesy and full to the brim with positivity.

On the other hand, the lyrics are utter nonsense with its sea horses and dolphins pre-chorus, whilst the steel drums are likely to grate quickly.  Nevertheless, this is a summer party anthem in the making.


Listen: King Charles's debut album 'LoveBlood' is released on May 7th.

Friday 13 April 2012

Niki & The Dove - Tomorrow

Friday the 13th may be an unlucky day of doom, but when you discover music like this it can't be all bad.

Swedish duo Niki & The Dove have had a fantastic year so far - coming fifth in the BBC Sound of 2012 poll, plenty of radio airplay of single DJ Ease My Mind and more exposure for their 2011 EP 'The Drummer'.  And with the release of their debut album 'Instinct' (pictured) on May 14th, their fame is only set to rise.

In anticipation, the duo have hit the web with Tomorrow, a sublime piece of electro-pop. It starts intimately enough, but it's the chorus that really strikes. Malin Dahlström's unique vocal truly soars with the outcry "If tomorrow comes I wanna waste my love on you" above Gustaf Karlöf's euphoric synths and pounding beat.  There's a real sense of urgency here, as if love cannot survive in the post-apocalypse that "tomorrow" brings.  In turn, that equates to an irresistibly powerful slice of pop.

There's an abundance of Swedish electro-pop out there, but with music like this Niki & The Dove have proved they're the current leaders of the pack.  May 14th cannot come soon enough.


Listen: Tomorrow features on the duo's debut album 'Instinct' released May 14th.

Watch: The duo play XOYO in London on May 16th.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Rudimental feat. John Newman - Feel The Love

This is destined to be a HUGE tune over the summer months.  Feel The Love is the latest track from East London production elective Rudimental, following their recent remix of Ed Sheeran's Drunk.  With material like this, the fight to topple Chase & Status as the kings of drum and bass / dubstep is becoming an increasingly bloody battle.

It's not all whomping basslines and heavy beats though.  The production is tinged with reggae, from the organ to the brass inflections (and trumpet solo) and the almost swing feel of the percussive rhythms towards the end.  John Newman's powerful vocal stands up to the frenetic production and compliments the reggae influences.  Altogether, Feel The Love is a track that's drum and bass with a twist.  And when the beat drops?  Awesome stuff.


Listen: Feel The Love is released on 28th May.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Sean Paul - Tomahawk Technique

Jamaican rapper Sean Paul has one of the most distinctive voices in the industry.  His fast paced, dutty riddims have graced not only his solo albums but tracks by a multitude of other RnB and hip-hop stars.  But over the course of his career, beginning back in 1998, his albums have progressively diminished his reggae roots with only minor refinements to the pop-dancefloor sound.  'Tomahawk Technique' is no different.

The tracks on offer here are the standard dancefloor affair, winding and grinding in da club, movin' dat body girly, hangin' with shawtys and "makin' da mandem get madda madda madda".  It's mostly nonsense, but then if you're listening to a Sean Paul album for the lyrical content you've certainly got the wrong end of the stick.

For production and songwriting, Sean Paul has been working with a crop of current talent, including Stargate and Rico "Turn The Light's Off" Love.  It's embued the music with a modern feel, yet (just about) retains his signature reggae rhymes.  Latest single She Doesn't Mind is typical of the album at large and judging by its current position in the charts, Sean Paul has hit the commercial sweet spot.  'Tomahawk Technique' is poised for international success (in Europe especially) with its string of easily likeable, if unoriginal, dancefloor beats guaranteed to get yo booty shakin'.  Penultimate track Touch The Sky epitomises this, a track that dilutes the reggae influence in favour of mediocrity.  More successful are the collaborations - first single Got 2 Luv U featuring Alexis Jordan and How Deep Is Your Love featuring Kelly Rowland - even if the lyrics come across as a little soppy.

