Monday, 31 December 2012

Bastille - Flaws


After signing to EMI's Virgin Records at the start of December, London-based Bastille (fronted by Dan Smith) are a strong prospect for 2013.  A number of EPs have been released in preparation for debut album 'Bad Blood' (due in March), of which Flaws is the most recent single.

Smith's music is difficult to categorize, inhabiting a space between pop, indie and electro.  There are hints of Ellie Goulding's electro-acoustic combo, Florence Welch's emo melodrama and Hurts' indie-electro cool.  Despite receiving considerable industry attention, Flaws is perhaps Smith's weakest offering - a jaunty tune that lacks memorable pop hooks, though clearly inspired by pop sensibilities.  B-side Durban Skies is a moodier and more evocative affair, whilst previous EP 'Overjoyed' features the reggae-influenced Sleepsong and dramatic electro-piano-ballad Overjoyed.

This musical schizophrenia culminates in Smith's two mixtapes, 'Other People's Heartache Parts 1&2', that feature unlikely and eclectic mash-ups of 90's and 00's tracks, including Frank Ocean, Haddaway, Lana Del Rey, Corona, TLC and Clint Mansell's soundtrack to 'Requiem For A Dream'.  Available for free on the Bastille website, the mixes are awesome and prove Smith undoubtedly has a talent for production.  Whether this can be applied to his own material remains to be seen.


3/5

Listen: His mixtapes are available for free on the Bastille website, whilst various EPs are available now.  Debut album 'Bad Blood' is released in March 2013.

Watch: Bastille performs across the UK throughout March, details here.



Sunday, 30 December 2012

The 1975 - Sex



With two EPs released this year, there's a wealth of material already available from this hotly tipped Manchester band.  Sex is the current single taken from their most recent EP of the same name - a youthful, sexually charged anthem on a par with The Killers' Mr Brightside.  Layers of dizzying guitars swirl atop drums in a stadium-sized mix, with sing-along lyrics depicting a young love affair ("she said 'use your hands and my spare time, we've got one thing in common it's this tongue of mine'").

Elsewhere, previous EP 'Facedown' includes single The City that's currently receiving airplay on Radio 1.  Similarly to Sex, it features anthemic guitar and vocal hooks tinged with melancholy.  The remainder of the band's EP tracks experiment with electro sounds, proving they're not just about the guitars.  It hints that their debut album (due in 2013) has plenty of room for variety as they continue to consolidate their sound.  In the meantime the band are touring the UK - hopefully at sizeable venues able to fully accomodate their dreamy guitar music.

4/5

Listen: EPs 'Sex' and 'Facedown' are available now.

Watch: The 1975 are currently touring the UK, details on their website.



Friday, 28 December 2012

The Saturdays feat. Sean Paul - What About Us?


There's something of a Brit invasion occurring in The States, what with the success of pop acts like One Direction and The Wanted.  Now it's the turn of The Saturdays, despite their debut single being released in the UK waaay back in 2008 (If This Is Love - remember that?!).  

Stateside success has been a long time coming and what better way to introduce themselves than with a new single and an E! reality TV show?  

Ok, the TV show is probably unnecessary, but What About Us is a decent enough tune.  It's a predictable dance-pop track as has become de rigeur for the girls.  And of course the middle eight features a rap from Sean Paul, providing an extra shot of urban that American listeners are sure to appreciate, even if it hints at a slight change of direction for the new audience that doesn't live up to their original pop sound.  It might not show off the girls' voices particularly, but the hook is undoubtedly a memorable one.  However, for anyone who's new to the girl group, there are better pop tracks in their back catalogue.

2/5

Listen: What About Us is available now in The States and will be released in the UK in early 2013.


Update:  Here's the official video. But what happened to Sean Paul?!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Tom Odell - Songs From Another Love


First came the BBC Sound of 2013 nomination, then came the Brits Critics' Choice Award shortly after.  It's safe to say that Tom Odell is the man of the moment.

In fact, he's the first man to win the female dominated Critic's Choice award (following the likes of Emeli Sande, Jessie J and Adele), which may have more to do with his winning than the music (especially considering his rivals AlunaGeorge and Laura Mvula are far more distinct).

That's not to say that Odell isn't a worthy contender, as his EP 'Songs From Another Love' reveals.  The comparison to Jeff Buckley's evocative troubadour songs is just, every crack in Odell's vocal imbued with heart-breaking darkness.  There's a great influence of Chris Martin too, particularly the sliding vocal melodies of Sense accompanied solely by piano.  Can't Pretend continues the Coldplay vibe, whilst the thrumming guitar of demo track Stay Tonight is similar to Ben Howard (the current top dog of the troubadour world).

