Thursday, 31 January 2013

Delphic - Collections

Delphic posted a very telling interview on their website in the wake of releasing ‘Collections’, the band’s second album.  Their debut ‘Acolyte’ (released in 2009) was a reaction against “NME guitar bands”, an album that was “heavily dance influenced and featured euphoric builds set to hooky melodies”.  Though underappreciated by the mainstream, ‘Acolyte’ certainly lived up to these claims.  Yet, in the band’s own words, with ‘Collections’ “we have changed quite drastically…we had to rebel against ourselves and against the current trend”. 

There’s certainly no harm in artists reimagining themselves.  From Radiohead to Madonna, this can be the key to longevity.  And, importantly, this still sounds like a Delphic record – those euphoric builds and hooky melodies haven’t gone anywhere.  Yet the band don’t quite live up to their own lofty ambition to “push music forwards”. 

With ‘Collections’, the band have retained their mostly electronic aesthetic, but widened their instrumentation.  Piano, strings, guitars and vocal harmonies all feature, differing from the synthesised bleeps and bloops of ‘Acolyte’.  The tracks are more freely structured in a move away from the constrictions of dance music.  In the process, however, they have diluted their own individuality.  Yeasayer, Hurts, Hot Chip, Passion Pit and MGMT are all operating in this pool of music – now Delphic can wholeheartedly be added to this list.

Is this such a bad thing?  The band may not have succeeded in their ambitious vision, but the album is no less captivating.  Current single Baiya is an initially gripping track, all Asian-inspired melodies and infectious beats gearing towards the chorus’s “all hell is breaking loose” vocal hook (a lyric similar to the chorus of Yeasayer’s Demon Road).  Atlas, the album’s lengthy centrepiece, focuses on a biting guitar riff accompanied by dissonant, yearning vocal harmonies as nuanced electronica swirls and shifts, before dropping into stabs of distorted guitar.  Freedom Found slows the pace with a ballad reminiscent of Hot Chip’s Look At Where We Are; Changes is characterised by bright, brilliant production; and The Sun Also Rises aims towards the anthemic with its elongated melodies. 

The psychedelic funk can be intoxicating, but as a whole the album lacks the consistent hooks of the band’s debut to keep the listener grounded.  Those tracks with the clearest hooks have instant appeal, others are easily lost and forgotten.  And whilst the rap on Exotic is a brave inclusion, it’s a jarring misstep in the context of the whole album.

So ‘Collections’ may not be as idiosyncratic as Delphic wish, but with this album they have established that they are not afraid of change, progress and experimentation.  In that respect, they deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder with their peers.


Gizzle's choice:
* Baiya
* Freedom Found
* Atlas

Listen: 'Collections' is available now.

Watch: Delphic are touring the UK in February.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Chlöe Howl - Rumour

For anyone even remotely interested in mainstream pop, Chlöe Howl should be at the top of your radar list.

Columbia’s latest young signing brought us No Strings at the end of the year.  Rumour follows suit, ramping the gears up a notch whilst retaining her 80s electro-meets-Lily Allen aesthetic.  Atop a squelching bassline and infectious beat, Howl squeezes in enough gossip and shock value to fill months worth of Hollyoaks.  It culminates in the chorus lyric “I’m just trying to work out how to be like myself” that perfectly epitomises teenage angst and spitefulness. 

In short, this is yet another example of Howl’s youthful ebullience and predilection for pithy lyrics.  Here’s hoping a full album arrives sharpish.  This could well be the year of Chlöe Howl – and that’s no mere rumour.


Listen: Both Rumour and No Strings can be heard on Soundcloud.


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Biffy Clyro - Opposites

It’s a cliché, but there comes a time in the life of many bands where they feel the need to cross over to the mainstream.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, resulting in some successful pop-rock fusions.  It can, however, split audiences, with the “true fans” bemoaning a band that “sell out”. 

