Friday, 30 November 2012

Nina Nesbitt - Boy

Fans of Ed Sheeran may recognise Nesbitt after she supported him on his latest European tour (as well as being romantically linked to him).  With her debut album to be released imminently, she's certainly on many people's radar.  Yet her music is in danger of being overshadowed by her links to Sheeran.

Eighteen year old Nesbitt grew up listening to rock bands such as Nirvana, but she's also a fan of acoustic and folk music.  These influences all combine in Boy - from the opening guitar riff to the chugging chorus rhythms and Nesbitt's girlish, Ellie Goulding-esque vocal.  In totality, the sound sits somewhere between Sheeran's youthful melancholia, Mumford and Laura Marling's folk acoustica, the scope of female chanteuse Florence Welch and the country-pop of Taylor Swift - a combination that's eerily similar to Kyla La Grange.

With songwriting assistance from Fraser T Smith (Adele's Set Fire To The Rain) and production from Jake Gosling (Sheeran's '+'), there's a decent team behind Nesbitt to ensure pop success.  Despite this, her music sadly doesn't live up to the sum of her influences.


Listen: Boy is available now, with her debut album arriving in the new year.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Jamie Lidell - What A Shame

If you thought musical sound couldn't get any bigger, then brace yourselves.

What A Shame, from soul singer Jamie Lidell, isn't just huge, it's colossal.  His usual soulful output has been switched for a kaleidoscopic electro-funk barrage of maximal proportions: jerky beats, alien effects and a rich, reedy vocal performance.  Imagine twenty-first century Prince exploding like an atomic bomb.  With a new album in February next year, What A Shame marks a volcanic change of direction for the Cambridge-born singer that's more akin to fellow Warp Records label-mate Rustie.  Alex Clare should be quaking in his boots.


Listen: What A Shame is available for free on Lidell's website, with the new album arriving on February 18th 2013.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Nikki Williams - Kill Fuck Marry

Def Jam's answer to Lana Del Rey?

You'd be forgiven for thinking so looking at the video - the extended introduction and cinematic approach; the emphasis on noir Americana; the scorned lover; motorbike riding; dusty deserts kissed by the setting sun and blinded by lens flare.  It's all in there.

Penned by Sia (the most in-demand songwriter of the moment), the song's depiction of a passionate affair fuelled by love and hate is also very 'Del Rey'.  It's heightened by madness and melodrama, with its references to "my insane love" and "a padded cell", all cleverly wrapped up in the 'kill, fuck, marry' game (a.k.a 'shoot, shag, marry' amongst other variants).

The production, however, is far from Del Rey's Hollywood glamour; instead it's more typical of Sia's usual pop-RnB output.  At times it threatens to overpower Williams' vocal - part Pink, part Kelly Clarkson - but her voice powers through on the ascending chorus line.  Kill Fuck Marry might not be unique, but it's a dark and memorable pop track.

Which begs the question: kill, fuck or marry?  Far from death but not quite marriage material, this track is worth far more than a one night stand.


Listen: Kill Fuck Marry is available in the US, with a UK release to follow soon.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Olly Murs - Right Place Right Time

'Right Place Right Time' is the third album from Murs in as many years, all since reaching the final of X-Factor in 2009 and in addition to becoming the public's favourite cheeky chappy as co-presenter of the Xtra Factor.  Yet whilst his persona shines on-screen, it's missing from this latest release.

Musically, Murs has created a template of upbeat, funky, soul inflected pop and 'Right Place Right Time' is no different.  It lacks originality though, sounding like a concoction of Robbie Williams, Maroon 5 and Jason Mraz amongst others.  With such a likeable personality, it's disappointing that his music lacks distinction.

What is different is the emphasis on ballads - from the Coldplay/Florence + The Machine drama of Loud & Clear, to the industrial Massive Attack beats of Dear Darlin' and the title track, and the soaring Hand on Heart, which together form the core of the album.  Yet Murs isn't the strongest of singers and certainly doesn't excel at ballad singing - his upbeat tracks have been his most commercially successful.  Perhaps this change of emphasis hints at a desire to be seen as a more serious and mature artist.  That, however, is difficult to take when the lyrics are so obviously aimed at young teenage girls: the pathetic One of These Days especially.

There remains a handful of upbeat tracks that retain his usual flirtatious and cheeky demeanour, even if they too are pinched from other artists.  Opener Army of Two is pure Robbie Williams with its horn and and string inflections; current single Troublemaker is the catchiest tune of offer, even if the chorus sounds like Britney's Crazy; and Hey You Beautiful is essentially a reworking of Moves Like Jagger.  What these tracks do have, though, is a sense of fun that is sorely lacking from the rest of the album.  Murs may be trying to grow as an artist, but he also needs to recognise his strengths.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Army of Two
* Troublemaker
* Hey You Beautiful

Listen: 'Right Place Right Time' is available now.

