Thursday, 28 February 2013

Stoker (2013) - Park Chan-wook


With a  name like Stoker you may be expecting a vampire horror flick.  Instead, Park presents us with a film that’s part murder mystery, part gothic fairytale and part erotic thriller.  At its core, this is a deeply perverse film.

The essence of Stoker is the loss of innocence – specifically, that of India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska).  When her father dies, her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) unexpectedly arrives on the scene and moves in with India and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman).  What results is a twisted love triangle that pushes the boundaries of acceptable family relationships: mother and daughter forced to breaking point as the empty hole left behind in both of their lives morphs into incestuous desire for Charlie.  “We don’t need to be friends, we’re family”, India tellingly says to her uncle.  Underlying secrets of the family’s past are slowly uncovered, though its final twist is an obvious one.

Staying true to the Stoker name, the gothic cinematography is stunningly monochromatic.  Paralleling the narrative, the construction of the film is purposefully unsettling.  The events take place in a creepy mansion that’s crumbling and decaying, the lighting elongating every shadow.  The costumes, too, create a distorted sense of time, mixing India’s old-fashioned smocks with her mother’s colourful sensuality.  Most of all, the stark colour scheme reflects the loss of innocence: flowers stained with bright blood; virginity corrupted by sexual fantasy; white tainted by black.  Stoker may not be a true horror film, but its mise en scene ensures a Hitchcockian tension.

The performers are also well cast.  Like Wednesday Addams, Waskowska is all porcelain skin and lank dark hair, her blank expressions (typical of all her performances) ensuring she almost fades into the black and white background.  In any other performance this would be a criticism, but for such an introverted character (like Twilight’s Bella Swan, but with more incest) it works.  Kidman is well suited to her role, balancing sexuality and fragility like a pristine doll – her flame hair utilised in an extraordinary morphing shot.  Goode’s turn as Charlie is suitably disturbing, his eyes displaying both menacing danger and irresistible charm.

It’s the hyperbolic sound design that most stands out however, even above the sparse score from Clint Mansell (that additionally includes pieces by Philip Glass).  In a stroke of the supernatural, India has slightly exaggerated hearing, resulting in a hugely dynamic aural soundscape – the cracking of egg shells, the ticking of a metronome, the crescendo of piano playing, the sound of a belt being slowly removed through trouser loops.  It’s equally unsettling yet weirdly sexual.  The use of sound – more than anything else – conducts our emotions through an intriguing, if ultimately disappointing, narrative.

3/5

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Chorus Line @ The London Palladium


The premise behind A Chorus Line is a fine one: giving voice to the faceless members of Broadway chorus ensembles.  It is perhaps this focus on humanity, rather than fantasy, that has ensured the endurance of the show.  But does it live up to its premise? 

There’s only so much that can be done with seventeen dancers stood on the titular line, but the show presents a snapshot of each dancer, drifting between the reality of the audition experience and nostalgic dreamscapes.  This is aided by some spectacular lighting that cleverly utilizes spotlights and colour to delineate time and space, as well as an intimate sense of voyeurism as the audience are given a behind-the-scenes view of the audition in process.  Yet whilst Hamlisch’s score cleverly summarises Broadway traditions, the endless repetitions of dance steps and numbers becomes tiresome – ‘One’(in both rehearsal and performance mode) is enough to drive any audience insane.

One of the problems with A Chorus Line is that it is a show for dancers about dancers.  As expected, the original choreography utilised here is thrilling and the quality of dance is exceptional, every dancer performing in tight unison with every kick, flick, turn and point.  It’s rare, however, to find a cast of true ‘triple threats’.  Something must suffer along the way and, sadly, it’s the singing that takes the hit in this production.  Being such a Broadway-jazz hands affair, the singing is nasal and often a little screechy.  There is strength in numbers, with harmonies well blended together, but solo sections in ‘At The Ballet’, for example, didn’t quite hit the mark.  When the dancing is so accomplished, any negative points are only more prominent.

There’s also an imbalance between the different parts, with some receiving far more stage time than others.  As such, rather than revealing the humanity of these characters, many are reduced to two-dimensional caricatures.  There are some clear stars amongst the ensemble though.  Scarlett Strallen’s Cassie is the obvious example – a failed Hollywood actress seeking to start over.  Her solo piece, ‘The Music And The Mirror’, is meant to be a virtuosic display but, despite some technically proficient dancing and great use of mirrors, Strallen lacks sex appeal in the raunchy instrumental, leaving the number falling a little flat.  Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’s Diana, meanwhile, strutted around the stage embodying Bronx swagger and sang ‘Nothing’ and ‘What I Did For Love’ with aplomb.  As the most famous of the cast members, John Partridge is also an obvious standout and, although he spends much of the show as Zach’s disembodied voice in the audience, his occasional on-stage persona was well realised.

A Chorus Line does show the darker side of the Broadway stage – the bitchiness and competitive nature of auditions; the instability of regular employment; falling from grace; and, in the case of Paul, paedophilia and sexuality.  The latter is presented through an extended monologue in a credible performance from Gary Wood, holding the audience captivated with simply words and a spotlight.  In such a dance heavy show, it’s ironic that its most arresting moment contains no dance at all.  The show is set in 1975 and, with the use of seventies costumes, risks becoming an old-fashioned period piece.  Yet the issues the show tackles are still relevant today – another reason for the show’s long-running success.

Together, the ensemble truly represent a unified singular sensation.  However, in a show striving to highlight the individuality of its performers, it’s an inherent irony of the production that they’re at their best when performing spectacularly as a single chorus.

