Thursday, 31 October 2013

Active Child - Rapor

Active Child's debut album from 2011, 'You Are All I See', is a majestic record of lush production: sweeping synths and sparkling harps shimmer against pulsating beats and an otherworldly, almost operatic falsetto vocal.  That all continues with 'Rapor', the latest EP from the electronic producer (Pat Grossi).

The plucked strings of opener She Cut Me provide a suitably atmospheric introduction, before leading into the EP proper with tracks that combine the dramatic production with pop melodies.  Feeling Is Gone is a fizzing synth track, whilst Calling In The Name of Love features driving beats and bubbling bass beneath its yearning melodies.  Evening Ceremony is the real highlight however, the sort of track you can close your eyes and sink into with its synth pads suspended in time and decorative harp glissandi.  The overall aesthetic of 'Rapor' may be more electro-pop than before, but Grossi's ghostly vocals ensure this is still recognisably Active Child, the synthy production a development towards the mainstream.

This movement is mirrored by the the remaining tracks, which include Mikky Ekko (who's debut single Pull Me Down has a similarly evocative style) and Ellie Goulding as featured vocalists.  Subtle's staccato percussion and "na na na" vocal hook ensure a pop sensibility, though Ekko's voice lacks Grossi's unique character; Silhouette is a love duet with Goulding, who covered Grossi's track Hanging On on her latest album.  Hopefully including these other artists will help to bring Active Child's music to a wider audience - Grossi is a unique artist whose haunting, dramatic music deserves far greater exposure.


Listen: 'Rapor' is available now.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Mojo @ The Harold Pinter Theatre

Mojo brings together an excellent cast of actors, including the ever-brilliant Ben Whishaw and Rupert Grint in his stage debut.  It's a shame, then, that the play itself is such a disappointment.

Originally premiering in 1995, Jez Butterworth's play is set in 1950s Soho, London, to the backdrop of rock 'n' roll.  The plot takes place within the 'Atlantic Club' and follows the exploits of its pill-popping employees when the club owner is discovered murdered and cut in half between two bins, leaving the fate of the club hanging in the balance.  What follows is a farcical black comedy with a high speed gangster plot.

Much of the comedy stems from Butterworth's script.  It's wordy, repetitive and full of swearing and adult content, providing plenty of drug-fuelled nonsensical banter and dialogue between the six characters.  What the play lacks, however, is any depth or context.  Beyond the slicked quiffs, sharp suits and the infrequent use of music, the plot has little to do with the rock 'n' roll scene, instead focusing on the murder plot - the majority of which happens offstage.  With little subtext, the play comes across as little more than junked up child's play.

Thankfully, the cast ensure that Mojo remains an entertaining experience.  Daniel Mays excels as Potts, with larger than life characterisation and eccentric physicality, although the real star is Whishaw as Baby.  He truly commands the stage with strength, stillness and a flare for unpredictability, whilst his descent into madness is nuanced and subtle.  By comparison, Grint doesn't quite have the same stage presence, although this is a perfectly solid debut that showcases his comic timing far beyond Harry Potter.

Despite the performances, though, Mojo fails to live up to the hype.  Behind the madness, the shouting and the swearing lies a shallow gangster plot that rapidly loses its mojo.


Watch: Mojo runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre until January 2014, tickets available here.

Monday, 28 October 2013

A conversation with Margaret Berger...

Norwegian superstar Margaret Berger recently released Human Race, the follow up to her Eurovision entry I Feed You My Love. As she prepares to release her forthcoming album in the UK, The Gizzle caught up with her to discuss Eurovision, her future material and what exactly her love tastes like...

The Gizzle Review: Have you recovered yet from Eurovision 2013?!

Margaret Berger: Haha, yes starting to "get over it", but I look forward to looking back on what I was a part of in 10 years time, 'cause I don't know if I've really grasped the size of it all yet.

TGR: I Feed You My Love wasn’t your typically camp, upbeat Eurovision song. Was this a conscious decision to move away from the norm?

MB: This song was my only choice, so to speak, to enter the competition. The song was already chosen, and I got chosen to perform it. I think there is starting to be room for more songs like that on Eurovision.

TGR: Were you surprised by the positive reaction you received?

MB: Yes, I really loved the song and was excited about the performance, but it was a big surprise to get such good feedback.

TGR: What made you decide to enter Eurovision in the first place?

MB: It's one of the biggest TV shows in the world. And I felt like the song was something I could perform and be proud of.

TGR: Would you say your time on Norwegian Idol prepared you for singing live on television for the whole of Europe?

MB: I think 10 years in the industry prepared me more.

TGR: Would you recommend a show like Idol as a route to go down for any aspiring popstars?

MB: I think it has stopped being a good place for that, the market is full of former Idols, X-Factors, The Voice etc. Right now I would rather enter competitions like Urørt in Norway, which is a better place to be unique.

TGR: Over the last few years, there have been an increasing number of Scandinavian Eurovision winners (Finland 2006, Norway 2009, Sweden 2012, Denmark 2013), as well as an increasing number of Scandinavian artists finding success in the UK. Why do you think Scandinavian music is becoming more dominant?

MB: Scandinavia is very modern and leading when it comes to pop music.  We inspire each other to be better, I think. And there are so many amazing songwriters here.

TGR: What could the UK do to become more successful in future Eurovision competitions?

MB: I don't know ;-)

TGR: Your debut album ‘Chameleon’ had a rock edge to it, and with ‘Pretty Scary Silver Fairy’ you moved more into electronic music, which has continued with the industrial sound of your recent material. What or who were the main influences on this change of sound?

MB: I think I just got tired of jazz and rock and fell in love with le synthesizer.  I never looked back, 'cause it felt so right.

TGR: What can we expect from the new album?

MB: The same electronic vibe as 'Pretty Scary...', only darker and more grown up I would say.

TGR: How have you found working with producers Robin Lynch & Niklas Olovson?