It's the polished title track Another Love that stands out most though.  Odell's voice whispers and breaks with alluring fragility, before powerfully soaring above the crescendo of piano and drums.  It's a sound indebted to the past rather than heralding an exciting new fusion of styles, but Odell is certainly an accomplished talent.  However, there will be plenty of hurdles in 2013 if he is to live up to his influences.

3/5

Listen: 'Songs From Another Love' is available now.



Monday, 24 December 2012

Life of Pi (2012) - Ang Lee


What is the meaning of faith?  What is truth?  Is there a religious force that propels us through our lives, or are we bound to our animal instincts?

These are all questions posed by Life of Pi, based on the novel by Yann Martel.  Deeply philosophical, the narrative wraps up its metaphysical core in a simple story of an Indian boy (Pi - Suraj Sharma) lost at sea with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker after a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean.  It's a story that resonates with the likes of Noah's Ark, Kipling's The Jungle Book and the poetry of William Blake.

Pi recounts his story to an author through flashbacks.  But how much of his story is true?  On telling a different story of the same series of events, Pi asks us "which story do you prefer?".  As with religion and faith, the story is a personal journey that each viewer will see differently.  In this respect it parallels religious writing - is this simply a fantastical tale, or is there truth in the extraordinary events?

Either way, this is a visually stunning, if dramatically ponderous, story.  Just as Pi is lost in the ocean, it's easy for the audience to become lost in a sea of metaphors, the religious connotations perhaps too much for some.  The narrative moves along like the still water lapping against Pi's lifeboat.  Certainly, this is not a film for children.

The slow pace does allow the audience to admire the visuals.  Would you expect anything less from Ang Lee?  The opening credits resemble a BBC documentary with its views of the Pondicherry zoo, the camera framing each species in sublime detail.  All that's missing is a David Attenborough commentary.  Once Pi arrives at sea, the golden hued water shimmers into the horizon, the stars are reflected in an endless curtain of night, and distant overhead shots cleverly mimic the cover of the novel.  The heavy use of CGI only serves to emphasise the magic of Pi's tale as he is visited by wildlife.  Colour saturates each frame, vibrance radiating from the screen in a warm glow.  It must be noted that in 3D this colour is considerably diminished by the dark glasses, though Lee's artistic vision still shines through.

Life of Pi may not be the most exciting of films, but the phrase 'thought-provoking' doesn't even begin to cover it.  At the least, this film is a must-see for the visuals alone.

3/5

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city



‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ has been trumpeted in many end of year lists and for good reason – this is Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut following years of mixtapes (both solo and with hip-hop crew Black Hippy) and is one of the top hip-hop albums of the year. 

A concept album, the extended narrative depicts a semi-autobiographical take on gang life in Lamar’s hometown of Compton, California.  In a time of single releases and bland filler, this is an album that demands to be listened to in full.

“Lord God, I come to you a sinner and I humbly repent for my sins”, the album begins.  The non-linear narrative is cleverly structured, delivering a story-arc that sees Lamar develop from an impressionable teen to a faith-driven adult.  This opening to the album foreshadows what’s to come, before delving into a vivid depiction of gang life filled with money, sex, drugs and crime.  

The Art of Peer Pressure marks the start of Lamar’s downfall, “I’ve never been violent until I’m with the homies…we tryna conquer the city with disobedience”.  From there, events spiral out of control.  Money Trees sees Lamar dreaming of “living life like rappers do”, sleeping with women and robbing homes, the song’s chorus repeating “Everybody gon’ respect the shooter, but the one in front of the gun lives forever”.  Swimming Pools (Drank) centres on the glamorous and cultural importance of alcohol in raising status (“first you get a swimming pool full of liquor then you dive in”), the second verse of which has Lamar’s conscience “hopin’ to lead [him] to victory”, the lyrics gradually becoming more fragmented as Lamar’s drunken state blurs his thoughts.  m.A.A.d city gives us the album’s narrative in miniscule, beginning with an overall impression of the world Lamar has been swept into, a world where innocents are killed, grudges are held and “all hell broke loose…bodies on top of bodies”.  Half way through we’re told “I’mma teach you some lessons about the street, it ain’t nothin’ but a Compton thing” as we hear first-hand of the city’s violence.  At the centre of it all is “Kendrick a.k.a Compton’s sacrifice”. 

The lyrics are accompanied by slick production – the glossy sheen a foil to the rough scenarios Lamar illustrates.  Glamorous, downbeat and atmospheric, the changing music parallels Lamar’s growth in character and allows the listener to brood on each situation.  Sound effects and guest appearances only add to the complex layers of musical textures.

