Tuesday 31 July 2012

Delilah - From The Roots Up

The title to Delilah's debut album is fitting.  The roots of her music are in old R&B, dance and disco tracks, but her sound has a thoroughly modern twist with its experimental production.  Her debut single Go epitomised this, marrying the lyrics of Chaka Khan's Ain't Nobody to a slow, soft dubstep beat.  Other tracks continue this theme - recent single Love You So is a reworking of Finley Quaye's Even After All; whilst Inside My Love is a cover of Minnie Ripperton's 1975 track, the smooth funk of the original switched for haunting minimalism as Delilah sings breathlessly "will you come inside me".  It's incredibly sexy.

These covers are the album's highlights for their inventive, urban production - trip-hop inflected beats, deep bass rumblings, and cold synth washes.  In addition, Delilah's original material is more than capable of sitting alongside the covers.  On the previously released Breathe, her breathy vocal perfectly matches the repeated chorus of "I cannot breathe", evocative of a stifling relationship.  So Irate conflicts with its title - more restrained anger that never fully explodes but grows with increasing intensity, all pounding drums and dampened guitar lines.  Insecure is another standout track, the sinewy chromaticism of the opening solo piano line reflecting her insecurities laid bare.

The softer ballads feel a little dull by comparison.  Only You and Shades of Grey focus on piano and orchestral instruments and lack the exciting intensity of the other tracks.  Album closer Tabitha, Mummy and Me strips back the production to just piano and voice - it proves Delilah can write a decent song beneath all the technical wizardry, but the warm jazz harmonies feel strangely empty against the album's cold electronica.

It's Delilah's emotive vocal that stays consistent throughout.  The soulful sound of Never Be Another changes to breathlessness on Breathe, floats with ease and grace on Shades of Grey and evokes quiet intensity on Go and So Irate, continuously telling the story of each song.  What she holds back in power she gains in emotion, her voice cracking with aching character.

With two hundred songs recorded for 'From the Roots Up' and only twelve making the final selection, there's clearly plenty more to come from this rising star.  This is an album that creeps up on you in the dark before striking an intense blow to your musical core.


Gizzle's Choice:

* Go
* So Irate
* Insecure

Listen: 'From the Roots Up' is available now.

Watch: Delilah will be touring during the Autumn.

You may also like...

* Jessie Ware
* Chase & Status

Monday 30 July 2012

Example - Say Nothing

Elliot Gleave's last single was the synth-fuelled Midnight Run, with it's bass wobbles and saw-tooth stabs.  As an introduction to his upcoming (as yet unnamed) fourth album, Say Nothing couldn't be more different.  Gleave has promised a rock album and the change in sound is immediately clear.

That said, shoving some guitars into the Example electro-pop sound does not instantly make this rock - with plenty of synths, it's closer to Coldplay than anything.  Gleave is also aiming for that big anthemic chorus, but here just repeats the same hook endlessly.  And of course the track features a trademark rap that makes this an Example track through and through.

Yet with this change of sound, the electric whizzing production his previous releases are reknowned for is sorely missed.  More importantly, the whole double negative of the chorus is grammatically unacceptable.


Listen: Say Nothing is released on 16th September.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Bel Ami (2012) - Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod

R-Pattz's love life may have taken a downturn recently, but let's hope it doesn't turn out like this.

Pattinson plays Georges Duroy, a young social-climber in 1890s Paris who sleeps his way to the top with the help of the city's wealthy and influential.  It's a typical story of sexual deviance that's been told on numerous occasions before - from Dorian Gray to Dangerous Liaisons.  Yet the narrative here is flimsy and poorly executed.  It may only be a hundred minutes long but the dull story drags, despite events transpiring far too quickly to make believable sense.  Why is Duroy helped in the first place?  It's never fully explained, whilst his political career in journalism lacks any dramatic power.  His inevitable fall from grace just doesn't fall hard enough.

Sex is at the heart of the film, but Pattinson lacks chemistry with any of the leading ladies.  And what a contemptuous cast of characters Donnellan and Ormerod have depicted - upper-class pompous idiots with too much money to spend on silly affairs.  Christina Ricci's Clotilde is a squealing girlish woman far too easily seduced; Scott-Thomas is breathy, overly needy and pathetic; whilst Uma Thurman plays a deceiving older woman with the voice of a chain smoker. All three, ultimately, border on the psychotic.

However, the plot hinges on Pattinson's Duroy, whose bedroom has a revolving door.  Why do these women fall for him?  Is he really that irresistable?  All he seems to offer is a snarling, goofy grin when what he needs is a good night's sleep to get rid of the bags under his eyes instead of getting his arse out at every opportunity.  Duroy's true cynical nature is revealed at the end - using sex and marriage to gain money, he is no better than the pantomime whores in the film's opening scene.  In playing this role, Pattinson is simply relying on his Twilight reputation rather than developing his craft.

Most crucial of all is the lack of danger and sexual tension that is so necessary in this sort of film.  That, sadly, is the fault of everyone involved.


Friday 27 July 2012

Chemical Brothers - Theme for Velodrome

The Olympic committee have commissioned a number of tracks to be written for the Olympics, in addition to Muse's Survival being the official theme.  Theme for Velodrome is (unsurprisingly) the theme for the cycling.

Richly textured strings make way for a creepy robotic voice repeating "Vel-o-drome" like some sort of mechanical demon, followed by a frenetic synth ostinato that repeats like the endless turning of wheels.  The brothers have aimed to create something that suggests the "sense of speed, pace and drama" of cycling.  Dramatic doesn't begin to cut it.  Stylistically it's very Kraftwerk-esque (the grandfathers of techno themselves soundtracked the 2009 Tour de France), but equally wouldn't sound out of place on Daft Punk's Tron soundtrack.

Muse's rousing effort may be of operatic proportions, but the Chemical Brothers have channelled the determination and focus to win into a techno track imbued with urgency.


Listen: Alongside the Chemical Brothers track, the other official themes are Good Morning to the Night by Elton John vs Pnau; Good Life by Delphic; and Scream by Dizzee Rascal featuring Pepper.  Don't forget Mark Ronson and Katy B's Coca Cola effort too.

