Sunday 30 September 2012

Rush Midnight - The Night Was Young Enough

Rush Midnight shares some common ground with two Gizzle favourites: Twin Shadow and Chad Valley, having played bass on tour with the former and being a label-mate with the latter.

This Brooklyn singer, Russ Manning, also shares similarities in musical style.  The Night Was Young Enough is the first release from upcoming EP '+1', a smooth and sexy track that combines funk, disco and electro bliss in a pop package of slinky guitars, silky vocals and a spattering of hazy synths.  Manning even shows off his bass playing with a funky middle-eight solo.  The video, meanwhile, is exactly what you'd expect if you mixed this music with Eric Prydz's Call On Me.


Listen: The Night Was Young Enough is released on debut EP '+1' by label Cascine on October 30th.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Nylo - Memories Speak

Little is currently known about this American singer, currently residing in Chicago, even if she can count Nas as a recent fan.  The music pretty much speaks for itself though.

Somewhat a female Weeknd, and not only because her current EP ‘Memories Speak’ is available for free download on her website, this electro-R&B has a similarly futuristic feel.  Synth washes curl like smoke in the air above hushed bass murmurings and minimalist beats, whilst Nylo’s Weeknd-esque vocal phrasing floats effortlessly over the slick production - in Someone Like You especially.  Attention is something of an odd one out, the half-rap half-singing vocal and heavier beat reminiscent of garage music.  Sugar On The Floor haunts with its ghostly, processed vocals and sparse, plodding piano.  And the EP ends on a greater high with the sublime Rent Free, her heart aching with the line “you’re not welcome anymore…this is no longer your home, if it wasn’t for love”.  With music like this, it’s impossible to hate Nylo.


Listen: You can download the EP from Nylo’s website.

Friday 28 September 2012

Deadmau5 - album title goes here

With '>album title goes here<', DJ/Producer Deadmau5 continues with the unimaginative album titles, following 2009's 'For Lack Of A Better Name'.  And like his past albums, it contains a couple of decent tracks with a lot of repetitive filler.

"Happy life with the machines" sings Chris James on recent single The Veldt.  It's a suitable description for the album at large.  The trouble is that this dance music is mechanical and calculated, perhaps even cold.  The production is technically excellent, but very considered and relies on specific moments common to dance music for certain effects - waiting for the beat to drop, for example, or that moment when the drones suddenly change to switch things up.

Closer relies solely on this principle.  The main riff is essentially one note, used as a drone, that only changes at the end of each phrase.  It's a nice moment, but the track overall is just too repetitive.

The best tracks are those with the strongest melodies.  The string opening of There Might Be Coffee leads to a catchy hook reminiscent of past glory Ghosts 'n' Stuff.  The Veldt provides a rare moment of singing, though there's no room for the track to manoeuvre and soar.  Fn Pig takes a while to warm up, but then disappointingly has a very generic womping chorus.  Much of the rest of  '>album title goes here<' settles for the generic, with endlessly repeated riffs, heavy beats and enough womping and whizzing to make you high - which is probably part and parcel of the genre.

Some variety is provided with the collaborations, but these ultimately fall flat.  Failbait features Cypress Hill, but the rapping merely distracts us from the dull beat and feels out of place on the album.  Likewise, Telemiscommunications features vocals from Imogen Heap, but it's essentially a Heap track with some Deadmau5 tapping and clicking thrown in for good measure.

Dance music doesn't have to be all minimalist, monotonous drones and repetitive riffs.  David Guetta may have lowered the genre to a common pop denominator, but we can look to artists like Madeon to push dance music into new, exciting territories.  '>album title goes here<' feels more like a set of well-constructed tools for other artists to utilize in their remixes.  All we need now is the deft touch of Madeon to spin his magic like he did with Raise Your Weapon.


Gizzle's Choice:
* The Veldt
* There Might Be Coffee
* Closer

Listen:  '>album title goes here<' is available now.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Rihanna - Diamonds

Another Autumn. Another Rihanna album.

We may not yet know the title of Ri Ri's upcoming seventh album, undoubtedly hitting us in November (as was the case with 'Rated R', 'Loud' and 'Talk That Talk'), but we do now know that Diamonds is the first single.  

Each of her albums has developed her sound in subtle and not so subtle ways.  Let's just compare the first (official) singles from each of those albums.  Russian Roulette introduced us to an angry, post-Chris Brown Rihanna, all wailing guitars and powerful vocals that blazed the way for an album full of aggression.  Only Girl (In The World) brought us a huge club banger, 'Loud' being a more dance-influenced album - with its mix of overt sexuality (S&M), flirtation (What's My Name?) and bajan roots (Man Down).  We Found Love proved a massive hit, even if 'Talk That Talk' merely took 'Loud' to new extremes.

