Wednesday 31 July 2013

Annie - The A&R EP

Annie is, for all intents and purposes, Norway’s Little Boots.  It makes sense, therefore, that the two would collaborate on ’The A&R EP’, the latest release from Annie, in particular co-writing lead single Back Together.

Both artists create indie-pop that straddles the boundaries between pop and dance.  And both sing in soft, high, girlish voices.  And they’re both….blonde.

It’s fair to say, then, if you like one, you’ll probably like the other.  ‘The A&R EP’ is a polished release, following on from her 2004 debut album ‘Anniemal’ and its follow-up 2009’s ‘Don’t Stop’.  And like Little Boots, those tracks at the poppier end of the spectrum are preferable to the dancier efforts: Back Together and Hold On are therefore highlights, as is the 80s feel of Ralph Macchio, whilst the repetitive Invisible stumbles.

The EP lacks some of the oomph of Annie’s earlier work, such as breakthrough hit Chewing Gum, but it’s certainly paving the way towards another excellent album.


Listen: ‘The A&R EP’ is available now.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Prom 22: Naturally 7 @ The Royal Albert Hall

What is the Royal Albert Hall’s policy on bumping and grinding?

Whatever they might be, they were seriously violated at the Naturally 7 prom (largely by me).  With the organisers gradually diversifying more and more each year, the New York-based all-male a capella group brought sex appeal and effortless cool to this year’s event.

The proms are no longer solely for classical music as is traditional.  Naturally 7 fuse old school and new school in an irresistible concoction of soul, gospel, jazz, rap and R&B.  The performance included renditions of songs ranging from the negro spiritual Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho, to Seals & Croft’s Summer Breeze, Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, Coldplay’s Fix You and Sting & The Police’s Englishman in New York, as well as some original pieces.  In each case, the songs were transformed, often combining different styles – jazz harmonies, soulful melodies and reggae beats, for example.  At no other prom would you find the audience dancing, swaying and shouting out in call and response.

The group’s mantra is to see how far they can take the human voice, resulting in an astonishing array of sounds.  What’s more, alongside amusing choreography, the group mimic each instrument they vocally imitate, whether drums, bass, trumpets or trombones, allowing the audience to visualise the full sound.  A couple of songs, While My Guitar Gently Weeps especially, even included a vocal ‘guitar’ solo complete with distortion effects.  It’s almost impossible to imagine all the sounds coming from the human voice.  Individually their voices had impressive range and rich soulful tones; together, the harmonies blended with luscious warmth, whilst intricate riffs and licks were passed from singer to singer in a rhythmically tight display.  The only negative was a slight lack of volume from the bass end, but this was more a mic issue than anything – the bass singer’s voice certainly sent shivers through the audience.

Technology played a part in the set, with one song a solo tour de force using a loop pedal.  Yet the most arresting moment came when the group abandoned the mics to sing a medley of Simon and Garfunkel hits.  The audience hushed as the group began with (what else?) The Sound of Silence, revelling in the hall’s acoustics and revealing a sense of vulnerability in a performance that otherwise oozed cool.  The effect was spine-tingling.

Naturally 7 may be a bit ‘alternative’ for the proms, but judging by the raucous applause at the concert’s end, the group provided a much welcome (and quite frankly astounding) change of pace.


Listen: Naturally 7 have released a number of albums, most recently 2012’s ‘Live’ (listen to clips below).

Watch: They will be touring the United States in September and October.

Monday 29 July 2013

AlunaGeorge - Body Music

For a duo with such a recognisable, unique sound, ‘Body Music’ already sounds familiar.  Perhaps that’s because their breakthrough hit, You Know You Like It, originally hit back in April last year, whilst their first official single, Your Drums, Your Love, was released in September.  For fans, ‘Body Music’ has been a long time coming.  Or perhaps it’s because singer Aluna Francis and producer George Reid have stuck extremely close to their established sound throughout the album - there are few surprises here.

Is this a bad thing?  Not particularly: when you hit upon a sound that’s so contemporary, sexy and cool, why change it up?  The only negative is that, with a total of nineteen tracks, the duo do somewhat overstate the point, though there’s enough variation to keep listeners grooving throughout.

Anyone familiar with the band’s recent singles will know what to expect here: glitchy beats, sparkling synths and catchy melodies from Francis’ sultry vocals.  You Know You Like It, with its lurching beat and shimmering middle-eight breakdown, is prime dance material; it’s followed by the whistling hook and slightly gross chorus lyric of Attracting Flies (“everything you exhale is attracting flies”) and the sensual Your Drums, Your Love.  Each of these tracks epitomise the AlunaGeorge sound of twisted R&B, fusing icy electronics with soulful vocals.  It’s a sexual mix.

Despite this, ‘Body Music’ actually starts on a rather sombre note with the downbeat Outlines.  Yet each track is slickly produced and emotionally sung, whatever subject their sound is applied to.  On  Outlines, Francis breathily pines for a lost love (“is this paper all I’ve got to keep you with me?”) accompanied by subdued beats, whilst Bad Idea bubbles up as she spits out the chorus (“you’re a car crash waiting to happen, I’m putting on the breaks just to save myself”).  Later, the quietly throbbing synths match Francis’ sultry, whispering intonations of “your body is like music baby…our bodies making music baby” on the title track, followed by the laidback, teasing Friends to Lovers.  Other tracks hark back to the past with a futuristic streak, whether explicitly with the cover of Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It, or the 00s garage feel of Lost & Found.  The album finally ends with the electrifying, fizzing B Ur Boo, whose switch in its final moments from loud, crashing drama to a quiet, girlish fluttering of the eyelashes perfectly encapsulates Francis’ coquettish, flirtatious allure.  The changes from song to song might be subtle, but most of them are winners, though ‘Body Music’ isn’t without its share of filler tracks.

It may have its flaws, but this debut from the London duo remains one of the best pop albums of the year so far – a collection of songs that dazzle, thrill and arouse from start to finish.  For better or worse, nothing else sounds quite like it.


