Friday, 31 May 2013

Haim @ Koko, London



Since winning the BBC Sound Of 2013 poll at the start of the year, Haim have garnered a considerable following despite not yet releasing a full album.  As the hype continues to grow, the sisters had much to prove at this gig.

They were supported by another Sound Of nominee: Arlissa, who performed a rare acoustic set.  Whilst it was missing the exotic production, it allowed us to really hear her vocal with its rich tone, lilting inflections and impressive range.  The singer is perhaps not ready to reveal too much of her own material, instead including a cover of Rihanna’s Diamonds in a suitable reinterpretation of the song.  She remains, however, one to watch.  Prior to this, the first support was George Maple who did her best Jessie Ware impression.

Much has been made of Haim’s fusion of 70s rock with 90s girl band vocals.  What’s clear from their live act, however, is that the girls are a rock band through and through, the smooth production of their records roughed up with punk attitude.  Guitars were scrubbed, drums were pounded, lyrics were shouted and hair was shaken.  Lots of hair.  The years of playing together have paid off as the sisters offered a polished and tight performance, exchanging vocal lines with harmonies totally in tune with one another.  A rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well allowed the girls to stretch their rock muscles in a bluesy jam of blazing guitar riffs and spiky vocals, whilst the encore ended the gig with an extended drum cadenza of thunderous proportions.  Lead singles Don’t Save Me and Falling, meanwhile, came off with fiery passion to an elated audience.  That said, fans of their synchronised dancing were left wanting.

Yet the sisters adorably revealed their goofy side, not only bantering with the audience but with each other too.  Sisterly affection and female empowerment spread throughout the predominantly female audience, with one man’s heckling quickly shot down (“Boo, you gotta wine me and dine me before that happens”).  Their individuality also shone through: lead singer and guitarist Danielle was surprisingly shy despite the snarling vocals; bassist and joker Este ended up with a pair of boxers on her head; and Alana (aka Baby Haim) juggled multiple instruments.  Just as their music combines rock with mainstream pop hooks, the sisters are feisty yet utterly lovable. 

With only a handful of songs, the set quickly blazed past.  If anything, it left the audience wanting much more and with their debut album due for release soon, the best is yet to come.

4/5




Thursday, 30 May 2013

When Saints Go Machine - Infinity Pool


The opening track of ‘Infinity Pool’, the third album from the Danish quartet, is a strange one.  And that’s coming from a band who are known for their strange, off-kilter electronic pop.  But hip-hop?  Hearing the rap of Killer Mike alongside a hip-hop beat is not only jarring for fans of the band’s previous material, but creates a disconnect with the rest of the album.  When Saints Go Machine are certainly an experimental group who thrive on pushing the boundaries, but Love and Respect is far from what they do best.

The rest of the album delves into more familiar territory, but doesn’t live up to previous album ‘Konkylie’.  ‘Infinity Pool’ is a more synth-focussed album, lacking the archaic dreaminess of Konkylie or Church And Law.  Where ‘Konkylie’ stood out for its combination of creative weirdness and pop hooks, ‘Infinity Pool’ strays too far into the former and is devoid of the latter.

That’s not to say there aren’t some moments of magic, some small sparks of excellence.   The main synth riff of Infinity Killer slowly grinds away until the beat finally drops at the three minute mark; the harpsichord opening of System Of Unlimited Love soon develops into shimmering droplets before the chorus hook kicks in; Mannequin is a rare example of typical pop structure; Order features powerful euphoric lines that hint at some rave influence.

A large part of the band’s appeal is the unique, trembling falsetto of frontman Nikolaj Vonsild, but on this album his melodies are constantly fragmented and at odds with the production.  This parallels the disjointed production that seemingly changes style every few bars; production that straddles a thin line between experimentation and confusion.

The result is an album that often feels like a collection of disparate ideas and demos, rather than being fully fleshed out.  As such, ‘Infinity Pool’ is cohesive only in its abstraction; a beast in a constant state of evolution with very little to guide you along the way.  It’s enough to make your head swim.

3/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Infinity Killer
* System Of Unlimited Love
* Order

Listen: 'Infinity Pool' is available now.



Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Jessie J feat. Big Sean & Dizzee Rascal - Wild


For most of us, our initial introduction to J-J-J-Jessie J (aka Jessica Cornish) was Do It Like A Dude, arriving with a hard hitting "stomp stomp", explicit lyrics and tonnes of feisty attitude.  It was followed up with Price Tag: a cheesy pop track with a saccharine message.  Despite this confusing juxtaposition of styles, she soon shot to fame.

Now it's time for that difficult second album, led by Wild.  And guess what?  It's a return to her hard-hitting earlier form.  The beat is sexy, the bass is dirty and the staccato almost-rapped vocal delivery is in full force.  Then there's the wild-wild-wi-wi-WHOOOAAA outro that's a guaranteed earworm.

And then in comes Big Sean and Dizzee Rascal, as if Cornish is name-dropping as much as Tom Jones on The Voice.  The two rappers add little to the song beyond a "fish dinner" and "Bob Marley's locks" - if anything they diminish and dilute a solid comeback song.

Ditch the dudes Jessie - you're big enough now to go it alone.

3/5

Listen: Wild is available to download now.




Monday, 27 May 2013

Muse @ The Emirates Stadium


Say what you will about 'The 2nd Law', Muse sure as hell know how to put on a show.

There's a reason the Devonshire three-piece have become one of our countries greatest rock treasures: phenomenal live shows comprising incredible rock anthems and eye-watering spectacle.  And now with six albums released, there are more tracks than ever to choose from - arguably leaving the set list thinly spread, despite its length.

The reason?  Much of the set was taken from the latest album (pictured), which was far less well received than the band's previous material - especially when lost on the second central stage.  As such, where fan favourites like Knights of Cydonia and Plug In Baby sent the crowd into a moshing, chanting frenzy, recent tracks relied on visual gimmicks to entertain: from cartoon politicians amusingly dancing to Panic Station, to Bellamy's light-up glasses on Madness, and a giant robot that accompanied dub-step track The 2nd Law.

That's right: a giant robot.  Just as Muse's music has become grander and more bombastic, so too have their shows.  Within seconds of the band arriving on stage, huge pillars of flame sent a wave of heat over the crowd, whilst a backdrop of screens behind the band displayed mesmeric graphics and cinematics throughout the show, depicting a vague, Orwellian apocalypse of machines destroying humanity.  Elsewhere we saw a woman drowning herself in petrol during an ironic rendition of Feeling Good, a lightbulb floating over the audience like a hot air ballon, and the aforementioned robot.

As entertaining as the spectacle was, it often overshadowed the music.  The three bandmates are incredibly talented instrumentalists, but frequently the crowd were distracted from their musicianship as they gasped at the wider picture.  One of the strongest moments of all was penultimate song Uprising that saw the whole audience punching the air in a revolutionary salute to the band - it's clear that no matter what direction Muse take, their fans will be loyal to the end.

Ultimately, this was Matt Bellamy's show.  Interludes featuring bassist Christopher Wolstenholme  and drummer Dominic Howard fell flat, whilst Liquid State (written and performed by Wolstenholme) lacked the star quality of Bellamy's leadership.  They frequently took a backseat to Bellamy - as he paraded through the crowd on Undisclosed Desires (inducing countless screams of "I love you!"), it was clearly him the fans came to see.

And rightly so: it's Bellamy's vision and energy that have caused Muse's rise to fame.  Watching him strut across the stage doing what he does best is spectacle enough.

4/5















Sunday, 26 May 2013

Field Day 2013 - Highlights


Each year in London's Victoria Park, for one day only, Field Day brings together a mixture of rock, electro and alt-pop artists for an incredible lineup.  This year was no different.

It's impossible to see everyone, without the aid of time travel, but here are some of the highlights...


CHVRCHES

"It seems nice" singer Lauren Mayberry timidly says to the crowd of their festival experience, before claiming "It's really fucking cold".  Bless.  You'd think the Glaswegians would be used to the cold weather.  Yet this sweary claim weirdly sums up the electro-pop trio.  The 25 year old singer might have a shy, cutesy demeanour (even confessing "I'm like a smurf"), but just like her swearing, there's a bite to her voice tinged with sadness that more than stands up to the glitchy pop beats of producers Iain Cook and Martin Doherty.  The trio might not offer much in the way of performance, but the music more than made up for it, the crowd roaring to favourites Recover and The Mother We Share.  The full album can't come soon enough.


