Monday 31 March 2014

Rita Ora - I Will Never Let You Down

Having Calvin Harris as your boyfriend is pretty handy really.  He's got the pop Midas touch, which is exactly what you need on the lead single for your second album comeback.

Harris hasn't let Ora down.  I Will Never Let You Down follows on from the lighter electro pop style of This Is How We Do and Radioactive rather than the R&B RIP, with a fizzing earworm of a chorus that drops in typical Harris fashion.  Fans of bright, uplifting pop music will find much to enjoy here.

Is it a departure from most electronic chart pop?  No.  What it is, is an instant hit that will be playing on repeat throughout the summer.  It looks like the forthcoming album will break out of the Rihanna-mould of 'Ora' in favour of pure pop - a welcome change.


Listen: I Will Never Let You Down is officially released on May 11th.

Friday 28 March 2014

Thérèse Raquin @ The Finborough Theatre

Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin may not be the most obvious choice for musical treatment, but in Nona Shepphard’s concise adaptation the plot is stripped to its basic components allowing music to take the fore.

This is a dark and sombre chamber production, the set a claustrophobic construction of nooks and crannies from which the ensemble sing and creep in the shadows.  An intense and erotic thriller, the plot centres on the apathetic titular Thérèse living with her overbearing aunt Madame Raquin and her petulant, sickly cousin Camille who she marries.  Soon she begins a passionate affair with Camille’s friend Laurent and together they plot to murder Camille.  After the event, however, the couple are racked with guilt and haunted by visions of the dead, causing their relationship to collapse.

There are some light touches of humour, but for the most part this is a thoroughly gripping drama.  No amount of emphatic lyric repetition can enforce the necessary sense of danger between the two lovers, though there is great sexual tension between Julie Atherton’s melancholic Thérèse and Ben Lewis’ strapping, animalistc Laurent.  The second act in particular is a haunting depiction of guilt, Jeremy Legat’s Camille appearing zombie-like behind the set and Tara Hugo’s immobile Madame Raquin delighting in the tragic denouement with just a flicker of her eyes. 

It’s a bare bones plot that’s heightened immeasurably by the new score from Craig Adams.  Accompanying the ensemble solely on piano, the score is seemingly inspired by Schubert’s lied with its hypnotically repetitive arpeggios that constantly drive like the turning of a screw.  Folky, melismatic vocal lines merge into dissonant harmonies and lines overlap in great dramatic choruses.  The singing is excellent, especially from the three chorus girls singing the inner monologues of the often mute Thérèse.  That said, it is difficult for such strong voices to blend in such a small space without microphones.

In short, Thérèse Raquin is a disturbing and richly atmospheric production, with a score that is to die for.


Watch: Thérèse Raquin runs at the Finborough Theatre until 19th April.

Thursday 27 March 2014

I Can't Sing @ The London Palladium

Is I Can’t Sing just an exploitative X Factor cash-in?

You probably already know the answer to that, just as you probably already know the plot (or should I say ‘journey’?).  Penned by Harry Hill and narrated in voiceover by Peter ‘Voice of the X Factor’ Dickson, the first act introduces us to Chenice (Cynthia Erivo) and her pet dog Barlow (a puppet performed Avenue Q style by Simon Lipkin) – a potential contestant for the show with the sort of ridiculous sob story background that has become notorious in reality, involving a dead grandfather with an iron lung.  The second act takes place in the main competition, focusing on the three judges – Simon Cowell (Nigel Harman), ‘Jordy’ (Victoria Elliott) and Louis (Ashley Knight) – and their attempts to thwart Chenice’s blossoming relationship with fellow contestant Max (Alan Morrissey) for the sakes of good television.  It was never going to be West Side Story was it?

It is for all intents and purposes a pantomime, parodying not only the X Factor but musicals (there’s a Les Mis moment, of course) and wider popular culture.  The problem is that it’s too hit and miss.  There are undoubtedly some hilarious moments – most of which occur in the first half – involving numerous references to past contestants like Jedward and Wagner (but no Steve Brookstein!) and Simon's right-hand woman Sinitta.  The opening number sees a young Simon (Finlay Banks) foreshadowing his own fame.  A character called ‘Wind’ literally represents the wind in hilarious fashion.  Yet there’s also an awful glitzy number involving a Tesco Mary spoof.  There’s a rapping hunchbank accompanied by break-dancing monks.  There's an Irish number that's frighteningly green.  And there’s that giant mouth from the poster that appears for all of a minute purely so that a man in a fly suit can hump the tongue before squealing with glee “there are no small parts”.  Don’t even get me started on the utter absurdity of the twist ending.

You can’t knock the extravagance of the set, but it’s a thin veil for the shallow plot, minimal characterisation and childish dialogue that relies too heavily on cheap gags and crude humour.  There’s clearly a tonne of money behind I Can’t Sing, but with Simon Cowell himself as a producer, the show sways from satire to reverence and is never quite as biting as you’d hope.  The (gladly original) music from Steve Brown is happy to settle on pastiche and, although catchy, doesn't ‘smash it out of the park’, whilst his lyrics include dreadful lines like “I thought a quaver was a cheese-based snack”.  As Jordy notes “we’re X Factor judges, what do we know about music?”.  Or musicals for that matter.

The performances vary from impersonation to parody, each one-joke character flogged for all their worth.  Again, they’re hit and miss.  Lipkin’s Barlow is given some amusing one liners (“it’s not exactly War Horse”) and Simon Bailey’s send-up of Dermot O’Leary (Liam O’Deary) is pitch perfect down to the tiniest mannerisms - I was sat behind O’Leary’s family who were literally in tears.  Erivo offers some incredible vocals as the naïve Chenice (really a young Whitney or Beyoncé in all but character – so essentially Alexandra Burke), despite performing opposite a limp and bloodless Morrissey as Max (a.k.a Matt Cardle).  The ensemble, meanwhile, are hilarious, playing anything from appallingly bad contestants to viewers sat in onesies shovelling popcorn into their faces and even a Wagnerian opera singer (Brunhilde – Alex Young). 

It’s the judges who disappoint the most.  Knight’s bumbling old Louis consists of one joke, literally wheeled onto the stage.  Cheryl Cole is the subject of ridicule in Elliott’s Jordy: over-sexualised, self-adoring and even kissing a statue of Ashley Cole, all with a sketchy Geordie accent.  Harman’s Simon, though, is surprisingly bland despite his crooning vocals.  His is the only character that shies away from impersonation, instead playing a camp music mogul too similar to his role in Shrek: The Musical (complete with fake leg joke – twice).  That he descends godlike from the theatre rafters before tap dancing a number singing “I’m fabulous” complete with a flowering stamen erection tells you all you should know about this ode to Cowell's megalomania.

