Saturday, 31 August 2013

Only Girl - Mountain

Mountain is the first of three songs to be released by Only Girl (a.k.a Ellen Murphy) before the year is through and follows previous stunner End Of Time.

Where that track is a sombre, electronic ballad characterised by gloomy synths and pulsing, demonic sub bass, Mountain is its antithesis - least of all for its radiant video.  The south London singer coos and glides gracefully atop the handclap beat and silky piano chords as she sings "I wanna give you shelter when the sky falls down with know I'll take you there, all the way home".  The result is a charming love song with a folky simplicity yet modern, dreamy production.

And with these two songs revealing two contrasting sides to Murphy's sound, the prospect of two more imminent big singles from this exciting talent is certainly enticing.  Keep those eyes peeled.


Listen: Mountain is the first of three imminent releases...

Friday, 30 August 2013

Alexandra Burke - #NewRules

This fashion for naming music with a #tag needs to end. Now.

That said, 'New Rules' is a fitting title for this latest EP of songs from X Factor alumni Alexandra Burke - conveniently released just before the start of the new series.  Earlier this year Burke parted ways with record label RCA Records over "differing views" on the direction of her third album.  RCA probably wanted another album of EDM bangers.  Judging by the slow-burning tracks on 'New Rules', Burke clearly had other ideas.

Burke is wholeheartedly one of the more deserving winners of the X Factor, but it takes a whole song before we get to actually hear her sing.  Instead, opening track Leave A Message is a series of voicemails from various personalities - from Heart FM's Jenny Francis, to Aston from JLS.  It's ridiculous, but also a middle finger to RCA - she's got plenty of support without her label.  I wonder how much O2 paid her...

It's followed by a cover of Coldplay's Fix You.  If X Factor is ever accused of overdoing it, then this is a prime example: the minimal backing allowing Burke's riffing and trills to hit home.  It's almost as bad as Hallelujah.

And then there's a change, with four brand new tracks.  The first, Day Dream, is a traditional 90's R&B jam about Burke's relationship with ex Jermain Defoe.  It's hardly subtle ("What was you thinking at the time when you decided to sleep with her? It didn’t stop there, yes I know, the papers fucking told me so") and Burke drops a couple of f-bombs, but it also includes the incredible lyric "drink every day, lost my best friend, but I replaced you with Merlot".  It makes Elephant look like child's play.

Next up is Seduce You with Wretch 32, a dark, moody track on which Burke seductively coos "there's nothing under this robe".  It's certainly a change of pace from 'Heartbreak On Hold'.  Then there's the reggae dancehall of Bounty Hunter, on which teeth are kissed and bootys are twerked (probably).  Last up there's Try - a more traditional ballad that feels far more sincere than Fix You.

With such differing styles, who knows which direction the full album will take.  It's clear, though, that Burke wishes to be taken more seriously as an artist - a brave and welcome change that's somewhat undermined by the silly #. OKdotcom?


Listen: 'New Rules' can be downloaded from Burke's Soundcloud page (or below).

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Naughty Boy - Hotel Cabana

Who is Naughty Boy?  'Hotel Cabana', the London producer's debut album, offers few clues.

For the most part, this feels like the second album from Emeli Sandé.  A year after her own debut was released, she remains as ubiquitous as ever.  Not only did Naughty Boy produce 'Our Version Of Events', but Sandé is the most featured singer on 'Hotel Cabana'.  Wonder will already be familiar to many, whilst Lifted is quite literally lifted almost straight from Heaven.  She also features on opening track Welcome To Cabana and Pluto, the latter of which is a decent effort with an hilarious rap from Wretch 32 ("I ain't gonna fall for that talk from your anus").

As a whole, 'Hotel Cabana' is like a cross-section of current UK talent, all slickly produced by Naughty Boy.  Yet in the absence of any personality from the producer, it's left for each singer to put their own stamp on each song.  Think About It could be taken straight from a Wiz Khalifa album; Sam Smith's incredible vocal takes over recent single La La La; Gabrielle sounds just as she always has done on Hollywood; No One's Here To Sleep is pure Bastille; and Ed Sheeran provides an acoustic track, Top Floor - Cabana, amongst all the electronic production.

On the extras, too, Wiley and Sandé (again) feature on a cover of White Town's Your Woman that's essentially a Wiley track.  Most criminal of all is a cover of Daft Punk's Get Lucky that removes any sense of funk and fun for a slow, chilled vibe.  If anything, this track was probably a last minute addition purely to sound current.

Of course, the producer's role is to support the artist, but you would still expect a personal style to creep through.  A Calvin Harris produced track sounds distinctly like a Calvin Harris produced track, for example.  Yet the only thing holding this album together are the spoken interludes provided by George The Poet.  Naughty Boy himself remains an enigma.

If you want to buy a compilation, you'd be better of with the latest 'Now'.  Still, it's not bad for a self-taught producer who bought his equipment after winning Deal or No Deal.


Gizzle's Choice:
* La La La
* Pluto
* No One's Here To Sleep

Listen: 'Hotel Cabana' is available now.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Clare Maguire - Paper Thin

The voice is back.

Debut album ‘Light After Dark’ might have been a bit of a disappointment after the epic scope of lead single Ain’t Nobody, but that hasn’t deterred Maguire.  Paper Thin strips back the extravagant production for a piano-based ballad of hushed, brooding emotion and late night reverie.  There’s a touch of James Blake in the gently pulsing piano chords and spectral beats, plus influences of smooth jazz and soul in the arrangement and harmonies.  That chord sequence, especially, is simply stunning.

Most of all though, the song is led by Maguire’s voice.  Where Ain’t Nobody was full of brash power, Paper Thin showcases a different side to her voice: subtle, fragile and filled with a quiet, bluesy intensity.  There are no big notes or soaring runs, just heartbreaking intimacy.

At last Maguire has found her feet.  This new work is a step away from her generic debut and a step in the right direction – towards the success her voice warrants.