MB: They are amazing guys and we have had a common vision for this record, so I've found it very good!

TGR: You’ve been recording the album in Sweden – has this informed the sound in any way?

MB: I don't think it matters that much where you are, a lot of the songs have also been written in Trondheim.

TGR: With Human Race you’ve obviously got your sights set on the UK charts. Is the UK perceived as being tough for European acts to crack?

MB: Yes, it seems to be a quick turn-around and also a bit crowded in the UK market. Whatever happens happens.  We've just released Feed You My Love in the US, which is also exciting.

TGR: And lastly, if you were to feed me your love, what would it taste of?

MB: Haha... I think it would be like a strawberry ice-cream: sweet, but also cold. I was born in the snow, remember?!

Listen: Human Race is available now.  Read our review here.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Tycho - Awake

Tycho’s minimalist ambient music sort of washes over you, like a soothing wave or a cool breeze.  Breathe it in.

Awake is Tycho (a.k.a Scott Hansen’s) first release since his 2011 album ‘Dive’.  Where that material was predominantly electronic based, Awake brings guitars to the forefront in delicately plucked lines amongst the usual synth textures.  What makes Tycho stand apart is his use of melody – where some ambient music hovers in time, the clear, precise melodies of his work provide a sense of direction and movement, ensuring his lofty tracks are always memorable.  Awake is no different, signalling a continuation of high quality music for the forthcoming album, due next year.


Listen: Awake is available now.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

John Newman - Tribute

Soul music has certainly had something of a renaissance over the last few years, with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Adele and Plan B at the forefront.  More recently, Rudimental fused soul with dub-step on their album 'Home' - an album that introduced us to singer John Newman with lead singles Feel The Love and Not Giving In.  Now he's going solo with his debut album, 'Tribute'.

The title is a fitting one, this being a tribute to the artists that inspired him.  That's made immediately apparent with the opening title track, which lists the great soul singers through the ages from Nina Simone to...Newman himself?  Whilst it's far too early to place Newman within this pantheon of singers, it's certainly a brave move that reveals his ambition.

For the most part, however, the album appears to be a tribute to Rudimental - the group who 'made' him.  Lead single Love Me Again features a dynamic beat beneath the horns and dramatic strings, even descending into a dub-step style drop in the middle eight.  Sadly, this formula is repeated frequently throughout 'Tribute': from current single Cheating, to the Emeli Sande-esque Gold Dust and the trip-hop beat of Goodnight, Goodbye to name a few.

Within this disappointingly repetitive approach lie a few standout tracks.  The yearning chorus melodies and heartbreaking lyrics of both Easy and Out Of My Head are stunning, whilst piano ballad Down The Line shows a softer side to the singer.  As the only ballads on the album, they present the strongest evidence as to the potential of Newman's soulful vocal.  Try, meanwhile, might follow the same approach as previous releases but the house piano riff and catchy chorus hook suggest this is surely the next single.

The major sticking point with 'Tribute', however, is Newman's vocal.  Quite possibly the most marmite vocal in the current charts, his voice is something of an acquired taste with his unique, rough tone.  Over the course of the whole album, his bleating definitely grates with a general lack of dynamic range, although the production is partly to blame, rarely allowing Newman any degree of subtlety.  It's this that separates the great from the greatest - something Newman will need to develop if he's to be remembered amongst the artists he so dearly covets.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Love Me Again
* Easy
* Out Of My Head

Listen: 'Tribute' is available now.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Andrea Begley - The Message

I think we can all agree that Andrea Begley winning The Voice was a huge surprise - not that anyone seemed to care.  There were far more talented contestants on the show, but somehow the little Irish girl pulled through.  What better way to celebrate your sympathy win than with an album of dismal covers?

Each of the thirteen tracks has had any enjoyment sapped and replaced by acoustic guitars and strings.  Bruce Springsteen's Dancing In The Dark?  Boring folk ballad.  A-ha's Take On Me?  Boring folk ballad.  Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart?  Boring folk ballad.  The other tracks range from obvious breezy tunes like The Lumineer's Ho Hey and Deep Blue Something's Breakfast at Tiffany's, to actual ballads like Sarah McLachlan's Angel, Falling Slowly (from Once) and Evanescence's My Immortal.

A major problem is that Begley's voice, ironically enough, is simply not strong enough to sustain a full album.  It might be pleasant enough for a minute or so, but it's ultimately bland and emotionless, with no power or dynamic range.

The biggest issue with 'The Message', however, is who's going to buy it?  Begley has the audacity to tackle recent hits like Disclosure's Latch and Jake Bugg's Lightning Bolt, both clearly aimed at younger ears.  Yet who would choose to listen to her joyless rendition of Latch over the thrilling original?  Dare I say it, is Jake Bugg's version preferable to this pathetic jig?

At the other end of the spectrum are the middle-aged dinner party goers, but putting this album on is worse than those Come Dine With Me contestants who insist their son/daughter is a 'really talented performer' as they screech out an acoustic ballad of their own creation.  Zero points for entertainment.

Still, at least Begley has a nice souvenir of her time on The Voice to give to her mother for Christmas.  For the rest of us, 'The Message' is a worrying example of what happens when the wrong person wins a reality TV show.  Begley has done the seemingly impossible and made an album that's somehow more offensive than Miley Cyrus licking a sledgehammer.


Gizzle's Choice:
* none.

Listen: 'The Message' is available now (if you must).

From Here To Eternity @ Shaftesbury Theatre

1941, Pearl Harbour.  There’s a war on – not that you’d know it beyond the military costumes on display.  Instead, this is a wartime musical (based on the novel and 1953 film) that barely acknowledges WWII.  That is, until paradise is lost.

