Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Say Lou Lou - Lucid Dreaming

Say Lou Lou Lucid Dreaming

‘Lucid Dreaming’ proves to be the perfect title for this debut album from Swedish-Australian sisterly duo Say Lou Lou. And that’s for better or worse, depending on your viewpoint.

Like the album itself, its conception has been something of a slow-burner. First emerging with Maybe You in August 2012 under the name Saint Lou Lou, the girls have undergone a name change, released a string of singles (some of which frustratingly aren’t included here), set up their own record label, and made the BBC Sound of 2014 longlist. Now, in 2015, their debut is finally released. You can’t help but feel they’ve missed the boat a little – where initial reactions were positive and hype built around singles Better In The Dark (2013) and Everything We Touch (2014), the appeal of their music has somewhat simmered and fizzled since then.

As a result, ‘Lucid Dreaming’ doesn’t quite live up to their early promise. The duo have a distinct, ‘dream pop’ style that remains consistent throughout – perhaps too consistent. Each mid-tempo track comes on a wave of soothing, sombre synths and subtle beats, over which the girls sing in hushed, secretive tones. The lack of vocal power is easily misconstrued as being a little soulless, the album overall a languorous, meandering snooze-fest.

That, incidentally, is half of its appeal. Those haunting synths are hypnotic, the soft vocals and gentle rhythms slowly lulling you into a state of lucid dreaming. It’s in this otherworld that the album unfurls and blossoms, subtly shifting from track to track. By the halfway point – the lilting Angels (Above Me) – we are consumed by celestial guitar lines and two angelic voices curling around one another in harmony and unison. From here it all builds towards a climactic crescendo: the stomping beats of Hard For A Man, the glittering pop of Nothing But A Heartbeat and, eventually, the soaring orchestral sounds of closer Skylights that layers on the drama. Only Games For Girls, a collaboration with Norwegian producer Lindstrøm, takes us out of the dream with its staccato production and hand clap beats – brilliant in its own right.

The touching emotion of each track slowly creeps up on you – whilst the dreamscape hits you like a wave, this isn’t an immediate pop album. Yet the yearning melodies of Julian, one of their earliest and best releases, will melt the stoniest of hearts; the central lyric of Beloved (“and if I’m your beloved, then why don’t I fit?”) brings a tear to the eye; and the grand, sweeping basslines of Wilder Than The Wind bring a shiver down the spine before an aching chorus. This isn’t quite the standout electro pop album some may have hoped for, but with tracks like these you won’t want to wake up anytime soon.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Julian
* Beloved
* Wilder Than The Wind

Listen: ‘Lucid Dreaming’ is released on 6th April.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

New Pop Roundup

Rihanna – Bitch Better Have My Money


Bitch better get a new songwriter.

No really. Is this shoddy ‘Unapologetic’ bonus track demo actually meant to be a single?


Listen: Bitch Better Have My Money is available now.

(sorry there's no official video yet)

Passion Pit – Lifted Up (1985)

Passion Pit Lifted Up (1985)

The video to this new Passion Pit track sees lead singer Michael Angelakos alone on the dance floor surrounded by dizzying euphoria. Besides that this is typical Passion Pit – jangling synths, falsetto vocals and happy-sad lyrics. What’s not to love?


Listen: Lifted Up (1985) will feature on new album 'Kindred' due on 20th April.

Everything Everything – Distant Past

Everything Everything Distant Past

Is guitar music really dying?
Why are indie bands ramping up the electro influences?
Does anyone care when the chorus to this new track is so rave-tastic, even with the typically weird and wonderful verse style?
And how are their eyes SO blue?


Listen: Distant Past is available now.

FKA Twigs – Glass and Patron

FKA Twigs Glass and Patron

Having seen Twigs live at the Roundhouse a couple of weeks back, I can confirm that not only can she throw down some shapes, she can vogue along with the best queens. Now she’s showcasing her abilities on the catwalk in this new visually arresting video that features her giving birth, a lot of chiffon, and death drops. Just wait until the beat kicks in.


Listen: Glass and Patron is released as part of the YouTube Music Awards.

Muse – Dead Inside

Muse Dead Inside

Muse have released a couple of new tracks recently, of which Dead Inside is undoubtedly the best. It’s somewhere between the heavy screeching of their early work and the more pop-orientated experiments of their last album and stomps like all the best rock tracks do, proving there’s plenty of life left in the band.


Listen: Dead Inside will feature on forthcoming album 'Drones' released on 8th June.

Brandon Flowers – Can’t Deny My Love

Brandon Flowers Can't Deny My Love

If there’s one thing music lovers can’t deny, it’s that The Killers never lived up to their brilliant debut album and lead singer Brandon Flowers’ solo material fared even worse. So it comes as a welcome surprise that this latest solo track is a great kitchen-sink jam: 80s production, anthemic melodies, moody atmospherics, incendiary guitars, funky rhythms, Latin percussion, piano solos, gospel choir backing, and a dramatic structure full of peaks and troughs. This is everything The Killers could, and should, have been.


