Friday, 30 January 2015

Jessie Ware @ O2 Brixton Academy

Jessie Ware

Jessie Ware slinks on to the stage. She’s dressed smartly in a black shirt, wind softly rustling its cape, hair immaculately pulled back. She smoulders, purring her way through opening number Running, enveloped in the music.

A couple of songs later she finally addresses the audience. “Bloody hell”, she quips with enthusiasm over the roaring reaction, “I don’t know what’s gonna come out as I’m so excited”. Later she confesses “I was more chilled on our wedding day than today”.

This is the contradiction of Jessie Ware and the reason she’s such a loveable popstar. On the one hand, here is a sultry performer whose soul infused electronic pop bristles with sexual energy. On the other, she’s the same old Jessie from the block who used to live down the road: humble, grounded, everybody’s best friend.

As a popstar, she continues to grow in confidence. The monochrome backdrop proved that simplicity is best – the performance may not have offered any surprises in terms of visuals or setlist, but there were no extraneous factors to detract from the music. Tracks from her ultra-polished second album rubbed shoulders with her more experimental debut; the sombre Tough Love and bubbling Champagne Kisses show off her haunting higher register, whilst the likes of 110% and Sweet Talk still sound fresh years later. Half way through, the less known The Way We Are shuffled into lounge territory and No To Love – minus the male rap – became an extended jam, but the pace soon picked up with a string of emotional hits.

It’s the big ballads that she excels at, made more potent by the attendance of her family. You & I (Forever) and Taking In Water are heart-wrenching enough, but with her husband and brother present Ware delivered an especially impassioned vocal. Say You Love Me provided a stirring finale, but Wildest Moments remains her most powerful and relatable song. She left everything on the stage, emotionally spent – and the audience were too.

As a homecoming gig, this emotion was only heightened. Ware’s banter with the audience was often diminished to a muttered “thank you”, visibly overwhelmed by the reaction. Playing Brixton was a “dream come true” and she certainly rose to the occasion. Stood on stage soaking up the applause from her devoted fans, this local girl was every bit the superstar.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

Charli XCX - Sucker

Charli XCX Sucker

Take a look at the videos for Charli XCX’s recent singles. There’s a common theme: from the Clueless-inspired Fancy with Iggy Azalea, to the after school fun of Break The Rules, the high school jock-destruction of Breaking Up, and even Boom Clap soundtracking the biggest teen movie of recent years The Fault In Our Stars. Even the video for new single Doing It with Rita Ora has all the vibrancy of a high school Thelma and Louise.

‘Sucker’ is the sound of teen drama and Charli (real name Charlotte Aitchison) is the coolest chick in school. And with the release of this second album, she’s the coolest chick in pop.

“You said you wanna bang, well fuck you sucker” she spits at the very start of the album. From there she chants an anthem to rebellious youth (Break The Rules), plays the foreign student (London Queen), breaks up with her loser boyfriend (Breaking Up), and dreams of a rockstar lifestyle (Gold Coins). And that’s just in the first five tracks. Later she belittles her partner’s sexual prowess on Body Of My Own and revels in her outrageous behaviour on Famous. It’s not all attitude though: Boom Clap is an ode to the rush of teenage love, whilst on Caught In The Middle she laments the difficulties of a secret relationship. Regina George is so basic by comparison.

Mostly, this is the sound of rebellion and that stems from Aitchison’s embracing of pop-punk. The album is full of the shouty choruses and punk attitude that have become a staple of her music ever since the success of I Love It with Icona Pop. Drums boom and clap, guitars thrum and jangle, and the vocals are less sung and more chanted with a reckless smile. She is youth personified, rebelling against the glut of EDM with a foot firmly in the past. There’s even a nod to Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll in the punchy chords of Hanging Around.

Fans of her older material may miss the gothic electro of the criminally underrated ‘True Romance’ (I for one am a sucker for a synth), but this is an altogether more refined and consistent record. And that’s not to say ‘Sucker’ is devoid of electronic modernism; in fact, tracks like Boom Clap, Doing It and Die Tonight are amongst the album’s best.

If ‘Sucker’ proves anything though, it’s that Aitchison sure as hell knows her way around a pop song. Each track hovers around the three minute mark, doesn’t outstay its welcome and is crammed to bursting point with hooks. “BOOM BOOM BOOM CLAP” is just one example of a song that grabs you within seconds and refuses to let go. For all her punk aesthetics and flirtations with edginess, Aitchison is a popstar through and through. Avril Lavigne wishes she had this rockstar attitude; Sky Ferriera couldn’t hope to write hooks like these. Charli XCX is the undisputed prom queen, though you get the impression she wouldn’t be seen dead there. She’s far too cool for that.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Boom Clap
* Doing It
* Caught In The Middle

Listen: ‘Sucker’ is released on 16th February.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Beyond Clueless (2015) - Charlie Lyne

Beyond Clueless

Teen films surely represent some of the best and worst of cinema. It’s a genre that’s brought us the emotional release of freedom at the end of detention, youthful empowerment through witchcraft, and taught us to always wear pink on Wednesdays. Then there’s masturbating with an apple pie.

Charlie Lyne’s debut film, Beyond Clueless, brings together countless American teen films from the 90s and 00s (spanning predominantly his own adolescence). Defined as a “visual essay”, it’s an exploration of the genre that displays undeniable devotion, knowledge and affection. Glossy, colourful film clips are sewn together into a continuous mesmeric tapestry of teen drama, accompanied by an original soundtrack from UK band Summer Camp and a monotonous narration from Fairuza Balk.

Lyne defines the narrative structure of these films through five chapters, including the establishing of cliques, the loss of innocence and moving on to adulthood. The overall narrative is that of the loss and reclaiming of individuality: first teens must adhere to a strict social structure before embracing difference as they reach maturity. It’s a confusing and contradictory world, full of young love, sex, heartbreak and rebellion. It’s also amazing to see how many films fit neatly into this formula, even if some of the films edge into obscure territory.