Integrated into the tracks are a number of spoken interludes adding a sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings.  As such, the album portrays a cross-section of gang life – multi-faceted and shockingly real.  Listening to the album, it becomes clear why Lamar labelled it a “short film” on the front cover.  These skits provide dramatic context to the lyrics, driving the narrative and contrasting varying viewpoints.  The opening track ends with an intrusive voicemail from Lamar’s mother and father (“I hope you ain't out there messin' with them damn hoodrats...where my mother fuckin’ Dominos at?”).  When juxtaposed with subsequent track Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, the meaning is clear.  Yet that track is also a statement of intent: ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ is Lamar’s opus and nothing will stand in his way.

Swimming Pool (Drank) ends with a violent shootout, leading us into the twelve minute long Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst - the turning point of the album.  The gentle first half laments the deaths of various characters, their verses fading away into nothing.  This causes Lamar to renounce his gang lifestyle: “Tired of running… How many sins? I lost count”.  It’s followed by a skit where Lamar is told he’s dying of thirst (“that means you need holy water”) and he prays and repents for his sins.  Finally, Lamar has become the good kid in a mad city, a nickname he gave himself.  This is followed by Real, Lamar’s statement of being true to himself, and Compton, a love letter to his home-town in which he asks everyone to “serenade the new faith of Kendrick Lamar” and shows his love for the city – “ain’t no city quite like mine”.

And there ain’t no album quite like this either.  Less a rapper and more a storyteller, Lemar’s dense lyrics and internal rhymes are richly provocative.  Listening to ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ is a cinematic experience and a powerfully detailed and visceral depiction.  “One day you respect the good kid, m.A.A.d city”, he says on good kid– it appears that day has come.

4/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
* Swimming Pool (Drank)
* Compton

Listen: ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ is available now.



Wednesday, 19 December 2012

BBC Sound of 2013


Yep, it's that time of year again.  As we look back at the best tracks and albums of the year (including the Gizzle's choice), we also look forward to the year ahead.  What's in store for 2013?

This year's BBC Sound Of list is fairly predictable, with some of 2012's best breakthrough acts inevitably making the cut (Haim, AlunaGeorge and The Weeknd especially).  And, as history continues to reveal, the strongest acts are the women.  Overall, though, it's certainly an exciting list of artists that look to the past and the future for inspiration, fusing genres and breaking rules.  

So, on with the show...

A*M*E
Born in Sierra Leone but raised in London, Amy Kabba (aka A*M*E) is an unabashed pop sensation and having caught the eye of Gary Barlow and toured with the likes of Jessie J, Kabba is well on her way to stardom.  Taking elements from the likes of Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj and Stooshe, her style is brash, colourful and takes no prisoners.  But this isn't mindless pop.  Debut single Play The Game Boy is a stonking piece of electro-pop, with an incredibly catchy hook.  "I'm breaking all the rules, who cares", she sings - expect plenty more rule-breaking in 2013.




AlunaGeorge
Recently revealed to be one of the most blogged about artists this year, it was a foregone conclusion that London duo AlunaGeorge would be included on this list.  George Reid's production stutters and shimmers in an amalgam of RnB and dance, whilst Aluna Francis' vocal brings a touch of soul.  Both You Know You Like It and official debut single Your Drums, Your Love were released this year and received considerable critical acclaim.  In short, AlunaGeorge are set for massive things this year.




Angel Haze
Last year's list had the provocative New York rapper Azealia Banks.  This year's choice from the Big Apple is Angel Haze.  Her hard-edged sound comprises violent beats and a rapid, unflinching vocal flow.  "I run New York" she repeats on single New York - soon she could be queen of hip-hop.  The next Missy Elliott?




Arlissa
Arlissa has come to prominence recently with her collaboration with Nas, Hard To Love Somebody, released on 9th December.  Yet this barely shows the real Arlissa, who's far from another RnB vocalist.  Citing Kate Bush as a key influence, her solo material has a slight Florence or Jessie Ware flavour to it, mixed with reggae and tribal beats.  Vocally, she has a big soulful voice with a unique tone and breathy inflections that lend a jazz feel.  With no solo singles released yet, it's hard to see what direction Arlissa will head in, but she's certainly an interesting prospect for 2013.




CHVRCHES
With The Mother We Share, CHVRCHES released one of the best electro-pop tracks of 2012.  Equally buoyant yet melancholic, the minimalist glitchy beats, scandi-pop production and catchy melodic riffs are paired with Lauren Mayberry's girlish, fragile vocal.  CHVRCHES are essentially Glasgow's answer to Robyn and the trio certainly have the talent to live up to the comparison.




Haim
Haim have created an unlikely crossroads where Americana and Fleetwood Mac folk-rock meet RnB harmonies and beats.  The three sisters from LA have truly broken into the mainstream this year with the release of their 'Forever' EP in February, recent single Don't Save Me and critical acclaim for their live performances, so their inclusion here was inevitable.  And with their debut album arriving next year, the best is yet to come.  If 2013 is set for a renaissance of rock music, then expect Haim to be at the forefront.