Watch: Murs will be supporting Robbie Williams on his arena tour next year.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Haim - Don't Save Me

Haim are one of the breakthrough acts of the year and they're still yet to unveil their debut album (due next year).  Don't Save Me is the girls' first release since their 'Forever' EP back in February.  For anyone unfamiliar with their work, it's a great introduction to their sound - three sisters who grew up listening to a mixture of Americana, Fleetwood Mac and other folk-rock acts, plus 90s female RnB acts like En Vogue and Destiny's Child.  Don't Save Me leans more towards the folk-rock side of their influences with the guitar-based sound and raw vocals, yet the vocal harmonies, hand-clap beats and melodic hooks still hint towards the RnB end of the spectrum.  It's an alluring combination and a strong representation of girl power that doesn't rely on obvious sexual gratification and instead oozes cool.  In fact, the video sees the girls showing off some mad basketball skills, cheeky dance moves and head-banging to make Willow Smith jealous - it's sexy on a whole new level.


Listen: Don't Save Me is available now.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Alt-J - Buffalo

Still celebrating their Mercury Prize win, Alt-J feature with this track on the soundtrack to Silver Linings Playbook, the new film with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (pictured).  Buffalo is as beautiful as the two leading actors - all finger-picking guitars and gently lilting atmospherics.  The opening guitar line does sound just like Daughter though and as a whole, it doesn't quite have the magnetic appeal of their best tracks from 'An Awesome Wave'.  Still, Buffalo proves the band are more than the usual indie landfill providing background noise to quirky rom-coms.


Listen: The soundtrack to Silver Linings Playbook is available now.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Will.I.Am feat. Britney Spears - Scream & Shout

Is this the worst pop song of the year?

Quite possibly.  And that's coming in the same year as Gangnam Style.

I don't care if it's Britney bitch, her involvement is just a shameless cash-in on her position on the judging panel of X-Factor USA.  And her vocal is almost as robotic as Will.I.Am's.

Speaking of which, the production is the usual Will.I.Am affair.  It's repetitive.  The lyrics are abysmal.  And musically it's a mess.  Why people buy Will.I.Am's music and keep him afloat is beyond me.  Scream & Shout is nothing to...erm... scream or shout about.

"When you hear this in the club you're gonna turn this shit up", Britney claims.  No love, I'll be turning this shit off.


Listen: Don't.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Bjork - Bastards

It's fitting that this remix album is released the same week as Bjork's birthday (celebrated yesterday) and just over a year since the original release of her 'Biophilia' album.  'Bastards' is yet another component of the multi-faceted project.  The thirteen remixes have been specially selected by Bjork herself for inclusion on 'Bastards', reflecting a hotchpotch of global talent and styles.  As she sings on Virus, these remixes are dependant on her own original creations, but the artists featured here bring plenty of originality to Bjork's ode to the earth.

Some tracks twist the music in unexpected and novel directions.  The remix of Mutual Core from These New Puritans is a total re-imagining: Bjork's vocal, coupled with the chanting choir, is like a call to Mother Nature herself, the minimalist production opposing Bjork's maximal vision.  Solstice is remixed by Current Value into a wobbling sub-bass infused piece of dub-step, contrasting with the gentle nature of the original.

Other remixes remain faithful to their source and retain the character of Bjork's work.  The Hudson Mohawke Peaches and Guacamol remix of Virus retains a sense of delicacy, whilst adding rattling percussion and injections of brass.  The 16-bit remix of Hollow remains as frightening as ever.  And Matthew Herbert's remix of Mutual Core keeps the tectonic structure of Bjork's track, whilst its bloops and whirrs adds a technological slant.

The album is bookended by two remixes of Crystalline that exemplify these contrasting approaches - the album opener, from Omar Souleyman, manifests as a futuristic slice of Bollywood with bhangra beats and ethnic melodies; the closing track, from Matthew Herbert, is all wonky rhythms and much closer to the original.

What all the remixes retain is Bjork's idiosyncrasies.  For all the novel ideas, this remains Bjork at heart.  It's as if 'Biophilia' provided a musical sandbox for musicians to play in.  The result is far more than simply techno remixes - it's an album of experimentation and creativity that, like Bjork's original, is a unique listen.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Virus (Hudson Mohawke Peaches and Guacamol Remix)
* Mutual Core (These New Puritans Remix feat. Solomon is. Song)
* Crystalline (Matthew Herbert Remix)

Listen: 'Bastards' is available now.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Matt Corby - Into The Flame EP

Australian singer-songwriter Matt Corby releases his 'Into The Flame' EP this week, though his musical career began in 2007 where, at just 16, he finished as runner-up in that year's Australian Idol.  He could certainly teach our UK contestants a thing or two.  In the talent show battle for 'authenticity', Corby has it in spades.

His distinctive vocal is immediately apparent.  With an impressive range and wide vibrato, he brings to mind a male Lianne La Havas or Anna Calvi, though there's a pleasing roughness to his lower register that ensures his soulful voice varies from sweet falsetto to a guttural roar.  His musical style is similarly varied, from Damien Rice-esque balladeer to a tough, bluesy sound more reminiscent of Jeff Buckley.