If Diamonds is anything to go by, this mystery seventh album should see a more mature Rihanna, a Rihanna who has finally moved on from Mr Brown (even if the music press hasn't).  "Find light in the beautiful sea, I choose to be happy", she begins.  But how has that affected her music?

Here goes... Diamonds is dull.

There, I said it.  The production neither shimmers nor shines, placing emphasis on the lyrics, but they simply repeat "Shine bright like a diamond" for most of the song, like some sort of mantra.  It feels empty.  Sure, Rihanna has done sex to death, but this mid-tempo ballad is passionless.  Where's the fire of Unfaithful?  The spiteful outpouring of Take A Bow?  It's only in the final chorus that her voice soars, finally bringing some emotion.

Rihanna's always flirted with controversy, the strength she's shown in her personal life only fuelling her fans' passion for her music.  But Diamonds plays it too safe - the only vague controversy coming from the cover art.  Here's hoping the full album shines, even if this diamond doesn't.


Listen: You can listen to Diamonds at, with the (currently untitled) seventh album arriving in November.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Muse - The 2nd Law

The opening track of 'The 2nd Law', Supremacy, neatly sums up Muse's current position in the music industry.  With this being the band's sixth album, they've had a long career and have become one of the greatest bands currently on the globe, with countless accolades for their live gigs.  It also smacks of their growing arrogance, not only in the name itself, but in its grandiose, bombastic style similar to recent Olympic anthem Survival.  With its aggressive guitar riffs and orchestral strings, it is unashamedly a Bond theme in the making.

Before you listen any further beware - this is not a Muse album.  Or, at least, it's not the Muse album you might be expecting.  But before you can shout Panic Station, this shouldn't deter you from listening.

'The 2nd Law' is far from the band's humble beginnings, especially fan favourite 'Origin of Symmetry'.  Bellamy and co. have been inspired by a huge range of influences that have informed the feel of each track, so much so that each track can be re-labelled with equivalent bands or artists.  For instance, Supremacy is essentially a Bond theme; Panic Station is Prince meets Stevie Wonder meets Queen's Another One Bites The Dust; Follow Me is Nero; Animals is Radiohead; Liquid State is Foo Fighters; and The 2nd Law: Unsustainable is Scrillex.

The overriding style, though, is Queen meets dub-step, which could be affectionately monikered "Queen-step".  It's an interesting mix of old and new, though some tracks are more successful than others.  Where Madness combines the two, Follow Me and Unsustainable are pure dub-step, which may be disappointing for fans of the band.  Survival may have been well suited to The Games as an Olympic-sized Queen anthem but feels too overblown in the context of the album.  Animals meanwhile eschews any Queen-step influence for a Radiohead-esque track similar to Micro Cuts ('Origin of Symmetry').  Panic Station is a real highlight: all funk guitars, pounding rhythms and fiery falsetto vocals.  And two tracks, Save Me and Liquid State were written and performed by bassist Chris Wolstenholme, providing a different slant from a familiar member of the band.

So is this newfound concoction of styles a good thing?  Yes and No.

With such a variety of sounds, 'The 2nd Law' doesn't hang together as a single cohesive album; rather it feels more like a compilation of other artists.  And shouldn't Prelude, by it's very nature, be at the start of the album, even if it does introduce Survival?

On the other hand, individually these tracks are well constructed and well produced.  Follow Me and Unsustainable may be utter departures for the band, but it's a powerful statement that the band are willing to push the boundaries and try something different.  It may not be to everyone's tastes, fans of Muse's previous material especially, but rather than bemoaning their change of direction, 'The 2nd Law' should be appreciated in its own right.

If you're looking for the old Muse, listen to 'Origin of Symmetry'.  But if you're willing to take a chance, you may be pleasantly surprised.

This is not the Muse you fell in love with.  Things have changed.  Deal with it.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Panic Station
* Follow Me
* Animals

Listen: 'The 2nd Law' is released on 1st October.

Watch: Muse will be touring Europe over the winter.

You may also like...
* Queen 
* Nero
* Scrillex

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Mumford & Sons - Babel

There's only so much banjo one man can take.

'Babel', the latest album from folk rockers Mumford and Sons, is fine in short doses.  Take new single I Will Wait for example - by far the catchiest track on the album, it's exactly what you'd expect from the band.

But that's the problem with the album at large: it's exactly what you'd expect.

I Will Wait could easily have been an extra track from debut 'Sigh No More' and the majority of 'Babel' just doesn't live up to the band's previous highs.  It's also an album of two halves.  The first is a relentless string (no pun intended) of guitar strumming, banjo plucking and the odd fiddle.  The first four tracks are so similar they may as well be variations on the same song.  Then there's Mumford's declamatory vocals, culminating in his shouting of "The lover of the light!" on Lover of the Light, as if we hadn't quite got the name of the song. Whilst the band's on-stage energy and enthusiasm can be commended, on record it's overly vivacious - with so much going on the songs drown in their own rhythmic gusto with no space to breathe.