3/5

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety


There’s a track nestled in the middle of ‘Anxiety’ (the second album from New York’s Arthur Ashin, a.k.a Autre Ne Veut) entitled Ego Free Sex Free.  It’s a track that pretty much sums up the album in terms of its free-spirited style and content. 

What’s most notable about ‘Anxiety’ is Ashin’s vocal.  High-pitched and more than a little Prince-esque, it’s an unrestrained delivery that wavers between subtle cooing and free wailing.  It’s as sexy as it is an emotive force, less concerned with melodic integrity than with simply evoking feeling.

The musical content is equally unrestrained by presenting a warped version of electro R&B, a vision that’s weird and beguiling.  Take opening track and lead single Play By Play.  Rather than following typical verse-chorus structure, the song is more episodic in nature, shifting gears with alarming frequency – from its gloriously shimmering opening, to its jerky funk middle section and gospel sing-along ending.  ‘Anxiety’, in fact, is the perfect epithet for the album as it jitters and fluctuates with schizophrenic consistency.  Beats smash and dissolve; brass squeak and honk; guitars roar and caress; synths and samples soothe and shatter.  It’s a concoction that shouldn’t work - but it does, incredibly so.  The result is an album that’s complex and layered, the sort of album where each time you listen you discover a new sound hidden in its musical depths.

But why does it work?  For starters, each wrenching jolt is paired with short catchy hooks that ensures a certain accessibility.  With Ashin’s past history as a writer of jingles, this aptitude for melody is the album’s constant.  And despite the episodic structure of these songs, they never outstay their welcome.  In fact, a handful are less than three minutes long, ending all too abruptly. 

Most of all, there’s a warm glossy sheen over the whole album stemming from Ashin’s emotive vocal.  For all the album’s nervousness, ‘Anxiety’ is open with its free-spirit and proud to be different.

4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Play By Play
* Counting
* Ego Free Sex Free

Listen: 'Anxiety' is available now.


Monday, 25 February 2013

Little Boots - Motorway


Whilst her debut album was clearly influenced by dance music, Victoria Hesketh a.k.a Little Boots has been dabbling much more into club territory with the intermittent releases of HeadphonesShake and Every Night I Say A Prayer.

Now her second album, 'Nocturnes' (pictured), is finally set for release in May.  Motorway is the first single from the album and continues the club theme.  It's a hypnotic slice of ethereal disco that's precisely crafted and perfectly matched by the ghostly video.

That said, it's lacking a punchy chorus so feels a little forgettable.  Motorway is a slow-burner that's missing the giddy rush the title might insinuate.  Clearly Hesketh is still torn between pop and dance, with her best work to date balancing the two extremes.  It's a dichotomy that is likely to continue with 'Nocturnes'.

3/5

Listen: Motorway is available as a free download on the Little Boots website.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Kleerup & Loreen - Requiem Solution


Swedish producer Kleerup has a habit of pairing up with some of his native country's biggest artists.  Not satisfied with kick-starting Robyn's career with the excellent With Every Heartbeat, a track that appears on his debut self-titled album (released in 2009) alongside further collaborations with Lykke Li and Tityo amongst others, Kleerup has now joined forces with woman of the moment Loreen a year after her formidable Eurovision win.

The pair recently performed Requiem Solution acoustically at the Swedish Grammy Awards, but any fears that Kleerup has eschewed his usual electronic production are quickly allayed in the recorded version.  Centred on a gently pulsing piano line, the haunting atmosphere is complimented by both moody strings and downbeat electronica, whilst Loreen delicately sings of "knocking on heaven's door" and being "touched by an angel".

Requiem Solution does lack a remarkable chorus and, as such, doesn't match Kleerup's previous work or Loreen's Euphoria.  That said, the combination of these two indomitable forces is another weapon in the considerable armoury of Swedish pop.

3/5

Listen: Requiem Solution is available now.


Friday, 22 February 2013

Atoms for Peace - Amok


When Atoms for Peace released Default late last year, it essentially sounded like a Thom Yorke track.  Now the supergroup - comprising of Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich (long-time Radiohead producer), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Joey Waronker (previous drummer for REM) and Mauro Refosco (a Brazilian percussionist who worked with the Chili Peppers) – have released their debut album, ‘Amok’ and, like the debut single, this is Yorke all over.

Godrich is often cited as the sixth member of Radiohead, so his inclusion in Atoms for Peace is practically inevitable.  But the others?  Sure the bass is often dynamic, but these are hardly the funk basslines Flea is renowned for.  And whilst much of the drumming is now live, Yorke has often played with the complex polyrhythms these drummer provide.  Surely the point of a supergroup is that each member brings something different to the table, creating a musical concoction of styles and influences?  Instead, ‘Amok’ is wholeheartedly within Yorke’s electronic aesthetic.

It begs the question – how should this album be judged?  Do we look at this as the supergroup it should be?  Or simply as another Thom Yorke album?

Stuck Together Pieces is a prime example of Atoms for Peace fusing the styles of its members.  The funk bass and layered percussion provide the grounding for Yorke’s hushed warbling and electronic effects.  It remains, however, an abstract and experimental piece.  Album opener Before Your Very Eyes similarly feels collaborative, sounding almost like Californication-era Chili’s.  As a whole, ‘Amok’ has a cleaner, more ‘live’ quality than Yorke’s solo work thanks to his bandmates, but they feel more like session musicians drafted in to heighten Yorke’s imagination.