Perhaps the release of ‘Opposites’, the latest album from Scottish band Biffy Clyro, is an attempt to appease all of their fans.  Their 2009 album ‘Only Revolutions’ marked a clear change of pace, producing a number of top ten singles, a Mercury Prize nomination and newfound success, but the mainstream appeal had its detractors.  ‘Opposites’ is a double album, the two halves displaying (funnily enough) opposite styles – the post-hardcore/alt-rock of their earlier material and the pop-rock of recent times.

“Biffy are back”, is the initial response.  The first half of the album is a return to the big, rock ballads of ‘Only Revolutions’ – simple guitar patterns, heartfelt lyrics and added strings for extra epic appeal.  It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the band is constantly striving to repeat the success of Many of Horror.  There are some moments of intrigue that stand out: the spiky opening riff of Sounds Like Balloons and its harp interjections; the driving rhythms of The Joke’s On Us; the stabbing guitars of A Girl And His Cat.  Yet for every one of these tracks, there’s a Black Chandelier, an Opposite or The Thaw.  So often, the band relies on big choruses that lack invention.  Biblical reflects its title – it’s as epic a track as the band have ever produced but as it stands, in the context of the album, it’s just another underwhelming ballad.  ‘Opposites’ offers little that we haven’t heard before.

That is, until the second half which is, in part, a return to the Biffy of old.  The opening of Stingin’ Belle immediately brings a sense of urgency.  There’s more creativity on this half of the album, with shifting time signatures (Victory Over The Sun), new instruments (the horns of Spanish Radio, the bagpipes of Stingin’ Belle) and the generally more dissonant tone.  There are still moments of pure pop though – from the lighthearted pop-rock of Pocket, to Skylight whose synth lines and trudging electro beats sound more like Hurts.          

‘Opposites’ is therefore a fairly mixed bag of tracks that don’t quite hang together – the first half too safe, the second half disorientating and experimental. Can the band really appease all of their fans?  The Biffy of the future deserves another shot, if they can fuse together more convincingly their differing styles.  But the Biffy of the present has bitten off more than they can chew.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Sounds Like Balloons
* Modern Magic Formula
* Woo Woo

Listen: 'Opposites' is available now.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Dawn Richard - Goldenheart

As the second track of ‘Goldenheart’ claims, this marks the return of a queen.  Dawn Richard may not be a well-known name in the UK, but her career in the industry began when she auditioned for MTV’s ‘Making The Band’ way back in 2005.  This led her to a spot in Danity Kane and, later, P Diddy’s ‘Diddy-Dirty Money’ collective.  ‘Goldenheart’ is part of a planned trilogy of albums and follows last year’s ‘Armor On’.

Richard has a varied musical palette, taking inspiration from pop, RnB, hip-hop, dubstep and dance music.  Yet these influences combine in a record that fizzes, bubbles and defies expectation.  Melodies form and dissipate, beats collide and crack in electronic shudders, drones bloom into hook-laden choruses.  Pretty Wicked Things, for example, builds upon its pop hooks before crashing and burning in the fires of dubstep.  Riot begins as a Chris Brown track, before dropping into a rave chorus.  Pop sensibilities are at the core of ‘Goldenheart’, but just as one melody takes hold, the production shifts and evolves in a new direction.

This is an intense listen though.  The tracks moodily blur from one to the next, creating an album that demands to be listened to in full despite each tracks’ singular appeal.  And this is a passionate, almost aggressive album.  Riot begins with the lyric “let’s start a war”, whilst the sultry Frequency gives Rihanna a run for her money (“I want you to hear the way you make me feel when you turn me on”), juxtaposed with ballad Warfaire (sic).  ‘Goldenheart’ depicts a whirlwind romance, ending in the nostalgic title track that bravely samples Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

This isn’t quite a perfect vision.  The spoken sections are preaching to an uninterested audience and at fifteen tracks long this is a lengthy album, tailing off towards the end.  But the material is dense, with plenty of production wizardry to keep you listening throughout.  Richard’s Keri Hilson-esque voice too, subtly processed with vocoder, has enough variety of character to hold your attention.