Listen: Paper Thin is the first official from Maguire’s forthcoming second album.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Eminem - Berzerk

Listening to Berserk, it’s no surprise that Eminem’s forthcoming album will be called ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ – a sequel to his multi-million selling ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ from 2000.  As he raps in the opening lyric, “let’s take it back to straight hip hop and start it from scratch” – Berserk eschews the more mature, serious tone of his recent material for something that looks back to the earlier days of hip-hop, whilst retaining a sense of playfulness.

As the title suggests, the production is crazy.  Records are scratched, guitars blaze, and a simple beat socks you right in the gut, over which Eminem spits his rhymes inviting us to let ourselves go (amongst cultural and tongue-in-cheek references).  And that's exactly what he does himself.  In contrast to the exploration of abuse in Love The Way You Lie, Berzerk seems frivolous but it's the sound of Eminem having fun in the studio with his old collaborators Dr. Dre and Rick Rubin.

Berzerk might seem like a step backwards in comparison to newer artists like Kendrick Lamar (who, incidentally, is name checked here), but nobody does it quite like the Real Slim Shady.  Even if the album sequel doesn't live up to the 2000 classic, it sure is good to have Marshall Mathers back.


Listen: Berzerk is available now.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Fryars - Cool Like Me

'Powers', the second album from Ben Garrett aka Fryars, marks a fresh start for the young London producer.  You'd be hard-pressed to find a copy of his 2009 debut 'Dark Young Hearts', but that's all set to change.

Following a flirtation with pop (having written for Mika and Lily Allen), Cool Like Me represents a shift away from his usually ambitious sound to something more laidback, breezy and... cool.  The lazy strings lend a woozy, late-summer feel that's perfect for this time of year, whilst the dance beat, house piano and fizzing hooks make this ripe for remixing.

How this fits into the concept of 'Powers' is another question altogether, an album that reflects on the rise and fall of engineer Willow Grady.  But as an immediate and delicious slice of electro-pop, Cool Like Me is hard to beat.


Listen: Cool Like Me is available now; 'Powers' is released later this year.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Elysium (2013) - Neill Blomkamp

It's 2154.  Earth is a polluted, perpetually sprawling metropolis; a wasteland of the third world policed by droids.  Above in space floats Elysium, home to the rich, the elite and the materialistic; a world free from war, sickness and strife.

It's a familiar set-up, with overpopulation being a major theme in many dystopian science-fiction films - perhaps the most pertinent parallel being Pixar's Wall-E.  Blomkamp (who wrote and directed Elysium) uses the film as a parable for immigration and segregation, similar to his previous film District 9.  Where Earth is a hodgepodge of multiculturalism and ethnic minorities accompanied by a dubstep-techno soundtrack, Elysium is a clinical yet beautiful haven for a predominantly white population (including Jodie Foster's cold-hearted Secretary of Defense - the victim of some terrible over-dubbing).  The concept is sound and ripe with contemporary political themes, yet the storytelling is clunky and incredibly heavy-handed following a lengthy exposition.

Just as Earth is multi-lingual and shot through dizzying hand-camera, the film itself is a disorientating mix of cinematic languages and tonal shifts.  From the political themes, to the high-tech computer wizardry, the Terminator style cybernetic action, saccharine ending and misplaced, unnecessary gore from Sharlto Copley's sadistic mercenary Kruger, Elysium is wildly inconsistent - a film that's difficult to emotionally invest in.

What it does have is style.  Elysium itself is stunningly shot, though its look will be all too familiar to fans of the Mass Effect series of video games.  Speaking of which, the use of Matrix style slow-motion and over the shoulder shots feels like video game footage and ensures the action is visceral and intense.

Ultimately, Elysium is an interesting concept stifled by over-complication and too many ideas poorly edited together.  Blomkamp has attempted to create a blockbuster with brains, but any brains are soon exploded across the screen in a bloody mess that sends us plummeting back to Earth.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Don Broco - You Wanna Know

On the weekend of Reading and Leeds Festival, it would only be right to highlight one of the up and coming bands set to perform on the Main Stage.

You Wanna Know is Don Broco's latest track since the release of their debut album 'Priorities' last year and a clear continuation of the Bedford band's lad-rock sound.  Over the last few years they've developed a dedicated following which is set to reach a new mainstream crowd in the near future.  Whole Truth was the standout track from the album - You Wanna Know follows in its wake.

The lyrics might be aimed at a younger audience ("you liked getting laid", "you said you'd have your cake"), but the chorus hook is stellar and it's great to hear more of drummer Matt Donnelly's vocals alongside lead singer Rob Damiani.  Any flaws are soon outweighed by Simon Delaney's guitar noodling in the verses and solid chorus riffs, supported by the funky bass lines of Tom Doyle.  With each release the band just keep improving.

Don Broco are clearly a talented quartet of musicians, but they're equally not afraid of dropping a massive chorus.  It's this crossover appeal that could see them rising to headline position in years to come.


Listen: You Wanna Know is released on 13th October.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Snakadaktal - Sleep In The Water

With such a wealth of music stemming from Australia, including the likes of Flume, The Temper Trap and Empire of the Sun, indie/dream-pop outfit Snakadaktal fit in rather nicely.  Theirs is recognisably an Aussie sound, with great washes of synths, reverbed guitars and wistful vocals immediately evoking ocean views and rolling waves.

‘Sleep In The Water’ doesn’t so much transport you to the Australian coast as dunk you right in the water.  Yet the band didn’t set out to write a concept album, instead “it just came through – it must be something we’re all connected to the water and the ocean or something”.  The album gives the impression of being underwater with its subdued sounds, gently rolling melodies and liquid production – from the synth droplets of opener Fall Underneath, to the guitar harmonics and rippling arpeggios of penultimate track Union

This is an incredibly evocative record, its production ebbing and flowing with plenty of space to breathe within its sometimes sparse textures.  This, coupled with the boy-girl vocals, draws comparison to the xx, though there’s also something of Daughter in the melancholic sound that’s drenched in emotion.

