Sunday, 31 March 2013

Tiny Dancer - Who Am I

This is one tiny dancer you'll want to hold very close indeed.  Her real name may be unknown, but she's an amalgamation of all the best bits of Kate Bush, Gwen Stefani, Cyndi Lauper and Bjork in a gloriously off-kilter pop package.

Debut EP 'Who Am I' has been produced by Wayne Wilkins, whose work includes No Doubt, Beyoncé and Cheryl Cole.  As a result, we're pretty much guaranteed hook-laden pop production and killer choruses - exactly what we get on the percussive wallop of the title track and the moody synths of the accompanying Skies To Blue.

Add to that the weird, squeaky vocal imbued with colourful characterisation to match the neon outfits and Tiny Dancer really is a giant-sized pop package that belies her name.  But we're still left with the question: who exactly is she?


We were lucky enough to catch up with Tiny Dancer and ask her a few questions on the girl behind the name...

The Gizzle Review: So what's the story behind the name?
Tiny Dancer: When I was about 6, I used to dance barefoot and my Dad was the one who gave me the name.

TGR: Would you say Tiny Dancer is more of a character through which you write your music and express yourself creatively?
TD: Yeh, she’s like an alter-ego. She’s the other half of me. I think everyone is split down the middle.

TGR: You mention on your Facebook biography that you’re “not yet another winsome girl perched on a stool with an acoustic guitar”. Does your songwriting begin on guitar and then expand from there?
TD: Not always. Sometimes it’s just a melody, sometimes it’s the lyrics that come first or sometimes it’s the mood of the studio or the people in it.

TGR: How was working with Wayne Wilkins on your EP? Was the writing process a collaborative effort between you? Having worked with established pop acts like Beyoncé and Cheryl Cole, did that influence the process of recording? 
TD: Wayne's one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever met. If I could wish to be like one person it would be him. Plus he always smells nice which is a bonus, hehe! I wouldn’t say it changes anything really, I’ve got a lot of faith in the music I create. We’d literally be vibing until four o’clock in the morning - when the inspiration's there you gotta keep going, tiredness isn’t an option.

TGR: The video for Who Am I has a very “art installation” feel to it. Are the visual arts a big inspiration to you?  
TD: Art's an exorcism - it frees people, enables them to express themselves. The Who Am I video represents the journey of someone's life, the different rooms and objects are there as the obstacles a person will come across in order to find themselves (who they are).

TGR: Your fashion choices are very distinctive – have any designers or styles in particular inspired you? 
TD: I wouldn’t say I'm fashionable - that’s not the word to describe me. I wear exactly what I want. I like to play dress up, I'm like a child in that sense. I'm a different version of myself each day.

TGR: Your music has been compared to strong female artists such as Gwen Stefani, Kate Bush and Marina & The Diamonds. How important is female empowerment to your music in an industry so often preoccupied with sexuality?
TD: I think it's great to be compared with such amazing artists, I’ll happily take that compliment. As for female empowerment, I think if music’s good, then it's good. Whether male or female, I don’t think it matters.

TGR: What new material are you currently working on? What can we expect from your upcoming album? 
TD: Hearing it could be weird for the first time - it's definitely unordinary, in a great way! It's very tribal, pop with a hint of the 80’s. It's my own wonderland.

TGR: Lastly, when you’re not writing and performing music, what are you most likely to be doing? 
TD: Eating, sleeping, breathing? I made a commitment to my music, music is the love of my life. It’s a relationship without the problems and it will never ever stop making me happy.

Listen: 'Who Am I' is released on 6th May.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Jack The Giant Slayer (2013) - Bryan Singer

We all know the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, but Jack The Giant Slayer attempts to do for this fairytale what last year's Snow White And The Huntsman did for Snow White - retelling the story for a new generation.  This time we have that kid from Skins (a 'rabbit-in-the-headlights' Nicholas Hoult in a hoodie) and a beautifully coiffed Ewan McGregor.