The second half is drenched in melancholy, lumbering along with heavy-footed emotion and descending into indie singer-songwriter territory.  It's like listening to Coldplay's Til Kingdom Come on repeat.  If the sheer repetitiveness of the album hadn't driven you to tears, the overt sentimentality of these troubadour songs will sucker punch you.  Where's the joy of 'Sigh No More'?  The catchy melodies?  The rich harmonies?  These are largely missing from 'Babel', rendering it a far inferior album.

There are still some highlights though.  Ghosts That We Knew is a beautiful ballad and is perhaps a subtle nod to ex-girlfriend Laura Marling's track Ghosts, adding an extra layer of poignancy.  Reminder may be the shortest track on the album, but it's a stripped back, Damien Rice-esque affair - the eye in the storm.  A cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic The Boxer features as a bonus track, proving that with strong songwriting the Mumford style can really soar (even if it's missing the drum crashes of the original).

For fans of the band's debut, this album is a no-brainer.  But where 'Sigh No More' was fresh, 'Babel' is just more of the same, devoid of any considerable evolution in the band's sound.  Amongst the resurgence of folk acts, partly inspired by Mumford themselves, they have failed to confirm their place at the top of the pile, foiled by their own success.


Gizzle's Choice:
* I Will Wait
* Ghosts That We Knew
* The Boxer

Listen: 'Babel' is available now.

Watch: Mumford and Sons will be touring the UK in November and December.

You may also like...
* Laura Marling
* Luke Sital-Singh

Monday 24 September 2012

Calvin Harris - Sweet Nothing feat. Florence Welch

Is it weird to say that Florence Welch looks kinda hot dressed as a man?  Probably.

But that's about the only positive to this drivel.  Harris continues his run of working with every pop vocalist in the industry by joining forces with Welch.  His collaborations have ranged from pop euphoria (We Found Love with Rihanna) to the mediocre Bounce (with Kelis) and abysmal Let's Go (with Ne-Yo).

Sweet Nothing falls somewhere between the latter two.  It's quite simply not catchy enough, not exciting enough and not sophisticated enough.  Harris is the new David Guetta - the laughing stock of the music industry, even if financially speaking he's probably having the last laugh.  Welch does her best to lay herself bare in the vocal (and the video), but it's not enough to lift this track anywhere near the dizzying heights of her best solo efforts.


Listen: Sweet Nothing is released on 14th October.

Sunday 23 September 2012

CHVRCHES - The Mother We Share

You might expect this sort of electro scandi-pop to come solely from Scandinavia.  But CHVRCHES, from Glasgow, are here to confound our expectations.

"And the mother we share will never keep our cold hearts from thawing", singer Lauren Mayberry sweetly intones.  It ensures a tinge of lyrical melancholy in an otherwise fizzing electro track, tempered with drum claps and melodic synths.  The Mother We Share has the sort of widescreen appeal of an M83 track, but will also stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Niki & The Dove and Icona Pop.  Finally, the UK has a home-grown electro-pop act to be proud of.


Listen: The Mother We Share is released on 5th November.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Carly Rae Jepsen - Kiss

It's a little known fact that Carly Rae Jepsen learnt how to sing by watching Alvin and the Chipmunks.  And just by singing, she's able to commune with rodents and call dogs to attention.

No. Really.

Call Me Maybe has been a huge global hit this year and with its instant appeal, it's easy to see why.  More recently we've had Good Time featuring Owl City that's bright, bubbly and full of glee.

But who would actually want a whole album's worth of this?  Well, unless you're below the age of five and glued to the Disney Channel 24/7.  'Kiss' is perfect for entertaining kids - vibrant, catchy and more suitable than Nicki Minaj.

But for a cynical twenty-something, Jepsen has one major flaw: she's too goddamn happy.  ALL THE TIME.  The term bubblegum pop is nowhere near sickly sweet enough to even begin to describe this album. Each song is a carbon copy of Call Me Maybe - high-pitched vocals; sparkly, glittery synths; and simple beats.  Only the odd element distinguishes each song from the next: the computerised voice of Tiny Little Bows; the shoddy key change in Curiosity (possibly the worst in all of pop music); or the appalling lyrics of Guitar String/Wedding Ring ("if you plucked a piece of guitar string I would wear it like it's a wedding ring") or anatomical ballad Your Heart Is A Muscle ("you gotta work it out, make it stronger").  And Owl City isn't the only collaborator, with everyone's favourite baby-star Justin Bieber featuring on Beautiful.  It's far from, both singers sounding indistinguishable (and a step backwards for Bieber whose recent album is relatively decent).  At least Katy Perry was being ironic when she released pop hit California Gurls with its dessert-based, sexy video.  Jepsen, on the other hand, clearly thinks 'Kiss' was seriously worth releasing.  Sure, there's a place for this sort of pop music, but a whole album's worth is just sugar overload.