King Krule
Can Archy Marshall follow in the footsteps of fellow Brit Schoolers and 'Sound Of' winners Adele and Jessie J?  For a start, Marshall is utterly different - bedroom rock, with a vocal reminiscent of the likes of Morrissey or Get.Cape.Wear.Cape.Fly's Sam Duckworth.  The guitars and misery-soaked vocals are rooted in the past, but the sound is brought up-to-date with modern drum beats.  It's perhaps a sound that's too niche to break into the mainstream though.




Kodaline
This Irish band's debut single All I Want has already notched over a million views on YouTube, but this is perhaps more to do with the sweet video (a story of discrimination in the workplace) than the actual music.  Channelling the likes of Mumford & Sons, Coldplay and The Script, their sound is typical indie-folk-rock that could easily see mainstream success.  There's a fine line between charming and bland though, a line that Kodaline are in danger of crossing.




Laura Mvula
Ever since Adele emerged into the mainstream, labels have been desperate to find the next big soul singer.  Mvula, from Birmingham, is next in a long line of potential candidates.  The self-confessed "geeky kid of RnB" is classically trained, mixing soul and gospel influences in a timeless vocal.  Debut single She layers this vocal in rich harmonies atop minimal accompaniment with stunning effect.  If anyone can rise to Adele's heights, Mvula can.




Little Green Cars
This Irish folk group have probably the worst band name of the list, but they make up for it with their music.  Mumford & Sons certainly have much to answer for and Little Green Cars may seem somewhat indebted to the Mumford sound, but as they've already been together for five years their music is all their own.  Single The John Wayne features folky vocal harmonies accompanied by pulsating percussion and roaring guitars, surely epitomising folk-rock.  With their debut album finally set for release next year, Little Green Cars can hopefully drive some critical and commercial success.




Palma Violets
This band's single Best Of Friends was recently voted NME's track of 2012, but being championed by the renowned magazine is not always a surefire way to success (just look at Brother).  Palma Violets have signed to indie label Rough Trade, whose previous signings include The Strokes and The Libertines, which makes sense considering their low-fi indie-rock sound.  Yet whether the band can bring something new to the genre, or are just another victim of hype, remains to be seen.




Peace
Eclectic would be the best word to describe this band's EP 'Delicious'.  Comparisons with the likes of The Doors, Foals and Vampire Weekend are all relevant, from bluesy rock (Ocean's Eye) to calypso surf-pop (Bloodshake) and slow-burning guitar atmospherics (1998 (Delicious)).  It reeks of exciting potential but lacks definition - the band's first step in 2013 needs to cement their sound.




Savages
An all-female post-punk band is definitely a unique prospect in the noughties, but alongside Haim, Savages are spearheading a revival of female-driven rock.  Their live shows have garnered rapturous attention throughout the course of the year and for good reason - their driving rhythms, thrashing guitars and wailing vocals are enough to leave you breathless.  Hold on to your plectrums, we could be about to witness the return of punk to the mainstream.




The Weeknd
Abel Tesfaye's inclusion on this list is a curious addition, considering his mixtapes were originally released back in 2011 and his debut album 'Trilogy' was released in November this year.  It's as if the tastemakers are playing catch up.  Yet his inclusion is understandable.  Over the last two years Tesfaye has staked his claim as a true innovator with a stylistically important body of work.  As in the Gizzle's review of 'Trilogy', it "succeeds for its overall mood and originality...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".




Tom Odell
It's an incredibly saturated market for balladeers, but Odell's debut single Another Love is an accomplished and polished release.  It's typically heart-breaking, repeating "all my tears have been used up on another love" in a Chris Martin-esque combination of voice and piano.  There's an innate darkness to the music too as it slowly builds, Odell's vocal soaring above the driving accompaniment.  If Ben Howard played piano, this would likely be the result.



So that's the longlist, but who will make the shortlist?  All will be revealed during the first week of January.  In the meantime, here's the Gizzle's choice: 

* AlunaGeorge
* Chvrches
* Haim
* Savages
* The Weeknd


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream


As we come to the end of 2012, there’s no better time to catch up on any albums that may have passed you by.  Miguel’s ‘Kaleidoscope Dream’ should be at the top of your list.  Released in the early autumn, this is the second album from the Californian singer and has slipped under the radar for many Brits despite seeing critical and commercial success over in the States.

‘Kaleidscope Dream’ is an album of smooth and soulful RnB, influenced by psychedelic funk rock and the current trend for futuristic production.  In this respect, he sits alongside the likes of Drake, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Jai Paul – another component in a year dominated by RnB.  There may not be as much depth to the storytelling in comparison to his contemporaries, but he makes up for this in the album’s pop immediacy.  This is an altogether more frivolous and funky record, but also more accessible, and the spectacular production proves Miguel to be a true artist.

