Friday 28 June 2013

New Pop Roundup

Time for some new music in your life?  Of course it is!


We begin with an artist who just needs to hurry up and release an album already.  Gun is quite possibly the Glasgow band's best single to date, with singer Lauren Mayberry sweetly threatening "I will be a gun and it's you I'll come for" above trademark neon synths and beats.  This is UK electro-pop at its finest - rest assured their album will be an absolute must-listen on release.


Listen: Gun is released on July 14th.

Cyril Hahn - Perfect Form feat. Shy Girls

Vancouver's Cyril Hahn has become well known for his outstanding remixes - most notably Destiny's Child's Say My Name and Haim's Don't Save Me.  Perfect Form is his debut original single - a slice of ethereal, R&B-house that's perfect for a summer's evening: all husky vocals, glitchy beats and synths that glisten under the heat of the sun.


Listen: Perfect Form will be released on 9th September.

Echosmith - Cool Kids

LA hipsters sure are getting younger these days.  Echosmith comprise four siblings aged 14-20, whose sound mixes the youthful pop appeal of Taylor Swift with the Californian alternative cool of The Neighbourhood.  The result is incredibly polished indie with catchy melodies soaked in a nostalgia that belies their age.  These are the new cool kids.


Listen: Cool Kids features on the band's 'Summer Sampler', which you can download for free on their website.

Femme - Double Trouble

Bubbling basslines, staccato beats and a girlish vocal make up this woozy, alt-pop track from the south London vocalist and producer.  Double Trouble is the second part of her double A-side release alongside Educated, a sugary yet sultry track with an appropriate video.  An off-kilter delight.


Listen: Both Double Trouble and Educated are released on 22nd July.

Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop

Every day there are fresh rumours concerning Miley's relationship with Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth.  And since We Can't Stop hit the 'net, there are plenty more articles over its controversial (yet amusing) video that features a skull made of chips, Miley making out with a doll, and plenty of taxidermied animals amongst other bizarre imagery.  She's since been accused of exploiting black culture to seem cool, but DAYAM this gurl can twerk.

It's not as catchy as Party In The USA, but it's light-years away from her bubblegum roots.  Just one question: who exactly is Molly and why should we be dancing with her?


Listen: We Can't Stop is released on 4th August.

M.I.A - Bring The Noize

Paper Planes was inescapable on its release in 2008 and is by far M.I.A's biggest hit to date, but Bring The Noize is closer to her earlier material.  This is tightly focussed, beginning with an onslaught of vocals and stonkingly aggressive drums, before dropping into a huge chorus of frenzied beats and sub-bass.  It's clear that with forthcoming album 'Matangi', M.I.A will continue to be a pioneer in hip-hop.


Listen: Bring The Noize is available now.

Avicii - Wake Me Up

Swedish producer Avicii has already had a string of hits (especially the ubiquitous Levels) before his debut album has even been released.  Yet Wake Me Up is a slight change of style, with a country hook that sounds like a club remix of Mumford & Sons.  It's annoying as hell and therefore bound to top the charts.


Listen: Wake Me Up is released on September 8th, with the album 'Stop' due soon after

The Saturdays - Gentleman

Yes, between making babies and a flop television show, the girls are still making music.  Most of their output has been notably bland (especially recently), which is why Gentleman stands out as one of their best singles.  Off the wall production, insane lyrics ("milk the cow"?! "taste my rainbow"?!), a middle-eight rap that lists all the men the girls would like to bang, and an androgynous video that's unsubtly hiding various baby bumps.  It's a song that's full of personality - so bad it's awesome.


Listen: Gentleman is released on June 30th.

David Lynch - Are You Sure

Last month we were treated to Lynch's collaboration with Lykke Li, I'm Waiting Here.  Now we have Are You Sure, taken from his forthcoming album 'The Big Dream'.  Lynch is well known for his darkly disturbing filmmaking and his music is no different.  With its odd alien-like vocal and mournful guitar lines, Are You Sure has the exact amount of weirdness you'd expect.


Listen: 'The Big Dream' will be released on 15th July.

John Mayer - Paper Doll

It's fair to say that John Mayer is past his best.  Long gone are the glory days of 'Room For Squares' and 'Continuum'.  That said, Paper Doll is an improvement on the bore-fest that was 'Born and Raised', even if it hardly develops his sound beyond the usual guitar licks and laidback vocals.  Still, it's the bizarre video that is most likely to perk interest here...


Listen: Paper Doll is taken from the forthcoming album 'Paradise Valley' coming soon.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Austra - Olympia

‘Olympia’ is the second album from Austra, following the group’s debut ‘Feel It Break’ in 2011.  It’s also the album that should see them breaking out of relative obscurity and into the mainstream alongside the likes of fellow Canadians Grimes and Blood Diamonds.

Austra are fronted by classically trained and unique vocalist Katie Stelmanis, creating dark, alternative synth-pop.  On ‘Olympia’, their sound has been expanded into bass-heavy disco offerings – the hooky, soaring Painful Like; the hypnotic thrum of Sleep; the funky syncopations and handclaps of Annie (Oh muse, you).  The production layers synths with a glossy sheen, but isn’t afraid to throw in some curveballs such as the flute solo on current single Home, or the mournful cello opening of Fire followed by mesmeric marimba patterns and a huge bass drop.  Strings, harps and brass abound, this is on a much grander scale than ‘Feel It Break’.

Most of all, ‘Olympia’ is drenched in sadness, despite its disco aesthetic, owing predominantly to the haunting vocals.  “What do I have to do to make you forgive me?”, Stelmanis calls out on Forgive Me, before the track plunges into a whirl of sub bass and sorrowful strings.  Penultimate track You Changed My Life begins simply with an oscillating piano riff and Stelmanis’ fragile vocal, before its disco beats slowly creep up on you in the dark.  ‘Olympia’ might not be the catchiest pop album of the year and its meanderings do become predictable, but Austra manage that magical combination of melancholic disco to rival the likes of Robyn.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Painful Like
* Sleep
* Annie (Oh muse, you)

Listen: ‘Olympia’ is available now.