Thursday 26 July 2012

No Doubt - Settle Down

Eleven years after the release of their fifth album 'Rock Steady', No Doubt last week dropped their latest single, which spread across the Internet like wildfire.

As many YouTube comments have noted, Stefani (now aged 42 and still looking hot) has physically changed little over the last decade.  Thankfully, neither has the music.  This is still the same quirky ska-pop we've come to expect from the band, rather than the (still enjoyable) hip-hop leanings of Stefani's solo work.  That said, this is less rock heavy than the band's previous work and Stefani's pop image is as potent as ever.

Combined with the ska is a strong Asian influence (especially in the middle eight), making for a track that's as colourful and summery as the accompanying video.  Whilst a grower, it's not as catchy as some of No Doubt's previous work and it does slip into modernism at the end with the hip-hop beat and synth bass combo.

Still, Settle Down paves the way for the release of 'Push and Shove' later this year.  It's good to have you back guys.


Listen: Settle Down is available now; 'Push and Shove' is released on September 25th.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Wiley feat Ms D - Heatwave

Wiley and Dizzee Rascal have been feuding for years.  But just as Dizzee has moved from underground grime artist to mainstream success, Wiley is following suit - Heatwave is his most commercial single since 2008's Wearing My Rolex.

It's very much a song of two halves.  The grime influence comes from Wiley's less than satisfying rap sections.  After the build up of Ms D's vocals, his rapping doesn't pack the necessary punch with shallow lyrics that reference ice cream, slush puppies and trying his luck with the "gyals".

Then there's the aforementioned vocal section from Ms D - an endlessly repeated refrain that's one of the catchiest hooks of the summer.  Like mosquitos, Heatwave arrives with the sun in infectious, irritating form.  It's also bound to be a big hit once it's released next week, the video replicating the song's summer vibe - even if it looks like a cheap version of David Guetta and Akon's Sexy Chick (and that's saying something).


Listen: Heatwave is released July 29th.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Bat For Lashes - Laura

As an introduction to her forthcoming album 'The Haunted Man', Laura is as stripped bare as the recently revealed album cover (pictured).

It's certainly missing some of the fantastical bombast Natasha Khan is best known for - Daniel's haunting synths and strings; the pounding tribal drums of Glass; or the mystical lyrics that permeate all of her work.  Gone, too, is her alter-ego Pearl.  This is Khan naked - literally and figuratively.

What's gained is power through simplicity.  The lilting piano accompaniment rocks as Khan comforts a friend  who's been "left behind" in adolescence, driven along by cello undercurrent and the soft warmth of brass.  It's the storytelling that grabs the listener though, Khan's broken voice yearning towards the chorus refrain "you're the glitter in the dark...Laura you're more than a superstar", the sentiment mirrored nicely by the video.

Art-house pop is at the core of her sound - even without the bells and whistles, Khan retains a sense of ethereal wonder.  Perhaps, as the cover suggests, 'The Haunted Man' will provide a more intimate look at the real Khan behind the fantasy.


Listen: 'The Haunted Man' is released on October 15th.

Watch: Khan will be touring the UK in the autumn to promote the new album.

Monday 23 July 2012

Passion Pit - Gossamer

Writing on the band's website last week, frontman Michael Angelakos revealed the sad news that Passion Pit will be postponing their current tour so that he can "take the time to work on improving [his] mental health". Over the last few years since their 2009 debut 'Manners', Angelakos has suffered from writers block and depression.  'Gossamer' is the band's latest album and is clearly influenced by the frontman's illness - let's hope writing this has proved cathartic and has set him on the road to recovery.

Passion Pit have always juxtaposed downbeat lyrics with irresistibly vibrant production.  With 'Gossamer', Angelakos has lowered his vocal range (though it remains a soft falsetto) and there's less angelic choir accompaniment.  The lyrical content is clearer, giving the music a greater grounding in serious reality, rather than the lofty flights of fantasy that filled 'Manners'.

At first listen, the colourful electro production alone charms.  But dig a little deeper and the emotive lyrics become more apparent.  Lead single Take A Walk features a rhythmically thumping upbeat chorus, but lyrically explores the dire state of the economy - "I watch my little children play some board game in the kitchen and I sit and pray they never feel my strife".  I'll Be Alright is clearly a personal track to Angelakos, revealing a broken relationship with its repeated chorus "You should go if you want to...I'll be alright".  Yet as the verses play out, you get the impression he's far from it - "I'm so self-loathing...just go for someone new".  However, the production bathes the lyrics in hopeful positivity, all clipped samples, hyperactive drum beats and shimmering electronica.

The "pendulum" of Cry Like A Ghost (with its funky, whomping basslines) is symbolic of the album as a whole. 'Gossamer' swings from one extreme to the other - from I'll Be Alright's self-deprecation to On My Way, which pairs a joyful fanfare with "All these demons, I can beat them" for a defiant and uplifting change of pace. Constant Conversations is the only ballad (or as close as Passion Pit come to one) - more R&B slow-jam with its dragging beat and autotuned vocals.

The lyrics ensure that 'Gossamer' has more heartfelt soul than 'Manners' ever had, whilst retaining a sense of playful joviality. That said, Sleepyhead from their previous record remains the band's best track and this album does tail off a little towards the end. It's the dizzying production that always remains thrilling, with its pounding rhythms, sun-dappled synths, fragile, childlike falsetto and vivacious riffs and melodic hooks. It may have a dark interior, but the exterior of 'Gossamer' is pure power pop, the two sides hanging in the delicate balance its name suggests.


Gizzle's Choice:
* I'll Be Alright
* Constant Conversations
* Cry Like A Ghost

Listen: 'Gossamer' is released today.

Watch: After postponement, the band will continue their worldwide tour from August.

You may also like:

Sunday 22 July 2012

Carnage (2012) - Roman Polanski

"Let's get out of here...these people are monsters."

Yet eighty minutes later, will these two couples ever reconcile their differences and part ways?  In Polanski's film, based on 'God of Carnage' by French playwright Yasmina Reza, two couples are thrown together when their sons have a scrap.  The adults meet to smooth things over but, as the title suggests, carnage ensues.