In comparison to Radiohead, the tracks lack distinction.  Yorke’s original band are finely tuned and have honed their craft over a series of albums each with their own personality, whereas ‘Amok’ is predominantly meandering experimentation.  The most successful tracks are those that rely most heavily on Yorke’s influence.  Default presents an intricate web of jittering beats, shifting textures and weird sound bites; the beat of Dropped is infectious; and the ghostly vocal effects of the title track are truly haunting.  That said, even the best tracks of ‘Amok’ lack the unique ingenuity of Yorke’s 2006 album ‘The Eraser’.

There's definitely potential here and perhaps in a live set the music will thrill more, but recorded this rarely rises above the level of interesting experimental side-project.  As a Thom Yorke album this doesn’t live up to his best work; as a supergroup this is neither a piece of teamwork, nor is it super.

3/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Default
* Dropped
* Amok

Listen: 'Amok' is released on 25th February.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Yadi - The Blow


"Our youth is over, the bullet fills the hole, the pain has left me feeling love"

Is this an elaborate metaphor for losing your virginity, or do I just have a dirty mind?

Either way, London-based Yadi has delivered another superb pop track after last year's EP 'Guillotine'.  The soaring guitars, the yearning vocal, the urgent drumming and unrelenting bassline - it all encapsulates the dizzying rush of young love.  "Your love is like a gunshot in a bloody show", may seem a little violent (it's unlikely this would go down too well in the US), but this is an impassioned pop track from a talented performer who is definitely one to watch for 2013.

There's also a decent remix from Joe Goddard, if you're after a more dancey vibe.

4/5

Listen: 'The Blow' is available now.



Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Jamie Lidell - Jamie Lidell


Funky as hell.

It's the only suitable way of describing this, the sixth full album from Cambridge-born Lidell who resides in Nashville.  After working in the industry for over a decade and a half, it's only now that he has released an album that's self-titled - is this finally the definitive Lidell album?

Over the course of his output, Lidell has shifted between styles but always maintained his neo-soul sound.  'Jamie Lidell' is a modern distillation of his music, combined with the experimental techno of his work as part of electronic duo Super Collider.  The result is an album that's so funky, it's practically obscene.

The 80s inspired electro-funk sound is of maximal proportions, sounding equally retro (with its dirty basslines) and futuristic (due to the otherworldly, processed vocals).  Imagine Prince on heat meets 'Discovery' era Daft Punk.  Lead single What A Shame previously set the tone on its release last year, a tone that the full album repeats across the eleven tracks.  The instrumentation may be almost completely synthesised, but the overall effect is soulful and fiery.

The album may be a little one-dimensional, but Lidell still finds some room for variety.  why_ya_why is an especially odd inclusion - a wonky jazz-funk fusion characterised by lumbering brass; whilst penultimate track Don't You Love Me is a much more laidback affair, offering a moment of respite before the album's suitably explosive ending of In Your Mind.  The highlights, however, are the pure funk tracks like Do Yourself A Favour and You Naked, with their sexy melodic lines and dramatic, kitchen-sink production.

'Jamie Lidell' is so big and loud, it's easy to become immune to its charms and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of its layered effects.  As a whole, though, it's almost impossible not to succumb to this utterly filthy tour de force.


4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* What A Shame
* Do Yourself A Favour
* You Naked

Listen: 'Jamie Lidell' is available now.



Monday, 18 February 2013

Kimberley Walsh - Centre Stage


Go back and listen to Girls Aloud’s initial auditions for Popstars the Rivals.  Not great eh?  The girls may have formed the most successful talent show group in history with a string of excellent pop hits, but as solo artists their voices are pretty weak.

Now it’s the turn of Kimberley Walsh to forge a solo career, after frequently unsubtly hinting expressing her love for musical theatre.  Often, talent show hopefuls are told they’d be “perfect” for the West End stage when they fail at being a popstar.  Why?!  West End performers spend years training and perfecting their craft, only for a (very) minor celebrity to swoop in and steal the best roles.  The disillusioned Walsh is a prime example, what with her turn in the dire Shrek The Musical, which did nothing but reveal her limp vocal.

‘Centre Stage’ is essentially an extended audition for Walsh’s West End career – a career that, judging by this album, deserves to stay buried in the audition room.  A quick look down the track list is enough to send musical theatre aficionados dizzy with fear – songs like On My Own, Defying Gravity and Somewhere are notoriously exposing and tough to sing.  Is Walsh’s voice really up to scratch?

No.

The song choices are obvious crowd pleasers, many of which centre on an infamous ‘big note’.  Take Idina Menzel’s richly belted performance of Defying Gravity from ‘Wicked’ – by comparison, Walsh’s voice is a wispy shadow where every note is a struggle.  Memory from ‘Cats’ is synonymous with Elaine Paige, a song of beautiful fragility.  In Walsh’s hands, it just sounds like a strangled cat.  Anyone who’s seen the recent film of ‘Les Miserables’ will be familiar with On My Own, here reduced to pop drivel.  And Walsh’s television performance of One Day I’ll Fly Away did enough, in one fell swoop, to ensure nobody buys this album.