Unsurprisingly, those tracks most heavily reggae-inspired are the highlights.  Roll Wid Di Don is Sean Paul at his best, rapping with an almost impenetrable inflection (to UK listeners at least) to an infectious beat seemingly without stopping to breathe.  Nothing here is quite as instantly recognisable as the likes of Temperature or Gimme The Light from his previous albums though.  It might be lyrically vacuous and fits neatly amongst current musical tastes rather than pushing any boundaries, but if the beats on offer here don't get your body windin' and grindin', you may as well be dead.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Got 2 Luv U
* How Deep Is Your Love
* Roll Wid Di Don

Listen: 'Tomahawk Technique' is available now.

Watch: Sean Paul is touring Europe throughout the summer.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Ladyhawke - Sunday Drive

My Delerium was a huge breakthrough hit for New Zealand singer-songwriter Ladyhawke, a.k.a Philippa Brown, back in 2008.  Since the release of her debut, self-titled album the same year, it's been a long wait for her sophomore effort, but in May 'Anxiety' will finally be released (pictured).

Sunday Drive is actually the second single from the new album, following the disappointing Black, White & Blue.  Perhaps keen to distance herself from the 80s synth movement of the late 00's (see La Roux, Little Boots et al), her new music is a more guitar-driven pop sound that still retains that 80s vibe.  Pounding rhythms, clear melodies and distinct guitar riffs - it's a sound reminiscent of No Doubt's cover of Talk Talk's It's My Life. The synths aren't forgotten though, the production peppered with trancey arpeggios as Brown's breathy vocal yearns "Please don't go, I need your love".  It's not quite as immediate as My Delerium, but this punchy piece of pop proves that Ladyhawke is back and on top form.  Check out the video too for a twisted outlook on the title, with Brown being kidnapped in a car boot.  Also check out the live acoustic video below.


Listen: Sunday Drive is released on May 20th, with the album 'Anxiety' following on May 28th.

Monday 9 April 2012

Ronika - Automatic

The recent release of 'MDNA' proved that Madonna is still struggling in the current music climate, so it's good to see someone else taking up the mantle of 80's style pop.  Madonna is a clear infuence on Ronika, a young singer-songwriter-producer from Nottingham, in both her music and fashion sense.  Automatic is the latest release for the young starlet and it's great to see someone injecting a bit of slickly produced, lighthearted fun into the charts.

At first listen, Automatic may seem ripped straight from the early 80s: funk guitars, sexy bass grooves and synths seemingly played on an old casio keyboard - the middle eight solo especially.  And you'd be right, as Ronika has sampled Odyssey's 1982 track TogetherShe hasn't just updated the lyrics though, as her production includes subtle modern elements like the womping sub bass and nicely cut samples.  Plus, watching the video is like stepping in a time machine to the dawn of MTV, all neon graphics and sun-kissed American surfers.  Sure, the sampling results in a track that is less her own work than her past releases, but it also results in a stonking pop track.


Listen: Automatic is available now from Ronika's website.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Rita Ora feat. Tinie Tempah - RIP

Rita Ora is the latest threat to Rihanna's pop crown, with both girls in pursuit of sexy, RnB pop perfection.  You probably won't have heard of Ora, but you definitely will know Hot Right Now - DJ Fresh's number one track on which she was guest vocalist.  RIP is her breakthrough and features (as is the standard) a guest rap, in this case from Tinie Tempah.

The Rihanna comparison may seem unfair but it's an obvious one.  Though Ora is of Kosovan-Albanian descent, there's a similarity in their looks as well as their music.  But Ora hasn't forgotten her UK base amongst her US label mates since being signed by Jay-Z's Roc Nation label.  RIP was written by Drake, but it was produced by Chase & Status and of course features Tinie.  As such, it's a track that is likely to appeal to fans on both sides of the Atlantic.  A slow, heavy dubstep beat plays out beneath a cacophony of blazing synths and guitars.  Ora, meanwhile, oozes effortless sexuality with a feisty, attitude laden vocal.  It may not be pushing any boundaries, but it's a track destined for the top of the charts.  RIP spells death to her competitors, though whether she can steal Rihanna's place is debatable.


Listen: RIP is expected to be released in May.