Why Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) don't leave earlier is a joke.  When they enter the home of Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C Reilly), both couples are stereotypes who become grotesque.  Though the film touches on larger themes - parenting, adulthood, married life - it rapidly takes a turn for the absurd and focuses more on humour than thematic complexity.

Polanski's direction is assured.  As Carnage is based on a play, events take place within the confines of the flat.  Thankfully the film is far from static.  Early on the camerawork is still and poised but later, as things heat up, the camera shakes and moves with growing agitation.  The close-ups remain constant throughout, maintaining the intense, claustrophobic atmosphere.

Polanski also draws some excellent performances from his cast.  Nancy and Alan are the hard-working, business-focused parents, snotty and stuck-up in their suits; Penelope and Michael, casually attired, are the homely parents whose love for their son is visibly unconditional.  At the opening, conversation is stilted and polite, filled with awkward pauses.  Gradually, as they realise the gaping differences in their social and political views, the superficial barriers of civility are utterly demolished as the couples' moral boundaries are pushed to the extreme.  Aided by alcohol, their behaviour becomes barbaric and animalistic as you'd expect from the children rather than their parents.  The symbolism of Nancy's vomit doesn't go unnoticed, the true feelings of all four characters literally erupting verbally from them.

The front door frequently opens, but Nancy and Alan never escape the "monsters" they've encountered - or become themselves.  The film is thus far from believable, though it succeeds for the central performances.  Never has chaos been so entertaining.


Saturday 21 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - Christopher Nolan

Watching Nolan's third and final entry into his Batman saga is a bittersweet experience.  His films have not only redefined the titular character, but redefined the parameters of what a comic book film should be.  But with The Dark Knight Rises Nolan brings things to a close - this is well and truly the end of an era.

Nolan's film is a masterclass in character.  So many comic book films fail to balance the hero and the man behind the mask.  Surprisingly enough, this is a Batman film with very little Batman.  Instead, Bruce Wayne is central, dragged out of retirement to face his toughest adversary yet.  More than ever, Batman is just a symbol.

The screenplay offers an incredibly satisfying conclusion.  To an extent it goes against the character we know, with less stealthy shadow lurking and more brash technology resulting in all out war.  The film is on a much grander scale than its predecessors in almost every way.  Despite this, it always remains within the realms of Nolan's vision of a believable Gotham that has extended across the trilogy.  This world succeeds in its relation to our own - the terrorist and recession combating parallels are clear and boldly portrayed, but the political message is not overdone and the film's cold, monochromatic feel is artfully shot, lending itself to a sort of hyper-realism.

Moreover, the motorbikes, weaponry and 'the bat' are quite simply necessary in the fight against Bane, resulting in some spectacular action sequences that contain both physical and emotional weight. Batman is well known for his nemeses, especially those which embody aspects of psychology. Bane may not be as instantly recognisable or as witty as the Joker, but he is far from simply a physical foe. Tom Hardy uses his eyes and voice to act through the mask: his timbre suggesting the intellect of a Shakespearean villain, the character's backstory ensuring a sense of humanity that goes beyond the revolution he stands for.

Anne Hathaway may have seemed an odd choice for Selina Kyle, but rest assured her performance is suitably sexual, her dialogue filled with pithy remarks suggestive of the comic book origins but never straying from the bounds of realism. It's less iconic than Michelle Pfeiffer's turn and she's slightly underused - her position as anti-hero with questionable morality could have been explored further. Yet in this predominantly masculine world, the inclusion of some seductive femininity is welcome and her character is an appropriate foil to Batman, similarly seeking redemption.

Christian Bale growls his way through the central role, but truly gets to the heart of Master Wayne.  Psychologically broken, the film is as much about Wayne rising to overcome his grief at the death of his parents as it is the Dark Knight becoming the saviour that Gotham needs - a story that's arced across all three films and finally reaches conclusion.  It's left to Michael Caine's Alfred to pick up the pieces, here delivering much of the film's emotional power.  The inclusion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hotshot cop Blake is as integral as Batman himself, in a film imbued with fan service for fans of both the comics and previous films.

The only mar is the sound quality.  Whilst the problems with Bane's speech have been somewhat rectified, muffled dialogue is widespread throughout the film, struggling to be heard over Hans Zimmer's rousing score.  However, this may be a cinema-specific issue and the imbalanced sound levels are not enough to deter from the overall experience.

Looking at Nolan's output (Inception or Memento for example), he has always been an intelligent film director and The Dark Knight Rises is a similarly complex, layered film.  It's almost insulting to mark the series as the best comic book adaptation in cinematic history.  Instead, it's outright an exceptional and smart piece of film making.  Story, character, cinematography and special effects combine to make a cohesive whole - a well-constructed vision and fitting finale to an outstanding trilogy.


Friday 20 July 2012

A Life In Monochrome - Blind Tiger Productions @ The Space

With A Life In Monochrome, Blind Tiger transport us back into 1930s crime-soaked Chicago.  In the midst of the Great Depression, the parallels with today's economic recession are palpable.

Arranged as if sat in a bar, the audience become part of the drama itself, with scenes performed all around.  This gives the drama a 3D feel and cinematic presentation that lends itself well to the noir genre.  Cigarette smoke curls through the air; soft lighting elongates shadows across the walls, in Orson Wells fashion; and the actor-musicians underscore the drama with sexy jazz.  The atmosphere created by the performers is suitably authentic, making us feel like we're actually there.

There are pacing issues with the narrative however.  More time is spent providing context and ambience than on storytelling, meaning that as a noir thriller A Life In Monochrome is a little less than thrilling.  Once the murder mystery takes hold half way through, the show is imbued with a renewed sense of purpose.  Yet, the creators have taken the brave decision of not revealing the killer, leaving the audience to ponder.  It's certainly thought-provoking, but the drama feels too loose to provide a sufficiently satisfying conclusion.  That said, the murder itself, accompanied by song and an agitated score, is inspired by detective literature from the time and is cleverly portrayed.