A major problem is that musical theatre numbers are inherently theatrical.  On ‘Centre Stage’ many of the tracks have been reinterpreted as pop songs to accommodate Walsh’s limited capabilities.  There’s no drama, no feeling, just a straight vocal meandering around the melody.  Somewhere from ‘West Side Story’ is an incredibly tragic song, but on this album it’s re-imagined as a crooning jazz number that sees Walsh doing her best Sinatra impression.  Leonard Bernstein will be turning in his grave.  As Long As He Needs Me is similarly crucified jazzified, sung with little to no sense of phrasing whatsoever.  Falling Slowly is the newest song on the album, taken from the current Broadway smash ‘Once’.  Walsh is paired with Ronan Keating, together performing as a rather dull, emotionless duet.  Thankfully Walsh is joined by West End star Louise Dearman for I Still Believe from ‘Miss Saigon’, the most dramatically produced song and in the most appropriate key for Walsh’s voice.  Even so, she’s utterly out-sung by Dearman who showcases what a musical theatre voice should sound like.

Another issue is that of audience.  It’s unlikely that Girls Aloud fans will be interested in this little side project to the band, but equally fans of musicals have little reason to part with their cash when they can purchase the far superior cast recordings.  We’ve already had Susan Boyle ruining I Dreamed A Dream, we don’t need Walsh doing the same for other loved shows.  It’s no wonder ‘Centre Stage’ is currently plummeting down the charts.

It’s difficult to justify any redeeming features of ‘Centre Stage’ beyond the attractive cover art.  Far from bringing musical theatre to a new audience, Walsh has achieved the opposite with sickening interpretations of some beautiful songs.  Perhaps the minimal album sales can be put towards some acting lessons – God knows she needs them.

1/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* None.

Listen: If you must, 'Centre Stage' is available now.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Bourne Legacy (2012) - Tony Gilroy


Back in 2002 with the release of The Bourne Identity, the Bourne films were seen as something of an anti-Bond - the antithesis of 007's gadgets, girls and fantasy plots.  Yet since the Daniel Craig era of Bond, Bourne has had stiff competition.  The Bourne Legacy, the fourth in the series, proves that Bourne still has some catching up to do in comparison to the triumphant Skyfall.

Bourne's focus on gritty realism is what set the series apart.  However, this new film uses a twist in the original trilogy to allow for a new take on familiar themes and a seemingly plausible way to produce more films in the series without simply changing the lead actor.  The focus is on the notion of reprogramming human genetics, a process achieved through simple pills.  When field operative Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) uses up his supply of these "chems", he is set on the run with an innocent scientist (Rachel Weisz) to finally resolve his need to stay enhanced - a necessity to his survival.

Is this really in keeping with the Bourne series?  The overall premise of the film is weak and descends too far into sci-fi.  The plot has similarities to Blade Runner - just as the replicants seek to meet their maker, so too must Cross uncover the secrets of the CIA programme that made him.  Cross's reasoning is so single-minded, Renner is left with little to do but robotic action in a fantasy plot that strays too far from the realism the original Bourne trilogy sought to portray.

The narrative speeds along at a frantic pace, jumping between action set-pieces in different time frames, whilst assuming a certain prior knowledge of the previous films.  It's initially dizzying and takes too long for the puzzle pieces to fit into place, leaving us to simply admire the action, which itself is merely a facade to cover the weaknesses in the plot.

Still, the action is typical Bourne fair with rooftop chases, fight sequences and car chases, all filmed with hand camera for that extra "in the moment" touch.  The final sequence in particular has a Terminator feel to its lengthy chase that's thoroughly gripping, whilst the musical score suitably ramps up the tension.  Action fans will find plenty to enjoy here.

The ending arrives all too suddenly, failing to provide answers to many questions earlier posed - an open-ending that leaves the narrative limp and dissatisfying.  It proves that The Bourne Legacy is little more than a shallow excuse to extend the series with even more inevitable sequels, albeit with some enjoyable action along the way.

2/5

Friday, 15 February 2013

Frankmusik - Far From Over



It's fair to say Vincent Turner aka Frankmusik's career hasn't quite gone to plan.  His musical resum√© includes production credits on Ellie Goulding's Lights and Erasure's 2011 album 'Tomorrow's World'; as a solo artist he's released dozens of remixes, plus his 2009 electro-pop album 'Complete Me'.  Yet last year saw him parting ways with his record label, Island Records, likely due to the poor sales of the album and his descent into dreadful collaborations with the likes of Far East Movement (Do It In The AM).

But now he's back and seemingly on top of his game, releasing his music independently.  This inevitably allows for creative freedom, leading to Turner writing, in his own words, "the best work I've ever done" in which he pushed himself "to make it sound as inventive and as dynamic as [he] could".  This latest EP, fittingly titled 'Far From Over', is the fruit of his labour.


Unfortunately, despite his own optimism, this is neither Turner's best work, nor inventive.  Opening track Captain is the main highlight: all neon synths and funk rhythms, it's very typical of Turner's style, though his pronunciation of "Cap-it-urn" is incredibly grating.  Map is obviously directed at his former label - "I never wanna find my way back" - and is a declaration of his moving on.  Musically, however, this is the same old Frankmusik, sadly reverting to a generic Europop beat in the chorus.  The fizzing production of Thank You is technically proficient but, as with final track The Line, the songwriting lacks the catchy hooks Turner is capable of.  The annoying spoken vocals in the latter track is yet another dig at his former label - subtlety really isn't in his vocabulary.


'Complete Me' is an under-appreciated pop gem, featuring the likes of In Step, When You're Around and the excellent 3 Little Words.  Sadly, 'Far From Over' is far from Turner's best work and far from being in step with his contemporaries.


2/5


Listen: 'Far From Over' is available for free on Frankmusik's website.



