Saturday, 30 June 2012

Big Time Rush - Windows Down

Now I'm not the biggest Blur fan, but even I can appreciate it's sacrilege to sample Song 2.  Why the band agreed to this I don't know.

It's also easy to appreciate how utterly vile this song is.  It epitomises everything that's wrong with pop music today - and it sure as hell makes me feel old saying that.  Here's a checklist for you:

* Sampling a classic track into a piece of pop-club trash? Check.
* Dull production with generic four-to-the-floor beat? Check.
* Mandatory dub-step breakdown?  Naturally.
* Inane lyrics?  In abundance - "all the windows down while I'm rolling through your town" being the main chorus hook.
* Autotune vocals?  Utterly necessary.
* All performed by a talentless boyband manufactured by Nickelodeon?  Indeed.  Not that I have anything against manufactured bands necessarily - but '90s groups at least had some personality.  And could dance.

Then there's the video - a 'lads on tour' style collection of holiday clips, posing and drunken antics (probably).  Dare I say it, The Wanted did it better?

All in all Windows Down is a crime against music.  Steer clear.


Listen: Windows Down is available now. God help us.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Little Dragon - Sunshine

Why Little Dragon feel the need to team up with Absolut Vodka on their latest ad campaign to promote their music is beyond me.  Sunshine is so good, the band are better than this cynical marketing.

That said, as the title suggests, everything about this track is HOT - the halcyonic synth waves, the dramatic video and Swedish-Japanese frontwoman Yukimi Nagano.  A nice ice cold vodka cocktail will go down very nicely after this, thanks very much.

Sunshine follows hot on the heels of the band's latest album 'Ritual Union', released late last year, as well as Nagano's vocal feature on SBTRKT's sexy-as-hell Wildfire.  Little Dragon's usual icy cool electronica has been melted by the summer into a hazy mix of pulsating synths, melodic basslines and Nagano's unmistakeable voice.  There's even time for a panpipes solo.  Along with the cutesy lyrics, "you are my sunbeam when skies are dark", Sunshine is about as onomatopoeic as music can be.  If you're yet to check out the band's work, there's no better time.  And why not treat yourself to a cheeky vodka whilst you're at it?  Ah, there's the marketing ploy for you....


Listen: Sunshine is available now, as is the band's current album 'Ritual Union'.

Watch: The band are touring worldwide throughout the summer.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Muse - Survival

With Survival confirmed as the official Olympics anthem, Muse have staked their place as the UK's foremost band, able to stand tall on the global stage.

And for this track they've channelled that other great British rock export - Queen - with the song's grand scale and operatic introduction reminiscent of Bohemian Rhapsody or (appropriately) We Are The Champions.

Simultaneously, this is Muse through and through.  2009's 'The Resistance' had a clear classical influence, especially in final triptych Exogenesis: Symphony parts 1-3, orchestral strings added to the blazing guitars and Matt Bellamy's trademark falsetto vocal.  On that album it bordered on pretension, but on Survival it creates a suitably expansive introduction.  As it progresses, the music erupts into a volcanic guitar solo, Bellamy screaming "I'm gonna win!" with unparalleled determination.  Performed live this will set Danny Boyle's meadow ablaze.

This really is a track of Olympic proportions, even if it does sh*t on the mantra 'it's the taking part that counts'.  But that's always been a moot point.  Muse have won, producing an anthem the UK can be proud of.


Listen: Survival is available now.  The band's forthcoming album, 'The 2nd Law', will be released in September.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Sean Paul @ IndigO2

Amid screams of delight from the predominantly female audience, the mohawked dutty rock star came bounding onto the stage for well over an hour of windin', grindin' and booty shakin'.  For one night only, London's IndigO2 became a little piece of Jamaica, with a rare opportunity to see Sean Paul minus his trademark sunglasses.

The gig follows the success of recent album 'Tomahwak Technique', particularly lead single Got 2 Luv U featuring Alexis Jordan.  As such, the set leaned towards his recent club-RnB output, but also included many of his older reggae infused tracks - singles like Get Busy, Like Glue and Temperature went down a storm.

A large proportion of Paul's tracks feature female artists on vocals, but disappointingly they were all sadly absent.  Beyonce may have been a long-shot, but perhaps Kelly Rowland or Alexis Jordan could've dropped in?  Instead, Paul was joined on-stage by his band, which consisted of synths, live drums and an overly-enthusiastic hype guy.  This may have been a live gig, but much of the music wasn't.  The female presence came from four vivacious dancers, who's provocative gyrating was fairly...distracting...

As for Paul himself, the majority of his lyrics may have eluded the audience but his high speed rapping was near flawless.  That said, many of the songs had a rewind near the start - whether this was for effect or because of timing mistakes was unclear.  The focus was clearly on the music, as Paul's stage banter never got past "dis is for da sexy ladies in da house" before almost every song.  Despite the dancers, this wasn't much of a performance.

What's commendable though is the sheer, relentless energy of both Paul and the dancers, owing to the seemingly endless supply of towels that were swung over his head and into the audience.  There's a complete lack of pretension to his music and it undoubtedly created an electric club atmosphere in the venue.  It might not be musically clever, but it can't be beaten for pure, unadulterated, sexy fun.  The majority of his songs are simply about getting down in the club - and that's exactly what occurred.


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Linkin Park - Living Things

Having drifted from their nu metal beginnings, 'Living Things' was hyped to be a return to form for Linkin Park. In reality, the album does feature the anthemic choruses of their old material but expands upon the electronica of experimental previous album 'A Thousand Suns', thus offering a blend of old and new.