Listen: Can't Deny My Love will feature on forthcoming album 'The Desired Effect' due 18th May.

Mumford & Sons – Believe

Mumford and Sons Believe

Marcus Mumford and his brethren are solely responsible for bringing the banjo to popular appeal. It’s perhaps a bizarre choice, then, to drop the instrument in favour of some synths, effectively turning them into a Coldplay covers band and sucking all joy from their sound in the process.


Listen: Believe will feature on forthcoming album 'Wilder Minds' released 4th May.

Major Lazer & DJ Snake – Lean On (feat. MØ)

Major Lazer & DJ Snake Lean On (feat. MØ)

Denmark’s MØ is probably the coolest Scandinavian artist around at the moment. Lending her vocals to the clipped production of Major Lazer for this lead single from their upcoming album is something of a no-brainer. This is the coolest track you’re likely to hear for a while, ensuring MØ stays high on the indie-pop darling list. That is, until Grimes releases some new music…


Listen: Lean On will feature on forthcoming album 'Peace Is The Mission' released in June.

Grimes – REALiTi

Grimes REALiTi

Speaking of which, we end this roundup with a new but old track from Grimes herself. It might be a standalone track from an album that wasn’t meant to be, but it’s a brilliant track all the same.


Listen: REALiTi is available now.

Friday, 27 March 2015

James Bay - Chaos And The Calm

James Bay Chaos And The Calm

Are the Brits “critics” so intent on trying to make “guitar music” a thing? Is that why he won the award?

Because really, James Bay is nothing but an average acoustic troubadour. He’s the annoying guy at a music festival who insists on wearing a hipster hat, refuses to wash his hair for weeks and sings tired love songs around a campfire at 5am whilst you’re trying to sleep after coming down from the euphoric highs of the dance stage.

He’s a walking cliché.

So, too, is his music. ‘Chaos And The Calm’ is an amalgam of every other acoustic songwriter you’ve ever heard, fusing together bits of rock, folk and blues in one easy-listening package that quickly grates on the ears. Throw in a hefty dose of Coldplay, Passenger, Damien Rice and John Mayer specifically and you’ve created yourself the Frankenstein monstrosity that is James Bay.

To be fair, Bay does have talent: there’s power to his raw vocals, accompanied by some nifty fingerpicking. It leads to some moments where he does manage to rise above mediocrity. Current single Hold Back The River proves there is some radio appeal, although Let It Go is the real early-album highlight – gently lilting guitar beneath a yearning melody of genuine emotion. Collide is also a rare moment of upbeat excitement, all handclaps and bluesy guitars. At the least, the full band arrangements are more interesting than the usual “intimate” song settings.

Yet Bay falls short with his songwriting. There are few hooks, few intriguing or poetic lyrics. Instead it’s fifteen identical songs of utter, personality-less blandness. It’s no wonder he’s essentially known as “that one with the hat”. Nothing else differentiates him from his peers. Nothing else about him stands out at all. It’s a shame that his talent has been stretched into such an underwhelming collection of songs.

So I ask again, why did he win the Brits Critics Choice Award? And above Years and Years?

Last year’s winner was a boring guy with a piano and a silly haircut. Now we have a boring guy with a guitar and a silly hat. What could be next?


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Hold Back The River
* Let It Go
* Collide

Listen: ‘Chaos And The Calm’ is available now.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

WINK @ Theatre503

With social media now such an inherent part of everyday life, it’s little wonder that it has become such a prevalent subject matter within theatre.

Yet writer Phoebe Eclair-Powell and director Jamie Jackson have together found a fresh angle. Catfishing (faking a profile to pretend to be someone else online) is a real concern in our Internet-fuelled lives, but the duo layer catfish upon catfish to really ramp up the drama of WINK.

Interestingly, the relationship at the heart of the play is that of teacher and pupil. Mark (Sam Clemmett) is a 16 year old pupil who looks up to his teacher John (Leon Williams). John represents everything Mark wishes to be and so, late one porn-filled night, he creates a fake profile that he uses to woo John’s girlfriend. Except it’s not really her – fearing she is cheating on him, John replies to the messages pretending to be her. From there, the narrative grows into a complex web of deceit that crescendos towards a train-wreck of a climax.

To an extent, this is a play about the follies of men, but intertwined with that is the notion that nobody is quite who they seem. Mark is far from an innocent schoolboy: behind Clemmett’s boyish looks and cheeky smile, the character is perfectly self-aware and familiar with the perils of society, spending his evenings watching porn and violent video games. Williams’ dry and sarcastic John, meanwhile, is not the Adonis-personified that Mark perceives. He’s misogynistic, he’s cheating on his girlfriend, he drinks and smokes. Neither are likeable, yet it’s through the excellent and frequently witty writing and acting that the characters are so compelling. We witness the plot from both viewpoints as they merge and overlap in contrasting linguistic styles, allowing us to piece together the plot and feel the weight of its dramatic irony.