Gizzle's Choice:
* You Know You Like It
* Bad Idea
* B Ur Boo

Listen: 'Body Music' is available now.

Watch: AlunaGeorge will be touring the UK in October. 

Sunday 28 July 2013

Django Unchained (2012) - Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino is, arguably, the most pre-eminent auteur of our time.  No other film director in the last couple of decades has established such an immediate and widely recognised style.  But what happens when that style loses its uniqueness and is watered down by endless repetition?

This is an issue with Django Unchained, yet another Tarantino revenge film - this time within a Western setting that marries sound ethics with extreme violence and comedy.  This is a film that celebrates the outsider, whether Christoph Waltz's German bounty hunter Dr Schultz, or Jamie Foxx's titular black slave; together, they plot to rescue Django's wife from slavery.  In the process, Django is a man forced to betray his own people in the face of barbaric violence - he must act as a white man (and alongside a white man) to achieve his goals.  Whether this is a film about black emancipation or white racial guilt is certainly up for interpretation, but undoubtedly the unlikely friendship between the two protagonists is thrilling to watch unfold.

Django Unchained contains all the typical hallmarks of a Tarantino film: the camera movement and zooms; the cartoonish violence (complete with lashings of bright red blood); the witty script filled with elaborate monologues; the punchy soundtrack; and, of course, the cameo from Tarantino himself.  The film is full of both Western and Tarantino cliches - the source of much amusement on top of the often comedic script.  Yet it also offers nothing we haven't seen before.  For all its pulp entertainment, this is less iconic than his best.  The language is as extreme as the violence (with the 'n' word cropping up at an alarming rate), but if you're squeamish then you already know not to watch a Tarantino film.

It also suffers from pacing problems.  As you'd expect, much of the film is taken up with long episodes of script, whilst the resolution occurs all too suddenly at the end, though it does provide a suitably bloody conclusion.  Each set-piece along the way is gripping, but the film does lack Tarantino's usual flare for narrative complexity and flashback.

What Tarantino is best at, however, is getting the best performances out of his actors and Django Unchained is no different.  Foxx's Django, like many of the black characters, begins as an almost childlike presence, but soon grows into a Clint Eastwood-esque brooding cowboy - one who retains a clear sense of compassion.  Waltz received numerous awards for his portrayal of Dr Schultz and with good reason - his use of language is delicious, alongside numerous character quirks.  It's the return of Samuel L Jackson who somewhat steals the film, however, with some hilarious moments as the bumbling old Stephen.

Django Unchained is as bold, brash and audacious as audience's have come to expect from Tarantino's oeuvre.  A lack of true innovation in his style might hamper the film, but it still packs a solid punch.


Saturday 27 July 2013

Selena Gomez - Stars Dance

Losing 'the Scene', this is the first album from Gomez as a young woman.  'Stars Dance' is the very essence of predictability: as you'd expect, the young Disney image is ditched in favour of thirteen sexy, Rihanna-lite EDM tracks.

Of course, the long-running on-off relationship with Justin Bieber has informed many of the lyrics, particularly on Forget Forever that opens with the lines "I told, I told, I told myself again, I'm never running back on what I said".  What's most notable, however, is Gomez' newfound sexuality - as unleashed with her recent role in Spring Breakers.  This is most evident on the dirty beats of B.E.A.T, the Flo-Rida-esque Undercover ("You don't need no other lover, we can keep it undercover"), and Nobody Does It Like You with its Disney-eschewing opening lyric "You're my bad boy fairytale, Prince Charming with a dark side".

The influence of Rihanna is huge, with many of the tracks sounding like cast-offs.  This is most explicit in Like A Champion, with its reggae-inspired beat and "rum pa pa pum pa" chorus.  It even includes the lyric "shine like diamonds in the sky".  It doesn't get more blatant than that.

Most of all this is an album of bland EDM pop, written for nobody in particular.  It's quite frankly a shock that David Guetta didn't produce this.  The title track alone contains auto-tuning and dubstep beats - a theme that continues throughout until final party anthem Music Feels Better.  In the context of the album, recent single Come and Get It stands out with its Indian bhangra style - a welcome moment of distinction from Gomez in an otherwise bland attempt to mature her image.


Gizzle's Choice:
* B.E.A.T
* Come And Get It
* Music Feels Better

Listen: 'Stars Dance' is available now.

Friday 26 July 2013

Lost Nation - The Red Room Theatre Company

Despite the ubiquity of social media, it’s incredibly rare for a production to actively encourage the use of it.  Yet this is the case with Lost Nation from The Red Room production company, where the production is clearly only the starting point for further discussion.

As such, this is a multimedia presentation.  It all begins with a well-edited documentary film that details the situations of various members of the Brent community in north-west London.  Each is receiving benefits, such as housing, child support or disability allowance.  These are real people describing their lives, juxtaposed with middle class views of people’s dependency on the welfare state.  This is a provocative and eye-opening piece that gives a much needed voice to the titular ‘lost nation’.

As an extension of the film, each of the performances includes a different monologue, performed on the streets of Kilburn.  What is marketed as a “physical journey through streets and buildings” is in fact a static piece on Kilburn High Road, but its setting is in the heart of the area in question providing tangible context.  The set is reality itself.  This particular performance was ‘Monique’, a verbatim monologue performed by Martina Laird.  The theatrical style allows us to witness the story first hand, Laird reciting in conversational, naturalistic fashion that heightens the realism of the piece.  Though the story concerns a woman suffering from a disability, her mantra of “mind over matter” allows her to overcome the hardships of her dependency on the welfare state: this is ultimately an uplifting and positive tale.