Yet the film’s main agenda is simply establishing a canon within this formula. It reflects, but doesn’t really examine, the limitations of the genre, such as issues of representation in terms of race, gender and sexuality, and whether the films are a true mirror of reality or a heightened fantasy. Some examples are successfully analysed in depth (for instance Jeepers Creepers as homosexual anxiety), but across the film Lyne works in broad brushstrokes that establish thematic parallels and highlight the formula without truly exploring it. As a result, it essentially amounts to an extended montage of iconic imagery, often presented with little commentary that leaves the audience to revel in apparent profundity.

That said, like the teens in the film clips used, Lyne adheres to his own strict code but does so with flare and individuality. The seamless editing of clips with near constant music creates a distinct film world, lulling us gently into its hypnotic rhythms. This may supress the joy and euphoria expressed in much teen cinema, but it’s also a comforting gaze back at youth. It’s all too easy to lose yourself as Summer Camp’s electronic music throbs and soars, establishing the film's overall mood.

As a pure nostalgia trip, then, Beyond Clueless is an exhilarating watch. Observing closely a specific timeframe, older or younger viewers may feel left out. But for viewers of a certain age, it inspires nostalgia not only for the films themselves but for our own adolescence.

Now excuse me, I’m off to chastise myself for not wearing pink today.


Watch: Beyond Clueless has limited release across the country.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Rae Morris - Unguarded

Rae Morris Unguarded

Sometimes BBC Sound Of nominees actually live up to the high expectations thrust upon them. Sometimes they flounder under the hype. And sometimes they’re Jessie J.

It’s amusing, then, that Rae Morris found her way onto this year’s longlist but was snubbed of the top five in favour of the terrible rhymes of George The Poet, a grime artist arriving a decade too late (Stormzy), and boredom personified (James Bay). Yet with her far more exciting debut ‘Unguarded’ – a collection of beautiful, heartbreaking songs – Morris has the last laugh.

That she comes from a folky, singer-songwriter background is clearly apparent throughout her music. Having learnt the piano as a youngster, she was later mentored by Karima Francis and has toured more recently with the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, Lianne La Havas, Noah and the Whale and Tom Odell. That folksy quality comes through in her propensity for piano playing, lightly lilting melodies and delicate air. On Don’t Go her fragile vocal pleads over simple piano, whilst penultimate track This Time is a hushed and intimate piece of chamber balladry. Both are emotionally raw but performed with pleasantly subtle restraint.

However, ‘Unguarded’ is so much more than simple singer-songwriter material. Her ability to twist and bend her sound towards different genres is what keeps the album exciting, making this alt-pop album both accessible and intriguing. The throbbing bass, haunting vocal hooks and twinkling harp of Under The Shadows bring to mind the expansive pop sound of Florence and the Machine; Closer features a driving R&B beat; Love Again develops a piano pattern into a euphoric track that’s ripe for remixing. Later on Do You Even Know it’s the electronics that take the fore, with a skittering beat and synth bass accompanied by childlike glockenspiel and layered vocals.

It’s her heartfelt songwriting, though, that remains at the core of the album, sung with a breeziness that ensures the emotion isn’t overwrought: from the intimacy of Don’t Go, to the yearning spiritual heights of Morne Fortuné, and the sumptuous closing power ballad Not Knowing that Annie Lennox would probably be proud of. The result is a remarkable debut with a unique and experimental sound that marks her alongside the likes of Bat for Lashes and Tori Amos, rather than the soppy folksy rubbish she’s had the (mis)fortune of supporting on tour. It might just catch you off-guard in a fit of weeping.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Love Again
* Morne Fortuné
* Not Knowing

Listen: ‘Unguarded’ is available now.

Love Is Strange (2015) - Ira Sachs

Love Is Strange

Homosexuality in cinema too often falls into one of two categories: a problem that forces people to hide in the closet, or a comedy act. What’s needed in the battle for equality are more positive representations. Slowly, this is changing and Love Is Strange is the latest film to alter perceptions.

The focus is an older gay couple in New York City, played by Alfred Molina and John Lithgow. What’s so refreshing about the film is that homosexuality is grounded, relaxed and normal. The film opens with a wedding, introducing us to their extensive and loving family. Every generation is accepting, though that’s not to say prejudice isn’t an issue. George (Molina) loses his job as a music teacher at the local Catholic school – unable to pay the bills, the couple are forced from their home. It’s clear that his marriage and sexuality, rather than his age or teaching ability, are seen as the problem. Later, though, when visiting a housing officer George meekly notes “we’re married” and she barely bats an eyelid. Love Is Strange offers a mostly positive depiction of gay life, which may seem idealistic, but for once this is a gay couple without a chip on their shoulder, placing emphasis instead on their domestic situation.

Now homeless, George and Ben must live separately with their respective families, the film exploring the impact on their nearest and dearest. There is great chemistry between Molina and Lithgow with the camerawork of Ira Sachs lingering on each fleeting moment, so the narrative falters by forcing them apart for much of the film. Together, they provide the film with its strongest imagery. One scene sees George arriving at Ben’s flat having crossed Manhattan in the rain; as he erupts in floods of tears at their separation, it’s a genuinely touching moment.

The rest of the film focuses on the tension between family members. Ben doesn’t want to impose on his family, but unwittingly upsets the already tense relationships between his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), Elliot's wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), and their troubled son Joey (Charlie Tahan). Paralleling this, George lives with former neighbours – a younger gay couple constantly hosting parties, only highlighting the age gap. The film is a delicate depiction of urban living: warm, soft focus mise en scene undermined by underlying issues of privacy and awkwardness.

