Tuesday 30 April 2013

Janelle Monáe feat. Erykah Badu - Q.U.E.E.N

Monáe’s ‘The ArchAndroid’ was one of the best albums of 2010, so it’s been a long wait for fans as new material has been promised on numerous occasions (Fun.’s We Are Young hardly counts).  Now the moment has arrived, with this new track in collaboration with Erykah Badu released as the lead single from forthcoming album ‘The Electric Lady’.

Q.U.E.E.N is a confusing track at first, with its unpredictable shifts and kaleidoscope of musical genres.  Prince-esque funk guitars strum against a hip-hop beat, synth and voice fragments lend a 90s RnB feel, before the whole thing collapses in a soulful wash of sultry strings, jazz trumpets, conga rhythms and rapping.  The track certainly has an air of experimentation, more studio jam than true single.  As Monáe sings, “categorize me, I defy every label”. 

That lyric has a whole other meaning though.  Monáe’s accompanying tweet was particularly telling as to the song’s sentiment.  “Q.U.E.E.N was inspired by private discussions between Erykah and me.  It is meant to make you JAM. DANCE. FUNK OUT. and dialogue later…”.  What exactly were those private discussions about?  Some have suggested it concerns Monáe’s sexuality, specifically the third verse “Hey sister am I good enough for your heaven?/ Say will your God accept me in my black and white?/ Will he approve the way I’m made/ Or should I reprogram the programming?”, before claiming “Even if it makes other uncomfortable, I wanna love who I am”.  At the least, we can be sure that ‘The Electric Lady’ will be a more personal album than ‘The ArchAndroid’ – there’s no alter-egos here, just Monáe’s personal desires laid out in truth.

The most important lyric of all, though, comes at the end: “The booty don’t lie”.  The funky rhythms are utterly infectious, resulting in a dance track that is guaranteed to have you jamming, dancing and funking out.


Listen: Q.U.E.E.N is available now.

Monday 29 April 2013

Wild Swim - Another Night

The hotly-tipped Oxfordian five-piece return with the follow up to their debut single of last year, Echo. Where Echo was a slow-burning, organ soaked bloom, Another Night is a far more immediate affair.

Wild Swim are often compared to fellow Oxfordians Foals, as well as art-rockers Alt-J, and it's easy to see why.  The cold, minimalist opening mirrors the xx, but the gritty mix of guitars and incandescent synths is equally akin to Philippakis and co., whilst frontman Richard Samson's tormented vocals hover somewhere between rock and opera.  Together it reaches a grand and clattering climax that's likely to be a potent force when performed live.

The band won BBC Introducing Oxford's most hotly-tipped band for 2013 and these art-rockers are certainly deserving of the title.  Let's hope they can keep delivering tracks of such high quality.


Listen: Another Night is available now.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Rudimental - Home

It's fair to say that Feel The Love was the summer anthem of 2012, accompanying more festival and sport montages than you could shake a pint of cider at. With its throbbing drum and bass beats, dubstep wobbles, horn calls and the soulful vocals of John Newman, Rudimental's breakthrough hit had more Hackney spirit than the Olympics could muster.

Since then, the foursome have released Not Giving In (with vocals from Newman and Alex Clare) and, most recently, Waiting All Night with Ella Eyre. Undoubtedly these two tracks continue the raucous dynamic energy of Feel The Love, but they're in danger of becoming formulaic. Organ? Check. Soaring vocals? Check. Huge chorus? Check. The success of last year's hit has certainly been diminished.

It's left to the rest of 'Home', Rudimental's debut album, to prove that they're more than a one-trick pony. Thankfully, it's more varied than the singles would suggest, mixing elements of dubstep, garage, soul and house. This is a dance album with mainstream appeal.

Much of this variation comes from the numerous collaborations. Where some artists simply bring their vocals to the trademark Rudimental sound, others bring their distinctive flavours. Fellow London producer MNEK (whose work includes the likes of A*M*E, Misha B and Little Mix) crops up on two tracks (Spoons and Baby), adding a touch of Disclosure-esque modern garage. And there's even room for New York rapper Angel Haze to spit out some rhymes on Hell Could Freeze.

Some quieter tracks provide respite from the crash-bang of the singles, such as the slow dubstep of Hide, clattering ballad Powerless or pensieve album closer Free (featuring Emeli Sandé). Nothing is likely to catapult the foursome to the top of the charts as Feel The Love did, but their abilities as producers cannot be denied. At the least, the omnipotent Sandé has never sounded better.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Feel The Love
* Powerless
* Free

Listen: 'Home' is available from 29th April.

Saturday 27 April 2013

The Neighbourhood - I Love You

Last year's Sweater Weatherfrom the California band's EP 'I'm Sorry', is by far the best track on 'I Love You', their debut LP.  Part hipster love song, part ode to Chris Isaak, it's The Neighbourhood's biggest hit and is accompanied by a moody black and white video that perfectly mirrors the inherent nostalgia of their sound.

The band's closest contemporary is Lana Del Rey, but with orchestral strings swapped for slide guitars. Their sound is similarly a blend of old and new - Californian rock and roll meets modern hip-hop beats and a vocal delivery that borders on rap.  Imagine The Beach Boys drenched in teenage, monochromatic melancholy.

And like Del Rey, The Neighbourhood's indie cool is aimed squarely at the mainstream.  This is, for all intents and purposes, a pop album.  The downbeat melodies and electronic drum beats accompany teenage heartache, whether cooped up alone in a bedroom or laid out beneath the sunset on a Californian beach.  The polished production might undermine the low-fi angsty tone, but the sound is immediately alluring.

Yet something about 'I Love You' rings hollow and it's due to the lyrics.  "You're too mean, I don't like you, fuck you anyway / You make me wanna scream at the top of my lungs", sings frontman Jesse Rutherford on Afraid.  Lines like this reek of childish petulance.  Attempts at metaphor also fall flat, such as "I'm fucked in the head, and my mind is turning into a whore" on W.D.Y.W.F.M.  And the opening lyrics of the album are "How could you question God's existence when you question God Himself?".  If I needed a lesson on Christianity I wouldn't be looking for it here, on an album that would make the perfect accompaniment to an episode of Skins.  

It's perhaps for this reason that Sweater Weather succeeds.  By keeping it's lyrical content simple (i.e sex), focus is placed on the song's dreamy melancholia and musical twist - clearly the band's strongpoint.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Sweater Weather
* Alleyways
* Float

Listen: 'I Love You' is available now.

