Wednesday 31 October 2012

Ben Howard - Esmerelda

Perhaps to capitalise on his Mercury nomination (results tomorrow!), or perhaps just because it's Hallowe'en, Howard releases 'The Burgh Island EP' today (pictured), with the brooding Esmerelda being the lead single.

As with the previously reviewed Oats in the Water (also included on the EP), Esmerelda is a cold, autumnal track that contrasts with his work on 'Every Kingdom'.  The guitar arpeggios begin as a gentle rustling, but soon crescendo to a tumultuous crashing, like the waves of the video.  It's as if Howard's fingers are shivering over the strings, his intense and menacing vocals released through icy breath.  Even if he doesn't win the Mercury, Howard continues to prove his worth, with this latest EP being a must-listen.


Listen: 'The Burgh Island EP' is available now.

Watch: Howard is currently on a sold out tour of the UK.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Stay+ feat. Queenie - Crashed

Crashed is the latest release on the Black Butter Records label, an east London dance label whose most famous artist of the moment is undoubtedly Rudimental.  Stay+ (stay positive) are the latest addition to the roster, an electro duo from Manchester whose previous material includes 2011's Young Luv, on which the funereal production is juxtaposed with footage of the royal wedding.

Crashed is certainly a less controversial track.  It's almost like a remix of The xx: the bell-like opening and sombre atmospherics crescendo into a sparsely produced rave of skittering beats and expertly cut vocal injections.  This is far from the richly layered euphoria of current house trends, instead creating a track of evocative emptiness that's no less rave-worthy.


Listen: Crashed is released on 5th November.

Monday 29 October 2012

iLL Manors (2012) - Ben Drew

“Put your seatbelts on ‘cause you’re in for a harrowing ride”, we’re informed by our rapping narrator, Ben Drew a.k.a Plan B.  This isn’t a warning to be taken lightly.

Set in London, iLL Manors has everything from drug use and prostitution to gang warfare and child abuse.  This urban safari certainly has the shock factor in an intense and frightening piece of social realism that reflects the darkest areas of contemporary society.  The plot overlays multiple narratives that intersect at key points, each strand depicting an endless cycle of actions and reactions.  Every debt paid must be repaid elsewhere, the characters’ lives spiralling out of control like the fast-motion camera effects.  Each dire situation is hopeless – even those who try to do the right thing cannot win.

What’s so horrifying is the authenticity of the film – one character is even labelled a “poster boy for David Cameron’s broken Britain”.  This realism extends to the cinematography, such as the use of mobile phone footage for brutal fight scenes.  Each character is seen through home video flashbacks as children, emphasising the fact they are still youths at heart.  Orphans and abused children, their descent into a life of crime has a crushing inevitability.  Moreover, these sorts of events are currently occurring in deprived areas across the UK and the frightening consequences are very real.

As you’d expect, music is very much integrated into the film, not just as soundtrack but within the storytelling from our director-narrator, almost like an extended music video.  Drew has certainly combined his passions for music and film into one cohesive vision that’s less entertaining and more of an eye-opening experience.

Special mention must go to the Mercury nominated album.  If last year’s winner, PJ Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’, looked to the past for inspiration, then ‘iLL Manors’ is a contemporary home front in a financial and cultural war between social classes.  After London 2012, it would seem counterintuitive to see such negative views of our capital winning awards, despite the album's strengths.  Like the film, the album is a tough but powerful statement that, amidst the general patriotic positivity of Britain at the moment, there are still helpless voices crying out to be heard.


Sunday 28 October 2012

Les Misérables @ Queen's Theatre, West End

Watching Les Misérables for the first time, it’s easy (if surprising) to see why this has become such an enduring musical.  The plot is an unlikely one and the set lacks the spectacle seen in many modern musical theatre productions, but at its core is a human story and, most importantly, a sumptuous score.

With more deaths than Sweeney Todd, the show certainly lives up to its name.  Les Misérables provides an intense, tragic drama full of desperation, despair and heartbreak.  The novel itself is split into five volumes, which the show attempts to condense into an overly long three hours.  With such a dense multi-layered narrative, it is epic in scope but not always clear and suffers from shallow characterisation, though the expansive cast are easy to sympathise with.  The plot’s lack of momentum isn’t aided by the visuals.  A revolving floor allows for some clever changes of perspective, but the staging is often static and the set lacks spectacle – though this allows the emotion to pour uninhibited over the audience.  Thankfully, the Thénardier characters add a touch of comedy for a much needed change of pace.  The revolutionary context is rich, but the plot eventually descends into a melodramatic love story of operatic proportions.

Thankfully Schönberg’s music is outstanding and elevates the production to match the operatic scope.  Sung-through, the solo numbers and choruses blend into the recitative-like dialogue, whilst thematic motifs are laced throughout the score.  Matched by colourful orchestration, the music adds subtle characterisation to create a cohesive score that enhances the narrative.  The style is classical, but the pop melodies are accessible and emotive.

What’s most impressive is the unending string of hits.  Whilst the narrative relies on the music for depth, the music stands alone, as can be seen by the number of amateur and professional renditions of the songs.  Yet watching the show puts the songs back into context so the audience hears them how they should be performed. 