But what's that?  Is that my toe tapping?  My head nodding?  AM I SINGING ALONG?



Gizzle's Choice:
* This Kiss
* Call Me Maybe
* Good Time

Listen: 'Kiss' is available now.

Friday 21 September 2012

Green Day - ¡Uno!

It's interesting that Green Day release their latest album '¡Uno!' just a week before Muse.  Not only are both bands on Warner labels, but both have been around for the long term and have seen shifts in their fan bases - as their sounds have evolved they've both lost and gained fans.  Recently, an article on NME entitled "Help! I Think I'm Falling Out Of Love With Muse" highlighted the distinction between the band's older and more recent albums and their subsequent fan bases.  The same can be said of Green Day - those who enjoyed 'Dookie' and 'Nimrod' aren't necessarily those that enjoyed 'American Idiot' or '21st Century Breakdown'.

So which set of fans does '¡Uno!' apply to?  Where Muse have continued to develop their sound into the realms of excess, Green Day have gone back to their punk roots, which should appeal to older fans.  Perhaps having their music used in a musical has reminded the band of what made them popular in the first place.

But is it enough?  Where newer fans may prefer their more recent hits such as American Idiot or power ballad Boulevard of Broken Dreams, older fans will simply reminisce on the band's beginnings.  The songs on '¡Uno!' simply can't live up to the band's greatest from either period.  

The song titles sum up the band in their current state:
Let Yourself Go
Kill The DJ
Rusty James
Past Our Best

OK, that last one I made up.  However, although their music might sound fresh in comparison to the DJ-centric electro currently in the charts, the band are relying too much on past success to carry the album rather than providing a decent set of songs.  Nothing on '¡Uno!' can match the classic sing-along of Basket Case, the emotive power of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) or the punk message of American Idiot.  Instead, we have a set of songs with little variation and lacking the hooks of their best tracks.

'¡Uno!' is the first of three albums ('¡Dos!', '¡Tré!') to be released in the coming months, but after listening to this, it indicates that perhaps the band should have focused on just one quality album.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Nuclear Family
* Oh Love

Listen: '¡Uno!' is released on September 24th (with a stream currently on the NME website). '¡Dos!' and '¡Tré!' will follow on November 12th and January 14th respectively.

Watch: Green Day will tour the UK next summer.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Kanye West/G.O.O.D Music - 'Cruel Summer'

Kanye West has certainly become one to collaborate.  Single All of the Lights from his 2010 album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ features no less than fourteen additional vocalists (most of which can barely be heard).  And of course there’s last year’s lauded collaborative album ‘Watch The Throne’ with Jay-Z.

And now he releases the first mixtape from his G.O.O.D record label, set up back in 2004 (standing for Getting Out Our Dreams).  ‘Cruel Summer’ features the majority of artists signed to the label, including the likes of John Legend, Big Sean and Kid Cudi, as well as guest additions from Jay-Z and R. Kelly.  West is at the centre of it all, on both rapping and production duties.  It’s good to see he’s as ego-centric as ever, but creating this album has surely been a test of whether he can keep not only his own ego in check, but those of his collaborators.  For the most part, ‘Cruel Summer’ is a little bit special.

Lyrically, this contains the usual vitriol and expletives spouted by rappers.  The most talked about is West’s mention of girlfriend Kim Kardashian in Clique with the line “eat breakfast at Gucci, my girl a superstar all from a home movie".  And there’s room for political leaning too, with mentions of Mitt Romney (he “don’t pay no tax” – To The World) and Sarah Palin (“white girls politicking, that’s that Sarah Palin” – Mercy).  It’s race that is the most prominent theme across the album, which is understandable from an album of black artists.  West himself is perhaps the most outright on Clique – “you know white people get money don’t spend it…blame it on the pigment” and later “I’m way too black to burn from sunrays”- a line that seems to sum up West’s ego and sense of cool.  It’s not just the guys though: on Higher The-Dream states “my shit, not make niggas get guns but the white girls say ‘where you get that cool beat from?’”, noting a divide in the status of ‘black’ music between black and white musical cultures.