Friday 26 April 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013) - Shane Black

Tony Stark is the James Bond of the Marvel universe.  With his bravado persona, he has the money, the gadgets, the girl and the perfectly groomed goatee.  Yet with Iron Man 3, we final see Stark at his most vulnerable.  Stripped of the suit for much of the film and suffering from anxiety attacks after the events of Avengers Assemble, he is a desperate man seeking to protect the woman he loves.

The film doesn’t try to hide its blatant parallels to America’s war on terror, especially relevant after the recent bombings in Boston.  As such, the plot is fairly standard Hollywood blockbuster fare with all the typical villains, cute kid sidekicks and explosive action that you could expect.  Yet the series is reknowned for Downey Jr’s portrayal of Stark and Iron Man 3 delivers a new slant on the character, with a more serious story and believable terrorist threat (with a comic book twist of course), whilst retaining the trademark tongue-in-cheek humour.  The script is frequently hilarious, undercutting any seriousness with comedic one-liners delivered as charmingly as ever by Downey Jr.  The narrative is well paced, slowly weaving its story threads with surprising and unpredictable twists, albeit with plenty of plot holes.  Guy Pearce’s slimy villain Aldrich Killian follows a typical story arc with implausible motives, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (far from the strong woman we’ve seen in previous films) is mostly reduced to helpless victim, and Don Cheadle’s Iron Patriot is more symbol than man.  Yet the film focuses heavily on Stark and is carried by Downey Jr’s performance – easily the most endearing Marvel hero.

In comparison to other Marvel superhero films, Iron Man 3 is heavily story driven with only a smattering of well-directed action sequences.  Then just as you feel there’s not enough Iron Man involved, the film crescendos towards a suitably spectacular finale that has more suits than you could hope for, accompanied by a rousing score.  Iron Man 3 ultimately does little that the previous films don’t, but provides a fitting conclusion to the most exciting Marvel hero.  As pure, simple popcorn entertainment, it doesn’t get much better than this.


Wednesday 24 April 2013

Will.I.Am - #willpower

Only Will.I.Am could create a new album called '#willpower' that, ironically enough, will require all of your willpower to actually listen to it.

And that's not the only thing unique to Will.I.Am and his latest musical abomination:

Only Will.I.Am could….

...release an album that's anything but "dope".

...spend the first two tracks welcoming us to the album - not only does he wish us Good Morning (an idea stolen from Kanye's 'Graduation' album) but he then spends almost five minutes saying Hello.  Um...hi?

...earn the moniker Will.I.Steal by stealing other people's music and (almost) getting away with it.  His direct ripping of Arty and Mat Zo's track Rebound on Let's Go (feat. Chris Brown) without approval has been well documented and smacks of Will.I.Am's arrogance and lack of original ideas.

...sample The Charleston from the 1923 Broadway show 'Runnin' Wild' and combine it with modern dance music on Bang Bang.  This mix of old and new does not make it cool or clever.

...sample the Intel chimes on Geekin' in non-ironic fashion.

... blatantly copy another song, even if it's not a direct sample.  Let's face it, Fall Down (feat. Miley Cyrus) is basically Ke$ha's Die Young.  And the end of Reach For The Stars (if you can make it that far) even copies Beethoven. BEETHOVEN.

...make a record that's more robotic than Daft Punk, despite frequent unsubtle mentions like "technologic" on Geekin', or Bieber's "bigger, better, stronger, power" lyric on #thatPOWER.  Being a robot is only cool if you're French and wear a helmet, rather than having a weirdly angular 'fro and the inability to sing without the aid of a vocoder.

...not only use # in the album title, but in a track title (#thatPOWER) and in the lyrics ("#extortion").

...collaborate with acts such as Justin Bieber, Chris Brown and (the infuriatingly annoying) Baby Kaely and make them seem talented.  Skylar Grey, however, deserves better, whilst "Britney-bitch" overshadows the whole album.

...write an album of such vacuous lyrical content.  No Will, you are anything but a "dope crusader, funky terminator" and rhyming "Mark Zuckerbeg" with "tweety bird" does not make you "the f*cking nerd".  Calling a girl an elevator "cause you always pick me up" isn't particularly endearing.  The World Is Crazy might be your big political statement about everyone "just following a blind man", but it's somewhat undermined by Freshy glamourising gangster lifestyle ("Big willy, stay chilly, my money's so funny it's silly").  About the only thing you got right is Gettin' Dumb - exactly what your album makes me feel.

...fill an album with such repetitive bleeps and bloops, it makes you want to rip your own ears off and condemn the future of pop.  Even then, it's unlikely you'll get these earworms out of your head.

...make an album that the whole world can love to hate.


Gizzle's Choice (if you really must):
* Let's Go
* #thatPOWER
* Love Bullets

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Fall Out Boy - Save Rock And Roll

“Wait, have I just pressed play on Plan B?”

It’s an understandable response to The Phoenix, the opening track of ‘Save Rock And Roll’, which uses the same string sample as Plan B’s iLL Manors.  It’s a sample that immediately brings a sense of urgency to the track, accompanying the lyrics “put on your warpaint”; a track that begins the band’s first album since 2008’s ‘Folie a Deux’.  The phoenix metaphor isn’t easy to miss – this is a blazing return to form.

That sample isn’t the only unusual point of interest though.  ‘Save Rock And Roll’ includes numerous collaborations with other artists, like Big Sean rapping on The Mighty Fall and Courtney Love adding her vocals to Rat A Tat (“it’s Courtney bitch”).  Most weird of all is the collaboration with none other than Elton John on the title track that closes the album.  The gravitas of his voice is odd enough on a punky Fall Out Boy track, but a predictable piano ballad (with obligatory key change) jars with the whole idea of saving rock and roll.

That said, ‘Save Rock And Roll’ is definitely on the pop end of the rock spectrum, especially in comparison to their debut.  Lead single My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (“I’m on FIRE”) is a strong example of the band’s ability to write a catchy hook.  See also Just One Yesterday (“There’s a fire…” wait, that's Adele), Miss Missing You (with its Blondie inflections) and party anthem Where Did The Party Go.  The influences on ‘Save Rock And Roll’ are numerous and varied but only serve to strengthen the pop immediacy and mainstream appeal of the band, even if the lyrics haven’t improved in the process.

Clearly the five year hiatus has benefited the band.  The song titles are shorter, the production is more diverse, and the choruses are as tight and catchy as ever.  It might be unlikely to save rock and roll, but this is frothy pop fun - far more so than the album cover would have you believe.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark
* Where Did The Party Go
* The Mighty Fall

Listen: ‘Save Rock And Roll’ is available now.