Thursday, 14 February 2013

CHVRCHES - Recover


The Glaswegian electro-pop group are causing such a stir at the moment, it's hard to believe this is only their third release following Lies and The Mother We Share.  It doesn't quite live up to the last release, but in a roundabout way that's a huge compliment when their overall output is so damn good.

I mean, more music from CHVRCHES is never a bad thing.  An album is in the works, but until then we have the full 'Recover' EP from March to tied us over (pictured), from which Recover is, funnily enough, the lead single.  This is sublime electro-pop: fizzing with synth hooks, girlish vocal melodies and lyrics tinged with sadness.  "If I recover, will you be my comfort?", asks singer Laura Mayberry with heartbreaking fragility.  If anything, CHVRCHES offer comfort to any pop fans disenchanted by the current charts.

4/5

Listen: Recover is available now, with the full EP released on 25th March.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Foals - Holy Fire


Providence, the ninth track on Oxford band Foals’ third album ‘Holy Fire’, marks a key moment on the record.  It’s a track that clearly harks back to their 2008 debut ‘Antidotes’, with obvious shades of lead single Cassius in its crunchy guitars and jerky rhythms.  Equally it’s a track that shows how far the band have come over the last few years, with richer instrumentation and textures, their sound expanding considerably with each record as bigger stadium performances beckon.

Where ‘Antidotes’ and the Mercury nominated ‘Total Life Forever’ are (arguably) fairly single-minded in their overall mood, ‘Holy Fire’ is a more multi-faceted album.  Inhaler was the first single released, roaring onto the airwaves in a blaze of awesome riffage.  The heavier feel is something of a departure for the band, though it does retain and develop their propensity for funk grooves, particularly in the syncopated basslines.  This continues with My Number: undoubtedly Foals’ most accessible track yet that will, deservedly, bring their music to a more mainstream audience.  Similarly, rock ballad Bad Habit is an immediate hit with a sublime chorus.  Later on the album comes Out Of The Woods, which has an almost Fleetwood Mac feel to it (Dreams especially), the autoharp and marimba adding a folky sense of ethereal mystery that’s a step on from Spanish Sahara on ‘Total Life Forever’.  Furthermore, Spanish Sahara has provided the basis for much of the album, in particular with the slowly developing Milk & Black Spiders and Stepson.  Rounding off the album is final track Moon that provides a meditative stillness juxtaposed with the preceding tracks, all guitar harmonics and evocative effects that shimmer with celestial serenity.

Unsurprisingly, album opener Prelude summarises this varied creativity – a largely instrumental track that rocks as much as it slowly blooms and unfurls.  Yet through it all, ‘Holy Fire’ still sounds unmistakably like a Foals album.  The band have distilled their sound and applied it to previously unexplored musical territory.  This is a band willing to branch out, whilst remaining grounded in their own identity. 

In between these obvious highlights, Foals settle into a midtempo groove.  The remaining tracks are far from unaccomplished, but they lack the same personality and distinction.  Part of this is to do with frontman Yannis Philippakis’s vocal often being lower in the mix than usual, overpowered by the guitars, and used predominantly as simply another line within the overall textures.  No doubt a conscious decision, this works fine for a texture-focused track like Moon, but the likes of Everytime and Late Night lack the immediacy of the album’s better tracks and are diminished to filler.

Thankfully, the good far outweighs the not-so-good on ‘Holy Fire’.  Foals have grown into one of the UK’s most preeminent rock bands and for good reason.  ‘Holy Fire’ is an incredibly accomplished album that sees the band at the top of their game, an album that will appease old fans as well as draw in some new ones.  Featuring some of the band’s best work to date (besides Spanish Sahara), this album proves that when Foals hit their peak the results are pretty damn special.

4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Inhaler
* My Number
* Moon

Listen: 'Holy Fire' is available now.

Watch: Foals are playing a series of sold out shows in March.


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Haim - Falling


And so Haim continue to grow from strength-to-strength.  Their ubiquitous sound has been cemented by the success of Don't Save Me, continuing with Falling.  Evidently, the 'Sound of...' accolade has been richly deserved.

Funky and cool, Falling perfectly reflects their R&B and rock influences.  It's got everything you could want from a Haim track.  When played live, meanwhile, the track takes on a new lease of life.  The guitar lines roar with extra bite; the bassline is funkier; the live drumming is more dynamic; and the synth glue that holds it all together is more prominent.  The girls from LA can seemingly do no wrong.

The full EP of Falling will be released on April 1st (though it's basically a single with remixes).  

Screw that, just release a full album already...

4/5

Listen: The single of Falling is available now, with the EP released on April 1st.





Monday, 11 February 2013

James Blake - Retrograde


When Blake's self-titled debut album hit in 2011 it was met with a mixed response.  Whilst his technical ability as a producer was never in doubt and certain tracks are imbued with touching heartbreak, his minimalist approach left some cold.  The album may have earned the moniker 'blub-step', but it nevertheless received a Mercury prize nomination.

Despite the naysayers, Blake has returned doing what he does best: dub-step inspired electronic minimalism, where each small musical evolution has monumental impact.  As with The Wilhelm Scream, Retrograde takes the form of an extended crescendo.  Beginning with a gently hummed vocal melody, Blake layers on a deeply penetrating bassline, a siren-esque synth drone and ghostly vocals that slowly creep up on you.  It's all held together by a hand-clap beat that's as pitiful as Blake's haunting, cracking voice.

Alongside the skeletal production comes a bleak, apocalyptic video.  Retrograde may not be new territory for Blake, but it's a return to form from such a unique artist.