‘Sleep In The Water’ is essentially split in two halves, divided by the interlude Beat 0033.  The first half features the more obvious pop songs, with an emphasis on the upbeat and spectral electronics – the syncopated beat of lead single Hung On Tight, the cavernous sub-bass of Deep, the band’s take on vocal house in Feel The Ocean Hold Me Under, and the sampled beats of Too Soon.  The second half takes a turn for the acoustic, with its focus on fragile guitars in The Sun I, II and III, plus the slow-burning Sleep and stunningly atmospheric Union.  Where the first few tracks have immediate appeal, the latter half of the album takes time to gradually drift over you.

The overall effect is as mesmeric and hypnotic as light refracting off the crests of crystal blue waters.  The band may have a funny name (apparently a made-up cross between a snake and a pterodactyl), but Snakadaktal have provided a deep, watery haven of dreamy music – bathe in its glory.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Fall Underneath
* Deep
* Feel The Ocean Hold Me Under

Listen: ‘Sleep In The Water’ is available now.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Woman In Black @ The Fortune Theatre

With so many old venues across the country having their own horror stories, it’s not surprising that many theatres are inherently scary places – let alone the infamous ‘Scottish Play’ superstition.  The Woman In Black is the ultimate theatrical ghost story, with Stephen Mallatratt (who adapted the story from Susan Hill’s 1983 book) becoming the Mary Shelley of the theatre.  It’s no wonder that, after almost twenty-five years, the show is still a permanent fixture in London’s West End – even if the perpetually squeaking seats of the old Fortune Theatre are a little distracting.

It’s surprising, then, that it all begins on a comedic note.  The opening scenes set up a play-within-a-play, creating an amusing dynamic between The Actor (Tim Delap) and Arthur Kipps (Crawford Logan).  As a result, the production does take a little while to get going, although the theatrical conceit does frame the drama nicely and eventually proves fruitful with its final twist.  The comedy also serves to lull the audience into a false sense of security that makes the scares all the more pertinent.

And eventually the scares do come.  Despite a few cheap, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, the production mostly relies on mood and eerie, chilling atmosphere to frighten the audience.  The Woman In Black is a marvel of gothic storytelling and suspense, owing particularly to the impeccable delivery and pacing of the two actors who aren’t afraid to let palpable silence hang threateningly in the air.  The stage is mostly bare, with limited props used to represent locations, furniture and transport, all smothered with thick fog that curls and looms over the stage and audience.  The mood is amplified by the evocative use of (candle)light and shadow that disorientates as much as it highlights key moments.  You’ll be questioning every tiny movement, every menacing shadow, every grim silence, awaiting the next spine-tingling horror.

Mostly, The Woman In Black celebrates the power of theatre.  No doubt ticket sales have boomed following the 2012 film (with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role – here, totally surpassed by Delap), but the theatre production is a far more frightening experience – in part because it feels so much more real, but also as a result of its limitations.  “Know your audience”, the Actor repeatedly tells the elderly Kipps during his “performance”, whilst he explains how the audience’s imagination will fill in the blanks.  He is absolutely correct – no amount of CGI can compete with the human mind.


Watch: The Woman In Black continues to run at the Fortune Theatre, ticket info here.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Young Summer - Fever Dream

Nestled in the middle of ‘Fever Dream’, the debut EP from Young Summer (singer Bobbie Allen), is a sumptuous electronic ballad: Waves That Rolled You Under.  The lush production blurs arpeggiated synths with touches of glittering harp and heavily reverbed guitars for a sound that’s soaked in nostalgia, whilst Allen’s gorgeous vocals float effortlessly above.  “I never could say, I never could say again what I wanted”, she laments with total sincerity.  There’s a likeness to London Grammar, but with a more gently ethereal quality that slowly washes over you.

The remaining two tracks of the EP are totally contrasting.  Title track Fever Dream is predominantly electronic, with its pulsating, fuzzy synth lines, whilst final track Why Try is acoustic with a bluesy, folky feel that’s suitably complemented by Allen’s smoky vocals.  Both tracks are imbued with sadness, though it’s Waves That Rolled You Under that truly tugs at the heartstrings.  Whichever direction a full album might take, Allen undoubtedly can beautifully weave her way around a ballad.


Listen: ‘Fever Dream’ is available now in the US.

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Saturdays - Disco Love

You've got to feel sorry for The Saturdays.  After a string of so-so singles, a failed US TV show and (presumably) a lot of morning sickness and post-natal depression, the girls have finally got their act together and come back with a couple of decent singles.  Yet since Gentleman flopped, they've still got their work cut out.

Disco Love isn't much of a disco track, instead channelling 80s Madonna and a Solange vibe with its breezy melodies, electric drums, and insanely catchy "baby baby baby" chorus hook.  It's a step into slightly cooler territory, away from the generic EDM of past singles but eschewing the quirky weirdness of Gentleman.  There's even a Britney reference in the lyrics.

Speaking of lyrics, The Saturdays' output has never been particularly deep but the lyrics here are particularly dire: from the shoddy rhymes, to the clichéd chorus ("wanna make me feel so fine, wanna make me feel so good") and the bizarre calls to "Mr Loveable" and "Mr Doable".

Still, Disco Love is the best Sats release in a long while, but it's unlikely to inspire the sort of sale surge that's needed.  Clearly there's still an uphill climb if the girls want to reach the peak of pop supremacy.


Listen: Disco Love is released on October 6th.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Kick-Ass 2 (2013) - Jeff Wadlow

Kick-Ass might be the protagonist in Kick-Ass, but we all know it's Hit Girl that truly kicks ass.