Saturday 7 April 2012

The Saturdays - 30 Days

Amongst dating and engaging footballers and popstars, getting knocked up and just generally looking hot, The Saturdays obviously don't have a lot of time on their hands.  It explains why, not only is their latest track incredibly bland, but they've got the song radio-ready and the video shot a month before the single's actual release in a bid to drag things out as long as possible.  Struggling to find time girls?  At least the title makes sense: "30 days 'till release" would be a more apt lyric.  Still, we've got something nice to look at during the wait.

Their last single was Notorious, released ten months ago.  Remember that one?  Yeah, memorable wasn't it.  30 Days is essentially more of the same - another Ibiza-tinged pop-dance track.  Considering there's five of them, vocally they're so overly processed they sound identical and there's very little harmony.  Whilst they got off to a decent start (back in 2007 would you believe), their music has nosedived in recent times - this uninspired trash won't be helping the situation.

But how they've survived this long is obvious.  With adverts, television programmes and rich, famous boyfriends, it's clear the girls' brand is more important than the actual musical content.  It's no wonder their music sales are suffering.


Listen: 30 Days is released on May 13th.

Friday 6 April 2012

Tulisa - Young

In a lot of ways, Young suits Tulisa down to a T (excuse the pun).  "Forgive me for what I have done 'cause I'm young", she repeats at the start.  Following the recent emergence of a sex tape, it's easy to see this as a desperate plea to the public for forgiveness.  Will Cowell allow her back on The X Factor later this year?  Can her career survive?  It all rests on the shoulders of this, her first solo single.

It's also suitable in its utter mediocrity.  Rather than a song that suits her fiery "female boss" persona, she's instead opted for a generic Ibiza club track.  Likewise, Tulisa herself, for all her bravado, is an unremarkable talent with average looks and an average voice.  She may have tarted herself up a bit for the video, but it's essentially an advert for Thomas Cook holidays and Barry M make-up.  And for all her apparent rebelliousness, the video sees her stealing a lamb, a hotel card key and writing her name on some modern art.  Ooo you daredevil you.

Yes it's pretty catchy in a "look at me I'm a stupid cow on holiday, downing tequila and drowning in my own vomit" sort of way.  But, in all, this is no better than a soundtrack to 'Sun, Sea and Suspicious Parents'.


Listen: Young is released on 29th April.

Thursday 5 April 2012

jj - Beautiful Life

*sigh* Yet another piece of Swedish dream-pop.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this, until you press that play button.  Swedish duo jj released their debut album 'jj no 2' (following debut single jj no 1) back in 2009 and Beautiful Life is the A-side of next single jj no 4 along with B-side Burn.  Yes, they like numbers.

With its cascades of guitar arpeggios, icy synths and the breathy vocals of singer Elin Kastlander, Beautiful Life will melt your heart in the run up to the summer.  The duo's work is evocative and atmospheric (Ecstasy is a particular highlight from 'jj no 2') and Beautiful Life is no different - marrying folk and electronica in a swirl of crisp production like freshly falling snow.  Simply, this is exceptional, beautiful, pop music.


Listen: jj no 4 will be released on 8th May.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Labrinth - Electronic Earth

On the opening track of 'Electronic Earth', Labrinth invites us to "climb on board" as he takes us to "another planet...another destination".  Following, on previous single Earthquakehe claims "this is something they call a ground-breaker".  It's a brash and arrogant opening to an album that by no means lives up to these high expectations.

For one thing, though, Labrinth is the master of the middle eight.  From the acapella vocals of Earthquake, the jazz harmonies of Climb On Board or the breakdown in Treatment, these are often the most arresting moments of his tracks.  However, it also highlights a very formulaic approach to songwriting focused almost entirely on commercial success.

But 'Electronic Earth' is clearly poised to rake in the cash - especially if mentor Simon Cowell has anything to do with it, following his direct address in Earthquake.  This may be Labrinth's debut album, but he's already received considerable attention from his previous singles Let The Sun Shine and Earthquake, let alone his producing work on Tinie Tempah's 'Disc-overy' amongst others.  The production here is all autotuned vocals, synth hooks and dubstep beats.  It may be precisely what you'd expect, but it's also well executed.  The drum and bass beat of Climb On Board; the catchy chorus melody of recent single Last Time; the almost Linkin Park-esque Sweet Riot; or the grime feel of Sundown that steals the melody from Big Yellow Taxi - it encompasses a variety of styles that neatly sum up the current state of pop-RnB.