4/5

Listen: Retrograde is released today.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Plan B @ London O2 Arena


Ben Drew, aka Plan B, is a man of dualities - and not least because he has two names.  Musically, he has straddled both hip hop and soul, most prominently with his critically acclaimed albums 'The Defamation of Strickland Banks' (2010) and 'iLL Manors' (2012).  And with iLL Manors came Drew the film director, followed by his leading role in the 2012 remake of The Sweeney.

With this, his first stadium tour, Drew has drawn together the two sides of his personality.  It's a gig that, suitably enough, comes in two halves, each taking the form of a short film introduced with a BBFC certificate and the Twentieth Century Fox introduction ("Plan B Presents").  And, of course, his collaboration with Chase & Status, End Credits, was played as the encore.  At the half way point was an incredible beatboxer who somewhat stole the show.  Behind the band were projections of his music videos: the 'Strickland Banks' section loosely telling a story; the 'iLL Manors'  section following the narrative of the film.  For the latter especially, the music is so tightly connected to the film that the visuals were a welcome addition.  The concept as a whole was well implemented, but more integration between the two halves would have provided a more complete, rather than fragmented, performance.

As a performer, Drew morphed from one half to the next.  'Strickland Banks' eased the audience into the music, but suited and booted, Drew appeared a little static.  With the change to 'iLL Manors', Drew entered in hoodie and leather jacket and was immediately more comfortable.  His soul album may have expanded his audience, but it's clear that hip-hop is his passion.

This was at its most recognisable with the title track to 'iLL Manors', played twice.  A protest song against Cameron's "broken Britain", it's rare for popular music to be enriched with such social commentary and to be performed with such angst and bite.  Loosened up and rage-filled, Drew was accompanied by an on-stage riot in the most dynamic song of the gig.  With the crowd roaring back in spiteful agreement, this song alone proved, amongst all the cinematography, the lyrical power of Drew's music.

4/5





Saturday, 9 February 2013

Wreck It Ralph (2013) - Rich Moore


Video Games often get a bad reputation in the media.  From Mortal Kombat back in 1992 to the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty being blamed for gun crime in America, gaming is something of an easy target.  It's thanks to the talented folk at Disney that Wreck-It Ralph shows video games in the positive light they deserve.

After all, for many, gaming began as child's play.  Wreck-It Ralph brings us back to a time before endless shooting games, a time of gaming innocence.  Mixing the best talents from both Disney and Pixar, this is a vibrant, colourful CGI world full of charm.  As with gaming itself, the film takes us from the mundane real world into an escapist fantasy realm where anything is possible.  The 3D effect is a subtle one as each carefully differentiated game comes to life - the candy cane world of 'Sugar Rush', where the majority of the film takes place, is stunningly rendered.

It's the characters and cameos that fill this world that make Wreck-It Ralph such a great film.  For starters, the ape-like main character (John C. Reilly) stars in the Donkey Kong-esque game 'Fix-It Felix Jnr'.  From there, we have the Halo-esque 'Hero Duty' where we meet Jane Lynch's butch Sergeant Calhoun and the Japanese kawaii style Mario Kart clone 'Sugar Rush', complete with anime style characters and J-pop soundtrack.  It's here that we meet Vanellope, voiced in suitably comedic fashion by Sarah Silverman in a role that's miles away from her comedy sketches.  Licensed-in characters from the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter and Pacman provide authenticity, lovingly portrayed in humorous yet faithful fashion, with some even voiced by their original voice actors.  The support group for gaming villains is particularly well depicted.  From the 8bit, jerky animations and pixellated effects to the chirpy chip-tune music, Wreck-It Ralph displays reverence to its source that fans will appreciate, without losing any Disney charm.

The links to Toy Story are clear.  As with Pixar's series, this is a film about the private life of toys - in this case electronic avatars.  Wreck-It Ralph, however, is less concerned with the characters' interaction with humans.  This ultimately is the downfall of the film, which is consumed with its own world and lacks the humanity of Pixar's best.  What it does do is provide an escapist fantasy of fast-paced, kinetic action and a narrative with a surprising number of sub-plots and plenty of heart.  There's a lot here for the whole family to enjoy.

It must also be noted that, in typical Pixar fashion, Wreck-It Ralph is preceded by short animation Paperman.  In just a few short minutes, Disney prove why they're such accomplished storytellers - no dialogue required, just stunningly drawn characters.

Video games may still be young in media terms, but they're a universal medium.  No longer are consoles hidden away in the bedrooms of teenagers, they've become the centrepiece beneath the family television and games are readily available in the hands of every smart phone user.  Now, with Wreck-It Ralph, gaming has a suitable film that celebrates the medium, rather than holding it to blame.

4/5



Friday, 8 February 2013

Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob


It’s no myth that the pop charts have become staid.  We live in a musical climate where songs like Scream & Shout and Thrift Shop are currently riding high at the top of the charts; a climate saturated with endless dance tracks about drinking and shagging produced by robots; a climate where artists are more concerned with one hit single than creating a full album.

Enter Tegan and Sara.  These twins are unequivocally the best thing to come out of Canada and the best thing to happen to pop music in a long while.