Savages

The all-female punk band whipped through song after song from their recently released debut album in a relentless and intense set.  Frontwoman Jehnny Beth performed with violent energy, accompanied by guitars that roared and wailed with feedback.  It was the drum and bass sound that won the crowd over, however - a dense thumping that shuddered through the hoards.  Savages offer a memorable and visceral live experience - after all, it was Beth's breathless and primal screaming of Husbands that was stuck in my head at the end of the day.


Solange

In her own words, Solange's set was "one big grind session".  The meaty bass grooves and RnB beats were infectious, inducing dancing throughout the screaming crowd.  And we weren't the only ones, Solange herself breaking into choreography with her backing band and singers to great cheers from onlookers, especially with her hit Losing You that ended the set.  She owned the stage with that glittering smile she shares with her sister Beyoncé, as if the whole festival was her gig, able to belt out tunes whilst remaining the essence of cool dressed in a stylish trouser suit.  Beyoncé may currently be on her Mrs Carter World Tour, but it's clear that Solange has carved her own wildly popular niche.


Everything Everything

After an unassuming entrance to the stage, a perpetually grinning Jonathan Higgs launched the band into anthem after anthem from both their debut 'Man Alive' and recent release 'Arc'.  Seeing the band live allows for greater appreciation of their intricate math rock: the complex drum patterns, the weaving of guitar lines supplemented by keys, the rich vocal harmonies.  This was an eclectic set, the band able to rock out as well as lavish in quieter moments of beauty.  And with two albums of material, the set was substantial.  Higgs's falsetto vocals didn't always translate to the festival experience, sometimes overshadowed by the band, but nonetheless EE staked their place as a unique group of talented musicians.


Bat For Lashes

Natasha Khan brought a touch of ethereal magic to Field Day, gliding on to the stage in a puff of smoke dressed in a shimmering, bird-like rainbow cape.  Her most recent album, 'The Haunted Man', may have offered an image of a raw, naked Khan on its cover, but it's clear that her festival performances retain a sense of the fantastical.  As she danced and whirled across the stage, this was a darkly sensual performance.

When heard live, Khan's music takes on a new dimension, the heavy synths emphasising the dance elements that enchanted the crowd, especially with the likes of Daniel and A Wall.  It was the quieter songs that truly shone, however.  Laura showcased her fragile, vulnerable vocals in spellbinding fashion - for a moment the whole festival stopped except Khan and her pianist.

Khan's set was only aided by the setting sun behind the trees and the soft glow of lanterns littered across the stage, bathing the singer in bright hues.  Her lover may have stolen all her gold, but Khan was undoubtedly the golden girl of the day.


CHVRCHES


Savages




Solange




Everything Everything









Bat For Lashes

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Prides - Out Of The Blue


Scotland (or Glasgow specifically) is swiftly becoming the go-to place for electro-pop.  It's a trend that began with Hudson Mohawke, was given a new surge this year by CHVRCHES and continues with Prides.

Out Of The Blue is the band's bold, glittering debut single.  80s inspired, it combines the hooky melodies of the likes of Passion Pit or MGMT with the thrilling production of their contemporaries.  Fizzing synths, a throbbing pulse, guitar and piano lines, and hand clap beats - Out Of The Blue is huge in every sense of the word.  They may be following somewhat in the wake of CHVRCHES, but they're set to make a splash all their own.

4/5

Listen: Out Of The Blue is yet to be officially released.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Wozzeck - ENO @ The Coliseum


With many opera companies rehashing the same Mozart, Verdi and Puccini operas time after time, it’s pleasing to see ENO taking some risks.  Berg’s Wozzeck was last performed at the Coliseum over twenty years ago and in this production many of the principals are making their ENO debuts, let alone director Carrie Cracknell.  It’s hardly a crowd-pleaser, but this is an incredibly brave production.

That daring begins with Cracknell’s setting.  Transported to present day, this production is heavily influenced by post-traumatic stress disorder seen in men who fought in the Middle East.  It brings a new relevance to the piece for modern audiences, Wozzeck’s madness now a frightening and very real possibility.  Moreover, dressed in an England football shirt (and of course singing in English), the action is brought to our shores in a bleak, kitchen-sink drama of social realism.  Tom Scutt’s set design is laid out like a gritty, decaying dolls house, with Wozzeck’s visions bathed in a feverish yellow glow.  Undeniably this is a corrupt underworld, with the relationship between Wozzeck and his wife Marie frosty to say the least.  Their marriage is doomed from the start.