As you’d expect from West’s output though, ‘Cruel Summer’ is full of “cool beats”.  In line with the lyrics, the production is dark, explosive and aggressive.  The beat of Clique is one of the hardest you’ll hear all year, only emphasised by the repeats of “ain’t nobody fuckin’ with my clique”.  Other tracks offer something altogether more atmospheric – To The World features a vocal from R.Kelly accompanied by a syncopated beat and swirling synths.  Penultimate track Bliss, featuring vocals from Teyana Taylor and John Legend, is positively vibrant with its stabs of neon amongst the darkness of the rest of the album.  The production follows on from ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and ‘Watch The Throne’ – for some this will disappoint, but for others it’s hardly a bad template.

That said, this is an inconsistent album, as you’d perhaps expect from so many artists fighting for attention.  Some tracks are less imaginative in their construction and some rappers have better cadences than others.  Crucially, the best tracks are those with the least artists and, thus, the greater focus.  Even so, ‘Cruel Summer’ doesn’t quite hang together as a complete album, with tracks ending suddenly and bleeding from one to the next.

The end result is an album that can’t quite stand up to West’s solo efforts, with some of his protégés in further need of his expertise.  But when it’s G.O.O.D, it’s downright awesome.


Gizzle’s choice:
* To the world
* Clique
* Bliss

Listen: 'Cruel Summer' is available now.

You may also like...
* Kanye West & Jay-Z 'Watch The Throne'
* Frank Ocean

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Misha B - Do You Think Of Me

Do You Think Of Me isn't the brash first single that Home Run was, introducing us to Misha B's sound, yet it's a far superior single.

It's not the most original song in the charts at the moment, but it takes the best bits of current trends and has everything you could want in a pop song.  There's a pounding beat, embellished with jittering percussion; 90s house synths; a well-structured build towards its euphoric hands-in-the-air chorus; hooks aplenty with both the "do you think of me?" chorus line and, later, the "somebody, everybody" section; a soaring, soulful voice that is, thankfully, devoid of autotune; and simple, direct, relatable lyrics.  Most of all, it strikes the right balance between club-banger and melancholia - mournful lyrics, emotive melodies and a beat that's a guaranteed dance hit.

This is the record that fans of Misha and The X Factor have been waiting for.  See you on the dancefloor.


Listen: Do You Think Of Me is released on October 28th.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

The Killers - Battle Born

It's fair to say The Killers have never matched their early success.  Debut album 'Hot Fuss' is pretty much universally praised as their best work and, since then, they've constantly looked backwards, attempting to recreate the magic.  'Battle Born' is yet another failed attempt.

Where the music industry has moved on since the band's debut in 2004, The Killers have stuck to their own template with very little progression.  'Battle Born' offers nothing we haven't heard before, from a band that are running out of ideas as they struggle to live up to expectations.

That's not to say this is a carbon copy of their previous albums.  For the most part they've dropped the disco and focused predominantly on Americana - Bruce Springsteen's 80s stadium rock is a clear influence.  From Here On Out is an obvious example.  This may be a novelty in today's charts, but it still feels old fashioned.  Many of the songs have equivalents on previous albums: the intro of Miss Atomic Bomb is a dead-ringer to Human - as is opening track Flesh and Bone; the driving rhythms of A Matter of Time are all too familiar from Somebody Told Me.  

In fact, the overall sound is mostly informed by their biggest, anthemic hits like When We Were Young and the aforementioned Human.  'Battle Born' is too big for small speakers and needs to be heard live on-stage. Even so, the songs feel overblown with unimaginative choruses and lyrics that can't stand up to the guitars.  The line "here's a towel, go on throw it in" from A Matter of Time is a particularly bad offender.  Here With Me is obviously meant as the dominant power ballad but the chorus lumbers along with the line "don't want your picture on my cell phone, I want you here with me", the little electro fragments and additional percussion slapping on the cheese in thick layers.  It's on an emotional and stylistic par with Brian Adams' Everything I Do (I Do It For You), lacking any subtlety.

'Battle Born' isn't a bad album per se.  The songs are decent and will sound euphoric enough on the inevitable tour.  But it's an incredible disappointment from a band that show so much promise.  It neither stumbles nor excels where its predecessors did - this isn't 'Sam's Town' but neither does it come close to the highs of 'Hot Fuss', instead falling somewhere between.  A shame, as The Killers are capable of so much more.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Flesh and Bone
* A Matter of Time
* Deadlines and Commitments

Listen: 'Battle Born' is available now.

Watch: The Killers will tour the UK in November.

Monday 17 September 2012

Natalia Kills - Controversy

For a track called Controversy, there’s not much that’s actually controversial about this record besides a list of things that are generally frowned upon, the odd expletive and spanking a stuffed rabbit toy.

In both controversy and sound, Natalia Kills falls somewhere between GaGa and Azealia Banks.  Whilst her debut album of last year (‘Perfectionist’) was all GaGa dance-pop, her sophomore album ‘Trouble’ is evidently moving in a darker direction, judging by this track released as a viral teaser.  Like Banks’ 212, it features a thumping house beat that’s almost entirely bass drum, above which Kills half-raps half-speaks her lyrics in a manner similar to the middle eight of Madonna’s Vogue.  