WINK is a little over-ambitious, however. This is a dense one-act play with multiple themes: technology, the dangers of the internet, identity, masculinity, father figures. Once the climactic (if slightly predictable) twists are unveiled, the plot is essentially a coming-of-age story of grief and loss – a clichéd way to end an otherwise intriguing narrative.

The direction follows suit. On the one hand, the use of a monochromatic colour scheme highlights the binary opposites of each character (as well as their similarities); the use of choreographed movement is inventive (if, together with the electronic music, perhaps inspired by Curious Incident…); and the choice of music is effective and emotive. Equally, these elements somewhat force the drama – it lacks a certain level of subtlety and is overly long. In trying to make a powerful statement (thematically and visually), WINK feels a little overwrought. Sometimes less is more.

Yet this gripping two-hander still manages to make a powerful statement, particularly about the dangers of living in our modern social media rich world. It just might make you think.


Watch: WINK runs at Theatre 503 until 4th April.

Photos: Savannah Photographic

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly

“Every n***** is a star”. From the opening lyric to Kendrick Lamar’s latest album it’s immediately apparent this is an album about race. Yet where other artists (I’m looking at you Kanye) have created abrasive and aggressive works on the subject, Lamar makes a political statement whilst maintaining integrity, subtlety and musicality.

Where ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ was a personal album on gang life in Compton, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ sees Lamar exploring his position in society, specifically as a black man. It’s a broader theme but with a far wider cultural reach. He questions the media’s exploitation of race, racial stereotypes and utilises slave imagery to make his point – and that’s just in the first handful of tracks. From there, this is a story of his own redemption, his growth as an artist, escaping the Hood Politics of his past into a (potentially) brighter future.

The album’s central conceit is epitomised by the contrasting lyrics of u and i. The former track begins with a series of screams and it soon becomes clear that the “you” of the title is himself as he delves into the darkest corners of his own mind, berating himself (“loving you is complicated”). It’s in contrast with the latter track, lead single i, that’s tellingly the penultimate of the album – finally he’s found peace (“I love myself”). But that comes after his most spiteful moment, The Blacker The Berry, on which he scrutinises racial self-hatred and the impact of gang culture – “the blacker the berry, the bigger I shoot”. Together with previous track Complexion (“complexion don’t mean a thing”), it proves that he’s the “biggest hypocrite of 2015”, the album as a whole reflecting the contradictions of life as an African-American.

Of course, race and black anger is a typical theme within hip-hop, but Lamar takes things a step further with form. Where ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ used skits to create a cinematic approach to music, here the lyrical content is more introspective and poetic with an overarching narrative of, to use the title, a butterfly breaking free of the cocoon of institutionalised racism and politics. The album’s central message is conveyed in a poem repeated in snippets throughout the album, a unifying statement. There’s thematic depth here that requires repeated listening to comprehend, but it proves far more rewarding than the shouted rants of other similar hip hop artists. This is an album that surely resonates with a wider cultural context.

Racial politics are inherent within the music too. Just as Lamar looks at his own past to consider his future, musically he re-appropriates traditionally black genres: funk, r&b, jazz and, of course, hip-hop. It lends the album a palatable old school flavour, full of bubbling basslines, relaxed beats and a semi-improvised jazz sensibility that reflects the lyrical stream of consciousness. Production-wise, the likes of Prince and Michael Jackson are big influences – the latter in particular is quoted on numerous occasions. It has a more consistent tone than the previous album, but equally it’s missing an anthem akin to Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe or Swimming Pools (Drank). Combined, though, the tracks make a far more powerful statement – bristling, snarling, angry, yet equally sexy.

Final track Mortal Man is more of a coda; a beautifully sombre track that references the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr and John F. Kennedy, before launching into a conversation with Tupac (sampled from a 1994 interview). Through this, Lamar is positioning himself not only as the next king of hip-hop but as a great black leader. It’s a moment of braggadocio that undermines the subtlety of the rest of the album and comes off as preaching. It’s unnecessary; even without it he's the most important rapper of our time.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* These Walls
* Momma
* i

Listen: ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is available now.

Monday, 23 March 2015

MNEK - Small Talk EP

MNEK Small Talk

All you really need to know about ‘Small Talk’ is that it’s a collection of six bangers. Listen now.

But for those of you wanting a bit more info, MNEK has been pretty busy over the last couple of years despite not yet reaching his full potential as a solo popstar. Writing credits and vocal collaborations include a string of dance acts like Chris Malinchak, Sub Focus, Duke Dumont and Bondax, as well as pop acts like Clean Bandit, Little Mix, Bastille, Olly Murs and even Madonna. If you know him from anything though, it’ll be from providing vocals on Gorgon City’s Ready For Your Love.