This change of setting does bring some problems, however, with anachronisms aplenty between the libretto and the stage action.  The libretto is filled with philosophical and religious musings that don’t quite sound right coming from the mouths of modern day characters.  Wozzeck’s madness could explain the disconnect, for example in the final death scene, yet it’s also a thinly-veiled conceit.  As a result, the audience are asked to suspend their disbelief on numerous occasions, which somewhat undermines the realism the setting strives to achieve.

Flaws aside, as a piece of expressionist music-drama, Wozzeck has undeniable power.  This is a truly organic opera where music and drama are in total unity, the orchestra and singers rising and falling together with each swell of emotion.  The melodies are far from typical lyricism, but the raw expression is as lucid as the libretto is obtuse.  To that end, the performances are excellent: from Leigh Melrose’s portrayal of the troubled title role, to Sara Jakubiak’s warm soprano as Marie, and Bryan Register’s sleazy Drum Major.  The night belongs to conductor Ed Gardiner, however, somehow keeping the orchestra, singers and drama seamlessly under control.

Wozzeck is a terrifying journey into the avant garde; a bleak, intense opera with a gut-wrenching climax.  It might not always be believable or easily comprehended, but it’s impossible not to be swept along by its overwhelming wave of emotion.

3/5

Watch: Wozzeck runs until 25th May at the Coliseum.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013) - Baz Luhrmann


One of the most remarkable aspects of Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby is its prescience. With its focus on wealth and excess, it foreshadowed the Great Depression of the 1930s – themes that resonate with today’s economic climate, idolising of narcissistic wealth and celebrity-obsessed culture. It’s perhaps due to these parallels that Luhrmann has decided now is the time for a big screen adaptation of the novel.

The Great Gatsby bares all the hallmarks of a Luhrmann film. Sweeping camera shots fly over cityscapes with dizzying effect; each frame is filled with a carnival of colour; much of the plot is narrated through monologue voiceover; and the script is filled with over the top humour.

To an extent, Luhrmann’s style is well-suited to the opulence of 1920s glamour. The sets drip with elegant art deco geometry as they lead us into the hedonistic world of the enigmatic Gatsby and his illustrious “parties”. Gatsby’s manor is as much a playground for the rich and famous as it is a playground for Luhrmann’s creativity. The film is almost sickeningly ostentatious and extravagant, even elongating its cast in that typical rendition of 1920s beauty. Yet it’s a visual wonder that’s ruined by 3D – not only is the minimal effect unnecessary, but the vibrancy of the film is utterly dulled by the dark glasses.

At first, the use of modern music for the score (from Jay-Z) is jarring but it soon settles into a groove. The use of artists like Lana Del Rey embody the retro-modernism of the film itself. Moreover, the soundtrack highlights the parallels between the two eras. We could just as easily be watching the same story set in our own times – Fitzgerald’s plot surely transcends the decades.

The film is carried by Di Caprio’s performance as Gatsby: charming and brooding in equal measure. However, he lacks chemistry with the breathless, lifeless Mulligan as Daisy. Maguire, meanwhile, is blank – merely a conduit for the audience’s emotions.

Paradoxically, Luhrmann’s visuals are the highlight but also the downfall of the film. They might be deliciously decadent, but everything is hyperbolic and cartoonish. The central love story becomes melodramatic to the point of overblown opera, the performances are hollow, and some cuts are unintentionally laughable. Ironically enough, the extravagance cheapens the film. Where the novel replicates a modernist reality, Luhrmann’s film descends into the fantastical and the ridiculous. The film mostly concerns shallow rich folk throwing lavish parties – like a glossier, extended episode of Made in Chelsea.

Yet perhaps this is the point? The film is a comment against materialism and superficiality, a slave to the idiom ‘money can’t buy you happiness’. To that end, the film loses its lustre towards the end as we hit the emotional heart. The tragic denouement leaves the audience on a downbeat note, lacking the sparkle of the opening. Most tragic of all is that Luhrmann’s latest is a sad case of style over substance, old sport.