Monday 22 April 2013

Lana Del Rey - Young & Beautiful

Del Rey’s music has always had a cinematic quality.  And Baz Luhrmann has always had a flare for using modern pop music in his films.  The soundtrack for The Great Gatsby is no different.  This should be a match made in heaven then, right?

There’s no doubt that Young & Beautiful will work in context with the film, but it just seems a very obvious choice – Del Rey’s mix of retro glamour and modern pop a shoe-in for Luhrmann’s cinematic style.  Sure, it’s as moody and evocative as any of the singer’s previous tracks and the orchestral version is full of lush, languorous strings.  And yes, the chorus lyric “will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” is as tragically grandiose as we’ve come to expect.  Yet the melody doesn’t lead anywhere.  Instead, the song as a whole is more concerned with atmospherics.  This might work as a snippet in a film, but the full track is a disappointment.


Listen: The soundtrack to The Great Gatsby will be available on the film's release on May 10th.  


Sunday 21 April 2013

Ballo - OperaUpClose @ The Kings Head Theatre

OperaUpClose, the resident company at the Kings Head Theatre, have become well known for their unique interpretations of opera.  Their latest offering is no different.  Verdi's Un Ballo In Maschera, which depicts the assassination of Sweden's King Gustav III in 1792, may not be his most celebrated work but its simple love triangle plot lends itself to reinterpretation.  Here it is utterly re-imagined as (in their words) "meatballs and murder on the North Circular".

The setting is 'Ballo' (*cough* Ikea), a modern homestore in North London.  The employees wear synthetic suits, drink McDonalds coffee and aren't afraid to dabble in horoscopes or smoke "magic herbs".  It's a laughable affair with Verdi's tragedy diminished to a farcical comedy with all the melodrama of a soap opera.  Yet the cast and creatives have embraced the setting so wholeheartedly, the utter cheapness sort of works.  Right from the off the audience is welcomed to the "store" and notified that the "restaurant is serving meatballs and much more" and director Adam Spreadbury-Maher's adapted libretto frequently undermines any sense of seriousness with hilarious modernisms.

What's most striking is the attention to detail of the setting.  Performed in the round, the set is tight, focused and full of comic touches - from the oddly named flatpack furniture, to the 'Ballo' screensavers on each employees' phone.  Most of all, every item of costume is either blue or yellow, recreating that distinctive colour scheme we've all learnt to hate.

The characters are as colourful as the costumes and all wonderfully sung.  The role of Oscar is traditionally a breeches role, but with the change to a male counter-tenor, Martin Milnes brought hysterical campness (especially in leggings) and substantial vocal volume.  Olivia Barry was also highly amusing as the animated Ulrica.  As a whole the singing was not always tight, particularly at the beginning and ends of phrases, but accompanied solely by piano (Ben Woodward) the cast coped well. Each individual aria was filled with rich tones and delicious lyricism - an impressive feat for such a young cast.

Ballo is certainly an irreverent take on Verdi's opera and something of an acquired taste.  Yet, with its tongue firmly in cheek, it's a highly entertaining romp.


Watch: Ballo is performed at the Kings Head Theatre until the 25th May.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Phoenix - Bankrupt!

The week's music news may have been overshadowed by the eventual release of Daft Punk's Get Lucky, but they're not the only French pop act with new music on the way.  'Bankrupt!', the latest album from Parisian quartet Phoenix since their 2009 breakthrough 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix', is not to be overlooked.

The band continue with their electro inflected soft-rock sound, now breezier than ever with pop hooks to rival the likes of Passion Pit.  'Bankrupt!' was produced using the same recording console as Michael Jackson's Thriller and, whilst you shouldn't expect any crotch grabbing squeals, clearly some of his commercial appeal has rubbed off on the band.  Each track is crammed with melodious synths, buoyant rhythms and upbeat, jangling guitars - from opener (and current single) Entertainment with its asian-inspired, pentatonic hook that crops up numerously in 'Bankrupt!', to the syncopated beat of S.O.S In Bel Air, the glimmering Trying To Be Cool, and the laidback funk groove of Drakkar Noir.  The tracks often shift between tempos and instrumentation, but the playful blend of guitars and electronics is as charming and alluring as the band have ever been.

At the album's centre is Bankrupt!.  As with Love Like A Sunset on their previous album, it provides a pool of serenity amongst the lively pop melodies.  The seven-minute title track begins as an instrumental of mesmeric minimalism before developing into a guitar-based ballad.  It not only provides a moment of calm with its soothing flute lines, but reflects the band's willingness to embrace experimentalism.  The following tracks soon pick up the pace, though the second half's exuberant rush is interrupted by the soft blooms of Chloroform and Bourgeois.

Having released their debut back in 2000, Phoenix finally hit their stride almost a decade later with 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix'.  Now the band can stand tall amongst other French greats like Daft Punk and Justice.  'Bankrupt!' sees them reaching a new peak of creativity, with plenty of pop fun along the way.


Gizzle's Choice:
* S.O.S In Bel Air
* Trying To Be Cool
* Chloroform

Listen: 'Bankrupt!' is released on 22nd April.

Friday 19 April 2013

Sunken Garden - ENO @ The Barbican

3D glasses? For an opera?

Opera may now be a frequent sight in cinemas across the country, but self-confessed art “omnivore” and composer Michel van der Aa is bringing cinema into musical theatre.  The use of 3D in his latest work in conjunction with ENO, Sunken Garden, certainly makes for a unique experience, with live performers in front of cinematic backdrops.  This is an immersive experience, the titular world coming to life with gently rustling plants and shimmering pools, whilst the 3D effect creates a sense of depth far beyond (and into) the theatrical space.  The onstage action appears static by comparison, though interactions between the live performers and the video utilise some clever effects to bring theatre and cinema together.  The success of the 3D, however, is largely dependent on the viewing angle – pick a bad seat and the effect is somewhat diminished and blurred.

Sunken Garden is a unique experience beyond the 3D.  Never has the Wagnerian term ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ been more appropriate to a modern opera.  This is a multimedia piece that moves fluidly between theatrical and musical genres, fusing cinema with theatre, documentary filmmaking with opera.  It’s an ultra-modern piece of technological theatre that could only be possible in this day and age.