But what’s the point?  The lyrics are just a list that don’t amount to anything.  Sonically this is a club banger that will hopefully see Kills ace her second album.  Yet, as cool as this is with its irresistable beat, Kills just can’t compete with the effortless Azealia.

And what’s wrong with Kool-Aid?


Listen: Second album 'Trouble' will be released in 2013.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Daughter - Smother

“I sometimes wish I’d stayed inside my mother, never to come out”.

If that lyric doesn’t kick you between the teeth then nothing will.  Daughter are responsible for some truly captivating lyrics – the simplicity of lines like “I want him but we’re not right” are pure heartbreak; “I’m sorry if I smothered you” the final, apologetic nail in the relationship coffin.

Sung by Elena Tonra, the words echo delicately amongst moody, reverbed guitars, ghostly vocal harmonies and distant percussion that swell and crescendo like a sonic tornado.  Daughter undoubtedly have a signature sound, though after two EPs and (now) another single, it is a little repetitive.  Yet with such poignant lyrics, the overall effect is spine-tingling and haunting nonetheless.  Let’s hope they hurry up and release a full LP soon.  In the meantime, check out the band in concert if you get the chance.


Listen: Smother is released on October 1st.

Watch: For upcoming tour dates, visit the band's Facebook page.

Friday 14 September 2012

One Man, Two Guvnors @ Haymarket Theatre Royal

After nearly a year on the West End, you may worry that One Man, Two Guvnors may be running stale.  But fear not - this play is still the funniest show in town.

It's an update by Richard Bean of the 1743 play Servant of Two Masters by Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni.  All the elements of commedia dell'arte have been retained - from the one-dimensional stock characters (servant, master, lovers), to cross-dressing and the emphasis on improvised comedy - but now transported to Brighton in 1963.

What is improvised and what is scripted is very much up for debate - for the audience at least.  The script is full of hilarious similes ("love goes through marriage like shit through a small dog"), but the cast seemingly deviate frequently.  Even after months of performances, the cast are still able to keep each other on their toes.  

Much of the improvisation stems from audience interaction, with the odd pundit pulled on-stage in total embarrassment as well as countless asides to the audience, the fourth wall thoroughly smashed.  And when, in this performance, the audience answered back, the cast were unable to contain their amusement.  Clearly the audience were in a particularly jovial mood, but far from unprofessional, the laughter only served to escalate the comedy to new levels.

The result is a mad, satirical farce that's as enjoyable as it is ridiculous and nonsensical.  Whilst one character assured us this wasn't a panto, One Man, Two Guvnors does on occasion stoop to such levels - the dinner service scene a clear slop scene equivalent.  Yet the slapstick humour and hammy acting are never less than hysterical.  

Indeed, the over the top acting is all part of the style - and none more so than Owain Arthur as Francis (the titular 'man').  With the image of James Corden playing the role so ingrained in the public consciousness, it's difficult to imagine anyone else living up to expectations, but Arthur offers a brilliant performance full of energy, boundless enthusiasm and an infectiously cheeky innocence.  Other highlights included Ben Mansfield as Stanley (seemingly influenced by Armstrong & Miller and Matt Berry from The IT Crowd); Jody Prenger as the knowingly seductive Dolly; and Martin Barrass as the elderly Alfie, whose staircase escapades had the audience in stitches.

The production also creates a suitable sense of period.  The set and costumes are immediately recognisable as from the 1960s, the set especially making excellent use of perspective.  Most of all is the use of on-stage band for the scene changes, occasionally joined by the various characters, whose tight performances never allow the mood to dip between scenes.

What's interesting is how well the play is currently performing on Broadway.  One Man, Two Guvnors is a stereotypically British comedy and the few Americans in this audience didn't quite understand all the jokes - but perhaps the script has been altered for Broadway theatre-goers?

On either side of the Atlantic, though, this is a production of crazy, silly fun that is not to be missed.  Never has a safety curtain been so necessary.


Watch: One Man, Two Guvnors is now booking until January 2013.

Thursday 13 September 2012

The Sweeney (2012) - Nick Love

It might be inspired by the 70s UK television show, but The Sweeney has a large helping of US cop drama in its mix of fantasy and reality.

Director Nick Love's London is not the gritty urban space of 90s gangster films, but a glossy metropolis more reminiscent of LA or New York.  Frequent aerial shots give us a birds-eye view of a sprawling city by day and by night, lending a sense of space as well as twinkling glamour.  The offices of The Sweeney are clinical and sleek: all white paint, metallic surfaces and glass windows through which modern landmarks like The Gherkin and The Shard fight for our attention.  As an advert for London tourism in this Olympic year, it certainly paints an attractive picture.  Even the criminals live in high class country estates.