The problem is that the peripheral characters succumb to cliché, despite great performances. Kate struggles to writer her novel with Ben’s constant disruptions; Elliot is forever out working; the misunderstood Joey is estranged from his parents, spending more and more time with his (seemingly) influential friend Vlad (Eric Tabach). The script draws Ben and George with plenty of cliché too (an older gay couple interested in art and classical music – who would’ve thought?), but Molina and Lithgow’s sensitive performances transcend such triteness. And in the film’s final, devastating moments, it’s Joey who provides an emotional release in a scene stealing turn from Tahan.

The plot is a little slow-paced, but ultimately Love Is Strange is a tender and heart-warming family drama, with a rare instance of a credible gay couple at its core. It’s a step in the right direction for queer cinema.


Watch: Love Is Strange is released on 6th February.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Indiana - No Romeo

Indiana No Romeo

Opening track Never Born starts off slowly enough. Over a simple beat, vocal harmonies are gradually layered, a menacing bass kicks in, electronics whizz. And the first lyric? "You ripped the heart of me, heart of me, open". It's quite the statement and wholly indicative of what's to come: nightmarish electro pop exploring dark themes. As a guitar solo soars, the vocals chant "I will rise up" repeatedly. Yet 'No Romeo' never rises out of its ominous mood and this is the closest we get to a hook. Where are the choruses?

Indiana's record label may be wondering the same thing. After the surprise success of her debut Solo Dancing last year, its follow up Heart On Fire failed to hit the same heights and the album has since been pushed back repeatedly. Have they lost faith in the darkness?

As the title track suggests ("I don't need no Romeo"), this is a record with female empowerment bubbling beneath the surface, given a new edge by Indiana's aesthetic of chilling restraint. Solo Dancing could be seen as an empowering disco track, but the innuendo filled video - that sees her literally flicking a bean - suggests otherwise. Play Dead is equally full of sexual connotations (perhaps avoiding a predatory lover) and New Heart features the sinister lyric "I want to burn you a new heart". Indiana is a woman you don't want to mess with.

The closest comparison is probably Banks. Both artists relish the darkness, singing with a haunting vulnerability, but where Banks is all smooth sensuality, Indiana deals in pulsating electronic minimalism that's altogether harder, more aggressive. Many of the tracks consist of little more than throbbing bass, simple beats and the odd synth or melodic flourish, expanding in tracks like Shadow Flash or the soaring Only The Lonely. The stark production is coarse compared to most polished electronica and at times is just too minimal to make an impact, rarely deviating in sound across the thirteen tracks.

'No Romeo' certainly stands apart from most current pop music, but whilst Indiana's brooding moodiness is easy to fall for, perhaps her devotion to darkness just hasn't clicked with the public. More, though, it's the album's overall lack of hooks that prevents her from truly rising up to greatness.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Never Born
* Solo Dancing
* Only The Lonely

Listen: 'No Romeo' is released on February 2nd.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Thriller Live @ The Lyric Theatre

Thriller Live The Lyric Theatre

I’ll admit, I went into Thriller Live with trepidation and low expectations. The show arrived on the West End in the wake of Michael Jackson’s death and a whole host of other jukebox musicals, a movement that has since been ridiculed. Yet with the show now celebrating its 6th anniversary (becoming the 20th longest running show in the West End), surely it must have some merit to have lasted so long? And will MJ fans appreciate it more or less compared to the average theatre goer?

Thriller Live is better than other jukebox musicals in that it’s not really a musical. This isn’t a biopic of his life (though the song order does follow a loose timeline of his career), nor does it shoehorn his music into a dire, clunky narrative. Instead the show has the feel of a pop concert, with five lead performers singing his songs backed by dancers and the audience encouraged to sing and dance along. This is far from a high-brow musical filled with Sondheim-loving geeks sat in silent appreciation (something I’ll gladly admit to myself – I’ll be damned if somebody opens their mouth if sat near me), but it’s an evening of pure fun.

Of course, song choice is of paramount importance here. There have been some changes over the years – swapping the saccharine Heal The World in favour of the sublime Earth Song was an excellent decision – and the setlist doesn’t stick solely to the biggest hits, thankfully including Dirty Diana (the superior femme fatale song to Billie Jean) and the hugely powerful They Don’t Care About Us. There’s also some re-arrangements – a copy of The Way You Make Me Feel from This Is It, and Dangerous from his 1995 MTV Awards performance. That said, by following his career, the show gets off to a slow start with his early days in the Jackson 5, his best material (from ‘Thriller’ onwards) crammed into the second half. This isn’t helped by the performers taking some time to settle into the show. As such, ‘Bad’ and ‘Dangerous’ are sadly under-represented and other favourites are missing including Human Nature (despite being listed in the programme).

With the emphasis on the music, it’s a shame that visually the show is a little staid. The use of screens and lighting add some pizazz, but set-pieces are few and far between. The images of real life heroes during Man In The Mirror also feels hackneyed. Mostly, though, it’s the dancing that disappoints. For starters, original choreography isn’t always used – why the change? Further, many of the dancers looked like they were merely marking the moves, barely cracked a smile and often weren’t totally in sync with each other. Michael’s dancing was all about energy, sharpness and intensity – all of which were missing during this performance. Watch the dance auditions on This Is it to see how it should be done.

It’s left to the singers to pick up the slack and the results are a little mixed. Ramon Mariqueo Smith is exceptional as the young Michael; understudy Michael Kavuma lacks stage presence; and whilst John Moabi has a beautifully soft falsetto tone, too often his performances slip into sound-alike karaoke. Jesse Smith (narrowly upstaged by his own lengthy hair) brings a raw rock intensity to the show and his rendition of She’s Out Of My Life is genuinely touching. The performances suffer from imitation, however, which is why Cleopatra Higgins is the undisputed star of the evening. Her vocal ticks may mimic Michael’s, but her voice is simply outstanding. Moreover having a female singer avoids a copycat performance, adding a new dimension to the songs.