As a solo artist, he was nominated for the BBC’s Sound Of 2014 poll, but has yet to score a hit. That should change with the release of this EP. Mixing elements of soul, garage and house, the vocals are impressively nuanced and rich, the hooks are radio friendly and the beats are as deep as they come. The funky Every Little Word cuts amusing samples over a bubbling bassline; More Than A Miracle has a filthy beat; and The Rhythm is a bona-fide number one in the making. In Your Clouds is more mid-tempo and dreamy, whilst Wrote A Song About You and Suddenly prove that MNEK doesn’t shy away from raw emotion amongst the polished dance production. A full album is on the way later this year, but for now this EP is a hugely enjoyable statement of intent.


Listen: 'Small Talk' is available now.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Boyhood (2014) - Richard Linklater

Boyhood Richard Linklater film poster

Boyhood is a film that favours form over narrative. It certainly has some artistic value - it's an impressive technical achievement - and its various award nominations and wins are understandable. But that doesn't necessarily make for an enjoyable film.

Spanning twelve years of filming, Boyhood is a realistically portrayed coming of age movie. It's initially compelling, profound even, as we watch protagonist Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grow up before our eyes in various cities across Texas. We feel an instant connection to the young boy and immediately drawn into his story, even if just for apparent voyeuristic reasons. There's also a huge amount of nostalgia - both for our own childhood and for the changing tastes in fashion and music. Through the subject matter alone, we feel a connection to the plot that feels totally moving.

It's a film that makes drama out of the mundane. Nothing out of the ordinary happens; indeed this is a film that celebrates the ordinary. Yet ordinary is not inherently dramatic. The film consists of a series of tiny dramas that make up the fabric of our lives, but why should we sit through it for an overlong two and a half hours?

One issue is that Mason himself is mundanity personified. That's clearly a purposeful decision so that we identify with him - he is merely an avatar for our own feelings. But why should we be invested in him? He is just a morose, quiet boy who has limited interests beyond video games and feeling sorry for himself, whilst Coltrane is not the best of actors. Though cute at first, as he grows up it becomes clear that he's just not that interesting a character and, by the end, the film descends to a dull teenage melodrama. Linklater's central conceit quickly runs out of steam.

Somehow the story remains compelling and that's due to the lives of those around him. As his mother, Patricia Arquette is a self-destructing woman with terrible taste in a string of alcoholic husbands, but we never quite understand why. Ethan Hawke plays his father who we witness turn from playboy to responsible husband. And Linklater's own daughter plays Mason's annoying and moody sister.

There are plenty of other characters along the way, but they're picked up, dropped and forgotten about with little fanfare. This is perhaps to represent how people flit in and out of our lives, but it's telling that Linklater began the film with only a skeletal script that he developed over the twelve years. The narrative has no backbone, no structure and little satisfaction. Instead it simply meanders without knowing where to go or what to say. If you fail to plan, you're planning to fail.

The film's major issue is that it's so ambitious it spreads itself thematically thin. Even Mason himself asks towards the end of the film during one of its many possible endings, "what does it all mean?". Linklater touches on a number of themes but never fully explores them, from the culture of post-9/11 America, to the breakdown of the nuclear family, the difficulties of single parents combining families and the bond between mother and son. Mostly, it's a film that examines men, questioning traditional values of masculinity, the widening gap between generations of men and the need for a suitable father figure.

Equally, despite its wide scope, it's an incredibly narrow-minded film. There is a distinct lack of diversity, instead focusing on a limited view of white middle America. There is not one black character or gay character. Is this really representative of America and the experience of all men? Or is this another loose commentary on the prejudice inherent in American life?

Perhaps the film's message is most conveyed in one nauseatingly self-congratulatory scene where Mason speaks to his photography teacher in the dark room and explains how he doesn't just want to take photos, he wants to make art. CLUNK. The parallels to Linklater are about as subtle as a falling piano. He's certainly made something and its impressive scale is unparalleled, but is it art?

The film does eventually come to a close, but amongst all its questions the most important of all remains unanswered: why, over twelve years, could they not have given the poor boy a decent haircut?


Watch: Boyhood was released last year, with home release coming soon.

Ticket courtesy of Backyard Cinema as part of their Award Season series that offers an immersive cinematic experience, with red carpet and Hollywood themed cocktails. BYC screenings take place across London with a variety of themes, with plenty more planned for the future!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Marina and the Diamonds - Froot

Marina and the Diamonds Froot

Marina Diamandis has something of a marmite vocal. The idiosyncratic tone; the lilting inflections; the shaky vibrato. It’s unique, but it’s far from the most powerful of vocals and it lacks soul. So to place that vocal into the limelight on the opening track of this third album, ‘Froot’, is a strange choice. It’s a slow, piano-based anti-depression ballad that’s not indicative of the rest of the album. 

Immediately afterwards we have the fizzing electropop of the title track, that lifts the mood to something that more closely resembles the fun, colourful album artwork and jokey name. It also sets the tone for the remaining tracks that flit between electro-disco (Froot, Blue) and soft rock (Forget, Better Than That). The major highlight, though, is I’m A Ruin – a gothic-tinged electronic ballad where Diamandis’ falsetto sounds genuinely haunting. It’s also one of the few tracks to live up to the name of the album’s producer: David Kosten, responsible for producing the output of Bat For Lashes. Immortal, the closing track, aims towards a similar sound, though her constant desire to be immortal feels a little trite.