Watch: Austra are touring both the states and Europe over the course of the year.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Daft Punk - Get Lucky (Remix)

Forget Robin Thicke and his rapey Blurred Lines.  No ifs, no buts - Get Lucky is the song of the summer.  Not just because it's everywhere, but because it's a phenomenal song.  And now it's been remixed by the French masters themselves.

The best remixes are those that take the familiar but add a completely new spin to create something wholly different.  You won't find that here.  Instead, it's more like an alternative cut of the same track with some new twists.  The duo have taken the line "all ends with beginnings" to heart with chord sequences and lyrics reversed, plus some chopped samples and newly layered textures, before settling into a familiar groove for the majority of its ten minute duration.  If anything it adds greater insight into the creation of the song and its various components, but it doesn't quite warrant the hype.  Anyone disappointed by 'Random Access Memories' won't find an upbeat club mix here.

And with rumours that Daft Punk will be remixing the whole album, we have plenty more alternative versions to look forward to, though there's already stiff competition from Nicolas Jaar and his 'Daftside' project.

Still, whether in remixed or original form, Get Lucky is undeniably the song of the summer.  Do you really need an excuse to enjoy it all over again?


Listen: Daft Punk's remix of Get Lucky is available now on Spotify and will be released on July 15th.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Tom Odell - Long Way Down

Let's just rewind to the start of the year.  Amongst all the 'ones to watch' lists, the Brits nominate three acts for their "Critics' Choice" award.  Amongst the nominees are the self-labelled "geeky kid of R&B" Laura Mvula, whose debut album 'Sing To The Moon' is a beautiful fusion of gospel, jazz and pop, and electro-pop duo AlunaGeorge set to release a debut album of skittering beats and sultry vocals later this year.  Both of these acts offer something unique and exciting.

And yet it's Tom Odell who the 'critics' chose as their winner, an artist whose debut is one of the dullest, most derivative albums of the year.  Even the commentary tracks offer little insight into an apparently exciting new musician.  Can Odell really become as ubiquitous as last year's winner, Emeli Sandé?  The title to the album is a fitting one - it's a long way down from Odell's winning start to the year.

Let's not beat around the bush: Odell is basically the reincarnation of Chris Martin (N.B Chris Martin isn't actually dead).  His songs follow the same pattern of indie love songs performed predominantly on piano.  From the chordal shifts of Can't Pretend to the melodic lines of Sense, Odell's style is taken straight from 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head'.  There are vocal similarities too: the odd pronunciations, the high vocal range, the elongation of phrases.  Odell's performance is utterly memetic.

'Long Way Down' is a collection of lifeless love songs devoid of personality.  Only single Another Love contains an ounce of emotion with its central lyric "all my tears have been used up on another love".  Clearly there were no tears left to sustain a full album.  Hold Me is the only attempt at something upbeat - after its weirdly thrashing opening chords, it comes across as an imitation of Keane or Starsailor.  This is not a compliment.

Crowning Odell as the "Critics' Choice" just proves how out of touch these 'critics' are.  There's only one question to ask when listening to 'Long Way Down': is this really the best that 2013 can offer?  I really hope not.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Another Love

Listen: 'Long Way Down' is available now.

Watch: Odell will be touring worldwide throughout the summer.

Monday 24 June 2013

Empire Of The Sun - Ice On The Dune

The title of ‘Ice On The Dune’ really is appropriate for Australia’s Empire of the Sun.  Their glossy alt-pop production is a cornucopia of icy synths that bring a touch of sunshine to a dismal summer. 

‘Ice On The Dune’ follows 2009’s ‘Walking On A Dream’, both featuring some truly dreadful cover art.  Featuring Emperor Steele and Lord Littlemore (as the duo prefer to be called), it looks like something from a cheap 80s fantasy graphic novel, airbrushed to an impossible sheen.  It also suggests a sense of the outlandish, of crazy creativity, neither of which can really be found here.

Opening orchestrated track Lux certainly marks a bombastic start to the album, with its oriental trimmings and visions of grandeur.  The remains of the album, however, is far safer.  That’s not to say this is a bad album – far from it.  Following track DNA features a sparkling chorus and a wash of glorious synths; current single Alive is a joyous affair; Ice On The Dune follows directly from Walking On A Dream on the duo’s debut album with its breezy melodies; and I’ll Be Around has a laidback, late-night beach vibe.  The pop hooks are very much alive.

It’s difficult to pick a standout track however.  Where ‘Walking On A Dream’ had some obvious highlights and took some clear risks, ‘Ice On The Dune’ is its antithesis with fewer outstanding tracks but a more consistent overall feel that ultimately falls a little flat.  Only final track Keep A Watch differs from the usual sound in a song that’s weirdly almost reminiscent of Bowie (and not in a good way).

‘Ice On The Dune’ is a solid album of alternative synth-pop that provides a suitably oceanic soundtrack to the summer.  However, the duo are yet to properly fuse their music with their creative dress sense.


Gizzle’s Choice:
Ice On The Dune
I’ll Be Around

Listen: ‘Ice On The Dune’ is available now.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Lorde - Tennis Court

Lorde is the latest pop thing to come out of New Zealand, a country that's hardly well known for its music.  The precocious sixteen year old is bounding onto the music scene with this EP of dark electro pop, hints of hip-hop, a snarling vocal and youthful lyrics.  Apparently the "tennis courts" are the new bike sheds.

Sound familiar?  The comparison with Charli XCX is an obvious one and in the fast paced world of pop, Lorde marks a considerable adversary for the UK starlet.  That said, this 'Tennis Court' EP lacks the developed production of 'True Romance', with its mix of bubblegum and goth aesthetics.  Instead, it has an icier, darker tone that belies the singer's youth.  Swingin Party is far from the thrill the title might suggest, but title track Tennis Court is a clear single with its clipped beats, whilst Biting Down and Bravado clash layers of vocal harmonies and fragmented beats.