In A Life In Monochrome every character is a suspect.  However, they are based predominantly on cliche - the femme fatale, a provocative bar singer; the vampy journalist who uses her sexuality as a weapon; the whiskey-drinking detective who speaks solely in soliloquy.  The creators have stuck to the obvious character types, leaving little room for innovative interpretation.  On the other hand, these are integral tropes of noir.  The background research done when devising this piece is clear to see, the final result doing justice to the genre.

As is typical, it's the women who hold power over the men and this was reflected in the performances.  Stephanie Hampton particularly stood out as Karen Carter, the gutsy journalist.  Hers was an assured and solid portrayal, not afraid to use silence for effect.  Claire Sharpe also impressed as jazz singer Susan Lyons, her smouldering in the acting scenes matched by suitably husky renditions of 'Dream A Little Dream Of Me' amongst others.

All the more admirable is that the cast simultaneously underscored the drama, which was particularly difficult when spread around the performance space without a conductor.  The music was most effective when used diegetically as background music for the bar scenes, Joshua Fontana's improvised jazz guitar especially.  A greater emphasis on thematic melodies would provide an appropriate way of enhancing the plot, making the music an integral element of the drama.  Equally, the use of silence in certain scenes was striking.

With its suitably authentic atmosphere and cinematic presentation, A Life In Monochrome was a chilling piece of theatre from a young, fresh theatre company. With a tweaked narrative, the story would thrill just as much as the production.


Watch: A Life In Monochrome is performed at The Space Arts Centre until 28th July.

Thursday 19 July 2012

The Tempest - Greenaway Productions @ Drayton Arms Theatre

The Tempest marks the second part of a Shakespeare double bill performed at the Drayton Arms Theatre this summer season.  What's so remarkable about Shakespeare's work is the range of potential interpretations it generates.  Unlike Twelfth Night which played things safe, director Anna Ostergren took some brave and commendable risks.

The programme promised a "streamlined and darker telling of Shakespeare's last play" and it certainly delivered.  Trimmed to under two hours in length, this was a focused and clear production and with the titular storm merely referenced sonically as the audience entered, we were thrown directly into the drama.

It was the characterisation that most impressed.  Russell Barnett's resonant, sibilant voice was well suited to his Prospero - part imposing magician, part gentle and protective father.  Terry Burns' Caliban was a psychotic monser with a demonic eye, entering the stage whilst banging his head against the wall, though like Gollum there remained an edge of sympathy.  Ariel, played by James French, provided the most interesting interpretation.  In place of an effervescent spirit was a rugged slave who paced the stage with a slow sadness, twitching and ticking as he went.  It was a beautifully played performance, highlighting an almost father-son relationship between him and Prospero.

Amongst the darkness there was no shortage of light humour.  The interplay between Stephano (David Frairs) and Trinculo (Humphrey Hardwick) provided plenty of laughs, though Frairs' acidic and camp modernisms jarred with the other performances.  Elsewhere, Natalie Bray's Miranda was youthful and innocent, her relationship with Sean Pogmore's Ferdinand touchingly played.

As with the reinterpretation of Ariel, the magical elements of the play were subtly presented, referenced in a series of books scattered across the stage and walls like butterfly graffiti.  Quiet music accompanied the spells, though it was an odd mix of strings and electronics.  A more extravagant set and concept may have provided a more exciting sense of atmosphere, but equally would have detracted from, what was, an excellent display of acting.


Watch: The Tempest runs at The Drayton Arms Theatre until 21st July.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Madonna - MDNA Tour @ Hyde Park

"Immortality" is brazenly splashed across the huge screens.  It may seem bombastic, but Madonna's music has undoubtedly reached immortal levels - she's probably the most famous one-named music artist in the world.  "There's only one queen and that's Madonna" claims Nicki Minaj on I Don't Give A.  And in a cheeky nod to her contemporary rival, Madonna's performance of Express Yourself was mixed with Gaga's Born This Way followed by a swift "she's not me" - surely the musical equivalent of a middle finger.  Even son Rocco made an appearance, paraded on stage to represent the future of the Madonna clan.

Yet her MDNA tour, her first gig in the UK for four years, was far from a testament to her legacy.  As expected, the majority of the setlist was taken from her recent album and contained only a handful of the classics her eager fans were hoping for.  When she called for the audience to sing along to Turn Up The Radio, few knew the words.  Instead, they just left early, dejected.  And when Like A Virgin eventually did come, albeit in melancholic, slowed-down form complete with striptease, it did little but expose her incredibly weak vocal.  The atmosphere was one of betrayal rather than elation.

The anti-discrimination views and gospel preaching are Madonna's primary agenda, along with the production values.  Fittingly, following the release of her recent film W.E, the show had a flare for the cinematic, delivered episodically on the backdrop filling screens through impressively rendered graphics.  The religious opening, with bells tolling and Madonna arriving bathed in celestial light, led us into hell with Girl Gone Wild - undoubtedly the most popular of her most recent songs.  Gang Bang followed, complete with gun shots, monologues (taken from the song and now making cinematic sense) and choreographed fighting straight out of a Tarantino film.  The video for Give Me All Your Lovin' clearly inspired the next section with its cheerleaders and marching band suspended in mid-air, whilst Vogue marked a return to her monochromatic 90s sexual sophistication.  After some Bollywood ethnicity came the neon-soaked Celebration encore that was all modern disco.

The athletic choreography, rope dancing and technical effects served only to cover up Madonna's waning talents.  Much of the (occasional) singing was unashamedly autotuned, jarring with her guitar playing and attempts to be taken seriously as a musician.  Even her dancing consisted mainly of being dragged around on the floor by the other performers.  The show's lowpoint, though, was Masterpiece which slowed the show down to a crawl, complete with clips from W.E that only highlighted her pretentious vision.  Most criminal of all were the sound levels which were far too low.  This may have ensured the quieter, out of tune moments were thankfully hushed, but the louder beats lacked the impact they deserved.