Furthermore, the songs are performed by a stellar cast who understand the underlying meaning of the lyrics.  Take ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ – it might not be prettily sung, but the result is all the more heartbreaking.  The current London cast is immensely talented without a single weak link in the whole ensemble.  However, it’s Geronimo Rauch as Jean Valjean who really stands out – his accent may waver, but his voice is beautiful.  His moving performance of ‘Bring Him Home’ brought tears to much of the audience.

After 27 years, Les Misérables is far from a relic of the West End.  Owing predominantly to its score, this is a musical that will continue to endure for far longer than one day more.


Watch: Les Misérables is running at the Queen's Theatre, London.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Skyfall (2012) - Sam Mendes

And so, with the 50th anniversary of Bond, comes Skyfall to mark a crossroads for the series.  Mendes’ film is the past, present and future of Bond rolled into one Daniel Craig shaped package.  Expectations were high, but are just about met – it may not quite reach the absolute peak of the series, but pieces together its best bits for an immensely thrilling ride. 

Skyfall perfectly balances old and new to shoot at the heart of the character.  This is truly a Bond film for Bond fans.  There’s a clear sense of glamour here, with the exotic locales, sexy women and Bond’s impeccable suits.  The impressive cinematography maintains the film and the character’s stylish sophistication (particularly the Macau casino sequence), though it always stays grounded in gritty reality as has become de rigueur in recent years.  Certainly, this is well worth the extra price of admission to watch on IMAX screens.

At heart, though, Bond is a killer.  As he says during word association, “murder = employment”.  The film bristles with icy cool detachment, particularly in Shanghai where the brutal fight is depicted in silhouette against harsh neon lighting and cold mirrored glass.  The film’s opening alone is a heart-stopping sequence that packs in all the high-octane action, fights and car chases you could want from Bond, edited to an intense tempo.  Central to it all is 007 himself and, throughout the film, Craig balances suave and fierceness to perfection, rarely without a glint in his eyes.  His Bond doesn't forget to adjust his cuffs in the midst of a fight.

A Bond film would be nothing, however, without an intriguing story to tie these elements together and it’s here that Skyfall stumbles slightly.  After such an exhilarating start, the film never quite matches the high standard set and the narrative doesn't quite flow as naturally as you’d like, forcing in the typical Bond elements.  Though Naomie Harris charms with limited screen time, Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine is a disappointment, being largely irrelevant to the plot besides some cheeky sex.  Yet with M as the focus of the plot, Dench proves herself to be the ultimate Bond girl.  Luckily, Javier Bardem’s Silva is a suitably psychotic villain.  Similarly to Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, he straddles the delicate line between maniacal madman and believable terrorist, with an amusing, though not always terrifying, performance.  Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw are also welcome additions to the franchise.

Watching Skyfall is rather like clearing out your bedroom: you rediscover innumerate hidden treasures, but ultimately you’re left with a clean slate.  Paying homage to the past results in some comedic one-liners that not only allow Bond to poke fun at himself, but allow Mendes to look back on the series and note its faults with a wry smile.  Thomas Newman’s score, too, combines the classic Bond theme (often with humorous consequences) with dark, modern production – even Adele’s theme song blends past grandeur with current tastes.  By literally and figuratively erasing the past, Mendes has clearly led the way for a new generation of Bond films and the future is undoubtedly bright. 

Mendes has also created a very British Bond, proving the spy really is the British film industry’s not so secret weapon.  Set predominantly in London and brimming with landmarks, Skyfall is not only the perfect contemporary Bond in terms of balancing old and new, but it’s the perfect Bond for post-Olympic Britain, celebrating the best of British cinematic royalty.  In the words of M, Bond is “an exemplary of British fortitude”. 

Cheers to the next fifty years Bond; this vodka martini is for you. 


Friday 26 October 2012

Professor Green @ Under The Bridge, Chelsea

Just as his love life has pulled him from Hackney to Chelsea, Professor Green played an intimate gig at Under The Bridge by Chelsea Football Club last night inventively named "Hallow'Green".  Ahem.  At least, it was as intimate as one of his gigs can be – stood mere metres away, blinded by lights, quaking bass ricocheting through the crowd.

Swigging straight from a bottle of JD, Green performed a handful of hits to the competition winning (and surprisingly eclectic) crowd.  These were taken from both his debut ‘Alive Till I’m Dead’ and last year’s ‘At Your Inconvenience’ (pictured), though it was his earlier hits I Need You Tonight and Just Be Good To Green that drew the biggest cheers.  Bantering with the audience and berating himself for talking too much, he showed there’s a thoroughly nice chap behind the rough image.  The band brought some empowerment to the music, the drums and bass especially providing a thunderous beat.  The backing singers, too, did a commendable job, despite the lack of Emeli Sande for Green’s biggest hit.

The trouble is Green only has a handful of big tracks and, for all his attempts at rawness, he is a pop artist at heart – particularly in his choice of samples like INXS and Lily Allen.  The comparisons with rival Plan B are obvious: whilst Ben Drew is writing authentic riot songs, Green is busy rhyming Pixie Lott with cock.  Certainly Green has written tracks that work in a club environment, as the dancing crowd of this gig proved, but it’s difficult to take him seriously in light of the competition.  It seems if you take the boy out of Hackney you can, in the process, diminish Hackney from the boy.