Between this EP and previous single Royals, Lorde exudes enough cool and personality to prove her potential.  Finally, New Zealand is on the musical map.


Listen: Tennis Courts is available now.

Friday 21 June 2013

Sigur Rós - Kveikur

Sigur Rós have become synonymous with Iceland, their music directly and deeply inspired by their surrounding environment.  But if last year’s ‘Valtari’, the band’s sixth album, was reminiscent of shivering landscapes frozen in time, then follow-up ‘Kveikur’ is positively volcanic: aflame with brimstone, ash and shuddering tectonic rhythms.

At least to begin with.  Opening track Brennistein (Brimstone) lurches aggressively, heralding a menacing, sinister and unsettling new sound.  Distorted bass drones rumble like quaking earth, drum beats fuse the industrial with the elemental, and frontman Jónsi Birgisson sings in a lower, more urgent register to spur on the cataclysm.  Gone are the joyous crescendos, the serene textures and the aching melodies in favour of something darker, primal and apocalyptic.  It’s a sound that continues with the title track (Kveikur – Candlewick) and its web of distorted textures, percussion and bass glissandi heavy with the weight of impending doom.  By contrast, closing track Var (Was) is a stripped-back piano-led affair – a sombre yet hopeful antithesis to Brennistein’s destruction.

The change of sound comes with the departure of keyboardist and founding member Kjartan Sveinsson, but the band haven’t forgotten their roots.  ‘Kveikur’ overall still relies on the typical conventions of their sound – the majestic swells, the bittersweet melodies and Birgisson’s odd mix of Icelandic and ‘Hopelandic’ (his own fictional language).  For some, the language barrier is a hurdle too far, but the band’s strength comes from the overwhelming emotional power of their music that’s as present as ever here.  Whilst Ísjaki (Iceberg) is the closest the album has to a pop single, as a whole ‘Kveikur’ is far from the recognisable melodies of ‘Takk…’ yet equally removed from the ambient ‘Valtari’.  There’s certainly more of an earthy quality: less slow-motion wafting, less dependency on joyous crescendos and a more immediate, focussed and visceral experience that’s far from the background music in the minds of their critics.  It’s a glacial evolution, but Sigur Rós are still utterly unique in their exploration of textures and experimentation with instrumentation.

So, this might not be the seismic shift some may have expected, but ‘Kveikur’ is still a beautiful album all the same.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Brennistein
* Rafstraumur

Listen: 'Kveikur' is available now.

Watch: Sigur Rós continue their world tour throughout the year.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Clean Bandit - Dust Clears

With forthcoming festival dates at Glastonbury, Latitude, Reading & Leeds and Secret Garden Party, Clean Bandit are set to continue their assault on the UK music scene over the summer with their unique brand of garage, electro and classical music.

Dust Clears follows the brilliant singles Mozart's House and A&E and is taken from a new EP released in June.  It begins with a more mournful sound of downbeat lyrics and icy synths, before lurching into a chorus comprising live strings, skittering beats and an obscene bassline typical of the group.  The result is another huge hit that brings something different to electronic music in a world of generic EDM.

And as we've come to expect, the video for Dust Clears is as imaginative as ever - this time shot in Sweden and featuring ice-skating on a frozen lake, amusing lip-synching and beautiful vistas.

Utterly refreshing.


Listen: Dust Clears will be released on 29th June.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Kanye West - Yeezus

Kanye West is well known for his skill as a producer, in particular in his use of samples from Otis Redding to Daft Punk and more.  No era or genre is beyond his reach.  With ‘Yeezus’, his sixth album, it’s no different.

Despite the lengthy list of collaborators, ‘Yeezus’ manages to come together as one man’s vision.  The overall feel is polished, yet hugely abrasive; an album that combines experimental hip-hop with industrial beats, acid house and forms of black protest music like Jamaican dancehall.  Distorted bass drones bubble and brood; harsh rhythms grate; sombre synths pervade the dreamily gloomy mood; auto-tuned vocals are purposefully obscure like a voice striving to be heard.  The effect is utterly raw, aggressive and intense, mirroring the provocative lyrical content.

It’s here that West stumbles.  His overblown, narcissistic tendencies are more infamous than his production, reaching new heights on ‘Yeezus’.  The title alone combines his nickname (Yeezy) with Jesus in a messianic statement.  It’s taken further with I Am A God which features no less than God himself (apparently).  Yet he then petulantly demands “where’s my damn croissants” in a “French-ass restaurant”, before claiming “I just talked to Jesus, he said ‘What up Yeezus?’.  Surely this is West having a bit of fun, despite the darkly serious production?  Or is West so egotistical as to actually believe himself to be worthy of godlike status?  It’s a fine line.

Things take a turn for the worse with West’s political views.  This isn’t a call for black equality, but black supremacy with Black Skinhead as his “theme song” in an aggressive call to arms.  Unlike the understated cover ‘art’, West is far from afraid to confront issues of race in a blaze of fury.  His anger threatens to boil over in New Slaves, on which he stands up to racial injustice, consumerism and the press above an insistent, sinister riff.  He fails, however, on Blood On The Leaves which samples ‘Strange Fruit’ (originally recorded by Billie Holiday).  The political power of the original song is wasted here.

Rather than subverting racial stereotypes, West plays up to them in an extreme and provocative manner.  On New Slaves, for example, West is the living embodiment of the consumerism he raps against.  Sex is a constant, often brutal, theme: whether as an angry retort (“I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse”), depicting his wife’s “wet mouth”, wrapped up in his political views (“put my fist in her like a civil rights sign”), or wrapped up in racism (“eating Asian pussy all I need is sweet and sour sauce”).  The results are grotesque, ugly and darkly sexy.  Is this an artist producing with a knowing irony with his hyperbolic use of stereotypes?  Or an artist unable to escape the restraints of his chosen genre no matter how hard he may try to shock?