Brother is the lead single and catchiest track on the EP with its cooing falsetto hook and rhythmic chorus.  Elsewhere, Souls A'fire switches to electric guitar for a blues feel; Untitled features a gospel style organ as it slow-burns; and Big Eyes is a largely acoustic ballad featuring the vocals of Bree Tranter of Australian band The Middle East.  As a whole, the songs are a little slow, lacking the distinctiveness of Corby's voice, and previous single Made of Stone remains his most heart-breaking track.  Yet his unique vocal sets him apart from the competition - definitely one to watch.


Listen: 'Into The Flame' is available now.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Little Mix - DNA

For all intents and purposes, Little Mix are the new Girls Aloud – both musically and in their conception on a reality TV programme.  Yet where Girls Aloud brought girl power kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, Little Mix are unable to escape the girl band template that previous groups have moulded.

‘DNA’ is essentially girl band 101.  Like Girls Aloud, there are some solid pop tunes on offer, with Going Nowhere written by GA’s own Nicola Roberts.  But there’s a strong 90s RnB vibe on ‘DNA’ – clearly inspired by the girls’ X-Factor performance of En Vogue’s Don’t Let Go.  In fact, Red Planet is essentially a re-working of the same track, featuring T-Boz of TLC fame.  The Shaznay Lewis penned How Ya Doin’ (which includes a sample from De La Soul’s Ring Ring Ring) is a throwback to All Saints and their own Booty Call with its phone call intro and outro.  Then there’s Stereo Soldier with its Destiny’s Child style snare rhythms from Lose My Breath and Leona Lewis-esque middle-eight; the Beyonce influenced debut single Wings; and the extravagant Jessie J-esque warbler Change Your Life recently performed on Children In Need.  Even the album’s cover art is almost imitating Stooshe.

It all leads to an album that lacks individuality – a bit like the girl’s themselves, who seem more famous for dating various members of boy band equivalent One Direction.  The upbeat tracks certainly outshine the slushy ballads and current single DNA is a clear highlight with its stuttering and infectious chorus, matched by a strong dub-step beat. 

We Are Who We Are is another high point.  It might be the girls’ answer to TLC’s Unpretty, but it’s the most honest and fun track on the album and an obvious future single.  Little Mix are all about female empowerment which this songs encapsulates.  Overall, though, ‘DNA’ is in need of an injection of personality – as it stands, this debut is too safe.


Gizzle's Choice:
* How Ya Doin'
* We Are Who We Are

Listen: 'DNA' is available now.

Watch: The girls will be performing across the UK at the start of 2013.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Rihanna - Unapologetic

Since 2009, the world has fallen out of love with Chris Brown, with one exception - Rihanna.  Their tumultuous relationship has had a huge impact on her musical career and, arguably, has informed her best work.  'Unapologetic' is Rihanna's most Brown-influenced album since 'Rated R' and it's all the better for it.  Yet since that 2009 album the tables have turned - where 'Rated R' was a musical middle finger to Brown, 'Unapologetic' is the equivalent to the public.  Her music may be indebted to her private life, but it's still nobody's business.

This, her seventh album in so many years, is a tale of two halves.  The first is a relative disappointment, with solid, predominantly upbeat but one-dimensional songs: the catchy yet repetitive Numb featuring Eminem that's hardly the next Love The Way You LieJump that's remarkable only for its sampling of Ginuwine's Pony; and Right Now with David Guetta that's as generic as his name would imply and provides the album's only true low point.  It's no surprise that Diamonds also features in this half - it might be a grower, but it's dull by Rihanna's standards.  For the most part these tracks eschew the emphasis on gratuitous sexuality we've come to expect from her (Jump being the exception).  These early tracks may seem standard as a result, but this is a fresh, more mature side to Rihanna that's rarely seen.  Further, this allows the ballads to stand out as the more exciting tracks, Loveeeeeee Song being an early favourite.

With 'Unapologetic' Rihanna is staking a claim as queen of the twenty-first century power ballad and the second half of the album certainly picks things up.  What Now begins with a humble piano introduction and just keeps escalating, layering powerful beats, soaring vocals and, eventually, a roaring guitar solo at the emphatic key change.  It's an epic halfway point to the album.  This is followed by Stay, with vocals from Mikky Ekko, providing an intimate and genuinely touching moment, Rihanna delivering her most accomplished vocal performance in years.  "Around and around we go... not really sure how to feel about it...I want you to stay", she sings in the chorus, exemplifying her conflicting emotions on Chris Brown.  On Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary, Rihanna continues to battle with her feelings and, in the process, delivers one of her best ever tracks.  The connotations of lines such as "you used to be this boy I loved and I used to be this girl of your dreams...I pray that love don't strike twice" are clear, though the repeated refrain "what's love without tragedy" succinctly sums up Rihanna's personal life and career - this track truly is her personal anthem. 

Elsewhere, Fresh Off The Runway marks a suitably dirty opening track; Pour It Up has Rihanna contemplating money and fame; whilst No Love Allowed sees Rihanna in typical bajan Man Down mode, the abuse associated with the lyric "like a bullet your love hit me to the core, I was flying 'til you knocked me to the floor" a little sickening.  Overall there's far less box-ticking than on 'Loud' or 'Talk That Talk', with 'Unapologetic' being a fresher, more complete album than those previous offerings.