There’s no doubt that I Can’t Sing is a hilarious, entertaining, silly yet fun night at the theatre that will have you laughing and cringing in equal measure at both the funny jokes, the non-funny jokes and the sheer audacity and bombast of the production.  It’s also a show with a shelf-life – the jokes will soon be tired and dated, so see it soon whilst it lasts.


Watch: I Can’t Sing is booking until October 2014.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Shakira - Shakira

The She Wolf is back.  It’s been five years since her last English language album ‘She Wolf’ and now Shakira Shakira (Wyclef klaxon) returns with a new album entitled…’Shakira’.  By Shakira.  See what she did there.

Yet ‘Shakira’ is basically Shakira by numbers, which is disappointing seeing as that five year hiatus has resulted in no development in her music.  Yes, the self-title may be to re-establish Shakira’s career beyond her role as coach on the US series of the Voice, but there’s no surprises here.

‘Shakira’ has all the guitar licks, reggae beats and Latin spirit you would expect from Shakira.  There’s even a Spanish version of Can’t Remember To Forget You (Nunca Me Acuerdo de Olvidarte), but it’s still a bit rubbish.  Shakira has always been best at up-tempo tracks and that remains true on this album – from the stomping and bitter You Don’t Care About Me, to the seductive rock-reggae of Cut Me Deep, the soaring Spotlight (“been busy for a while laying golden eggs”?!), and later the Avril Lavigne-esque The One Thing.  Just ignore the opening track, Dare (La La La), that combines Brazilian rhythms with a generic EDM beat – all that’s missing is a Pitbull rap. 

Yet these tracks somewhat frontload ‘Shakira’, its second half relying too heavily on ballads.  Empire begins proceedings early on with its overblown grandeur, contrasting with the mostly acoustic Broken Record that’s about as interesting as Ed Sheeran (even with the lyric “I can get lost climbing on your legs that never end”).  That track starts a string of slow songs including the typically soppy country power ballad Medicine (a duet with Blake Shelton) and the trumpet-tinged 23.  The deluxe edition also includes Loca por Ti, but having Shakira sing in Spanish doesn’t make this boring ballad any more interesting. 

Most of all, there’s a distinct lack of a big single to really drive ‘Shakira’.  ‘Shakira’ might be a back to basics album, but nothing on here can rival her debut single Whenever Wherever and its breasts/mountains lyric, nor the hip shaking of Hips Don’t Lie or the howling She Wolf.  There’s not even a Waka Waka (This Time For Africa).  That one of the best songs on ‘Shakira’, the electro-fuelled Chasing Shadows, is resigned to a bonus on the deluxe version only is sheer stupidity (it was also written by, who else, Sia). 

At the end of the day, Shakira Shakira’s hips don’t lie and neither do mine.  And they’re not moving half animal, half man like they should be.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* You Don’t Care About Me
* The One Thing
* Chasing Shadows

Listen: ‘Shakira’ by Shakira is available now.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Sam Bailey - The Power Of Love




POOr Sam.


Gizzle's Choice:
* None

Listen: 'The Power Of Love' is available now.

Monday 24 March 2014

The Kooks - Down

Was a comeback from the Kooks really necessary?

Down is the Brighton band’s first release since 2011’s ‘Junk of the Heart’ that failed to provide any decent singles and should have seen the band disappear into obscurity.

Instead, they’ve returned with this new release complete with a total change of sound.  It begins with a bizarre, nonsensical vocal introduction from Luke Pritchard before plunging into a funk/hip-hop inspired mess.  Hand clap beats, a smattering of guitars, bizarre sexual lyrics, a semi-spoken vocal delivery that's forced and contrived, and an excruciatingly infuriating chorus riff seemingly inspired by Blackstreet’s classic No Diggity

Mostly this is the sound of cold-sweats and desperation, of a band who after a three year hiatus are clawing their way back into the public conscious by following rather than setting trends.  The band’s debut ‘Inside In/Inside Out’ was part of a huge British indie revival in the early 00’s; by comparison Down is a revival that nobody should have to witness.

Will anybody buy this?  Does anybody care?


Listen: Down will feature on the band’s forthcoming EP of the same name, released on 20th April.

Friday 21 March 2014

Lea Michele - Louder

Yes, ‘Louder’ is as Glee-tastic as you might expect.  It’s also far more enjoyable than you may have anticipated.

Lea Michele is of course best known as the prissy foghorn-voiced Rachel Berry from Glee, now forging herself a pop career to follow her successful work in musical theatre.  ‘Louder’ is a collection of eleven original power ballads that could easily be ripped straight from the TV show, just without the unique remixes and mash-ups.  If that fills you with dread then you’d better stop here, but you probably knew that already.

The album’s title is certainly fitting.  There’s a distinct lack of subtlety on ‘Louder’, from the overblown production to the astonishingly high volume of Michele’s vocals.  The songs are polished to such a sheen that they’re devoid of personality, the likes of the uplifting Cannonball and the dubstep inflected On My Way cut from the same cloth as Katy Perry, Demi Lovato or any other popstar you care to mention.  The title track, meanwhile features a guitar riff seemingly stolen from Taylor Swift’s Red, whilst You’re Mine literally steals the James Bond theme heard in Robbie Williams’ Millennium.  Battlefield is the only moment of quiet tenderness – and it’s a welcome one.

Most of the songs are fixated on break-ups, leading to a fairly one-sided album of downbeat tearjerkers, from the contrived (Burn With You – “I don’t wanna go to heaven if you’re going to hell”) to the soaringly epic (Cue The Rain).  It’s hard to fault Michele for that, though, when the songs are so blatantly informed by the death of her Glee co-star and boyfriend Corey Monteith. 

Yet despite its flaws, ‘Louder’ is a consistent album of decent songs.  The reason?  Sia Furler.  The Australian singer-songwriter has penned four songs in her typically bombastic style, including lead single Cannonball and final track If You Say So (co-written with Michele and most explicitly based on Monteith – “And the fallen hero haunts my thoughts, how could you leave me this way?”).  Other collaborators include the Stargate team of writers and producers, Benny Blanco, Christina Perri (writer of Empty Handed) and up and coming Swedish sensation Tove Lo (who wrote the electro-fuelled Thousand Needles).  For this team the album is pop by numbers, but for Michele it’s a gateway to pop stardom.

Listening to the album you can’t help but hear the pain of recent events.  Musically the album lacks originality and star quality, but you can’t fault Michele for belting out the lyrics in her powerful, impassioned voice.

Who said musical theatre performers couldn’t be popstars?