Lyrically, this sticks to the familiar themes of drugs, sex and alcohol – or, on How Many Drinks? sex and alcohol combined (“how many drinks will it take you to leave with me?”).  These songs may not be complex narratives (Candles In The Wind comes closest to his peers), but their simplicity is infectious – ranging from the sweet and loving Adorn (“just let my love adorn you”), to the pure sexual lust of Arch & Point (“baby arch your back and point your toes”).  There’s also an element of humour to Miguel’s work that keeps things light-hearted.  Do You begins with the line “do you like drugs?”, before playfully switching to “do you like hugs?”, whilst Pussy Is Mine is included not for gratuitous sex but to show Miguel as something of an improvising joker in the studio.  Throughout the album, his tenor vocals and falsetto take inspiration from the great 80s masters, Michael Jackson and Prince – sweet yet powerful.

However, it’s the production that thrills more than any provocative lyrics, as it squelches, fizzes, whirls and pounds in a dizzying mix.  The album opens with lead single Adorn, with a beat that pops like droplets in a vacuum and a soulful vocal, sounding like a modern day Sexual Healing.  This is followed by Don’t Look Back and Use Me, both of which utilise grinding metallic synths and throbbing beats.  The title track samples the funk bassline of Labi Siffre’s I Got The (more familiar as the bassline to Eminem’s My Name Is), accompanied by lazy strings and layered vocal harmonies that whirl with heady effect.  Arch & Point features guitars and a minimal, heavy beat for an edgier take on RnB, whilst …All glitters and sparkles with dramatic impact as the lyrics repeat “I want it all”.  Not every song is a hit – the low-fi Gravity has more of a hip-hop flavour, whilst Where’s The Fun In Forever is a little forgettable.  Yet the complex web of influences, nuance and pop hooks present in each track reflect a musician at the zenith of creativity.

You may not know it yet, but ‘Kaleidoscope Dream’ is one of the top albums of 2012.  Listen now before the year is out.

4/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Adorn
* Don’t Look Back
* Arch & Point

Listen: 'Kaleidoscope Dream' is available now.

Watch: Miguel comes to the UK in early January.



Monday, 17 December 2012

Solange - True



Solange (aka Beyoncé’s younger, cooler sister) released one of the best pop tracks of the year with Losing You – all playful beats, breezy 80s electro-pop production and downbeat lyrics (“am I losing you for good?”).  It features on her EP ‘True’, which was released at the end of November – but how do the other tracks stack up?

At seven tracks long this is a lengthy EP, but it doesn't quite hang together as a full LP.  Each track is riffing on similar melodies, keys and instrumentation.  It gives ‘True’ an air of experimentation, like variations on a theme, as if this is a trial run for her next full album.  The lack of variety is a small disappointment, though.

Still, this remains an alluring collection of songs.  Nothing hits quite like Losing You, but Solange isn't in the pop market to compete with her sister with killer number one singles.  Instead ‘True’ is full of slow-burning appeal, eschewing belting vocal gymnastics, party tunes and power ballads for a gentler vocal delivery and greater degree of subtlety.  The 80s pop production continues throughout: bouncing on Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work in a similar vein to Losing You or Michael Jackson; sparkling in the chorus of Locked in Closets; bringing a sense of modern funk to Don’t Let Me Down; and swirling in a downbeat whirl on interlude Look Good With Trouble.  It’s an EP that proves that Solange has hidden in the shadows for far too long, as she raises the bar for future pop acts.  Losing You alone is worth the entrance fee.  There are high hopes indeed for her future work…

4/5

Listen: ‘True’ is available now.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Chlöe Howl – No Strings


Talk about leaving the best until last.  This December Santa has delivered a pop package in the form of Chlöe Howl that's more than enough to fill your musical stocking.

"You don't even know if I'm the right sex do ya?".  *pow*
"Fuck your no strings... I hope I have twins". *bam*

Part Lily Allen part Adele, Howl's vocal is laden with attitude, spitting out sweary lyrics at her player partner with a London twang and infectious personality.  She's accompanied by electro-pop production that fizzes and sparkles - contemporary yet fresh, with a nod to Blue Monday in the drum breakdown.  No Strings is the very definition of a pop banger and, at just 17, Howl's future is brighter than a Christmas star.

4/5

Listen: Signed to Columbia, No Strings will hopefully be released soon. Please?




Friday, 14 December 2012

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey (2012) - Peter Jackson



The Hobbit is, to all intents and purposes, a simple children’s fairytale.  Yet Jackson’s film is, unexpectedly, a very different tale.  Following the success of his Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit completes the franchise.  But is messing with Tolkien’s precious work sacrilege?