3/5

Watch: The Great Gatsby is in cinemas now.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell - Blurred Lines


Blurred Lines has already been out for a while in the States and, on its release next week in the UK, is poised to be one of the party anthems of the summer.  The production is typical of Pharrell, who’s enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment between this and Get Lucky.  Sparse yet funky, with Prince-esque vocals from Thicke and Michael Jackson “WOOs”, the beat is fun and sexy and reflects a foray into mainstream pop territory for Thicke. 

But that’s…it.  Beat aside, there is very little to this song – musically or lyrically.  It’s at least two verses too long, whilst T.I.’s rap adds nothing.  The lyrics are the usual vacuous R&B affair concerning girls and sex – “you’re an animal…just let me liberate you”, “what rhymes with hug me?”.  Is the genre that stale there’s nothing else to sing about?

The controversial video only  heightens this sentiment, which sees the three men cavorting with half naked models (in the ‘unrated’ version at least) whilst #THICKE and #BLURREDLINES flash up on the screen in irritating fashion.  Thicke is the very definition of sleaze, eyeing up the girls and the camera whilst “Robin Thicke has a big dick" is displayed on the wall behind him.  But apparently he asked for his wife’s permission first, so that makes it ok.  Right?

2/5

Listen: Blurred Lines is released on 26th May.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

30 Seconds To Mars - Love Lust Faith + Dreams



"I like a cinematic quality to music", claims frontman Jared Leto on the album commentary to 'Love Lust Faith + Dreams'.  It's a sentiment at the heart of their fourth album, a hollow heart that's all style over substance.  From the title alone (that immediately lays out the subject matter) it's clear that they're aiming towards the grandiose, the epic - but instead we're left with the bombastic and the overblown.

Opening track Birth hits a rough start.  It's clearly meant to provide a stirring fanfare to introduce the album, but the synthesised horns are truly awful.  The introduction of strings amongst the guitars is merely a deflating attempt to do a Muse.

Thankfully, things soon pick up with current releases Conquistador and Up In The Air.  As a prog rock band, Leto and co. have always experimented with synthesised instrumentation, but they're undeniably at their best when they stick to pure rock.  Screaming vocals, hooky guitar riffs and driving bass lines meet anthemic choruses for two singles that are equally at home on the radio and live on stadium-sized stages.  That said, they present nothing we haven't heard before.

Elsewhere, this is the band's most synth heavy and mainstream offering to date, often aspiring to M83 levels of epic, such as piano ballad City of Angels or the processed beats of End Of All Days.  The album hits a dramatic peak with the mostly instrumental Pyres of Varanasi, essentially Leto's attempt to replicate Daft Punk's 'Tron' Soundtrack.  Closing track Depuis Le Debut continues the cinematic feel, beginning with a rock ballad before suddenly switching to urgent strings and droning synths, finally finishing with a musicbox rendition of Swan Lake.  It's a bizarre transition of styles.

The result is an album that feels like an overly calculated attempt at a film soundtrack; a record that lacks the soul and humanity the title might suggest, stemming predominantly from the vapid lyrical content and tiresome shouty choruses.  Most of all, this is a rock album lacking in solid rock tracks.  Leto might be a well known actor, but this latest album is proof that his film career has gone to his head to the detriment of the music.

2/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Conquistador
* Up In The Air
* City Of Angels

Listen: 'Love Lust Faith + Dreams' is available now.



Monday, 20 May 2013

John Newman - Love Me Again


Love Me Again is the debut single from John Newman, best known for his collaboration with Rudimental on their summer anthem Feel The Love.  And like that track, this is a real banger.

Just as Feel The Love was a dubstep track with a touch of soul, Love Me Again is a soul track with a touch of dubstep.  There's an infectious beat and even a breakdown in the middle eight, but the track is driven by the central piano riff tempered with horns and strings.  It's all very Rudimental meets 'Strickland Banks' era Plan B.  The video, too, has a very Brit gangster feel to it (with a twist at the end) that Ben Drew would be proud of.

It's Newman's vocal that's the real talking point though.  It's a powerful vocal, full of fire, but with a reedy tone that's something of an acquired taste.  Love Me Again is all on one dynamic level - the boy can belt, but there's no room for subtlety here.