Thursday 25 October 2012

Chad Valley - Young Hunger

Fans concerned about the inclusion of multiple guest appearances on Chad Valley's debut album can put aside their fears.  Far from distilling Hugo Manuel's sound, they only add to its electro-pop appeal.

Twin Shadow features on opener I Owe You This, his widescreen 80s music a perfect fit for Chad Valley; the inclusion of T.E.E.D on My Life Is Complete provides all the skittering beats and laconic vocals you could expect; and the lush production of closer Manimals is pure Active Child.  The addition of these indie artists may be a cheap way of ensuring a wider audience, but they certainly compliment Chad Valley's core sound.

And that core sound is as instantly feelgood as ever.  Mixing falsetto vocals, warm synth washes and laidback Balearic beats, 'Young Hunger' is a pure distillation of summer - first single Fall 4 U being a prime example.  At times it verges on bubblegum, as with the autotuned My Girl, the lyrics "if you wanna be my girl, then you gotta get with my friends" a less than subtle nod to the Spice Girls.  Yet this only underlines the playful, youthful vibrancy of the album, surely living up to its name.  My Girl is immediately contrasted with 80s smooth jam Evening Surrender that somehow manages to make panpipes sexy, the chorus emerging in a breathless sigh.  The jerky beat of Fathering Mothering is another psychedelic highlight amongst the swooning electronic heat-haze.

'Young Hunger' positively drips with 80s influences.  Vocally, Manuel is like the lovechild of Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith (Tears For Fears), with plenty of falsetto for good measure.  New wave, electro and Latino pop (Paula Abdul and Gloria Estefan especially) are all brought up to date with slick, modern production similar to contemporaries Passion Pit, M83, and Owl City amongst others.  This is all very on-trend at the moment, but Chad Valley can stand proud beside them.  Once the shimmering production melts in your ears it's hard to complain.

The album does begin to lose some of its lustre after repeated listening.  It sags a little around the middle and the lyrics are as youthfully shallow as the production is vibrant.  But with 'Young Hunger' Chad Valley has provided a blissfully chilled out summer oasis amongst the rain, wind and grey skies of the coming months - the perfect antidote to any winter blues.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Fall 4 U
* Evening Surrender
* Fathering Mothering

Listen: 'Young Hunger' is released on October 30th.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Nero - Won't You (Be There)

Nero’s ace debut album ‘Welcome Reality’ from last year was yet another example of dub-step truly dropping on the mainstream.  A year on and still going strong, the duo have released this new track after considerable play in their live set. 

For all its atmospheric synths, it lacks the drama of their best work and uses the same repeated vocal sample throughout.  Dub-step is all about the drop, though and here it doesn’t disappoint, descending into a powerful concoction of womps, wobbles and layered samples cut to shreds. 

The trouble is, a year on, dub-step is everywhere – from the likes of Scrillex and Nero themselves, to middle-eight breakdowns in almost every pop song going across the globe.  Sadly, Won’t You (Be There) just doesn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd.


Listen: Won’t You (Be There) is available to download now from their website.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Great Expectations (2012) - Mike Newell

First a confession: I have never read Great Expectations.  Yes, this may seem tragic, but Dickens' novel has never been on my book list.  With only a brief notion of the plot, I came to Mike Newell's adaptation blind.

Yet even without reading the novel, it's clear that large swathes of the plot are missing.  The bare bones are present and easy enough to follow, but there's about as much detail as a Wikipedia plot summary.  Dickens originally wrote the piece for his weekly journal and whilst the film follows a similarly episodic structure, it speeds along at a swift pace allowing little screen time for narrative development or character motivation.  The script, too, has little Dickensian eloquence, even missing out some key quotes (so I’m told).  Cramming such a dense novel into two hours has turned a richly layered narrative into a fractured, limp shell.

It’s a very nice looking shell though.  Vast English estates, mist smothered marshland and endless shingle beaches predominate the first half, whilst the narrative turn to the city reveals a detailed vision of London that we can practically smell and taste.  Miss Havisham’s estate perfectly illustrates a sense of decaying beauty – gothic architecture strangled by overgrown gardens, dusty interiors speckled with subtle lighting.  This is to be expected from the director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the similarities are clear.

Sadly Helena Bonham-Carter’s depiction of Miss Havisham doesn’t live up to her surroundings.  Frail and small beneath her rag-like bridal gown, she simply plays her usual wide-eyed witchy self.  Ralph Fiennes brings some Shakespearean intensity to Magwitch, Jeremy Irvine is intentionally wet as the boyish Pip, Hollyday Grainger gives a poised performance as Estella and Olly Alexander is comically camp as Herbert.  Their costumes were extravagant and almost cartoonish – particularly the quiffed young gentleman – only underlining the diminished caricature on show.  Prior knowledge of the novel is not necessary to see that the film’s narrative is too shallow to allow any depth of characterisation.  Like Miss Havisham, these cinematic characters were merely ghosts of their literary counterparts.


Watch: Great Expectations is on general release from 30th November.