From Here To Eternity is a polished and atmospheric production.  Whilst the use of projections and scenic backdrops provide a suitable sense of setting, it’s the choreography and music that stand out.  The opening number in particular is characterised by militaristic movement that is intricately choreographed, whilst Stuart Brayson’s breezy score is contemporary with a vintage feel, filled with sultry Hawaiian harmonies, guitars and ukulele.  The songs are frequently catchy and toe-tapping – exactly what you’d expect from this sort of show.  There are some sudden tonal shifts (the sexy prostitute scene in particular), but as a whole Hawaii is depicted as a peaceful, beautiful and indulgent island away from the horrors of war.

Yet with all this peace, the narrative is distinctly lacking in drama or danger.  The plot centres on two soldiers who both find love on the island: one a Private who arrives to the island and finds love with a local prostitute (Prewitt – Robert Lonsdale), the other a Sergeant who falls for the Captain’s wife (Warden – Darius Campbell).  The two leading men offer solid performances, with one blues number in particular bringing their differing voices together: the powerful tenor of Lonsdale and the rich bass tones of Campbell.  The book (Bill Oakes) and lyrics (Tim Rice), meanwhile, are well-written, human and believable. 

The problem is that, love aside, there is no central theme running throughout, besides the vague threat of war outside of the theatre walls.  One narrative strand focusing on homosexuality in the army is vastly underdeveloped and feels shoe-horned in purely for a touch of controversy.  What’s also shoe-horned in is the gratuitous ‘climax’ at the end of Act One – director Tamara Harvey’s idea of drama being a touch of nudity to get the old folk excited.

And then war hits the shores of Hawaii in the final ten minutes.  Finally some drama, but it’s too little too late.  The explosive choreography, use of slow-motion and fantastic lighting are incredibly cinematic, whilst the (inevitably) tragic ending poignantly emphasises the individual casualties of war.  It’s a touching end, but a shame it takes two hours of romantic slush to get there.


Watch: From Here To Eternity is booking until April 2014.

Monday, 21 October 2013

New Pop Roundup

As we head towards the tail-end of the year, here are six new pop tracks you HAVE to hear…

Lady Gaga – Do What You Want (feat. R Kelly)

Yes the cover art is awful.  And yes R Kelly might be the last person you’d expect Gaga to collaborate with.  But Do What You Want, taken from the forthcoming album ‘ARTPOP’, is a sexy, smooth R&B pop jam that successfully marries the two artists’ styles.  “Do what you want with my body”, she implores over pulsating electro production, R Kelly replying “I’ll do what I want, do what I want with your body”.  As long as it doesn’t involve shoving that ass in my face, you can do what you like.


Listen: Do What You Want is available now.

Kelly Clarkson – Underneath The Tree

We’re still two months away from Christmas 2013, but this year’s Christmas number one (probably) is already here.  Underneath The Tree is the lead single from Clarkson’s Christmas album ‘Wrapped In Red’ and it’s basically the new All I Want For Christmas.  Jingle bells, tubular bells, a sing-along chorus, a sax solo…can you imagine wrapping up your presents to any other soundtrack this year?  It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas….


Listen: Underneath The Tree is released on October 28th.

Mausi – Body Language

And at the other end of the spectrum are Newcastle/Italy electro-pop group Mausi with a new track that brings back the sounds of the summer.  Clipped beats, vibrant neon synths and even a spoken middle eight advising how to flirt make up a sexy pop track that brings a touch of sunshine to the autumn months. 


Listen: Body Language is available now as a free download on the band’s new mixtape ‘Autumn/Winter Collection’.

Chlöe Howl – Paper Heart

Howl is one of the top pop prospects to emerge in 2013, Paper Heart following on from the snarling No Strings (“you don’t even know if I’m the right sex do you?”) and youthful stomper Rumour (“I’m just trying to work out how to be like myself”).  For this track, the auburn beauty has cranked up the fizzing synth factor whilst maintaining the biting tone of the lyrics: ”I’m bored to death with you, I’m cutting the chord now darling”.  The video, seemingly inspired by the myriad proposal videos doing the rounds these days, sees Howl going to great lengths to break up with her man.  Ouch.


Listen: Paper Heart is yet to receive an official release date.

Taylor Swift – Sweeter Than Fiction

Sweeter Than Fiction sounds about as bad as the film it soundtracks – the Paul Potts inspired One Chance.  Like much of Swift’s output, this eschews her country roots for a pop aesthetic, but it’s far less catchy than I Knew You Were Trouble or We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.  Instead, this is Swift on auto-pilot with vomit-inducing lyrics.  Yet somehow I fear this song will be the highlight of the film…


Listen: Sweeter Than Fiction is available now.

Gala – Taste Of Me

Remember 90s classic Freed From Desire?  Well this is the very same Gala, releasing a fairly serviceable club track complete with dubstep breakdown.  But what exactly does she taste of?


Listen: Taste Of Me is released on November 25th.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Katy Perry - Prism

Rihanna had 'Rated R'.  Adele had '21'.  And now Katy Perry has 'Prism', an album that has likewise been inspired by the end of a relationship.

Or has it?  For all Perry's claims this is a stripped back, spiritual and grown-up record, there are still plenty of bubblegum tracks aiming to retain the cartoon persona of 'Teenage Dream'.  The result is an album that falls short, that's often neither serious nor fun.

On the darker end of the spectrum is Dark Horse featuring rapper Juicy J - a hip-hop inspired track that's certainly a more adult pop song.  The icy beat and sinister bass are like nothing we've heard from Perry before, epitomising the pre-release video of Perry burning her blue wig.

The standout track of 'Prism', though, is By The Grace Of God, a ballad that directly addresses Perry's post-breakup depression with the suicidal chorus lyric "I put one foot in front of the other and I looked in the mirror and decided to stay, wasn't gonna let love take me out that way".  It's Perry's most poignant track to date, with a raw vocal that gives us an honest look at the woman behind the popstar.