There are some fleeting moments of brilliance scattered across ‘Froot’, but they never amount to very much. It’s bland, frothy and missing that special spark to make this pop album…pop. Her melodramatic vocal fails to cover up the lyrics that frequently rely on sayings and cliché. The polished production fails to cover the lack of genuine hooky choruses. The middle section of the album especially passes by without making an impact. It’s consistently mid-tempo and middle of the road, lacking a key single to push Diamandis into the limelight. As with her vocal, the album lacks soul.

What’s frustrating is that this same criticism could be applied to each of her albums. Despite a handful of hits, Marina and her diamonds have always failed to truly sparkle and the three year gap between previous album ‘Electra Heart’ and now hasn’t changed the situation. No matter how many polished albums are released, perhaps Diamandis is doomed to always be a diamond in the rough. Immortality is a long way off.

If ‘Froot’ really was a fruit it would be a watermelon: initially refreshing, but ultimately lacking in flavour. After a couple of chews, it disintegrates into very little.


Gizzle’s choice:
* Froot
* I’m A Ruin
* Forget

Listen: ‘Froot’ is available now.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

It Follows (2015) - David Robert Mitchell

It Follows

It all starts with a young, virginal girl running from her house. She’s panicked. She’s being followed, but by what we can’t see. It doesn’t end well for her.

From there, It Follows is a checklist of horror tropes: a lazy suburban American summer; ennui; dark woods; a creepy holiday home; and teenagers making very bad decisions. Yet the film manages to twist these apparent clichés into something fresh and genuinely tense.

The plot itself is a thinly veiled metaphor for STDs and teenage sexual paranoia. Jay (Maika Monroe) is dating Hugh (Jake Weary). Hugh is keen to take things to the next level, but it’s soon uncovered why. He has passed on a curse: Jay will now be followed. ‘It’ can take the form of a loved one, a friend or a stranger. ‘It’ could be anywhere. And ‘it’ will kill her. The only way to escape is to have sex with someone else and pass on the curse, but if that person is killed then she’ll be back on the hit list as ‘it’ moves back down the chain of sexual encounters.

It sounds like a laughably ridiculous premise, but it’s testament to director David Robert Mitchell that the film is so hauntingly believable. What’s clever is that ‘it’ is never fully explained; it could literally be anywhere, anyone. The camerawork reflects this as the teenagers’ paranoia becomes our own: careful, considered widescreen shots are juxtaposed with disorientating point of view and 360 degree shots, forcing us to inspect and analyse every detail for fear of a sudden outburst. The film fully exploits its central conceit, creating a perpetual sense of dread through atmosphere and suspense.

This is only emphasised by the cinematography. Everything is filmed in a hazy low-fi filter with a purposeful indie lack of polish. Together with the eerily derelict buildings of downtown Detroit and timeless retro setting, it lends the film the feel of an urban legend come to life that’s utterly hypnotic. The score, too, aids this – after swathes of silence come the minimalist synths of producers Disasterpeace that sound at once youthful, ominous and otherworldly.

And Monroe, with her vacant, brooding expressions, is the perfect host for both ‘it’ and our own fears, even as she’s assisted by a close-knit friendship group whose relationships are the real focus of the film. On a sexual level, is the curse really to blame for death, or should we blame the actions of those afflicted who, quite literally, spread the love? The layered narrative ensures this film is a thrilling and refreshing psychological foil to the current vogue for gore and torture porn.

It’s certainly silly at times, with plenty of illogical plot decisions being made. Yet that’s just one of the many horror tropes the film pays homage to, lovingly referencing teen horrors from Halloween to Scream. It’s a film that therefore works on multiple levels: horror pastiche, psychosexual exploration and a frighteningly good time.


Watch: It Follows is out now.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Twin Shadow - Eclipse

Twin Shadow Eclipse

At first listen, Twin Shadow’s latest is a far less immediate record than 2012’s excellent ‘Confess’. The 80s electronic meets soft-rock sound remains, but it’s less punchy, less gritty, less hooky. ‘Confess’ may have drifted into pastiche territory, but compared to ‘Eclipse’ it didn’t take long to make an impact.

Instead, here the exhilarating highways of ‘Confess’ make way for dreamier territory. The production is overall less distinctive, a widescreen blur of synths, guitars and processed beats. The loud, brash melodies lack bite and, whilst the aesthetic has been updated to merge the 80s sound with more modern trends, ‘Eclipse’ lacks the musical variety of its predecessor.

Mostly, it’s the album’s sense of scope that overwhelms. Initially, the lofty sounds are difficult to grasp, the dramatics are empty and it seems clear that the album is overreaching. This third album is Twin Shadow’s major label debut, pumping his sound with steroids and pushing it to the extremes of ‘epic’. The album’s mantra is defined in its opening track: “we don’t want to be flatliners – pump pump pump it up”.