The real question, however, is the purpose of the piece, beyond informing ignorant, middle class theatre goers.  Awareness is great, but Lost Nation offers little in the way of suggested solution – as an audience member, I was left feeling helpless.  With its emphasis on verbatim, this is closer to performance art than a piece of drama – is this theatre, charity or community project?  It’s certainly enlightening, if bordering on guilt-tripping.  What’s most important, though, is the post-show discussion and the opinions therein.  Lost Nation is part of the ‘Poverty Project’, though this was only made explicit on the press release – the production contained no allusion as to the The Red Room’s considerable wider work.  This has the potential to be a powerful piece, but would undoubtedly benefit from reaching a wider audience to continue its momentum.


Watch: Lost Nation is performed from 24th-28th July, info here.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

That’s right: Fuck Buttons. But get past the funny name, though, and ‘Slow Focus’ will transport you far away from your daily life.

The location?  An apocalypse, the sort you can only envision in your nightmares.  This latest album from the Bristol-based duo continues their noisy, techno drone music with cinematic flare.  If this were a film soundtrack, it would be a psychological horror, slowly weaving its way deeper into your consciousness.

Album opener Brainfreeze begins with thumping drum rhythms and doom-laden synth textures, voicelessly calling you down to its hellish soundscape of sinister squealing and bass-heavy drones.  The Red Wing pairs its beats with grinding synths that sound like a chainsaw ripping through your soul, whilst Sentients is constructed of alien, technological sounds, ominous bass notes and a central riff that eerily sounds almost human.  The alien-theme continues with Stalker that takes the listener out into the great void with its space-age whirring and grandiose vision.  

By the time Hidden Xs comes around, the final and best track on the album, you’re just about ready to wake up from the nightmare.  This is a track that embodies the spirit of Fuck Buttons, all techno beats, lumbering bass drones and dystopian guitar wails for an overwhelming, transporting sound that forces you to just stop and soak it all in.

The only major criticism of ‘Slow Focus’ is, as the title suggests, its long-windedness.  Yet this comes with the territory of this style of ambient, drone music – music that seems to stretch on for infinity, repeating and evolving at a glacial pace.  A track like Prince’s Prize can therefore become rapidly grating, whilst Year of the Dog is overly suggestive of Vangelis’ Blade Runner score.  You might feel exhausted and mesmerised by the album’s end, but you’ll be more than willing to jump straight back in again.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Brainfreeze
* Stalker
* Hidden Xs

Listen: 'Slow Focus' is available now.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

The Naked and Famous - Hearts Like Ours

The Naked and Famous are quite possibly the best musical ‘thing’ to come out of New Zealand.  This September will see the band return with a new album (pictured), following 2010’s ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You’ and its huge lead single Young Blood.

Hearts Like Ours isn’t quite as catchy, but still packs a considerable punch with its fusion of glittering synths, punky guitars and euphoric melodies sung by the girlish vocals of singer Alisa Xayalith.  Despite its lack of development from their debut, this is youthful, uplifting and exuberant power pop that will undoubtedly see the band continue to find success both in their homeland and across the globe.


Listen: Hearts Like Ours will feature on forthcoming album ‘In Rolling Waves’ released on 16th September.

Watch: The band will be touring the UK in November, click here for dates.

The Fantasticks - Rose Bridge Theatre Company @ Jermyn Street Theatre

Children rarely do what they’re told, the little scamps.  In fact, they often do quite the opposite of what they’re told – especially when it comes to love. 

This is the central premise of Schmidt and Jones’ The Fantasticks, which premiered off-Broadway in 1960.  Taking huge inspiration from Shakespeare (Romeo And Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular), this commedia dell’arte fairytale tells the story of two neighbourly fathers who trick their children into falling in love by building a wall between their houses and feigning antagonism. 

The Fantasticks is the longest running show in history, receiving huge success from its fourty-two year run off-Broadway.  However, despite (or perhaps due to) the unabashed Shakespeare references, English audiences have never quite taken to the piece.  Director Neil Robinson poses that this is perhaps due to the reliance on stock characters: as with the ‘Pyramus and Thisby’ episode in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Fantasticks takes the form of an allegorical play-within-a-play.  This lends the piece an air of overt theatricality that creates its own wall in the face of naturalism or in humanising these characters.

The first character we witness, however, is The Mute (Greg Page), here used as the stage manager of the play-within-a-play.  It’s one of many clever conceits devised by Robinson to give a greater sense of purpose to the piece, and provides Page with plenty of (sometimes distracting) opportunities for comedy.

The musical itself, however, is patchy and inconsistent.  Particularly in the second act there is a lack of clear narrative direction; instead this is an abstract piece that jarringly leaps from one extreme to another, from scenes of blossoming youthful love, to the fathers’ plotting (that comically, if insensitively, revolves around rape) and to the silliness of the clown-like duo Henry Albertson (Seamus Newham) and Mortimer (James Weal).  Robinson's minimalist staging does allow the mind to wander and imagine each scenario, whilst the score provides suitable musical accompaniment to the varying characters: from fantastical harp-based ballads, to traditional showtunes, jazz numbers, and more Sondheim-esque dramatic pieces.  As a whole, though, The Fantasticks doesn’t quite feel cohesive.

That said, the cast grapple with the material and varying musical styles to offer some excellent performances.  Emma Harrold and James Irving truly shine as the young lovers – Luisa the brattish young girl with a rebellious streak that is easily corrupted, Matt the hopeless romantic who declares his love through poetry.  Gavin James’ El Gallo mysteriously narrates throughout, whilst Brian McCann and Tim Walton sure can belt out a tune as fathers Bellomy and Hucklebee.  The four-piece band play securely and, whilst the odd sound balance issue does surface, this is somewhat to be expected in such a fringe venue. 

The Fantasticks is certainly an odd little show that is likely to divide audiences.  At the least, however, Rose Bridge Theatre Company have brought a unique tale to London’s fringe theatre scene.


Watch: The Fantasticks is performed from the 23rd-27th July at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Icona Pop - All Night

Things are getting complicated with Icona Pop, what with various differing releases between America, the UK and their previous releases in Sweden.  All Night, soon to be released in the states, follows directly from recent single I Love It and future UK single Girlfriend.  As you’d expect, it features big production, an anthemic chorus and shouty, punky vocals, all tinged with a touch of sadness.