Clearly the writers have realised this, creating a much larger role for Chloë-Grace Moretz's character in the sequel beyond simply the humorous side-kick.  Yet before you can celebrate the inclusion of a female hero amongst all the boys playing dress-up, Kick-Ass 2 soon descends into Spiderman meets Mean Girls.  Stripped of her mask for most of the film, this is more teen movie than superhero movie with all the trappings you'd expect: bitchy girls, high school canteen arguments, and plenty of puke and fart gags.  And with Moretz fast growing up, the shock of a young girl f'ing and blinding for ninety minutes is lost.

Kick-Ass himself (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) remains a geeky douchebag, though like all super heroes he's more symbol than man.  That leaves the periphery characters to pick up the slack: a misfit band of unlikely heroes with plenty of comedy potential.  Jim Carrey's role as Colonel Stars and Stripes is more minimal than pre-release material would have you believe, but thankfully Christopher Mintz-Plasse's return as super villain The Motherfucker pushes him beyond McLovin'.

At its heart, Kick-Ass 2 is a love letter to geek culture - from the comic book cut outs, to the use of the Tetris theme tune in one fight sequence, and the narrative based on typical comic book themes.  Here, with seemingly no power comes great responsibility.  And, as with the majority of super hero films, the protagonists must learn to balance living as their hero counterparts with the real world.  This manifests as a collision between puerile comedy and teen drama.  Kick-Ass 2 doesn't quite succeed in either extreme, but still manages to be more entertaining than some of the official comic book films of recent years.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Titanic @ Southwark Playhouse

A musical based on the Titanic is surely an ambitious undertaking - just like the ship itself - not only in its epic scale but in the competition with one of the most successful films of all time.  This Broadway hit from 1997, with book by Peter Stone and music from Maury Yeston, is in danger of overreaching.

Through a grand opening, the ship itself is depicted as the "pride of mankind", an impossible feat of engineering that is still no match for the power of nature.  Of course, we all know the outcome of the Titanic's maiden voyage to America (here saccharinely positioned as a promised land of opportunity), so the focus is placed on the relationships between the passengers.  Paralleling the layers of the ship, the characters are distinctly divided by class, though director Thom Southerland's clean and minimal staging cleverly blurs the boundaries that society so strictly enforces.  The script is drenched in dramatic irony, allowing for some moments of humour before the tragic conclusion.

However, the show suffers from a lack of focus in the narrative.  Between the multiple characters in each class (based on real passengers), the captain and the crew, the characters are altogether underdeveloped.  It leaves the audiences questioning: whose story is this?  Is this the story of a megalomaniac corporation (headed by Ismay) pushing the limits of human engineering, a story of class struggles, a story of human bravery and love, or all three?  With the narrative spread so thinly, the inevitable deaths lack emotional impact, leaving the second act drowning in sentimentality (though, owing to the subject matter, this is somewhat inescapable).

It's testament to the music and the cast, therefore, that this revival remains such a resounding success.  Yeston's string-based score is sumptuous, utilising folk melodies and instrumental effects to subtly evoke the movement of the ship and the elements.  What's more, the powerful ensemble singing is the real engine room of the show.  In such an intimate venue, the full force of the chorus hits you like the colossal iceberg, though there are plenty of opportunity for solo singing - in particular some wonderfully touching performances from James Austen-Murray and Victoria Serra.

As the finale brings the show full circle, the ensemble leaves us singing "sail on Titanic".  And so it shall - surely this human tragedy will continue to provide storytelling material for years to come.  Stone and Yeston's musical may not be a tearjerker of James Cameron proportions, but thanks to its stunning score and the talented cast, this production remains a poignant musical drama.


Watch: Titanic runs at the Southwark Playhouse until the 31st August.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Juveniles - Juveniles

Will the 80s ever go out of fashion?  For the last few years it’s been the go-to era for musical inspiration, on everything from the Drive soundtrack to mainstream synth pop.  With Juveniles, the 80s are less inspirational and more an integral part of their sound – as with other similar French electro acts like Daft Punk or Justice.

In fact, the duo’s debut album is something of a collage of 80s styles – from new wave to new romantics.  There’s hints of Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and New Order in the instrumentation; Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Human League in the synth lines (All I Ever Wanted Was Your Love and Through The Night especially); and a vocal reminiscent of Morrissey.  There are plenty of contemporary comparisons as well, with Juveniles being easily filed next to the likes of Hot Chip, Yeasayer, Gypsy & The Cat, Metronomy and The Black Kids, with a touch of Two Door Cinema Club too.

Yet, whilst the influences might be especially obvious, what the band might lack in originality they more than make up for in polished production, catchy but downbeat melodies, and an overarching sense of effortless cool – they are French after all.  ‘Juveniles’ is mostly an upbeat, indie dance album, youthful positivity brimming from the buoyantly shuffling Strangers with its widescreen chorus, the funk disco of Fantasy, and the fizzing pop of Void (In & Out Of The), with ecstatic guitar solos throughout.  That said, much of the album is heavy with nostalgia: the squelching bass of We Are Young, the moody beach-pop of Summer Nights, the wistful Washed Away, and the woozy Elisa

This is far from simply a nostalgia-trip though.  Juveniles have crafted an electrifying debut that’s as futuristic as it is retro, proving they’re no mere 80s novelty act.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Strangers
* Fantasy
* Through The Night

Listen: Juveniles is available now.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

VV Brown - The Apple

If an album doesn't quite stick, it's time for a change of tack.  Except, in the case of VV Brown, it's taken four years for any new material to surface and the change in direction is a drastic one.

It's a change that's definitely for the better.  Gone is the soulful, rock and roll inspired pop of 2009's Crying Blood or Shark In The Water, changed for something altogether more twisted, electronic and sinister.

What's immediately apparent is Brown's deeper, richer vocal that seems partly inspired by Grace Jones.  It proves a formidable match for the synth production, with its menacing bass lines, noisy, choppy beats and siren calls.  This is a less soulful, more spiritual slice of late night disco.