Richard may be working with typical tropes and genres, but with ‘Goldenheart’ they are subverted and made fresh.  Pop-RnB has been squeezed through a production sieve, its essence pushed through the other side to reach a new standard.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Pretty Wicked Things
* Frequency
* Goldenheart

Listen: 'Goldenheart' is available now.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Nicole Scherzinger - Boomerang

Boomerang has been teased for a couple of months now since its first appearance on The X Factor.  And it's still not officially released until 10th March.  Will we all be bored with it in six weeks time?  Was it worth the wait in the first place?

Well the production is by the devil himself, Will.I.Am, which should instantly set alarm bells ringing.  Scherzinger's decent voice has been overly processed amongst synths, stop-start beats and a predictable chord sequence that all scream 'production by numbers'.

The video is similarly formulaic.  It may have been shot by fashion photographer Nathalie Canguilhem, but that's exactly what it looks like: a fashion shoot, allowing Scherzy to show off her impecable leather-clad figure, whilst the choreography looks more like she's signing the lyrics.  There are some cool slow-motion effects at least.

Yet despite it all, Boomerang is a giant-sized earworm that refuses to budge; an earworm that might be poor quality, but you can't help but like.


Listen: Boomerang is released on March 10th.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Lincoln (2013) - Steven Spielberg

The importance of family is a key theme in Spielberg's oeuvre and Lincoln is no different.  This film shows us the human behind the enigmatic figure - he is the President, a husband and a father.  Even during the voting scene, the climax, he is sat at home with his son.  Like a grandfather to the people, he is a charismatic storyteller with a propensity for rambling speeches.  

Only an actor of the calibre of Daniel Day-Lewis could pull off such a performance.  Such a monumental figure in American history requires a similarly renowned actor.  He is instantly recognisable and believable as the President, statuesque in his movements and poses.  Wisely, Spielberg allows Day-Lewis to take hold of the film with a remarkable central performance.

Ultimately, though, Lincoln is a slow, dialogue heavy history lesson.  The first half, especially, is a dirge-like trudge through endless speeches.  Little is done to explain the intricacies of American politics to a non-American audience.  As such, it’s easy to get lost in the narrative’s complexities for anyone not immediately familiar with American history.

Finally the plot picks up some pace during the voting scene, but even this carries little dramatic weight as we already know the outcome.  The abolishment of slavery is seen less as the emancipation of ‘coloured people’ and more a political victory for the white man.  Lincoln’s agenda is concerned with the Union, saving the American people from civil war (especially his own plucky son, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and not disappointing his wife.  Besides the very opening, Lincoln rarely interacts with black people, appearing mostly ambivalent.  Mirroring this, many of the black actors are shunned to the sidelines of each frame.  His motives therefore appear less honourable than history assumes.

Themes included, Lincoln is a most Spielbergian of films.  Each speech is filmed with slow, lingering shots accompanied by John Williams’ stirring score (who else?) that dictates how we should feel.  It’s saccharine and overly sentimental.  The close cleverly subverts the theatrics of Lincoln’s assassination.  Yet it’s glossed over in favour of romanticising a figure whose actions influenced modern history, but perhaps not for the reasons we might expect.  This is ET for American politicians.

Is Daniel Day-Lewis worthy of his best actor nomination?  Absolutely.  But with the best picture nomination, the Academy have been blinded by jingoistic pride.


Friday, 25 January 2013

Milo Greene @ St. Pancras Old Church

Are Fleetwood Mac the most cited influence on new bands at the moment?  It certainly seems that way, but if it results in music like this then who cares?