Despite this push into more adult territory, Perry is still at her best singing pure pop.  Birthday and International Smile might be lyrically vacuous, but the former is an infectious, candy coloured track similar to California Girls, whilst the latter is a glorious homage to Daft Punk's Digital Love with its synth solo outro.  Elsewhere, Walking On Air is a typical, but enjoyable club banger, This Is How We Do is a cool mid-tempo jam and current single Roar marries empowerment with a catchy hook.

The remains of the album wallows in a middle ground that's good but not great, with Perry's attempts at being taken more seriously coming across as a little dull.  Future single Unconditionally is a sincere ballad, but it centres on a clunky chorus lyric, whilst tracks like Ghost, Love Me and Double Rainbow have whispy melodies that fail to stand out.

What 'Prism' is missing is a Firework, a Hot N Cold, an I Kissed A Girl, or a Teenage Dream - all stadium-sized pop sing-alongs that demand your attention.  Roar comes closest, but for the most part this is a new Katy Perry who, with tracks like By The Grace Of God, takes herself more seriously.  A cheeky pair of cake tits wouldn't go amiss.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Birthday
* International Smile
* By The Grace Of God

Listen: 'Prism' is available from October 21st.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Poliça - Shulamith

In 2012 Poliça released their debut 'Give You The Ghost' to critical acclaim.  A year later and they're already releasing the follow up, 'Shulamith'.  During that period very little has changed: the quartet's avant-garde sound is still exceptional, but has failed to capture mainstream attention.

'Shulamith' is unlikely to convince naysayers.  Opening track Chain My Name feels more upbeat and dance-influenced than their previous work, but as a whole the album is stripped back to the basics: dual drums, dynamic funk bass lines, Channy Leaneagh's heavily processed vocals and a smattering of electronic effects.  The music conveys a mood of melancholic beauty, ranging from the ominous Very Cruel to the yearning melodies of Tiff (featuing Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame).

After the initial excitement of their debut, however, there's been little development in the band's sound.  It remains as unique as ever, but individually the tracks are indistinct, lacking the recognisable hooks of 'Give You The Ghost'.  The band stand out for their overall hypnotic music rather than any particular hits.

Moreover, there's a disconnect between the music and the listener.  The band seem more concerned with creating a technically and musically interesting album rather than an emotional one, something that's personified in Leaneagh's ghostly vocals.  Drenched in reverb and effects, her singing becomes another texture in the electronic tapestry of music, delicately and hauntingly cooing above the industrial percussion.  Yet in the process her lyrics are virtually incomprehensible, creating an impenetrable emotional wall.  The album may be named after Canadian feminist Shulamith Firestone, but you'd never know purely by listening - instead, the overall feeling is simply of overbearing sadness.

Poliça may have peaked too early with their debut, but their unique sound continues with a solid follow-up that's as abstract as it is soulful and dreamy.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Chain My Name
* Tiff
* Spilling Lines

Listen: 'Shulamith' is released on October 21st.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Chvrches @ O2 Shepherd's Bush

Watching Chvrches perform at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush surrounded predominantly by twentysomething men, I was drawn back to singer Lauren Mayberry’s recent article for The Guardian.  Were these same men the online misogynists who, unprovoked, threatened to rape and abuse the singer from behind the comfort of their keyboards and screens?  Or were these simply avid fans who, having followed the band online, helped to put them at the forefront of British synth-pop and beyond to success in the US?

Regardless, last night’s gig was all about the music as the band performed tracks from their brilliant debut album ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’.  Lyrically their songs are rife with melancholy, but performed live the tracks fizzed as much as the disco lasers in the background, all roughed up with Glaswegian grit.  How the crowd weren’t dancing more is beyond me.  The big singles were of course well received: the yearning Recover, the abrasive Lies, the spiteful Gun and, saved for last, The Mother We Share.  Yet other album tracks were surprisingly powerful, from the sparkling pop of Night Sky, to the 80s action film feel of Science/Visions and the final drop of Tether that was utterly euphoric, making for a set of consistently high quality.  Even Martin Doherty, usually confined to keys, revealed a buoyant stage persona as he sang on Under The Tide.

As frontwoman, though, it’s Mayberry who’s at the centre of their sound, her pure vocal sharply piercing the neon textures and rumbling bass (despite suffering from a cold).  She may have a quiet, cutesy persona that doesn’t translate into a big performance, but she’s not so innocent as to be incapable of fighting back against her sexist critics – the music does all the talking for her.  As she sings on Gun, “I will be a gun and it’s you I’ll come for”.  Watch out.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Blue Jasmine (2013) - Woody Allen

Immediately from its opening credits and jazz soundtrack, Blue Jasmine has a very old fashioned feel.  In today’s age of blockbusters and CGI, Allen’s tragi-comedy feels more like a play on celluloid, in large part for its narrative parallels to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named DesireBlue Jasmine features a similar sisterly dynamic and a central character whose fall from grace is the catalyst of mental instability. 

Just like Blanche, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a fading middle-aged woman who suffers from alcoholism and delusions of grandeur.  After years of marriage to Hal (Alec Baldwin), he is exposed as a fraudster and an infidel, causing Jasmine’s world to fall apart into one of poverty and homelessness.  Forced from her high-society Hamptons lifestyle of designer clothes, socialising at parties and constantly reaching for a martini glass of vodka, she moves to California to live with her adoptive sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whose living standards and relationship history are far beneath Jasmine’s usual lifestyle.

It’s this clash of cultures that forms the foundation for much comedy and wry humour in Allen’s witty script.  Yet Blue Jasmine is ultimately a desperately tragic film.  Scenes from Jasmine’s past are revealed to the audience through flashback, but it soon becomes apparent that Jasmine herself is living through the past.  Blanchett’s performance is exceptional – no wonder she’s an early frontrunner for Oscar success.  Her depiction of mental breakdown, through ticks and constantly babbling to herself and anyone around her, is darkly amusing yet frustrating to watch.  For all its laughs, Allen’s film is a harrowing and uncomfortably voyeuristic experience.