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Battlefield
* Thousand Needles
* Cue The Rain

Her (2013) - Spike Jonze

Scarlett Johansson seems to be making a name for herself with otherworldly roles.  In the newly-released Under The Skin she plays an alien in human form with a blank, almost robotic expression; in the Oscar-winning Her she plays an operating system in voice only yet somehow seems all the more human.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix in a much softer role than we’re used to, Her is set in a near future LA that’s clean and colourful, as if sleekly designed by Apple.  In this future our lives are controlled by a voice activated ear piece and smart phone-esque tablet, reading out emails, playing music and even chatting in Internet sex chat rooms.  Phoenix plays Theodore, a somewhat antisocial employee at a bespoke personal letter writing company and hopeless romantic, small and alone in the expansive cityscapes.  He’s also in a vulnerable position having recently split from his wife (Rooney Mara).  Urged on by an advertisement, he upgrades his ear piece to a new AI operating system, the OS1 (voiced by the seductive Johansson), that’s personalised to his tastes and evolves over time.  Less a computer and more a human voice directly in his ear, Theodore and the sentient “Samantha” strike up an unusual relationship that quickly becomes more than just a friendship.

In Samantha, Theodore finds the embodiment of womanly perfection that was missing in his marriage.  Each of the real women he meets are dysfunctional: his ex-wife and childhood sweetheart Catherine (Mara), his hyper-sexual blind date (Olivia Wilde), and his friend Amy (Amy Adams) and her failing marriage.  Yet what constitutes the perfect woman?  Is it the super-mum in the video games he plays, the attractive beauty willing to have sex on a first date, or the bodiless voice of friendship in his ear?  Samantha, too, has her hang-ups – over time she begins to question her existence and what it means to be human.

Is it dysfunction that makes us human, flaws and all?  And is there anything more dysfunctional than being in a relationship with a synthetic being?  Is his relationship with Samantha any less real because of her lack of body, any less of a meaningful relationship?  One particular scene sees the couple hiring a surrogate body in some sort of perverted threesome.  It doesn’t go well.  This is a partnership that works predominantly in the mind.  Is physical form even necessary?

Theodore has his doubts but he ultimately learns to accept the unconventional, his relationship with Samantha catharsis after his failed marriage.  Love comes in many forms, we must take the good with the bad, whether human or synthetic and however they may end.  Who would you choose to share your life with?

It may seem like a saccharine message, but it’s testament to Spike Jonze’s exceptional screenplay (for which the film won an Oscar) and the touching performances that this bizarre conceit seems so believable.  Yet is it that far gone?  In reality, Samantha is only one step on from Apple’s Siri.  Science-fiction meets tender love story could be the future of our relationships and we have this beautiful and thought-provoking film to thank.


Thursday 20 March 2014

Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) - Wes Anderson

What a cast!  Part of the fun of Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s latest, is picking out all the cameos from the considerable number of A-list actors.  Tilda Swinton made up as the soon to be deceased Madame D; Adrien Brody as the snarling Dmitri; Willem Dafoe as the pantomime villain Jopling; Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Owen Wilson…the list goes on.  The cast of characters are as colourful as the bright pastel visuals, but the film belongs to Ralph Fiennes as the eccentrically camp (yet definitely straight) M. Gustave – his most amusing role to date.

The story-within-a-story-within-a-story tells the bizarre tale of Gustave, owner of the titular hotel in the fictional Eastern European Republic of Zubrowka.  Essentially a farcical murder mystery meets art-heist, Gustave is accused of killing Madame D, leading him on a plot to escape the law alongside his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori), all set to the rather more serious backdrop of pre-WWII Europe.  As the narrative structure implies, visually the film is a storybook come to life, as if we are witnessing first-hand the novel that Jude Law’s Author is writing.

Indeed, it’s the visuals that are most striking in Anderson’s film.  The sets and costumes are incredibly decadent (like the Mendl’s pastries that form a key plot device), whilst any special effects have a cheap yet quaint feel that only adds to the cartoonish style.  The cinematography is especially notable, the framing of each shot only adding to the film's theatricality.  The mise en scène is uniform, parallel and centred, whilst camera movement is rigid, full of swooping tracking shots and zooms.  It gives the impression of an institution grappling to keep control of the comedic drama, like the hotel attempting to contain the eccentricities of Gustave.  The music, too, reflects this, juxtaposing jolly Eastern European folk tunes with classicism.

Fans of Anderson’s work will find much to enjoy here, with many familiar tropes.  Yet for all the film’s grandeur and spectacle, it’s the small touches that most amuse.  A nosy face appearing from around a corner; an expression visible only in a mirror; hilarious one-line cameos and more.  The fast-paced plot feels almost out of control, rarely pausing for breath.  What exactly it all amounts to beyond a silly journey through European opulence is unclear, but Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t fail to entertain.


Under The Skin (2014) - Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin is a study in abstract filmmaking.  Like many films before, it explores a crisis of identity when an alien arrives on earth, but its clash of earthly and otherworldly elements is stunningly mastered.

The alien in question takes the form of Scarlett Johansson, in an extraordinarily detached performance that ranges from blank and robotic to coquettish and flirtatious, with only a handful of clipped lines to offer the merest hint of human life.  Cutting a lonely figure, she cruises the streets of Glasgow in a black van like a siren, seducing men for some sort of bizarre act (many of which were secretly filmed as real life encounters, a Hollywood star as much an alien in this environment as, well, an alien).  This is far from the campy sexuality of Species however.  Early on she reveals a complete lack of morals as she blankly witnesses a family drowning in the sea; later she takes pity on a disfigured man and becomes almost obsessively curious about her own human body.  Just as she questions her humanity, the audience will question her motives – our reactions evolving from disgust to empathy.  What exactly happens to these men once she’s lured them into a black void?  And who is the mysterious motorcyclist seemingly aiding her mission?  That would be telling, but it’s almost best not to know – not only is it horrific, but much of the film’s appeal comes from deciphering its many unanswered questions.

Through Glazer’s cinematography, Glasgow is depicted as a cold and dismal modern day dystopia of rain-soaked grey streets and freezing highlands, stark realism juxtaposed with science-fiction.  The film’s pacing is ponderous, each new act teasing us with a new nugget of narrative.  It also bears some resemblance to Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives in its nightmarish qualities.  The striking visuals swing from abstract montage-esque imagery, to a neon-lit noir-ish urban hell – the tension between the extra-terrestrial and the human is wonderfully surmised in the kaleidoscopic opening that certainly owes a debt to Stanley Kubrick.  The strange sound design (when not the silence of oblivion) uses a score from Mica Levi that combines distorted electronic effects and a seductive string motif.  The total effect lulls the audience into a trance-like state, sucking you deeper into the hypnotic narrative. 

Glazer’s film is a fusion of science-fiction and body horror that’s mesmerising, disturbing and intensely erotic.  Like the encounters with Johansson’s alien, the film seduces you and leaves its strange rhythms to truly creep under the skin.


Tuesday 18 March 2014

Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time

Even at the age of 21, Sky Ferreira has had a rollercoaster career.  Signed at a young age, she’s been engaged in multiple label disputes resulting in album delays and cancellations, working with a variety of songwriters and producers, and a constant fight for her own independence.  And that’s not to mention balancing her music with a modelling career and allegations of heroin addiction.