Clearly immortality has a price - especially where tickets are concerned.  As Madonna continually strives to reinvent herself for the younger iTunes market looking for a quick 99p thrill, the live crowd is filled with older money-earning fans - fans who just want to hear Like A Prayer; fans who, above all the pretence, seriousness and religious views, want to see Madge let loose and have fun; fans who sadly left Hyde Park sorely disappointed.


Watch: The MDNA Tour continues across Europe and America for the rest of the year.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

The XX - Angels

The XX's minimalist music has always been an acquired taste and with Angels, the first single to be taken from forthcoming album 'Coexist', nothing has changed.  This is hardly the "club music" inspired material Jamie XX previously hinted at.  Romy Madley-Croft's vocal is, as ever, the centre of attention repeating "they would be as in love with you as I am" with touching insistence.  Cold, echoing guitar oscillations and simplistic bass patterns provide a constant, whilst the patter of drums and cymbals fade gently in and out.  The production is as bare and empty as ever - for some, the unspoken words and unvoiced emotions provide moments of poignancy and stilled, haunting ambience; for others, the void denotes a lack of creative material.


Listen: Angels is available now, whilst 'Coexist' is released on September 10th.

Monday 16 July 2012

Twin Shadow - Confess

*sigh* Yet another 80's inspired album?  With bands like M83 at the forefront of the 80's dream-pop revival and the excellent soundtrack to Drive already available, do we need more of this stuff?

Yes. Yes we do - because 'Confess' is more than worthy of your time.

It's the sophomore album from Twin Shadow, aka American musician George Lewis Jr, following a motorbike accident.  The production of 'Confess' replicates the exhilaration of getting back on the road, chasing the sun down empty highways - all driving drum patterns and reverbed guitar riffs.

The sound is firmly in 80's New Wave rock-pop territory.  Lead single Five Seconds has more than a passing resemblance to Don Henley's Boys of Summer with its shuffling beats and electric guitar arpeggios.  The opening of Run My Heart could be taken straight from The Police, whilst The One has a ska flavour reminiscent of The Cure.  Lewis Jr's Prince-esque vocal comes across in You Call Me On, which combines rock distortion with R&B rhythms typical of the 80's star.  Yet where the obvious influences may be derivative, the tight production is polished and buffed to a shimmer only possible today with its modern washes of electronica.

Pop is at the heart of every track, catchy riffs and melodic hooks in abundance.  The key change in Be Mine Tonight particularly springs to mind, but manages to steer clear of cliche.  The result is a series of euphoric, widescreen anthems screaming for the volume to be cranked up.


Gizzle's Choice:
* You Call Me On
* Run My Heart
* Be Mine Tonight

Listen: 'Confess' is available now.

You may also like:
* M83
* Chromatics
* Chairlift

Sunday 15 July 2012

W.E (2012) - Madonna

W.E is a confused mess of a film.  Is this a period drama?  Or a Hollywood romance?  Either way it fails on both counts, Madonna directing without an ounce of finesse.

The film tells the historically inaccurate account of hunky King Edward VIII who abdicated to marry his American lover and commoner Wallis Simpson.  This really is a butchery of English history.  Madge has attempted to tell the story from Wallis's point of view, but has failed to draw a sympathetic character, asking the audience to side with a calculating social-climber.  The nature of the relationship between Edward and Wallis is utterly materialistic - him showering her in jewels, her providing little more than a Martini.

Bizarrely, Madge then makes the facile decision to parallel this story with the fictional tale of modern day American woman Wally (living up to her name) and her English husband.  The characters are so shallow that apparently shocking moments like domestic violence are unintentionally hilarious.  Besides Wally being worryingly obsessed by Wallis (resulting in some disturbing apparitions), the parallel just doesn't make sense.  Most criminally of all, it makes a trivial mockery of a key piece in modern English history - fact turned into fantastical whimsy.  Just as royal memorabilia is sold at auction to a crowd of babbling idiots, Madge is trying to sell us our own history in cheap Hollywood form.

The cinematography is striving for arthouse, with liberal use of intense hand-camera close-ups and other, empty, cinematic tricks that ultimately amount to nothing.  The style is aiming for period accuracy, but is instead a display of English opulence as seen through American eyes and filled with Hollywood glitz and glamour.  One scene sees the royal couple drinking champagne, getting high on Benzadrine and dancing to the Sex Pistols' Pretty Vacant.  The concoction of old and new is simply absurd.  And seeing Wallis fleeing from paparazzi, apart from being untrue, is an unnecessary link to Princess Diana - let's hope forthcoming biopic Diana does it better.  Still, at least the costumes look nice.

Madge's own agenda with the story is obvious - an American woman marrying an Englishman.  We all know how that love story panned out, so perhaps W.E is her fairytale dream of marrying a prince.  But her cold-hearted, overly sentimental Hollywoodised portrayal is an insult to British history.


Saturday 14 July 2012

Magic Mike (2012) - Steven Soderbergh

As a stripper in his younger days and producer of this film, Channing Tatum's own experiences have somewhat informed the plot of this film.  Yet Magic Mike is far from the gritty slice of realism it aspires to be.

The film draws us into the glitzy world of male stripping in sunny Florida.  Tatum's Mike is our protagonist, the lead star who dreams of becoming (of all things) a bespoke furniture maker.  The plot hinges on Alex Pettyfer's Adam, an impressionable nineteen year old seduced by the money, fame and (most importantly) women that the industry provides.  Mike teaches him his methods, but is racked with guilt for inadvertently steering Alex into drug addiction.

The problem is, drugs aside, the stripping lifestyle is far from the seedy underworld you might expect.  Instead, it's a glamorous, colourful world that lacks danger - except from some rowdy frat boys.  In the midst of economic recession, the notion of giving up fortune and sex to become a carpenter is ridiculous.  The life of a stripper may be a cheap facade, but is it really worth giving up in favour of Alex's straight-laced, boring sister Brooke (Cody Horn)?