As the narrative unfolds, Jasmine meets a number of unlikely suitors, but her relationship with Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) is built on lies, paralleling her past with Hal.  The result is a film that takes an incredibly cynical view of modern relationships, the superficiality of upper-class living and the emptiness of defining oneself purely through a relationship.  Jasmine often feels more like a caricature rather than a truthful human the audience can sympathise with, leaving us feeling empty and cold.

Yet perhaps this is the point, the film as circular and meaningless as Jasmine’s life.  As a result, it’s Ginger who we most sympathise with – life with Jasmine is as exhausting for the audience as it is for her.  With such an abrasive character at its core, Blue Jasmine is a draining experience, but this is purely testament to Blanchett’s outstanding central performance.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Saturdays - Living For The Weekend

The lyrics to Gentleman, the third single from ‘Living For The Weekend’ (the girls’ fourth album), really are bizarre.  Apparently “most dudes just hit it and quit it and then they wonder why most girls just spit it”.  The girls’ response?  “I let you taste my rainbow, you could at least be faithful”, before reeling off a list of famous gentleman suitors.  It’s just plain weird.

What it also has, though, is bags of charm and personality – something that’s sorely lacking from the majority of The Saturdays’ output.  It’s for this reason that Gentleman stands out as one of the strongest tracks on ‘Living For The Weekend’, alongside current single Disco Love.  The latter is a step away from the band’s usual EDM pop, instead opting for a breezy 80s vibe and incredibly catchy “baby baby baby” chorus hook – a very welcome change of pace.

The remains of the album offers club track after club track, swaying from the absolute banger Not Giving Up (if that’s not the next single I’ll eat my metaphorical hat), to the banal Problem With Love (with its clichéd dubstep drop) and the reggae inspired Wildfire (that sounds just like J-Lo’s On The Floor).  So, in essence, the majority of the tracks follow on from the two previously released singles – the fairly forgettable 30 Days and What About Us (in both annoying Sean Paul and less-annoying Sean Paul-less forms), both of which were released way back in 2012 and already sound dated.

A couple of obligatory non-ballads fill out the album: Leave A Light On and You Don’t Have The Right.  Both feature big beats despite slowing down the tempo, but are far less exciting than the other tracks.  On the other end of the spectrum, Don’t Let Me Dance Alone is another sure-fire single with more bizarre lyrics of female empowerment (“I didn’t put this dress on for you to take it off”) and a cheeky semi-quote of Whitney.

In all, then, ‘Living For The Weekend’ is a typical Sats album: a handful of interesting singles amongst some generic filler.  As a whole it’s a stronger effort than in the past, but it’s still unlikely to bring them the chart success they’re capable of.


* Disco Love
* Gentleman
* Not Giving Up

Listen: ‘Living For The Weekend’ is available now.

The Fifth Estate (2013) - Bill Condon

As the opening of The Fifth Estate depicts, communication is very much at the heart of the modern, high-tech, Internet-fuelled world.  But does this come at a cost?  Here, communication is a danger to society, Condon’s film filled with frenzied montages of cyberspace, a buzzing and noisy electronic soundtrack and an increasingly urgent narrative that exponentially snowballs out of control.

This narrative is far from an impartial account of Julian Assange and the Wikileaks saga.  Based in part on the book by Daniel Domscheit-Berg (a spokesperson for Wikileaks), the film follows Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he rises from petty hacker and political activist to an information terrorist, aided by Berg (Daniel Bruhl – fresh from his performance in Rush).  It’s certainly a change of pace from Condon’s previous work on the Twilight films, yet The Fifth Estate is arguably as fantastical.  As a film, Condon fails to produce an exciting thriller; as a piece of political propaganda, The Fifth Estate is hugely biased.  It’s easy to see why, in a letter to Cumberbatch, Assange claimed “I do not believe that this film is a good film…it is going to be overwhelmingly negative for me and the people I care about”.

Cumberbatch is an incredibly capable actor and his performance here is a striking transformation.  Under the direction of Condon, Cumberbatch seems more like the older, hippy brother of Draco Malfoy with his greasy bleached locks and snarling demeanour.  Initially, his Assange is an inspiring, pied piper figure whose spell Berg quickly and easily falls under.  Yet over the course of the film, he is revealed to be a distrusting, unforgiving and unsociable control freak; a man who is closer connected to his laptop than to the world around him and fiercely loyal to the agenda of his website.  His behaviour is reckless and irresponsible, whilst he conducts his work in secret – ironic for a man so obsessed with transparency.  By the end of the film, it’s clear that (through the eyes of Condon) Assange is a somewhat mentally unstable figure who reverts to the great computer-filled office in his mind.  Or, as Berg’s girlfriend puts it, “a manipulative arsehole”.

The result of such a one-sided view is that we are never trusted with our own opinion.  The film’s final moments are a direct call to the audience, with Cumberbatch’s Assange quoting Oscar Wilde in his final speech: “Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth”.  Yet how much of The Fifth Estate is actual truth is difficult to ascertain.  In that same speech, he claims "If you want the truth you should seek it out for yourself" - are these the words of Assange or Condon?

A key quote, however, comes from Laura Linney’s White House representative Sarah Shaw towards the end of the film: “I don't know which one of us history will judge most harshly".  The Fifth Estate makes that perfectly clear.


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Gems - Medusa

The obvious comparison for Washington D.C. duo Gems is with Goldfrapp: the soft, high-pitched, ethereal vocals of singer Lindsay Pitts coupled with dark, sultry electro sounds.  Yet whilst Goldfrapp continue down a more acoustic-folk path, it leaves the playing field wide open for Gems to carve their own identity.

The title track from the duo's forthcoming debut EP, Medusa is as musically striking as the band's monochromatic visuals (just take a look at their Instagram page) - all smoky atmospherics, heavily reverbed beats, washed-out guitars and that ethereal vocal.  It's moody yet sultry; haunting yet sophisticated; richly evocative yet sparsely produced.  For all its air of stony cool, Medusa slinks with an emotional core that's impossible to ignore.