Support act The Night kicked the evening off to an ethereal start, with beautiful female vocals floating atop bluesy guitar lines.  The six-piece band may have few gigs under their belts and seemed a little nervous, but the music was evocative and tightly performed.  Though perhaps a question of acoustics, the harp needed to be louder in the mix – it’s a distinct quality of The Night that would help them to carve an identity away from Fleetwood Mac.  In the final song the band really hit their stride, showing plenty of potential.

LA five-piece Milo Greene hit the ground running with their hour long set, consisting of songs from their recently released self-titledalbum, as well as covers of Sufjan Stevens and Wilco.  Yet what most impressed were the differences to the record.  Where the album merges the vocals together into a harmonious whole, the live set revealed four individual voices (the drummer is the only non-singing member of the band).  Lines, choruses and even whole songs were volleyed between band members, imbuing each song with its own feel from rasping rock to blues.  Marlana Sheetz, the only female, is vocally reminiscent of a young Karen Carpenter – particularly singing the yearning melodies of Perfectly Aligned

And that’s not all.  The four vocalists are also multi-instrumentalists, deftly switching between various guitars, keys and handheld percussion.  Watching the band juggling instruments mid-song as well as seamlessly segueing through the setlist was as impressive to watch as to listen.  Each song was richly textured, layering together multiple instruments along with a backing track.  At times the sound was too big for the small confines of St. Pancras Old Church, but the gradual crescendos from gentle guitars to grand cacophony were well nuanced in each instance.  The lyrics may be melancholic, but played live the music was dynamic and urgent, without losing any of its haunting brilliance.

The influence of Fleetwood Mac is strong on both bands, though with Milo Greene it has seeped into their veins to bring 70s folk-rock into the twenty-first century.  The evocative, reverbed guitars and harsher edge of their live performance brought a new dimension to their softly lilting album.  This is a band that deserve to be seen as much as heard.


Listen: Milo Greene's self-titled album is available now. The Night have a free download available on the band's website.

The Night

Milo Greene

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Mallory Knox - Signals

Ever since Radio 1 boss George Ergatoudis claimed that guitar music would make a return in 2013, the station have been playlisting rock bands left right and centre.  Daniel P Carter was given a prime spot during the January New Music Takeover.  And Zane Lowe’s Future Festival was predominantly guitar-based, though admittedly his evening show often has this focus.  But does the public really want more rock music?  Or is the station attempting to dictate our tastes?  Are they just searching for a Lost Prophets replacement ever since singer Ian Watkins was accused of child abuse?

Enter Mallory Knox, the latest band to be championed by the station and who performed at the aforementioned Future Festival.  ‘Signals’ is the Peterborough band’s debut album, featuring current single Lighthouse.  The band are signed to A Wolf At Your Door Records, amongst a plethora of other similar rock acts.  Indeed, this label are responsible for some of the biggest UK bands of the moment – something that Radio 1 are clearly tapping into.  Mallory Knox may not have been around for too long, but they’re kicking up a storm.

The sound of We Are The Ocean is stadium-sized, but it’s the drumming that’s most noteworthy.  There’s powerful drive here, owing to the switching up of drum patterns to provide rhythmic force.  Frontman Mikey Chapman’s voice straddles the line between singing and roaring.  It’s a melodic vocal that is capable of truly soaring when necessary, alongside pop guitar riffs (the opening of Wake Up for example).  Lower Than Atlantis’ songwriting is mostly well done – confident and catchy, with memorable choruses stridently performed.  As a whole, then, You Me At Six have a sound that’s powerful but accessible; likely to whip fans into a frenzy at live gigs, but equally radio-friendly. 

It’s not all thrashing around though.  Twin Atlantic have included some slower, gentler moments on ‘Signals’.  1949 is acoustic-focused, with a nicely reverbed lead guitar and soft vocals; whilst Bury Your Head incorporates a rare use of piano and glockenspiel to accompany the yearning vocal.  It’s a brief moment of respite before Kids In Glass Houses plunge us into the title track and a return to punchy power chords and urgent drumming.