There is narrative purpose behind the use of cinema too.  The protagonist is Toby Kramer, a video-artist researching the disappearance of one Simon Vines.  His documentary is the video we watch on screen.  Soon, however, Toby (and the audience) is sucked into the sunken garden – a 3D realm and limbo between life and death for people who have been implicated in the death of a loved one.  Wracked by guilt they must ultimately choose whether to die peacefully in the garden, or live with their decisions.  The libretto, from Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell, is the weakest element of the piece.  Like his novel, the plot works on a number of different levels – whodunit, documentary and perplexing existential philosophy – but is intriguing predominantly on a technical narrative level rather than an emotional one.  Sunken Garden lacks lucidity in its ideas, with absurd twists more akin to an episode of Doctor Who meets Skins, not helped by some occasionally questionable acting.

Moreover, Mitchell’s stilted libretto does not lend itself to word-setting.  Some of the aria-like cinematic episodes incorporate yearning melodic leaps, but for the most part the live recitative singing is jagged and lacks lyricism.  Throughout, the singers cope well with some difficult material.  As a student of musical engineering, it’s clear that Van der Aa excels at instrumentation and texture rather than writing for voice.  In parallel to the visuals, the score fuses genres: opera, modern classical music, experimental electronics and dance music.  As such, it predominantly comprises strings accompanying the highly chromatic vocal lines, with a soundtrack of found sounds and clipped samples.  The heavy use of apparent atonality adds to the unsettling, mysterious mood of the piece, whilst technology reflects the almost futuristic feel of the opera at large.  One particular moment sets the clipped samples into a dance beat that suitably reflects the on-screen club scene. 

Musical elements such as this are clearly aimed at enticing a younger, technologically aware audience – an audience typically put off by the old-fashioned stereotype of opera.  On the other hand, a traditional audience may be unwilling to accept this as opera owing to the heavy influence of cinema.  Certainly, there is much merit in the fusing of genres that adds an extra dimension to the visuals.  Whether this is the future of opera, though, is another question.  As with cinema, can 3D really be anything more than just a fad or gimmick?  For some, myself included, it’s a welcome addition and a worthwhile experience – but its application must never overshadow the narrative, which is sadly largely the case here.


Watch: Sunken Garden is performed at the Barbican from 12th-20th April.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Halbwelt Kultur - PK Productions @ New Wimbledon Theatre

Halbwelt Kultur, the latest piece from PK Productions, was originally devised as pre-show entertainment to Rufus Norris’s production of Cabaret in 2012.  As a companion piece the influences are clear, but now the show stands alone as a work in progress – part cabaret show, part musical.  It is an ode to the cabaret stars of the Weimar Republic: seven key figures chosen to represent the strength of womankind in a male dominated time of war and strife.  “Men are the problem with humanity”, they sing in the opening number – but are women the solution?

What Halbwelt Kultur does so well is replicating the mood of the period.  The scene is set up in pre-show by the cast, whilst an on-stage band provide musical accompaniment and instrumental interludes between scenes.  The musical pieces are well chosen and much of the script is quoted verbatim - it’s clear that much research and thought has gone into the production as a whole.

Structurally, the show is a cabaret in itself, divided into seven distinct vignettes to allow each performer their moment in the spotlight.  These range from celebrated cabaret artist Blandine Ebinger and cross-dressing Claire Waldoff, to the expressionist performance artist Valeska Gert and the Marilyn Monroe of Germany, Marlene Dietrich.  These vignettes present merely a snapshot of each of these women’s lives and, at present, feel a little disparate.  What’s perhaps needed is a stronger thematic link between each scene, beyond simply female cabaret performers of the Weimar Republic, or a clearer narrative thread to drive the audience’s investment.  As it stands, these are seven interesting, but separate, scenes that don’t quite hang together.

Alyssa Noble’s sexually alluring yet cheeky choreography was well performed by a mostly strong cast.  The vignettes of the second act were more successful owing to more distinct characterisation – the vampy Noble as Valeska Gert; the provocative yet self-destructive Anita Berber played by Samantha Clark; and some solid singing from Kathleen McNamara as Gabriele Tergit.  Director Padraig Kennedy has sought to present the real women behind the cabaret personas, creating an almost cinematic quality between natural and performance modes.  Yet these women are well known for their debauched and daring performances that pushed the boundaries of acceptability, whereas the performances in Halbwelt Kultur lack that same dynamic.  Certainly the show subverts our expectations, but it could afford to be braver in its eroticism.

With such a rich history to draw upon, there is much that could be incorporated into the show to expand upon the context of each vignette and the individual characteristics of these inspiring women.  Halbwelt Kultur is undeniably an exciting prospect, with further development planned.  As it stands, the show is a tantalizing tease of its full potential.


Watch: Halbwelt Kultur runs until Saturday 20th April at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Autre Ne Veut @ Birthdays, Dalston

The live drums shuddered, the bass and synths rumbled through the speakers, and the strong female backing vocals oozed sensuality.

Yet it was Arthur Ashin’s vocals that were most remarkable.  Autre Ne Veut is the brainchild of New Yorker Ashin and this gig saw him performing tracks from his latest album 'Anxiety' (pictured).  Performed live, ‘Anxiety’ becomes a different beast altogether from its recorded counterpart, with a lead vocal performance that will likely split audiences.

Raw and guttural, Ashin stumbled around the stage singing with a rock star growl and husky falsetto, a pile of much needed empty water bottles scattered at the front of the stage.  His passion and devotion to his music absolutely cannot be denied.  His vocal had real power  - both emotionally and in volume – that was particularly apparent once the music dropped down a notch.  The live rendition of World War, initially accompanied solely on piano, was certainly more affecting than on the recording.  More so, Ashin was totally ‘in the zone’, subterraneously deep within the music, the performance filled with dramatic pauses and stares into the audience as if overcome.  Passion often outweighed technique, however.  At times the screeching was overdone, timing and tuning suffering as a result. 

And then he turned to the audience: “You guys are seriously self-serious”.  Ironic though his statement may have been, it was clear throughout the gig some audience members were unsure what to make of the singer.  One person even offered a hushed “awkward” during a particularly long pause.  Yet when Ashin takes himself so seriously, it’s difficult for this not to be reflected by the audience.  Tracks such as Counting might have big choruses and pop hooks amongst the dark R&B production, but when the lyrics are consumed with death (“I’m counting on the idea that you’ll stay alive”) it’s difficult to feel anything but “self-serious”.


Tuesday 16 April 2013

Poliça feat Justin Vernon - Tiff

"They're the best band I've ever heard", claimed Bon Iver's Justin Vernon when he first heard Poliça last year. Now he's lucky enough to collaborate with the American band on their latest single Tiff, released ahead of a second album due later this year and performed for the first time at this year's Coachella Festival in California (see below).