A handful of tracks, such as Lies Greed Misery and Victimized, do favour the thrashing guitars, pounding drums and screaming vocals of the band's debut 'Hybrid Theory', but these are notably the shortest tracks - a token effort. At the opposite end of the spectrum, tracks such as Skin To Bone and Until It Breaks border on hip-hop, emphasising rap and processed beats in a similar manner to the band's 'Reanimation' remix album. Meanwhile, opening track Lost In The Echo manages to merge glistening synths with weighty guitar riffs and mixes both rap and singing. It captures some old magic, making the familiar seem fresh again.

Elsewhere, the band shy away from the guitars in a series of mid-tempo rock ballads laced with electronica. They provide an equilibrium of styles, with big choruses, gentle piano and soaring vocals. Recent single Burn It Down is a prime example, as is Castle of Glass with its long melodic lines, chugging beat and chorus lyric "I'm only a crack in this castle of glass". The album ends with power ballad (and ironically titled) Powerless, its piano introduction building to an epic crescendo at the chorus's final line "I was by your side, powerless". Evidently, the band are still in emo territory with their lyrics, despite their musical progression, though these tracks never quite surpass their spiritual predecessors (In The End, Numb, What I've Done et al).

So, rather than a step backwards to their older style, the varying tracks of 'Living Things' encompass the whole catalogue of the band's material but in updated form - a consolidation if you will. Although not totally forgotten, it's clear that the band have left their nu metal roots behind. Whilst this may upset some fans, it represents a band who are maturing with the times and continue to remain relevant - a commendable feat.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Lost In The Echo
* Burn It Down
* Powerless

Listen: 'Living Things' is available now.

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

Monday, 25 June 2012

Conor Maynard - Vegas Girl

Despite being the UK's answer to Justin Bieber, it's comforting to know that, judging by the video to Vegas Girl, Maynard's pulling skills still aren't up to scratch, let alone his "massage technique".  What exactly is he planning on using that picture for, besides spreading it across Twitter?

And like Bieber's latest effort, Vegas Girl is similarly full of references. I mean, the girl he's after is "looking so good with ya poker face", can "run the world [like] Queen B" and is "unthinkable" like Alicia.  She's so hot he'll "forget your name like Rihanna".  You don't stand a chance Conor.  No hard feelings.

Otherwise this is deja vu for Maynard compared with Can't Say No.  The beat is practically identical, with similarly grinding basslines and swirling synths.  It's certainly catchy, but it's unlikely to hit the same heights as his debut.

And as the boy who can't say no, spending his nights dreaming of women way out of his league, he just comes across as a horny teenager...and a bit of a perv.


Listen: Vegas Girl is released on 22nd July.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

When Saints Go Machine - Mannequin

When Saints Go Machine are one of the breakthrough artists of the past year.  'Konkylie' is the second album from the Danish electronic wizards and features the previously reviewed Church and Law - an epic stunner of dark musical magic.

Amongst the numerous gigs the band have played over the past few months, they've still found time to write new material and Mannequin is their latest effort.  In typical fashion it's ethereally atmospheric, the simmering synths of the verses making way for an expansive chorus, though it's looser than the tight choruses of Church and Law or Kelly and lacks a defining pop hook.  The final third expands the sound further, the production evolving from synthetic electronics to organic brass-dominated orchestra. Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild's vocal follows the opposite trajectory, his fluttering falsetto later swapped for disembodied robotics.  It's his ghostly voice that haunts the listener long after the music fades.

Kudos too for the darkly surreal animated video that matches the band's dramatic, moody music and their frightening choice of cover art.


Listen: Mannequin is available now.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Good Time - Owl City feat. Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen has been responsible for one of the biggest, catchiest (and most annoying) songs of the year so far in Call Me Maybe.
Adam Young, aka Owl City, is best known for his chiptune hit single Fireflies from back in 2009.

Together, they've created an unstoppable, gleefully happy cheese-fest.  As the titled suggests, this is a simple song with a clear message - have fun.  And listening to this, you can't help but sing and dance along, grinning from ear to ear.  As for the chorus, once that "whooa" hook slips easily into your brain you'll be hard-pressed to think of anything else.  Good Time is a chirpy little feel-good pop tune that does exactly what it says on the tin.

That said, give it a couple of weeks and, after endless repeats, this happiness could turn just as easily to hatred.


Listen: Good Time is released on 26th June.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

HalfNoise - Free The House

The premise behind HalfNoise, the new band put together by ex-Paramore drummer Zach Farro, is to combine "the ambiance of bands from Iceland with the sampling and electronic elements of Radiohead".  That's certainly apparent from the intro, with its electronics, glockenspiel and falsetto vocal.  Farro is clearly trying to distance himself from his previous involvement with Paramore by choosing contrasting influences, though, as you'd expect, the music is underpinned by some powerful drums.

Yet, for all its icy, fluttering wonderment, Free The House sounds derivative.  It's as if HalfNoise have simply cut and pasted elements from their favourite artists, sounding like a mash-up of Radiohead and Sigur Ros, with bits of Bon Iver and The Postal Service thrown in for good measure.  The sound, therefore, is more akin to that of recent breakthrough Clock Opera and their "chop-pop".  It's a decent first effort, but HalfNoise need to enrich their sound with some originality.


Watch: HalfNoise will be touring the States in June with Paper Route.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Justin Bieber - Believe

Aww.  It looks like baby baby baby is all grown up.