The girls have fourteen years of experience behind them, ‘Heartthrob’ being their seventh album since 1999.  Their beginnings were rooted in angst-ridden pop-rock, reaching a pinnacle with the emo album ‘Sainthood’.  For this new album, they are harking back to their youth but with a change of style to pure power pop, losing none of their angst in the process.  ‘Heartthrob’ is concerned with falling both in and out of love - as Love They Say explains, “there’s nothing love can’t do”.  The album’s title is directed less at a single figure and more at the passionate emotions that love can inspire, both positive and negative.  Like the best pop songs, the lyrics are direct and simple, masking a wealth of earnest feeling – easily understood, easily relatable and highly emotive.

And with these love songs, Tegan and Sara have crafted a series of pop tracks that adhere to old-fashioned rules but, in this day and age, appear fresh.  Sure, the girls have worked with some of the top pop producers of the moment (including Greg Kurstin and Rob Cavallo) and the production bubbles and fizzes with contemporary style.  But ‘Heartthrob’ is tightly focused into ten three minute bundles, each one crammed with catchy hooks and sing-along choruses.  This might be frothy pop, but a hell of a lot of care and love has gone into its creation.  It’s youthful and vibrant, playful even, but there’s equally a maturity and a confidence here. 

‘Heartthrob’ does work within a limited sonicscape, with its own definite style, but what’s so impressive is the album’s consistency.  There is not one bad track, a feat that’s initially overwhelming.  Keep listening and each track’s charms become more apparent.  It’s almost impossible to choose a favourite from such an accomplished selection of songs.  So keep your finger hovering over that repeat button – resistance is futile.

4/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Every track.  No really.

Listen: 'Heartthrob' is released on 11th February.  Listen to a preview at PopJustice.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Darkstar - News From Nowhere


‘News From Nowhere’, the second album from Darkstar, is the sort of album that easily falls under the radar.  Far from the mainstream and lacking in immediacy, for the most part this is an abstruse record that takes time to sink in – but are the results worth it?

In a step away from the obviously dance influenced debut ‘North’, ‘News From Nowhere’ is a wash of electronic minimalism.  Initially, like clutching a pool of water, the music shimmers and glistens but slips through the fingers.  For some this will be a turn off, but for others more inclined to a challenge, this will demand repeated listening.

That’s not to say there aren’t stand out tracks.  Timeaway is a beautiful piece of ethereal electronica, softly blooming into clouds of synth pads and arpeggiated droplets from which emerges a ghostly vocal.  The track has immediate appeal in its own right, despite being previously released as the album’s lead single.  Amplified Ease features a repeated vocal hook that’s an obvious earworm, whilst subsequent track You Don’t Need A Weatherman focuses on a cyclical descending bassline that provides a secure grounding, atop which the production gradually and atmospherically evolves.  As a whole, the tracks eschew typical pop structures for something more experimental.

Yet this is where the album falls short.  Beneath the layers of clever technique, the spectral hazes of electronica, the songwriting is a little lacking – particularly around the mid-point of the album.  Working within such minimal frameworks, the tracks fade into the background and fail to grab the listener’s attention.  Final track Hold Me Down is a prime example of this.  At its best, this is a mesmeric, hypnotic and pensieve record, but elsewhere, as penultimate track Bed Music – North View implies, this is music to drift away to.

3/5

Gizzle’s Choice
* Timeaway
* Amplified Ease
* You Don’t Need A Weatherman

Listen: 'News From Nowhere' is available now.


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Midnight Tango @ The Phoenix Theatre, West End.



Strictly Come Dancing has become something of an institution in this country, but it’s only fair that “the professionals” get a chance to shine in their own separate realm of dance.  And so it is that Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace have created Midnight Tango, a production that sees the championship winning pair performing together on the West End stage.  Even for someone whose only knowledge of Argentine tango comes from the BBC programme, this is a spectacular show.

Essentially a ballet in tango, the show takes place inside an Argentinian bar, wonderfully designed by Morgan Large.  The shabby interior is littered with detail (the set is even used as percussion at one point) and includes space for the excellent on-stage band (Tango Siempre) and singer Miguel Angel.  The bar is owned by an older couple, whose humorously bickering relationship plays out like a slapstick silent movie, providing a suitable counterpoint to the intense love affair of the principal dancers.  Although Russell Grant sadly was unable to perform as the bar owner through injury, his inclusion may have spoilt the illusion of Latin authenticity the production as a whole strives to achieve.

As is typical of the genre, Midnight Tango oozes sweat, passion and sensuality.  Argentine tango is the principal style of dance throughout, characterised by sharp intertwining leg movements, impressive lifts and lashings of Latino fire, accompanied by music from the likes of Astor Piazolla.  With such a busy stage it’s easy to get distracted, but our attention is always guided by the lighting.  The ensemble are immensely talented, gliding effortlessly across the floor, but even they pale in comparison to the obvious stars – Vincent and Flavia.  Regularly pulling focus, their dancing is tighter, sharper and faster than the others – a partnership that is truly a sight to behold.

Whilst the first half lacks a little variety, the second half offers more distinct and dramatic dances.  In particular, the climax of the production sees Vincent and Flavia perform a virtuosic rumba-esque romantic duet, their bodies intertwining in harmonious union – a simply stunning routine.  Beforehand an all-male dance cleverly subverts the typical couple as the men fight to outperform one another in peacockish bravura.  The finale, meanwhile, is a long sequence of routines that feature a magnificent display of skilful technique, strength and passion for dance.  The production may be on the short-side, but the stamina and, moreover, trust in one another that the dancers exhibit is astonishing.

As Midnight Tango replicates, the best place to see tango performed would be a small bar in a backstreet of Buenos Aires under a heady, starlit sky.  But for most of us, this is the closest we’ll ever get.

