Saturday, 8 December 2018

The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

Give Yourself A Try was not a good comeback single. Two years after the release of The 1975's seminal, near perfect pop-rock second album, this new single was a disappointment. Its two note riff, repeated infinitely, is incessant. It's harmonically stagnant. Musically at least, the song goes nowhere.

Lyrically though there's more going on. While it initially seems to be about nostalgia, its repeated chorus mantra of "give yourself a try" seems aimed more at lead singer Matty Healy himself than anyone else. He's been open in public about dealing with substance abuse, which lends this song a great deal of catharsis, almost begging himself to clean up his act.

In the context of the album, Give Yourself A Try makes a lot more sense and acts as the perfect gateway to this new album with all its strengths and flaws. Lyrically it probes into Healy's own addictions and issues with modern society. Yet musically its songs are monotonous and simplistic, or rambling and insular, and too often border on the pretentious.

TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME is an upbeat song about infidelity that has proven to be the most radio friendly of the album's singles, but it too is musically on one level that goes nowhere. Inside Your Mind similarly features an irritating two note guitar riff. And closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes) centres on the most banal acoustic guitar chord sequence, its apparently cinematic feel ripped straight from an Oasis song (not a compliment).

Yet where the album is in part too simple, in others it's overly experimental. How To Draw/Petrichor is an extension of a previous bonus track that meanders along like a Radiohead knock-off with glitchy beats and wafting orchestrations; Sincerity Is Scary has an improvised jazz influence to match Healy verbosely going on about postmodernism and irony; The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme takes monotony to the extreme with a story spoken in a robotic voice about the dangers of the Internet. Across the album vocoders rub shoulders with acoustic guitars, electronics and orchestrations. But it mainly feels overblown, the profundity Healy seemingly shows in interviews not always translating to the songs themselves.

Moreover, there are too many ballads as Healy turns from Radiohead, through James Blake and Damien Rice to Morissey. Tracks like Be My Mistake, Inside Your Mind and Surrounded By Heads And Bodies are long and dreary to the point of being morose. And while these songs deal with interesting modern subjects like rehab, impenetrable thoughts and the guilt of a meaningless hookup, it turns the album into an endless slog.

And it doesn't have to be. This is a frustrating album with moments of pure brilliance overwhelmed by tonal shifts and dreary pretentiousness, moments where social conscience and musical production align. I Like America & America Likes Me is a song against the use of guns, Healy singing "I'm scared of dying" in a mournful vocoder as if his voice is stifled against the noise. It's Not Living (If It's Not With You) is a fun, hook-laden pop rock song that harks back to the band's best, until you realise it's not an ode to a lover but the drugs Healy is so desperately trying to overcome. It's a heart-wrenching twist to a smart pop song.

The album's crowning achievement though is Love It If We Made It. While the verses follow another one-note melody, here it feels more intentional, a stream of (social) consciousness. And then in the chorus it gives way to this widescreen moment of glorious euphoria where the tightly coiled music stretches its celestial wings as Healy sings the album's simplest yet most loaded lyric: "I'd love it if we made it." It's a moment of pure hope, of pop brilliance. If only the whole album was the same.

3/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Love It If We Made It
* I Like American & America Likes Me
* It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)

Listen: 'A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships' is out now.


Sunday, 2 December 2018

New Music Friday 30/11

Mark Ronson feat. Miley Cyrus - Nothing Breaks Like A Heart

Mark Ronson feat. Miley Cyrus - Nothing Breaks Like A Heart

Miley Cyrus channeling her godmother Dolly Parton singing Jolene given a modern twist with Mark Ronson's slick production? Yes please. This is what modern day country should sound like. Probably one of the best songs Miley has done.

Add to playlist.



Grimes feat. HANA - We Appreciate Power

Grimes feat. HANA - We Appreciate Power

It's already been over three years since Grimes released her fourth album 'Art Angels', so fans have been eagerly awaiting new music. We Appreciate Power goes down the rock route, her delicate vocals juxtaposed with thrumming guitars and a riot grrrl attitude. There's plenty of drama here, but those who prefer her earlier more electronic work may be disappointed.