Then there’s David Jordan, who sadly represents everything the show shouldn’t be. Nobody but Michael Jackson can be Michael Jackson – Jordan just comes off as a poor impersonator. He may have the moves, but he lacks the attitude and the energy. By comparison to the real thing, he’s just going through the motions. His delivery of the aforementioned MTV ‘Dangerous’ performance pales next to the original. The show is undeniably best when it’s able to put a new spin on the familiar, but mostly it's lacking the spirit of Michael. Where he was known for his effortless cool and cutting-edge modernity, Thriller Live smothers everything in a thick layer of West End cheese.

The real heroes of the show, then, are the band. Frequently revealed on-stage, their slick playing recreates the original sound with a few welcome flourishes of their own. Unlike other jukebox shows, there is simply not a bad song on the setlist (except, you know, Bad). The King of Pop may not be king of the West End, but if Thriller Live is anything it’s an enjoyable tribute to the greatest entertainer in history and the undeniable power of his music, no matter how it’s performed.


Watch: Thriller Live runs at the Lyric Theatre.

Photos: Irina Chira

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Björk - Vulnicura

Björk Vulnicura

“i guess i found in my lap one year into writing it a complete heartbreak album [sic]”, Björk declared on her Facebook page after the sudden release of this, her eighth album. Only in her hands, though, could heartbreak be turned into such a central concept, present in every wound of this record.

The inspiration behind the album was the breakdown of her relationship with partner Matthew Barney, resulting in her most personal and candid album. Gone are the tectonic shifts and bizarre instruments of 2011’s ‘Biophilia’. ‘Vulnicura’ strikes at the very heart of Björk.

Lyrically, then, this album is a raw and brutal portrait. Björk’s usual penchant for metaphor is diminished in favour of simplicity and directness. Much of it reads like a stream of consciousness: on opening track Stonemilker, for instance, she notes “moments of clarity are so rare, I better document this” before demanding “show me emotional respect”. Other lyrics are more frank, in particular History Of Touches that vividly portrays a final attempt at sex with its line “every single fuck we had together is in a wondrous time lapse with us here at this moment”. Each song sees Björk drifting further into darkness, questioning every aspect of her failed relationship, including tragically the “death of my family” on Family. The questioning couplets of Black Lake read like simple poetry, yet truly cut to the heart of the matter: “Did I love you too much?” she questions, “my soul torn apart, my spirit is broken”. Listening to the album is akin to stumbling across a personal diary; her pain is horrifically tangible.

What makes ‘Vulnicura’ so impressive, though, is its word painting, every aspect of the music reflecting the album’s central concept. Her voice, for instance, known for its guttural earthy quality, is here altogether more intimate. She sings in a hushed, gentle tone that suggests her fragility and a reticence to accept the truth. This extends to the melody writing too. Stonemilker features an aching staccato delivery as if literally choking up, her voice eventually dissolving in a wave of strings; it’s followed by the sinuous, Oriental melodies of Lionsong that mirror her inquisitive lyrics. Later, on Atom Dance, she sings breathlessly “when you feel the flow as primal love, enter the pain and dance with me” before she’s joined by the otherworldly voice of Anthony Hegarty who truly becomes her opposite “hemisphere”.

Then there’s the production. Rather than the futurism of ‘Biophilia’, the key sound of ‘Vulnicura’ is strings – all arranged by Björk herself. Strings that lament (Stonemilker), strings that twist sensually (Lionsong), strings that shiver and dance (Atom Dance), and cavernous strings that hold emotion in suspense (Black Lake). They offer an element of humanity, of orchestral beauty and classicism that’s utterly juxtaposed with Alejandro Ghersi (a.k.a Arca’s) programmed beats that crack like heartbreak. Together the electronics and strings shift and break apart, creating and deconstructing this unique sound world. Often this occurs multiple times within the lengthy songs: in Notget and Atom Dance in particular, the sounds organically develop with the shifting emotions of the lyrics.

That’s not to say the developments of ‘Biophilia’ have been forgotten. If anything, ‘Vulnicura’ represents a culmination of Björk’s lifework: emotionally it is the counterpart to the intimate nocturnes of ‘Vespertine’ (written at the start of her relationship with Barney), whilst the techno beats hark back to her earlier work and much of the dissonant vocal harmonies and hypnotic textures are a step on from ‘Biophilia’. As with all of her output, this is a musically and lyrically rich avant garde album in which to thoroughly lose yourself, blessed with her unique Icelandic magic. Heartbreak may be prevalent in all forms of music, but rarely is it depicted in such an emotionally affecting and strangely relatable way as here.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Lionsong
* History of Touches
* Atom Dance

Listen: ‘Vulnicura’ is available to download now, with physical release in March.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

New Atlantis - LAStheatre @ The Crystal

New Atlantis The Crystal

Immersive theatre has become increasingly popular in recent times, no doubt down to the success of productions like Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man. But this form of theatre presents a troubling dichotomy: narrative vs experience. When audiences are left to roam freely in the theatrical space, does this really allow for a semblance of plot? Or is the joy purely that of personal experience?

LAStheatre face a similar dilemma with their new production, New Atlantis. Performed in The Crystal building at Royal Victoria Docks, providing a suitably futuristic glass-walled setting, the production transports us to the year 2050. Owing to climate change, the Earth’s water supplies are dwindling and the future of mankind is hugely uncertain. Its fate is in the hands of New Atlantis – a UN-like organisation – but with their leader retiring, their agents (that’s us!) are tasked with voting on a new leader. Meanwhile, the mysterious Generation Alpha group plot to overthrow New Atlantis for themselves.

There are three options: representatives from the departments of Defence, Reform and Industry. After a short introductory film and speech we are left to explore the various offices of these departments, to understand their policies and their methods of saving mankind. Defence, for instance, seeks to use the military to defend our supplies and protect civilisation from piracy and war; Reform aims to put democratic power in the hands of the population, changing our habits through environmentally friendly scientific practice and rationing; whilst Industry looks at innovative technology for biofuels, asteroid mining and space travel. A final debate provides a climactic conclusion where our votes are counted.