Many of Soderbergh's shots cut off the faces of his actors.  This is supposed to offer detachment, to focus on their masculine physique and force the audience's gaze to objectify these men.  Instead, the focus becomes the choreography - Tatum's dance skills especially.  It's not just the thongs and their contents that impress.  Rather than stripping being viewed as a degrading career choice, it's more degrading to the 50 Shades loving, animalistic and eager hoards of drooling women, interested only in seeing flesh rather than the men behind the latex.  Importantly, nudity is implied rather than actually shown, with Mike's magic wand kept out of sight (I suspect, much to the dismay of many cinema goers) and characterisation thrust to the forefront.

The characters, though, are defined more by their stage names than any actual humanity.  With its hilariously crude script and camp performances, this is neither a hard-hitting drama nor a piece of seductive eroticism.  Magic Mike is less Full Monty social message and more Showgirls cheap thrill - minus the sex.


Friday 13 July 2012

Deco Child - S&G

Back in January, Deco Child (aka London-based producer Alex Lloyd) released Pray - a contemporary piece of haunting solemnity - and S&G is the follow-up single.

The title refers to Simon & Garfunkel, Lloyd mimicking their DIY recording practices and use of found sound samples.  This is particularly apparent in the percussive beats - taps and clicks layered with processed drums with dizzying effect.  Spectral electronica, mesmeric keyboards and warped vocals turn this seven minute marvel into a richly textured slice of haunting trance, typical of Lloyd's style.

Accompanying track Diamond Drops is also suitably titled, digital raindrops falling on percussion splashes, an autotuned R&B vocal calling through the atmospheric mist.  With Lloyd currently working on a full album, the soundtrack to your most blissful moments is nearly at hand.


Listen: S&G is available now.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

The release of 'Channel Orange', Ocean's major label debut, has been overshadowed by his recent sexual revelations. Perhaps this is why he's released the album early on his website, pulling focus back on to the music. Sure, (openly) gay/bisexual hip-hop artists may be rare, but it's the music that's most important.

Ocean has never been one to shy away from controversy.  After a fallout with label Def Jam, previous mixtape 'Nostalgia, Ultra' was released anyway on Ocean's website as a download in February 2011, though due to its liberal use of sampling the album is now unavailable (you can stream it here). Lyrically, it explored dark themes - from abortion ("I believe a woman's temple, gives her the right to choose/ But baby don't abort") to suicide ("I’m about to drive in the ocean, I’mma try to swim from something bigger than me") and drugs (Novocane's drug fuelled sexual encounter that leaves him "numb"). In hindsight, his lyric "I believe that marriage isn't between a man and woman, but between love and love" from We All Try is indicative of his liberal views.

Controversy continues with 'Channel Orange', exploring different aspects of love: the carefree love of Sweet Life, religion and love in the organ-backed Bad Religion, and drug dependency in Crack Rock, Pilot Jones and Lost. This is far from the "gay" album some may now anticipate. Although a couple of tracks do allude to Ocean's sexuality, such as the reminiscence of Thinkin Bout You ("And though you were my first time, a new feel...") or, more explicitly, Forrest Gump ("You run my mind boy, running on my mind boy"), what's important is that these are searingly honest love songs. Other tracks reveal his views on women: Pyramids is a nine minute dual-narrative epic that juxtaposes the last pharaoh of Egypt with a modern day Cleopatra working in strip-joint 'The Pyramid', if anything hinting at his bisexuality.

Ultimately, Sierra Leone's opening of "I just ran out of Trojans...we're behaving like teenagers" sums up the album - less political statement and more carefree young love, often unrequited, encapsulated through bravely honest lyrical content.

The album takes the title literally in its concept.  Intro track Start begins with a TV turning on, followed by the start-up of PlayStation game Street Fighter (perhaps a cheeky link to tracks from 'Nostalgia, Ultra' Street Fighter, Goldeneye and Soul Calibur).  With the use of interspersed short tracks and samples, the album is an eclectic mix - much like his website - the album's real concept simply offering a snapshot into Ocean's mind.

The idiosyncratic production is equally eclectic.  Ocean is champion of a futuristic style of R&B, similar to the likes of The Weeknd, Drake and (to an extent)  Poliça.  The episodic Pyramids shifts from ambient synths, to funky R&B, to guitar-laden slow jam; its dark, gritty, urban synths akin to the Ocean we're familiar with from No Church In The Wild and Novocane.  The melody of Thinkin Bout You is constructed with aching beauty, hinting at Beyonce's I Miss You.  Elsewhere, there's a real emphasis on jazz and funk, such as on the chilled Sweet Life (co-written with Pharrell Williams) or Super Rich Kids.  Other artists feature, such as John Mayer on instrumental White and Andre 3000 on Pink Matter and their influences don't go unnoticed.

'Channel Orange' is probably the most important album of the year.  Ocean's sexuality will undoubtedly increase the album's importance in overcoming prejudice in the hip-hop community and promoting compassion.  Yet stylistically Ocean's spectacular production is at the cutting-edge of modern RnB; you can expect countless imitators over the coming months.  Forget the controversy - this is an album of beautiful love songs that capture the thoughts of one brave man's vision, bringing the heart and soul back into R&B.

Gizzle's Choice:
* Thinkin Bout You
* Pyramids
* Lost

Listen: 'Channel Orange' can be streamed from Ocean's website.  It's available to download on iTunes in the UK from July 13th, with physical copies available from July 23rd.

You may also like...
* Drake

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Ellie Goulding feat Tinie Tempah - Hanging On

Ellie Goulding might be busy hitting the big time over in the States, but she hasn't neglected her UK fans.  Hanging On is a more of a taster of what we can expect from her forthcoming follow-up album to 'Lights' rather than an actual single and follows previous collaboration with Tinie Tempah, Wonderman.  Just ignore the fairly unflattering packshot.

Hanging On is a step away from the folky, electro-pop 'Lights'.  The harp of the opening instantly brings Florence + The Machine to mind, but the track soon moves into more ethereal electronica - like a synthed up Your Song - followed by a satisfying bass drop.  All of this accompanies a vocal that, like it or lump it, is as squeaky as ever.  The final moments include a typical (and unnecessary) rap from Tinie, beginning with the obligatory "YEAH" and ending with the appalling "she broke my heart I took some Gaviscon".  Really Tinie?  REALLY?!  It totally ruins the haunting mood the opening generates.