Worth a listen.



Emily Burns - Damn Good Liar

Emily Burns - Damn Good Liar

Another week, another Emily Burns single. But this might just be her best yet. Where most other popstars aim for banger after banger, Burns delivers smart pop that's restrained but intricately put together. The pre-chorus builds to a crescendo that never comes, the chorus muted yet cleverly punctuated beneath the vocal hook. It's a song that surprises, even when Burns is an artist who consistently delivers.

Add to playlist.



Jax Jones and Years & Years - Play

Jax Jones and Years & Years - Play

'Palo Santo' hasn't quite delivered the singles success of 'Communion', but Years & Years remain a dominant force in pop. Partnering with Jax Jones is a safe choice but the results are decent, Olly Alexander's distinctive voice rising above typical house production. Enjoyable in a "let's start Saturday night with a banger" kind of way.

Worth a listen.



Cheat Codes x Kim Petras - Feeling of Falling

Cheat Codes x Kim Petras - Feeling of Falling

Here's another solo artist partnering with a dance act to raise their profile. Feeling of Falling probably would've made a great solo single for Petras. As it stands, she sings over polished Chainsmoker's-esque production (mellow guitars and thudding beats) that's nice enough, but the chorus at least is an unexpected joy.

Worth a listen.



ZAYN - Rainberry

ZAYN - Rainberry

ZAYN has never managed to replicate the immediate success of first single Pillowtalk. Maybe that's haunting him. He's had a whole load of singles since the release of his first album, drifting further outwards from R&B into rock and pop territory as if reaching for a new twist on his sound. Rainberry feels Prince-esque, with its funk feel and synth stabs. But it feels like Malik's fame is slipping through his fingers, even with a new album due imminently.

Worth a listen.




Friday, 30 November 2018

Magic Mike Live @ The Hippodrome Theatre

Magic Mike Live @ The Hippodrome Theatre


They say people are sexier with their clothes on. Never has a truer word been said.

Magic Mike Live is of course a show about male strippers, but the men are far sexier when they're not in the semi-buff flashing rock hard abs and twinkling smiles. When they're singing love songs from behind a piano. Tap dancing. Smouldering in suits.

Funnily enough, there's the potential for an interesting show beneath all the gawping and bravado, a show about men and masculinity in all its forms, the truth about female sexual desire. The men themselves are an ethnically diverse bunch who perform multiple dance styles that trade in different shades of masculinity. Confidence. Shyness. Sensuality. Talent. The latter, more than anything, is far sexier than thrusting in a woman's face, be it singing, dancing, athleticism, spinning on a rope from the ceiling, or dancing in the rain.

Yet all this is wrapped up in some horrifying gender politics. We're told we can touch the men, that ladies these men are here for your pleasure. And the audience do as they desire, lustily, greedily grabbing for any pair of buttocks in easy reach. In seeking to flip the male gaze on its head, the show reaches an opposing, shocking extreme. Men aren't allowed to touch women in a strip club, why should women be allowed to touch men?

It's the female MC, played by Sophie Linder-Lee, who represents all the worst qualities of the show. Beyond simply being an irritating distraction between the dances, her dated jokes are full of gross-out humour that utterly cheapen the show. "My minge is like a Tesco Express," she tells us, "it's always open." Later she borders on the xenophobic, asking an Italian dancer to speak English when he lovingly describes a woman in his native language. Rather than aiming for anything nuanced or intelligent, the script is crass and the dancing animalistic to the point of pornography.

Further, it's clear the show is designed exclusively for women. The MC always addresses the audience as ladies. The humour is all female-orientated. And that's despite the multiple men in the audience, be they gay or straight, single or accompanying their spouse. There's a distinct lack of inclusion here, never straying from its heteronormative roots. A show about semi-naked men is always going to attract a gay audience; to not acknowledge that is a missed opportunity that alienates a small but not insignificant portion of the crowd.