(On a side note, I voted for Industry because space travel. We’ve all seen Wall-E, nobody wants to live on an Earth like that.)

We are somewhat thrown in the deep end though. Sure, exploration is part of the thrill of immersive theatre, but the opening section packs in a lot of exposition without really explaining our decision-making clearly or directing us. The offices are filled with data charts, gadgets and computers, which is all a little overwhelming if it weren’t for the actual scientists from UCL on hand to explain everything (alongside actors to keep the story going). Never has theatre been so informative. We learnt about measuring the temperature and salinity of the ocean, the movements of glaciers in the Arctic, debated the merits of veganism, played with space-age gadgetry and more. It’s clear that a lot of time, effort and money has gone into the research and development of this piece, ensuring everything is scientifically accurate. In depth conversations could have easily gone on for hours, but with limited time we had to skim through each room and still missed some out.

Is this really theatre though? For the most part, the production feels more like a science museum or geography field trip – albeit one that’s incredibly interesting, but with a loose and richly thematic plot. Pulled back into the debate before our final vote and it all suddenly feels too scripted with the larger-than-life characterisation of the three potential leaders taking centre stage. And then a final twist pulls the rug from under our feet, adding a fourth option to our voting process with little explanation.

Ultimately, the production’s final moments raise more questions than it answers. After the votes are tallied, we never see the outcome or impact of our decision, for instance a short video as to what happened in the following years. Was it game over for humanity? We never find out. Further, is the outcome the same every time, our vote a sham? In which case, what is the point?

Perhaps none of the options are really viable: we’re screwed no matter what we choose. In that sense, New Atlantis is a wake-up call and a call to arms for us to take responsibility for the future - particularly important and engaging during an election year. On a narrative level, then, it’s anticlimactic, frustrating and dissatisfying, yet I left feeling as if I’d genuinely learnt something. As a form of education, New Atlantis makes learning a fun, dramatic and interactive experience.


Watch: New Atlantis is performed at The Crystal from 19th -25th January.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

New Pop Roundup

January is notoriously a quiet month for albums, but that doesn't stop us looking towards some top forthcoming releases does it? Here's a bumper pop roundup...

Charli XCX feat. Rita Ora – Doing It

Charli XCX Sucker

In the lead up to the release of ‘Sucker’, Charli has unleashed this absolute pop banger with some extra help from Rita Ora – just in time for some more of her own music, her stint on The Voice and her bit-part in 50 Shades. Charli’s on top form here, more electro-pop than pop-punk, even if Rita’s addition is minimal. Just be careful you don’t get funny looks Googling “charli xcx doing it”.


Listen: Doing It features on Charli’s forthcoming album ‘Sucker’ released 16th February.

Giorgio Moroder feat. Kylie Minogue – Right Here, Right Now

Giorgio Moroder feat. Kylie Minogue Right Here, Right Now

Since assisting Daft Punk with ‘Random Access Memories’, Moroder has certainly come back into fashion. And who better to collaborate with than Ms Minogue? It’s a perfect fit, her fizzing vocals matched by funky beats and stellar production. It’s no Get Lucky, but it proves neither artist is out of touch.


Listen: Right Here, Right Now will be included on Moroder’s forthcoming album coming this spring, also featuring Britney, Charli XCX and Sia.

G.R.L. – Lighthouse

G.R.L. Lighthouse

G.R.L. have bounced back from tragedy with Lighthouse, a tribute to Simone Battle who committed suicide last year. The mid-tempo track is decent in itself, but now loaded with extra meaning it’s sure to bring the girls the success they deserve after the excellent Ugly Heart. It’s not the path anybody wanted, but let’s hope they’re back on track.


Listen: Lighthouse is released on 8th March.

Ellie Goulding – Love Me Like You Do

Ellie Goulding Love Me Like You Do

Post-awards season and 50 Shades is clearly set to be the biggest film of the moment, so it deserves a suitably successful soundtrack. The trailer has been accompanied by a sexy remix of Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love, but this track from Ellie Goulding will likely be played over the closing credits, don’t you think? Written by Max Martin, it’s a soppy electro-ballad that’s in desperate need of a good whipping.


Listen: 50 Shades is released on Valentine’s Day, with the soundtrack sure to swiftly follow.

Kelly Clarkson – Heartbeat Song

Kelly Clarkson Heartbeat Song

After her Christmas spectacular of 2013, ‘Wrapped In Red’, Clarkson is due a return to pop. Heartbeat Song is undeniably catchy if a little sluggish, but Since U Been Gone? My Life Would Suck Without You? I don’t think so.


Listen: Heartbeat Song is released in the UK on 1st March.

Betty Who – All Of You

Betty Who All Of You

Betty Who? Betty You-Should-Damn-Well-Know-Already more like. Look, if you’re after a huge popstar who looks like the lovechild of Robyn and P!nk and sounds like Katy Perry, then you need to be listening to Betty Who. In return, she needs to hurry up and release her debut album. Fast.


Listen: All Of You featured on Who’s EP ‘Convertible Nights’ last year.

Purity Ring – Begin Again

Purity Ring Begin Again

Describing Purity Ring’s sound as dreamy electro-pop with a girlish vocal certainly brings to mind the success of Chvrches. But, you know, Purity Ring came first with their 2012 debut ‘Shrines’. Its follow up, ‘Another Eternity’ is due out in March, from which Begin Again is taken. Ironically, it’s more a continuation of the Canadian duo’s spectral, nightmarish sound but it should see them reach a much deserved wider audience.


Listen: Begin Again features on forthcoming album ‘Another Eternity’ due out on 3rd March.