Everything about Jack The Giant Slayer is so excruciatingly lazy.  The cast consists of some credible actors - Stanley Tucci and Eddie Marsan alongside Hoult and McGregor - but their performances are as wooden as a beanstalk.  At least they get a pay cheque at the end of the two hour slog, which is more than the audience.  That said, they are given an abysmal script where every other line is a pun.  Nobody, no matter how credible their acting, can make lines like "You're barking up the wrong beanstalk", "Let's hope he didn't spill the beans" and "There's something behind me, isn't there" (used twice!) sound good.  This version of the fairytale is a farcical pantomime, filled with innumerable plot holes.  Don't even get me started on the ending.

McGregor's quiff aside, there's not even any visual magic.  The film begins with (what else?) a brief retelling of a legend, presented with all the graphical quality of the original Playstation circa 1996.  Elsewhere, the CGI special effects are detailed but the giants themselves look as if they've been designed by a group of five year olds.  They act like them too - the level of joke as juvenile as nose-picking, arse scratching and farting.  And why exactly are they all Northern Irish?!

If you're going to retell a fairytale you'd best bring something new to the table.  Singer doesn't.  Jack The Giant Slayer is brimming with shades of Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, whilst the score is ripped from Pirates of the Caribbean.  The result is a film that's beige, bland and uninteresting to the extreme.

I'll save you the puns and spill the beans for you: don't bark up this beanstalk.  This bean doesn't sow the seed of a new franchise, it's just one giant bore-fest.


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Here Is Your Temple - So High EP

Swedish music isn't just about electro-pop.  There's also a thriving indie-folk scene, led by the likes of Lykke Li and First Aid Kit.  Now Here Is Your Temple can be added to the list.

Their music features lush, dreamy swathes of guitars and strings peppered with icy synths.  Imagine the vast sonicscapes of M83 merging with the indie rock of Arcade Fire and the gentle harmonies of Milo Greene, all wrapped up in music that conjures stark cinematic images of snowy vistas and sun-dappled fjords.  Lead single So High is the most immediate track, with its shoegaze mix of fuzzy bassline and dreamy vocals, whilst Big Way moves things down a heavier, synth-focused path.  Elsewhere the EP is on the lighter side - a gentle wash of plucked, chiming strings and lofty romanticism.  It's on Once Rich that the quintet hit their peak in a mesmeric whirl of melodic hooks and chants of "nothing is a sure thing".

Here Is Your Temple are as refreshing as a cool Scandinavian breeze, blustering imminently across the North Sea to our shores.


Listen: The 'So High' EP is released on April 15th.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Trance (2013) - Danny Boyle

“All the dark stuff that we couldn’t put into the Olympics has ended up here. We were finding a release for that instinct”, claims Boyle in a recent interview with Sight & Sound.  Trance is certainly the antithesis of the Olympic Opening Ceremony: a psychologically complex and intimate drama, that doesn’t shy away from violence.  It’s definitely not for family viewing.

It is, however, set in London, but not the London you’re expecting.  Free from landmarks, this metropolis has a futuristic feel with its clean, minimalist lines and metallic and glass surfaces.  Much of the film is shot from jaunty, expressionist angles through the glass surfaces, our view manipulated like refracted light.

This all serves the elaborate narrative.  Art heist films are nothing new – but this is far from your typical heist.  Simon (James McAvoy) works at an auction house and is hailed as a hero when he prevents criminal leader Franck (Vincent Cassel) from stealing a piece of art.  Suffering from amnesia after a blow to the head, Simon is soon caught up with the criminals as they take him to see hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) in the hope he can remember where the painting is hidden.  Yet nobody is quite as they seem, forcing us to question reality and who exactly is under the titular trance.  This isn’t really a heist film at all, but a twisted psychological thriller.