Yet eventually the pleasures of the album begin to unfurl. Amongst all the wishy-washy production are small moments that stick in the mind: the yearning melodies of Alone feat. singer Lily Elise; the way the verses of Turn Me Up sound just like Massive Attack’s Teardrop before bursting into a soaring chorus; the catchy pre-chorus of I’m Ready when the production drops to a minimal, bassy tone; the more experimental, electronic sound of Watch Me Go and its distorted vocals; the slowly sliding bass in opener Flatliners that sounds like a zip chord in slow motion. There’s an intimacy in the lyrics too that struggles to ground the music, ‘Eclipse’ a series of brooding heartbreak songs of apparent poignancy.

That poignancy is difficult to discern as any emotional efforts are undermined by the album’s bulldozer-ish tendency to eclipse any subtlety in a wave of ever-soaring crescendos. As a whole the album is loose and lacks tension. The best track is Old Love/New Love featuring D’Angelo Lacy, a track that dares to break up the formula with a staccato dance rhythm that adds a welcome disco flare. Otherwise, this album sadly flatlines, albeit with all dials turned to eleven. The overall sound is dreamily seductive, but it’s in need of reining in a little – for that, be sure to give ‘Confess’ another listen.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Flatliners
* Alone
* Old Love/New Love

Listen: ‘Eclipse’ is released on March 17th.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

lovesong of the electric bear @ The Hope Theatre

lovesong of the electric bear The Hope Theatre

lovesong of the electric bear has some stiff, Oscar nominated competition. As with The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch, this play from writer Snoo Wilson (receiving its European premiere) centres on the life of Alan Turing. Both works are biographical, and each offers what the other lacks.

Where the grave The Imitation Game focuses predominantly on the mathematical genius of Turing and his role in the war, the contrastingly lighthearted lovesong of the electric bear focuses instead on his personal life. Stirred from his deathbed by his childhood teddy bear Porgy like some Ghost of Christmas Past, Turing is taken on a whirlwind flashback of his life. The significance of the bear? This is never really explained, but Porgy’s attempts to stop Turing from taking his own life are tragically futile.

We witness Turing as a nervous and bullied schoolboy with perpetually inky hands, a Cambridge student growing in confidence, a war hero, an awkward fiancé, a private homosexual. Yet despite the stage space cleverly utilised and filled with props and costumes like a machine or the insides of Turing’s mind, we never witness Turing actually at work as a cryptanalyst on his famous Enigma code-busting computer. The evidence for his genius is instead implied as the play turns its attention towards his personal life. Even then, this feels like a whistle-stop tour of key moments in his life. As a drama, the pace never slows to allow the events to settle in the mind or for the characters to breathe. The play never really gets to grips with its subject matter.

Through the eyes of Porgy, it all has a slight air of childishness, though this does allow for some psychedelic and inventive theatrical storytelling. The cast use the full space around the audience to great effect, with colourful lighting and a great number of props and costumes scattered around the room. It’s a thrill to watch and certainly feels immersive, though it’s equally disorientating and fragmented with the playful tone threatening to undermine the serious subject at the play’s heart.

Ian Hallard’s depiction of Turing is this production’s main draw. His performance is detailed, convincing and well thought out, full of awkward physical quirks. The play’s final moments with Turing on his deathbed are genuinely touching. Elsewhere, the remains of the cast are on fine comic form as they switch rapidly between various eccentrically portrayed characters. As such, Turing’s life is richly portrayed through some creative storytelling. Yet by the end, as with the play’s cinematic competition, Turing himself remains something of an enigma.


Watch: lovesong of the electric bear runs at the Hope Theatre until the 21st March.

lovesong of the electric bear The Hope Theatre
Photo: Scott Rylander

Monday, 9 March 2015

Madonna - Rebel Heart

Madonna Rebel Heart

The story of Madonna is becoming boring. Criticising this new album is like criticising her last album: she’s not what she was; she’s playing catch up to current trends; her songs sound like everyone else’s. Mostly she’s just not the artist she used to be and as each album comes and goes, it’s becoming crystal clear that the old magic will never be regained. Forget ‘Rebel Heart’, this album should be called ‘Déjà vu’.

Madonna may think she’s a rebel at heart, but here she’s nothing but a conformist. The best track here is probably current single Living For Love, but even then it’s a pretty standard pop-house track with Guetta-esque non-chorus. From there we hit a number of different genres as Madonna struggles to settle on a modern style to suit her: Devil Pray also features a non-chorus in its generic electronic-with-a-dash-of-guitar production (courtesy of Avicii obviously); Ghost Town goes full electro-ballad with grating autotune straight out of Kanye’s ‘808s and Heartbreak’; Unapologetic Bitch has unapologetically been swiped from Rihanna’s offcuts; Joan Of Arc is a more traditional snorefest pop ballad; Body Shop is a twee slow jam. The biggest overall influence is hip-hop, a genre so prevalent in current pop that it’s lost all rebellious connotations.