Vernon's input into Tiff appears to be pretty minimal, besides trading vocal duties with frontwoman Channy Leaneagh. You'll find none of his soft falsetto or gently plucked guitars here - this is a Poliça track through and through.

Yet for Poliça this is a very typical track. Their sound is certainly unique - a hazy wash of synths, Leaneagh's vocoded singing, deep melodic basslines and two drummers duelling for supremacy. Tiff, however, is a mid-tempo jam that lacks the thrilling ingenuity of the band's debut album.

"I'm a pawn in the hype machine", sings Leaneagh in the opening verse. It's a statement that sadly rings true here - Tiff feels overhyped and a little underwhelming.


Listen: Tiff is available now.

Monday 15 April 2013

Empire of the Sun - Alive

Empire of the Sun's debut album 'Walking On A Dream' was originally released way back in 2008.  The title track especially is a lush piece of summer alt-pop, but it's probably better known for accompanying that Toyota advert of two years ago...

Five years later (and armed with some fresh headgear), the Australian duo are returning with a new album - 'Ice on the Dune' - from which Alive is the first single.  It follows directly on from 'Walking On A Dream' and arrives just in time to accompany the sun's eventual appearance in UK airspace.  With its wash of azure synths, laidback beat and a middle-eight breakdown that rises joyously towards the final sing-along chorus, Alive immediately transports you to pure shores and sunnier climes.

Lap up the sunshine, bury your toes in the sand and breathe in the fresh salty air - 'Ice on the Dune' could well be an album that defines the summer.


Listen: Alive is released on April 16th.  'Ice on the Dune' is coming in June.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Charli XCX - True Romance

The Hertfordshire born singer (real name Charlotte Aitchison) claims that 'True Romance', her debut album, explores "every corner" of her romantic history.  At just twenty years old you may question what history she's drawing on, but with this album she's proved that she's far from a bratty popstar.

Youth does play a large part in her appeal however.  From the tumultuous beginning of Nuclear Seasons to claiming You're The One (via "undressing in my house again" on What I Like), 'True Romance' captures the adrenaline rush of young love and everything in between.  There's plenty of quirkiness in Aitchison's delivery, which ranges from sweetly sung to a half-spoken snarl.  Like the best young, female popstars, her persona combines youthful vibrancy and punk attitude; a 'butter wouldn't melt' facade to sexually driven angst.  It's a dichotomy epitomised by the song title Black Roses.

The production continues the bubblegum feel but with a gothic twist.  Nuclear Seasons begins with an introduction to the album that deserves to be a full length track in itself, before plunging into the song proper - all moody synths, jerking hand-clap beats and eerily chiming melodies.  It contrasts with subsequent track (and current single) You (Ha Ha Ha) that samples Gold Panda for its innocent chipmunk vocal hook, and Take My Hand - a bubbling rush of fizzing pop.  The dark and dramatic continues with Stay Away (a stomping ballad that outdoes Hurts) and the lurching How Can I, whilst Black Roses and You're The One offer catchy pop melodies amongst their industrial sounds.  There's no let-up or respite, just thirteen tracks of dark, pounding pop.

Charli XCX is certainly an artist who will appeal to a teen fanbase eager for big tunes with a rebellious edge.  Equally, 'True Romance' will appeal to older listeners with its industrial production and endless hooks, whilst tracks like Cloud Aura (with its rap from Brooke Candy) hint at a more mature future.  This is a popstar who can straddle the boundaries between mainstream and indie - glitter with a thick streak of noir.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Nuclear Seasons
* Stay Away
* Black Roses

Listen: 'True Romance' is released on 15th April.

Watch: Charli XCX is touring throughout the summer.

Saturday 13 April 2013

New Pop Roundup

It's time for your next dose of the best new pop tracks to hit the web. So without further ado...

Betty Who - The Movement

Somebody Loves You, the opening track to the Australian popstar's addictive debut EP 'The Movement', was written soon after Whitney Houston's death. Don't go expecting a funeral dirge though - this is indebted to Houston's electro-pop style with a hint of 80s Madonna, with it's sparkling production and instantly catchy melodies. This continues on the bubbling choruses of You're In Love and High Society, whilst sombre ballad Right Here features simmering guitars and sounds reminiscent of the highly emotive Daughter. Who is as yet unsigned - "If I can find a way to continue getting my music as far-spread as I can, I don't need a label". So do your bit and spread the word immediately.


Listen: 'The Movement' is released on April 16th, but you can listen in full on Billboard.

Avril Lavigne - Here's To Never Growing Up

Lavigne's Sk8er Boi punk days may be long gone, but she's still capable of delivering a catchy pop chorus. Yet there's only one question with this new track: what Radiohead song is she listening to exactly? No Radiohead song features the lyric "here's to never growing up". No Radiohead song is appropriate to be played on a boom box "as we're falling in love". I mean, can anyone imagine falling in love, "running down the street yelling kiss my ass", or going "hard this weekend" whilst listening to Street Spirit (Fade Out)?

Didn't think so.


Listen: Here's To Never Growing Up is released on April 15th.

Basement Jaxx - Back To The Wild

Much of the British electronic duo's output is rife with cheeky humour and Back To The Wild is no different. "I wanna go back, back to the wild, take me to the jungle", "I hear nature calling me" and "let's get naked!" shout the South Korean singers Miss Emma Lee and Baby Chay amongst a cacophony of tribal beats, African chanting and heavily processed horns. It might lack the nuance of their best work, but this is flat out infectious dancefloor funk.


Listen: Back To The Wild is 'coming soon'.

Fear Of Tigers - Golden Age

As soon as the opening chords have you knocked for six, you know you're in for one thrilling ride. The London band (formed by Japanese born producer Benjamin Berry) may be better known for their pop remixes, but Golden Age is an absolute blast. Along the lines of Daft Punk and Madeon, samples are chopped and spliced in a full throttle tumult of funky guitars, 80s synths and fragmented vocals. In essence, this is three and a half minutes of hyperactive, space-age, neon-lit power pop that will have you dancing in your bedroom grinning from ear to ear.


Listen: Fear of Tigers will hopefully be returning with a new album later this year.

Jessie Ware - Imagine It Was Us

Ware premiered this new track whilst on her UK tour, claiming she wanted a proper summer tune in-line with Madonna or Janet Jackson. And that's exactly what she's delivered. Away from the high emotion of much of 'Devotion', Imagine It Was Us sees Ware letting her hair down and having fun, without compromising her trademark sensual vocals. Expect to hear this throughout the summer - and rightly so.