All of this is well and good, until you realise this is in fact a cover of Active Child's track of the same name.  The mesmeric accompaniment and Pat Grossi's unique vocal haunt with far more impact than Goulding's track.  But hey - though Goulding has lost out this time, if you're yet to listen to Active Child's material then now is the perfect time.


Listen: Hanging On is available for free legal download here.  Active Child's debut album 'You Are All I See' that features Hanging On is available now - listen on Spotify here.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Major Lazer - Get Free

Nowadays, producers are becoming just as celebrated as pop stars themselves.  Listening to chart music without hearing some sort of signature sample, riff or sound effect is an increasing rarity.  On the rise is Diplo (aka Thomas Pentz), an American producer who has collaborated with the likes of M.I.A, Beyonce and Usher - his most well known track is probably 2010's Pon De Floor sampled in Beyonce's Run The World.

But Pon De Floor was part of his side project 'Major Lazer' with DJ/Producer Switch. After Switch left the partnership in late 2011, Diplo has been busy producing new music alone under the Major Lazer name and Get Free is the first release.

As with Major Lazer's previous output, Get Free is a reggae-dancehall fusion. Slow reggae beats and funk guitars are heavily processed and layered with club synths, punctuated by the occasional baritone sax. The production is slick and intricate (as you'd expect), pulsing rhythmically beneath Amber Coffman's catchy vocal. It's a near perfect, laidback summer jam, proving that electronic dancehall production doesn't have to be all whomping basslines, hand-clap beats and euphoric riffs. Finally, creative producers are receiving the credit they deserve - even if Diplo does hide behind two monikers and a cartoon Mr T lookalike.


Listen: Get Free is available now.

Monday 9 July 2012

Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough

It cannot be disputed that Lianne La Havas has a sumptuous vocal, purring her way through 'Is Your Love Big Enough' with affecting delicacy.  However, her debut album straddles the flimsy line between soulful jazz and boring lounge music.  As a whole, it's a collection of songs that lack bite.

One reason for this is that much of the album's material has already been released on La Havas's EPs 'Lost & Found' and 'Forget'.  Shouldn't an EP be just a tantalizing taster, the entrée to the album's main course? Instead, the EPs have taken the sting out of the final product. The album's best material is already familiar, leaving no room for surprises.

For new listeners, though, there is much to enjoy - especially for fans of Corinne Bailey Rae or Michael Kiwanuka.  No Room For Doubt is the album's centrepiece, a four minute lullaby that epitomises La Havas's style: gentle, soulful vocals and honest lyrics backed by a lilting guitar pattern.  Age follows suit, this time with lyrics of cheeky humour that relay a relationship with an older man - "I kinda know this other guy but he's rather old enough to be my father" she croons.  Tease Me, in the album's latter stages, shares similar instrumentation but is forgettable.  Lost & Found and Gone swap the guitar for piano - the former a hushed, personal tale of a breaking relationship ("you broke me and taught me to truly hate myself"), the latter a more intense and rare outburst of grief that strikes a chord with the heart.

The most exciting songs are those that stray from the typical formula and turn up the tempo.  The title track has La Havas confessing she "found [herself] in a second-hand guitar", all hand-clap rhythms, funk guitars and wailing harmonies.  Au Cinéma depicts a couple watching their relationship as in a movie, the music shuffling along like the turning of a film projector. The production of Forget is the most intricately layered, an interplay of vocal lines, guitar rhythms and grungy synths. "Please don't try to serenade me, I am a one-man-band" she snarls, yet her music sparkles with the enhanced accompaniment.

As you can guess, love is the key subject matter, but unlike the raw open-wounds of Adele these songs are still pretty in their grief.  Elusive is a prime example, a cover of Scott Matthews that swaps the acoustic guitar for lush harmonies, all emotion lost in a wave of prettiness.  As a result, 'Is Your Love Big Enough' is an album of nice, lovely, safe songs - subtle in their beauty though unlikely to stand out from the crowd.  Her vocal may be angelic and full of love, but it's not big enough to sustain our attention.


Gizzle's Choice:

* Au Cinéma
* No Room For Doubt
* Forget

Listen: 'Is Your Love Big Enough' is available now.

Watch: La Havas is performing at a number of major festivals throughout the summer.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Dream House (2011) - Jim Sheridan

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz are one of the hottest couples in Hollywood and it's on the set of Dream House that they met.  Yet if their lives turn out anything like this nightmare, their relationship and their careers will be dead.

Sheridan's film is a psychological thriller that's neither thrilling nor thought-provoking.  Will Atenton (Craig) is a hard-working editor who quits his job in order to spend more time with his wife (Weisz) and daughters in their newly bought idyllic home on the outskirts of New York.  Yet the family are haunted by a brutal murder that occurred in the property before their arrival.  Clearly, this is not the dream home they'd hoped for.  Where are Kirsty and Phil when you need them?

As expected, the plot hinges on a twist - a twist that is effortlessly predicted within the first few minutes.  It's neither clever nor original.  Simply pay attention to the (not so) cryptic script and prepare to be disappointed.  By blowing its load too early, the second half of the film has the potential for exploring the effects of psychotic trauma.  The narrative does offer some psychological catharsis, but focuses predominantly on the events of the murder - events that are about as dramatic as Eastenders.  The film's denouement is far-fetched and poorly explained, ending with a slushy conclusion that will leave you dissatisfied.

Craig and Weisz certainly show some chemistry in the film's early portion, but it's not enough to sustain the flimsy narrative.  These two talented actors deserve to work together on a more intelligent script.  Let's hope their marriage fairs better.


Saturday 7 July 2012

Dr. Dee - ENO @ Coliseum

Clearly the intention behind Dr. Dee, with music written by Blur's Damon Albarn, is to bring in a new, younger audience.  But walking in, it's sad to see the number of empty seats in the theatre.  Later, it's more saddening to witness people walking out early.  It's a shame as, at times, this is a fascinating piece of theatre.  However, this is a difficult work that is neither suited to opera purists nor opera newcomers.