As recent single Boyfriend proved, Bieber is maturing as an artist - or at least trying to.  The rap lyrics might be contrived ("chillin' by the fire while we're eating fondue"), but with his voice finally breaking he's sounding increasingly like a young Justin Timberlake.

Indeed, the two major reference points for 'Believe' seem to be Timberlake and Michael Jackson, which is no bad thing.  The sound may be typical RnB-pop, but it's all slickly produced - from the pounding drums of As Long As You Love Me to the dance-dubstep feel of Take You.  Remove the autotune and close your eyes and this could justifiably be Timberlake singing.  Jackson's influence certainly comes across in bonus track Maria in which Bieber addresses the pregnant fan fiasco.  It's a cross between Billie Jean and Dirty Diana, with Bieber's falsetto vocal singing "that ain't my baby, that ain't my girl".  It's juxtaposed ironically with She Don't Like The Lights, though as two of the best offerings, it's a curiosity why these bonus tracks are not on the album proper.

Of course, Bieber has a team of producers and collaborators who have steered the musical direction, not least of all mentor Usher whose influence drips from 'Believe'.  One Love could easily be a Chris Brown track - himself an Usher wannabe.  The most interesting collaboration, though, comes from Drake in the form of Right Here.  With Drake's position as one of the foremost up-and-coming RnB artists, his inclusion here is a smart move and Right Here sounds utterly contemporary.  The references extend to the lyrics too, with Beyonce ("you can be my Destiny's Child"), Timberlake ("baby, senorita") and Prince ("we gonna party like it's 3012 tonight") amongst others.

It's with the ballads that Jackson's influence is heightened and, equally, where the album falls down - the modern production collapses and the juvenile lyrics are laid bare.  The melismatic chorus melody of Die In Your Arms and the light motown feel are very early Jacko-esque.  Fall, however, is vomit-inducingly saccharine ("did you know you're an angel who forgot to fly?"), the sort of "emotional" number you'd find in High School Musical.  It's matched by the title track, all "where would I be if you didn't believe".  Eugh.  Still, there's got to be something for the tweens amongst Bieber's mature efforts.

The bad lyrics aren't limited to Bieber himself though.  Opener All Around The World features Ludacris and his incomprehensible "you're imperfectly perfect".  What?!  Nicki Minaj later features in Beauty And A Beat, but whilst her own material is far too explicit for Bieber's younger fans, she's more concerned with keeping her "eye out for Selena" after sighing "Justin Bieber" uncomfortably provocatively.

So 'Believe' has turned out to be quite the surprise.  It's by no means original, but by selecting some choice reference points and influences amongst all the soppiness, this sophomore album is a decent effort from the fledgling popstar.


Gizzle's Choice:

* As Long As You Love Me
* Right Here
* Maria

Listen: 'Believe' is available now.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Billy Budd - ENO @ The Coliseum

Britten's Billy Budd, based on the Hermann Melville novel of the same name (most famous as the author of Moby Dick), is one of his most overtly sexual operas.  Britten expanded upon Melville's exploration of male relationships within the context of his own homosexuality, for an opera with some disturbing undertones.  Yet this new production by ENO, directed by David Alden, plays down the sexuality of the piece for a lucid, yet straightforward, interpretation.

Billy Budd takes place aboard the 'HMS Indomitable', a world of strict rules and regulations.  The Captain, Edward Fairfax Vere, (played with penetrating authority by tenor Kim Begley) is forced to choose between his love for new recruit Billy (the embodiment of youth, goodness and beauty) and his duty to the navy when Billy accidentally murders the cruel Master-at-Arms aboard the ship.  It's this dichotomy of love and duty that forms the backbone of the opera, with Alden leaning heavily towards the latter.

Alden's 'Indomitable' eschews the eighteenth century naval tropes the libretto demands and instead takes on an almost communist ideology.  With the events of the opera paralleling (temporally) the French Revolution, this concept becomes a subtle anti-British sentiment that transforms the politics of the ship into a totalitarian dictatorship by comparison to the "Frenchies".  The industrial setting is more modern, claustrophobic and hellish; the officers patrolling the ship in gun-metal grey trench coats and long leather jackets, their batons subtly indicating the sadist tendencies of the senior crew.  The choreography is highly regimented and linear and the set is sparse and starkly monochromatic to represent a clear divide between good and evil.  In this interpretation, Captain Vere is tragically bound by duty - the residing factor in his failure to save Billy - though the connotations of his celestial white dress feel forced.

The twisted sexuality of the opera falls almost entirely on Matthew Rose's John Claggart, the paedophilic Master-at-Arms.  In a menacing aria towards the end of the first Act, his sexual feelings towards the young Billy are explicitly marked and, by his own self-hatred, his intention to destroy Billy is announced. In forcing the Novice (played by Nicky Spence, who successfully balanced naivety and nastiness) to bribe Billy into mutiny, Claggart's position as a sexual deviant is unmistakeable, abusing his position of power for his own perverse gains. Rose's cold portrayal is suitably sinister, his deep bass tones ominous and intimidating, his feelings fetishized through the provocative use of Billy's scarf.

Yet this is the predominant instance of the opera's sexuality, which is elsewhere underplayed.  The subtext is arguably more noteworthy than the primary plot, especially in the context of Britten's own life and homosexuality.  The result, here, is a lucid plot that lacks some depth in its narrative - in total contrast to Alden's highly sexualised production of Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream last year.