However, it's Nobody's Business, the duet with Chris Brown and centrepiece of the album, that will be the most talked about track.  After the trauma she's endured, it's undoubtedly awkward hearing Rihanna singing Brown's praises - "You'll always be my boy, I'll always be your girl".  Is forgiveness the right message to be sending to other victims of abuse?  Yet with an album title like 'Unapologetic' and the chorus of this track repeating "it ain't nobody's business", it's obvious that Rihanna just doesn't care what we think any more   And perhaps she's right.  Nobody's Business encapsulates the symbiotic relationship between Rihanna and Brown, combining the best bits of their styles in musical and romantic union.  Perhaps they were meant for each other - after all, finding your soul mate is nothing to apologise for.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Loveeeeeee Song
* What Now
* Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary

Listen: 'Unapologetic' is available now.

Watch: Rihanna will be touring the UK next summer.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Staves - Dead & Born & Grown

Forget the return of Girls Aloud.  Forget X-Factor winners Little Mix.  Forget any of the other girl bands.  There are two new sisterly trios bound for a 2013 rivalry – The Staves and Haim.  The family similarities might be obvious, but their styles are totally different.  Where Haim are edgy, influenced by Fleetwood Mac and 90s RnB, The Staves bring a folk-country beauty to their music.

And it’s The Staves who are first out of the starting block with ‘Dead & Born & Grown’, which follows their previous EPs ‘Mexico’, ‘The Motherlode’ and ‘Live At Cecil Sharp House’, in addition to supporting Bon Iver on his latest tour.  What’s immediately apparent is their sublime vocal harmonies.  Clearly well-practiced, the girls’ vocals blend in glorious union.  It’s as if you’re listening to one harmonious voice rather than three.  The vocals are accompanied by lilting guitar patterns that drift along as easily as a summer’s breeze.  Opening track Wisely & Slow begins acapella, before introducing organ, percussion, guitars and handclaps into the mix in a multi-layered showcase of their talents.  It’s a poignant start to the album.

Fans will be disappointed to hear that five of the twelve songs are taken directly from the group’s EPs.  A large proportion of the album is therefore new material, but these songs add nothing new to the girls’ sound.  The twelve songs, like the girls’ voices, blend together like a watercolour painting, but are individually indistinct.  As the girls’ themselves sing on Wisely & Slow, “time may spin and years may pass, the song is still the same”.

Further, where’s the grit?  Where’s the edginess?  Not one song is sung in a minor key.  Looking at the lyrics, there are moments of pain and mourning in the stories the girls sing.  But never has the lyric “I don’t give a fuck” been sung so sweetly.  Overall ‘Dead & Born & Grown’ is too nice, to gentle and polite, too…Radio 2.  At its best, the album offers beautiful harmonies to while away the hours.  At its worst, this will soundtrack the next Twinings advert.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Wisely & Slow
* Pay Us No Mind
* Winter Trees

Listen: 'Dead & Born & Grown' is available now.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Deftones - Koi No Yokan

It might be a rare occurrence, but some bands just get better with age.  Many have argued this is the case with Deftones, whose career spans from their debut album ‘Adrenaline’ in 1995 to ‘Koi No Yokan’, their seventh album to date.  2010’s ‘Diamond Eyes’ was hailed as some of the band’s best work, setting up huge expectations for this new release.

But what does ‘Koi No Yokan’ provide for a relative newcomer to the band?  It’s certainly one of their more accessible albums and a suitable gateway into their back catalogue.  It’s also a great entry point into their style, that combines elements from different rock genres like nu-metal and prog rock, as well as a touch of hip-hop in the drum beats and occasional rapping.  What’s undoubtedly clear, even to newcomers, is that ‘Koi No Yokan’ comes from a tight, mature band with a wealth of experience behind them.  The guitar riffs may not be technically complex, but they offer a fluidity and power that few bands can match and suggest a confidence in the band’s abilities.  Add in some muscular drumming, light touches of keyboards and a raw vocal, and Deftones’ music truly erupts from the speakers – from the opening chords of Swerve City, through the screaming chorus of Leathers, to the lurching rhythms of Rosemary.  That said, this album is one of their most tuneful – whilst screams are employed for full effect, the focus is more on Chino Moreno’s melodic singing.

The music arrives on a tidal wave of emotion.  Bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a horrific car accident in 2008 which has left him in a partially conscious state.  The band’s turmoil has therefore informed much of their output since.  Moreno’s vocals and ambiguous lyrics are often overpowered by the guitars, but there’s enough rawness in his voice to imbue the music with inescapable emotive power.  Even then, the connotations of tracks like Entombed are clear – “From the day you arrived I’ve remained by your side / In chains, entombed, placed inside, safe and sound”.  The greater emphasis on melody allows the vocals to act as a conduit for feeling – slow-burning tracks like Tempest and What Happened To You offer a more delicate take on the band’s sound.