Listen: Imagine It Was Us is released on April 15th.

Vanbot - When My Heart Breaks

No pop roundup would be complete without some Swedish electro-pop. When My Heart Breaks features a totally unexpected yet stellar chorus that drops with the force of a giant pop bomb. It's mirrored in the video with Vanbot emerging from the dark metro into a beautiful, wintery Swedish landscape. An unexpected chorus and an unexpected gem. Fans of Robyn will want to listen to this immediately.


Listen: When My Heart Breaks is available now.

Suvi - Bleeding For Your Love

Continuing the Scandinavian theme, Bleeding For Your Love is the follow-up to Finnish singer Suvi's debut single Clover. Darkly dramatic with expansive production, this has shades of Lana Del Rey but with more of an electronic twist. Moreover, this is the best pop song about bleeding and love since Leona Lewis.


Listen: Bleeding For Your Love is available now.

Young Kato - Break Out

Any fans of Made In Chelsea will have heard Young Kato on last week's episode. The band may now count those posh SW6 idiots as fans, but don't let that put you off. This is Foals-lite alt-rock - what they lack in originality, they make up for in vocal and guitar hooks.


Listen: The band's debut EP 'Young Kato' is available now with a new single on the way soon.

Watch: The band are touring the UK throughout May and June.

Selena Gomez - Come And Get It

She may play the innocent and religious Faith in gratuitous nudity-fest Spring Breakers, but this new single from Gomez, fresh from her split from Bieber, is heavily channeling sex-fuelled Rihanna. Above the grind-inducing bhangra beat, Gomez intones "I'm not too shy to show I love you, I got no regrets...when you're ready come and get it". It's a slight improvement on her previous EDM-infused pop, but Rihanna does it all so much better


Listen: Come And Get It is released on the 26th July.

Psy - Gentleman

Last but not least is the return of 2012's greatest meme. "I'm a mother-father-gentleman", Psy claims as it's quickly apparent this doesn't have the same novelty factor as Gangnam Style. The full video is yet to be released, but unless there's an equivalent air-horse-riding dance for comedy value, Gentleman is utterly doomed.


Listen: I wouldn't bother.

And then, within minutes of posting this roundup, the Gentleman video is put up online and features Ga from popular K-pop duo Brown Eyed Girls. And the dance? It's mostly stolen from their hit Abracadabra - a far better track than Gentleman could ever hope to be.

Friday 12 April 2013

Spring Breakers (2013) - Harmony Korine

Every American teenager has to endure the rite of passage that is spring break.  Likewise, every Disney princess must go through their own rite of passage: the sexy phase.  It occurred with the likes of Britney and Miley Cyrus, and now it’s the turn of Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez.  In a desperate attempt to lose her innocence, you can now hear the High School Musical star spouting lines like “Looking at all this money is making my p*ssy wet”.

This is the level of Korine’s Spring Breakers, a film that’s marginally above pornography.  It’s a film about the loss of innocence as four girls on spring break in Florida get involved in a crime ring led by Alien – James Franco dressed as Sean Paul doing a laughable impression of a white gangster.  It's a mirror image of everything that's wrong with American teenage society.  

Korine’s camerawork and editing is agitated and fidgety, overlaying images and voiceovers into a ninety minute long montage accompanied by a Skrillex score.  Much like a music video, it's a reflection on pop culture.  It certainly creates forward momentum, but the rhythm is ruined by the amount of repetition.  The same lines and footage are replayed again and again, which somewhat overstates the point.  Paradoxically, the urgency of the cinematography is undermined by the glacial pace of the narrative, a narrative that is filled with plot holes and requires the audience to suspend their disbelief on too many occasions.

The composition of the provocative images is well constructed and, at times, powerful.  Take, for example, the prominent image of the girls dressed in bikinis and balaclavas, holding machine guns whilst dancing around a piano played by Alien.  The significance of the song choice – Britney’s Everytime, her own anthem to loss of innocence – is obvious.  Yet so often Korine’s sleazy camera caresses the girls in oversaturated colour, daring to look beneath the pool water at their nubile bodies, which becomes uncomfortably voyeuristic.  This is matched by Alien's eerie repetition of "spring break" like some drugged-up, perverted ghost.  The visuals may be provocative and subversive, filled with gratuitous nudity and sexual and phallic symbolism, but never again do I wish to see James Franco deepthroating a pair of pistols.

Much of the narrative is left open-ended, but as such it’s difficult to comprehend Korine’s point of view.  Spring Breakers is essentially a film about female empowerment, but it’s negated by the constant objectification of women throughout.  Initially we sympathise with Gomez’s Faith (the religious one, obviously) who, fearing for their safety, flees for home, but Faith is quickly swept aside – literally and figuratively.  Florida is shot as a sun-dappled, glamorous paradise filled with violence – should we feel sorry for these girls as they’re seduced by corruption?  Is Korine condoning this slutty behaviour?  Are the girls really changed for the better?

Ultimately, Spring Breakers presents four silly little girls playing at being adults in a series of provocative images that amount to very little.  There may be some artistic merit in Korine’s cinematography, but for the most part this film borders on the abhorrent.

Spring break for never.


Thursday 11 April 2013

Paramore - Paramore

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

That can certainly be seen as true for Paramore.  The band have had their ups and downs over the last couple of years, but now they’re back and better than ever.  The reason?  No matter who plays drums and guitar, Paramore is Hayley Williams.  As she grows as a singer and songwriter, so too does the band grow from strength to strength.

With this, the band’s self-titled fourth album, Paramore are making a fresh start.  No longer are they an emo punk band with pop success, but a pop band who happen to make their music on guitars; no longer are they optimistic pessimists wallowing in misery business, instead they’re all grown up.  With No Doubt being an obvious comparison and production coming from pop producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (most recently working with Tegan & Sara and M83), the songs are catchier than ever.  As track six declares, “ain’t it fun?”. 

The fun begins immediately with opener Fast In My Car – a giddy rush of a pop song as Williams sings “we’re driving fast in my car…tonight we want to have fun”.  It’s also a song that acknowledges that the band have moved on: “we aren’t looking backward, we won’t try raising the dead”.  ‘Paramore’ is a new beginning, a high-tempo adrenaline rush.  It’s a theme that incessantly continues throughout the album, such as in the catchy chorus of Grow Up – “some of us have to grow up sometimes and so, if I have to, I’m gonna leave you behind”. 