It’s formulaic, but it’s a winning formula.  I Love It has seen huge success both in the states and in the UK, building much anticipation for their forthcoming debut album (released in both countries in the autumn).

What’s disheartening, however, is that the Swedish duo are better than this.  Their debut EP, ‘Nights Like This’, hit way back in 2011, whilst their self-titled album was released in their Swedish homeland last year.  For English-speaking audiences, the album is being repackaged with a new title, ‘This Is…’ (pictured), and is missing many of the quirkier electro-pop tracks from their EP – the reason many fans originally fell in love with the duo.  Instead, the shouty formula is firmly in place.

Is this a sign of the duo becoming Americanised?  Let’s just hope that on the album’s release, it strikes a balance between their original quirkiness and their current mainstream appeal.


Listen: The duo's debut album, 'This Is...', will be released in the UK on 7th October.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Pet Shop Boys - Electric

It's been just under thirty years since the Pet Shop Boys released their debut album 'Please', featuring the classic West End Girls, and the duo are still going strong.  It might be hard to believe, but 'Electric' is their twelfth album.  Not a bad career by any standards.

As you might guess from the title, 'Electric' is very much a dance album and, like the duo's career, it has a sound that spans the last three decades.  Opening track Axis is an immediate highlight - a mostly instrumental track that conjures up comparisons with the likes of Kraftwerk.  That the duo were inspired by an Italian disco night in Berlin comes as no surprise.  Axis undoubtedly has a strong European flavour that's simultaneously 80s retro and space-age, with its pulsating riffs and alien, whining melodies.  Subsequent track Bolshy is a rare grating moment by comparison, with its repetitive "bolshy bolshy" vocal.

Thankfully, things pick up again with Love Is A Bourgeois Construct.  The most obvious single on the album, this is typical Pet Shop Boys fare with its immensely catchy chorus and electro sampling of a Purcell fanfare.  It's a song that transports you back to the duo's hey-day in the 80s, lines like "while the bankers all get their bonuses, I'll just get along with what I've got" easily applying to the economic situation both then and now.

Elsewhere, 'Electric' takes us through the gamut of dance styles, from the house-inspired Inside A Dream, to the hyperactive techno of Shouting In The Evening, all cementing the Pet Shop Boys sound with the unmistakable vocals of Neil Tennant.  Thursday in particular is reminiscent of the duo's West End Girls with its squelching bassline, whilst the inclusion of Example on a guest rap brings things full circle with a contemporary twist (a coup he's lucky to have nabbed).  Final track Vocal ends 'Electric' on an impossibly euphoric high, the lyrics expressing the power of music that's certainly evident here.

'Electric' is a celebration of dance music from a duo who have proved themselves to be masters of electronic music.  Three decades of experience culminates in this album.  Long may it continue.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Axis
* Love Is A Bourgeois Construct
* Vocal

Listen: 'Electric' is available now.

Saturday 20 July 2013

New Pop Roundup

Some good stuff, some bad stuff, and some mediocre stuff from well-known artists.  Here's your latest new pop roundup...

Ellie Goulding - Burn

A pertinent title for many people's skin what with the current heatwave, Burn is the latest track to be released by Goulding.  Far from the creative, sombre electro of last year's 'Halcyon', with Burn she's gone all EDM for a bland but highly commercial single with a sexier image.  It sure is catchy though.


Listen: Burn will be released on the 18th August.

Kings of Leon - Supersoaker

Supersoaker harks back to the earlier days of Kings of Leon, before their sex was on fire, they used somebody and turned radioactive.  Full of youthful angst yet retaining some of the anthemic quality of their recent work, the band are clearly aiming to appeal to the full spectrum of their fans.  At the least, it should keep NME readers appeased until the next album is released.


Listen: Supersoaker is available now.

M.O - Hot

Set to be the UK's next hottest girl band, these three girls have previously had a taste of (near) fame with various other bands that didn't quite make it.  Together with previous track Ain't Got Time, it's clear that the time is now right.  With its R&B vocals, reggae inspired beat and "hot hot hot" chorus hook, Hot could well be your new summer jam.


Listen: Hot is available now.

Gabriella Cilmi - The Sting

There might be nothing sweet about her, but on this new single Cilmi is nonetheless being chased by bees.  Having disowned the electro-pop sound of her second album (and her record label), Cilmi returns to pop soul and her trademark husky vocals.  This is bittersweet, between the "if the Devil were a woman" bridge and the catchy chorus that focuses on the extended bee metaphor.  Tasty.


Listen: The Sting is released on 2nd September, with the album of the same name following in October.

The Neo-Kalashnikovs - Gorgeous Baby

Few soapstars successfully make the transition to popstar.  And Helen Flanagan isn't one of them.  Many mistakenly assumed from the low budget video to Gorgeous Baby released this week that this was Flanagan's debut attempt to crack the music industry.  In fact, it's the debut single from New Zealand band The Neo-Kalashnikovs.  That makes it OK to like it....right?


Listen: Gorgeous Baby is available now.

One Direction - Best Song Ever

It's not though, is it?


Listen: Best Song Ever is released on 22nd July.

Example - All The Wrong Places

Hyperactive synths and beats, infectious hooks and a terrible vocal.  Standard Example then.


Listen: All The Wrong Places is released on the 8th September.

Goldfrapp - Drew

Ever since the beautiful A&E, Goldfrapp have settled on a more acoustic-focused sound.  Judging by Drew, it seems that forthcoming album 'Tales Of Us' will similarly feature ghostly vocals and orchestral production.  It's lovely stuff, but does anybody else miss the synths?


Listen: Drew is taken from 'Tales Of Us', released on the 9th September.

Autoheart - Moscow

In a week where the UK government passed new legislation to allow same-sex marriage, the 'anti-gay-law' currently in place in Russia continues to court controversy.  London's Autoheart marry the two with latest single Moscow - an upbeat pop track that celebrates love and a video that ends with a kiss between two Russian males.  That's two fingers up to you Mr Putin.