Florrie – Too Young To Remember

Florrie Too Young To Remember

As all the best pop should, Too Young To Remember sounds more than a little like Party In The USA. If anything, though, Florrie is an under-appreciated popstar and this fun piece of pastel shaded, retro-videoed pop fluff could be her biggest success to date.


Listen: Too Young To Remember is due on 8th March.

Joey Bada$ feat Kiesza – Teach Me

Joey Bada$ feat Kiesza Teach Me

If you’re going to choose anyone to teach you how to dance, you could do a lot worse than Hideaway singer Kiesza. Teach Me mixes a Bada$ rap with funk bass, horn stabs and a catchy vocal from Kiesza. It’s not quite the dance-pop smash of No Enemiesz, but it’s still 90% better than most of Kiesza’s own album.


Listen: Teach Me features on ‘B4.DA.$’ available now.

The Prodigy – Nasty

The Prodigy Nasty

You can always rely on The Prodigy to provide a filthy beat and it’s pretty remarkable that they’ve stuck stoically to their core sound over the years. The raving Nasty is no exception, heralding their return with a new album, ‘The Day Is My Enemy’. The video, meanwhile, features some fox hunters with a really bad shot.


Listen: ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ is released on 30th March.

Ciara – I Bet

Ciara I Bet

*sigh* She keeps on trying, but will Ciara ever reach the heights of super stardom? After the futuristic sound of her self-titled 2013 album, I Bet is a return to an early 00s R&B sound (around the time of her debut, ‘Goodies’). Sonically, it’s a rip of Usher’s U Got It Bad but with a vocal maturity we’re yet to see from Ciara.


Listen: I Bet will feature on Ciara’s forthcoming sixth album.

Sophia Grace – Best Friends

Sophia Grace Best Friends

The real sound of 2015.


Listen: Best Friends is available now in the US. UK release soon?

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Soften the Grey @ The Hope Theatre

Soften the Grey The Hope Theatre

Sometimes we go to the theatre for some light entertainment; other times we go to work the ol' grey matter. And in a short space of time, Soften the Grey does just that.

It starts with a death. A non-believing diver (Nigel Munson) wakes up in purgatory, faced with deciding the fate of his afterlife. Yet this purgatory is a bureaucracy of paperwork run by a receptionist (Jake Hassam). It's a melting pot of religious options, but what is the point of an afterlife?

It's a question that the play explores through a witty and cleverly written script. Does an arrogant Christian God offer a heaven worthy of eternity? Is reincarnation a suitable option if we're no closer to Nirvana? The receptionist asks the diver to consider his life through both flashback and an amusing gameshow, but going back to right his wrongs is too easy an option. Yet if the diver has made peace with both his own death and the death of his father, then why live in an afterlife at all?

The whole conceit may seem clichéd, but the play poses some interesting philosophical questions - it just doesn't quite know how to answer them. The performance is well-paced, but it meanders through the narrative in different directions, loses its way a little and doesn't quite satisfy.

The humorous tone, though, ensures this is a thoroughly entertaining production. Munson brings plenty of blokey humanity to the diver, whilst Hassam is electric as the eccentric and unpredictable receptionist. There's plenty of creative flare in the characterisation and use of limited space.

Soften the Grey covers a lot of ground in just over an hour, perhaps spreading itself too thin. Yet this is a very thought-provoking little two-hander.


Watch: Soften the Grey runs at the Hope Theatre until the 31st January.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Mark Ronson - Uptown Special

Mark Ronson Uptown Special

Firstly, let’s just skip over the whole Uptown Funk debacle shall we? Fleur East’s performance on X Factor may have been a cheeky move by Simon Cowell, but if anything, the resulting early release of the single has raised expectations far beyond what they would have been.

Expectations that are not met by the full album.

Ronson has always dabbled with soul music, not least his instrumental work with Amy Winehouse. But ‘Uptown Special’ is utterly indebted to the music of old, predominantly retro soul, disco and funk. It’s no wonder Stevie Wonder features on a number of tracks – he sounds right at home.

When Daft Punk looked to the past for ‘Random Access Memories’ it provided influence, but the album itself was a novel fusion of old and new. Aside from some modern synth effects, Ronson has failed to achieve the same. The album is a love letter to the past. It is wholeheartedly derivative.

Intro track Uptown’s First Finale is deceiving: it begins with a whirring space-age bass, but Wonder’s instantly recognisable harmonica playing soon takes over. It’s followed by the shuffling, bossa beats of Summer Breaking that may as well come with a flickering sepia-toned film montage. Then there’s Feel Right with rap from Mystikal, a repetitive attempt to replicate old school rap tracks from the likes of The Sugarhill Gang but with distasteful lyrics (“still rapping, slapping kittens and grabbing my cock”). Perhaps Ronson should be commended for such convincing recreations of the past, but what’s the point if there’s no injection of originality?

The album is at its best when Ronson focuses less on the past and instead lets loose on a pop jam. That’s where Uptown Funk comes in. It might be as derivative as the rest of the album (all the best bits of Michael Jackson and Prince, with a dash of Oops Upside Your Head), but its dance rhythms are nothing short of infectious. In Case of Fire is also a standout, its laidback funk verses launching into a guitar eruption, and Daffodils is a sun-drenched dream with the vocals of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. The real highlight, though, is I Can’t Lose, the sort of track Chaka Khan would be proud of. Newcomer Keyonne Starr provides a rich vocal to production filled with neon stabs of synths and guitars. It’s a genuinely exciting pop track.

Yet too often the album settles into a groove of glorified lift music, from the banal Leaving Los Feliz, to the melodically meandering Crack In The Pearl, and the pedestrian Heavy And Rolling (that’s neither). There’s no denying the production is slick and polished across the album, but much of the songwriting is average at best. Those expecting an album of Uptown Funk-esque bangers will be left wanting.