The major change has been the development of her style.  Ignoring her early glossy pop tracks 17, One and Obsession, Ferreira’s real breakthrough came with the breezy Dev Hynes produced Everything Is Embarrassing that hinted towards an 80s-inspired dance-pop sound.  Since then, her musical style has morphed again to incorporate new wave and punk-rock – both musically and visually she’s part Blondie, part Madonna, part Gwen Stefani.  Everything Is Embarrassing is still included on ‘Night Time, My Time’, tacked on at the end as a reminder of her past.

This debut has been a long time coming for UK fans.  It was originally released in the US back in October 2013 to favourable reviews, but has only just seen the light of day in the UK following some disappointing live performances and a distinct lack of fanfare.  Ferreira deserves more.

That said, the album itself is something of a bumpy ride, though it has frequent flashes of brilliance.  At its best it’s a frank angsty record of teenage relationships and identity issues, fusing electro and rock in a scuzzy, gritty concoction that’s conflicted yet cohesive.  Heavy Metal Heart features a rapid bass drum pulse beneath its blazing guitars that skirts both dance and metal; 24 Hours has a glittering pop melody; I Blame Myself has a laidback groove that reflects its contemplative lyrics (“You think you know me so well”, she spits seemingly referencing her label struggles); I Will is an obvious ode to Blondie.

None of these tracks quite live up to lead single You’re Not The One – one of the best pop tracks from the last few months.  The melismatic vocal hook, the slinky guitars, the strutting funk bass – it’s a brilliant blend of 80s shimmer and 90s grunge and a suitable vehicle for Ferreira’s brand of laissez-faire cool, especially in the seductive video.  Pop perfection.

However, ‘Night Time, My Time’ has its lows alongside its highs: the shouty chorus of Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay); the relentless throbbing of Omanko; the constantly modulating Kristine; the lumbering title track.  At times Ferreira’s snarling vocal has an air of cool ennui, at other times it simply falls flat.

Ferreira has inescapable appeal, though - her seductive attitude, unique personality and brazen star quality – that sets her apart from so many other pop acts.  For that reason alone this album deserves success, even as the truly brilliant outweighs the bad.  After a huge uphill battle, Ferreira is finally finding her feet with an accomplished album, but there’s still room for improvement.  The best is yet to come.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* I Blame Myself
* You’re Not The One
* Everything Is Embarrassing

Listen: ‘Night Time, My Time’ is available now.

All Alone @ The Drayton Arms Theatre

Social media has been one of the great revelations of the internet age, allowing for instant communication with strangers and giving every community a voice.  It depends, however, on a certain level of trust.  Do you really know who you’re talking to?

It’s this notion of ‘trolling’ that’s at the centre of Gene David Kirk’s incredibly disturbing one-act play, All Alone.  With the rise of dating apps like Tinder and Grindr beyond the now archaic chat rooms of the past, it’s an issue that’s more pertinent than ever and fraught with ever-increasing danger.

At the front of the stage sits a teddy bear.  It’s an ironic symbol of childhood, a literal front for the debauched man who lives in the messy flat before us littered with paraphernalia: used bed sheets; pornographic images; lines of cocaine in the bathroom; a dead woman (Caitlin Thorburn) dumped on a chaise longue (a past conquest or a symbol of what’s to come?); and, most importantly, a laptop balancing on an ironing board.  It’s here that the main narrative plays out, the man (dual-cast with Nicholas Clarke and Nicholas Waters reflecting his schizophrenic, split personality) contacting a school girl via an internet chat room.  “Anybody free to chat?”, he begins, innocently enough, though his intensions are clear.  It’s a one-sided conversation, the audience left to imagine the poor girl’s replies.

The man speaks with both an adult tone and childlike mannerisms, conversing online and depicting an abusive past through monologue whilst singing twisted nursery rhymes.  He appears to be from an educated family, reflected through Kirk’s use of music: ‘On The Street Where You Live’ is given a sinister undertone in the play’s opening moments, whilst the conclusion plays out like a slow-motion opera accompanied by ‘Dido’s Lament’ from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.  The performance from Clarke and Waters (coincidentally sharing a first name) is terrifying yet deliciously realised as they switch from innocently licking an ice cream to miming fellatio in crazed sexual psychosis; boldly and politely enticing a schoolgirl to the flat, then cowering in a corner as the man relives his shocking past. 

All Alone is a daring and provocative piece of theatre that explores the darkest depravity of the human mind.  It has its moments of black comedy but will ultimately leave you feeling cold.  The play doesn’t revel in its explicit content, instead using it as a thought-provoking warning.  Kirk’s position is clear – these frightening characters aren’t even allowed the privilege of a bow.


Watch: All Alone was performed at the Drayton Arms Theatre for two nights (16th-17th March). 

Monday 17 March 2014

Sia - Chandelier

The latest track from Sia essentially sounds like it was made for Rihanna. Which is no surprise really when the Australian singer-songwriter is responsible for some of Rihanna’s biggest hits.

In fact, it’s her songwriting that Sia is most famous for – in the last year alone she’s written for such megastars as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Britney, Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue and Celine Dion.  Then there’s her previous collaborations with The Weeknd, David Guetta and Flo Rida on which she offered her unique, powerful vocals.  It’s easy to forget, therefore, that she has five solo albums under her belt (Chandelier is the first single from her forthcoming sixth album).  Sia is basically the biggest unknown megastar in pop.

And that’s a surprising statement when her music is so unashamedly epic.  The mid-tempo Chandelier is no different with its crazed vocals and complete lack of subtlety.  Lyrically it’s all a bit bizarre, using the titular lighting fixture as a metaphor for overindulging in a party lifestyle – the exact lifestyle she seems to naturally eschew.  “Party girls don't get hurt, can't feel anything” she sings in the opening line, whilst in the howling chorus she claims "I am holding on for dear life, won't look down, won't open my eyes” as if she’s genuinely panicked.  Just when you think Sia can’t sing any higher she turns it up a notch.  Alongside the towering production, it’s enough to induce vertigo.


Listen: Chandelier is released on 1st June.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Tycho - Awake

What's immediately clear from the opening bars of Tycho's new album, 'Awake', is that this is a more guitar-focussed and organic work than the glacial percussive synths of 2011's 'Dive'.  Following that album, Scott Hansen toured extensively with a full on-stage band and so Tycho grew from a one man project to the driving three-piece behind this new work.

Tycho's sound is not your typical whispy ambient or Balearic chill out.  Pulsing guitars are at the music's core, gradually layered with soft beats and heavily reverbed computerised melodies for light and open textures.  The synths are icy, but a multitude of warm melodies take the place of vocals to add a human touch, with each track expanding upon a single melodic idea.  There's an immediacy here that doesn't so much demand your attention as whisper softly in your ears.  The music may be relaxed, but it's always driving forward, never lying back.  It's this sense of push-pull that leaves the listener hanging in suspense.