Expect to hear this track throughout the summer, but whether his voice begins to grate across a whole album remains to be seen.

3/5

Listen: Love Me Again is released on 1st July.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Loreen - We Got The Power


Well Eurovision is over for another year.  The entries were collectively strong, there were some surprises along the way, but the winner was a deserving choice.

And in the middle of it all was Loreen, 2012's winner, performing in the interval show.  It's no coincidence that her latest single, We Got The Power, is released in the same week as the competition that made her a star across the continent.

However, this probably isn't what you'd expect from her.  There's still an element of the trancey Euphoria she's known for, but the whole thing starts with a guitar riff that adds a rockier edge.  The chorus, meanwhile, is uplifting (if a little shouty) and accompanied by military beats.  It's catchy enough and perhaps an indication as to the direction of her follow-up album (due later this year), but it's unlikely to induce the same euphoria as her debut, 'Heal'.

3/5

Listen: We Got The Power is available now.



Friday, 17 May 2013

Dizzee Rascal feat. Robbie Williams - Goin' Crazy


Well this is an unlikely collaboration.  But it's also a savvy one.

For Williams, this is an excuse to get back on Radio 1.  After Candy was snubbed by the station, resulting in Williams's recent outburst at Nick Grimshaw, what better person to collaborate with than one of the UK's biggest selling artists?  It's guaranteed exposure and a clear middle finger to his critics.

For Dizzee it's a venture deeper into pop territory with his most radio friendly track yet.  The production is typical EDM affair, miles away from his grime roots, and his vocal input is minimal: besides his rapped verses that pass by quickly enough, it's Williams who takes over with a catchy chorus.  But then, both artists have always been at their best when focusing on mainstream pop, right?

3/5

Listen: Goin' Crazy is released on 16th June.

 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories



Way back in 1997 with the release of ‘Homework’, Daft Punk brought funk to dance music.  Fast forward to 2013, four albums later, and the French duo are bringing dance music to funk; going back in time to show us the future.

Those expecting ‘Discovery' part two will be disappointed.  This is not an immediate, hook-laden pop album.  It takes time for ‘Random Access Memories’ to unfurl its intricacies.  ‘Discovery’ may be their best known album, but ‘RAM’ is their five-year-in-the-making opus.  After the hype this may not live up to expectations, but since when have Daft Punk ever played by the rules?

The duo have sought to replicate the funk-disco of the late 70s and 80s, eschewing their usual propensity for synthesisers for live instruments.  If you’re yet to watch the ‘Collaborators’ videos on the duo’s website then do so.  They reveal the ideas behind the production – an insight that belies the duo’s anonymity.  The sound is clean, smooth and simple, yet contains an immense amount of craftsmanship that oozes through the speakers. Their perfectionism is plain to see.

At the thematic heart of the album is Giorgio by Morodor, the duo's hommage to the Italian producer.  As the producer behind Donna Summer's greatest hits (and by turn, the beginnings of modern electronic pop), 'RAM' is indebted to his work.  Giorgio by Morodor is a synth heavy track that features a monologue from Morodor explaining his working methods.  It might be the third track, but this is the starting point for the album.

Yet 'RAM' is not just about recreating the past: this is the music of the past, present and future.  The production might feature largely live musicians, but it remains unmistakably Daft Punk in its structures. Fragments of Time is a prime example, treating live recordings as jerky, chopped up samples for a sound that's simultaneously retro and futuristic.

The album does get off to a slow start and many of the tracks settle in a mid-tempo.  But what the album lacks in velocity it makes up for in groove, largely owing to the guitar licks of Nile Rodgers.  As Pharrell sings, you will lose yourself to dance - from opening track Give Life Back To Music that immediately establishes the album's style, to the sexy Lose Yourself To Dance, the lengthy and episodic Touch, and, of course, lead single Get Lucky.  In fact the only disappointment is that the full version of Get Lucky lacks the flow of the radio edit.  Even the quieter moments such as Beyond and Motherboard offer well-produced moments of respite.

There are plenty of emotive moments too amongst the soulful grooves.  Within is essentially an android love song, losing none of its human emotional impact for the vocoded singing, whilst Doin' It Right soars, its rising counter-melodies weaving together in cross-rhythm.