Though fidgety in his early depiction of the bounding Billy, Benedict Nelson really hits his stride in his final aria where Billy is resigned to death, his beautifully rich voice well-suited to this more lyrical moment.  The all-male chorus offer the most arresting performance, however, in a bravado display of masculine power and strength - particularly the sea-shanties.  The orchestra, conducted by Edward Gardner, is able to match this power.  Britten's orchestration explores extremes of tessitura - from the highest piccolo flutters to the deepest contrabassoon rumblings.  At times, like the narrative, the tempo feels laboured, matching the slow-motion plodding work of the seamen.  But when the needs arise, the orchestra comes alive in sprightly fashion.

Alden's opera swaps sexual tension for puritanical authority, diminishing the opera's major subtext.  Yet this Billy Budd remains a gripping, if heavy-handed, production.


Watch: Billy Budd runs until 8th July.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Cheryl - A Million Lights

It's becoming increasingly clear how much of an influence Ashley Cole has had on Cheryl's career, which is, of course, fairly understandable.  In this rather candid interview on Popjustice, Cheryl states that the songs on her album weren't written with her in mind, but it's hard not to read into the lyrics.  Opening track Under The Sun claims "is this really my life now that I'm over you...I can finally feel alive" accompanied by football-esque chanting and it's followed by current single Call My Name, a transparent call to disassociate herself from Mr Cole.  Screw You is probably the biggest musical middle finger since Frankee's F U Right Back, matched by All Is Fair's chorus cry "this is war!". And with bonus tracks entitled Boys Lie (sung with such animosity) and Last One Standing, plus lyrics like Telescope's "you're in my bed with her", it's difficult to see the integrity in her change of name. 'A Million Lights' is hardly the equivalent break-up record to Rihanna's 'Rated R' that Cheryl so wants it to be.

Then there's Girl In The Mirror, Cheryl singing "I've been picking little fights with the girl in the mirror". There's that toilet attendant again. Or maybe it's a nod to the tabloids? Ok, maybe that's too far.

'A Million Lights' actually has a lot in common with Cheryl's protégé Alexandra Burke, with its string of identikit dance tracks. Except where Burke's heartbreak is on hold, Cheryl's is displayed for all the world to see. And when she's not busy shouting about Ashley, she's trying her damn hardest to be sexy - but it just doesn't work. The Lana Del Rey penned Ghetto Baby is a clear candidate here, its drawling melodies instantly recognisable as Del Rey's work. In her hands, this could have been an ironic statement, what with its clichéd hip-hop lyrics ("drop it like it's hot girl"). Yet Cheryl just doesn't have the sex appeal to pull off lines like "I know you're sick boy I wanna get the flu, I'm running temperatures thinking of your love boo". It just sounds contrived.  Rihanna's attitude and allure would be perfect here, though she's in a different class to Cheryl. The poor grammar and house feel of Sexy Den A Mutha is another failed attempt at cool.

In that same Popjustice interview, Cheryl claims to have purposefully used up-and-coming producers to generate a sense of "newness". Yet whilst this dub soaked dance-pop may be a new (if obvious) direction for Cheryl, it's hardly breaking new ground. The overuse of the obligatory dubstep breakdown reaches a peak at the abominable Girl In The Mirror, seeping into the album at large. More so, it's a fairly hypocritical statement to make when the lead single is produced by Calvin Harris. And with Will.I.Am at the wheel, his influence dripping from the whole album, it's clear who's at the helm. That said, Craziest Things, which features Will's vocals, is a catchy highlight. Another is This Is War, clearly the darker, mid-tempo cousin of Fight For This Love, despite being an innumerate example of Cheryl's need for autotune.

By dropping her surname, Cheryl undoubtedly wants us to forget the baggage and enjoy 'A Million Lights' for its simple pleasures. It's a tall order, but if you manage it there is some fun to be had here. That said, this hasn't instigated the final break from Ashley that Cheryl has hoped for.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Call My Name
* Craziest Things
* All Is Fair

Listen: 'A Million Lights' is available now.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Rock of Ages (2012) - Adam Shankman

"Well it can't be any worse than the show...can it?" I claimed entering the cinema.

How wrong I was.

The stadium anthems that form the backbone of Rock of Ages are meant to be heard live and at least the show features some decent vocal performances.  Here, we must suffer autotune and dreadful miming, lacking the visceral atmosphere of being there at a rock gig that, at its best, the show delivers. 

Remember the MGM musicals, the Golden Age of Hollywood?  Well Rock of Ages sh*ts all over it.  The sophistication and glamour of classical cinema is switched for the sex and alcohol fuelled glam-rock of the 1980s, singing Journey songs by the Hollywood sign.  Light-hearted amusement and coy flirtation is switched for sleaze and tongue-in-cheek irony.  But where the show often breaks the fourth wall to poke fun at itself, the film is a juvenile embarrassment, seguing into song with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.  And I don't think I've seen a film rely so heavily on montage.

As Stacee Jaxx, Tom Cruise is simply living out a boyhood fantasy.  He's clearly enjoying himself, but for the audience his nonsensical character is cringe-worthy.  Elsewhere, Russell Brand gives a lazy performance as himself, incapable of keeping up a consistent accent, whilst Alec Baldwin offers...very little.  Julianne Hough (Sherrie) and Diego Boneta (Drew) are evidently talented performers, but here they're stifled by autotune.

The film follows the same story as the show but with a few tweaks, such as Catherine Zeta Jones as uptight Mayor's wife Patricia Whitmore, taking the place of the show's German villain.  It's out of place, though, for an anti-rock churchwoman to sing Pat Benetar's classic Hit Me With Your Best Shot complete with provocative routine.  Her character attempts to emphasise a divide between the church and rock music, representing old and new values.  Yet it's hardly the black-white divide displayed in Shankman's previous film Hairspray, and the light bondage spanking scene between the Mayor and his mistress with rosary beads is a step too far.  Just as Hairspray successfully recreates 1950s deep-south America, Rock of Ages recreates 1980s LA with all the camp glitz you'd expect, but it's ultimately a shallow representation.