The Apple will feature on the forthcoming album 'Samson and Delilah', from which Samson has already been released - a jolting, Bat For Lashes-esque track of brooding atmosphere.  Clearly there's a biblical theme to the album, an album that represents a New Testament in Brown's career.


Listen: 'Samson and Delilah' is due for release in October.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Lady Gaga - Applause

...screamed Gaga on Twitter earlier, before the official play of Applause.  But what was the emergency?  Last week's hacker leaks?  Or Katy Perry's unveiling of Roar?

Either way, Applause is exactly what fans have been waiting for.  It's essentially 'Confessions On A Dancefloor' era Madonna meets Grace Jones weirdness - so classic Gaga really.

There's a massive synth line.

There's a huge beat.

There's a bizarre vocal delivery, especially in the first verse.

There's a controversial lyric in the second verse, with the word "koon/kunst/c*nt" (depending on how you hear it).  I'm hoping for kunst - surely the German word for art would be a nice link to the album title?

There's a brilliantly narcissistic chorus "I live for the way that you cheer and scream for me", followed by the euphoric "put your hands up make 'em touch, touch".

It might not have the originality of Poker Face or Bad Romance, and it's less radio-friendly than the competition (namely Katy Perry), yet this is an absolute BANGER to put Miley Cyrus' album to shame.

Let the diva showdown continue...

(N.B. Dear Gaga, this CRITICISM has been written on a BLOG. Deal with it.)


Listen: Applause is available now (in America).

Katy Perry - Roar

Rivalries are nothing new in pop music.  The next knock-out battle is between pop divas Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, both of whom have had new singles leaked within the last week in anticipation for their forthcoming albums.  Arguably it's Gaga who has the most to prove following the disappointing Madonna-inspired 'Born This Way' (a theme that looks set to continue with next single Applause).

By contrast, Perry is cruising off the back of the wildly successful 'Teenage Dream' from 2010, which spawned at least five massive singles.  That's not to say hype is absent for next album 'Prism' - far from it, what with the various mini-films in which Perry is seen burning her infamous blue wig, and the golden truck currently doing the rounds in the US.  It's clear that a new, mature, nearly-thirty Perry is on the cards.

Or is it?  Roar doesn't particularly mark a development in her sound, probably owing to the usual production team of Dr Luke, Max Martin et al.  The lyrics are typically juvenile, though Perry's music is hardly known for its serious lyrical content (just listen to Peacock).  Initially, the verses are a bit of a slog, the similarities to Sara Bareilles' Brave are fairly obvious, and it lacks a little personality - if, by personality, you mean a pair of cream squirting tits.

And then the chorus kicks in.  It soars.  It shouts.  It stomps.  It's anthemic.  It's more empowering than Firework.  And it features multiple earworms that'll be stuck in your head after just one listen.  Surely that is the mark of a successful pop track?

Gaga, it's over to you.

Altogether now: "I'VE GOT THE EYE OF THE TIGER..."


Listen: Roar is available now all over the world, except the UK who have to wait until next month *sigh*

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Drake - Hold On, We're Going Home

Drake and The Weeknd might have collaborated on Crew Love, featured on Drake's 'Take Care' from 2011, but come next month they will become fierce rivals as their new albums are released within the space of a week.

With Hold One, We're Going Home, Drake has eschewed his usual hip-hop influences for a track that's pure, soulful R&B.  "I want your hot love and emotion, endlessly", he croons over a dreamy bed of 80s synths and modern beats.  It's a slick, sexy, deep-house cut with production from the relatively unknown Majid Jordan, aka Canadians Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman.

Drake's mainstream breakthrough may have come from his rap on Rihanna's What's My Name, but Hold On, We're Going Home is the sort of crossover track that could see him rising up the pop charts on top of impressing his current hip-hop fans.  Alongside previous buzz track Started From The Bottom, it's clear that next month's 'Nothing Was The Same' will include a mix of gritty rap and intoxicating soul, which could well result in one of the best albums of the year.


Listen: 'Nothing Was The Same' is released on September 17th.

The Weeknd - Love In The Sky

Last year's 'Trilogy' was merely a collection of Tesfaye's previous three mixtapes, so really it's been almost two years since we've had an album of fresh material.  Love In The Sky has hit the interweb in anticipation for next month's 'Kiss Land', giving us an indication as to the direction of the forthcoming album, alongside the militaristic Belong To The World and title track Kiss Land.

Many have likened Tesfaye's vocals to Michael Jackson, a comparison he appears to be playing up to.  Here, his softly crooning falsetto sounds more like MJ than ever, though lyrically Love In The Sky remains provocative. 

It's clear, though, that 'Kiss Land' will be a more polished affair than the gritty work of debut 'House of Balloons'.  Gone are the stripped back edgy beats and chopped samples in favour of smooth, rich layers soaked in sensuality.  Then, in the final third, it all drops out to the sexiest of all bass lines, like a comedown from the preceding torrent of synths. 

As the storm and rain effects show, however, Tesfaye hasn't lost his acute sense for mood and atmospherics.  'Kiss Land' is shaping up to be one hell of an album.


Listen: 'Kiss Land' is released on September 10th.


Banks - Waiting Game

As Jessie Ware tours across America and continues to make waves on both sides of the pond, a number of electro-soul artists have emerged in her wake.

Enter L.A's rising female star Banks.  Similarly to Ware, who collaborated with the likes of SBTRKT, Banks has been working with some top electronic producers, namely T.E.E.D on previous track Warm Water and Sohn on new single Waiting Game

Sohn's downbeat electro proves the perfect match for Banks' sombre vocals.  What begins as a haunting piano ballad soon dramatically develops with a kick drum beat and pulsating bass, the vocals mournfully declaring "I don't wanna say that love is a waiting game".  Like Ware, this is sultry electro-soul, but with a darker, moody twist - imagine a female The Weeknd (who, incidentally, she's supporting on tour) and you're halfway there.