Monday 22 October 2012

Seven Psychopaths (2012) - Martin McDonagh

With a name like Seven Psychopaths you might be expecting a thriller or horror flick.  But that's exactly what director Martin McDonagh wants you to think, in a film that confounds cinematic conventions.  If anything, Seven Psychopaths is a film about film for film fans.

Or should that be what Marty (Colin Farrell) wants you to think?  Seven Psychopaths presents a film-within-a-film scenario.  Marty is a drunken, fledgling screenwriter, but his only idea for 'Seven Psychopaths' is the title.  Aided by his dog-napping friends Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) he proceeds to write his script, which of course is the film we are watching.  How much of what we see is fabricated?  McDonagh/Marty's film blurs the lines between fact and fiction, presented with bags of amusing self-reflection.

With its ironic script filled with wry humour and plentiful jokes on death and violence, this is truly a black comedy.  And just as the genre typically draws laughs from unexpected darkness, the film turns cinematic notions on their head.  Keen film fanatics, Marty, Billy and Hans discuss film clichés before playing with our expectations for comedic and narrative effect - something film geeks will love.  A key scene comes halfway through where the three men discuss what's happened in the movie and where it's going.  When Marty claims the second half should be "life-affirming" and contain only dialogue, Billy replies "what, are we writing French films now?".  Towards the end, Billy reveals his perfect and hysterical all-action shoot-out finale, but in Marty's hands the film ends rather differently.

Sadly, the film doesn't live up to Marty's lofty, "life-affirming" promise.  Though it begins to address issues of the afterlife, the theme never really comes to fruition, but is dropped as with so many other ideas.  This leads to a somewhat disjointed film filled with random happenings that, like the mind of a psychopath, don't always make sense.  It also feels a little forced, the film trying too hard to be amusing and clever.

Although Farrell is the leading man, it's actually Rockwell who gives the most entertaining performance, psychotic enough for all seven psychopaths.  Walken and Woody Harrelson are also as straight-faced and comedic as ever.  Though laugh-inducing, just as the film plays with expectations, it's not as good as you might expect judging by the talented actors involved.


Watch: Seven Psychopaths is released on December 7th.

Sunday 21 October 2012

End Of Watch (2012) - David Ayer

Fresh from the Toronto Film Festival comes David Ayer's End Of Watch to the BFI's London Film Festival.  It's an intense, raw and gripping LA cop drama featuring Jake Gyllenhaal in his best role since Brokeback Mountain.

"I'm just a badge with a gun", explains Brian (Gyllenhaal) in his opening monologue.  "I might not agree with the law, but I will enforce it".  The film sees Brian and his Mexican partner Mike (Michael Peña) performing routine checks around the city, playing their part in the war against drug smuggling, human trafficking and gang warfare between the racist African-American and Hispanic gangs.  It's all filmed in docu-fiction style by Brian through hand camera and hidden cameras on the lapels of his uniform, presented to the audience as a 'day-in-the-life' type feature.  It may seem implausible to be carrying a camera during the raids, but the found-footage device only adds to the film's visceral edge - any trepidation is soon overlooked.

The film juxtaposes high-octane raids and action with the monotony of day-to-day policework: paperwork (the lifeblood of the force), standing guard and perpetual curb crawling.  "You need comfortable shoes", claims Mike.  The relationship between the two men is richly characterised, their car scenes full of banter and comic dialogue that contrast with the gang warfare rife with racism.  For all the monotony of this work, the film is always engaging, creating two characters we genuinely care for.  Their world is at times glamorous, with gloriously lit cityscapes backed by a hip-hop soundtrack opposed by the nitty-gritty of cop work.

The comic facade and tough guy act is immediately dropped during the action sequences.  It's these scenes that are suitably shocking, violent and gruesome when juxtaposed with the comedy, revealing the horrors these men must endure for their livelihood and the sincerity of their brotherhood.  The visceral cinematography builds to an unparalleled intensity, all wonky camera angles that reflect not only the realism of the piece but the fact this is far from a clean-cut view of the police force.  "This sucks" says Brian at one point, clearly longing for the safety of the office.

With its believable and arresting performances, Ayer has delivered an intense and moving drama that questions the meaning of being a hero.  Our law enforcers are only human after all.


Watch: End Of Watch sees general release in the UK on 23rd November.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Fenech Soler - All I Know

Whizz. Bang. Fizz. Pop.

No, not the sound of fireworks (it's a bit early for that) but the return of Northampton's Fenech Soler.

All I Know is the first track to be taken from their upcoming second album after their 2010 self-titled debut. Their signature sound returns, mixing electro-funk with an almost rock feel that drops in a pounding, exuberant and technicolour chorus - matched by the kaleidoscopic video.  The boys show us how to marry pop and dance in glorious union - things are looking good for 2013.


Listen: All I Know is released on October 22nd.

Friday 19 October 2012

Sub Focus - Tidal Wave feat. Alpines

Alpines' Cocoon was one of last year's top breakout hits, all spectral vocals and ethereal trip-hop production. 

To further stake their claim on the music industry, they've teamed up with Sub Focus for the powerful Tidal Wave.  Catherine Pockson's vocals are a major highlight, adding some ethereal wonder to an otherwise typical dub-step track (she also shows off her stunning model looks in the video).  The production from Nick Douwma (a.k.a Sub Focus) marries pulsating synths with a throbbing bass and dub-step beat - a solid foundation for Pockson's voice.  The result is a track that's more than the sum of its parts; a track that's as awesome as the title would suggest.