That lack of acknowledgement stretches to the dancers themselves, too. It's great that they dive and climb into the audience from all angles to entertain everyone to the full, except anyone who isn't female. Barely a glance or a jokey wink are aimed at the male audience. Instead, these hyper-masculine dancers, so secure in their sexuality, are not so secure as to even laugh at themselves in front of another man. They are slaves to femininity.

Is all this thinking too much on a show about the simple pleasures of sex and stripping? Probably. For those audience members celebrating a birthday/hen-do/special occasion (delete as appropriate), more than tipsy on cocktails and high on the scent of pheromones, this is a highly entertaining evening of male semi-nudity, sweat, after shave and...athletic ability. 10/10 would watch again.

But with its false opening, it's framed as being something more than a shallow cheap show. Yet that's ultimately all it is. It's meant to make us feel empowered. Instead you'll need a cold shower.

2/5

Watch: Magic Mike Live runs at the Hippodrome Theatre until October 2019.


Friday, 23 November 2018

How To Catch A Krampus! @ The Pleasance Theatre

How To Catch A Krampus! @ The Pleasance Theatre

What's a Krampus? According to Central European folklore, it's a horned beast that punishes naughty children at Christmas. It's the anti-Santa, which is fitting for this anti-Christmas show from the drag queens of Sink The Pink.

The story these queens tell is a flimsy one: something about a lost child, a creepy German, and a psychic tasked with rescuing the innocent. Really, it's a loose excuse to put on an outrageous, macabre drag show. Between each of the scenes are hilarious and twisted drag skits: from joke Christmas adverts and dirty Morris dancing, to a mini operetta and more.

It's here that the queens really shine individually, giving the show a riotous feel full of bizarre humour. Ginger Johnson (who also wrote and directed the show) in particular is a brilliant leading lady, who sets the tone with charm and eases us into this spooky narrative, while Mahatma Khandi's opera moment is hilarious and unexpected.

The show is all about taking familiar ideas of panto and putting a twist on them, from riffing on pop songs (there's a particularly saucy version of Rihanna's S&M here from Lavinia Coop), to audience participation, to the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas song given a sadistic twist. The humour throughout is as crude and bawdy as you'd expect from an adult panto, and the horror twist makes this a deliciously different Christmas show.

As a piece of pure theatre it's nonsensical, with a tenuous story and production that's a little rough, though that all fits with the uproarious, hysterical, punk nature of the show. Is it entertaining? You bet your Christmas wig it is.

3/5

Watch: How To Catch A Krampus runs at the Pleasance Theatre until 23rd December.

How To Catch A Krampus! @ The Pleasance Theatre

How To Catch A Krampus! @ The Pleasance Theatre
Photos: Ali Wright

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Dietrich: Natural Duty @ Wilton's Music Hall

Dietrich: Natural Duty @ Wilton's Music Hall

So many heroes and heroines have been torn between love, romance, career and freedom, and a sense of duty - duty to family, morals or, in the case of Marlene Dietrich, to her country. Born in Berlin in 1901, the actress had a highly successful Hollywood career but renounced her German citizenship during World War II to join the American army, entertaining GIs with her cabaret performances. It's an extraordinary story that's captured here by Peter Groom in his one (wo)man drag show.

As a performer, Dietrich was a provocative figure who blurred the boundaries of gender. Her film roles were often sexually charged femme fatales, while on stage she would perform songs typically associated with men wearing top hat and tails. This translates wonderfully to Groom in drag, taking that exploration of gender a step further.

He certainly looks stunning and he encapsulates a coy girlish sexuality, expertly mimicking Dietrich's slow and seductive looks. He reflects a heightened femininity, just as she did, with a tongue in cheek, sexually liberated humour that is nonetheless poised and classy throughout.

The show itself mixes drag with cabaret and song, taking us from Hollywood starlet to wartime heroine. Groom never breaks character, presenting a sort of cabaret show within a cabaret show, his high fluttering voice and free, staccato delivery enchanting from song to song. In these moments of pure performance, he is utterly captivating.