‘Uptown Special’ is in parts an enjoyable album, but it’s just too derivative to stand up to the classics it so brazenly apes.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Uptown Funk
* I Can’t Lose
* In Case of Fire

Listen: ‘Uptown Special’ is released on 19th January.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Bat Boy: The Musical @ Southwark Playhouse

Bat Boy The Musical Southwark Playhouse

Few musicals are as bizarre as Bat Boy. It may have flopped on the West End in the early 00s, but it’s received successful runs both on and off Broadway and has become something of a cult classic. The mix of surrealism and camp-horror is in abundance in this production at the Southwark Playhouse for a hilarious performance that’s at times overwhelming and lacks a certain level of polish in its details.

The plot sounds like something out of a trashy B-movie: a creature, half-bat half-boy, is discovered in a cave near the fictional town of Hope Falls in West Virginia and adopted by a family who teach him the ways of society. But can his vampiric, blood-sucking habits really be tamed? Based on a 1992 article in fictional tabloid Weekly World News, it’s a satire on American pop culture, ridiculing the nuclear families, fanatical religion and conservative views of suburban Southern America tucked away in their white picket fenced houses. Bat Boy himself follows an Oedipal trajectory and the plot hinges on a somewhat distasteful rape joke, but you can forgive its odd quirks for its amusing black comedy – the show’s heart is in the right place.

This production continues the cinematic, cartoonish feel of the plot with projection screens used as a backdrop and somewhat grotesque acting. The problem is that the show is too noisy – both aurally and visually. The pounding rock score lacks balance between the musicians and the singers, meaning lyrics are often difficult to discern (an issue with the venue more than the show itself - it's too big for the space). More so, the production is visually overwhelming and its pop cultural references are all over the place. According to the programme, the time is ‘present day’, yet the costumes and décor are clearly 80s, there are references ranging from Star Wars to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, and props include a Dyson vacuum cleaner and an iPhone. Coupled with some poor quality animation and some of the worst wigs seen on stage and the already trashy feel of the show is just that little bit too trashy. The tone is clearly aiming towards 80s spoof (think Gremlins or Little Shop of Horrors), but it’s too inconsistent here.

If the frenetic visual style is sometimes distracting, the music is catchy, full of screaming guitars riffs and high octane melodies (even if the main theme is eerily similar to “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls). There are some suitably muscular voices across the ensemble to match the big sound– most notably Simon Bailey as the Reverend Hightower – but it’s the quieter moments that most impress. Rob Compton delivers an oddly believable physical performance as Bat Boy, but alongside the vocals of Georgina Hagen as Shelley Parker, they together bring some genuine tenderness in their love duet. Lauren Ward, meanwhile, provides motherly warmth and a sweet vocal as Meredith Parker. Let’s just forget the rap number from the first half shall we?

Above all, Bat Boy is a morality tale that celebrates the outsider and embraces difference – a big middle finger to American conservatism. If you can buy into its odd style and sense of humour, there is a hugely enjoyable and comical show here that’s as loud as it is proud.


Watch: Bat Boy runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 31st January.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Birdman (2015) - Alejandro G. Iñárritu


I have never seen a film as cynical as Birdman. And I loved it.

Twenty years ago Michael Keaton's Riggan reached his peak playing Batman Birdman in the film series of the same name. Now he's a washed up actor on Broadway, striving to remain relevant to a new audience in his new play. Fame haunts him in the form of his old character - the overbearing film poster in his dressing room and a voice in his head.

Cynicism oozes from every inch of celluloid. It's present in the representation of Broadway, its claustrophobic hallways and shoddy dressing rooms of brick and retro wallpaper constructed in reality (or are they?), juxtaposed with the bright lights of the stage where falsity makes way for truth. In its lack of money and reliance on star power to bring in audiences. In its seeming lack of relevance in the face of cinema and social media. In the way the whole film is a performance.

It's present in the depiction of critics. "I'm going to destroy your play", says Lindsay Duncan's aging, bitchy critic Tabitha. They have the ability to make or break a production, but why should one viewpoint hold so much power?

Cinema, too, doesn't escape the cynical, inwardly reflecting gaze of director Iñárritu's camera. Cinema, like theatre, is a celebrity machine reliant on stars, using and abusing actors, raising them to stardom and dropping them just as fast. Yet cinema is a place of superheroes and vapid storytelling - theatre is where the real art is, where real performance takes place, not acting the clown in a lycra suit.

Mostly, cynicism is present in the portrayal of celebrity. Fame is a fickle mistress and a separate entity to critical acclaim. It comes in the form of superhero fans, reality shows, Twitter followers and viral videos. It's shallow, like the journalist asking whether Riggan injects semen into his face to maintain his complexion. What exactly is the price of fame and celebrity?

That's the question Birdman begins to answer. It's an exploration of the mindset of an actor, where (method?) acting and reality collide with dire consequences. Acting, too, is a cynical business, full of psychotic, self-obsessed characters with an unquenchable thirst for adoration and godlike status, constantly questioning "when have I made it?".  Actors are dependent on all of the above.  It's enough to drive anyone to madness; and that's exactly what happens.

Birdman is a dense film with plenty to unpick, yet it all hangs together in seemingly one continuous shot. It provides a sense of live performance, the whole film a stage show acted out before us with an unparalleled sense of flow, the actors drifting in and out of shot and each others lives. It's as if we are equal parts Birdman and critic: at once controlling and commenting on the performance of Riggan's life. It's accompanied by a percussive soundtrack that may or may not be diegetic, perfectly mimicking Riggan's volatile sense of mind and his blurring of stage and reality.

There are some incredible performances, here: Emma Stone's hilarious junkie daughter Sam; Zach Galifianakis as eccentric producer Jake trying to maintain control; Edward Norton as arrogant yet troubled actor Mike; Andrea Riseborough's vulnerable actress Laura. Most of all is Keaton at the centre of it all. Riggan is quite literally a man on the edge; his breakdown is fascinating and believable.