Despite the off-putting lyrical content, the record is still an arresting listen – from the lurching rhythms of Black Skinhead, to the ghostly voice of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (predominantly on Hold My Liquor), the shimmering synths of Guilt Trip, and the chorus of Bound 2 that deserves to be a full track in itself.  As West spits out on opening track On Sight, “a monster [is] about to come alive again”.  Whether you’re a “dick” or a “swallower”, West continues to be a bombastic, unflinching figure in music.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Black Skinhead
* I Am A God
* Hold My Liquor

Listen: 'Yeezus' is available now.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Alex Metric & Jacques Lu Cont feat. Malin - Safe With You

I'll keep this short.

If there was ever a song so euphoric as to make you punch the air screaming "CHOOOON" then this is it.

Metric and Lu Cont are well established as DJs, producers and remixers and here they're joined by Malin of Niki & The Dove fame after last year's excellent debut release 'Instinct'.  The vocals soar, the lyrics are lovely (despite the line "I'll break my back for you") and the drop is huge.

Far from the usual EDM fare that fills the charts, this is the very definition of club banger.


Listen: Safe With You will be released in September.

Monday 17 June 2013

Britney Spears - Ooh La La

It's Shitney, bitch.

Seriously, when was the last time Britney released a decent record?  Yes, I realise this release is on the soundtrack to the new Smurfs film, but that doesn't mean she has to sound like one.  Since her appearance on American X Factor, about the only thing she's good for is amusing gifs of her facial expressions.

So here, for your amusement, is my take on Ooh La La as told through the medium of Britney gifs.  Or, if you'll indulge me, it's Britney GIF.

(Source: Tumblr)

(Source: Tumblr)

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(Source: GIFCentral)

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(Source: Tumblr)


Listen: Ooh La La features on the soundtrack to 'The Smurfs 2' released at the end of July.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Antiviral (2012) - Brandon Cronenberg

If you have a fear of needles, this probably isn't the film for you.

Brandon Cronenberg continues his director father's legacy of body horror films, in which psychology is interweaved with the physical human body.  Antiviral is a comment on society's fetishistic obsession with celebrity.  This is a near-future, dystopian world in which celebrities can literally sell themselves for special merchandise: diseases, skin grafts and even meat farmed from their own flesh.  That's right, here you can literally eat your favourite celebrity.

Protagonist Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works at the Lucas Clinic where celebrity diseases are administered, but secretly injects himself to sell on the black market.  Things quickly go awry when a famed actress dies; suffering from the same sickness, Syd must discover the cause of her death, losing his health and sanity in the process.  This is a murder-mystery with a difference.

The obsession with celebrity is merely a symptom in the search for perfection, which Cronenberg reflects in the arresting visuals.  The mise en scene is overpoweringly white - clinical and pristine.  Moreover, it provides the perfect, stark background for the gruesome, bloody action.  At times it's hard to stomach, with extreme close-ups of injections depicted with an almost erotic intensity.

Landry Jones proves to be the perfect match for Cronenberg's bizarre vision.  As if his angular facial features weren't frightening enough, he delivers a startling physical performance that surely lingers in the mind.

However, just like the visuals, the narrative is cold and detached.  Despite the performance of Landry Jones, there is an absence of character development.  As such, this is a striking debut that shocks more for its gory visuals than truly disturbing the mind.


Watch: Antiviral is available now on DVD.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Man Of Steel (2013) - Zack Snyder

I've never liked Superman as a character.  Where's the interest in someone who has no human flaw, someone who (besides some alien substance) is practically invincible?  With Man Of Steel, Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan are attempting to tell a more human story, to provide a hero that we can relate to.

And yet, in the opening sequence we are thrown headlong into the alien world of Krypton.  As the planet is on the verge of imploding, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is attacked by the usurper General Zod (Michael Shannon).  In the midst of the planetary crisis, Jor-El sends his newborn son, Kal-El, to Earth as the saviour of his people.  Snyder introduces us to his dizzying camerawork and CGI effects, but with little to no backstory it's difficult to care for these aliens.

In a jarring shift of tone, we then meet the adult Kal-El (now known as Clark Kent) on Earth.  Here Snyder seeks to offer a gritty, realistic vision of the superhero that's worlds away from his comic book origins.  This is the story of a man trying to find his true place in the world, yet any attempts at showing humanity are undermined by the alien mumbo jumbo and clichéd, cheesy script.

Of course, Superman's place in the world is as a symbol of America - it's no accident that his suit is blue and red.  "What will it take for America to trust me?" he asks towards the end of the film.  The answer is religion.  Man Of Steel is littered with Christian overtones and iconography: from his seeking guidance from a priest, to his Christ-like willing sacrifice for the human race. At one point, he even hovers from a spacecraft over the Earth in a crucifix pose.  As a result, the film descends into typical 'America will save the world' drivel.  The imagery of a destroyed Metropolis, especially, will not be lost on New Yorkers.

Moreover, Man Of Steel offers no character development.  Henry Cavill certainly has the chiseled jaw and steely blue eyes of the hero but the script gives his character nowhere to go beyond posing and punching.  Amy Adams' Lois Lane begins as a feisty, strident reporter competing in a male dominated society, yet she falls for Superman's charms too easily and quickly becomes a simple damsel in distress.  And Shannon's General Zod is just a one-dimensional villain with some laughable one-liners.

It's with the incredible special effects that Man Of Steel succeeds.  Super powers, alien technology and anti-gravity weaponry are well rendered, whilst the intense close-ups and zooms provide a visceral experience where you really feel the force and impact of each blow.  That said, for someone who is out to save humanity, Superman doesn't half destroy a lot in the process.

Man Of Steel is an enjoyable film, but Snyder doesn't succeed in his vision of a relatable, human hero.  For all its blockbuster entertainment value, the film is inherently flawed - you can't make a human story about an alien.


Watch: Man Of Steel is in cinemas now.