Lastly, Rock of Ages has a problem with its audience.  Where young people will be attracted to the star cast and the premise, the music is from (to them) a bygone era.  Indeed, the film pokes fun at the music of today.  On the other hand, an older audience may relish the chance to relive their youth, but they'll be put off by the juvenile script and humour.

So who is this film for?  Frankly, it's for nobody.  Rock of Ages is an abomination on celluloid that no one should have to suffer.


Saturday, 16 June 2012

Kate Nash - Under-estimate The Girl

"Written and recorded in under 24 hours" the YouTube video for this new track proudly claims.  And it shows.

Under-estimate The Girl is a grunge rock effort from the London singer - miles away from the heartfelt, comedy dittys of her debut album 'Made of Bricks'.  What made tracks like Foundations work was Nash's honesty, but there's none of that here.  Instead, the track centres on a single, basic riff and simple drum pattern that often aren't even in sync.  A high-school band could probably write better.  Above this, Nash screams and squeals like a kitten have surgery without anaesthetic.  Thankfully, her vocals are so low in the mix as to be largely incomprehensible.

Clearly Nash has been massively overestimated, returning with a track that has none of the kooky appeal of her previous work.  Under-estimate The Girl is an utter car-crash of a song.


Listen: You can download this track for a limited time here.

Watch: Nash's 'My Ignorant Youth' tour travels across the UK through June and July.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Jedward - Young Love

The quiffs have been flattened and that can only mean one thing - Jedward have gone all Bieber on us.  On the plus side, it's now slightly easier to tell the brothers apart by the direction of their hair parting.

Let's not beat around the bush, this is dreadful - just not quite in the manner you might expect.  Young Love is as pathetic a ballad as the title suggests, all moping teenagers fawning over love letters and dirty tissues crying "what am I supposed to do?".  The video epitomises this, the brothers singing boyband style in an abandoned theatre to their myriad of fans.  None.  It's like they've already predicted their own demise.

What's worse is the total lack of excitement.  Gone are the bright jumpsuits, the terrible routines and the europop cheese.  Like mini Samsons, the loss of their quiffs has signalled a loss in comedy value.  Dare I say it - bring back the camp?


Listen: Young Love is available now, if you so desire to spend you hard earned cash on it.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Twelfth Night - Greenaway Productions @ Drayton Arms Theatre

Twelfth Night marks the debut production for new theatre company Greenaway Productions, a London-based actor-led company.  Their focus is on classical works and this is the first of two Shakespeare plays being performed at the newly re-opened Drayton Arms Theatre (the second being The Tempest).

Twelfth Night is probably Shakespeare's best known comedy and director Thomas Yarrow chose to play things safe with a fairly straightforward interpretation.  The simple staging consisted of classical collonades laced with ivy and, at the centre, a water fountain used with great comic effect to splash and dunk the actors.  The emphasis, therefore, was on the acting and the plot.

As is often the case, the comic subplot involving the deception of Malvolio is far more interesting than the primary narrative.  Graham Elwell's turn to madness as the churlish steward was hilariously played, foiled by the cartoonish gang of misfits led by Virginia Byron's giggling Maria and Sid Herbert's expressive Sir Toby Belch.  Ed Martineau was less successful, his Sir Andrew Aguecheek a fidgeting public schoolboy.

The real star was Joshua Manning as the gentle fool Feste, who showed great stage presence and who's resonant bass tones and guitar playing provided musical accompaniment.  Nadia Clifford also shone as Cesario, with boyish charm and modern mannerisms.

Yet this hints at a flaw in the production, which had a slight lack of focus in its concept.  Yarrow seemed unsure whether this was a traditional Twelfth Night or an update for contemporary audiences.  The acting, added modern mannerisms to Shakespeare's script, which worked for some characters more than others, whilst the music used offered a diverse range of styles.  The audience entered to some traditional lute music, whilst orchestral interludes accompanied some of the scenes, and Feste's singing at times bordered on Elvis-esque blues.  A more unified style would have been beneficial, perhaps utilising Manning's musical ability to transform Feste into an omnipresent balladeer and tie the scenes together.

At its core, though, this production of Twelfth Night was lucid and easily digestible for an entertaining evening of laughs, lyrical and witty poetry, and, of course, cross-dressing.


Watch: Twelfth Night runs from 5th-30th June, with The Tempest following from 3rd-21st July.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

T.E.E.D - Trouble

For most, T.E.E.D (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs) aka DJ and producer Orlando Higginbottom, is best known for his track Garden used in the recent Nokia advert.  But, as his debut album 'Trouble' proves, there's far more material for fans of his dance music to enjoy.

Stylistically, T.E.E.D marries the stuttering beats and whomping basslines of SBTRKT with the funky house of Daft Punk and the rave crescendos of Deadmau5.  The complex drum patterns and jungle percussion are T.E.E.D's trademark, along with his melancholic, icy cool vocal reminiscent of Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor.  Opening track Promises pairs these infectious beats with dreamy synth pads, whilst the squelching electronica of following track (and current single) Trouble combine with the beat for hypnotic effect, doubled by the listless vocal repeating "you make me happy".  We're all with you there Orlando.