Listen: Tidal Wave is released on 29th October.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Don Giovanni - ENO @ The Coliseum

Returning to the Coliseum this season is Rufus Norris' 2010 production of Mozart's 'dramma giocoso', following his directing of last season's visually exciting (if flawed) Dr Dee.  Don Giovanni is less of a spectacle, but a more assured venture into traditional opera.

This production is far from traditional, however.  From the start, a single heart-shaped balloon hovers helplessly on-stage, used symbolically throughout the opera to represent love as a fragile play-thing for the Don and suggestive of the hedonistic events to come.  The set design, from Ian MacNeil, is sparse, involving a number of revolving sets that are wheeled on to the stage with dizzying effect.  The surrounding black emptiness creates an ever-present darkness mirrored by an ensemble of devilishly masked servants who control the drama under the Don’s bidding.  Norris also continues his penchant for rolling screens masking swift set changes.  Along with clever use of silhouettes and colourful masks, the vibrant cast literally pop from the set.

Modernisms are abundant in Jeremy Sams’ English translation of the libretto.  Bawdy sexual innuendo, frequent nods to the audience and a twist with Leporello’s list aria conducted on a graphical spreadsheet all combine for a contemporary rollick that emphasises the comic aspects of the opera over the darkly dramatic.

This extends to the cast, who excel at comedy rather than pathos.  Particularly noteworthy is Darren Jeffery’s Leporello, whose bumbling bass is ripe with comedy, his patter with Iain Paterson’s Don Giovanni providing frequent moments of hilarity.  Paterson’s luxurious baritone is suitably seductive though his stage presence is not always as commanding as it could be.  Sarah Tynan’s light, warm soprano is befitting of Zerlina’s delicious charm and her chavvy dress and demeanour allowed for plenty of titillation with John Malloy’s Masetto. 

By contrast, Katherine Broderick’s Donna Anna feels overtly melodramatic, constantly followed by Ben Johnson’s doting Don Ottavio.  Though she sings with grace and control, her occasional shrieking and over-acting negate any sense of poise.  Sarah Redgwick’s Donna Elvira, far from balancing comedy and seriousness, is often laughable.  Looking like a cross between Cherie Blair and Liza Minelli, her arias are well sung but difficult to empathise with.  Matthew Best’s Commendatore, meanwhile, sings in thunderous tones to match the orchestra.

Conducted by Edward Gardner, the orchestra play with power and liveliness.  Swift tempi keep the drama moving along at a pace, even if the Act 2 sextet becomes something of a tongue-twister.

Norris’ main innovation is turning Don Giovanni’s second Act aria from a dainty seduction to a declaration of love to a long lost lover.  Certainly this is an attempt to give the Don a heart, which is a welcome exploration of character, though this does somewhat undermine the hellish ending – is he really deserving of such punishment?  But is it even a punishment?  As the ensemble sing in the finale, hell itself is filled with women.  Perhaps it’s a step too far to ask the audience to empathise with an eternal philanderer.


Watch: Don Giovanni runs until 17th November.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Rudimental - Not Giving In feat. John Newman & Alex Clare

Rudimental’s Feel The Love was one of the biggest hits of the summer and they’ve followed it up with an equally huge tune.

John Newman has been joined by Alex Clare (of Too Close fame) on vocals, ensuring a rich soulful sound along with the horns.  Then the beat drops in a cacophony of drums, whomping bass and vocal “oohs” – like Plan B meets Chase & Status.  It’s at once soulful and uplifting, chart-friendly and edgy, inspiring passionate emotion and reckless dancing.  The video also deserves praise, filmed on location in Manila with sensitive storytelling and cinematography.

All in all, another surefire hit then?


Listen: Not Giving In is released on October 18th.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Girls Aloud - Something New

"We're the leaders of the pack", repeat the girls in this, their first single since 2009's Untouchable.  And they're right - second only to the Spice Girls overall, Girls Aloud are undoubtedly the most successful UK girl band over the span of their ten year career.

Since their hiatus in 2009, fans have been clambering for something new (literally) ever since.  But with the five girls each focusing on their own individual projects and internal feuds cropping up in the papers, can they successfully combine their efforts once more?

Something New focuses predominantly on the usual suspects.  Yet with the girls showcasing their talents through solo projects, it's disappointingly familiar.  It may have worked in the past, but with their individual prominence, the singing deserves to be more equal.  Why is Nicola shunned to the sidelines?

It's also familiar in its influences - a combination of different pop acts from GaGa, to Rihanna and, mostly, the girls' previous output.  And the rap verses do grate quickly.  But then the chorus kicks in.  A chorus that's overwhelmingly infectious; a chorus with that euphoric hands in the air appeal; a chorus that just makes you want to dance.  That's what the girls do best, even if this doesn't reach the highs of their most popular singles.  Ten years on and little has changed - isn't that why they're the leaders of the pack?


Listen: Something New is released on November 19th, with pre-orders from October 18th.