Cleverly shot, Trance is typical of Boyle’s style.  The script is peppered with British humour and doesn’t shy away from gore (though how much of it is real?).  There’s a real hypnotic rhythm to the editing that’s matched by the techno score from Underworld’s Rick Smith (who most famously composed the score for Trainspotting).  It might not be subtly used, but the music gradually and mesmerically crescendos in parallel with the narrative.  And the Olympic dream team returns with a credit song from Emeli Sande (who else?!) that’s very much a departure from her usual style.

Cassell isn’t quite dangerous enough as Franck and Dawson returns in a typically sensual role, whilst McAvoy provides a solid central performance though his turn at the end is a little sudden.  This, however, is more of a narrative problem.  Like a painting, the narrative slowly builds up its layers until it eventually reveals the full image.  Along the way, there are some leaps that require the audience to suspend their disbelief, with a sudden, slightly disappointing denouement and Inception-style open-end. 

Still, however plausible the central hypnotherapy concept, Trance is an intelligent and thrilling exploration into the power of the human mind.


Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Say Lou Lou - Julian

From the ashes of Saint Lou Lou comes Say Lou Lou.  Ok ok, it’s just a name change.  Otherwise this is the same Australian-Swedish female duo who last year brought us the excellent Maybe You.

Julian has been coming for a while, with an acoustic version already floating around the Internet, but today the final edit has finally surfaced.  And it doesn’t disappoint.  Where the acoustic version is plaintive and gentle, the final edit pairs the hushed, melancholic vocals of the sisters with a wash of lush synths and a simple dance beat pulse.  There’s even a saxophone solo towards the end, perhaps taking cue from M83’s Midnight City.  This is ethereal, romantic dream-pop that will melt you heart – get it in your ears and hope for a full album soon. 


Listen: Julian will be released on 6th May.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Luke Sital-Singh - Bottled Up Tight

Sometimes, amongst all the flashy EDM beats, dub-step bass drops and squealing guitar solos of popular music, it's nice to have a quiet moment of poignancy.  And Luke Sital-Singh fits the bill rather nicely.

If you missed Sital-Singh's 'Fail For You' EP last year then shame on you.  It's a collection of four beautiful acoustic songs that touch the heart as easily as a sigh, showcasing Sital-Singh's subtle guitar textures and nuanced vocal.  Bottled Up Tight is a rather lovely addition to his material, aimed more at the mainstream.  The simple guitar pattern has immediate impact, whilst Sital-Singh's vocal begins as a delicate hush and gradually builds towards a soaring, gravelly chorus.  The final production buffs the performance to a polished sheen, so it's well worth listening to Sital-Singh perform live (see below).

Bottled Up Tight should bring some much deserved mainstream attention to this talented singer-songwriter who surely stands out from the crowd.


Listen: Bottled Up Tight will feature on upcoming EP 'Old Flint' released on 15th April.

Watch: Sital-Singh has a number of imminent gigs throughout the UK - details on his website.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Out In The Dark (2012) - Michael Mayer

Queer cinema is filled with stories of forbidden love.  Out In The Dark is no different, though its narrative is laced with political intrigue.  Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) is Palestinian; Roy (Michael Aloni) is Israeli.  No matter how strong their love for one another, political tensions threaten to stifle their relationship at every turn - Nimr cannot risk his family knowing the truth, whilst idealist Roy despairs at the hopelessness of the situation.  Their love is doomed from the start, even before the complications of Nimr's terrorist brother cause their lives to fall apart.  We witness the narrative through nervous camerawork that leads us into a world where homosexual men are forced to live life in the shadows.  The title, Out In The Dark, has layers of meaning both literal and metaphorical.

Yet politics merely provide a backdrop to the relationship.  Certainly the setting offers an overbearing feeling of dread, with political tensions woven into key points of the plot, but the plot itself is a predictable tragedy.  Out In The Dark does poignantly highlight the suffering of gay men in the middle east - a subject rarely touched upon in cinema - but its core narrative is simply another outsider drama.  Does queer cinema have no other stories to tell?