Yet Dietrich's inner turmoil as she battles between duty to her country and a love of filmmaking is perhaps too subtly underplayed, Groom cutting a dignified stage presence that rarely breaks into relatable humanity. This is countered by the disembodied voice of a journalist asking questions during her show, a needless and forced way of pushing the narrative on that breaks the cabaret illusion.

Groom looks every bit the glamorous diva and his performance is touching. Dietrich: Natural Duty may be as featherlight as his voice, but there's just enough here to make you think.

3/5

Watch: Dietrich: Natural Duty runs at the Wilton's Music Hall until 24th November as part of the show's world tour.

Dietrich: Natural Duty @ Wilton's Music Hall
Photos: Monir El Haimar

Monday, 19 November 2018

Fanatical @ The Playground Theatre

Fanatical @ The Playground Theatre

There’s a long history of science-fiction and comic book musicals, some more successful than others. But where the likes of Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Show have proven timeless, others have been infamous flops – looking at you Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark. Fanatical, playing at The Playground Theatre, follows suit with a tone that’s kitschy and camp, but delivers a sincere message with heart.

Rather than being a sci-fi musical itself, it’s a musical about a sci-fi convention and the fans who attend. The story is a little flimsy, following convention creator Trix (Suanne Braun) as she struggles to keep a hold on a group of young fans and a convention rife with disaster. It’s predictable stuff, with an obvious Wizard of Oz twist, dialogue littered with outdated slang, and one-note characters. Initially at least, it relies on an antiquated view of geeks as awkward, socially inept weirdoes. Science-fiction and comic books are amongst the most popular forms of entertainment – it’s not all snotty teenagers and trolls starting Twitter fan wars.

Yet – as the predictable twists cement – the show is all about defying expectations. It’s about stripping back the layers of fanaticism to see the people underneath, the outsiders striving for acceptance amongst their peers. At the heart of every geek is just a passionate creative and that deserves to be celebrated. The actions of the show’s characters are frequently farcical and unbelievable, but they’re lovable people all the same.

There are moments of real spark here. “You Should See Her Fly” in the first act sees Andra (Sophie Powles) cosplaying as her favourite comic character, describing the literal flights of fancy that drew her in. Powles gives an electric performance, the song tapping into themes of heroism and identity and the lessons that comic books teach us in our personal development. This song is the heart of the show, an ode to the characters that inspire fanaticism. It’s followed by “Look What I Made”, a cute number about fan art, podcasts and more, proving the inspirational value of the genre.

The setting of a comic convention is rich, but here it’s not quite pushed far enough. The staging is, excuse the pun, conventional – more could be done to expand off the stage and draw us in. Not having the programme designed as a comic book is also a missed opportunity.

There are plenty of nods to familiar comics and sci-fi franchises in the script, however, and the music follows suit. The band may be minimal, but whirring synth melodies add futuristic flavour and composer Matt Board’s melodies are suitably catchy. You’ll be singing the theme tune to the fictional TV show all the way home.

The show eventually devolves into silliness, but the cast perform with such colourful high energy that it’s all wholeheartedly endearing. Sci-fi may seem niche, but it’s easy to be swept along by this adventure – Fanatical really is for everyone.

3/5

Watch: Fanatical runs at The Playground Theatre until 9th December.

Fanatical @ The Playground Theatre

Fanatical @ The Playground Theatre
Photos: Scott Rylander

Saturday, 10 November 2018

New Music Friday 09/11

Cheryl - Love Made Me Do It

Cheryl - Love Made Me Do It

Let's face it, Cheryl has only really had two decent hits: Fight For This Love and Call My Name, both of which paired strong pop writing with key moments in her life. The former clearly reflected her struggling relationship with footballer Ashley Cole, while for the latter she literally changed her name. Love Made Me Do It is attempting the same trick, with lyrics that look back on her love life and play with her celebrity status. "Oh my god, I'm such a sucker / I fall in love with every fucker," she notes dryly in the pre-chorus. Yet unlike her previous hits, this is not a good song. The stark, percussive production sounds like a Selena Gomez cast-off and, if this wasn't Cheryl singing, nobody would be talking about it.