Friday 14 June 2013

Frankmusik - Between Us

Is there anything more embarrassing than the last song of an album being entitled Final Song?  It didn’t work for Rihanna (Last Song – ‘Rated R’) or Clare Maguire (This Is Not The End  - ‘Light After Dark’) and it doesn’t work for Frankmusik.  Even the opening track of ‘Between Us’, Chasing Shadows, begins with the line “The sun appears”.  It’s hardly a subtle way of bookending an album.

Between these tracks, this third album from Vincent Turner (and the first to be self-released) is a mixed bag.  It doesn’t match his exciting debut ‘Complete Me’, but it’s a darn sight better than ‘Do It In The AM’.

Turner has always been at his best when writing hyperactive, neon-charged electro pop sung in his sweet falsetto.  It’s no wonder he was influenced by J-Pop acts like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and her energetic, cartoonish performances.  As such, the obvious album highlights are Cake and Captain: the former an appropriately sugary pop track that’s as close to J-Pop than anyone in the UK has come close to creating, the latter a frenzied yet infectious slice of electro pop (even with his annoying pronunciation of “Cap-i-turn”). 

After parting ways with Island Records in 2011 (following the disappointing ‘Do It In The AM’), much of this new material is a not so subtle jab at his former label.  Fast As I Can and Life (Is My Revenge) are clear statements of intent, not only running as fast as he can from his past but stating “I’m trapped within your walls and I hear you call and I know I can find the strength to leave”.  Map takes a similar stance with its chorus lyric “I never wanna find my way back”.  ‘Between Us’ definitely sees Turner in a newfound state of liberation, but production-wise the music doesn’t contain the same thrilling idiosyncrasies as ‘Complete Me’.

Where Turner excels at up-tempo tracks, he falls down with ballads.  The duet with Cara Salimando, How Do We Know?, feels laboured and, with its predominantly piano instrumentation, lacks the creative production Turner is known for.  The lyrics of Stronger, meanwhile, are as soppy as a wet dishclosh. 

‘Between Us’ reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of Frankmusik.  In that respect, Turner’s freedom has undoubtedly resulted in his most honest album to date.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Cake
* Captain
* Fast As I Can

Listen: ‘Between Us’ is available now.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Icona Pop - Girlfriend

Anyone even remotely interested in Swedish pop music will already be familiar with Icona Pop.  Their debut EP ‘Nights Like This’ was released back in 2011 and since then the electro pop duo have grown from strength to strength with a full album release in their native Sweden and their hit single I Love It (featuring label mate Charli XCX and originally being released way back in 2012) recently going platinum in the states. 

In short, Icona Pop make massive pop bangers and are the biggest thing to come out of Sweden in a while.

And yet they’re still awaiting success here in the UK?!  All that is about to change.

Whilst we await the release of their full album (and indeed its lead single I Love It), a new track has surfaced: Girlfriend.  As with their previous material, this is a fizzing pop track that’s instantly hooky, its chorus line (and title) taken from Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Bonnie and Clyde (itself taken from Tupac’s Me And My Girlfriend).  Alongside I Love It, this is pop music at its best – short, snappy and infectious.


Listen: I Love It will be released on June 21st, with the duo's self-titled debut LP following soon.

*UPDATE* The official video is now online! Watch below:

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Gold Panda - Half Of Where You Live

Gold Panda’s 2010 debut, ‘Lucky Shiner’, was a huge success – seemingly out of nowhere – that saw the young London producer touring globally for the following two years.  The result is a follow up album, cleverly entitled ‘Half Of Where You Live’, that is clearly inspired by his worldwide travels.

Most obvious is the use of ethnic sounding samples that are weaved together into intricate, minimalist electronic textures.  Opener Junk City II is influenced by the producer’s interest in Japanese culture with its combination of pentatonic melodies and industrial effects, whilst Brazil is clearly reflected in the polyrhythmic samba beats.  Elsewhere, the use of gongs, chimes, oriental strings and vocal samples characterise the overall pan-global flavour, neatly summed up in the appropriately titled Community

More subtle is the use of movement that encapsulates the feeling of travelling.  Whilst the tracks are mostly upbeat and heavily rhythmic, the minimalist structures allow for slow development over the course of each track.  The music is simultaneously moving at a swift pace and in apparent slow-motion, as if looking out of the window of a train or plane.  And just like visiting a foreign country, it’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed by both the tidal wash of sounds and the minutiae of the production.

This is a far less pop-focussed album than ‘Lucky Shiner’ and its prevalent single You (recently sampled by Charli XCX).  Instead, Gold Panda takes us on a serene journey.  It contains none of the stress and hardship of being on tour; rather, it replicates the feeling of calmly floating across an azure sea, or gliding under a cloudless sky.  ‘Half Of Where You Live’ does, however, stray a little too far into this Zen territory.  Whilst the tracks certainly have their charms, there’s a distinct lack of memorable melodic phrases and the variety of instruments cannot hide the absence of harmonic progression.  As such, the album is in danger of fading into the background.

Yet what it lacks in immediacy, it makes up for in overall mood.  For anyone after a tranquil break from the hustle and bustle of daily life, this is your album.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* An English House
* Brazil
* Community

Listen: 'Half Of Where You Live' is available now.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

London Grammar - Wasting My Young Years

Life is hard as a twentysomething.  After years of school and university education, we're thrust into the 'real world'.  Hearts will be broken and dreams will be shattered as we fight for a place in a society suffering from an economic downturn.  The hunt to 'find ourselves' is a terrifying and confusing journey.  It's sink or swim.

Now we have something of an anthem in the downbeat new single from London Grammar, Wasting My Young Years, even if its focus is actually the shattering realisation that a relationship is going nowhere.  The evocative title sums up a tumult of feeling.

The nostalgia-soaked piano and Hannah Reid's ethereal vocals are a stunning combination, speckled with synths and guitars, whilst the insistent drums of the chorus create a throbbing sense of urgency.  Alongside Metal and Dust and Hey Now, the London trio are establishing themselves as the go to act for spectral melancholia that haunts long after the music stops.

Just smile through the tears.


Listen: Wasting My Young Years is released on June 16th.

Watch: London Grammar will be touring in October.