The latter track has a hypnotic quality that, together with closing track Contact, bring things full circle as the most traditionally Daft Punk tracks of the album.  Contact's central riff is reminiscent of Aerodynamic oscillating above an insane, virtuosic drum solo.  After all the funk guitars, this is a track that lurches us into the future.

Above all, 'RAM' is a soul record.  In a pop landscape saturated with electronic music, it's ironic that it takes two robots to remind us we're human after all.

5/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* The whole thing.

Listen: 'Random Access Memories' is streaming on iTunes and released on 20th May.


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Savages - Silence Yourself


Right from the off, it’s clear that Savages more than live up to their name.  The all-female British post-punk band have already impressed at numerous festivals over the last year and they continue to do so on ‘Silence Yourself’, their debut LP.  This is the most raw, urgent and visceral record to be released so far this year, filled with guitars that roar with otherworldly power, angular vocal melodies and crashing drums, all underpinned by heavy, richly thrumming bass guitar.  Fierce, primal and almost violent, it’s easy to become swept up by the sheer force of their music.

Over the course of ‘Silence Yourself’ there’s barely any let-up.  It’s not until Waiting For A Sign that the pace drops, followed by experimental instrumental Dead Nature that’s as ominous as it is threatening.  The morbid Marshal Dear closes the album, including (of all things) a bass clarinet solo that adds a sense of Parisian artistry perhaps stemming from French frontwoman Jehnny Beth (real name Camille Berthomier).  These tracks aside, the album feels a little one-dimensional and lacks dynamic range, but as it hurtles towards its end you’ll barely notice.  

What’s most important, however, is what the band stand for: female empowerment.  The title is an ironic one, immediately negated by the opening track: “did you tell me to shut up?” questions Beth with a vengeance.  Then there’s the emphatic repetition of “she will” on She Will marking a forceful, irresistible statement.  City’s Full balks at “sissy pretty love”, its middle eight offering a rare tender moment with “I love the stretch marks on your thighs, I love the wrinkles around your eyes”.  Savages might not conform to typical notions of sexy (which is somewhat the point), but that’s not to say they shy away from sexuality.  “I took a beating tonight and that was the best I ever had”, sings Beth on Hit Me, before repeating “I’m ready, I’m ready” in submissive ecstacy, whilst her screeching of “husbands, husbands” on Husbands ambiguously straddles both fury and sexual gratification.  Beth’s vocal has a wildness to it, even in the softer, more lyrical moments, that suggests a sense of freedom based on primal urges.

As a foil to most vapid, overtly-sexualised female pop seen in the charts, Savages triumph.  The band have a point to prove and they prove it forcefully.  In that respect, they join the likes of PJ Harvey in the pantheon of empowered British female artists.

3/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Shut Up
* City's Full
* Husbands

Listen: 'Silence Yourself' is available now.



Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Gabrielle Aplin - English Rain


Synch deals are lucrative business these days, with Aplin's cover of The Power Of Love receiving huge exposure over the Christmas months sending it straight to the top of the charts.  However, it takes more than a morbid John Lewis ad (who buys gloves FOR A SNOWMAN?!) to make an album.

'English Rain' starts at an unexpected pace with frothy folk ditties Panic Cord and Keep on Walking, which feature upbeat guitar strumming and percussion that chugs along nicely.  The lyric metaphor of "panic cord" is also plausible enough, until you realise its also the emergency cord found in a disabled toilet.

Soon enough 'English Rain' settles into a familiar groove of melancholic love ballads.  It's clear that this is where Aplin excels, her light, fragile and haunting voice floating along waves of piano, strings and guitar on the likes of How Do You Feel Today, Home, Salvation and Alive.  The latter especially shows off her vocal range with a soaring chorus melody laced with folk inflections.  It's all very pretty and very nice, but it lacks fire and passion.  The sheer number of ballads and boring mid-tempo tracks lessens their emotional impact, becoming as dreary and indistinct as the album title would suggest.  Aplin's album is the sheet of drizzly rain pouring down the window whilst you're inside, in the warmth, listening to something far more exciting.

It's also all been done before, in particular with last year's debut from Birdy.  She may have sung predominantly covers, as opposed to Aplin's own material, but her song choices were more emotionally substantial, her arrangements bringing something new to the familiar.  By comparison, Aplin's songwriting can't compete.