Dont bother.



Ariana Grande - thank u, next

Ariana Grande - thank u, next


Cheryl isn't the only one singing about exes this week - Ariana got there first. thank u, next comes after her engagement to Pete Davidson fell through and will be the title track of her already announced next album. Note to self: don't ever make an album about a boyfriend in case it doesn't work out. Thankfully, this is an enjoyable sassy kiss-off to her past lovers, each named directly, and a lesson in self-love. Her brand of pop R&B has really developed into a solid Ariana sound, meaning this already sounds like it's been part of her back catalogue for years.

Add to playlist.



Kelly Clarkson - Never Enough


Despite being an utterly terrible film, the music of The Greatest Showman has seen ubiquitous success, perhaps because each song works both individually and as part of the narrative. That's why the forthcoming 'Reimagined' album - in which pop singers have re-recorded the songs - is likely to be such a triumph. Kelly Clarkson's Never Enough is already a highlight, a soaring ballad that could feasibly have come from any of her albums - and she sounds great.

Worth a listen.



Jonas Blue feat. Nina Nesbitt - Desperate

Jonas Blue & Nina Nesbitt - Desperate

The list of DJ and producer Jonas Blue's previous releases is a list of hits that pretty much sound the same. Now they're collected on his debut album 'Blue', from which this new track with Nina Nesbitt is taken. Nesbitt herself has been on an upward trajectory with a pop reinvention and some solid new songs, so featuring on a big dance hit certainly won't hurt her momentum. For Blue, it's likely to be another annoyingly pervasive success.

Worth a listen.



Friday, 2 November 2018

Brexit @ The Kings Head Theatre

Brexit @ The Kings Head Theatre

There have been plenty of Brexit themed plays and musicals over the past year, which is understandable when theatre is so adept at political satire. Brexit, from writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, received plenty of acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and now premieres at the Kings Head Theatre.

Its beginning apes reality, though another two years in the future. A new Prime Minister, Adam Masters (Timothy Bentinck), takes the poisoned chalice of leadership in the midst of Brexit negotiations that are going nowhere. Bentinck's character is somewhat bumbling and inept, as much a pawn himself as he is playing others. Indecision is his greatest weakness, yet paradoxically his greatest strength.

That's key to a play that thrives on duality and (smoke and) mirrors. Political stalemate is here made literal with liberal use of chess metaphors - a clichéd, though certainly apt, choice. More clever is the play's structure around repeated scenes and language, like a fragmented mirror. It's reflected too in Salinsky's staging, pitting political opposition against each other for the audience's delectation.

Masters is tasked with appointing two ministers to his cabinet: for trade and for Brexit. His masterstroke is to choose ministers with vastly opposing views, Diana Purdy (Pippa Evans) and Simon Cavendish (Thom Tuck). There are no good options, only problematic ones. But who is playing who? Is Brexit really better than being part of the EU? And the Prime Minister surely wouldn't only be thinking of his own reputation in all this...would he?

Khan and Salinsky have written a tight and smart political drama, full of manipulation and intrigue to have the audience, as much as the characters, guessing until the end. Equally, it's incredibly funny. The cartoonish characters are preposterous caricatures - in particular Tuck's jingoistic Cavendish and Evans' duplicitous Purdy - and there are some wonderfully acerbic lines, catty insults shot like bullets. In their witty and biting satire on the state of the U.K., nobody is safe from Khan and Salinksy's sharp minds and poisonous pen.

Yet despite its exaggeration, Brexit feels scarily prescient. At the very least, we can all have a laugh at the political jokes and a quiet sob at the glimpse of our future. Don't be surprised if this is exactly how it plays out.

4/5

Watch: Brexit runs at the Kings Head Theatre until November 17th.