At its heart, Out In The Dark is a film about the lengths people will go to for those they love and features an honest and sympathetic portrayal of a gay relationship.  The chemistry between Jacob and Aloni is palpable and immediate, both offering naturalistic performances.  Newcomer Jacob is especially credible in the eye-opening scenes in which Nimr is torn from his family through the shame he has brought them.  It is in these moments of human tragedy that the film most excels.


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Sigur Rós - Brennisteinn

Sigur Rós are best known for their serene textures, achingly beautiful melodies and euphoric crescendos.  Brennisteinn (trans. Sulfur), the first track from the Icelandic band's upcoming album 'Kveikur', is therefore not what you might expect.  And that's no bad thing.

It does bear all the hallmarks of Sigur Rós:  evocative atmospherics, bowed guitars and Jónsi Birgisson's lofty falsetto.  Brennisteinn, however, begins with a musical explosion rather than a soft hush.  Industrial percussion bursts forth, electric guitars are tempered with violent distortion and bass synths yawn with volcanic intensity as if the very earth is imploding.  Birgisson's vocals, meanwhile, have a more urgent quality that drives the track onwards.

Together with the disturbing video filled with smoke, explosions and bodies ripped apart into sulphuric dust, Brennisteinn confirms an aggressive new direction for the band.


Listen: Brennisteinn will feature on upcoming album 'Kveikur' released on June 17th.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Faulty Towers Dining Experience @ The Charing Cross Hotel

Tired from a long day at work, I was looking forward to a relaxing meal at the Charing Cross Hotel served by the kind folk of Faulty Towers.  Unfortunately, I can only describe the evening as an utterly chaotic farce. 

We were first greeted by Mr Basil Faulty who, rather than putting the dinner guests at ease, was a rather inhospitable host as he viewed us all with disdain.  Greater than his dislike for the guests, however, was his dislike for the Spanish waiter Manuel as the arguing commenced almost immediately.  Behind closed doors this may have been more acceptable as Mr Faulty was training the waiter, but to argue with the poor man in front of the guests was a disgrace.  This soon escalated to violence, which was most unprofessional.

At time Mr Faulty was an attentive host – on asking where the bathroom was he politely showed my partner the way, but she did not need to be followed directly to the door.  The host even stole my bottle of wine from the table at one point and refused to return it without seeing my ID, something I took as a personal insult.  One guest was singled out as being of Germanic descent and later accused of being “riff raff”.  Most of all, Mr Faulty was too preoccupied with the horse race he had bet on than actually serving the dinner and it even appeared that he had stolen the money from his wife – despicable behaviour.  The extent of Mr Faulty’s hospitality was accusing the guests of being “arses” and “miserable London layabouts”, language I was utterly shocked to hear barked at the dining room.

Mr Faulty’s wife Sybil (or “the Dragon” as he not so affectionately named her) was a far more attentive host, greeting us with a warm smile beneath her immaculate hairdo.  That said, she was rather preoccupied with some Italian gentlemen on another table and was adamant at playing the matchmaker, a feat that was rather interfering.  Her singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ was well meant and a kind offering, but her nasal, warbling voice remained painful on the ears.

As mentioned, our waiter for the evening was Manuel who proved rather inept.  Before we had even begun, much of the cutlery and crockery was misplaced or simply missing altogether.  Once dinner service began, the entertainment truly started.  Bread rolls were thrown on tables, water was poured from jugs and missed the glasses considerably, garnish was dropped on our laps before our soup had even arrived (indeed the serving order was erratic), and Manuel even performed gymnastics on the floor (I did chuckle at his misinterpretation of ‘roll’, but alas I remained hungry whilst waiting for the bread to arrive).  Following the first course, we were expected to stack our own bowls (incredulous!) and what followed was a terrible calamity from the kitchens.  Sybil was most attentive to a lactose intolerant guest at our table, but elsewhere a vegetarian was served raw vegetables!  Mr Faulty insulted the poor waiter as a “continental cretin”, but sadly my agreement couldn’t be helped.