The language, however, is pure cockney.  "You're nicked" might be a catchphrase from the TV show, but it provides some welcome British humour amongst all the action.  All the f'in' and blindin' ensure the film doesn't take itself too seriously, even if it does undermine any intentional seriousness in the plot.

The action, too, is gritty and visceral.  Car chases and city shoot-outs are filmed with a hand camera - water spray hits the screen and tree branches swoop into view.  In addition, the sound effects pack a real punch, gun shots and crashes practically exploding out of the speakers.

Sadly, the plot asks us to suspend our disbelief too often.  Ray Winstone's Jack Regan is head of The Sweeney, a Flying Squad of detectives who "act like criminals to catch criminals".  A bank heist sees the return of an old adversary, pushing the squad to their limits and forcing them to question their loyalty to one another and to the law when their methods are put under investigation.  Narrative threads are dropped after little development, so we never see the after-effects.  One specific event should have some serious implications on the characters, but instead it's quickly forgotten.

And what about Ray Winstone's heavy breathing?  It's no wonder he has trouble catching criminals when he's wheezing like an asthmatic racing Usain Bolt.  It's also difficult to believe that Hayley Atwell's attractive young Nancy would be interested in him and his sagging belly, despite him seducing her in his pants with all the subtlety of an excited Jack Russell.  It's a decent, gruff performance from Winstone but nothing we haven't seen before.  On the other hand, Ben Drew, aka Plan B, is something of a revelation as Regan's partner George.  He may largely be playing himself, but he's undeniably believable as the bad guy turned good.  

The Sweeney takes the best bits of US and British cop dramas and, even if it's a bit silly at times, it's still a fun watch.


Wednesday 12 September 2012

How To Dress Well - Total Loss

‘Total Loss’ won’t give you any fashion advice, but it does offer an album of spectral beauty.

This is actually the second album from How To Dress Well, aka Tom Krell.  Where his debut introduced us to his sound, the second album develops the songwriting; where his debut was all wordless murmurings and rich atmosphere through ambient drones and crashing, distorted noises, this follow-up has a stronger melodic focus and greater integration of the R&B and hip-hop trappings that have influenced him from the start.  This is most apparent in the first two tracks.  When I Was In Trouble is a segueway into 'Total Loss', a track that’s as ghostly and still as anything on the first album.  This leads into Cold Nites that takes us deeper into R&B territory with its fast-paced lyrics sung in sweet falsetto against a sparse thumping beat.

The sound overall is best described as Jamie Woon meets Poliça meets Active Child, How To Dress Well similarly offering a layered approach to ambient electro, tinged with R&B.  In fact, he co-wrote Playing House on Active Child’s debut album ‘You Are All I See’, which bears a striking resemblance to Cold Nites.  How To Dress Well has taken his influences further though.  The beat of Running Back is almost a Michael Jackson-esque smooth jam, with its layered beat of clicks and grunts; & It Was U has minimal production of simply a funky beat and a vocal laced with harmony that’s pure 90s pop; How Many is all R&B vocal harmonies.  These tracks are delicately produced but arguably lean too far into R&B territory, lacking the ambience of, for example, Ready for the World from his debut.

Other tracks, like Cold Nites, are more successful for their subtle mix of influences.  Struggle is a similarly beautiful track – synth drones blurring with Krell’s vocal, floating as a sunlit haze above a pounding bass drum.  The vocal of How Many is almost Frank Ocean-esque with its emotive frailty.  The incessant name-dropping of Set It Right is a touch repetitive, but the cracking vocal will melt your heart.  Finale Ocean Floor For Everything ends the album on a high, with its disembodied, angelic vocals and liquid synths that wash over your ears like crashing waves, punctuated by droplets of percussion and arpeggios. 

‘Total Loss’ is an album of fragility: each musical line delicately spun like a spider’s web, each whispered, ethereal voice part enriched with melancholy.  It’s enough to make you want to give Krell a big hug and tell him everything will be ok, but you daren’t for fear of stifling his creativity.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Cold Nites
* Struggle
* Ocean Floor For Everything

Listen: 'Total Loss' is released on 17th September, with an exclusive album stream available on The Guardian.

You may also like...
* Active Child

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Atoms for Peace - Default

The title, Default, might seem obvious.  At first listen this sounds like Thom Yorke on auto-pilot.

But keep going and, like the best Yorke tracks, Default's intricacies unfurl.  Complex beats jerk and jitter; textures are gradually layered, drifting in and out of consciousness like the squares of the video; weird sound bites and effects provide punctuation; Yorke's falsetto yearns and floats.  Somehow it sounds simultaneously like a retro 8-bit oblivion and a minimalist, electronic future.