Brexit @ The Kings Head Theatre

Brexit @ The Kings Head Theatre
Photos: Steve Ullathorne

New Music Friday 02/11

Carly Rae Jepsen - Party For One

Carly Rae Jepsen - Party For One

Party For One is Carly Rae Jepsen 101: sugary synths, immediate hooks, danceable beats, relatable lyrics. The simplicity of the opening verse sets up initial vulnerability - "Tried to let it go and say I'm over you / I'm not over you...but I'm trying" - for what ultimately becomes an empowering anthem of self-love. It's fun but with a solid emotional core, which makes it perfect pop - exactly what we'd expect.

Add to playlist.



Little Mix - Joan of Arc

Little Mix - Joan of Arc

On the one hand this is a ridiculously try-hard feisty feminist anthem, with cringeworthy lyrics like "fanning myself, I'm stanning myself / I love me so much I put my hands on myself" and unsubtle nods to Beyoncé in the "I put my own rock on my hand". On the other hand, this is a ridiculously over the top feisty feminist anthem that's eminently quotable and meme-worthy. It's so bonkers it's...good?

Worth a listen.



Clean Bandit feat. Marina and the Diamonds & Luis Fonsi - Baby

Clean Bandit feat. Marina and the Diamonds & Luis Fonsi - Baby

This is another 'bonkers but it works' song. It's most notable for hailing the return of label mate Marina and the Diamonds who provides typically fluttering vocals, while the production jerks through reggaeton rhythms, Spanish guitars and throbbing synth bass in weird but wonderful fashion. It's just one feature too many - Luis Fonsi is a needless inclusion, aimed only at buttering up the Latino markets.

Worth a listen.



Maisie Peters - Feels Like This

Maisie Peters - Feels Like This

Elfin vocals and a piano might seem a little John Lewis advert, but Feels Like This has real emotional integrity. The style is melancholic but it's actually a sweet love song about, as she sings in the second verse, "the little things, I'm shivering." It's the closing track from Peters' new EP 'Dressed Too Nice For A Jacket', full of sweet folky pop.

Worth a listen.



Hailee Steinfeld - Back to Life

Hailee Steinfeld - Back to Life

Let's just ignore for a moment the fact this is taken from the soundtrack to Bumblebee, the likely-to-be-awful Transformers spin-off movie. Back to Life is a breathless slice of synth pop with a hefty beat, fun little guitar licks, radio-friendly chorus and a suitably cinematic middle eight. It's not going to win awards for originality - this sounds very '2018' - but Steinfeld is yet to really put a foot wrong. Where is that debut album?

Worth a listen.



Monday, 29 October 2018

Robyn - Honey

Robyn - Honey

The warning signs were there in the first strain of the title track:

No, you're not gonna get what you need
But baby, I have what you want
Come get your honey

This might not be the Robyn album that many of her fans wanted. But it's the Robyn album that she needed to make. It's been eight years since the release of 'Body Talk' - years spent grieving for friends and relationships - and those years are all here, in the music.

What this isn't, as many anticipated, is 'Body Talk Pt. 3', though opener Missing You does give that impression. Initially, it seems, not much has changed - Robyn is still delivering sad pop bangers, pairing melancholic lyrics with crystalline dance production. Yet it's more subtle than the song's predecessors - the way the synth pads never resolve, the way it drifts unstructured into thought, the hushed vocal delivery until that final "I miss you". That subtlety and craft foreshadows what's to come.

Musically at least, 'Honey' is less crying in the club and more contemplating at the after party. It's altogether more introspective than her previous work, stretching her bittersweet style to the logical extremes: heavier on the dance influences, yet equally more intimate. It's experimental and less rigidly structured, turning hypnotic dance beats into pensive thought rather than euphoric escapism.

The songs are presented in the order they were written. The result is an album that takes us on a journey, beginning with heartbreak and moving through grief. In this context Missing You makes sense - it's not just a song about longing for a lover or a friend, it's a nod to the past Robyn before moving into newer territory. "I'm a human being," she almost pleads on Human Being over sparse robotic beats and glitching rhythms, as if breaking out of her past self.