Listen: Medusa will feature on the duo's debut EP released on November 12th.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Tom Aspaul - Indiana

After things went awry with her previous record label, Little Boots (a.k.a Victoria Hesketh) set up her own record label (On Repeat) in order to release second album 'Nocturnes' earlier this year.  Yet not content with simply releasing her own music, she's also taking the opportunity to nurture new talent.  If that's not enough to get you excited about London singer-songwriter Tom Aspaul, then keep reading.

Indiana has been produced by producer-of-the-moment MNEK, for a polished sound full of textural details: layered synths, marimba flourishes and even crickets.  As with Hesketh's own material, there's a real hands-in-the-air feel with this track, the beat bouncing and shuffling beneath hypnotic synths.  And whilst Aspaul's lyrics are simple and direct ("it feels so good when you're here"), his soulful vocal matches well with the pop-disco sound.

'Nocturnes' may not have been the mainstream smash it deserved to be, but all the ingredients are here for Aspaul to be a huge pop success in Hesketh's wake - a real talent with an experienced team behind him.  Definitely a track to play on repeat.


Listen: Indiana is available now.

Haerts - Hemiplegia

Another electro-pop act from Brooklyn?

No wait, stay with me!

Haerts are not only from Brooklyn, but Germany and the UK, bringing a multitude of influences from across the globe.  The result is tuneful electro-pop with a cool, dark twist that fans of CHVRCHES will certainly appreciate - and not only for the similarly awkward-to-type name.

Hemiplegia is a song that keeps on building.  The pulsating synths throb with increasing urgency, before it all breaks down as singer Nini Fabi repeats insistently "no you can't move up with your eyes down".  Then the bass and beat crash in, the synths fizz and the electric guitar soars for a powerful finale that gives M83 a run for their money.

Still with me?  Click play below - you won't regret it.


Listen: Hemiplegia is available now, with a full LP on the way soon.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

R Kelly - Cookie

"My mind's telling me nooooooo. But my body, my booooooody's telling me yeeeees."

For the uninitiated, this is the opening to R Kelly's Bump N' Grind, one of the sexiest R&B tracks of all time.  Yet there's a fine line between sexy and sleazy.  For a man of 46, Cookie feels somewhat inappropriate.

There's nothing wrong (or new) with the beat and deep bass, but it's with the lyrics that Cookie feels unappetising.  Food analogies aside ("I'm the cookie monster", "I'm gonna lick the middle like an Oreo"), hanging out with R Kelly just sounds painful.  Not only is he "gonna beat the pussy 'til it's blue" (presumably how he likes his steak) but he wants to "bite it and get inside it 'til I get you gone" and then "break your back, crack it open like a lobster".  Ouch.

Now, a bit of light spanking never hurt anyone, but I know I won't be baking for R Kelly anytime soon.

Besides, there can only ever be one Cookie Monster:


Listen: Cookie is taken from the forthcoming album 'Black Panties' released on December 3rd.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Prince - Breakfast Can Wait

Could anyone else but Prince make breakfast sound so darn sexy?

The mark of a musical genius is one who isn't afraid of reinvention, something Prince certainly hasn't shied away from over the course of his 30+ year career.  His music has spanned genres, from funk to pop, rock to R&B.  This new track continues that trend.

Breakfast Can Wait, the first track to be taken from his forthcoming album 'Plectrum Electrum' (recorded with his band 3RDEYEGIRL), is a mid-tempo throwback to 90's R&B jams.  The beat is infectious, the minimalist production is silky smooth, and the sultry bass lines sizzle like bacon in a smoky frying pan.  Even the choreographed video, directed by 18 year old Danielle Curiel, has a retro feel.  There are also similarities with his biggest hit from the 90s - The Most Beautiful Girl In The World - from the descending organ refrain to the pitch shifted voice in the final third.

The sexual tone is typical of Prince's oeuvre, but with a fresh funk-soul sound that's utterly contemporary.  Robin Thicke?  Justin Timberlake?  Pharrell?  They wish they could release a track like this.


Listen: Breakfast Can Wait is available now.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Lorde - Pure Heroine

For all intents and purposes, 16 year old New Zealander Lorde is this year’s Lana Del Rey.  In part this is due to their similarly breathy, nonchalant vocal styles, but most of all it’s for their position in the industry.  As Del Rey was last year, Lorde is the buzz artist of 2013; the bloggers’ favourite; the hyped up popstar-who’s-far-too-cool-to-be-a-popstar, with a calculated persona manufactured by the record company.  Yet, just as with ‘Born To Die’, ‘Pure Heroine’ is a singular vision that’s likely to be one of the most talked about albums of the year – for better or for worse.

A key difference, however, is Lorde’s forward thinking production.  Where Del Rey looked to past glamour for inspiration, ‘Pure Heroine’ is utterly contemporary.  Influenced by electro and hip-hop, the moody production is stark and minimalist: all clipped hip-hop beats, icy synths and rumbling bass lines.  It’s cold, perhaps even heartless, yet full of snarling attitude and cool.  Individually, the tracks aren’t overly distinct from one another, but taken as a whole ‘Pure Heroine’ has a unique aesthetic.

The prevailing mood is one of boredom – obvious from the opening lyric, “don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?”.  Lorde’s vocal aches with teenage ennui, lazily singing melodies like she couldn’t care less, contrasting with the sharp production.  This sense of boredom translates as youthful cool – from the school stereotypes of Tennis Court (“baby be the class clown, I’ll be the beauty queen in tears…let’s go down to the tennis court and talk it up like yeah”), to the repeated line “I’m kinda over being told to throw my hands up in the air” on Team.  Not only does this reflect rebellious youth, it’s a rebellion against current EDM trends as paralleled by the production.