Is it formulaic?  Certainly.  Yet Hansen and co. change up the soft-focused rock-electronica sound just enough across the album's eight tracks that they never lack invention.  Collectively, they create a single soundscape that pauses only momentarily between tracks, like a breath.  From the driving guitars of the title track, to the space-age synths of L, the live drums at the forefront of Apogee and the Americana twangs of Plains, each track is distinctive yet collectively reflects a single vision that, ironically enough for the album's title, is like a single beautiful dream.

'Awake' is an incredibly transportative album that takes the listener on a journey through blissful tranquility, subtle melancholy and heartfelt nostalgia.  It might not be a huge leap from Tycho's previous album, but the increased use of live instrumentation ensures this is breezy yet propulsive instrumental music with true heart and soul.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Awake
* See
* Apogee

Listen: 'Awake' is released on March 17th.

The Man Inside @ The Landor Theatre

Robert Louis Stevenson's story of Jekyll and Hyde has proved to be a rich source for adaptations, least of all the musical from Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden that premiered on Broadway in 1997.  The Man Inside, a new one act musical based on the same split personality conceit, doesn't do anything particularly wrong, but it never stands out from the shadow of the original work or the former musical adaptation.

Tony Rees and Gary Young's book strips back the plot to focus on a single love triangle between the doctor (Dave Willetts), his wife-to-be Katherine (Alexandra Fisher) and Lizzie, a prostitute and music hall performer (Jessie Lilley).  It's a slim and concise narrative that proves to be a little too simplistic, with some other characters merely alluded to and action awkwardly occurring off-stage.  There is little dialogue but an impressive number of songs, leading to a disjointed narrative thread with a final twist that feels tacked on.

The writers have taken more of a psychological approach to the Jekyll/Hyde personality, but fail to bring anything novel to the story.  Instead, there is a lack of physical transformation - it's hard to believe the other characters cannot see through the change.  Willetts offers an intense performance with a powerful and characterful vocal that morphs where the music allows, but his character never truly meets the consequences of his actions.  More so, the female characters are disappointingly shallow.  Despite some excellent singing from Fisher and a tough yet vulnerable performance from Lilley, the two characters represent their own clichéd dichotomy: that of the wife and the whore.  The relationships between the young women and the older doctor simply don't seem credible.

Rees' music provides plenty of mood, ranging from music hall to sweeping Lloyd Webber romanticism.  Full orchestration would certainly enrich the show's memorable, if repetitive, tunes, though there's nothing quite as grand as This Is The Moment.

Although the show is clearly meant as a star vehicle for Willetts, the real star is Richard Lambert's lighting design.  Striking and stylistic, it varies from warm naturalism to monochromatic spotlights and terrific use of colour, and is responsible for much of the show's gothic atmosphere.

Yet it's this sense of gothic horror that's missing from the production.  The Man Inside is certainly an enjoyable and highly professional show, but it all feels a little too polished and slick - too much Jekyll and not enough Hyde.  What's needed is an injection of raw gutsiness to make this really come alive.


Watch: The Man Inside runs at the Landor Theatre in Clapham until the 29th March.

Friday 14 March 2014

MØ - No Mythologies To Follow

There’s a huge clash of influences in the debut album from Denmark’s Karen Marie Ørsted (a.k.a MØ).  Yet far from confusion, ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ is a collection of idiosyncratic songs that form a colourful and coherent singular vision.

Ørsted began her music career as one half of punk activist duo Mor and this attitude still remains in her current work.  Directly, her lyrics touch on social commentary, discussing issues such as youth malaise and Denmark’s social benefits (hence the album title).  On Pilgrim, for instance, she sighs “Oh what a world I was born into”, whilst on Glass she longs for lost youth with the questioning chorus “Oh why does everyone have to grow old?”.  Yet on a higher level there’s an edgy rebelliousness to her sound and a disregard for convention, varying styles and genres bubbling away in a rich melting pot of creativity.

The genres in question are predominantly electro, R&B and hip-hop – but to define Ørsted’s sound would be a disservice.  Electro beats, pulsating bass lines and noodling guitars frequently collide in a weird and wonky mix that hypnotises as much as it thrills.  Pilgrim, one of her earliest releases, features a handclap beat and brass stabs, whilst later singles like Waste Of Time or Maiden lean more heavily on electronica with their dark, minimal production and Glass is characterised by suitably crystalline synths.  Then there’s XXX 88 produced by Diplo, which takes more of a dance approach but retains Ørsted’s trademark quirkiness. 

MØ certainly has a distinct sound that does become slightly repetitive.  Yet there’s no time to be bored, the album lurching from song to song (on the lengthy deluxe version especially) and changing up the sound just enough to constantly entice you.  Walk This Way stands out for its funky synth riffs and choppy vocal samples, whilst Slow Love is pure house and Don’t Wanna Dance includes an almost Motown (MØtown?) chorus.  Never Wanna Know, however, sticks out like a sore thumb for its retro soul sound, grating with the album as a whole.  Individually, though, there are simply no bad songs on ‘No Mythologies To Follow’.

Then there’s Ørsted’s vocal, so frequently compared to Lana Del Rey.  There’s certainly a laconic drawling quality to it, slinking between a sultry lower range to a haunting falsetto.  If anything, though, her punky ennui is more akin to the likes of Lorde or Sky Ferreira.

Above it all, MØ’s music is unashamedly pop.  Her recent cover of the Spice Girl’s Say You’ll Be There is evidence enough for her personal tastes and it continues in the catchy riffs and earworm melodies throughout this album.  In short, this is one of the best alternative pop albums of the year so far and another massive win for Scandinavia.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Maiden
* Walk This Way
* Glass

Listen: 'No Mythologies To Follow' is available now.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Kylie Minogue - Kiss Me Once

The issue with Kylie’s new album, ‘Kiss Me Once’, is that it’s not a bad album at all.  It’s just not a great one either.

Problems start immediately with album opener and lead single Into The Blue.  It’s a perfectly serviceable electro pop track, barely a step away from the polished pop of previous album ‘Aphrodite’.  The chorus soars, the production is glossy and it’s all well suited to Kylie’s frothy output, but it’s hardly the killer comeback many have been anticipating.  Since signing to Roc Nation, you might expect something a little more progressive, but Into The Blue is content with playing it safe.

That’s a criticism that can be levelled at the album as a whole.  ‘Kiss Me Once’ is clearly designed to re-establish Kylie as an artist for the present, but not for the future.  Kylie's never been a true innovator necessarily, but she's always been at the forefront of pop – from her ‘indie’ phase, to the gold hotpants and the ubiquitous Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.  Now she’s simply playing catch up.  The main culprit here is Sexercise: a dirty Rihanna-esque track and a cheap shock tactic that simply doesn’t suit Kylie’s ‘girl next door’ brand of sexy – she’s just too polite.  And I’m quite concerned as to what “feel the burn” could mean.