Listen: Moscow is available now.

Miguel feat. Jessie Ware - Adorn

As if Adorn wasn't good enough already, the addition of Jessie Ware on this remix is an excuse to fall in love all over again.  The restrained soul sound of both artists certainly compliments one another, with Ware's vocal adding an extra layer of sensuality (despite recording them separately to Miguel - yeah, she's that good).  Her additions are minimal, but this is as good a time as any to revisit both Miguel and Ware's stunning albums from last year.


Listen: Miguel's 'Kaleidoscope Dreams' and Ware's 'Devotion' are both available now.

Friday 19 July 2013

Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines

No blurred lines here: Robin Thicke is obsessed with his dick.

Not content with displaying "Robin Thicke has a big dick" on the controversial video for the album's title track and lead single, next release Give It 2 U features such lines as "I got this for you, a little Thicke for you...a big dick for you".  Charming.

As a whole, the album is more enjoyable than you might expect, with some decent party tunes.     Tracks such as Ooo La La, Ain't No Hat 4 That and Get In My Way are based on Timberlake/Jackson-esque funky disco grooves that are far more palatable than the "rapey" Blurred Lines.  This is surely Thicke's most commercial album yet.  But even the best tracks, like the fizzing synths of Take It Easy On Me, are ruined by vomit-inducing lines like "When I look right through your dress I want your cherry pie".

Towards the end, however, 'Blurred Lines' relies on some saccharine ballads that feel totally out of place.  These oddly take the album from the bass intonations of "I know you want it" to a sickly sweet falsetto declaration of love.

Yes, sex sells.  Nobody knows this better than Timberlake, whose album 'The 20/20 Experience' is a slickly produced romp.  Yet Timberlake is the king of cool, who sings his lyrics with a cheeky smile and knowing wink.  By contrast, Thicke is simply a sleazy douchebag.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Take It Easy On Me
* Ooo La La
* Get In My Way

Listen: 'Blurred Lines' is available now.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Merrily We Roll Along @ The Harold Pinter Theatre

Merrily We Roll Along is the quintessential Sondheim show.  From the moment the overture begins, we’re thrown into the sprightly, staccato jazz score, filled with Broadway tunes and brilliant orchestration, whilst in each number the intricate vocal parts interweave and overlap in typical fashion. 

Yet, as with all of Sondheim’s musical plays, the music is always an integral part of the drama.  The central concept of Merrily is its reverse narrative: we initially meet composer Frank, lyricist Charley and critic Mary as three people whose friendship has broken apart, slowly moving backwards in time towards the very beginning of their friendship and their first musical ventures.  What ensues is a compact drama that explores the nature of human relationships, in addition to semi-autobiographical elements such as the difficulties of collaboration and the artistic integrity of Broadway versus ‘selling out’ to Hollywood.  The piece ultimately becomes a comic celebration of youthful optimism that resonates with all ages, but one tinged with sadness as the tragic ending is already known.  It asks us to question: if we could start our lives over again, what might we do differently?

The reverse structure allows for some typically Sondheim reminiscences.  As with Sweeney Todd, the recurring title theme provides structure, whilst song reprises take on new significance at different points in the drama, foreshadowing events yet to be played out.  And whilst this may seem overtly clever, the show is never less than thoroughly gripping and enjoyable with plenty of tunes to keep you entertained.

When the musical itself is this good, the production comes easily enough.  The creative team have thus kept the set simple, clean and crisp with appropriate 70s and 60s costumes to suit each time period.  The only moment of extravagance comes with the tap routine during the play-within-a-play that opens the second act.  This number also throws into sharp relief the otherwise naturalistic performances.  The (reverse) character development of the central three protagonists is well-executed, each becoming noticeably younger before our eyes.  Mark Umbers (Frank) and Damian Humbley (Charley) offer incredibly polished performances – in particular, Humbley’s version of ‘Franklin Shepard Inc’, with its complex web of singing and sound effects, is hugely impressive.  Jenna Russel’s vocal as Mary is less secure, but her comic timing more than makes up for this.  In addition, Clare Foster’s performance as Beth features some tender singing, whilst Josefina Gabrielle excels as the Broadway diva Gussie.

“There’s not a tune you can hum”, complains a producer in one of the later numbers, a critique that Sondheim himself knows all too well.  Merrily is Sondheim at his best, proving the critics wrong.  Thankfully, judging by the amount of five star reviews this particular, exceptional production has received, the critics are most definitely on-side this time.  You can add this reviewer to the ever growing list.


Watch: Merrily is running until the 27th July, info here.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Ciara - Ciara

There are two collaborations with Nicki Minaj on ‘Ciara’, bringing together a hip-hop superstar and an underperforming R&B star (despite an impressive discography).  Together, they are an indomitable force in female-led urban music.  The whole album begins with a sisterly call of “ladies it’s your song” on I’m Out, whilst on Livin’ It Up Ciara claims “a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, makin’ up my own rules” before Minaj enters with a rap of sisterly assurance: “they can kick you while your down but you gettin’ up”.  It marks a stark contrast to the bravado rapping of most male hip-hop stars.

Tracks like this ensure that ‘Ciara’ rises above the usual sexy R&B affair – something she’s certainly been guilty of in the past.  In fact, ‘Ciara’ sees the singer swinging from overtly sensual (as on lead single Body Party that will have you sweating more than the current heatwave), to aggressive and dominant (Keep On Lookin’ in particular, with its repetitive chorus of “keep on lookin’, boy what I got you can’t have”).  Throughout, she coos and swoons in a manner that’s suggestive without being slutty.

The production is consistently of a high quality, maintaining current trends for a synth heavy, moody, futuristic feel.  Super Turnt Up features harsh siren calls beneath glittering synths, Ciara turning in a fierce vocal delivery in the middle eight.  Where You Go brings a more introspective moment at the album’s centre, Ciara repeatedly calling “where you go?” above a shimmering concoction of synths and guitars.  Livin’ It Up, meanwhile, is pure R&B pop with its catchy hooks and fizzing production.