From its strong opening, 'Electronic Earth' does take a dip in the middle with a reworking of Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's Express Yourself and the already overplayed, polished Let The Sun Shine.  The weakest moment though is the ballad duet with Emeli Sande Beneath Your Beautiful.  You'd be forgiven for thinking this is a grammatical error, but with the dreadful lyric "Take it off now girl, take it off now girl, I wanna see inside", it takes on a whole other, more gynecological, meaning.  And this is just one example of Labrinth's awful attempts at wordplay - "Hey Grandma, say what's that noise, it's a lot of hot girls and a bag of boys" being another.  Lyrics are not a strong point of Labrinth's output.

Climb On Board is an obvious next single, to stand alongside the other tracks already released - though nothing quite hits the powerful tremors of Earthquake.  Ultimately this is an album of well produced tracks that, rather than transporting us to another time and place, are emphatically rooted in the here and now.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Climb On Board
* Earthquake
* Sweet Riot

Listen: 'Electronic Earth' is available now.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Jai Paul - Jasmine

It's been a while since we've heard anything new from UK singer/songwriter/producer Jai Paul. After being long-listed for the BBC Sound of 2011 and releasing the excellent single BTSTU, he dropped off the scene - despite Drake sampling his former single.  Clearly he's only releasing bits of material when it's truly ready to be heard.  And Jasmine, his latest demo, is certainly worthy of release.

This smooth-jam is probably best described as futuristic Prince, with the initial thundering bass synth making way for funk guitars, falsetto vocal and a light hand clap beat.  The ever changing production is electric, samples shifting in and out of focus, fragments of instrumentation colliding with sound clips.  This is sensual, soul RnB for a new age from a man at the top of his game.  If only he'd stop teasing us and release a full album.


Listen: Jasmine will be released soon...please?!

Monday 2 April 2012

The Help (2011) - Tate Taylor

It's easy to see why The Help won favour with the American Oscar voters.  Of course, racism is an important part of modern American history and any film that tackles such a difficult subject deserves reward.  Yet does The Help offer anything new to the subject?  Not particularly, but it does at least tell an interesting human story.

Set in 1960s Mississippi, Emma Stone plays Skeeter Phelan, a young aspiring author who decides to write a book from the viewpoint of the African-American maids working in the area, aka 'The Help'.  It details the mistreatment of these brave women by their bitchy Stepford Wife employees through a series of personal stories, finally giving them a voice and the courage to stand up for their civil rights - even if that voice comes from the pen of a young white woman.

The trouble is that it's all wrapped up in sugar-coating, only emphasised by the happy ending that neatly ties up any loose ends.  At times the narrative rises to powerful levels, where the drama breaks out of its fluffy cushioning and we truly see the shocking events that did (and still do) occur.  Skeeter's tale of her own maid Constantine is particularly heartbreaking.  Yet much of these moments of abuse are merely alluded to, like we're receiving the sanitised version of events, the truth almost too brutal to take.  The remains of the narrative rarely rises above an episode of Desperate Housewives, events revolving around the affairs of gossiping, two-dimensional women.  The only real threat is that of cheating husbands and unbeknowingly eating shit out of a cake.

The two Oscar nominated (and one winning) performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer certainly stand out.  Spencer's often hilarious Minny is the perfect foil to Davis's weary Aibileen, embuing the film with some outlandish comedy moments.  Well-rounded and bitterly believable, these characters feel like real women, though perhaps that's just in contrast to the robotic, automaton's around them.  Taylor's mise en scene is well shot and Thomas Newman's score provides poignancy in the deeply emotional scenes.

The Help is a film that yo-yos between soap opera and real drama.  Just like Skeeter's book, it's undoubtedly a riveting watch - at just under two and a half hours the time flies by.  But equally, her book aims to view issues of racism from a new perspective, something Taylor's film fails to achieve.