And then you read on and discover this isn't the latest track from Yorke, but from his supergroup Atoms for Peace comprising Yorke, Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame), Nigel Godrich (longtime Radiohead producer), Joey Waronker (drummer for the likes of Beck, Smashing Pumpkins and REM) and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco.  Their input, if anything, is totally overshadowed by Yorke.  Even the band name comes from a track on Yorke's solo debut 'The Eraser'.

So, Default is Thom Yorke all over.  But a supergroup?  I don't think so.


Listen: Default is available now, with an album to follow in 2013.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Two Door Cinema Club - Beacon

With so much identikit indie around, it's difficult to stand out from the crowd.  Two Door Cinema Club certainly try, with their electro inflections amongst rhythmic beats, jangling guitars, buoyant melodies and general upbeat tone.  Handshake chugs along nicely, Settle begins as a lilting waltz soon added to with jittering drums, and the "I want you with me" chorus of The World Is Watching adds a feminine touch with vocals from London-based Valentina.

But it's not enough.  It's difficult to pinpoint standout moments of 'Beacon' as it all blurs together into one.  Nothing here lives up to the band's top tracks from debut album, 2010's 'Tourist History', such as Something Good Can Work, What You Know or Undercover Martyn that featured catchy pop hooks to form a memorable album.  'Beacon', by comparison simply isn't as good.  The lyrics don't help, the title track's "take the deep end and swim so you can stand, cause it will make a difference in the end" being a clear offender.

It's also not enough to differentiate the band from others.  Bombay Bicycle Club are an obvious parallel, both frontmen having similar voices, though the boys from Crouch End are more exciting than their Irish Cinema Club counterparts.  There's also similarity with the likes of The Killers and The Vaccines, the latter of which also released an album this week and battled to reach top position.  That's a sad fact as 'Beacon' is an infinitely better album than The Vaccine's boring drivel, but, devoid of the spark of their debut, Two Door Cinema Club just haven't done enough to rise above the competition.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Handshake
* Settle

Listen: 'Beacon' is available now.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Lawless (2012) - John Hillcoat

September 2012.  America is in stasis: torn between two potential presidents, in the midst of a global recession, its future unknown.

Back in the Prohibition era, America was in a similar state: economic downturn, violence, anger and depression.  It's in this period that Lawless is set, which sees three brothers who operate above the law, producing and smuggling moonshine in rural Chicago - Shia LaBeouf's young, eager-to-please Jack; Jason Clarke's inebriated hillbilly Howard; and Tom Hardy's stoic leader Forrest.  When a new, corrupt deputy arrives in town (Guy Pearce), the guys meet their match.  And that's not to mention local gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman).

The obvious parallels may be a cheap way of adding some depth, but Hillcoat does a commendable job of recreating the period.  The dusty roads; the battered costumes; the grainy visuals (especially the opening autumnal shot); and blues guitar all add to a deep sense of sadness and melancholy.  This is a population with little to do but drink and cause violence.

Sadly, this extends to the plot.  This is a war between the power hungry police and the rebellious lower class that's slow moving and, at times, a little dull.  The main dramatic impetus is a series of violent episodes that certainly suggest a mad brutality, but there's a lack of emotional weight beyond some flimsy love interests in Maggie (Jessica Chastain) and Bertha (Mia Wasikowska).

That said, this is a well acted film, even if it's essentially a clash of alpha males.  Oldman is underused as Banner, but Pearce is frightening as the crazed, greasy deputy.  It's Hardy who steals the film though, with just a few lines of dialogue, some emotive grunting and speaking every. Line. Like. That.  Despite bulking up for The Dark Knight Rises, he is an imposing on-screen presence for his steely glance more than anything.

Lawless is based on The Wettest County In The World, a novel by Matt Bondurant itself based on a true story.  It's surprising therefore that the story lacks interest, amongst some great performances and cinematography.


Friday 7 September 2012

The Other Tribe - Skirts

Everyone loves a rave on a Friday in the middle of summer, right?  Except this tune is released at the end of September.  Bad timing guys.

Still, six-piece indie-dance band The Other Tribe are not only huge in their native Bristol, but have become festival favourites over the summer (those lucky enough to be at Bestival this weekend should definitely check these guys out).  The video sees the band embracing the festival spirit, our blonde protagonist falling down the rabbit hole into a hippy forest rave.

With Skirts, it's easy to see why their popularity has grown - all tribal rhythms, techno beats, falsetto melodies ("hit me up in the summertime, when the length of your skirt is just right") and rave synths.  It's jittery and crazed, glowing neon and glistening with sweat.  If this doesn't get you high on life, dancing shoeless in a muddy field then nothing will.


Listen: Skirts is released on 30th September.