And now the full video is here, proving the singing is a little more equal than at first listen:

Monday 15 October 2012

Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man

Nude, untouched and shot in black and white, the cover art for 'The Haunted Man' presents a striking image for the return of Bat For Lashes.  What's most striking though is not the nudity, but the contrast between the fantastical imagery of her previous albums and the raw nakedness on display here.  Beneath the costumes and the make-up, this is the real Natasha Khan - but does the music match?

What's always been most interesting about Bat For Lashes' output is her creativity in instrumentation.  Her mix of unusual instruments and electronica, the archaic and the modern, creates an air of timelessness in the inventive production.  Only on a Bat for Lashes record would you see a combination of a medieval male choir with ghostly synths, as on title track The Haunted Man.

Yet the most arresting track is Laura, the album's centrepiece.  Following Daniel from 'Two Suns' with its first-name title, Laura proves that piano and voice alone can provide all the drama you need, Khan's more confident vocal the focus of the track's spellbinding appeal.

As a whole, 'The Haunted Man' is a stripped back, honest and more human album.  Gone is the alter ego from 'Two Suns', the feathers, the headband, the extraneous trappings.  Perhaps Khan was afraid of becoming a caricature of herself and has shied away from the 'bigger is better' approach of follow-up albums and movie sequels - a brave choice.  But isn't stripping things back a cliché in itself?  In the process, Khan has lost some of her creativity, with an album that smooths the edges of her experimentation.  This is certainly her most accessible album to date.

Her unique brand of mystical disco is still present though.  The percussive All Your Gold slowly builds its layered production towards a richly textured chorus.  Towards the album's end, the duo of A Wall and Rest Your Head are Khan at her pop best.  And experimentation is still rife: Horses of the Sun galloping along in a rush of freedom; Oh Yeah a heady brew of dry drum thuds, languid pools of synths and erotically charged vocal melodies.

The end result is a far more consistent album than in the past, but one that lacks the edge and sparkle of 'Two Suns' highlights Daniel and Glass.  Khan may be keen for us to see and hear the real woman, but it's her creativity, experimentation and sheer weirdness that have made her music so appealing.  It's these elements that have been somewhat stifled on 'The Haunted Man', but her unique sound is still as exciting as ever.  As she sings on opener Lilies "Thank God I'm alive" - the UK music scene would be far less interesting without her.


Gizzle's Choice:
* All Your Gold
* Laura
* Rest Your Head

Listen: 'The Haunted Man' is available now.

Watch: Khan is touring Europe throughout Autumn.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Daley feat. Jessie J - Remember Me

Could Daley finally be about to break into the mainstream?

After coming to prominence as a nominee in the BBC Sound of 2011 list and releasing his 'Those Who Wait' EP last year, Daley has remained underground.  This collaboration with Jessie J is sure to boost his career into the charts.

Remember Me is a disappointment though.  Sampling Blueboy's 1997 hit of the same name, the chorus is catchy if already familiar and the squelching bassline adds a funk edge to Daley's RnB-soul sound.  Even a quick look at his YouTube channel, though, reveals a multitude of other tracks that show off Daley's vocal far more than here.  And, although her participation is minimal, the inclusion of Jessie J is a rather cynical way of injecting some pop appeal.

Remember Me is a funky pop track from a talented vocalist - it's just far from his best work.  Undoubtedly, there'll be an album on the way soon to showcase more of Daley's talents.


Listen: Remember Me is released soon.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Darkstar - Timeaway

"'Timeaway' feels like a good starting point to releasing music again", say Darkstar on their YouTube channel.  It's also a good starting point to listen to a band you may not have heard of.

Timeaway is the first release from the band's forthcoming second album sometime next year, following debut release 'North' from 2010.  Their experimental electronic music sounds like something Bjork would release, the central arpeggiated and childlike riff of Timeaway reminiscent of Virus from 'Biophilia'.  Beginning slowly, it accelerates and blooms into a flow of droplets amidst clouds of softly intertwining melodies.  Through the rain a ghostly vocal calls out, the lyrics flowering in and out of focus.  It's ethereal and wonderful and ebbs away all too quickly.


Listen: Timeaway is released on 12" on 12th November, or you can download it for free on their website.

Friday 12 October 2012

Disclosure - Latch feat. Sam Smith

Latch is a track that encapsulates everything that's cool about contemporary dance music, the latest release from London brother-duo Disclosure and one of the best dance tracks of the year.

Soulful vocals; itchy, skittering beats; icy cool synth washes - Latch has it all. The result is an absolute head-rush: musical rapture that'll have you spinning in the clouds before crashing down to earth at the drop. "Now I've got you in my space, I won't let go of you / I've got you shackled in my embrace, I'm latching on to you" Smith sings, encapsulating the ecstasy of romance amongst the intoxicating production.

Alongside the likes of T.E.E.D and SBTRKT, Disclosure are at the forefront of the UK dance scene and Latch proves why.


Listen: Latch is available now.

Thursday 11 October 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) - Stephen Chbosky

Stephen Chbosky is actually a screenwriter by trade, with The Perks of Being a Wallflower being his debut novel.  Now in cinematic form, Perks was re-written, directed and produced by Chbosky himself.  As such, this is literally the author's vision on film and a mostly faithful adaptation of the novel - albeit a trimmed version.  