Monday 10 June 2013

Baths - Obsidian

The cliché of the bedroom producer, all alone making music, is well known nowadays. Yet with Will Wiesenfeld (aka Baths) this was an unavoidable reality when he suffered from an e-coli infection. It may not have been the starting point of ‘Obsidian’, his second album, but it certainly had an impact.

Take Incompatible for example. What other artist would include the lyric “You live in my house and we share a toilet seat”? This is a song about a sexual encounter, a “maiden voyage”, yet medical connotations crop up as he gently intones “nurse this erection back to full health”. Despite this explicitness, the track is the album’s most tender moment – as if, alone in his room and suffering from ill-health, this sort of relationship is but a dream.

It’s this juxtaposition of romanticism and darkness that characterises ‘Obsidian’, an album that centres on the morbidity of human existence. “Where is God when you need him the most?” Wiesenfeld calls out on opening track Worsening, whilst Phaedra evokes the Greek myth with the lines “the thought of mortality dormant in me…Phaedra it is you that made me want to kill myself”. In Earth Death, meanwhile, the rumbling bass suggests a great maw in the Earth pulling the singer to his doom; following track Inter is his wordless fall. Wiesenfeld’s escapist vision far outstretches his limited physical confines in an album that relishes in the darkly dramatic and romantic aspects of suffering.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. His musical style invites comparison with the likes of Radiohead or James Blake: predominantly electronics-based, but expanded since his previous material to include live instruments. And despite the heavy, noirish subject matter, there’s a lightness of touch in the production that ensures immediacy – from his quivering vocal, to the shuffling beats of Worsening, the insistent synth melodies of No Eyes, or Phaedra’s galloping drums.

Just as a volcano leaves a trail of precious gems in the wake of its destruction, ‘Obsidian’ proves that sometimes our darkest hours can be channelled into something beautiful.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Worsening
* Incompatible
* Phaedra

Listen: 'Obsidian' is available now.

Sunday 9 June 2013

Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle

Since the release of her debut in 2008, Marling has become the darling of the music press, with two Mercury Prize nominations and countless amounts of praise.  A major player in the folk revival of recent years, her soft, pure vocal and lilting guitar playing have proven to be a suitable vehicle for her emotional storytelling.  'Once I Was An Eagle', however, will do little to appease her critics.

Unlike previous album 'A Creature I Don't Know' that branched out in instrumentation, this fourth album mostly strips things back to voice and guitar, occasionally laced with strings, percussion or organ.  The composition of each song is subtle and lyrically dense - but this means nothing if the music isn't engaging.  This is where Marling falls down.

Each song settles into a slow or mid-tempo, lacking in memorable melodic lines or variety in instrumentation and vocal character.  Even after repeated listening, this is an album that continuously fades into the background and evades your grasp.  There's no sense of immediacy - instead, like a lullaby, the music drifts along nicely enough whilst your mind wanders into another, far more interesting plane of thought.  This isn't helped when the opening handful of tracks bleed into one another in a continuous stream.  Indeed, no one track stands out, the album merely characterised by a general haze of bland music and singing.

Perhaps I'm missing something and there's some key that eventually locks into place.  Perhaps you'll like it.  Perhaps listening to too much pop and rock music has dulled my appreciation of subtlety. But sadly, 'Once I Was An Eagle' has failed to grab my attention in any way and is an album I would only keep on the shelf if sleep eluded me.

Perhaps a third Mercury Prize nomination (and potential win) are on the cards after all.


Gizzle's Choice:
* All and none of the tracks.

Listen: 'Once I Was An Eagle' is available now.

Saturday 8 June 2013

The Young Visiters - Rough Haired Pointer @ The Hen and Chickens Theatre

It's not every day you see a show with a script written by a nine year old.  This is both a blessing and a curse of The Young Visiters written in 1890 by Daisy Ashford, here presented by new theatre company Rough Haired Pointer.

Director Mary Franklin takes us on a journey as we follow the Alan Partridge-esque Mr Salteena (Tom Richards) and his friend Ethel (Marianne Chase) on their rise to high society in late-Victorian England. It's a rather simple and silly tale, performed with childlike enthusiasm by the cast.  Yet as the tale rolls along through its various twists and turns, it eventually becomes apparent this is no fable or morality tale but simply shallow, comedic fun.

The Young Visiters is undoubtedly a hilarious piece, with every element of the production turned to comedy - from the cartoonish performances, to the low budget set and numerous anachronisms between the script, the props and the costumes (though some are likely through financial constrictions rather than choice).  There are also some neat directorial touches, such as audience interaction, a rain scene that cleverly employs umbrellas and ticker tape, and Sophie Crawford's eloquent narrator flitting in and out of the drama to keep proceedings under control.

Sadly, it's control that is lacking in the rest of the cast. The actors are having a lot of fun - perhaps too much fun - as the core script gets lost (I suspect) in a wave of ad-libbing.  As a result, the performance has a chaotic feel that is in danger of teetering into unprofessionalism.  The comic turns of Andrew Brock and Leo Marcus Wan as a variety of different characters frequently had the audience in stitches, overshadowing any attempts at subtlety.

The Young Visiters is an innocent play performed with a knowing wink.  It may be written by a child, but this production is rife with adult humour, its performances in need of a little reining in to really allow the storytelling to shine through.


Watch: The Young Visiters is performed at the Hen and Chickens Theatre, Islington until 15th June.

Friday 7 June 2013

The Perfect American - ENO @ The Coliseum

For many children, Disney is their first experience of cinema.  Prepare to be disillusioned.