Shimmer is a real standout, its synth riffs literally shimmering and fluttering against the beat.  Household Goods and Tapes & Money also stand out for their rave appeal, whilst Your Love is pure funky house and You Need Me On My Own is a mid-tempo relaxed affair - both having subtle nods to Daft Punk.  The aforementioned Garden, with its catchy rhythms and female vocal, is sure to be an album highlight for many.

These tracks represent T.E.E.D at his best.  Elsewhere, the techno-jungle beats take over and there's a distinct lack of invention.  Tracks like Panpipes and Solo have masterfully crafted beats, but due to over-repetition it leads to zoning out before the stronger tracks draw the listener back in.

The latter half of 'Trouble' depends more on these beat-heavy tracks, resulting in an album that tails off at its end.  Still, the distinct style and unmistakable hooks of the earlier tracks are well worth the price of admission and are sure to be heard repeatedly throughout the summer.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Trouble
* Shimmer
* Tapes & Money

Listen: 'Trouble' is available now.

Watch: T.E.E.D has a tonne of upcoming gigs worldwide.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Usher - Looking 4 Myself

Climax promised so much.  A more traditional RnB track with a modern electronic twist, it paved the way for an album that steered clear of the dance style of Usher's recent tracks.  Sadly, that's not the case.  Following recent single Scream, tracks like Can't Stop Won't Stop (which steals from Uptown Girl of all places) and Numb (surely the next single) are pure Guetta and hardly the "revolutionary pop" Usher's been aspiring to.

As the title suggests, this album sees Usher trying to re-establish his position in the industry.  The title track is actually one of the highlights, featuring Empire of the Sun's Luke Steele, it's repetition of the line "I'm looking for myself" a clear indication of Usher's intention.  It's not until the final track that he finally finds Euphoria, but it's not quite the musical high the title might insinuate.

In looking for himself, Usher has worked with a number of producers and songwriters.  His trademark falsetto and vocal gymnastics are still present, but it's diluted by a number of outside influences.  And that does result in some interesting tracks you may not expect.  Many of those were produced by Rico Love - listen for the signature "turn the lights off" sample.  Twisted features Pharrell on additional vocals, the motown production contrasting with the future feel of the album at large and allowing Usher's voice to take the fore.  Lessons For The Lover follows in the footsteps of Climax, as another RnB ballad updated with sparse electronica.  Sins of My Father sees Usher in fine voice, as he laments "she didn't make me pay for it with my money..." over a slow latin beat.  The Deluxe version includes I.F.U which has a more hip-hop flavour accompanied weirdly by a folk violin sample.

Yet for each of these tracks, there's a Scream, a Show Me, a Numb or a Euphoria - all catchy tracks with undoubted hands-in-the-air appeal but lacking in originality.  The latter especially, all trance synths and whomping bass, is a surefire hit. It's just clear there is a significant rift between Usher the dance-pop star and Usher the creative artist.

Two songs particularly stand out though, not only as evidence of Usher's reliance on cliched hip-hop idioms (sex and success), but for their utter repulsion.  Dive is one of the filthiest songs in pop history.  Not only do the "walls" look like they might "precipitate" (eugh), but "it's raining inside your makes you so wet, your legs, your thighs".  What's worse is Usher's sweet vocal sung to the laidback beat.  I just hope he's got an umbrella.

What Happened To U stands out for Usher's sheer audacity.  "In no time" he's got "money clouds, fancy cars, big old cribs, platinum on the wall, seven grammys [and] sold out concerts".  His response?  "Damn I've been working hard".  Well then Usher, perhaps it's time to have a little rest, eh?


Gizzle's Choice:
* Climax
* Looking 4 Myself
* Lessons for the Lover

Listen: 'Looking 4 Myself' is available now, in standard and deluxe editions.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Chromatics - These Streets Will Never Look The Same

Autotune.  Whilst many rely on it in the absence of vocal talent, in the right hands it can add an otherworldly quality to the music.  Kanye based a whole album around it for '808s & Heartbreak' and Channy Leaneagh, lead singer of recent breakthrough Poliça, uses it with haunting effect.

Chromatics are the latest to use autotune for new single These Streets Will Never Look The Same, taken from their album 'Kill For Love' released back in March (pictured).  Ruth Radelet is usually on vocal duty, but with the use of autotune on this track, the gender is obscured into androgyny, becoming simply a voice from the future.

Chromatics are an American electronic band who formed back in 2001 and are signed to the indie label Italians Do It Better, co-founded by Johnny Jewel.  Jewel is not only a member of the band and producer of 'Kill For Love', but was responsible for the Drive soundtrack released on the same label (featuring Tick of the Clock by the band).  Consequently, the music of Chromatics has that same future-retro vibe of the film that seems so perfectly now.  These Streets Will Never Look The Same features layers of atmospheric synths, pulsating against the swirling vocal for a real cinematic quality.  The stylish black and white video also features a nod to the late Donna Summer in its final moments.

For fans of the Drive soundtrack (and electronica as a whole), this track and the full album are a must listen.


Listen: 'Kill for Love' is available now.

Watch: Chromatics will be supporting Hot Chip on their US tour in the summer.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Misha B - Home Run

From week to week, Misha B was a sure-fire winner on last year's X Factor, putting her own twist on a number of songs from different genres.

But with her debut single, she's taken this mantra to heart with a track that throws everything into the kitchen sink.  It begins with a soulful, Winehouse-esque intro that doesn't link to the rest of the song and makes little sense.  When the stuttering beat kicks in, the song becomes a confusing mix of singing, rapping, enormous hooks, RnB/hip-hop production and womping bass.  Most of all, it's fitting that the YouTube video is surrounded by adverts for Nicki Minaj, as Misha does her best (admittedly catchy) Minaj impression.