Initially, Perks feels like a typical teen movie: quirky, loner protagonist with erudite taste in literature; precocious scriptwriting; retro soundtrack; and a narrative that depicts the trials and tribulations of growing up.  Think Adrian Mole played by Michael Cera.  Yet whilst Perks fits neatly in this tradition, it's by no means trying too hard to be cool.  Chbosky ultimately provides a moving story that is heavily dependant on its shocking final twist - a twist that, in retrospect, informs the feel of both the novel and the film, with some tough themes subtly addressed in touching manner.

By trimming the fat of the book, the focus shifts almost solely on to the relationships between the central three characters - Charlie, Sam and Patrick.  Disappointingly, the film has little room for the novel's quirky fringe characters (Paul Rudd's English tutor Mr Anderson especially), despite some comedy one-liners from Dylan McDermott as Charlie's father.  As a result, the casting and characterisation are integral to the success of the film and it's here that Chbosky surprisingly stumbles.

There's a dichotomy at play with Charlie, our protagonist.  The novel's narrative plays out as a series of letters, giving us unparalleled insight into the character's psyche.  Clearly deeply troubled, it is left for the reader to decide whether Charlie is severely mentally disabled, perhaps even mildly autistic, or whether he's simply a bit socially awkward.  This reaches a peak in the final chapters, when all is finally and powerfully revealed.  However, Logan Lerman's portrayal in the film is more awkward geek, underplaying the disturbing aspects of the character.  Whilst this is a case of personal taste, Lerman undoubtedly comes into his own at the film's climax, with a genuinely loveable performance.

Emma Watson is sadly miscast as Sam.  On the one hand she has successfully shaken off the shackles of Potter and proven she is a capable actress.  Yet Sam is a particularly quirky, alternative character whose undeniable charisma has a profound effect on Charlie.  Watson surely lights up the frame, but she's simply not cool enough to play Sam.

It falls on Ezra Miller, therefore, to provide Perks's leading performance.  A total contrast to his demonic turn in We Need To Talk About Kevin, his performance as the eccentric yet troubled Patrick is pitch-perfect, deftly able to switch from stocking-clad Rocky Horror glamour to heart-broken devastation.

Juno may have been the more original take on the teen drama that equally tackles some tough themes, but Perks's unforeseen ending elevates the film from another teen movie to something more powerful.  The characterisation may be (arguably) skewed from the novel, but Perks will appeal to teen dreamers and the youthful romantic inside us all.


Wednesday 10 October 2012

Robbie Williams - Candy

There are two types of Robbie track - the big ballads and the fun pop.  After taking himself too seriously with 'Reality Killed The Video Star' and it's lead single Bodies (remember that?  No, I didn't either), Candy is a return to some pop silliness and Williams's flagging career should be all the better for it.

Co-written be ex-bandmate Gary Barlow, the lyrics are a bit ridiculous. It's no Rudebox, but it's not quite Rock DJ either. The girl in the song has "lots of different horses by lots of different men" and her "Father beat the system by moving bricks to Brixton and learning how to fix them". Excellent rhyming skills there, guys.

The "hey! ho!" chorus is suitably catchy though, its string stabs reminiscent of Call Me Maybe.  And the amusing video sees Robbie as a pink suited angel (perhaps an unsubtle nod to his number one hit) making way for his beau.  However, someone needs to tell him that 'Skins' actress Kaya Scodelario is a bit young for him.

Candy isn't his best record to date, but it might just be enough to get him back on track.


Listen: Candy is released on October 29th.  It will also feature on forthcoming album 'Take The Crown'.

Monday 8 October 2012

Ellie Goulding - Halcyon

Halcyon: adj. denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful.

Like Adele's '21', 'Halycon' is something of a break-up album from ex-partner and Radio 1 DJ Greg James. It's still a rather odd title for her sophomore album. It neither looks to the past for its musical inspiration, nor is it a particularly happy or peaceful album. It may indicate that her debut album was a simpler, happier time and 'Halcyon' is certainly a more serious and mature work. But it's also an album about hope, an album that looks towards a brighter future rather than reminiscing on the past. As she implores on the title track "it's gonna be better" - and it certainly is an improvement on 'Lights'.

First single Anything Could Happen is the closest to the pop style of 'Lights', but it's actually her cover of Active Child's Hanging On that has most informed the sound of 'Halcyon'. As with their 2011 album 'You Are All I See', Goulding's work is similarly moody, glittering with harp and tinged with electronica. Here, though, Hanging On is given a contemporary pop twist with its pounding beat that somewhat ruins the haunting atmosphere - though crucially the album edit has been spared Tinie Tempah's inane rap.

All the strings and harp, with their immediate ability to add ethereal magic, undoubtedly relate to Florence + The Machine too. And there's a large dollop of Scrillex, Goulding's current beau, particularly in the dub-step beat and electronic wailing of Figure 8. In all, it's an extension of the dark dance pop of Lights - initially a bonus track on her debut, it has since seen huge success in the US. The varying influences of 'Halcyon' are thus a clear effort to appeal to her fans on both sides of the pond.