Closing track Start of Time, finally brings something different.  The electric guitar adds a grittier edge, whilst the yearning melody and its subtle, emotive dissonances allows Aplin to stretch her lungs.  As she sings "it's like the sun came out", but unfortunately it's too little too late.

2/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Salvation
* The Power of Love
* Start of Time

Listen: 'English Rain' is available now.



Monday, 13 May 2013

Cloud Boat - Book of Hours


Acoustic songwriting and minimalist techno aren't necessarily genres you'd expect to see together, but that's exactly what UK duo Cloud Boat are attempting with their debut album 'Book of Hours'.  It goes to show how genre boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred in this day and age, with the results sounding like Bon Iver meets James Blake.

'Book of Hours' certainly haunts with spectral beauty.  Lead single Youthern is a prime example, on which singer Tom Clarke's vocals are layered with a hymnal quality, complimented by skeletal guitars, electronica and the faintest touch of percussion.  It centres on the repeated, bleak lyric "Never felt love, 'cause of the state of us", sung with a mournful fragility.

Much of 'Book of Hours' replicates that mournful feel, Drean in particular.  Drenched in melancholy with the chorus line "Death is coming, riding to town on a horse", Drean is a simple finger-picked ballad at the emotional heart of the album.  Like many of the tracks, it ebbs and flows with a subtle intensity.

However, it's also a track with no electronica.  Often, the two genres are kept separate.  Drean is juxtaposed with the dark, nightmarish instrumental Amber Road and its thundering bass surges, whilst album opener Lions On the Beach immediately instills a sense of techno garage, which is poles apart from acoustic closer Kowloon Bridge.  

Those tracks that merge the two genres are undoubtedly interesting experiments.  Wanderlust twists and distorts its guitars and vocals with glitchy beats and electronics, whilst Bastion's clattering percussion and rumbling sub-bass add weight to the lyric "until the days don't feel so heavy on my back".  The mostly instrumental Pink Grin comes in two parts, the first setting up the guitar riff around which weaves the techno heavy second half.  Vocoder interlude You Find Me, meanwhile, is pure James Blake.  Yet these tracks remain incredibly downbeat, threatening to turn 'Book of Hours' into a lengthy dirge.

Ultimately, when Clarke's voice takes the fore, the emphasis is on the songwriting rather than the collision of genres.  That the no frills beauty of Drean is the album's high point only serves to highlight that acoustic songwriting and techno are two genres that don't necessarily mesh with one another.

3/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Youthern
* Drean
* Pink Grin II

Listen: 'Book of Hours' is released on 27th May.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

!!! - Thr!!!er


There are three stages of criticism when listening to 'Thr!!!er', the fifth album from the Californian band since their debut release in 2001.

The first is that name.  !!! might look cool on paper, but how the hell do you pronounce it when chatting to your mates?  At the very least, it creates an air of mystery and intrigue around the band, but it may also have hindered any movement towards a mainstream audience.

The second is dealing with the grating vocals.  The band's overall sound is dance-funk, with frontman Nic Offer's flat vocals adding a punk edge that's at odds with the bright production.  Something of an acquired taste, the half-spoken half-sung style is certainly distinctive, but most of the time they're simply out of tune - particularly on opener Even When The Water's Cold.  The album's best tracks are those that minimise the vocals.

The third stage is final appreciation, beyond the band name and the vocals.  The band may not have strayed too far from the sound they established back in 2001, but 'Thr!!!er' is their strongest album yet.  It's crammed with funk riffs, slinky bass lines and memorable hooks, in a (sometimes confusing) concoction of funk, punk and dance.  When they get things right, the results are brilliant, whether it be on the funkier tracks (summer party anthem One Girl / One Boy; the low-fi, drum heavy Fine Fine Fine; Except Death and its falsetto vocals and instrumental outro) or on the more dance-orientated tracks (minimalist house track Slyd; the shimmering synths of Careful).  As a whole, though, the album is something of a mixed bag.

And that name?  It's pronounced Chk Chk Chk.  So there.

3/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* One Girl / One Boy
* Slyd
* Except Death

Listen: 'Thr!!!er' is available now.