Birdman is a divisive film. Some may even call it self-indulgent, but when the film's subject is vanity and self-obsession, that's somewhat the point. And it's all presented with a deliciously dark and knowing sense of humour.

It's cynical as hell. But it's a triumph.


Watch: Birdman is out now.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Theory of Everything (2015) - James Marsh

The Theory of Everything

Hollywood has a fascination with geeky British scientists at present, what with this and The Imitation Game likely to sweep up at both this year's BAFTAs and Oscars. Cumberbatch vs Redmayne will be the talking point at both awards ceremonies and rightly so (incidentally, Cumberbatch also played Hawking in a BBC film in 2004).

Redmayne's performance as Prof. Stephen Hawking is extraordinarily brave and utterly believable. Physically his resemblance is strong - from the clumsy student to wheelchair-bound author - but it's a subtle and emotional performance that brings plenty of humour to what could have been a purely tragic tale. He manages to express both warmth and pain, often wordlessly through the smallest of eye or lip movements.

There's no doubting that Hawking is a modern genius, but his work and his theories are largely left in the background of the film. Instead this is a romanticised account of his life, with soft focus visuals and an intimate score. Diagnosed with motor neurone disease whilst studying for a PhD at Cambridge, he is given just two years to live, yet with the assistance of his girlfriend (and later wife) Jane (Felicity Jones), he defies the odds. The focus, then, is on his private life, rather than to venture into that great mind - something that proves somewhat impossible, despite Redmayne's performance. Hawking's (arguably selfish) desire to act as a normal family and refusal of help is brushed over, and the film ends at the point he eventually leaves Jane to live with one of his nurses, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). He is depicted predominantly as a hero.

Jane, however, is the real hero of the film; Jones is superb. This is ultimately her story, not his - the narrative adapted from her memoirs. The sheer tenacity and strength of character to stand by Hawking are formidable, burdened solely with his care. Tasked with playing both wife and mother to their three children, it's no wonder her eyes begin to stray towards the church choirmaster who offers assistance (Jonathan - Charlie Cox). It's here that Marsh really gets to grips with the material, exploring the dynamic between the characters rather than the mindset of a man suffering from such a debilitating condition.

As a biopic, then, The Theory of Everything is a delicately paced film that can't quite capture this outstanding mind. As a domestic drama, though, this is a hugely emotional and tender film that highlights two performances utterly deserving of their nominations.


Watch: The Theory of Everything is out now.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Grand Tour @ The Finborough Theatre

The Grand Tour The Finborough Theatre

WWII is hardly the most uplifting of settings for a musical. Yet just as one character in The Grand Tour complains about the lack of “poetry, beauty and heroism” in the twentieth century, that’s exactly what composer Jerry Herman brings to the fore. That juxtaposition of grave subject and often lighthearted tone is the key flaw at the heart of the show, given its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre.

Mostly this stems from lead character Jacobowsky, an overwhelmingly positive and upbeat Jewish man from Poland forced to flee his home in the wake of the Nazi invasion. Alastair Brookshaw plays the role with believability and a clear tenor, in a cast predominantly made of syrupy caricature. Jacobowsky finds himself in Paris where he crosses paths with fellow Pole and anti-Semite Colonel Stjerbinksy (Nic Kyle, who balances the character’s mad jealousy with a sweet vocal) who seeks to deliver important papers to England. An unlikely pairing, they purchase a car, rescue the Colonel’s inevitable love interest (Marianne – the pure and elegant Zoe Doano), and escape war-torn France. All of this unfolds, quite literally, on a clever pop-up book style set from Phil Lindley that highlights the show’s whimsical feel.

It’s a schmaltzy, romanticised plot where the characters get by on clichéd circumstances and are tasked heroically to perform “one extraordinary thing”, with Jacobowsky seemingly holding the fate of his beloved motherland in his hands purely by chance. The threesome are ably assisted by brave circus performers and nuns, are rescued last minute by a secret agent and at one point wind up in a comically depicted Jewish wedding. And that’s not the only piece of Jewish representation that seems offbeat. The key draw of the plot is the burgeoning friendship that crosses religion and class, but the Colonel and Marianne seem to treat Jacobowsky more as a pet plaything to be gawped at rather than an equal.

Mostly, The Grand Tour is lacking a sense of urgency and danger. The Nazi threat is mainly implied, simmering in the background. From time to time, Blair Robertson crops up to thwart proceedings as an SS Captain, but the only thing menacing about him is his uniform. The show’s musical structure doesn’t aid this – the introduction of songs feels forced and halts the plot rather than progressing it. The ending, in particular, is laughable when, on the run, the characters pause for a reprise of three songs when they really should be getting a wiggle on. Thankfully, with some emotive performances from the lead cast, the show closes with a sense of emotional poignancy.

Flaws aside, The Grand Tour is very much a traditional musical, from its score that marries Jewish and music hall styles (even with just piano accompaniment), to its optimistic tone. It might be lacking some grit in its fantastical plot and characterisation, but this production brims with charm due to excellent vocal performances and polished design. It’s an easy show to like.


Watch: The Grand Tour runs at the Finborough Theatre until 21st February.

Photos: Annabel Vere.

Years and Years - King

Years and Years King

Depending on when you're reading this, Years and Years are either about to win the BBC Sound of 2015 poll, or they haven't.

And if they haven't, then they should have.

Because tracks like King deserve to be played on repeat for the next year.

Because their electro, house, R&B sound sums up so much of what makes pop music great at the moment, yet remains somehow unique.

Because the video for the darkly sensual Real features Ben Whishaw in his sexiest role.

Because the soulful, balearic feel of King follows on beautifully from the big beats of Take Shelter and Desire.

Because a week into 2015 and King is already one of the best songs of the year.


Listen: King is released on March 1st.