Jackson’s film is bloated like a fat hobbit after second breakfast.  Retaining a bare skeleton of the plot, there are great swathes of new material and extra details taken from The Lord of the Rings and Middle Earth bible The Silmarillion.  Fans of Tolkien’s universe will appreciate the opportunity to relish in his fantastical world again and, by staying faithful to his previous films, Jackson has created a coherent vision.

What the film gains in back story, it loses in character.  The stubborn dwarves may look different (with their silly noses) but their characters are ultimately indistinct and less immediately likeable than The Lord of the Rings’ fellowship.  With two more films in the trilogy, there’s still time for their personalities to develop.  Yet the focus has been taken away from Bilbo, the titular hobbit.  As the title suggests, this is his story, with Martin Freeman providing (too much?) humanity that contrasts with the more fantastical characters.  Richard Armitage plays a brooding Thorin Oakenshield and, of course, Ian McKellan returns as a wonderful Gandalf.

Though initially a standalone book as the first Tolkien wrote, in hindsight it’s difficult to separate The Hobbit from the wider history of Middle Earth.  Here, though, the subtle links to The Lord of the Rings have been crudely and gratuitously implemented.  Extra events have been superfluously forced into the plot that dilute the book’s humble charm, whilst borrowed characters are included mainly for the pay cheque.  Simply put, expanding the story into a trilogy was an unnecessary move, removing momentum and urgency whilst overly-dramatising what is, essentially, a short quest for treasure.  On the other hand, Shore’s musical score works in the opposite direction – rousing themes lifted from The Lord of the Rings provide nostalgia, whereas his new motifs lack the same invention.

However, what remains is still a thrilling adventure story.  Though the majority of the action differs considerably from the book, it’s been heightened and dramatised for full impact on the big screen with sweeping cinematography.  The mountain giants in particular turn a passing comment into an exciting sequence.  Though there is a reliance on CGI, the special effects and choreographed battles are spectacular, from the creature designs to the angular dwarven architecture.  After a well-told prologue explaining the purpose of the dwarves' quest to reclaim their treasure from the dragon Smaug, the film does take a while to kick into gear, but the introduction of Serkis’s infamous Gollum picks up the pace as well as the laughter.  The overall script belies Tolkien’s poetic writing in favour of comic quips, diminishing the mystic but reflecting the lighter tone of the book.  The real star, however, is the New Zealand landscape, which is breathtakingly shot.

As a side note, the BFI IMAX in London is disappointingly not showing the film in 48fps, so this sadly cannot be commented on.  The film does benefit from the screen’s impact, though the 3D effect is minimal and blurry.

The credits don’t lie when they mention “based on the novel” – this is not the journey fans may be expecting.  Jackson has taken the bold move of being more faithful to his dark adult vision established in his previous films than to Tolkien’s childlike original.  For all its faults in raping adapting the book, The Hobbit remains a fantastic adventure.  Whilst optimistic this will continue in the following films, viewers may be somewhat disappointed by the treatment of Tolkien’s text.

3/5


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Imagine Dragons - Hear Me


What is it with acts naming their tracks Radioactive?  We had Kings of Leon a few years ago, followed by Marina & The Diamonds and, most recently, Rita Ora.

Now it's the turn of Imagine Dragons, the indie rock band from Las Vegas.  Radioactive features on the band's latest EP, 'Hear Me', and was used on the advert for the new Assassins Creed game.  It marries guitars and a dubstep beat for a memorable and empowering chorus that shudders with apocalyptic force.  

Elsewhere, the EP includes three other songs that are more standard indie rock fare.  Think 'Hot Fuss' era The Killers or The Editors - the former of which also originated in Las Vegas.  Jangling guitars, reedy tenor vocals and a low-fi lack of gloss combine for a collection of songs that are decent, if indistinct.  Radioactive is by far their biggest hit and proves the band have the potential to make a splash and assassinate the competition.  With rock predicted to make a comeback in the near future, Imagine Dragons welcome us to the new age.

3/5

Listen: 'Hear Me' is available now.  Debut album 'Night Visions' is available now in the States and will be available in the UK from Feburary 2013.

Watch: Imagine Dragons will be touring the UK in April 2013


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Feathers In The Snow - Philip Ridley @ Southwark Playhouse



Feathers In The Snow, the latest theatrical production from playwright and author Philip Ridley, is the last to be performed in the vaulting chambers of the Southwark Playhouse before its temporary relocation.  As the play’s action hinges on humanity’s constant need to find a ‘home’, it’s a fitting finale to the theatre as it currently stands.