When it works, it results in some haunting pop. The unaccompanied vocal yearnings of opener Don't Say A Word make way for some thundering drums taken straight from her live set. My Blood features a soaring chorus amongst its swirling production and Figure 8's melting pot of styles coalesce in a neat pop package. Elsewhere, piano ballad I Know You Care is meant to recreate the success of Your Song, but the songwriting just can't compare. And JOY, though uplifting, is hardly the joyous shout amongst the gloom its title would suggest. Mostly, though, it's Goulding's vocal that is most contentious, adding either fairy-like charm to the music or mimicking a squeaky toy, depending on your outlook. Either way, it often can't compete with the production.

Its roots as a break-up album at least account for the misery of the lyrics and, perhaps, the choice of Hanging On as a linchpin to the album. There's plenty to uplift, though, not least of all current single Anything Could Happen. And whilst the album ends with Dead In The Water, judging by 'Halcyon' Goulding's career is anything but.


Gizzle's Choice:
* My Blood
* Figure 8
* Hanging On

Listen: 'Halcyon' is available now.

Watch: Goulding will be back touring the UK in December.

Sunday 7 October 2012

AlunaGeorge - Your Drums, Your Love

The purpose of a good music video is to complement the music, enhancing its sound and feel.  The video for Your Drums, Your Love, the latest track from London duo AlunaGeorge, does exactly that.  Set in a modern art gallery, the abstract sculptures reflect the jagged, stuttering beats, doubled by the popping robotic dancing; the monochromatic colour pallete mirrors the minimalist, clean production.

Your Drums, Your Love is the latest single following the duo's EP 'You Know You Like It'.  It's not as instantly alluring as the EP's lead single, the more subdued feel taking longer to settle in the brain - but it's sensual chorus is no less gratifying.  Aluna Francis's vocal and George Reid's production are a match made in R&B-pop heaven, their music glittering and sparkling like the sculptures in this video.  The result is some seriously sexy pop.


Listen: Your Drums, Your Love is available now.

Friday 5 October 2012

Adele - Skyfall

Now this is what a Bond theme should be.

Adele was a no-brainer for the Skyfall theme.  Only she could provide a theme song that harkens back to the glory days of Shirley Bassey, with a soulful and classic vocal that tremors and haunts in equal measure.  The rich orchestration is suitably grand, with some particularly punchy drum fills amongst the lush strings and brass.  It's testament to John Barry's original theme that so many different variations have been composed over the last half decade.

Sure, there may be few surprises here, but you don't mess with Bond.  Although the wayward experimentation of recent, rockier efforts have added an edge to the gritty style of Daniel Craig, Skyfall is a welcome return to classic form.  And yes, the lyrics don't seem too imaginative ("sky fall...stand tall"), but perhaps it'll all make more sense once the film is out...

Skyfall is the best Bond theme since Goldeneye, a perfect match of British musical and cinematic exports.  Let's hope Mendes' film can match it.


Listen: Skyfall is available now.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Looper (2012) - Rian Johnson

In a near future, where time travel is possible, criminals are sent back in time and disposed of by specialist assassins named Loopers. Paid large sums of money for their dirty work, these Loopers live a debauched lifestyle of drugs, sex and alcohol.  But what happens if you’re tasked with eliminating your future self?  Will you be capable of pulling the trigger?

This is the concept of Looper, the latest film from writer-director Rian Johnson.  It’s an intriguing premise that borrows heavily from The Terminator, but the film doesn’t capitalise on its potential.  It has neither the complex layers of Inception or The Matrix, nor the tightly focused revenge of The Terminator.  For a film about loops and circular narratives, there are simply too many loose ends that result in a dissatisfying denouement.  We never see the future, so never fully understand the consequences of the protagonist’s actions.  Willis even comments at one point that time travel is too complicated to explain - it's as if the film has given up trying to provide an explanation before it's begun.

Looper begins as a noir thriller, using voiceover to set the scene, high contrast lighting and featuring girls in sleazy clubs and drug abuse.  Yet as the narrative develops and the action intensifies, these elements are left behind.  The mise en scene is well constructed, though: in particular the slow-motion effects and rolling camerawork.  Johnson’s vision of the future is subtle and naturalistic, besides the odd indication of advanced technologies.  Whilst this perhaps suggests a lack of imagination, the insinuation is that the film’s events are a plausible possibility, making the audience’s suspension of disbelief easier.  Although the music isn't intrusive, the lack of sound at certain moments is powerful - from the telekinesis effects, to the ending that leaves the audience in stunned silence.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, complete with prosthetic nose and contact lenses, does a tremendous job of replicating Bruce Willis.  From subtle references, like wearing a white string vest, to the diner scene in which both actors are seen together playing the same role, Gordon-Levitt does a great job of out-Bruce-ing Willis.  Emily Blunt also provides a commendable and believable performance.  Sadly Willis is the weak link of the cast.  At least with The Terminator, Arnie is supposed to be playing a robot.  Willis is attempting to play the role slightly tongue-in-cheek, living up to his clichéd tough guy persona with plentiful laugh-out-loud moments that ruin the tense atmosphere.

Johnson’s film lacks the philosophical debate of its sci-fi contemporaries, whilst still displaying a clever concept and a flare for cinematography.  It doesn’t live up to the hype, but it’s still a compelling film.