The result is far from a bad album.  But are Mallory Knox original?  Far from it.  There may be a slight lack of guitar bands on the radio, but perhaps that’s because they’re all so indistinct, so staid?  The charts might be flooded with identikit dance-RnB electronic pop (David Guetta and Calvin Harris I’m looking at you), but are these identikit bands any better just because they’re playing ‘live’ instruments?  Perhaps what Radio 1 needs more of is not generic ‘guitar music’ but a flare of originality.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Lighthouse
* Wake Up
* Hello

Listen: ‘Signals’ is available now.

Watch: Mallory Knox will be supporting Bedford-based band Don Broco on their UK tour in February.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge - White Noise

It’s Disclosure and AlunaGeorge – what more do you need to know?

Ok, fine.  This is a review site after all.  Unless you’ve been under a rock the past couple of months, then you’ll know Disclosure as the London brother-duo behind the brilliant Latch, whilst AlunaGeorge brought us You Know YouLike It and Your Drums, Your Love, in addition to a second place nomination in the BBC Sound of 2013 list.  White Noise brings these two current powerhouses of UK electro together, combining the garage-house dance production of the former with the soulful vocals and glitchy cool of the latter.  With similar influences, it feels like an inevitability that these two acts would collaborate.  It's the first outstanding track of 2013, epitomising UK cool.

I mean really, it’s a freakin’ tune.


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Paramore - Now

Now is the first track to be taken from Paramore’s upcoming fourth album, the first since the departure of Josh and Zac Farro which threatened to derail the band.  The lyrics won’t be lost on fans: “Lost the battle / Won the war / Bringing my sinking ship back to the shore”.

Paramore haven’t strayed too far from their pop-punk rock aesthetic.  The chorus of “If there’s a future we want it now” is as anthemic as they’ve ever produced.  But there’s a new sense of urgency here, as if Williams and co have a point to prove – the bass and drums offering real drive alongside Williams’ speech-song delivery.  There’s even a slight ska feel, particularly in the middle eight. 

Now is an appropriate single for the band’s return at this point in time – a brash return to form as they fight for a piece of the chart action.  It doesn’t quite rank with the best of their output, but it’s an obvious clean slate in preparation for the forthcoming, self-titled album.


Listen: Now is, with album 'Paramore' released on April 9th.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Bondax - Gold

The UK might be covered in a thick layer of snow at the moment, but nothing shivers as much as the production on this latest track from Lancaster electro duo Bondax, following remixes of the likes of AlunaGeorge and Rudimental.  Gold is an impeccable slice of futuristic disco funk: itchy, jittering beats trembling amongst spliced samples cut into buoyant rhythmic patterns and a subtly womping bass.  There's certainly a fashion for this sort of dub-step and garage inspired techno-wizardry, but these two lads have come up trumps with this 24 carat, hook-laden track.


Listen: Gold is available to download now.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2013) - Kathryn Bigelow

It's the scenes of torture that have caused the most controversy in Kathryn Bigelow's latest 9/11 cinematic venture.  Part-way through Zero Dark Thirty we see a clip of President Obama claiming that "America doesn't torture".  This may be a fictional account of the search for Osama Bin Laden, but Bigelow would beg to differ.

The torturing of a captive sets the film in motion, yet much of the violence is implied.  It's cold, business-like, a means to an end.  Juxtaposed with massacre and suicide bombing, it shows both sides in stalemate.  America might be fighting against terrorism, but are their methods justified?  It's also important to note that torture does not lead to information - it's only through lying to the captive that any leads are uncovered.

What follows is the story of Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her hunt for Bin Laden, which takes the form of an episodic detective story.  This is not the intense, visceral, front-line experience of Bigelow's Oscar winning The Hurt Locker.  Instead, this is a slow-burning film where much of the action takes place at desks and on computer screens.  Chastain offers a remarkable performance.  Maya begins as a naive young woman, new to the CIA and far from complicit in the torture methods she witnesses.  Over the course of the narrative, she grows into a strong-willed and determined woman, making her mark in a patriarchal world, with one thing on her mind - whatever the cost.