Listen: Banks is currently recording her debut album.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Rent - Pindar Theatre Productions @ The Tabard Theatre

There are approximately five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred productions of Rent happening at any one time.  How to make yours stand out?

Pindar Theatre Productions may not do anything radical with the source material, instead sticking to a straightforward interpretation similar to the film and original musical, but their production stands out for its incredibly talented cast whose West End standard singing will (quite literally) blow you away.

Jonathan Larson’s pop-rock musical (originally performed in 1996 and based on Puccini’s La Boheme), is a celebration of friendship, love and “la vie boheme”, set in mid-1990s New York, and tragically follows a group of twentysomethings whose lives are directly and indirectly affected by aids – whether through drug abuse or homosexual relationships.  It is equal parts joyous and heartbreaking, fun yet poignant, and the cast revel in each change of pace: from the lively choreography of “La Vie Boheme”, to the rock ballad “Without You” and gospel hit “Seasons Of Love”.

The central friendship is between filmmaker Mark (in a lighthearted performance from Charlie Royce) and guitarist Roger (John Sandberg).  Sandberg, all red-eyed and punky bleached hair, encapsulates the rock aesthetic of the show, with a raw, rasping vocal.  His rendition of “One Song, Glory” is especially touching, though even he cannot make the climactic number “Your Eyes” any less cheesy.  Elsewhere, Michael Quinn and William Whelton have great chemistry as Tom Collins and Angel respectively, though Whelton’s flamboyant characterisation could be pushed further.  Jodie Steele plays an animated Maureen – her crowd-pleasing duet “Take Me For What I Am” with Ambra Caserotti’s Joanne was suitably fiery.  Jodie Steele is certainly an energetic Mimi, particularly in the slutty “Out Tonight” (in which the singing suffers a little as a result), but “Without You” in the second act is beautifully sung with some impressive riffs.  Individually the singers excel, but as a chorus the sound is sublime, including some wonderful cameos from the supporting cast.

Rent is a big musical and therefore should be performed on a big stage.  Sadly, the Tabard Theatre is simply too cramped for both director and choreographer Adam Scown’s vision and the musical score.  The small set certainly mimics the loft apartment the characters live in, but any attempt at intimacy is undermined by the sheer volume of the amplified singing performed mere metres from the audience.  As a result, there were balancing issues between the band and the cast, amidst other sound and technical issues, which simply reinforce the limitations of the venue (though presumably these will be ironed out).

The show’s flaws do not, however, detract from the high quality of the performances.  This is a cast who deserve to be performing on a West End stage – please somebody give it to them.


Watch: Rent is performed at the Tabard Theatre from the 7th-31st August.

Any excuse to watch the film again....

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Only God Forgives (2013) - Nicolas Winding Refn

Everything about Only God Forgives is slow.  Each action and movement is carefully placed, deliberate and purposeful; the editing and pace of each shot is measured, lulling you into its rhythm; the soundtrack (or frequent lack thereof) is sometimes a noisy and abstract soundscape, sometimes electronic and pulsating, sometimes cerebral and calm.  In the vacuum of silence, even echoing footsteps are given ominous significance.  It lends the film a hypnotic quality, as if the events are unfolding within a dream – or, indeed, a nightmare.  This is only heightened by the neo-noir visuals: bright neon lights and inky darkness, all drenched in reds and blacks. 

It’s for this reason that the film is so deeply unsettling.  Yes, it is violent, including a gruesome eye-cutting scene reminiscent of Un Chien Andalou, but the violence takes on increased psychological pertinence with the audience in such a mesmerised state of mind – a lucid dream from which you cannot wake.  The tiniest details pop from the screen – none more so than the performance of Vithaya Pansringarm as Chang, in one of the most frightening instances of villainy in recent years, with a pair of eyes that look through the camera, through the screen and straight through the audience as if to say “you’re next”.  With director Nicolas Winding Refn’s flare for audio and visuals, it’s fair to say that Only God Forgives is an incredibly sensory experience, as referenced by the tactile performances that emphasise touch, juxtaposed with the frequent chopping off of hands with a shortened samurai sword that leaves Chang’s victims helpless.

It’s also disturbing for its subject matter that deals with an incestuous Oedipal love triangle between a mother (in a remarkable white trash performance from Kristin Scott Thomas) and her two sons – one alive (Ryan Gosling) and one dead – all set to the backdrop of a seedy Bangkok underworld.  As with Drive and The Place Beyond The Pines, Gosling plays the strong and silent type who, here, can only be put in his place by his mother, the one woman he aims to please and protect.  Typically for Gosling, he manages to say a lot with extremely minimal dialogue.

Similarly, the film leaves much unsaid, the audience left to pick up the pieces of these one-dimensional characters, hell-bent on revenge.  The audience is left cold, wondering what it all means thematically.

Yet narrative is clearly not the focus of Only God Forgives and, in this respect, it is a cinematic experience not to be missed.  This is a polarising film that makes for uncomfortable viewing: daring, provocative and incredibly well executed.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Little Daylight - Tunnel Vision

Last month I reviewed the latest track from Brooklyn outfit Little Daylight, Glitter and Gold, which followed previous tracks Overdose and Name In Lights.  Now, finally, you can own all three tracks together (with two others) on one EP – ‘Tunnel Vision’. 

Fans of the trio already familiar with these previous tracks will want to head straight for the instrumental Treelines and the subsequent Restart.  The former is a Tron-esque mood-piece of nocturnal, driving synths that bleeds into the latter - a fiery, almost punky, track of grinding electronics.  Both are worthy additions to the Little Daylight musical package.

With the ‘Tunnel Vision’ EP, we can now see what a Little Daylight album will sound like (a full debut is due in the autumn).  The answer?  Very nice indeed.  With a keen grasp of melodic hooks and booming production juxtaposed with singer Nikki's intimate vocals, this is indie-pop that packs a powerful and infectious punch – from the stomping Overdose, to the twinkly synths of Glitter and Gold and the sombre shuffle of Name In Lights.  This is music that demands to be played on full volume.