Indeed, with her fifth album, Ciara proves that she deserves far more mainstream pop success than she has previously received.  There’s more to this R&B singer than just endless legs and sexy tunes.  As the title suggests, this is a fresh start - give the singer a chance.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Body Party
* Where You Go
* Livin’ It Up

Listen: 'Ciara' is available now.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Cymbals - The End

The PR behind Cymbals sums up The End rather nicely: "a shimmering seven-minute menagerie of plaintive synths, typically sincere vocals and muted house beats" along with "the intoxicating feel of a night under the lights of a '90s Parisian disco".  Wow.

Except Cymbals are actually from London (via time spent in Paris).  This is an episodic track, beginning with wistful strings before moving into Parisian house territory (complete with french monologue) and, finally, dropping everything out around the five minute mark to syncopated drum and bass rhythms.  The End takes you on a journey that's equal parts pensive and euphoric.

Cymbals' forthcoming third album will be released this year featuring The End alongside previous singles The Natural World and Like An Animal.


Listen: The End is available now.

Monday 15 July 2013

Justin Timberlake - Take Back The Night

The March-released ‘The 20/20 Experience’ was only the beginning.  In September, Timberlake will be releasing the second half of his epic project, with Take Back The Night as the lead single.

Channelling Luther Vandross' Never Too Much and Michael Jackson's Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough, Take Back The Night harks back to early ‘80s disco and R&B – all funk grooves and Nile Rodgers-esque guitar lines punctuated by horns.  Is this Timberlake ‘doing a Daft Punk’?  At the least, this is a more straightforward pop track that lacks the experimental production from the first part of ‘The 20/20 Experience’ (but not the track length), perhaps indicating that this next release will have more of the pop tunes that some fans are craving. 

Of course, the lyrics are as sexual as ever, which has led to an embarrassing fiasco with the anti-rape group Take Back The Night (in particular their dislike of the lyric “use me”).  With this and the recent raunchy artistic video for Tunnel Vision, Timberlake might be a ‘family man’ but he’s not one to shy away from controversy.

In essence, Take Back The Night is sexy, funky and a far better lead single than Suit & Tie, but it doesn’t quite match the best that ‘The 20/20 Experience’ has to offer (Let The Groove Get In being the obvious comparison).


Listen: Take Back The Night is available now.  The second part of ‘The 20/20 Experience’ will be released on 30th September.

Friday 12 July 2013

Alice and the Glass Lake - The Evolution EP

“Many summers ago I took my first trip to the Glass Lake. Having arrived at its wooded bank my eyes caught the tree line and found their first full-on view of the water – the sun and setting colors reflecting from its silvery surface as a perfect mirrored half. I knew I'd found something important.”

Stumbling across the music of Alice and the Glass Lake consisted of, slightly less glamorously, clicking on some Internet links, but listening to her debut, 'The Evolution EP’, is no less special or important than that discovery of the glass lake.

Delicate, ethereal vocals; folky melodies; incandescent synths and guitars cut with pounding drums – this really is music of ephemeral, seraphic beauty and (of course) glass lakes.  Paracosm stands out for its spectral pizzicato strings and shimmering guitars, but it’s lead single Higher that truly surmises the appeal of ‘Evolution’.  An opening verse of synth droplets and thunderous drums, as if after a storm; a second verse that adds a rumbling bassline; and a middle eight that scorches with its bass synth riff aided by the off-kilter beat.  ‘Evolution’ is an EP of enchanting music that transports us to Alice’s glass lake and beyond.


Listen: ‘The Evolution EP’ is available now.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Jay-Z - Magna Carta...Holy Grail

Jay-Z might be married to the biggest popstar on the planet and he might be one of the biggest rappers on the planet, but that doesn’t mean he can release a lacklustre album and call it ‘Magna Carta…Holy Grail’, even solely for the pun on his surname.

The comparisons to Kanye’s recent ‘Yeezus’ are inevitable, as two of the most recognisable names in hip-hop.  ‘Yeezus’ is a progressive, clearly focused record with a big point to prove, even if you don’t agree with his views.  By comparison, Jay-Z has very little to say, leading to a soulless and empty album. 

As with much of hip-hop, Carter’s lyrics have always been based on bravado – here we have Picasso Baby, a whole song about living the high life, whilst in Versus he berates fellow rappers on their apparent wealth (“The truth in my verses, versus, your metaphors about what your net worth is”).  Carter’s skill stems from clever wordplay, but that’s often absent on ‘Magna Carta…’.  Instead he riffs on social media (“fuck hashtags and retweets, 140 characters in these streets”), Miley Cyrus (“’cause somewhere in America Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’”), and family life (“baby need Pampers, Daddy need at least three weeks in the Hamptons”).  Compared with his previous material, this new work feels too predictable, especially in light of hip-hop newcomers such as the raw Kendrick Lamar or Joey Bada$$.

As such, it falls on the production to provide interest.  For the most part, it’s a mixture of different hip-hop styles, in the process lacking much of the personality we’ve come to expect from Carter following tracks like 99 Problems or Empire State of Mind.  Of course there are samples and song references, most notably from Nirvana on opening track Holy Grail.  And Carter has embraced pop music more than many hip-hop artists, ‘Magna Carta…’ including features from Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean and BeyoncĂ©.  Yet with these three artists, he is overshadowed on each occasion – Holy Grail following on from Timberlake’s Suit & Tie; Ocean providing poignant lyrics to Oceans (“I hope my black skin don’t dirt this white tuxedo”); and Carter might as well be providing a guest rap on Part II (On The Run) between his wife’s sultry vocals and the woozy synth and piano lines.

‘Magna Carta…’ isn’t necessarily a bad album, it just feels lazy and a little dull.  With Carter’s hype-inducing status, this is not the holy grail of hip-hop albums that you might be hoping for.