Just as Disney experimented with classical music in Fantasia, The Perfect American is an opera experimenting with Disney.  Adapted from Peter Stephan Jungk’s fictional novel of the same name, this opera (with libretto from Rudy Wurlitzer and music from Philip Glass) seeks to uncover the real man behind the cartoon façade.  “Every artist has a dark side”, explains director Phelim McDermott in the programme, with his production painting a darker picture of our childhood hero in a Lynchian metaphor for the American dream.  Disney, on his deathbed, desperately seeks immortality: “At least Mickey and Donald are immortal”, he laments.  The production takes place as an extended nightmare: skeletal rabbits hop across the stage with larger than life animalistic choreography; white gloved hands suggest the pull of encroaching death; clever use of animations and projections depict cartoon characters tormenting the protagonist’s mind; and all accompanied by the constant ghostly flicker of film.  With the corporation prohibiting use of actual imagery, the cartoon visuals are merely an insinuation.  This is not the Disney you know and love.

The central conceit of The Perfect American questions the true meaning of being an artist, when cartoons are such a collaborative medium.  Disney is depicted as a megalomaniac perfectionist who takes sole credit for the work of his disgruntled workers.  His nemesis (as such) is Dantine, a former employee who balks “All you are is a moderately successful CEO”.  This is offset by a production that seeks to idolise and eulogise Disney in overblown, indeed operatic, fashion.  The opening image is that of Disney being raised on his deathbed that’s startlingly similar to Jesus on a crucifix; later he claims “I’ll become a Messiah”.  The chorus, meanwhile, swings from singing “Disney is a magician” in a manner similar to the animated films of old (Sleeping Beauty in particular), to absurdly singing “quack quack” and “choo choo” alongside the projected animations.  At the centre of the opera is a scene in which Disney has a conversation with a wonderfully choreographed broken animatronic of Abraham Lincoln.  Not only is this the most melodramatic scene of the piece (the parallels to Don Giovanni are obvious), but the comparison to Lincoln borders on ludicrous – can a cartoonist really be compared to an American president who freed the slaves?

The main issue with The Perfect American is its distinct lack of drama – both in the narrative and the music.  This is a character piece in which the only compelling character is Disney himself, in an animated performance from Christopher Purves whose beautiful baritone shines through in the rare moments of lyricsm.  Only a cartoonish and eccentric depiction of Andy Warhol (John Easterlin) provides light-relief.  It’s fitting that the action moves in slow-motion alongside Glass’s minimalist score – sometimes literally.  Gareth Jones’s conducting is unable to prevent the score from flatlining, with little dynamic range or energy.  Word-setting is clunky and lyricism is almost non-existent, whilst the orchestration lacks colourful excitement – a crime considering the term ‘mickey-mousing’ derives from the use of music in Disney’s cartoons.  It’s clear that Glass’s musical style does not lend itself to dramatic composition.

Rather than questioning the artistry of Disney, the real question is whether he deserves to have an opera written about him at all.  We see little of his Disneyland empire and the extent of his drawing is three circles on a page (Mickey Mouse if you were wondering).  The title may be ironic, but what exactly made Disney such a great man?  The Perfect American does not provide a convincing argument.  People the world over love him for his work, not for his personal life.  Sadly this production contains none of the magical sparkle or storytelling he is reknowned for.


Watch: The Perfect American runs until 28th June.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Capital Cities - In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery

What will the album of the summer be?  As we finally hit June, it’s the question on every music lover’s lips.  ‘In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery’, the debut LP from Capital Cities, is a strong contender, because nothing says summer more than ecstatically happy light hearted fun.  And trumpets.  Lots of trumpets.

The LA pop duo’s style is exemplified by Farrah Fawcett Hair at the centre of the album.  Vibrant and schizophrenic, the track follows some crazy twists and turns as a spoken monologue lists everything that’s good about the world.  What other song jumps from sampling Miles Davis to a guest appearance from Andre 3000?  It’s the very definition of feelgood and, as the chorus claims, it really is “good shit, baby”.

As a whole, the album is positively overflowing with fizzing pop hooks, funky guitar grooves and frothy fun.  It comes as no surprise that the duo honed their craft as jingle writers, allowing them to experiment with a variety of genres and develop their skills as composers of melody.  This training in commercial music lends itself to mainstream pop, with the album amongst the catchiest and most upbeat records of the year so far.

In a recent interview with Billboard, the duo said of writing Farrah Fawcett Hair, we went into it with absolutely no rules”.  This certainly rings true of the album as a whole.  It’s a collision of genres, instrumentation, samples and beats wrapped up in a quirky, unpredictable pop package – from the jubilant opening (and lead single) Safe and Sound, to the buoyant Kangaroo Court, the cartoonish vocal sample on Origami, and the sitar solo on Tell Me How To Live.  Every song is an unexpected delight, bursting into your ears in a tidal wave of neon sunshine.

Most of all, ‘In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery’ is an incredibly inventive album that sees the duo having fun with music.  And isn’t that what pop’s all about?  This is a tightly produced, playful and utterly joyous album, and it’s WONDERFUL.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Kangaroo Court
* Farrah Fawcett Hair
* Origami

Listen: ‘In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery’ was released on 4th June in the US.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Playing With Fire - Serendipity Productions @ The Drayton Arms Theatre

With such a wealth and strong history of British playwrights, it’s rare for European plays to be performed in this country.  As with her previous production of Fräulein Else, director Anna Ostergren and Serendipity Productions bring something a little different to the London fringe theatre scene with this new translation of Playing With Fire by the prolific Swedish playwright August Strindberg.  This erotically charged one act play presents a stark look at human passions, revealing the thin line between love and hate.

Strindberg is known as a theatrical experimenter, but Ostegren chooses to keep things simple in this production.  The set is basic, the props are minimal and the lighting is often a little too dim.  Alongside the contemporary costumes, the set allows the audience to create their own sense of space, highlighting the relevance of this personal human drama to a modern audience.  The production, however, feels a little indistinct.

This does put the acting and plot into sharp relief.  At the centre of the plot is the love triangle between Knut (Andrew Paxton), his wife Kerstin (Tallulah Sheffield) and best friend Axel (James Heatlie).  Drama builds from the passionate relationship between Axel and Kerstin, who argue and declare their love in equal measure.  Their relationship yo-yo’s a little too suddenly in this swiftly moving script, whilst Knut’s willingness to give up on his marriage undermines the warmth the couple exude in the early scenes.  Despite some unlikely twists (which perhaps attest to the unpredictability of human nature), the acting remains naturalistic and credible throughout.  With characterisation at the heart of Playing With Fire, the success of the play depends on well-realised performances - Heatlie and Sheffield, in particular, displayed a palpable intensity, with Paxton an imposing presence even when off-stage.  By comparison, the remaining three characters were thinly drawn.