‘Koi No Yokan’ is perhaps not as revolutionary as the band’s earlier material, which inspired a generation of other metal bands.  Yet this still sound fresh – there are few other mainstream bands that are making music like this.  For this reason alone, Deftones are worthy of your attention, for both fans and newcomers.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Leathers
* Tempest
* Rosemary

Listen: 'Koi No Yokan' is available now.

Watch: Deftones will be performing in the UK in February 2013.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Weeknd - Trilogy

Releasing music for free might be a quick way of garnering attention, but it’s not necessarily a route to success.  Yet last year both Frank Ocean and Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) released free mixtapes to critical acclaim and have gone on, in 2012, to release two of the most stylistically important albums of the year.

‘Trilogy’, a re-release collection of last year’s three free mixtapes, marks the first major label release from Tesfaye, who signed to Universal earlier in the year.  So far, he’s managed to remain a faceless artist and let his music do the talking, releasing music solely under his pseudonym and refusing interviews.  Even if you haven’t heard of him, his influence has been huge.  His melancholic, futuristic RnB has influenced the likes of fellow Canadian Drake (who features on The Zone – ‘Thursday’ - and collaborated with Tesfaye on his own track Crew Love), Usher (Climax especially) and the parallels with Frank Ocean are clear.  For anyone who missed his material the first time round, this re-release may undermine his position as innovator, but there’s no better time to catch up.

As is typical for the genre, the often misogynistic lyrics are full of references to sex, prostitution, infidelity, smoking and drugs.  “Baby get familiar with the order”, he explains on Initiation (‘Echoes of Silence’), “just crack it, then pour it, then sip slow, then tip low”.  The lyrics are frequently grim, as Tesfaye revels in downbeat melancholia, such as The Knowing’s “I know what you did / I know / So I’mma let you taste her / I ain’t washing my sins”.  There’s a definite progression though, from the salacious parties of ‘House of Balloons’ (The Morning’s “From the morning to the evening, complaints from the tenants / Got the walls kickin’ like they six months pregnant”), to the self-destructive descent of ‘Echoes of Silence’ (“I see the way your body moves, on the pole, on the floor, you’re alone / But there ain’t nothing I can do / So keep dancin’ baby” he sings on Next, paralleling Ocean’s Pyramids).  Tesfaye’s songs may be destructive and angry, but they’re never disgusting; sexy without resorting to sleaze.  It maintains an air of intrigue, coupled with his sweet falsetto that woos and haunts in equal measure.  He is, vocally, the reincarnation of Michael Jackson, which can be heard most acutely on D.D (‘Echoes of Silence’) – a cover of Dirty Diana.  The lyrics may seem tame but the sentiment fits in perfectly.

It’s the nocturnal production that has proven most influential, however.  Complex layers of synth hooks, staggering beats and soaring vocals are standard, for an expansive sound that is at times overwhelming.  And with an average track length around the five minute mark, ‘Trilogy’ is as epic in length as it is in scope – this truly is Tesfaye’s opus and the future of RnB.

It’s important to note that ‘Trilogy’ is essentially three albums in one and a complete overload of rich material.  Listening to it all in one sitting may well cause your head to implode – individually it’s easier to process and allows you to see the progression from one to the next.  Together, the three albums encompass a full career in miniscule – from the acclaimed debut breakthrough (‘House of Balloons’), to the ‘difficult second album’ (‘Thursday’) and the celebrated return to form (‘Echoes of Silence’).  ‘House of Balloons’ is certainly the most individual of the three, owing largely to its frequent use of samples.  Together with the Dirty Diana cover, it may imply that Tesfaye is more comfortable utilising the material of others, but his overall innovation and originality cannot be denied.  ‘Thursday’ is less distinct, collecting in a swampy mire, whilst ‘Echoes of Silence’ is a slower, more meditative take on the usual themes.  Each album also includes a new track – Twenty Eight, Valerie and Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun) - that fit in with the overarching style.

‘Trilogy’ succeeds for its overall mood and originality.  Undoubtedly, this major release will bring Tesfaye’s music to the ears of the masses.  With such a huge creative output in just a year and plenty of features and collaborations in the works, let’s hope he hasn’t peaked too early.


Gizzle's Choice:
* The Knowing
* The Zone
* D.D

Listen: 'Trilogy' is available now.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die - The Paradise Edition

This time last year, Lana Del Rey was in her prime.  Video Games was doing the rounds on the internet, hailed by many as a masterpiece, with Del Rey marked as a future star.  

Fast forward to January 2012 and the much anticipated release of her debut album 'Born To Die'.  The response was mixed, with some berating it for its string of copycat songs, whilst others praised it for its unique sound (you can read The Gizzle's verdict here).  At the least, the album failed to live up to the monumental hype and, as we near the year's end, Del Rey has become something of a music industry joke - a case study in the problems of over-hype.

Fast forward to present day and Del Rey's release of 'The Paradise Edition' which features a second disc of eight new tracks.  But does it right the wrongs of the initial release?  What do these new tracks add, if anything?