Yet how much of this rebellious, youthful attitude is really authentic?  And, quite frankly, does it matter?  Lorde might be posing as a popstar for hipsters but, as worldwide smash Royals proves, she’s more than capable of delivering an icily cool, hook-laden pop song.  The rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to the title’s promise as the pure saviour of contemporary music, but ‘Pure Heroine’ is certainly a trend-setting album for pop fans who are too cool to actually follow trends.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Tennis Court
* Royals
* Team

Listen: 'Pure Heroine' is released in the UK on October 28th.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Ásgeir - King And Cross

UK audiences probably won’t be familiar with Ásgeir Trausti (known simply as Ásgeir) , but in his native Iceland he’s pretty huge. Not only has he had a string of hits from his debut album ‘Dýrð í dauðaþögn’, but it also won Best Album at the Icelandic Music Awards in February 2013. It’s this album that will soon be hitting our shores, albeit in translated form (‘In The Silence’).

King And Cross (originally Leyndarmál) is the lead single and exemplifies his brand of melodic folk pop. It begins with a gently plucked yet urgent acoustic guitar riff in cross-rhythm with the drum beat. It’s soon tempered with quirky synths and horns, bringing to mind Gotye in its simple melodies and unusual production. Above it all Ásgeir sings in a soft falsetto for a sound that’s laid-back yet full of pop immediacy.

You may think Icelandic music is all volcanic drama from Sigur Rós and Bjork-esque eccentricity, but Ásgeir represents their antithesis: mellow, cleanly produced and utterly charming.


Listen: King And Cross is available now, with album 'In The Silence' released on October 28th.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Sia - Elastic Heart (feat. The Weeknd & Diplo)

Following efforts from Coldplay (yawn) and Christina (overblown), it’s time for another track taken from the forthcoming Hunger Games soundtrack.

This is certainly a leftfield choice however.  On the one hand, Sia, Diplo and The Weeknd make something of a dream-team, yet on the other hand the electro R&B feel of Elastic Heart is a major departure from the first film’s folky-Americana soundtrack.

As a standalone song, it has all the ingredients of a hit: dreamy production and skittering beats from Diplo, a soaring chorus melody from Sia, and icy falsetto guest vocals from The Weeknd.  It’s a solid effort, but far from the best work of each artist. 

As for its suitability for the film, lyrically its themes of love and war parallel the plot, Sia singing “now another one bites the dust, yeah let’s be clear, I'll trust no one”.  The elastic conceit also fits with Katniss’s weapon of choice, the bow (“I’m like a rubber band, until you pull too hard”).  Yet musically, this feels worlds apart from the aesthetic of the film, instead more of an excuse to shoehorn some top artists into the soundtrack.

And anyway, doesn’t Sia have more important things to be working on, like the new Beyoncé album…?


Listen: Elastic Heart will feature on the soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in November.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Sam Smith - Nirvana EP

Sam Smith's voice is quite simply incredible.  The rich, soulful tone; the incredible range and warm yet piercing falsetto; the smooth control and silky riffs - it all amasses to a voice that melts over the listener.  This EP could simply be Smith singing the alphabet on repeat and it would still be worth listening to.

Smith is also the voice of one of the biggest dance tracks of the year: Disclosure's Latch (a track included here in stunning, acoustic form).  Can he break out to become a fully-fledged solo artist rather than just a featured voice?

The 'Nirvana EP' follows on from the electro style of Disclosure and Naughty Boy.  Opening track Safe With Me features a skittering beat and plenty of vocal processing that detracts from Smith's performance.  Nirvana, meanwhile, is more of a sultry R&B jam with a deep bassline and sexy guitar melodies.  It's followed by a live performance of I've Told You Now, proving once again that Smith excels at singing ballads - although why previous release Lay Me Down wasn't also included is a mystery.

Overall, though, the quality of songwriting doesn't quite match the voice, the EP lacking a real standout hit (beyond Latch).  As it stands, Smith is still dependent on partnering with top producers to find excellence.  The potential, however, for a future album is huge.


Listen: The 'Nirvana EP' is available now.

Friday, 4 October 2013

The Only Way Is Downton @ St James Theatre

The Only Way Is Essex and Downton Abbey are at opposite ends of the television spectrum, but they represent a clash of cultures that come together in impressionist Luke Kempner’s one man show The Only Way Is Downton.  His performance offered a veritable smorgasbord of spoofs and jokes that kept both the audience and himself on their toes.

The show got off to a slow start, though this was as much due to my lack of Downton knowledge as to the performance itself – impressions only work when the audience is familiar with the original.  And it was often the impressions alone that were funny, rather than the script, although his turn as Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess contained plenty of suitably bitchy comments.  The Downton sections provided the framework of the show: as the characters fear they will lose the estate, they are forced to find other ways of making money.  Cue Downton being spliced into other television programmes from X Factor to The Great British Bake Off, Wimbledon and Pointless – the result being a very British brand of humour.

Each impression was characterised with distinct voices and movement, Kempner changing from one to the next with relative ease.  Once he hit his stride, his performance was hilarious, full of self-referencing and topical jokes that included (amongst other things) the economy, the royal wedding and 50 Shades Of Grey.  Although some impressions were more successful than others, all were instantly recognisable - in particular, X Factor’s Rylan desperate for fame, an overly enthusiastic Nicole Scherzinger, a camp Tom Daley and an apathetic Andy Murray.  Best of all was his turn as Alan Carr, which had his voice and mannerisms down to a tee. 

There were some cheap gags fired at obvious targets, but when the impressions were so amusing it’s easy to forgive any dips in the script.  Having impressed at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Only Way Is Downton will soon be moving to the West End – make sure to check it out.


Watch: The Only Way Is Downton will soon be transferring to the West End.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Miley Cyrus - Bangerz

Miley Cyrus claims that the name ‘Bangerz’ was chosen because every album track is a possible single.  That might be the case, but they’re not all number ones.  These are not the bangerz you’re looking for.