When one is served soup, one does not expect to find the chef’s dentures floating inside the bowl.  Alas, such an outrageous event did occur to the unsuspecting lady sat beside me, leaving me rather reluctant to finish my own bowl, though hunger soon took over.  Manuel proceeded to stand on the tables at a later point, though his song was a wonderful little ditty.  Elsewhere, spiders were discovered between the windows (where Manuel was laughably locked out), and a pair of ladies underwear was discovered beneath one of the tables!  If that were not bad enough, Manuel introduced us to what he thought was a pet hamster, but in fact it was a rat he had found in the hotel.  When said rat escaped it caused panic amongst guests and hosts alike and just proved the level of cleanliness at this establishment.  The hotel inspectors simply must be informed.

In all, this evening from Faulty Towers was an absolutely calamitous pantomime.  The levels of service and cleanliness were well below par and hospitality was clearly low on Mr Faulty’s agenda (beneath gambling I’m sure).  I left the dinner feeling most exhausted – largely because I couldn't help but guffaw loudly at the hilarity of it all.  This was a most enjoyable evening – for all the wrong reasons.

Would I stay again?  Absolutely.


The soup starter - thankfully minus dentures

The chicken main

The cheesecake - after I'd scoffed it.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time @ The Apollo Theatre

The plot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, based on Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name, is indeed a curious little incident.  When Christopher Boone discovers his neighbour’s dog is dead he decides to uncover the culprit and write a book on his findings, which takes him on an adventure where the truth about his family is revealed.

Haddon utilizes a unique narrative style to tell his story.  Christopher suffers from autism and, written from his point of view, the novel gives us an insight into his way of thinking – logical and mathematical.  The success of this production similarly rests on its narrative presentation: at once childlike yet containing adult themes, this is a simple and lucid family drama dressed in a complex, modern multimedia setting.  At its core, The Curious Incident… juxtaposes the order and structure of Christopher’s extraordinary mind with the chaos of human emotion.

Structure comes from the story’s narration directly from Christopher’s book, later breaking the fourth wall as it’s literally re-worked as the play we’re watching.  It does provide some comedy, enhancing the already light-hearted script, but its sudden inclusion in the second half feels a little tacked on. 

Cleverly, the geometric set design from Bunny Christie plays on mathematics as we see Christopher’s mind come to life: abstract and minimal, the graph paper surfaces conceal hidden compartments and diagrams are drawn on the floor with chalk.  Paule Constable’s neon, glowing lighting is stunning, with LEDs lighting up the floor to delineate space, cosmic sparkles reflecting the Milky Way and words and numbers cascading over the set.  Choreographed movement is also employed to skillfully tell story sections in slow-motion, even walking on walls.  The drama is accompanied by an ambient, electronic soundtrack from Adrian Sutton, comprising computer bleeps, bloops and glitches that's at once technological and emotive. The overall result is a spectacular, visual and sonic delight.

The comedic and moving performances bring life to the plot, in friction with the hard geometry of the set.  The monologues from Christopher’s unstable parents (Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker) are particularly heart-breaking as they learn to deal with their autistic son.  At the centre is Christopher himself in a sympathetic portrayal from Luke Treadaway.  Endearing, tender and utterly credible, his behavioural quirks have qualities we can all empathise with.  Judging by audience reactions though, Treadaway is almost overshadowed by Sandy the puppy – a sentimental moment that the play, as a whole, mostly eschews.  And make sure to stay until after the bows for an extra scene.

The Curious Incident… is a clever adaptation and an outstanding piece of theatre.  It might use ultra-modern theatrical techniques but at its core this is a heart-wrenching, human story of compelling performances.  An absolute must-see.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Bo Bruce - Save Me

As another series of The Voice is in preparation, the best act from last year prepares to release a new single and album.