What's most significant about these new tracks is the continued absurdity of her lyrics.  Her style may hearken back to Hollywood glamour, but there are more clichéd American references in these bonus tracks than in the bombastic National Anthem.  The title of American alone is enough, without mentioning "Springsteen is king" in an attempt to seem cool.  Then there's Body Electric which opens with the line "Elvis is my daddy, Marilyn's my mother, Jesus is my bestest friend", undoubtedly the three cornerstones of American culture.  It all hits new extremes with Cola, though, remarkable only for the lyric "My pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola, my eyes are wide like cherry pie".  Pussy product-placement galore.  Listening to these lyrics, it's hard not to believe Del Rey is becoming a parody of herself.  Her cover of Blue Velvet is in many ways perfectly suited, both vocally and in the image of a starlet hiding a troubled past, but it's hard to stomach when it's so acutely manufactured.

Cola also sounds like a copy of Summertime Sadness, which, let's face it, sounds like Video Games.  'Born To Die' proved that Del Rey's first hit wasn't so much a one-hit-wonder but a template to mould the rest of the album.  'The Paradise Edition' continues the trend, offering nothing musically that we haven't heard before - lush strings, hip-hop beats and Del Rey's breathy drawl.  Latest single Ride is the major highlight and could easily have been included in the original album.  Which begs the question: are these bonus tracks offcuts from the original release, or newly penned?  If the latter, they are undoubtedly an unnecessary cash-in that ultimately add little to the album as a whole.  Even so, fans will lap up the chance to hear more of her alluring melancholia.

Does this hint at the direction of future material?  If so, we're in for another disappointment as Del Rey desperately needs to break her own mould and offer more variety.  'Born To Die' remains one of this year's major releases and includes some beautifully sad lamentations, but the new tracks only tarnish her already fading image.  


Gizzle's Choice:
* Ride
* Video Games
* Born To Die

Listen: 'The Paradise Edition' is available now.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Amour (2012) - Michael Haneke

The best way to describe Amour, the Palme d’or winning film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival from Austrian director Michael Haneke, is like the first twenty-minutes of Up in slow-motion.  It’s a film that forces the audience to face up to death, as it details the struggles of an elderly couple coping with the aftermath of a stroke.  Death is a sad inevitability of life and, just as the couple have accepted this, so must the audience.  It’s an incredibly powerful piece of filmmaking, its constant feeling of dread and shocking climax likely to have a profound effect on the viewer.

The slow pace is intentional. The narrative takes place almost exclusively in the isolated confines of the couple’s flat.  Over the course of the film, we see Anne’s (Emmanuelle Riva) condition deteriorate, struggling to walk, talk, eat and, eventually, communicate at all, whilst husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) strives to ease her suffering.  The camera is mostly still, often lingering in space to mirror Anne’s waning grip on reality, and the rhythm of the editing is slow, combining to reflect the couple’s slow pace of life and their difficulties with day-to-day activities.

What’s most touching is the utter normality of their relationship.  After years of marriage, Anne and Georges certainly know how to playfully chide one another, with plenty of comic moments in the script to relieve the intensity of emotion.  The two central performances are outstanding and brave (from Riva especially), creating two believable characters who exude warmth and compassion.  Yet this is not an overtly sentimental film.  There’s a sense of detachment that ensures this remains a human story.  It’s for this reason that the film is so emotionally powerful - not only does the audience fall in love with the couple, but our expectations are confounded by the film’s horrific climax.  This is a story that could affect any one of us.  An early scene in the concert hall has the camera focused on the audience and not the performance, creating a mirror image where the cinema audience could easily be picturing themselves in the future.

Music, or the lack of, also plays an important part.  The only music used is diagetic piano music, which alone adds a sense of melancholia, but the significance goes further.  Anne used to be a piano teacher, but due to her condition is no longer able to play.  As such, music is always interrupted (either within the narrative, or through editing), reflecting the sudden loss of her hobby.  In fact, there is very little sound or dialogue within the film, the action taking place in almost perpetual deathly silence, leaving the characters and the audience hollow and empty – a feeling that prevails to the end of the final credits.

Due to the heightened emotion, it’s hard to recommend Amour.  On the one hand, this is a beautiful and moving film that bravely addresses a universal inevitability head on, with terrific central performances.  It’s easy to see why it won the Palme d’or and it could easily go on to further award success.  On the other, this is an intense and immensely tragic experience that frightens as equally as it inspires.


Watch: Amour sees general release on 16th November.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Everything Everything - Kemosabe

Just two months after Cough Cough was unveiled, Everything Everything have released yet another new track from their upcoming album ‘Arc’.

Cough Cough began with…well…coughing, but Kemosabe begins with some odd buzzing.  From there it blooms into a track that has everything you could want from the art-rockers: a hypnotic concoction of electronica and blazing guitars; jagged drum beats; Jonathan Higgs’ cooing falsetto vocals; and a healthy dose of intellectual weirdness – the title alone referring to the catchphrase of a fictional Native American character meaning “faithful friend”.  These two recent tracks show that the band’s new material is a little more accessible than on their debut, with instant chart appeal, whilst retaining their signature depth of sound and complexity.  It’s all paving the way towards a superb second album.