Since bludgeoning her way into the public consciousness this year with a sledgehammer still damp with her own spit, it’s a surprise that ‘Bangerz’ begins with the downbeat Adore You.  With its sombre piano and slowly shuffling beat, it allows Cyrus’ voice to take the fore in a rare moment of subtlety.  In fact, it’s the ballads that are the better songs: twerk-less antitheses to her newfound sense of ‘maturity’.

As a whole, ‘Bangerz’ sees Cyrus riffing on popular black culture in an attempt to capture a sense of cool – not only her now infamous twerking, but in the hip-hop influenced production, her faux rapping and inclusion of featured artists like Nelly, Big Sean and Future.  This would be fine if she brought something new to the party, but instead it feels more like Cyrus is playing catch up and simply trying too hard.  Her reason for choosing hip-hop as her main point of reference is obvious: controversy.  Hip-hop is a genre that lyrically pushes boundaries, tying in with her desperate desire to shake her teen image – “I’m a female rebel, can’t you tell” she sings on 4x4.  Yet the most controversial she gets is on that same song with lyrics like “driving so fast ‘bout to piss on myself”, proving she’s still just a child at heart.

For the most part ‘Bangerz’ is musically staid, not only settling easily in EDM mode, but copying other artists in a generic concoction of Rihanna, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.  That Cyrus duets with Britney Spears on the third track is an obvious parallel with the original good girl gone bad, yet SMS (BANGERZ) simply sounds like a modern Britney track – by no means a compliment.  FU features an opening refrain that’s pure Gaga, whilst its kitchen-sink, dramatic production and womping bass lines create a frenzy of musical noise.  Love Money Party is just a Rihanna cast-off.  And surely Wrecking Ball would sound better with Katy Perry singing?  On the slightly more positive side, My Darlin’ (which quotes Ben E King’s Stand By Me) is the most progressive track with its futuristic production, whilst #GETITRIGHT recaptures the sense of fun we heard on lead single We Can’t Stop and the pulsating Drive is a solid dance-pop effort.  The already released singles We Can’t Stop and Wrecking Ball are the obvious highlights, however.

In all, ‘Bangerz’ is nowhere near as musically subversive as her performances.  Cyrus may be trying to position herself as a boundary pushing artist, but musically she is simply conforming to current trends.  Do you know what really shows maturity as an artist?  Originality.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Adore You
* We Can’t Stop
* Wrecking Ball

Listen: 'Bangerz' is released on October 5th.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (Part 2)

Now that the dust has settled from the return of JustinTimberlake to the music scene, it’s easier to look at the second part of his ‘20/20 Experience’ with a little more objectivity.  Is this a return to form, or simply the dregs left over from part one?

Certainly, part two is more of a companion piece than a full second album.  The songs simply aren’t as strong, with Timberlake and producer Timbaland falling into the same pitfalls as before.  Yet this is by no means a bad album.

Pitfall number one is the length of the songs.  This may have been much maligned in part one, but at least many of the tracks were effectively two songs in one: theme and variation.  Here, the songs feel too dragged out with endless repeats of the same themes and they mostly lack the inventive outros.  Anyone who faulted part one for being self-indulgent will have switched off long before the end – an error in this reviewer’s opinion.

Pitfall number two is the sleazy lyrics.  Whilst not as obviously promiscuous as with part one overall, Cabaret features lines like “if sex is a contest then you’re coming first” and later “I got you saying Jesus so much it’s like we’re laying in a manger”.  Timberlake’s not alone however, with Timbaland spouting "she killed me with that coo-coochie-coochie coo" on TKO (with Timberlake later singing "this rematch sex is amazing / but nobody wins"), whilst Jay-Z describes Yoko Ono as the “pussy [that] broke up The Beatles” on Murder.  ‘The 20/20 Experience’ remains, in both parts, lyrically shallow. 

The overall feel of part two, though, is certainly distinct from part one.  The production is recognisably Timbaland’s, with a darker, grittier sound that includes only one ballad – final track Not A Bad Thing that swings from sweetness to vomit-inducing in the second half.  From opening track Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want), it’s obvious that the pair are trying to recapture the magic of ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ – gone are the funk orchestrations of part one in favour of metallic synths and heavy beats.  The vampiric True Blood matches the production to its subject matter (“it’s that demon in me that’s got me screaming / Make me wanna build a coffin for two”), even including a Thriller-esque speech half way through.  And current single TKO is pure Timbaland, with its hip-hop sound.

That’s not to say this is one dimensional, with many tracks breaking new ground in Timberlake’s musical oeuvre.  Lead single Take Back The Night marks a suitable bridge between the two parts with its Luther Vandross production and, whilst its disco sound might appear to be following current trends set by the likes of Get Lucky and Blurred Lines, it’s important to note that Timberlake recorded this album way back in May 2012 – who’s the real pioneer?  Drink You Away, meanwhile, takes him into brand new territory with a bluesy-country track with a modern twist, allowing for a gritty vocal performance that's just as sexy as his smoother dance hits.  Then there’s Only When I Walk Away, that sees Timberlake singing through a distortion filter for a rocky edge.  Just as with part one, this second album is full of creativity and surprises.

The main issue with part two is its lack of a big pop single to bring it all together – a Mirrors equivalent.  Amnesia comes close and slots neatly into the usual Timberlake mould, but feels a little forgettable by comparison to his best work.  That said, what part two does reveal is that even when he releases a not-quite-as-good album, it’s still a leap above most pop music in the charts.  This simply proves that he is a superstar – there's no doubting that, as a whole, ‘The 20/20 Experience’ has been one of the major musical events of the year.


Gizzle's Choice:
* True Blood
* Drink You Away
* Amnesia

Listen: 'The 20/20 Experience' is available now, in both separate and complete form.

Watch: Timberlake will be touring the UK next year.