The Doctor in question is John Dee, a sixteenth century English mathematician, astrologer and alchemist who straddled the boundary between science and magic, spending his later years attempting to commune with angels.  Whilst he was trusted by the monarchy (asked to choose a suitable date for Queen Elizabeth I's coronation), many were suspicious of his work and claimed he practised sorcery.  This was only heightened when he met Edward Kelley, a 'scryer' or spirit medium.  Dee is thus a contentious figure in English history, who, in his own words, was "condemned as a Companion of Hellhounds, and a Caller, and Conjuror of wicked and damned spirits".

However, the narrative of Dr. Dee is so abstracted that it's almost impossible to engage with the character.  The plot follows Dee's life through a collection of loosely connected scenes, entitled from 'Knowledge' through 'Coronation', 'The Scryer' to eventual 'Oblivion'.  The theatrical style is a mix of genres: music, dance and physical theatre.  As such, it takes on a form similar to an Elizabethan masque.  The theatrics of the piece are clearly of paramount importance to director Rufus Norris, leaving the audience, for the most part, in the dark with an incoherent plot that lacks any sort of dramatic impetus.

That said, the inventive direction does contain some magical moments amongst its Renaissance imagery.  The 'Knowledge' section utilises books filled with reams of slinky-esque paper extensions that dance across the stage.  Later, larger versions are used as screens to hide swift changes of set.  Projections of mathematic formulae wriggle across the floor and along transparent screens with dizzying effect; dancers adorned with black masks move with alien motion; Queen Elizabeth is suspended in mid-air; and real life ravens flutter over the audience to book-end the production.  Despite this, dramatically Dr. Dee boils down to little more than a series of fascinating theatrical images.

Albarn's score is a mixed bag.  The orchestra is split between pit and a smaller on-stage ensemble that floats above the action.  The instrumentation incorporates different magical traditions - from sixteenth century instruments like the lute, organ and recorders to African drumming.  This could have made for an interesting period piece, but Albarn makes the bizarre decision to include modernisms - least of all himself.  On-stage, his presence and cockney-accent is jarring both musically and dramatically.  Conductor Stephen Higgins had a hard time keeping the disparate elements together.

Musically, this is a moodpiece on English melancholy, Albarn perhaps intended to represent a modern-day John Dowland.  Vocal melodies are often just single notes: chant-like yet lacking in invention.  The solo singing, borderline out of tune, juxtaposes period and modern styles and can't reach the usual standard of ENO.  With much of the singing performed by off-stage chorus, the vocals become more of a disembodied voice rather than an integral part of the drama.  The orchestra play monotonous music, in a similar vein to Philip Glass, creating a serene, though dreary, tranquility.  As with the direction, there are some magical moments - the mesmeric theorbo, richly harmonised chorales and Christopher Robson's embellished counter-tenor as Kelley especially. 

There's a strong argument that Dr. Dee doesn't belong on the operatic stage.  It is far removed from opera and is instead a piece that eludes classification - this is not a comforting piece of Mozart, for instance.  ENO are certainly making brave choices and striding into unknown territory.  Yet Dr. Dee fails on a musical and dramatic level to connect with its audience.  Instead, it is little more than an intriguing work by a rock star who, like Dee himself, is striving for a higher, unreachable plane.


Watch: Dr. Dee is performed at the Coliseum until Saturday 7th July.

Listen: The music of Dr. Dee is available to buy on CD.  You can also listen below on Spotify.

Friday 6 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-man (2012) - Marc Webb

It's easy to forget that behind the superpowers and the high expectations, the man beneath the red and blue mask is in fact just a misunderstood teenage boy.

It's this aspect of the comic book origin story that Marc Webb (ha!) seeks to emphasise.  The Amazing Spider-man is less superhero movie and more coming-of-age movie, like his previous 500 Days of Summer.  A large proportion of the exposition is spent depicting family life in the Parker household, introducing us to Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker who, abandoned by his parents, lives with his Uncle and Aunt.  Bespectacled, bullied and hunched, Peter is a typically geeky science-nerd struggling to find his identity and learning to cope with the demands of manhood.  That said, as well as riding a skateboard he has no trouble wooing his classmate crush, Emma Stone's sassy Gwen Stacy who is far removed from the typical damsel in distress.  It's down to Peter's moody petulance that his Uncle is killed in the film's early stages - a sharp warning that many will empathise with, if not the tragic consequences.

Even in the suit, his teenage mannerisms are apparent.  Garfield's Spider-man is less amazing than the title suggests and more of a klutz - a hero who spends as much time making funny quips, schoolboy errors and playing games on his mobile as he does saving the day.  Threatened by the crippling demands of responsibility, Peter learns to cope not just with his new-found powers but with becoming a man.  And all this on top of defeating Rhys Ifans's nefarious, one-limbed Dr Connors, who's research and experimentation into cross-species genetic splicing has turned him into a menacing lizard.
Ifans makes a convincing villain, torn between his obligation to science and his morality, but the real hurdle is Peter himself. Garfield is excellent in the role, swinging between troubled teen to jokey hero with ease, whilst blending together the opposing sides of boy-hero into one complete character.

The trouble with this angle is the juvenile, corny script that, at many points, is laughable.  This may be a boyhood fantasy, but that doesn't excuse the numerous plot holes and unbelievable narrative turns.  What happened to Peter's hunt for his Uncle's killer?  What actually happened to his parents?  And where did the spandex suit come from?  Watching The Amazing Spider-man, you can't help but feel this is just the precursor to a more exciting story to come in the future sequels.  In the meantime, Webb's film just about asserts its own personality to justify the reboot.

With this emphasis on characterisation, the action takes a backseat.  Though there's large use of CGI, the actual swinging was done using ropes which does lend a certain sense of realism.  Still, Avengers Assemble raised the benchmark for movie action sequences to a spectacular level The Amazing Spider-man cannot reach.

Webb's Spider-man is a comic book film with heart, but the heart of an adolescent.  The story is, after all, aimed at teenagers who will undoubtedly enjoy this film, but for a more adult take on superhero mythology, Christopher Nolan's
The Dark Knight Rises will surely be a more dependable offering.