What’s most disappointing is that it’s not even that bad. This is overall a more consistent album than in the recent past with some decent production - as you’d expect from the likes of Diplo, Billboard and even Kanye West. The angular lines of Bitch I’m Madonna are instantly infectious, even with its noisy non-chorus; Iconic fares similarly. The whirring synths of Hold Tight also stand out, as does the pure trap of Veni Vidi Vici featuring Nas. That said, an actual chorus would be nice at some point.

The trouble is, ‘not that bad’ isn’t what we expect from Madonna. The album is too long, with too much filler and too little original personality. Perhaps the length comes from the early leaks and Madonna wanting to give something more in return. The lack of personality though, coming from Madonna especially, is inexcusable.

Where the production is enjoyable enough, lyrically ‘Rebel Heart’ is terrible. First there’s the faux anthemic Living For Love. That’s followed by the string of drug references in Devil Pray that proves she still isn’t over ‘MDMA’. HeartBreakCity includes the clunky line “Heartbreak city, it’s not that pretty”. Worst of all are the sexual references: Holy Water’s repeated line “bitch get off my pole” seemingly comes out of nowhere, whilst S.E.X. is probably the least sexiest song about sex in pop history. And that’s before you notice all the tiny references to her past material littered throughout the record, merely reminding us of her prime. Much has been made of Madonna’s age and her youthful reference points (sex, drugs) – it wouldn’t be a problem if the music was actually decent. Other artists are far more forward-thinking when it comes to implementing these themes.

It’s Madonna’s sheer arrogance that grates most of all though. “Bitch I’m Madonna”, “I’m an unapologetic bitch”, she notes before boasting that she’s “iconic”. Yet if ‘Rebel Heart’ didn’t have her name on it, would anyone really be interested? If anything, that name has been tarnished over the last few albums and the most iconic things she’s done recently are a shambles of a social media campaign and getting pulled off a stage - both of which are meme-worthy at best. If anything she should learn to apologise for releasing something so bland and generic; it just leaves a sour taste in the mouth.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Living For Love
* Bitch I’m Madonna
* Hold Tight

Listen: ‘Rebel Heart’ is available now.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Kelly Clarkson - Piece By Piece

Kelly Clarkson Piece By Piece

Blue Ivy brought out a more spiritual side in Beyoncé's already multi-faceted, independent woman persona. And we're yet to see how motherhood will affect Adele's forthcoming third album.

Yet no matter what Katie Hopkins might think, family life seems to be treating Kelly Clarkson well. 'Piece By Piece' is an overwhelmingly positive album of joyful pop. And with Clarkson's daughter seemingly loving her mother's music on Instagram, she's clearly got good taste.

If anything, Clarkson veers too far into slush - lyrically especially. With titles such as Invincible, I Had A Dream and Let Your Tears Fall, it's clear enough at first glance the album is full of feelgood anthems. The title song is perhaps the worst offender, with Clarkson comparing her current husband to her own father: "piece by piece he restored my faith, that a man can be kind and a father could stay". When she sings of the "queen of clichés" on I Had A Dream, you can't help but feel she's singing about herself.

Clarkson does redeem herself on Run Run Run, a duet with John Legend and a subtle vocal performance on an album full of upbeat electronic pop. Production-wise there is nothing novel about 'Piece By Piece'; instead it's an album of solid, if inoffensive, pop tracks. There are no bad songs, but equally it lacks a truly standout single. It does have its moments though: the way on Invincible the lyrics "what was I running from?" match the womping dubstep-lite beat; the clipped vocal samples of Take You High; the buzzing guitars of Dance With Me; the whole of Nostalgic.

Despite this, you can forgive Clarkson for the album's flaws, not to mention the cheesy video for single Heartbeat Song and the terrible album art. In part it's due to her powerhouse and impassioned vocal that isn't always given full reign, but when it does (as on bonus track Bad Reputation) the results are impressive. Mostly, though, it's that the album is simply pop fun: consistent, heartfelt, and simple enough for a baby to appreciate.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Run Run Run
* War Paint
* Nostalgic

Listen: 'Piece By Piece' is available now.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Romeo and Juliet @ The Peacock Theatre, Sadler's Wells

Romeo and Juliet The Peacock Theatre, Sadler's Wells

For all Shakespeare’s poetry, its two houses alike in dignity and its tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet is ultimately a story of teenage love and rebellion. So what better way of presenting it on stage than through pop music?

It’s not quite opera, but ballet certainly has something of a stuffy reputation. This production of Romeo and Juliet, from director Rasta Thomas, aims to entice a new, younger audience to the ballet with this strange concoction of classical and pop musical styles. For the most part it works, creating something fresh and different. The classical music choices are a little hackneyed (how many times is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons used in everything?), but the next minute the cast dance to the likes of Lady Gaga, Usher, LMFAO and The Police. Though jarring and confusing, hearing Prokofiev rubbing shoulders with Swedish House Mafia eventually proves enjoyable and is certain to please a younger audience.