Gizzle's Choice:
* F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit
* Oceans
* Part II (On The Run)

Listen: 'Magna Carta...Holy Grail' is available now.

Watch: Jay-Z will be performing at Wireless festival this weekend.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Frank Ocean @ O2 Brixton Academy

With many citing ‘Channel Orange’ as the album of 2012, Frank Ocean’s headline performance at Brixton was his opportunity to prove himself on the live stage.

His debut is an intimate and personal album, however, that doesn’t always translate to a live experience.  Ocean excels at brutally honest love songs, like the heartbreaking Thinkin Bout You or Bad Religion, both offering searing depictions of unrequited love.  Inevitably, these songs lost some of their emotional impact with the distraction of a crowded teenage hipster audience screaming, swinging and swaying along.

Ocean himself was clearly taken aback by the reception of the crowd, who joined him in an impromptu unaccompanied version of Swim Good and chanted every word.  Mostly, he sparingly acknowledged the audience, even confessing “I don’t usually do much talking”.  Shy, quiet and insular, Ocean is far from a showman and something of an unlikely star, reflected in the simple and subtle staging consisting predominantly of a backdrop of a car driving across a salt flat.  With no support act, it proved to be a suitable metaphor for Ocean: alone in his own world, distant and untouchable.

What he lacked in charisma, however, he more than made up for in the quality of his music.  Supported by a live band including live horns as well as the usual electronics and drum pads, the overall musicianship oozed polish.  Song arrangements of Thinkin Bout You and Novocane were beefed up and blasted over the audience with quaking sub-bass and drums, whilst the most successful tracks included Sweet Life, Super Rich Kids and Sierra Leone – those songs which emphasise the funk and jazz elements of the production and suited the party atmosphere of the crowd.  There were also new tracks he's "trying out on the road", offering an insight into a possible future album.  That said, no track could outshine the epic Pyramids, the second half of which was stirringly atmospheric with its layers of whirling synths and guitars.

Most of all, it was (surprisingly) Ocean’s vocal that stood out.  As he riffed and played with the melodies, his voice was imbued with soul from a soft rumble to some longing high notes.  The line “my god giving me pleasure” from Pink Matter rose achingly with yearning, whilst the aforementioned rendition of Swim Good was totally on point.

The most arresting moment, though, came at the very end, with Ocean unexpectedly finishing the gig with Wise Man accompanied solely by piano.  Taken from the soundtrack to Tarantino’s Django Unchained, it was unfamiliar to most of the crowd who were stunned into silence.  For a few brief moments the audience dissipated, leaving just Ocean and the music.


Watch: Ocean plays two dates at Brixton Academy (9th-10th July) and Wireless Festival on 12th July, before continuing his world tour.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Little Daylight - Glitter & Gold

For many, Brooklyn trio Little Daylight are the next big thing in electro pop.  Previous singles include Name In Lights and Overdose, but it’s new release Glitter & Gold that’s really garnering attention.

Fans of CHVRCHES and other indie electro pop acts will certainly find lots to enjoy here, though their sound already feels somewhat familiar.  That said, with Overdose and Glitter & Gold they prove they’re more than capable of handling some big, hooky power pop tracks.  The production of this latest single suitably shimmers amongst thumping drums and a girlish vocal reminiscent of CHVRCHES Lauren Mayberry, or Grimes. 

All three tracks will feature on the band’s debut EP ‘Tunnel Vision’ (plus two more) released in August.  Judging by Glitter & Gold, you can expect big melodies, big production and for Little Daylight to make a big splash both here and across the pond.


Listen: The band’s debut EP ‘Tunnel Vision’ will be released on August 6th.

Monday 8 July 2013

Jon Hopkins - Immunity

The key enters the lock, the door opens, the traffic noise dissipates, and we’re thrust into the world of Jon Hopkins.

‘Immunity’ couldn’t be any more different from Hopkins’ last major project – the Mercury nominated folk album ‘Diamond Mine’ with King Creosote, which saw the young London-based producer reach a whole new set of admirers.  His work has always been wide-ranging, however, including contributing to Coldplay’s ‘Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends’ with producer Brian Eno, playing keyboards for Imogen Heap, and composing the score for the 2010 film Monsters

His solo work, meanwhile, has always focused on electronic music – in particular his 1999 debut ‘Opalescent’ and third album, 2009’s ‘Insides’.  ‘Immunity’ follows suit and is something of a fusion of these two albums.  Inspired by the emotional arc of a night out, it begins with the techno of ‘Insides’ before slowly morphing towards the ambience of ‘Opalescent’.  As the music of opener We Disappear fades in and the glitchy beats creep into focus, we are transported into some underground studio of almost nightmarish electronica.  This is taken up a notch with lead single Open Eye Signal – the closest Hopkins gets to a club track, with its deep squelching basslines and darkly euphoric ambient synths that melt into the sound like shafts of angelic light.  After the trance-like Collider, Abandon Window is a sudden and jarring sound: a piano-based moment of peace and tranquillity.  From here, the album takes a downward turn with the warm, relaxed techno beats of Form By Firelight and the blooming dreamscapes of Sun Harmonics, before the early morning calm of closer Immunity.

The result is an utterly mesmerising album.  There might not be any obvious hooks, but just as Hopkins has been learning autogenic training to hypnotise himself, his music will soothe and hypnotise its listeners from the album’s early turmoil to its serene end.  Surprisingly for an electronic album, this is an extremely intimate and human collection of tracks, stemming at once from his use of (heavily warped) collected sounds and the sheer craftsmanship that oozes from every note of the production.

Having worked with the great innovator of ambient music, Hopkins has been cited as the next Brian Eno.  With ‘Immunity’, he proves this is a definite possibility with a very bright future ahead.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* We Disappear
* Open Eye Signal
* Sun Harmonics

Listen: ‘Immunity’ is available now.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Despicable Me 2 (2013) - Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

There's a clever parallel in Despicable Me 2.  Just as thousands of single dads across the country will be taking their children to the cinema, Gru (Steve Carell) is busy playing dad to the three girls he adopted in the first film.  The difference is that Gru is a reformed ex-villain with a dodgy Russian accent.