Sexercise is made worse by the subsequent Feels So Good and If Only being the album’s two outstanding tracks.  The former is a fizzing, shuffling track stolen from Tom Aspaul (originally entitled Indiana) and produced by MNEK; the latter features a thumping, impassioned earworm of a chorus.  Both are excellent examples of slightly offbeat pop, but neither is likely to bring Kylie the sort of commanding success she’s enjoyed in the past.

Elsewhere there are some decent efforts, in particular the electro-funk of Sexy Love, the dance vibes and hand-claps of Fine, and the yearning robot ballad Beautiful (the album’s only slow track).  Yet for each of these there’s a Million Miles, a Les Sex, or a Kiss Me Once – vacuous, glossy pop fluff that simply pads out the album.  That these songs are from some top writers and producers (from Sia to Pharrell) is even more surprising, considering the album's lack of a distinct hit.  It seems that Roc Nation are content with serving up a collection of inoffensive songs that will be enjoyed but soon forgotten.  Kylie is capable of so much more.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Sexy Love
* Feels So Good
* If Only

Listen: 'Kiss Me Once' is released on 17th March.

Monday 10 March 2014

Erik Hassle - Somebody's Party

As much as Swedish pop might be making waves in the UK and America, American music is hugely popular in Sweden - probably because so much is written by Swedes, Max Martin especially.  Erik Hassle is clearly hoping to follow in Martin’s footsteps by carving a career in the UK and US.  Writing Shakira and Rihanna’s (pretty dreadful) Can’t Remember To Forget You was the first step. 

Next is a focus on his own music with a new EP, ‘Somebody’s Party’ and a North American tour later this year.  Hassle’s debut album, ‘Pieces’, was released back in 2009 and was a huge success in his homeland and the rest of Scandinavia, in particular excellent lead single Hurtful.  When released in the UK, however, the album failed to make a splash.  Now, in a bid to appeal to English tastes, he’s obviously been listening to a lot of American hip-hop and R&B (The Weeknd, Drake and Frank Ocean in particular) and accordingly changed his sound from soulful electro-pop to something altogether darker, glitchier and more contemporary.  There’s even a guest appearance from US rapper Vic Mensa.

The biggest influence on Hassle’s new work has definitely been Frank Ocean.  Downbeat electro vibes, clipped beats, mournful lyrics and soulful falsetto vocals all feature heavily – What Is He Like in particular could’ve been ripped straight from Ocean’s ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’ with its conversational lyrics, yearning vocal delivery and vibrant synths.  Somebody’s Party, meanwhile, ends the album on a sombre note, Hassle’s vocal tone continuing to sound remarkably similar to Ocean’s.

Comparisons aside, Hassle is an exciting artist in his own right.  From funky opener Pathetic (produced by SOHN), through the emotive chorus of Talk About It, and the atmospheric Ready For You, ‘Somebody’s Party’ is an EP bridging the gap between current US trends for mournful R&B and icy Scandinavian cool.  You can expect to hear Hassle’s name crop up frequently as a songwriter in the near future, but he’s keeping the best songs for himself.  As long as he can maintain his own individuality, the US and UK success he’s craving should be on the cards.


Listen: ‘Somebody’s Party’ is available now.

Saturday 8 March 2014

The Boy Who Cried - Rough Haired Pointer @ The Hope Theatre

The oversized moon looming heavily over the set may give an immediate indication as to the supernatural werewolf plot of the play, but The Boy Who Cried is actually about a different kind of horror: torture, interrogation and the influential effects of grief.

This new piece, from playwright Matt Osman, is an intense thriller set solely in the home of Sylvia (Shelley Lang), a sort of crazed and wafting Morticia Addams.  Her son, Sam (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) is suspected of being a werewolf and responsible for a series of recent killings.  Soon, the family are visited by Protection Officer Thompson (Jake Curran), assisted by the amusing double act of Talbot (Loz Keyston) and Spencer (Hamish MacDougall).  Thompson is a cruel and uncompromising character who becomes increasingly flustered and maddened, determined to place the blame, seeing only what he wants to see.  Yet when we're introduced to Sam, he proves himself to be a young man of almost Shakespearean eloquence - shady but suffering from depression.

What ensues is a series of interrogations, with great chemistry between Mallory-Skinner and Curran.  As with Shelley's Frankenstein, the audience must question who is the real monster: the prisoner in his own home, or the torturer?  Who really holds the power?  And how reliable is a confession under such circumstances?

Osman's script is incredibly wordy and intellectual, which works both in favour and against the play.  Despite the dark subject matter and severe lighting, the dialogue is frequently amusing with plenty of witty wolf and dog puns and linguistic one-upmanship between the central pair in this battle of nerves.  Sam, in particular, often speaks in poetry and metaphor which certainly heightens the drama, his dialogue more lyrical than the clipped and disjointed sentences of Thompson.

However, the plot frequently gets bogged down in dense wordplay and lacks some dramatic impetus in the slow first half especially.  It could easily be trimmed: the frequent news reports, for example, simply interrupt rather than enhance the narrative.  With greater focus on the interrogation itself this could be a tight and compact piece of theatre.

Instead Osman has delivered an overlong but cleverly layered play, ably directed by Mary Franklin.  It might take a while to warm up, but the ambiguity of the plot provides plenty of food for thought.


Watch: The Boy Who Cried runs at the Hope Theatre until 29th March.

Friday 7 March 2014

Metronomy - Love Letters

“Back out on the Riviera it go so cold at night”, sings Joseph Mount on opening track The Upsetter.  It’s a cheeky reference to Metronomy’s previous, Mercury nominated, album ‘The English Riviera’.  Where that album was icy cool, ‘Love Letters’ is a far more soulful record (as you might guess from the kaleidoscopic cover art).

Surprisingly, the album bares comparison with Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’.  Both albums are looking to the past (specifically disco) but recreating it in their own style: where Daft Punk’s work is polished to a sparkling robotic sheen, Metronomy have created an album of low-fi indie Motown disco.  That’s quite a mouthful, but however you define their sound, ‘Love Letters’ ultimately sounds like Metronomy.  It’s got baroque pop melodies (on Monstrous especially), plenty of chromaticism and unexpected shifts in harmony, all performed on twanging guitars, processed beats, retro synths and Mount’s unmistakeable vocal.

Although The Upsetter sets things off to a slow, downbeat note, the band are at their best when doing moody.  I’m Aquarius is a major highlight, with its slinky melodies, murky organ and cooing “shoop-doop-doop-aah’s” that somehow sound sexy and menacing all at once.  At the album’s centre, meanwhile, is Boy Racers – an instrumental and predominantly electronic track that sounds like the band taking on Kraftwerk with its bubbling bass and odd sound effects.  That bubbling bass segues into the gradually blossoming Call Me and, later, the pulsating Reservoir.

Love Letters is at the thematic heart of the album, though.  It’s a thumping track full of soulful harmonies, disco beats, noodling guitars and a psychedelic middle eight, epitomising the band’s disco and Motown influences.  It also sounds suitably grainy and authentic (Mount even used vintage drums machines and synths), the musical equivalent of a sepia-tinged filter.