Ridley’s writing often challenges with its emphasis on the darkest and most disturbing elements of our lives and his writing for children is no different.  Feathers In The Snow is a true family show, with a narrative that questions death and war amongst other ‘adult’ themes but presents them in a playful, childlike manner that is easily accessible.  Ridley takes us on a fantastical, episodic and often chaotic journey that incorporates fairytale tropes: kings and princesses, faraway kingdoms, talking animals, a Sea Witch and (most importantly) a magical bird.  Each episode features exciting and comically self-referential storytelling through song, speech and physical theatre by an energetic ensemble cast, like a series of drama games.  Those playing multiple parts (Cerith Flinn and Adam Venus especially) were a delight to behold, with imaginative portrayals of colourful and exuberant characters.  Through Ridley’s stichomythic dialogue, the plot swiftly snowballs as characters and locations come and go.  The minimal set and basic costumes work in the production’s favour, allowing the audience to use their imaginations to envisage each new wonder.

Yet Feathers In The Snow doesn’t shy away from tough themes, brought to life through the visceral production.  War chants threaten from behind the audience, characters are tortured before our eyes and, frequently, favoured characters meet their demise.  This is not a production that patronises its audience.  Instead, themes are simplified in a way that allows us to question their validity – in Ridley’s hands, war is futile and squabbled over by history.  It provides a lesson for children and adults alike, the parallels with today’s society clear for all to see.  At the close, after such a fantastical journey, the final pop song then brings us back to reality with a jarring bump.

With Feathers In The Snow, Ridley’s fable presents profundity through innocence.  The play teaches us that every decision, however seemingly small, can have far-reaching consequences – a grand notion as seen through the eyes of a child.  Don’t make the wrong decision – this production is not to be missed.

4/5



Pictures courtesy of Bronwen Sharp.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox



This second album from Bruno Mars certainly seems unorthodox in comparison to his debut.  Graduating from the soppy, puppy dog love songs of ‘Doo-Wops & Hooligans’ where Mars obsessively adored women “just the way you are”, ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’ sees Mars reaching sexual awakening with a collection of songs that owe more than a passing debt to Michael Jackson.

Lead single Locked Out Of Heaven proves to be the perfect introduction to the new style.  Repeating “your sex takes me to paradise” like a mantra over a ska-funk guitar line copied from Sting provides a blueprint for the album at large, merging overt sexuality with 80s production.  Yet this track is amongst only a handful of upbeat tracks, along with the Stevie Wonder-esque funky Treasure that sounds like an extra track from Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ (despite opening with the line “Baby squirrel, you’s a sexy motherfucker”), and reggae track Show Me that’s indebted to Musical Youth’s Pass the Dutchie, lending an exotic feel to match the lyric “your pleasure island is where we can go”.  Somehow Mars is cool enough to get away with some incredibly sleazy lines.

The rest of the album is surprisingly downbeat, with a number of power ballads that continue where Grenade left off.  Vocally, Mars’s high tenor fluctuates from tenderly sweet to sexy rasp (thankfully more of the latter) in a clear imitation of Michael Jackson.  Likewise, the production combines 80s rock and RnB flavours to mimic ‘Bad’.  Gorilla, for example, brings evocative synths and guitars to the lyric “you and me baby making love like gorillas”.  How does one make love like a gorilla?  “You got your legs up in the sky with the devil in your eyes”, “you’ll be banging on my chest bang bang” and “you’re screaming give it to me baby, give it to me motherfucker”.  Nobody expects gorillas to make love delicately, but I’m sure David Attenborough would have a thing or two to say about that.  Moonshine is similarly erotic: “the moment that you kiss my lips you know I start to feel wonderful…there’s sex in your chemicals”.  Yet sex has its dangers beyond chemical burns – on Natalie “Little Miss Sunshine ruined my life…she ran away with all my money”, confirmed by Money Make Her Smile (“give her what ya got, give her what you got yeah”).  In this respect, Natalie is like Mars’s Dirty Diana, with production more akin to Kanye West, whilst Money Make Her Smile features a Stronger­-esque synth melody in the pre-chorus.  Amongst all the seductive, nocturnal whizz-bang, there’s still room for some slush in the form of piano-ballad When I Was Your Man, but even this is a lament to a failed relationship – “now my baby is dancing, but she’s dancing with another man”.

Like his debut, ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’ is rather melodramatic in the lyrics (and trouser) department, but musically this is a far cooler album that should appeal to more than just teenage girls.  Just stay clear of any gorillas if I were you.

3/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Gorilla
* Treasure
* Moonshine  

Listen: ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’ is available now.



Monday, 10 December 2012

Katy B - Danger EP


Back in 2011 Katy B released her Mercury nominated debut 'On A Mission' - an album that brought pop inflected dubstep to the masses, thanks predominantly to some inventive production and collaborations rather than an alluring vocal.