At just under an hour long, Playing With Fire is a bite-sized dissection of marital relationships.  Whilst the production would benefit from a more vivid setting, the drama and characterisation are meaty enough to have you pondering well after the curtain call.


Watch: Playing With Fire is performed until June 22nd at the Drayton Arms Theatre.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Disclosure - Settle

In a recent interview with Spin magazine, Disclosure compared their debut album to Daft Punk: “it's a vocal album…There aren't many dance albums with full vocals. We don't really know why. You need the vocals to capture your tune and lift it now and again."  Now, ‘Settle’ doesn’t quite live up to such lofty claims as a Daft Punk comparison, but this is certainly the most important dance album of the year.  And with a total of nine guest appearances from various soul singers, vocals play a huge part in the duo’s appeal.

So much so, in fact, that when Disclosure are left to their own devices, the results are a little disappointing.  Their revival of deep house and UK garage is wholeheartedly the sound of ‘now’, but their aesthetic is narrow.  Similar beats, bass drops, repetitive voice samples and psychedelic house riffs are used throughout ‘Settle’, drawing a fine line between formulaic and distinctive.  Where Tenderly features an incredible central riff or Second Chance creates a moment of blissful calm at the album’s centre, tracks like Grab Her! and What’s In Your Head are monotonous and lack the same inventive hooks.

Yet just when you’re getting bored, the duo hit you with another massive tune vying for your head space.  Unusually for a dance album, ‘Settle’ is packed with potential singles, its emphasis on vocal melodies not only providing a platform for some up-and-coming vocalists (Sam Smith, AlunaGeorge) and fading vocalists (Eliza Doolittle, Jamie Woon), but injecting the album with mainstream appeal that will transcend the charts and the clubs.  It’s a theme that starts with the giddy rush of Latch and continues with the itchy cool of White Noise and current jam You & Me with its ecstatic bass drop.  Defeated No More and January, meanwhile, drop the tempo a little for a more relaxed, sun-kissed vibe.  And with the brothers’ remix of Jessie Ware’s Running included, it’s good to see she’s returned the favour by featuring on the filthy Confess To Me.

Nestled in towards the end is Help Me Lose My Mind with London Grammar.  The haunting, delicate electro of the latter brings a different slant to Disclosure’s sound that’s a welcome diversion, Hannah Reid’s vocal providing a hint of melancholy in an otherwise joyous record.  Sublime stuff.

After the huge success of their recent singles, the pressure was on for the Lawrence brothers to deliver.  They may only be just old enough to go clubbing themselves, but ‘Settle’ ushers in a new era for clubbers.  Flowing like a continuous set-list, simply press play on the soundtrack to your summer nights.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Latch
* White Noise
* Help Me Lose My Mind

Listen: ‘Settle’ is available now.

Watch: The brothers will be playing at Latitude, Global Gathering and Leeds/Reading Festivals, as well as a headline tour towards the end of the year.

Monday 3 June 2013

Thumpers - Unkinder

It's fitting that the press shot for 'Unkinder', the debut EP from Thumpers, is on a beach.

Opener (and title track) Unkinder (A Tougher Love) is as bouncy as an inflatable balloon on a sandy bed of electronics and guitars, with an air of breezy pop melodies.  That David Kosten (Bat for Lashes, Everything Everything) had a hand in the production is apparent; buzzing with creativity yet delicately crafted, this is a laid back slice of summer.

It's followed by Marazion Bay, here to soundtrack the sunset.  You can practically hear the soft crashing of waves in the space between the breathy opening vocals and the gentle piano chords, the light slowly fading as romantic melodies are carried off into the darkness on a tide of tapping percussion.

Then shit gets crazy.  The final track is a cover of Bjork's Innocence, featuring the alternative choir Gaggle.  That heady concoction you've taken finally kicks in (or is it just heat stroke?), the beats jerking in time to your stumbling dancing upon the sand, a wave of psychedelic voices calling to you in the dark as the stars twinkle with a knowing wink.

Surely that marks a good day at the beach, no?


Listen: 'Unkinder' is available now.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Kanye West - New Slaves

Few things in life insight more collective groaning from the public consciousness than yet another rant from everyone's favourite egotistical rapper, Kanye West.  With New Slaves, he's been kind enough to set it to a beat.

The production is hypnotic, composed primarily of an insistent, sinister riff (sampling Gyöngyhajú lány from Hungarian rock band Omega, of all things), the minimal textures allowing his 'message' to hit home.  Ominous doesn't even begin to cut it.

It's this angry, political statement that people will either agree with or sigh at, with lyrics that powerfully touch on potent issues such as racial injustice, consumerism and West's continued battle with the press.  Yet these issues are somewhat undermined by his own lavish lifestyle.  West is as guilty as any other artist of frivolously buying cars, clothes and houses, despite his angst at everyone "spending everything on Alexander Wang" and his charming retort "fuck you and your Hampton house, I'll fuck your Hampton spouse".  And although the song is against consumerism, West's music (let alone Kim Kardashian's career) is ironically dependant upon it.

His dichotomy is neatly wrapped up in the line "you see there's leaders and there's followers, but I'd rather be a prick than a swallower" - whatever he does, he can't win.

It's the marketing strategy that mostly undermines the track though, with the video projected on billboards across the globe as a carefully crafted revolutionary tactic.  And the track is taken from West's forthcoming sixth album entitled 'Yeezus', a name that combines his nickname (Yeezy) with Jesus.  The more he poses as an overblown prophet, the more difficult it is to take him seriously.


Listen: New Slaves will feature on 'Yeezus', released on June 18th.