Too often, though, ‘Love Letters’ simply meanders.  Beats feel sluggish and thrilling hooks are scarce: The Most Immaculate Haircut might be a sweet love song but it moves at the speed of hair growth, whilst Month of Sundays is missing the heart and soul of Love Letters that precedes it.  Whilst the title track comes close, what’s really lacking is a big glossy hit, something the band threatened to write with The Bay on ‘The English Riviera’. 

Never Wanted eventually ends the album on a sombre note rather than a high, which somewhat sums up the album.  Where the band could’ve been bolder and taken more risks, they’ve chosen to be restrained.  ‘Love Letters’ is an interesting, retro antithesis to their previous work, but it’s not quite their best.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* I’m Aquarius
* Love Letters
* Boy Racers

Listen: ‘Love Letters’ is released on the 10th March.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Once @ The Phoenix Theatre, London

I wept.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I confess that tears were definitely shed.  And coming from someone who has never once (see what I did there) shed a single tear in a theatre, this is praise indeed.

What’s so refreshing about Once is its sense of truth and complete honesty – like the film it’s based on.  Far from the razzle dazzle jazz hands of so many musicals, Once tells a touchingly human and believable story of unrequited love through onstage musicians and diegetic music.  Set in a bar in Ireland, the set never changes, the props are minimal and the lighting is subtle and naturalistic.  The show is extraordinary for its ordinariness.

The show begins as soon as you enter the theatre.  The set is literally an onstage bar where the audience can order drinks and watch the cast perform Irish folk songs, immediately instilling a sense of intimacy.  As we take our seats, the lights gradually dim and we segue seamlessly into the main show.  The artifice of the theatre is stripped away; here authenticity is key.

This extends to the performances.  Everything is underplayed with a lightness of touch rarely seen in musical theatre.  For a relatively downbeat show, there remains a great amount of comedy in the dialogue and plenty of sarcasm in the delivery.  The actors are less performing as characters and more real people, as if we are watching events unfold in our local pub.  As an ensemble, the cast are immensely talented, singing and playing their instruments onstage with admirable skill.  The a capella reprise of Gold in the second act, however, features sublime harmony in a true moment of magic. 

Zrinka Cvitešić gives a stunning performance as the plucky Czech ‘girl’, totally committed to the emotion of the role.  Her rendition of The Hill is completely heart-wrenching, tears visibly running down her cheeks.  As her counterpart, the ‘guy’, Declan Bennett is simply outstanding.  This is a performer who truly sings from the heart and soul, whether through soft falsetto, gorgeous lyricism or a hot-blooded gutsy tenor.  He is lost in the music, performing as if nobody is watching, wrapped up in raw emotion.  The audience will be too.

Once is light on plot, its ‘girl meets boy’ story perhaps even clichéd.  Yet the emphasis is on the believable performances and the beautiful music from Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, turning fantasy into reality.  Musically this is the stripped back, acoustic session of musicals - if Damien Rice were to write a show it would sound like this.  Heartfelt songwriting, yearning melodies, folksy guitars and virtuosic fiddle playing all play a key role in slowly drawing the audience in to the plot.  The only fault is that such intimacy is easily interrupted by the rumbling of a tube train beneath the theatre, or a fidgeting audience member.  For the most part, though, you could hear a pin drop – not something you’d find in most brash musical productions.

By the end, the opening notes alone of Falling Slowly were enough to set me off.  I think I’ve found my kryptonite.


Watch: Once is booking until July 2015.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Bukowski's Cass - Opera Viscera @ Vault Festival 2014

Theatre is often at its best when it’s thought-provoking, asking the audience to question their own morals and beliefs.  Yet the rather baffling Bukowski’s Cass from Opera Viscera leaves the audience with far more questions than answers.

Contrary to the company name, Bukowski’s Cass isn’t an opera.  Instead it’s a multi-disciplinary work that combines elements of traditional theatre, dance, music and song into a single piece of storytelling, based on the writer’s “most elusive character” and her tumultuous sexual relationship with a man known as ‘the Beast’.  It's a hugely ambitious undertaking, but the disparate elements don’t combine into a cohesive whole. 

The plot is predominantly told through voiceover, but the actual character of this narration is never made explicit.  As a female voice it appears to be a separate character, but the words themselves are taken directly from Bukowski’s writing from the point of view of the Beast as an internal monologue.  The voiceover (in an American accent) lends the piece a noir feel, yet the accompanying music is mostly Latin (excellently performed by the two instrumentalists and two female singers), the actors speak in English accents, and the ‘Bargirl’ appears to be Russian.  It’s a confusing mix that never really cements a sense of location.

Bukowski’s short story has a relatively simple plot, here made overly complex with a production littered with symbolism in its use of props, dance, music and projection.  At the least, the actors commit wholeheartedly to their roles: Kitty Dalton’s Cass a dirty Carmen-esque seductress, James Fowler’s Beast her hapless victim.  Together their erotic tension is palpable, even if much of their dance involves tumbling on the floor.  It’s clear that director Lia Ikkos has attempted to imbue this production with layers of meaning, but sadly much of the visual poetry is lost on the audience - set in the round, their collective confusion is all too visible. 

This is ultimately an experimental, if bizarre, new work that blurs traditional theatrical lines into a muddled kitchen sink of ideas that lacks a clear sense of storytelling.  The vodka shots handed to the audience at the start are a welcome addition, but whether they’re to heighten our poetic senses or placate us is unclear.


Watch: Bukowski’s Cass is performed as part of the Vault Festival until March 8th.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Pharrell Williams - GIRL

We live in a world where the next big thing rapidly becomes yesterday’s news.  In his days with The Neptunes and N.E.R.D, Pharrell’s funk hip-hop music was incredibly cool and forward-thinking.  Last year his funk soul style reached the peak of fashion.  Now, after the success of Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke, this new album just feels dated.

The major question with ‘GIRL’ is, after being partly responsible for two of last year’s biggest hits (Blurred Lines and Get Lucky), how is his solo album so damn forgettable?  There’s nothing as catchy as those two tracks, or even the likes of Frontin’, or pretty much any of his work with N.E.R.D.  The only track that truly stands out is Happy, and that’s predominantly due to its ubiquity following its use in Despicable Me 2 – it is literally and annoyingly inescapable on mainstream radio.  The rest of the album is distinctly lacking in hit songs, the overall tone so forcefully cool and laidback that Pharrell practically falls backwards on his ass. 