Basically, if you have any sort of allegiance to the likes of Passion Pit, CHVRCHES, Dragonette or Icona Pop, then Little Daylight are more than worthy of your attention.  This trio are the next best thing in pop, but without the pervy artistic video (I’m looking at you Timberlake).


Listen: ‘Tunnel Vision’ is released on 13th August.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Madeon - Technicolor

Whilst Gaga’s “monsters” froth at the mouth at the prospect of the forthcoming ‘ARTPOP’ for which Madeon is producing a couple of tracks, it’s easy to forget that the young Frenchman is still writing solo material.

“My goal was to tell a story through dance music using a longer structure than what I've done before”, he claims of Technicolor.  That’s certainly true – at 6’28 this is his longest track yet.  The story?  Who knows, but this is episodic whilst remaining cohesive.

It’s also VERY Madeon.  Since the initial Internet explosion of his Pop Culture mash-up and subsequent single Icarus, his style of sample chopping mixed with Daft Punk-esque funk grooves and punchy rhythms is very much present and correct.  Only towards the final minutes does he mix up the formula a little with a more atmospheric change of pace. 

Ultimately, this fits in very nicely with the Madeon ‘sound’, though it’s more of an experiment than a full blown single.  Still, whilst we wait for a proper debut album, anticipation continues to grow for ‘ARTPOP’, which should present an interesting little mash-up of sounds indeed.


Listen: You can download Technicolor directly from his website.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Postiljonen - Skyer

Every now and again an album comes around that just hits you right…there; an album that doesn’t so much tug at the heartstrings but flourishes and blooms inside your chest until you’re fit to bursting with longing.

‘Skyer’, the debut album from Swedish trio Postiljonen, is the latest such album.

Part Beach House, but heavily influenced by M83, Postiljonen (trans. Postman) have delivered (sorry) an album of sweeping, magnificent beauty.  Just hearing the opening chords of Help is enough to stop you in your tracks and just stare, wide-eyed, mouth gaping, helpless.  Throughout the album, synth pads bleed into one another like a watercolour painting, punctuated by the brushstrokes of heavily reverbed drums, whilst saxophones croon with melancholic romance and vocalist Mia Bøe’s sultry whispers disappear in the haze.

Some tracks of ‘Skyer’ do run the risk of simply drifting by, but there’s just enough variety for each track to sound distinct: the synth-poppy Skying High; the wonderfully relaxed Plastic Panorama with its mesmeric harp arpeggios; and the upbeat and rhythmically urgent Supreme, that ends with a soaring guitar solo.  As a whole, though, the album is dangerously reminiscent of M83, the worst offenders being Skying High (that not only features a melodic hook to give Midnight City a run for its money, but also a child’s voice clearly inspired by the French group’s Raconte-moi Une Histoire), and Atlantis with its emphasis on the saxophone

Most distinct of all is All That We Had Is Lost: a unique take on Whitney’s How Will I Know, turning it from bubblegum to bittersweet dream-pop that certainly takes us to the clouds above.

Get over the comparisons and similarities, however, and ‘Skyer’ still works on an emotional level.  The trio have a talent for mood, atmosphere and melody – Bøe could be singing in Swedish (N.B she doesn’t) and the album would still hit the same peaks and troughs, with yearning melodies and chord progressions soaked in bittersweet melancholy – Help especially.  The saxophone solos are just the icing on the cake. 

‘Skyer’ might be ten tracks of Midnight City mimicry, but for anyone who’s worn out M83’s opus, this is the next best thing that still manages to heartily strike at your emotional core.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Help
* Supreme
* All That We Had Is Lost

Listen: ‘Skyer’ is available now.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Side Effects (2013) - Steven Soderbergh

Psychology is certainly a complex science.  Where physical cuts and bruises can be healed, mental conditions are not so easily treated.  How can you tell that a patient has been cured?  Who is qualified to make such a judgement?

Then there's the flip side.  Can you really trust a psychiatrist?  How do we know the pills we're taking are truly helping, and not inducing some horrific side effect?

Through washed out visuals and limited use of music, Soderbergh presents us with a cold, bleak outlook on American psychiatric care, in a world where pills are always the answer.  There's a hierarchy in place, whereby patients are controlled by their psychiatrists, who in turn are controlled by competing pharmaceutical companies.  When everyone is so easily manipulated, who can be trusted?

The narrative shows us both sides of the coin: Emily (played by a suitably psychotic Rooney Mara) who suffers from depression, and her psychiatrist Dr. Banks (Jude Law).  Under the influence of drugs prescribed by Banks, Emily murders her husband.  But who is to blame?  Did the patient intend to kill, or was the psychiatrist's prescription ill-judged?

The concept behind Side Effects is a sound one that explores intriguing themes, but as a thriller it is dissatisfying.  What follows after the murder, is a long-winded detective plot whereby both parties attempt to prove their innocence.  The denouement, when it finally arrives, feels unbelievable and overly confused, bound up in layers of psychology and flimsy motives.  Though many have likened Side Effects to a Hitchcockian thriller it's lacking one vital ingredient: suspense.  Mara's performance might be gripping but the plot, sadly, is not.


Saturday, 3 August 2013

Dreamboats and Petticoats @ New Wimbledon Theatre

The swinging '60s saw the rise of rebellious teens, with pop music at the heart of their culture; a time when Cliff Richard, Roy Orbison and the like were the idols on every bedroom wall.  Dreamboats and Petticoats is a celebration of '60s teen culture, even if it all seems rather quaint and innocent by today's standards.

The show immediately takes us back to '60s England, with its graphic collage set that pops from the stage, via a modern day framework that is underused and unnecessary.  What follows is the tale of a group of teens at a local youth club as they fickly fall in and out of love, compete in a songwriting competition and debate the supremacy of various rock and roll performers.  For all intents and purposes, this is the British equivalent to Grease.