The plot soon sees him recruited by the Anti-Villain League and a return to his spying ways, allowing for plenty of Mission Impossible and Bond style parodies in the gadgetry and music.  Just like any dad though, Gru must balance his work with his home life - three girls in need of homework help, tucking in at night and saving from boyfriends. The girls are adamant they will find him an online date, but he quickly meets his match in his spy partner Lucy (Kristen Wiig).  Gru is a father who takes catching villains in his stride (aging Mexican wrestler Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt)), but whose arch nemesis is really the telephone as he struggles to pluck up the courage to ask Lucy on a date.

Of course, this is a cartoon amongst all the modern family connotations and this sequel sees the return of the scene-stealing minions.  Even when spouting jibberish as they lurk in the background, they prove to be consistently hilarious.  Most of the laughs arise from slapstick comedy and silliness (as well as a frightening chicken) rather than clever parody and it lacks the heartfelt emotion of Pixar's best.  Still, with some very pretty computer visuals, impressive 3D effects and plenty of fart jokes, there is plenty for dads and their kids to enjoy.


Friday 5 July 2013

Swiss Lips - U Got The Power

Picture the scene: you're casually watching television and in an instant an advert comes on with a track that immediately captures your attention.  A quick Google later and you've stumbled across an awesome tune.

That is the power of a good licensing deal and is exactly what happened when I saw the BBC3 advert for the 2013 Women's European Football Championship.  The tune?  U Got The Power by Swiss Lips.

Like many current bands from Manchester, Swiss Lips marry indie guitar music with electronic pop.  The result is the UK's answer to Yeasayer - swirls of synths, off-kilter rhythms and a clear 80s vibe reflected in the hilarious break-dancing video.  The five-piece band have also released single DANZ, boast remixes from Bastille and Unicorn Kid, and have transformed Frank Ocean's Lost with a pounding beat and psychedelic textures.  Swiss Lips are the next best thing to come from Manchester - definitely worth checking out.


Listen: U Got The Power was released back in April.

Watch: The video for U Got The Power can be viewed on YouTube only.

Thursday 4 July 2013

The Bling Ring (2013) - Sofia Coppola

In 2010, Nancy Jo Sales wrote a piece in Vanity Fair entitled ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins’. In it, she details the real life case of a group of teenagers who burgled over $3million worth of designer clothing and jewellery from celebrities living in the Hollywood hills.  It’s this article that forms the basis of Sofia Coppola’s film The Bling Ring, a film that stays remarkably faithful to the original writing in its exploration of the dangers of celebrity.

Coppola presents us with a startlingly truthful depiction of youth culture, a cross-section of modern society driven by consumerism.  The narrative plays out not only on camera but through Facebook, web-cams and photographs, whilst the teenagers are surgically attached to their mobiles and speak with an amusing vernacular soaked in celebrity culture and phrases. The blaring soundtrack, comprising predominantly hip-hop acts, is also striking in its verisimilitude. The significance of Frank Ocean's Super Rich Kids over the end credits does not go unnoticed.

Music also plays an important part in the filming of the robberies.  The very opening sees the group in the midst of robbery, the music cutting in with a sudden guitar riff that sounds almost like an alarm.  Fuelled by ennui, their stealing escalates ("let's go shopping", they laugh) whilst the often subdued soundtrack considerably ramps up the tension.  This is heightened by a narrative structure that juxtaposes the robberies with quotations from after their arrest - we are always awaiting their being caught.

The Bling Ring is essentially a narrative of obsession.  Robbing the houses of celebrities not only allows these teenagers to dress like their idols, but to smell, drink and live like them and it soon becomes an addiction.  The focus, ultimately, is on Marc (Israel Broussard) and Nicki (Emma Watson).  Marc begins as a "not quite A-list" looking gay guy simply looking for acceptance at school.  For him, the arrest is clearly a sobering experience, looking small and childlike in his orange prison overalls.  By contrast, Nicki sees the arrest as an opportunity to "grow and expand as a spiritual human being".  Her arrest paradoxically brings newfound fame and media attention, allowing her to reach her goal in becoming a celebrity in her own right.

It begs the question, are these teenagers really impressionable youths innocently drawn to celebrity culture?  To the audience, the celebrity homes are ridiculously ostentatious (Paris Hilton remarkably allowed filming in her actual residence), but to the teenagers they are a veritable wonderland of shoes and handbags.  Is the inherent and blatant extravagance of celebrity culture to blame, the teenagers merely victims of Hollywood materialism?  Or are they mature beyond their years, manipulative creatures of greed, devoid of innocence?

At the least, Coppola presents a glamorous and desirable lifestyle sought after by a bunch of ingenious kids who you secretly admire.  The young cast offer believable performances, with Watson in particular proving post-Potter she is a more than capable actress.  The real question, however, is why these celebrities don't have better security in the first place?


MKS - Flatline

Whilst the Sugababes have been busy playing musical chairs over the last eleven years, MKS (a.k.a the Origibabes) have reformed and been busy beavering away on new music for what’s seemed like an eternity of tweets, teasers and Kendrick Lamar samples.  And now Flatline has finally been released, causing the internet to implode.

It’s a song worth imploding over though.  Produced by Dev Hynes, this is a mid-tempo track about a relationship that’s fallen flat – a sentiment beautifully summed up in the chorus lyric “I can feel a flatline that ought to be a wave”.  A little bit Foals-y in its opening guitar lick; a little bit Solange-y in its cool poise; and a little bit Florence-y in its epic final chorus of vocal ad-libs, this has everything you could want in a pop song. 

The pre-chorus is amazing.  The softly cooing vocal harmonies are stunning.  And the pounding drums towards the end are huge.

This could well be one of the best pop tracks of 2013. Listen immediately.


Listen: Flatline is officially released on September 1st.