Judging by the lyrics, current single Still Into You should be a sickly love song (like the video below), but Williams’ punk vocals and the staccato guitar playing give the track a welcome rock edge.  Amongst the punky, gusto performances of ‘Paramore’ at large, it feels sweetly intimate.  Part II features new-wave guitar lines in the verses, proving a willingness to break from the norm that permeates the album, before lurching into a typically huge chorus.  Ain’t It Fun, however, marks the pinnacle not only of the album but quite possibly of the band’s whole output.  Funk guitar lines dappled with pop synths, hooky chorus, hand-clap breakdown and gospel sing-along finale (“don’t go crying, to your mama”): it’s the sort of fan favourite song played at the end of a stadium tour guaranteed to leave you grinning from ear to ear.

As a result the rest of the album, though still solid, doesn’t quite hit the same highs.  Despite some upbeat tracks like Proof or Be Alone, the second half of the album sags with the midtempo [One of Those] Crazy Girls and ballad Hate To See Your Heart Break.  And throughout the album the pop choruses are interrupted by ukulele interludes that feel unnecessary. The more you sing "I’m not angry anymore", the more it will be questioned.

As a fresh start for the band, ‘Paramore’ is a massive pop success.  It does have its fair share of lulls, but these are matched by some incredible highs that will undoubtedly put a smile on your face – Ain’t It Fun especially.  Welcome back Williams and co.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Ain’t It Fun
* Part II
* Still Into You

Listen: 'Paramore' is available now.

Watch: Paramore are touring the States and Europe throughout the summer, info on their website.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

James Blake - Overgrown

One of the major criticisms of James Blake's 2011 debut was that amongst all the dub-step tricks and production wizardry, the songs themselves were limited.  It's something that Blake has clearly taken into consideration with 'Overgrown', his second album.  This is a less experimental collection of songs that leans more heavily on his dance influences.  As a result, this is a more accessible album than his debut.

Yet perhaps 'Overgrown' feels more accessible because Blake is now such an established act.  Where 'James Blake' was initially an exciting thrill due to his unique creativity, we are now somewhat desensitised to his style.  Here, Blake has delivered exactly what we expect and in some respects this is a negative.  With less room for creativity, there are less standout tracks.  Nothing here quite matches the magic of Limit To Your Love or The Wilhelm Scream.

What Blake has achieved, however, is a far more consistent album, with less experimentation and minimalist warbling.  The beats are stronger, providing greater impetus to drive the record along and the instrumentation as a whole is fuller, whilst retaining his skeletal production.  By streamlining his sound, his beautifully soulful vocal has more clarity rather than being drowned in computer techniques.

Where lead single Retrograde is typical Blake material, tracks such as Voyeur and Digital Lion have a much stronger club/house feel than his past work.  Elsewhere, the production is much richer (on Blake's scale at least) with more complex textures filled with moments of spectral beauty, memorable melodic lines and newfound strength in his vocal: on the title track, I Am Sold and To The Last in particular.  The only major departure is on Take A Fall For Me that includes a jarring and unexpected rap from RZA.

In short, Blake has refined his sound to create a mature and accomplished second album.  Far from overgrown, Blake has simply grown up.  As he sings on I Am Sold, "we lay nocturnal" - 'Overgrown' is a series of nocturnes as dark and frighteningly beautiful as the night sky.


Gizzle's Choice:
* I Am Sold
* Retrograde
* Voyeur

Listen: 'Overgrown' is available now.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013) - Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond The Pines is essentially three films in one, but it’s far from disjointed.  With his previous film Blue Valentine, Cianfrance proved his worth as a director of indie character pieces, able to draw the best possible performances from his actors.  This continues with Pines, though on a larger temporal scale; a film that explores the importance of fatherhood across the generations.

The film opens with a shot of Ryan Gosling’s abs – a cheeky reference to his status as sex symbol.  The shots often linger over his features, the camera as captivated by his performance as the audience.  His Luke Glanton, a motorbike stunt driver, is a dangerous, self-destructive character.  He soon discovers he has a baby son after a brief fling with Romina (Eva Mendes) a year before, who now lives with boyfriend Kofi (Mahershala Ali).  Where Kofi is the model of stability, Luke begins robbing banks with the help of car repairman Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) in a desperate, naïve attempt to provide for his family.  Cianfrance has shot this first act as a moody, noir thriller of subtle blue hues, with a roughed-up Gosling at the centre.  Luke may be a similar character to the driver from Drive, but Gosling does insular and unpredictable so well, able to say so much with so little.  Cianfrance’s use of Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark at one point not only provides a sense of 80s context, but reflects the sexualised masculinity of both Springsteen and Luke (note the abs) and their disillusionment of the American Dream.

Eventually Luke’s path crosses with that of rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) – a chance event that will have a profound impact on Avery's life.  So begins the second act that focuses on Avery.  The mirror image of Luke, he is a seemingly innocent and compassionate hero in a corrupt world.  He is, however, not without his flaws – not only is he wracked by guilt after the narrative-flipping events, but he is wedded to his work, uses blackmail and manipulation to progress his career, and is unable to make an emotional connection with his newborn son.  It’s a role that slowly evolves over the course of the act; with this and his recent turn in Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper is an actor surely coming into his own.  Pines at this point becomes an intriguing study into the impact of one man’s life on another’s; how chance events can suddenly change our lives irreversibly; how we must live with the decisions we’ve made ‘in the moment’.

Yet the grander overall theme is that of fatherhood and how our decisions not only impact our own lives but those that we leave behind.  In the third act, the narrative shifts to fifteen years later, where the lives of Luke and Avery's sons inexplicably intertwine.  How do the sins of the fathers impact upon the sons?  It's a theme that feels overly ambitious as Pines begins to drag in this final third, the performances of newcomers Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen mere child's play with their teenage, drug-fuelled parties.  The overall film is pensive and Cianfrance leaves the audience to piece together the jigsaw of his characters' lives, but this final act - the 'real film' according to the director - provides an unnecessary jolt in narrative and tone.

Final act aside, The Place Beyond The Pines is an intricate thematic tapestry with a gripping, if ponderous, plot.  It might be flawed, but the artful cinematography and captivating performances from its male leads ensure this is a must-see.


Monday 8 April 2013

The Knife - Shaking The Habitual

What exactly is music?

It’s a question that every GCSE music student must face and something I found myself repeatedly asking when listening to ‘Shaking The Habitual’, the latest album from Swedish duo The Knife.

The influential duo from Stockholm are consistently cited as major players in the Swedish electronic pop scene, in particular following second album ‘Deep Cuts’ which featured the excellent Heartbeats (later covered by José González).  As such, anticipation for ‘Shaking The Habitual’, their first album in seven years since ‘Silent Shout’, was understandably high.