Listen: Kemosabe is released on the 6th January, with the full album following on 14th January.

Watch: Everything Everything will be touring the UK in February.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Loserville @ The Garrick Theatre

Loserville has certainly been receiving some mixed responses.  Whilst some reviews have been utterly negative, others have overlooked flaws and praised the show for bringing something novel to the West End as a brand new British musical in a sea of revivals and jukebox shows.  There’s even been some criticism of critics who have panned the show, which is all well and good if the show is actually praiseworthy.  So who’s right?

It might be new to the West End, but Loserville’s narrative is utterly unoriginal, with characters taken from a variety of cult shows.  As a whole it’s a musical that celebrates young freaks and geeks in the same way as Glee, this time a set of four computer nerds who’d be just as at home in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.  Of course their rivals are the cool kids in school, with slicked quiffs Danny from Grease would be proud of and plastic girlfriends to make even the girls from Mean Girls jealous.  The characters are over-acted, the script filled with clichéd jokes that will force laughter and groans in equal measure, and the on-going Star Wars references grow increasingly predictable.  Yet by combining elements from these cult shows and wider teenage culture, Loserville is the perfect show for today’s youth – undoubtedly the primary demographic. 

The music, too, is not original.  Written by ex-Busted member James Bourne, the songs are adapted from his second band Son of Dork’s album ‘Welcome to Loserville’.  As such, watching the show feels like going to a Busted gig, or watching American Pie for the millionth time.  The style is cheesy pop-punk that won’t win any awards for complex arrangements, thematic consistency or profound lyrical meaning, but the melodies are incredibly catchy and you’ll definitely come away singing the tunes.

The main problem with the music is the standard of singing, which is surprisingly weak for a West End cast with tuning problems abound, even if they are young.  This is only highlighted by many of the solo numbers assisted by backing vocals and extra harmonies from the wings.  Thankfully, some of the performances remain likeable amongst the silliness, in particular Aaron Sidwell as protagonist Michael Dork, Charlotte Harwood’s pop vocals as Leia Dawkins and the loveable comedy of Daniel Buckley’s Marvin Camden.

It’s the production that most impresses, however.  The transparent, interlocking set is neon-lit like Tron, whilst everything else from backdrops to props is comprised of notepad pages and pencils.  Whilst this does somewhat cover for a lack of budget, it’s a concept that’s fully embraced along with the vibrant costumes that match the colourful characters.  It’s like watching a Saturday morning cartoon, complete with credits sequences at the beginning and end.  This is further emphasised by the energetic choreography that’s modern, poppy and includes clever use of props such as pencils and letter tiles.  It’s a charming production that’s easy to warm to.

Ultimately, Loserville is an entertaining piece of shallow musical froth that isn’t meant to be taken seriously.  Its youthful and vibrant feel is well suited towards its intended audience and the production has a solid concept.  Embrace your inner-geek and you may just be pleasantly surprised. 

Will this be a long-running staple of the West End?  No, but it’s enjoyable, light-hearted fun so make sure to grab your ticket outta Loserville whilst it lasts.


Watch: Loserville will now be closing in January 2013.

Friday, 9 November 2012

M83 @ Brixton Academy

If you look up the word “euphoria” in the dictionary, the definition will simply read “M83”.  Probably.  Their 80s electro and shoegaze inspired sound - awash with droning spacey synths, live drum beats and mesmeric vocals – inspires a certain kind of elated euphoria, the sort to have the audience’s kneels trembling, palms to the sky and hearts raised to the heavens.

Brixton Academy was the last leg in the band’s current tour of Europe for their third album ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’.  Since the release of single Midnight City, the French band (led by Anthony Gonzalez) have seen a meteoric rise in popularity and that song in particular had the audience’s hands in the air quicker than you can say Made In Chelsea.  Introduced by an odd creature spouting lasers from its fingertips (no, really), the set list comprised a ‘best of’ from their last two albums, ‘Hurry Up…’ and ‘Saturdays=Youth’, including the likes of Reunion, Raconte-Moi Une Histoire (“I heard about this frog…”), We Own The Sky and a huge encore of Couleurs.  Each track was extended and remixed for an original take on their hits, with live drums, guitars and keyboards smacked and plucked with dynamic energy.  The slower, more hypnotic tracks were less well received in a live environment, but were ultimately counteracted by the sheer overwhelming power of the overall performance.  The only real gripe was that the gig whizzed by far too quickly and with a considerable back catalogue from their three albums (‘Hurry Up…’ alone has 22 tracks), some tracks were unfortunately neglected.

The support act came in the form of Man Without Country – three figures performing in smoky silhouettes, flashes of light colouring the stage like lightning.  They proved to be a worthy support to M83: all pulsing, thunderous drum patterns, throbbing, bubbling basslines and wailing Pet Shop Boys-esque vocals that washed over the crowd.  Their debut album ‘Foe’ is available now and well worth checking out.