This new EP has been released as a taster of what's to come from Katy B in the new year.  Lyrically, little has changed as she continues to party hard on Got Paid with her "new acrylics...diva lipstick, liquid liner", celebrating her latest paycheck on a Friday night.  Indulgent party anthems are de rigeur: Aaliyah a woman-to-woman plea not to steal her man on the dancefloor, Light As A Feather questioning what it takes to get down, and Danger a warning that perhaps Aaliyah got her way after all.

As ever, it's the production that impresses most of all, reflecting the variety of styles that are likely to influence the new album, as well as underlining further collaborations.  New single Got Paid features chaotic grime production from Geeneus and Wiley, whilst Diplo provides a heavy electro chorus to the otherwise chilled Light As A Feather.  Aaliyah and Danger are the real highlights though - the former including sultry vocals from Jessie Ware in a melancholic yet seductive dance tune; the latter produced by Jacques Greene with shimmering harp and crystalline synths.  It's further proof that Katy B certainly has an ear for an opportunistic collaboration, resulting in an EP that plays with current dance trends.  There's no danger that the forthcoming second album will live up to expectations.

4/5

Listen: 'Danger' is available for free on Katy's website.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

Headhunters (2011) - Morten Tyldum


Stealing art is a familiar cinematic narrative, perhaps most famously in The Thomas Crown Affair.  Headhunters, a Norweigan film based on the novel by Norweigan author Jo Nesbø, sets up a typical story, but slowly the plot unfolds in an unexpected direction.

Pale protagonist Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is not the usual suave charmer.  One of the top headhunters in the recruitment business, he runs a successful company, lives in an expensive flat and is married to a beautiful wife - yet his financial security comes from his undercover sideline as an art burglar, by using his reputation to extract valuable information from his clients and stealing from their homes.  It's a slick, clever operation, but Roger is cold-hearted and not likeable.  He may be hiding his self-consciousness about his short height under a façade of arrogance, offering a glimmer of vulnerability, but he operates in a clinical world where it's one rule for him and another for everyone else.

Finally, he meets his match in Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau - familiar to fans of Game of Thrones).  When Roger steals an extremely valuable Rubens painting from Clas, he is forced to go on the run in a desperate attempt to cover his tracks.  It's a thrilling plot, filled with twists and double-crossing - if a little convoluted towards the end.  The proceedings soon take a turn for the absurd and violent as Roger is pushed to desperate measures, but the film offers a satisfying conclusion.

What's most surprising is how we warm to Roger.  Through his fight for survival, he is diminished to a shivering, vulnerable man saved by his cunning and resourcefulness.  Rather than feel Roger has received his just deserves, he is a protagonist we eventually root for.  It's complemented by some fine performances, plus cinematography and design that oozes stylish Scandinavian minimalism.

Alongside The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and TV drama The Killing, Headhunters is another thrilling (if less gripping) example of the current fashion for Nordic drama.

3/5


Friday, 7 December 2012

Eric Whitacre - Silent Night @ Union Chapel


Nothing quite says Christmas like a choir of angels and Whitacre and his Singers were in fine Christmas spirit at the Union Chapel.  Bringing a warm glow to a chilly evening, this was the perfect way to welcome in the holiday season.

Later this month, Whitacre releases his new album 'The Chelsea Carol', for which this concert offered a preview.  The concert comprised Whitacre's own compositions mixed with pieces by Poulenc, Barber and Tavener (amongst others), traditional carols and some amusing and moving poetry reading from the likes of Josie D'Arby, Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and Classic FM DJ Jamie Crick.  The pieces were all well chosen and performed by the Eric Whitacre Singers with well-rehearsed assurance, tight, balanced harmonies and some beautiful solo singing from the lead soprano.  Tavener's The Lamb was a particular highlight, as well as Dufay's Ave Maris Stella (the premiere recording of which features on 'The Chelsea Carol').  The carols even provided an opportunity for the audience to sing along, conducted enthusiastically by Whitacre.

It was Whitacre's own pieces that stole the show, however.  Typical of his style, the rich harmonies of his Alleluia are laced with chromatic dissonances and brought a calm spirituality that soared in the beautiful surroundings of the chapel.  Little Tree is Whitacre's take on Christmas: a frosty soprano melody sung above joyful and festive contrapuntal 'fa la la' textures, accompanied by shivering piano.  This was a festive delight.

Whitacre is as much of a draw as his music.  With his likeable persona, he is the rock star of contemporary classical music, mouthing "I love you" to the audience and inviting us all back for a party after the concert.  If this concert is anything to go by, Christmas at the Whitacre household is not to be missed.

4/5

Listen: 'The Chelsea Carol' is available digitally from 14th December.