The drama may plod at times, but it's always gripping despite us knowing the ending already.  The film's climax sees Bigelow in typical realistic mode, masterfully ramping up the tension.  The siege on Bin Laden's compound is filmed predominantly in the cold, eerily soft glow of night vision - reminiscent of Call of Duty.  There's little glory to be found.  The focus is not on the success of the mission, but the innocent children caught in the clash, the pool of blood left behind by the body.  Does Maya shed tears of relief, or tears for the lives lost in the process on both sides?  It's a poignant ending that forces us to question: was it all worth it?

Where The Hurt Locker is a harrowing piece of cinema, Zero Dark Thirty is powerful for its thought-provoking and political agenda.  With both films, Bigelow has proven herself to be the foremost filmmaker on the most important event in modern history.


Friday, 18 January 2013

BBC Radio 1 Future Festival

With January very much the month for new music, it makes sense that Radio 1 would get in on the act.  As part of Zane Lowe's show, some of us very lucky people were able to see the bands live at Maida Vale studios.  The offerings were a bit of a mixed bag, but some stellar performances ensured the night was a success.

The night kicked off with The 1975, the Manchester band championed by Huw Stephens.  The set consisted of tracks from their EPs 'Facedown' and 'Sex' (reviewed here) plus some new material, showing off their melodic, widescreen guitar sound.  If anything, their music was just too big for the confines of the small studio - in the best possible way.  Clearly accomplished live performers, The 1975 are a must-see live act.

Radio 1 are definitely pushing rock acts at the moment and Mallory Knox continued the charge.  The drumming was especially powerful, switching between patterns and beats to drive the music with rhythmic fury.  As a whole, the band weren't always tight and could do with some more gigging under their belts.  The songwriting is decent though and with an ever increasing fanbase, there's definite potential for the band to do well.

Next up was King Krule - something of an acquired taste.  Real name Archy Marshall and Brit School educated, his mournful songs and unique vocal have been garnering much attention as of late.  Yet despite some skilled fingerpicking guitar and the odd upbeat jangling moment, his performance was heavy and morose in comparison to the other acts.

NME darlings Palma Violets followed, combining elements of Brit-pop and indie rock.  Essentially, they look like Pulp and sound like The Strokes.  As such, they certainly look and act the part with an energetic performance, but the band weren't tight and their music is too derivative to stand out above the crowd - even with all the media attention.  

With Laura Mvula, those lucky enough to enter the studio witnessed some magic.  A true professional musician, her performance provided a hushed and intimate counterpoint to the other acts.  She sang with warmth and clarity, supported beautifully by lush vocal harmonies in addition to the strings, harp and organ.  Lead single She was a highlight of the whole event, the audience stunned to silence.  Spellbinding stuff.

As with Palma Violets, A$AP Rocky suffers from style over substance.  Ushered on-stage by a sizeable entourage, Rocky is all gold chains, gold teeth, hoodie and full-throttle attitude.  Yet he lacks the music to back up his image, with a decent flow let down by lacklustre production.  Where other rappers like Kendrick Lamar are pushing the genre into new areas, Rocky's material is looking to the earlier days of 90s rap and feels like a step backwards.

Disclosure closed the evening with the longest set of all, including current favourites like their remix of Jessie Ware's Running and a new track that will feature on their forthcoming album.  The London duo stand up alongside SBTRKT and T.E.E.D at the forefront of UK dance music and this set proved why, cutting and sampling on the fly with some live drums and bass playing.  The finale was Latch, which saw the duo joined by Sam Smith whose powerful falsetto vocals were phenomenal.  By far the biggest track of the night, the crowd reaction demonstrated that the future is bright for electronic music in the face of stiff rock competition.

More please, Mr Lowe!

Listen: You can listen to the full set and watch videos of some of the acts on the Radio 1 website, here.