Yet they’ve largely eschewed their pop roots for something much more wild.  ‘Shaking The Habitual’ is experimental to the extreme; raw, animalistic and untameable.  The title is thus rather apt, as this album is a huge and unexpected departure from the norm.  It’s unlikely, however, that this new habit will catch on.

It all starts pleasantly enough with A Tooth For An Eye – a track that sets up the album’s aesthetic whilst maintaining the duo’s recognisable style.  It’s on this track that Karin Dreijer Andersson’s vocals are most prominent amongst the rattling tribal polyrhythms, percussive melodic riffs and stabbing basslines.  By keeping a clear structure, the track is easily digestible despite the unusual but thrilling instrumentation.

From here, things take a turn for weird, uncharted territory.  The previously released Full of Fire, if anything, is nine minutes of frightening drum pounding, alien vocals and fragmented sound effects; A Cherry On Top begins with moody and distorted found sounds that slowly evolve into a gamelan style percussive melody with the lyrics “strawberry, melon, cherry on top…”; and Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized is a nineteen minute long meditation on rattling sounds and white noise that’s more akin to Chinese water torture than music.  On the plus side, Without You My Life Would Be Boring features an infectious beat, though the track is ruined by the grating recorder, and Raging Lung has a more melodic focus than some of the other tracks.  In all, though, The Knife have leaned too far towards abstract art music with ‘Shaking The Habitual’, resulting in an album that’s an incredibly difficult listen just shy of incessant noise.  As you delve further in, its impact is only numbed, along with any enjoyment.

In answer to that opening question, my teacher claimed music was simply “organised sound and silence”.  In that respect, ‘Shaking The Habitual’ certainly constitutes music, albeit an album that pushes the boundaries of acceptability.  This is certainly an interesting, unusual and inventive record, which on one level or another should be commended.  Yet The Knife are pioneers of electronic pop, a genre which, by definition, should be pleasant to listen to.  Experimentation is the path to creativity and the duo have always been a little unsettling, but this album has taken things too far into some otherworldly oblivion.

To think this is the same duo that brought us Heartbeats…


Gizzle's Choice:
* A Tooth For An Eye
* Without You My Life Would Be Boring
* Raging Lung

Listen: 'Shaking The Habitual' is available now.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Josh Record - Bones

EMI may have seen a bit of a shake up in the last few months, with Virgin Records now moving to Universal, but that hasn't stopped Richard Branson's old record company signing some high quality acts.  Josh Record is the latest addition to the roster and luckily the music lives up to the London singer songwriter's incredible name.

'Bones' is Record's debut... record (sorry, couldn't resist) - a collection of four songs that will melt over your ears in a haze of guitars and vocal harmonies.  Think Bon Iver meets Fleet Foxes.  Record sings in a soft falsetto tempered with a pleasing rasp that tugs at the heartstrings, especially in the yearning "it's all for love" chorus of opener For Your Love.  It's on the title track that Record really hits his stride.  Like a watercolour painting, the sighing vocal harmonies blend with the atmospheric guitars in a glorious wash of sound.

If you're still not convinced, check out acoustic versions of his other songs on his YouTube channel.


Listen: 'Bones' is available now.

Friday 5 April 2013

Florrie - Live A Little

Nowadays, having your music used in an advertisement is a surefire way to get a hit.  Live A Little has been chosen for the new Sony headphones campaign and, although it might not be an official release, it's the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with Florrie.

And what's better than one Florrie?  Three Florries.  Or Florrie-cubed if you will.  The video sees her showing off her skills on drums, guitar and singing - skills she developed as the in-house drummer for Xenomania, the hit factory behind most of Girls Aloud's top tracks (amongst others).  With three EPs already beneath her belt and an ever-growing global fanbase, Live A Little sees Florrie finally hitting the mainstream.

Whilst she's experimented with synth-pop on her EPs, Live A Little has more of a sixties feel - all trumpet calls, guitar riffs and a pop chorus that packs a punch.  The hook-up with Sony will guarantee Florrie some much-deserved attention amongst all the product placement, so expect to hear more from her over the coming months.

NB. Enjoyment of this song does not require the use of Sony XBA-C10 in-ear headphones.


Listen: You can download Live A Little for free on Florrie's website.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Imagine Dragons - Night Visions

Radioactive is everywhere at the moment – from advertising the latest Assassins Creed game, to featuring on the soundtrack to The Host.  Originally released on the band’s ‘Hear Me’ EP, it’s a powerful piece of pop-rock with a dub-step beat that shudders with apocalyptic force.  Yet anyone expecting the full album to provide the same rush will be sorely disappointed.

Imagine Dragons are at their best when embracing pop wholeheartedly.  The band are clearly capable of writing a catchy hook as ‘Night Visions’ is full of them – whether on the moody jangling guitars of Amsterdam, the harmonious chorus of rock ballad Every Night, the sing-along Cha-Ching (Till We Grow Older), or Underdog that’s catchy in a Super Mario sort of way.  What’s most frustrating, however, is that not only is the band’s songwriting wildly inconsistent, but depending on where you listen to the album the tracklist can totally change (beyond a few core tracks) with a total of 20 possible tracks to choose from.

That inconsistency extends to the band’s style, which is quite frankly all over the place.  Tracks such as Tiptoe and Bleeding Out might mirror Radioactive with their dark electronic inflections, but elsewhere we have plinky-plonky Mumford inspired pop-folk on It’s Time and On Top Of The World, pure pop on Every Night and Working Man, calypso chiptune inspired guitars on Underdog, a dreadful church organ offering false drama on Nothing Left To Say and Temper Trap-esque atmospherics on The River and Rocks

The biggest influence, though, is fellow Las Vegas band The Killers.  Their anthemic, stadium indie-rock sound seems to be Imagine Dragons’ default mode – to the point that they frequently sound like a Killers tribute act.  Hear Me is the worst offender in this respect, with frontman Dan Reynolds sounding eerily similar to Brandon Flowers. 

English hip-hop producer Alex Da Kid provides some moments of inventiveness dispersed across ‘Night Visions’ – it’s no coincidence that those tracks are the album’s most successful, Radioactive included.  It proves that a dash of creativity added to the band’s propensity for pop hooks can result in solid pop-rock tunes.  As a whole, though, Imagine Dragons’ debut effort fails to match their potential.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Radioactive
* Amsterdam
* Bleeding Out

Listen: ‘Night Visions’ is available now.

Watch: Imagine Dragons are touring in Europe throughout April.