Because It's In The Music is Robyn at her most sweet yet melancholic, her lyrics of reminiscence ("I'm right back in that moment and it makes me want to cry") layered over production that glitters and shimmers like the stardust she sings of. It's followed by Baby Forgive Me, with similar disco under-pinning and a warped vocal counter-melody that almost mocks her pleading, the harmony shifting in the second chorus as her pleas become more desperate ("Just let me make you smile again, baby"). It bleeds into Send To Robin Immediately like a stream of consciousness - an introspective, largely instrumental track that sees Robyn (and us along with her) lost in thought.

By the time we get to the title track, its sensuality feels familiar like a warm bath. It's here that Robyn begins to find herself again after her experiences of loss, find herself in the playfulness of music. From there it's a rising swell of positivity - through 90s house - towards closing track Ever Again. Here the album ends on a moment of pure euphoria, the production blown widescreen (under the production helm of Metronomy's Joseph Mount) as we're simultaneously grounded in the club and soaring to the stars. "Never gonna be brokenhearted ever again," she sings with unbridled freedom and joy.

'Honey', then, is an album of crisis and self-discovery, of loss and comfort and a brighter future, as downbeat as it is upbeat. It is frequently beautiful, daring and bold - both in its experimental construction and its subverting of our expectations. It is also meticulously crafted, with too many tiny details and moments to list individually.

But it's not without its flaws. Beyond the initial disappointment at the lack of consistent pop bangers - or perhaps because of that lack - the dance influences cause some tracks to feel too drawn out. Between The Lines and Beach2k20 in particular border on 90s pastiche, the hypnotic beats drifting into monotony. And while there's depth to the production and the songwriting (often what's unsaid allows us space to ponder), the album probably won't be played on repeat for years to come, but instead saved for certain moments of reflection.

In that sense, 'Honey' was perhaps more cathartic for Robyn to write than enjoyable for us to listen to - the album she needed, but not that we necessarily wanted. This is her 'Honey'. Whether it's yours is up to you.

5/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Missing You
* Honey
* Ever Again

Listen: 'Honey' is out now.



Saturday, 27 October 2018

New Music Friday 26/10

Rudimental feat. Tom Walker - Walk Alone

Rudimental feat. Tom Walker - Walk Alone

Rudimental are well known for collaborating with a huge variety of vocalists. Walker is best known for his 2017 hit Leave A Light On, and on Walk Alone he brings gruff vocals and a more subdued tone to Rudimental's usual brass sound. Whether the group's forthcoming album, due in January, has variety to match the vocalists, though, remains to be seen.

Worth a listen.



Ellie Goulding x Diplo feat. Swae Lee - Close To Me

Ellie Goulding x Diplo feat. Swae Lee - Close To Me

It's not often you hear an augmented fifth in a pop song. It's a chromatic leap that's hard to sing and doesn't sound great. But that's the only thing of note in this Ellie Goulding comeback single that's otherwise by the numbers Diplo production. She used to be more experimental than this; and so was Diplo.

Don't bother.



Cardi B - Money

Cardi B - Money

Look, I've never seen the appeal of Cardi B at all. But this especially is vacuous rubbish about loving cold hard cash more than anything. And its hook sounds like Beez In The Trap - ironic considering her feud with Nicki Minaj.

Don't bother.



L Devine - Nervous

L Devine - Nervous

So far L Devine seems like little more than a more hipster Dua Lipa - cool aesthetic, black and white videos, and the same record label. But Nervous is her best track so far. The influence of Dev Hynes is clear in the sparse production and funk guitars, but the lyrics (describing nerves during a first date) and catchy hooks add a youthful edge. There's definitely a potential superstar here.

Add to playlist.



Allie X - Girl of the Year

Allie X - Girl of the Year

Forthcoming album 'Super Sunset' is due out next week, but here's one last single before then. It's quintessential Allie X: lyrics full of metaphor ("I'm just a battery to keep you energized") and heavy synth production. That album is shaping up to be pretty unmissable.