The main issue with his production style is that each song is constructed from a single short phrase or riff that is then endlessly repeated for the remains of the track, boredom setting in quickly.  It’s as if Pharrell came up with a good idea but then didn’t know what to do with it, or how to develop it in any way.  It was the same with Blurred Lines (and that controversial Otis Redding “inspired” bass line) and it’s the same on much of ‘GIRL’.  Hunter, for example, is essentially Blurred Lines part two with its four note introduction (“everybody get up!”) and same two bar guitar riff repeated ad infinitum.  Brand New, featuring Justin Timberlake, does at least include a chorus…it’s just a shame it sounds exactly the same as the verses. 

Judging by the title, it’s not hard to guess what the subject matter of the album is.  There’s no blurred lines here, though at least on Gush he’s polite about it - “I could be the guy to treat you…but I don’t wanna mislead you, tonight I think I wanna be dirty, girl” – though that’s after he’s claims he can “make the p*ssy just gush”.  For the most part, though, Pharrell has shied away from controversy.  You certainly won’t find anything like N.E.R.D’s Lapdance here, just another example of how bland he’s become.

At the very least, Marilyn Monroe does offer an intoxicating bassline – no wonder it’s lined up as the next single.  Not even another collaboration with Daft Punk on Gust Of Wind can save things with its dizzying strings and robotic vocals; instead it just sounds like an offcut from ‘Random Access Memories’.

It’s only fair to say, Pharrell you’ve lost your touch.


Gizzle’s Choice
* Marilyn Monroe
* Brand New
* Gust Of Wind

Listen: ‘GIRL’ is available now.

Monday 3 March 2014

New Pop Roundup

We may currently be stuck in a perpetual battle for the top of the charts between Pharrell’s ubiquitous Happy and Clean Bandit’s hook-laden Rather Be, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of new music to wrap your ears around.  Here are eight new tracks totally worthy of your attention…

First a quick Scandi-pop roundup…

Tove Lo – Not On Drugs

“Baby listen please, I’m not on drugs”, Tove Lo protests on her latest single.  That doesn’t make it any less addictive.

Lo is probably the best new pop thing to come out of Sweden so far this year.  And if that isn’t praise enough, then have a listen to the hooky melodies, the chorus beat drop and the yearning vocals that match the pleading lyrics.  Not On Drugs follows the equally brilliant Habits and Out Of Mind, all of which feature on her ‘Truth Serum’ EP released today.  It’s an appropriately titled collection of honest love songs that also includes the buoyant Paradise and the aching Over, each track subverting the usual polished synth-pop with a raw, confessional tone. 

Tove Lo, you’re high enough for me.


Listen: ‘Truth Serum’ is available now.

iamamiwhoami -  Hunting For Pearls

Jonna Lee is a true artist.  Each of her tracks, under the pseudonym iamamiwhoami, have been accompanied by a spectacular visual feast and Hunting For Pearls is no different.  The video sees Lee dressed all in white like a modern-day, ethereal ice queen escaping some black humanoid creatures, set to a twilit, icy oceanic backdrop.  It perfectly suits the glacial quality, crystalline synths and dreamlike production over which Lee’s effervescent vocals flicker.  The overall vision is uniquely Swedish, the end results are fantastic.


Listen: Hunting For Pearls is available now, with a full album due later this year.

Lykke Li – I Never Learn

Another Swedish artist making a comeback this year is Lykke Li.  Best known for I Follow Rivers from her 2011 album ‘Wounded Rhymes’, she returns this year with her next album ‘I Never Learn’ from which this track takes its title.  What’s been released so far is more a preview of what to expect rather than a full blown single, but judging by the celestial vocal harmonies, gently strummed acoustic guitars, lush orchestration and lyrics depicting “fallen stars” and “phantom lovers”, this new material should be as magical as ever.  Swedish music isn’t just about big synths you know.

Listen: ‘I Never Learn’ will be released on May 6th.

DNKL - Battles

That said, DNKL (pron. ‘dunkel’) are all about the big synths.  Like last year’s Hunt, Battles is a widescreen, cinematic slice of Swedish electro-noir, all whirring synths, downbeat drums and dark melancholy hanging thickly in the air.  Imagine a more introspective M83 drenched in minor keys and it should give you an idea.


Listen: Battles is available as a free download on the band's SoundCloud page.

And now on to some less Nordic music…

M83 – I Need You

Speaking of M83, the French band seem to have carved themselves a new career in film soundtracks.  The dramatic and lofty I Need You is taken from forthcoming sci-fi thriller ‘Divergent’, following in the footsteps of Oblivion from that other sci-fi film of the same name.  As you’d expect from the band, the production is hugely cinematic, with dense textures building to an almighty crescendo and, you guessed it, a signature saxophone solo.  Whilst undoubtedly film-appropriate, their movie soundtracks don’t quite push the boundaries of their sound as much as their albums have.  Here’s hoping a follow up to ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ is on the way.


Listen: I Need You features on the ‘Divergent’ soundtrack, out March 11th.

MNEK – Don’t Call This Love

London newcomer MNEK is so far more familiar as the writer and producer of some massive hits from the last couple of years, from The Saturdays All Fired Up, to X Factor alumni Little Mix and Misha B, current dance masters like Rudimental, Duke Dumont and Gorgon City, as well as Tom Aspaul’s Indiana – now Feels So Good on Kylie’s next album.  That’s quite a list of credits for someone who is still only nineteen.

Yet Don’t Call This Love is a far more soulful jam than his mostly electronic production work.  It works beautifully as a stripped back affair, with a warm organ backdrop, finger click beat and silky vocals.  “Call it the feeling you can’t explain, call it the thing that drives you insane but don’t call this love”, he pleads in the chorus in a rich tone filled with licks and riffs that don’t obscure the maturity of the lyrics – something Jessie J could only dream of.  It’s clear from this accomplished love song and vocal performance that MNEK is a strong talent in his own right.


Listen: Don’t Call This Love will feature on his forthcoming debut album, released later this year.

Paolo Nutini – Iron Sky

It’s been five years since Nutini released any new music, but judging by his new material, he’s taking himself far more seriously these days.  The first track from the new album, Scream (Funk My Life Up)sees the singer letting loose on a funky jam, but on Iron Sky he lets loose emotionally.  His rasping vocals roar over mournful guitars and sombre production, with brass retaining the funk sound from his previous work.  ‘Sunny Side Up’ may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but new album ‘Caustic Love’ is shaping up to be his best album to date – clearly those five years haven’t been wasted.


Listen: ‘Caustic Love’ is due on 14th April.

Shakira – Empire

The Columbian singer’s big return with Can’t Remember To Forget You in collaboration with Rihanna has hardly set the charts alight.  Empire sees the singer going it alone in more familiar territory – a big belting power ballad.  It sounds like it should be on a film soundtrack, though too often her unique voice is distorted through a loudspeaker in a clichéd attempt to create a sense of epic scale against the soaring guitars and piano.  Shakira hasn’t had a hit in the English speaking world with a ballad since the soppy Underneath Your Clothes and Empire is unlikely to change that – bring back the latin dancing and quirky charm!


Listen: Empire features on new album ‘Shakira’ released on March 24th.