4/5

Watch: Midnight Tango returns to the West End at the Phoenix Theatre London until 2nd March, before touring the UK throughout the summer.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Strokes - One Way Trigger


For many, The Strokes’s 2001 album ‘Is This It’ marks the pinnacle of 00’s indie rock.  Most recently, the band released ‘Angles’ in 2011 which modernised their sound, but largely saw the band on autopilot.  Guitarist Nick Valensi even offered that making ‘Angles’ “was just awful”.

So why return?  2013 will see the release of a new album in March, ‘Comedown Machine’ (pictured), from which One Way Trigger is taken.  It certainly marks a departure for the band.  If anything, it sounds like a more frenzied version of A-Ha’s Take On Me, with its spiky synth melodies and frontman Julian Casablancas’s emphasis on falsetto.  It lends the track a poppier feel which could see them back in the mainstream.

Yet, whilst it undeniably feels like a Strokes track, you can’t help but feel the band are losing their way.  Where ‘Is This It’ felt effortlessly cool, One Way Trigger is a forced effort from the band to stay relevant.  It’s not an utter travesty, but it’s far from their best.

2/5

Listen: ‘Comedown Machine’ is released on March 25th.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Fall Out Boy - My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)


With their last album released in 2008, the fall out boys have been on hiatus ever since.  That's not to say they haven't been busy beavering away on various side projects, though if you can name one without checking Wikipedia I'd be impressed.

Perhaps that's why the boys have teamed up again for a new album, amusingly titled 'Save Rock and Roll', from which this typically ludicrously named track is the first single.  The band are clearly seeking to hit a moodier, more serious tone with this track that differs from their past pop punk efforts, in a quest to make music "that matters to us".  It's certainly more edgy than frothy, but it remains firmly in pop territory.  Despite an initially intriguing sound, the chorus sadly falls flat, even with its "I'm on FIRE" vocal.

This isn't likely to save rock and roll, but the hiatus has benefitted the band, returning with a decent slice of pop-rock.

3/5

Listen: My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark features on new album 'Save Rock and Roll' to be released in May.

Watch: The band will tour in February, including playing at London's Underworld on the 25th.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Raid (2012) - Gareth Evans



The title might be dull, but this Indonesian film is far from boring.  This isn't just a raid, this is the raid.

The plot is a simple one - a young, fresh-faced police squad are sent into a high rise block to kill its ruling crimelord.  But who is behind this operation?  And once inside, will the squad be able to escape?

This twists and turns aren't complicated or particularly satisfying, but it's the action rather than the narrative that thrills.  The Raid is jam-packed with brutal violence: thugs and policeman are shot, stabbed, thrown and battled in a flurry of kung-fu.  The fight choreography is impressive for its fluidity and speed as well as its inventiveness - with no CGI involved, this is pure human skill.  Evans's dynamic camerawork swoops and shifts with every blow, every axe swing and every slow-motion bullet piercing flesh and skull, creating one hell of a visceral experience.

The high-rise flat is a suitably hellish environment - at first seemingly desolate and deserted, thugs soon crawl out of every room and hallway like ants awaiting a deathly end.  The dusty, dilapidated interior is merely a blank canvas for the sweat and blood that splatters onto every surface, hitting our ears as much as our eyes with each grunt, slice and bang.  A techno soundtrack accompanies the fights to ramp up the excitement, but elsewhere the film is drenched in deafening silence that truly heightens the tension.

If you're after an intelligent thriller, you won't find it here. Instead, The Raid is an intense, awesome masterclass in action.

4/5




Friday, 1 February 2013

Twelfth Night or What You Will @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama



“If music be the food of love, play on”.  So begins what for many is Shakespeare’s greatest comedy.  With so much music involved, it makes a suitable piece for the students at Guildhall, complete with piano and string accompaniment.

Mark Simmonds’ modern set evokes Grecian architecture with its geometric designs.  Most impressively, the curtains part to the side of the audience (sat in traverse) revealing an insinuated oceanic vista.  The storm scene, in particular, unveils spectacularly.  With such a sparse set, the costumes notably stand out – largely for their mix of minimalism and extravagance that lacks cohesion.

As expected under the eminent direction of Patsy Rodenburg, Shakespeare’s verse is spoken eloquently throughout, with some members of the cast revelling a little too much.  The result is a mostly solid ensemble, though some scenes do drag.

The pace picks up with the colourful members of Olivia’s household, setting up the comic subplot.  The cross-dressing comic device is furthered by having Feste played by a female: Eva Feiler’s fool sings beautifully self-accompanied on the accordion.  On the other hand, Tom Lincoln’s Orsino shows great presence and authority and Jessica Madsen’s Viola/Cesario is charming and articulate, with range of expression.  The casting of Madsen and Rob Callender as twin brother Sebastian is unusually realistic, lending believability to the dramatic climax.

Malvolio remains the most intriguing character and here, played by Stefan Adegbola, his depiction as a victim is highlighted.  Beginning as a statuesque butler, the infamous ‘yellow stocking’ scene is heightened with Adegbola emerging dressed in full yellow leotard and self-flagellating in a hilarious act of bondage.  Quickly he is reduced to a madman in a lunatic asylum, strapped to a wheelchair - a brave move that emphasizes the tragic elements of the comedy.  As the denouement unfolds, Adegbola delivers the lines with stoic poise for a suitably grave and poignant ending.

3/5

Watch: Twelfth Night runs from 31st January to 5th February at the Silk Street Theatre.