M83’s widescreen electro was made to be heard on an epic sound system.  Filling the cavernous Brixton Academy, their (still awesome) recordings pale in comparison to their live show.  And the music was accompanied by a spectacular light and laser show: the backdrop lit like a solar system, the music our transportation, the flashing beams and kaleidoscopic colours opening the roof and guiding us upwards.  Euphoria doesn’t begin to cover it.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Mixed Doubles @ Etcetera Theatre Club

Living up to the sporting pun name, there's plenty of comic sparring in this fresh-faced comedy show from Mixed Doubles - a show that came to fruition "when the four members realised that they found each other mildly amusing".  The audience will certainly agree.

Stuck to the side of the stage (and as handouts for the audience) is the Running Order, which immediately highlights the extensive range of sketches on offer.  As you'd expect with so many ideas floating around, the sketches are a mixed bag.  Those that rely on observational comedy are the most successful - from "Mod Conversation" (satirising our growing dependence on social media) and "Girls Making Out" (an odd phenomenon with dire consequences), to the battle of the sexes between "Football for Girls" (a guide to understanding the beautiful game) and "Girl Talk" (a guide to understanding the fairer sex).  Elsewhere, some easy targets were lampooned such as the perpetually miserable Andy Murray, fairytale creatures like the Big Bad Wolf, and the 'Essex Lion' (now a little out of date).  The overall structure is welcome though, keeping the show running at a swift pace.

This structure doesn't always extend to the sketches themselves, however.  The four-strong cast have conceived some hilarious anecdotes and situations that are frequently laugh-out-loud funny and original, though some are in need of development towards a stronger punchline rather than fizzling to blackout.  That said, there are some real gems here with huge comic potential.  Moreover, with the show speeding along at such a fast pace, any flaws are quickly swept aside.  

Most of all, the cast are clearly talented performers.  Accents and impressions are consistently amusing, from the aforementioned Andy Murray, to kiwi customs security officers, Irish gypsies, animals and fictional characters.  The humour is always light-hearted and good-natured; a welcome change from stand-up acts relying on expletives and toilet humour.  Though they gradually warmed-up throughout the show, the cast are likeable and endearing.  As a theatrical sketch show, Mixed Doubles would be well suited to the insatiable appetites of Edinburgh Fringe audiences, but equally, with some further development, the structure lends itself towards a television show.  With such a swift turnaround between scenes, there's no time to be bored.


Watch: Mixed Doubles is currently running until Saturday 10th November, with more shows in the pipeline.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Robbie Williams - Take The Crown

This week Radio 1 announced that Robbie Williams has been banned from the station, stating his music is not relevant to their age range of 15-29 year olds.  It’s rather ironic, then, that ‘Take The Crown’, his latest album since 2009’s ‘Reality Killed The Video Star’, features a track called Shit On The Radio when he hasn’t even made it on himself.

Everything about this album smacks of a bullish, brash return.  The title itself is a less-than-subtle hint at a return to the heights of success.  The chorus of opening track, Be A Boy, is an exclamation to his critics: “they said it was leaving me, the magic was leaving me, I don’t think so”.  It’s far from the only track that looks to the past, with Gospel seeing Williams excited when he was “a little one all alone” and Shit On The Radio referencing Supergrass (“pumping on your stereo”), whilst Different claims “this time I’ll be different, I promise you”.  In fact, the lyrics mostly take the opening track to heart as if written by a teenage boy: such as “and when she comes, she comes for hours” on Not Like The Others; or the utterly vacuous Hey Wow Yeah Yeah (“clap your hands if you wanna wanna”).

This is all well and good if the music lived up to these lyrics, but ultimately the magic has gone and ‘Take The Crown’ fails to match Williams’ promises.  Just as the lyrics often hearken back to the past, musically Williams is still living in the 90s with a series of unimaginative and old fashioned pop songs – from the saxophone solo on Be A Boy to the Brit-pop Not Like The Others and general reliance on badly-sung yawn-inducing power ballads.  It’s no wonder he’s been relegated to Radio 2.  True, this may seem refreshing in a world of plastic synths and dub-step breakdowns, but Williams’ attempts at being taken as a serious musician remain a long-running joke.

This is no more apparent than with his vocals, which can only be described as rough.  Frequently his voice is smothered by production, backing vocalists and choirs to hide the cracks.  Or, as on Hey Wow Yeah Yeah, he just sings through a megaphone.  So why did the big note on Into The Silence (where Williams’ voice cracks and grates horribly) not get picked up on the master?  He might be aiming towards a rockier style, but frankly it just sounds horrible.  The comparison with featured vocalist Lissie on Losers is obvious – there’s only one loser here.

True, Williams has never been the strongest of singers and is known more for being an overall entertainer.  But ‘Take The Crown’ quite simply doesn’t entertain.  As such, current single Candy is an anomaly.  It sticks out like a sore thumb as the only track on which he has any sort of fun, as on the frivolous Let Me Entertain You or Rock DJ – clearly this is when he’s at his best.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Gospel
* Candy
* Reverse

Listen: 'Take The Crown' is available now.