The video for Save Me features Bruce's usual quirky, boho style in a twisted fairytale that sees her awaken from a woodland cocoon clad in feathers and braids.  It's a suitable fit for her doe-eyed, ethereal persona.

But that's as far as any interest goes.  The strings, piano and light trip-hop beat are standard ballad fare, whilst Bruce's vocal mixes the breathy quality of Dido with the squeaky tone of Ellie Goulding.  Her delivery might be heartfelt, but the song itself is hardly pushing any boundaries.

Like The Voice, this is pleasant enough but lacks any bite or true innovation.


Listen: Save Me features on Bruce's debut album 'Before I Sleep' (pictured) released on 29th April.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Beyonce - Bow Down/I Been On

“Bow down bitches” Beyoncé growls in this, the first glimpse of her forthcoming fifth album.  For many she is Queen Bey, her world tour selling out in minutes.  But it’s important to note she’s not invincible and has often introduced her albums with a weak offering (Run The World (Girls) was far from the strongest track on ‘4’). 

Bow Down/I Been On is a similarly tough introduction, a mash-up of two album tracks.  The first half sees Beyoncé answering those who criticised the naming of her tour as ‘The Mrs Carter Show’, re-establishing her pop royalty position: “I took some time to live my life but don’t think I’m just his little wife”.  The beat is suitably fierce and aggressive as Beyoncé practically spits the words out.  The second half is recognisable from the O2 advert for the tour, but what’s not so recognisable is that it’s actually Beyoncé herself rapping with her voice pitch-shifted.  Clearly inspired by Mr Carter (it’s remarkable how alike they sound), this is Beyoncé’s attempt at hard-hitting hip-hop and it’s a world away from the lush power-ballads of ‘4’, despite the additional operatic sighs.  It’s also a world away from the ‘90s R&B sound that she promised having worked with the likes of Pharrell, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake on the forthcoming album.  

So how indicative is Bow Down/I Been On of the new material?  Can we expect an intimidating, masculine record or is this just another anomaly akin to Run The World (Girls)?  Either way, she's not taking any prisoners...


Listen: You can listen to Bow Down/I Been On on SoundCloud.  The fifth album is expected later this year.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Maniac (2013) - Franck Khalfoun

Are those big blue eyes really the eyes of a killer?

It’s the first image we see of Elijah Wood’s Frank in this remake of the 1980 horror film Maniac.  Clearly looking to shake his Hobbit image, since Lord of the Rings Wood has chosen disturbing, psychotic roles as in Sin City and here, but this slasher film will do nothing to further his career.

Maniac is not the character study into psychosis it could have been.  Frank restores broken mannequins and dresses them with the scalps of beautiful women that he murders, their beauty frozen and preserved.  His home becomes a Frankenstein gallery of mannequin partners and body parts – the character’s name is a blatant reference to Shelley’s gothic novel.  Later we see Frank watching The Cabinet of Dr Caligari in another piece of obvious symbolism.  The narrative features few new ideas with a script of stilted dialogue that lacks credibility.  Particularly laughable are the split personality monologues that have more than a faint whiff of Gollum.  Beyond some weird urges disguised as migraines and an odd relationship with his dead mother, disappointingly we never discover the root of Frank’s psychosis.

Khalfoun’s choice of perspective is the only point of interest.  Filmed solely using a hand camera with moody noir lighting, we watch the action through the eyes of Frank.  It creates a visceral experience that presents the violence in full view – the first gruesome death comes within the first six minutes.  Yet with the lack of depth to the narrative, this perspective is simply a twisted form of voyeurism that diminishes the film to gore porn for anyone who desires to watch beautiful women meet a grizzly end.  The final, nightmarish scene is particularly shocking.

“Sometimes I think they have more personality than most people”, claims Frank when discussing his work.  Sadly, both he and his victims are as plastic as the mannequins he restores.