Where previous contestant Aiden Grimshaw has taken his time before releasing a record with focus and originality, Misha has seemingly cobbled together a quick release with broad appeal but little imagination.


Listen: Home Run will be released on July 15th.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Blood Diamonds feat Grimes - Phone Sex

It takes someone with talent to make steel drums sound cool.

But that's just what Blood Diamonds, aka Canadian producer Mike Tucker, has achieved with Phone Sex.  This isn't the sort of dirrty RnB the title may insinuate, but a sunshine infused slice of electro-dance.  Said drums provide a tropical air, perfect for lazy days on the beach.

The draw for many will be the unmistakeable, girlish vocals of fellow Canadian Grimes.  Her voice adds a real dreamy quality, even if the "Hey Daddy" melody bares a striking resemblance to the Vengaboys.  Fans of Grimes looking for a summer anthem beyond her excellent album 'Visions' will find much to enjoy here.


Listen: Phone Sex is released on 16th July in the UK.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Friends - Manifest!

Friend Crush makes for a very suitable opening to the Brooklyn band's debut album.  The chorus lyric "I wanna be your friend" invites us in, as well as the title providing a subtle link to Friends' previous name Perpetual Crush.

More so, it's exemplary of the band's style, along with previous single I'm His Girl.  Their music is difficult to define, combining elements of indie, punk, funk and disco into a unique sound; an intoxicating mix of female vocals, grinding guitars, melodic basslines and rhythmic percussion.  There's also a smattering of synths, as in Friend Crush amongst others.  I'm His Girl has become a striking anthem for the band, creating a sexy mood for lazy evenings in the throws of twilight.

These two singles are without doubt the best tracks of 'Manifest!'.  The other tracks don't have the same allure, though there's still plenty to enjoy.  A Thing Like This stands out for its woozy mix of slide bass, jangling guitars, synth melodies and hazy falsetto vocal - perfect festival material.  Second track Sorry has an ethnic feel with its clattering percussion and grunting "ooh's" and "aah's", the yearning chorus "I want you to come over to my house" providing a memorable hook.  Later there's penultimate track Va Fan Gor Du - an upbeat party track that, after a few ciders, will have people dancing in fields right through the summer.  Other tracks are less successful, such as next single Mind Control with its squeaking chorus and the clattering Ruins.

The production has a lo-fi feel to it, which brings pros and cons.  On the one hand, it adds a rawness to the music, an element of retro nostalgia, that contrasts to the precedence of slickly produced RnB and sounds more like a live recording.  On the other hand, the album does lack some polish, with the band not always sounding as tight as they could.

'Manifest!' is very much on one level, proving that Friends are very good at what they do, with a unique sound they rarely stray from.  This is sure to be a hit summer album, but its popularity may fade with the setting sun.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Friend Crush
* A Thing Like This
* I'm His Girl

Listen: 'Manifest!' is available now.

Watch: Friends will be playing a number of gigs across the UK and US in the coming months.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Hot Chip - In Our Heads

'In Our Heads' is the fifth album from the London electro-band since forming in 2000, releasing an album consistently every two years.  Although the Mercury Prize nominated 2006 album 'The Warning' is often considered their best work, 'In Our Heads' provides stiff competition - even if it doesn't stray too far from the band's typical indie-electro sound.

The album is a dizzying rush of funk basslines, fizzing synths and Alexis Taylor's signature vocal.  Hot Chip have always straddled the line between disco and pop and 'In Our Heads' is no exception.  Don't Deny Your Heart for example is pure retro pop, with hints of Michael Jackson's Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough, but its funk bass and rhythms are perfect for the dancefloor.  Current single Night and Day, meanwhile, is set to be a club classic in addition to the considerable radio airplay it's already received, in addition to the previously heard Flutes.

The album does lack a killer tune akin to Ready For The Floor, but it makes up for this in the overall quality on offer.  Song by song, 'In Our Heads' consistently provides high quality production, pop melodies seamlessly integrated into club beats with plenty of hands in the air potential.  Even at its slowest, with Look At Where We Are, the production continues to excite with its subtle shifts of instrumentation.  Opener Motion Sickness features greater use of live instruments, replicating the band's gig experience on record.  These Chains and closer Always Been Your Love provide a more chilled vibe, proving the band have strong variety.  The album does sag a little two thirds through, with some of the songs feeling overly long - particularly the intros, even if this is a drawback of the club genre.

However, any flaws are by no means detrimental to the whole.  Hot Chip have delivered a solid album of joyous, ecstatic floorfillers that cannot fail to put a smile on your face.  The excitement of their earlier albums has given way to an accomplished body of work with consistency of quality.  Ignore their dorky image; these guys have delivered some of the coolest pop music of the year.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Motion Sickness
* Don't Deny Your Heart
* These Chains

Listen: 'In Our Heads' is released on 11th June.

Watch: Hot Chip have a tonne of upcoming worldwide gigs


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Alexandra Burke - Heartbreak On Hold

It's fitting that there's a track on this album called Daylight Robbery.  For this, her second album following debut 'Overcome' (2010), Burke has simply pilfered from a variety of pop sources to create fourteen tracks of identikit rubbish.  And as executive producer with an "unreal" amount of control, she only has herself to blame.