Now, my hips don’t lie, but I’m definitely no ballet dancer. From my limited experience though, the dancers were outstanding. As with the music, the dance blurs the line between classical ballet and modern contemporary to suit each song, incorporating elements of gymnastics and hip-hop too. This is especially impressive from the male dancers, who flip and pirouette across the stage in a masculine display: Preston Swovelin has some spectacular moments as Romeo, whilst Ryan Carlson excels as a boxing, muscular Tybalt. With only two women in the cast, Adrienne Canterna undoubtedly stands out, but as both Juliet and choreographer of the production, it’s telling that she has plenty of solo moments in the spotlight.

However, this is equally a piece of storytelling and it’s here the production falters. It is not enough to rely on the presumption that the audience are familiar with the plot – it has been severely cut here and many characters are absent. What’s mainly missing is a sense of danger, even despite Carlson’s manly posturing as Tybalt; for the most part this is just a frothy love story. Visually, the costumes are an odd mix too and the projections add little to the narrative beyond the already clever choreography that's full of storytelling and symbolism. Mostly, it all feels a little disjointed: dance, applause, rinse repeat. With each dance lasting around two minutes, the show overall consists of short fragments that don’t flow seamlessly into a cohesive whole.

Individually, though, there are some beautiful, tender and touching moments, including Juliet’s exuberant joy dancing to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”, and a love duet to Desree’s “Kissing You” (indebted, of course, to the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film). Amongst all the youthful fun, there is some unexpected poignancy.


Watch: Romeo and Juliet runs at the Peacock Theatre, Sadler’s Wells until 29th March.

Photos: Irina Chira

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Purity Ring - another eternity

Purity Ring another eternity

“Get a little closer, let fold, cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you”.

That’s a lyric from Fineshrine on Purity Ring’s debut album ‘Shrines’, an album fixated with the body where carnal symbolism is laden with sexual connotations. That’s something that continues on this, the duo’s second album. On seacastle, singer Megan James intones almost threateningly “I could taste your vulnerable parts”, whilst repetition is a disturbing ode to intercourse as she beckons “climb up in my rattling spine and I’ll contract, tell me I’m the only one and I’ll move back”. At times, the lyrics have an air of forced poetry (you can read the lyrics on their website), but for the most part ‘another eternity’ is an album of bodily songs that strike the soul.

Juxtaposed with these lyrics is James’ girlish vocal. As with Lauren Mayberry (vocalist for the duo’s main rivals Chvrches), this is a voice of vulnerability and purity (ha), of a girl who sounds like she needs protecting – until you clock the lyrics at least. Couple with Corin Roddick’s dark and ghostly electronic production and it’s an intoxicating mix.

This, of course, we knew from their debut – so what’s new? ‘another eternity’ is a bigger step towards the pop end of the spectrum, resulting in an album that’s melodically stronger and more consistent. For all the crystal clear, percussive production that often sounds like it exists in a vacuum with its grand sense of sonic space, it’s the choruses and earworms that ensure the album will begin again…and again. Tracks like push pull and begin again are ripe for the charts – something that couldn’t always be said for the (then) futuristic sound of their debut.

Much of that pop influence actually comes from hip-hop: the stuttering, processed beats; the whirring synths; the prevalence of vocoder. That influence is most evident on the last handful of tracks. The handclap beat of flood on the floor, for instance, is begging for a rap verse; whilst the production of stillness in woe wouldn’t sound out of place on tracks by the likes of Drake or The Weeknd. That such typically aggressive and masculine sounding music is given a feminine twist with this delicate vocal is an unexpected, and sexually charged, twist.

If there’s one criticism to aim at Purity Ring, it’s that, whilst this album is bolder than the last, their sound hasn’t changed considerably – either between albums or between each track. Yet when it’s so unique there’s no need to. The duo have created their own world that plays with danger, innocence and sexuality. In 2012 it was the sound of the future and in 2015 it remains remarkably fresh.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* bodyache
* repetition
* begin again

Listen: ‘another eternity’ is available now.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Carly Rae Jepsen - I Really Like You

Carly Rae Jepsen I Really Like You

Yes, Carly Rae Jepsen has an annoying habit of writing meme-inducing songs. This is no exception.

Yes, this is still simple synth pop that could be taken straight off her last album – her style hasn’t changed since the release of her debut in 2012.

And yes, it sounds like a slightly sped up version of Taylor Swift’s All You Had To Do Was Stay.

But, importantly, this song is just pure, bubbly pop fun. Like Call Me Maybe, it’s a song about being a bit premature, with a sing-along hook and bags of charm.

What’s most frustrating though is that whilst the song is available immediately in the US, the UK release isn’t until THE FOURTEENTH OF JUNE. In this day and age of globalisation, it will have been played on YouTube and illegally downloaded before it’s even had a chance to hit the charts and we’re all sick of it already. No matter how much you like it now, by the time the UK release comes along this could well be really really really really really really annoying.


Listen: I Really Like You is available in the UK on the 14th June.