This is a jukebox musical, consisting of numerous songs from the era, which certainly allows the (mostly older) audience to relive their youth by singing along with glee.  The songs are performed by the on-stage band who double up as characters in the story, putting music at the heart of the narrative.  Of course, the best tunes are saved for the second act, the story suffering a little as it's used to merely set up the next song, but even younger audiences will recognise the catchy melodies and simple four chord progressions.

The music is supplemented by some excellent singing and colourful characterisation.  Louise Olley shines as the flirtatious tart Sue, packing a sultry punch with a powerful set of lungs; Matthew Colthart's Elvis-wannabe Norman certainly knows how to woo the ladies; Hannah Boyce plays a suitably squeaky sweet-sixteen Laura; and Stephen Rolley croons in a pure, boyish baritone as Bobby.  The choreography, too, is sprightly, with the cast bounding around the stage with lively gusto.

As is typical, the finale is a medley of hits, though here it's predominantly a showcase for '60s star Mark Wynter (playing Bobby's father).  A greater emphasis on the talented young cast would have been more fitting.

Yes, the story is clichéd, stereotypical, whimsical fun, but it's not without its charms.  When performed by such a vibrant young cast, you cannot fail to be thoroughly entertained.


Watch: Dreamboats and Petticoats is currently touring across the country, details here.

Friday, 2 August 2013

MKS @ Scala, London

Hear that? It’s the collective sigh of relief from the pop community. The originals are back.  Forget the ITV show, this is the big reunion.

The first burning question for this, their first comeback gig as MKS, was the contents of the set list.  Will they sing the old classics, or will they distance themselves from the Sugababes and stick to new material?  In fact, the gig was split fairly equally.   Beginning with Overload to great cheers from the crowd, they went on to sing Run For Cover, Stronger and Freak Like Me, in addition to new single Flatline and the Kendrick Lamar sampling Lay Down In Swimming Pools.  The girls also performed some tracks from their forthcoming album, including comeback anthem I’m Alright, the deep bassy Love Me Hard, and the trip hop Boys amongst others.  Each slotted in with the older material – polished, contemporary, yet recognisably the MKS sound with tight vocal harmonies and impressive individual runs.

Their audience has certainly shifted over the last decade, however.  “Does anyone in here like boys?” asked Keisha, to the screaming delight of the predominantly twentysomething male crowd.  MKS certainly have diehard fans, but whether they can lure in a younger audience remains to be seen.

The defining moment of the night came during Siobhan’s middle eight solo on Stronger – originally sung by Heidi – followed by a great roar that erupted from the crowd.  “Don’t fuck with the originals”, shouted one guy, a mantra at the heart of the devoted fans who showered the girls in praise and support throughout.  The atmosphere was electric, filled with relief and excitement for a new era.

Most of all, though, was the support the girls gave each other.  Gone are the moody faces replaced by smiles, winks and camaraderie as they equally shared vocal duties.  Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan simply work together: they look right, they sound right, and they feel right.  “We’ve each been through so much together”, Keisha said as she thanked the crowd for their support.  Now the girls are finally back and stronger than ever.


Listen: Flatline is released on September 1st.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Passion Play @ The Duke of York's Theatre

As the title suggests, passion is at the heart of this play from Peter Nichols – whether a passion for the arts, or passionate sexual desire.  Passion Play blurs the boundaries between comedy and tragedy, but is this really a brutal look at modern relationships or simply adults fooling around once their children have flown the nest?

This is a world where ‘love’ is a dirty word.  The blank set is devoid of colour besides the ominous deep red sofa of passion – imposing yet somehow simply part of the furniture, the basis for the majority of scenes.  The narrative depicts the failing marriage of Eleanor (Zöe Wanamaker) and James (Owen Teale), presumably in their fifties and on the cusp of mid-life crises, whose indulgence in music and art is disturbed when James is lured astray by their younger friend Kate (Annabel Scholey), turning their world upside down.  The set allows for simultaneous scenes that reflect the intermingling of relationships, the lies building into a complex web of trickery and infidelity.  Once a cheat, always a cheat.

The intriguing conceit of Passion Play is to have both partners’ conscience physically embodied on-stage (Samantha Bond as Eleanor’s alter-ego Nell and Oliver Cotton, likewise, as Jim), revealing through inner-monologue the characters’ honest thoughts to the audience.  But is honesty always the best policy?  This use of dramatic irony provides plenty of opportunity for comedy, but also provides a psychological subtext.  As Eleanor attends psychotherapy classes, the play questions whether James’ affair is a result of paranoia in female psychosis, or an inability for men to remain monogamous?  And is Eleanor so innocent herself?  Infidelity is an affliction of both sexes – it’s how we deal with it that separates us.

Whether this is a comedy or tragedy is certainly up for debate.  The themes are undoubtedly serious and honest, but are sometimes undermined by the comic elements.  The use of melodramatic classical music, from Mozart, Bach and others, is perhaps unintentionally amusing.  The characters, too, are predictably stereotypical: James the bumbling older man who so easily succumbs to seduction; Kate the laughably, overtly sexual femme fatale; Eleanor the lost soul who turns to drink in her time of need.  The naturalistic performances are excellent – the relationship between Eleanor and James is touchingly portrayed by Wanamaker and Teale, whilst Bond and Cotton impressively mimic their corresponding characters.  Scholey, however, is something of a parody.  Yet despite the talent on-stage, the actors never quite escape the confines of cliché.

Passion Play is an erotically charged and sometimes uncomfortable watch – for the mostly older audience it represents our fifties as a period of newfound freedom and possibility, with potentially dire consequences; for anyone younger, it’s like watching your parents making out.  If that doesn’t put you off cheating, I don’t know what will.


Watch: Passion Play runs until 3rd August at the Duke of York’s Theatre.