Burke storms in with the title track in a blaze of synths and auto-tuned vocals that sets the tone of 'Heartbreak On Hold', through current single Let It Go and beyond.  Pop-house is the order of the day with a series of tracks that are barely indistinguishable, unashamedly following David Guetta's musical template.  Previous single Elephant is pure 90s house, whilst Oh La La steals the "la da dee la da da" from Crystal Waters' Gypsy Woman of 1991.  The opening of Sitting On Top Of The World is practically ripped from Robyn's With Every Heartbeat, whilst the strings of This Love Will Survive could easily be from The Wanted's All Time Low.  And Love You That Much is clearly in Kylie/Jessie J europop mode, even if it is catchy as hell.  What Money Can't Buy stands out as the only ballad, proving (at last) that Burke is a perfectly capable singer without the need for robotics.  It's the sort of schmaltz Alicia Keys would be proud of.

Lyrically, this is equally vapid, as Burke puts her "heartbreak on hold" in order to get laid on the dancefloor.  There's also plenty of obligatory innuendo, like Oh La La's "there's a chance for romance if you rise to the occasion".  Then again, the chorus of Between The Sheets - "the only thing between us should be the sheets" - defeats the point.  Surely skin to skin would be more beneficial?

Yes, there's some infectious pop stuff here.  But that awkward elephant will be having a field day when Burke's lack of originality bites her in the ass.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Let It Go
* Love You That Much

Listen: 'Heartbreak On Hold' is available now.

Watch: Burke will be performing at a number of pop festivals across the summer.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Noonie Bao - Do You Still Care?

Now for something a bit different.

Sweden has long been a hub for modern pop music, and I'm not just talking about the recent Eurovision win.  Equally, there's more to Swedish music than electro-pop, as Noonie Bao proves.

A young singer-songwriter from Stockholm, she focused her craft in Switzerland as a teenager and now, aged 24, is signed to EMI.  Her music is inspired by folk, in a similar vein to fellow Swede Lykke Li, but with a lighter touch.  Do You Still Care? begins as a playful piano ditty, incorporating synths and buoyant percussion.  There's a sense of carefree joviality, culminating in a middle eight that features a panpipes solo.  Yet lyrically this tells of heartbreak, "you are on your way and I'm still searching", with said panpipes accompanying Bao's "it rips my heart out".  This juxtaposition of joy and sorrow is central to the song's appeal, seeping into the video which was shot in New Delhi for the festival of Holi.  As colourful as it is, you can't help but feel the song's title is subtly aimed at the West and our views of the third world.


Listen: Do You Still Care? is available now.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Bo Bruce - Search The Night

Rather than auditioning random members of the public a la Mr Cowell and his X Factor juggernaut, the BBC chose many contestants for The Voice who at least had some experience.  And none more so than Bo Bruce, who released this EP back in 2010.  She may not have won, but this collection of songs is already in the album charts this week.

Bruce differed from the other contestants in that she sang with some emotion, rather than entering the battle with an "I can sing higher and louder than you" attitude armed to the teeth with vocal gymnastics.  Sadly the voting public ultimately didn't pick up on this.  Bruce's breathy falsetto is similar to the likes of Ellie Goulding and 2008 X Factor contestant Diana Vickers and her vocal hiccups likewise annoy.

With 'Search The Night', Bruce fails to differentiate herself from her peers with a series of bland, piano-based, synthy ballads.  It's all a bit female-emo Coldplay, the five songs sounding almost identical and containing little of the personality Bruce exudes in those sad eyes and in her fashion sense.  Most criminally of all, there is not one decent chorus on offer.  Needless to say, the songwriting needs some work.

Yet, now that she's caught the public's attention (and no doubt some cash-hungry industry types), there is promise for Bo Bruce.  With some decent songs to match her distinct voice, she has the potential to go far.


Listen: 'Search The Night' is available now.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) - Rupert Sanders

With his adaptation of the traditional fairy tale, and his cinematic debut, Rupert Sanders has fused the story of Snow White with the current trend for vampires and the gothic, casting Kristen Stewart in the titular role.

The plot follows the traditional tale in all its simplicity, yet relies on your prior knowledge and explains little - despite a lengthy exposition.  It settles for weaving the conventional elements into its twisted story that sees the huntsman becoming the princess's saviour rather than killer.  There's little dialogue, the few lines spoken as hackneyed as the tale itself.

But after all, this is a fairy tale and the visuals at least do provide some magic.  Sanders offers a dark fantasy realm that's as frightening as it is beautiful.  One scene in particular takes the typical concept of the princess at one with nature and creates an enchanting scene that's miles from a Disney cartoon.  As Snow White's quest to overthrow the Queen takes her deeper into the rabbit hole, so the visuals become more spectacular.  That said, the designs aren't especially original, clearly influenced by Tim Burton's work and del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.

Yet the main purpose of the gothic visuals is, seemingly, to let Stewart into her comfort zone as she's stuck in morose Twilight mode.  Her princess is torn between a Joan of Arc-esque female warrior with dirt under her nails and a girl of compassion, ultimately delivering an unemotional performance.  By contrast, Charlize Theron is positively terrifying as the evil, bird-like Queen, a role that sees her taking on an icy persona similar to her simultaneous role in Prometheus.  Hemsworth's huntsman, meanwhile, is used for little more than eye candy and the love triangle between him, Snow White and Sam Claflin's William is underdeveloped and dissatisfying.

The film is stolen, however, by the dwarves, played in hilarious fashion by the likes of Ray Winstone and Nick Frost.  They inject some much needed humour into an otherwise slow-moving dirge so consumed with putting the grim into the Brothers Grimm, it fails to enchant its audience.