Add to playlist.



joan - all the way

joan - all the way

This new song from the indie-pop duo is like all the best 80s songs thrown together as one. Prince-esque dry funk guitars, heavily reverbed Phil Collins drums, and a synth bass that wouldn't sound out of place on a Michael Jackson track. There are modern touches too, like the processed vocals and the sugary sheen of polish - it all amounts to a hugely addictive listen.

Add to playlist.



Icona Pop - Rhythm In My Blood

Icona Pop - Rhythm In My Blood

Swedish duo Icona Pop have never surpassed their Charli XCX collaboration I Love It, but this might be their closest yet. It's a stomping, strutting synth-pop track full of suitably rhythmic hooks. But do they really have much of a fanbase outside of their home country to make this a hit?

Worth a listen.


Hayley Kiyoko @ O2 Academy Islington

Hayley Kiyoko @ O2 Academy Islington

It's been quite the year for queer artists. Janelle Monaé gave us an exploration of queer black America. Troye Sivan and Years & Years gave us sexy queer confidence. We've had bops, albums and representation in multiple genres from the likes of MNEK, Kim Petras, St Vincent and Sophie.

And then there's Hayley Kiyoko, without whom we wouldn't even have #20GAYTEEN.

The ex-Disney star's pop is aimed squarely at a young audience, as proven by the crowd of teens in attendance. Yet far from bubblegum, her R&B-tinged sound is as empowering as it is catchy. Breakout hit Girls Like Girls sounds like frothy pop but it's a sincere subversion of typical straight pop; tracks like Curious and What I Need are radio-friendly potential chart toppers about embracing sexuality. Every song is a queer anthem. Every song sounds like the last song of the night.

Though predominantly songs taken from debut album 'Expectations', the set also included work from earlier EPs. Clearly written at a more exploratory stage in her career, they border on Disney channel emo teen songs - but they're no less powerful to the crowd.

No matter what she's singing, though, Kiyoko is a popstar through and through. The way she works up the crowd, dances to the heavy beats, struts along the stage with conviction. She is a commanding stage presence oozing confidence, a young woman as comfortable on-stage as she is in her own skin entrancing and empowering a crowd of teens in the midst of finding themselves. It's a superstar performance worthy of far bigger venues, even when the poor sound quality of the Islington Academy threatened to ruin the night.

Not that the crowd cared as they - understandably - chanted "lesbian Jesus" between songs. In fact, their reactions were the most heartwarming part of this gig. A crowd of free-spirited predominantly young queer females holding each other, swaying to the music, waving pride flags in a welcoming space of equality, openness and acceptance. This. This is the future of pop music.

4/5

Hayley Kiyoko @ O2 Academy Islington

Hayley Kiyoko @ O2 Academy Islington

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Assassination Nation

Assassination Nation

Few film genres are as socially conscious as the teen movie. Every generation has its own, a reflection of society at the time and all its anxieties.

Assassination Nation, a black comedy from writer-director Sam Levinson, is a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of social anxiety, injustice and prejudice. There's even a roll-call of trigger warnings at the start: toxic masculinity, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so much more. Though the film centres on four girls in an American high school (with shades of modern day Heathers), its themes don't quite coalesce into a cohesive story. Instead it plays out like a series of montages and vignettes that thrive on a perpetually intense atmosphere.

Levinson shoots the film like a horror. Noir lighting, abstract camera angles, and stark use of sound and an ominous soundtrack all add to a sense of constant dread that keeps us on the edge of our seats. The colours red, white and blue also proliferate in the moody lighting and costumes that hammers home this state of the nation satire, full of powerful imagery that frequently shocks.

Yet unlike other horror films, there's no beast, ghost or witch to face against. Instead, it's the omniscience of the internet that is the nemesis of our social media obsessed heroines and through this, everyone and anything becomes terrifying. The assassination of the title is social assassination through hacked phones and leaked information. Every character has a secret, but whose will be uncovered next? Whose life is about to be ruined with catastrophic consequences?

What's most terrifying is how real this can all feel, especially under the social pressures of being a teen. Levinson shoots much of the film on camera phones, turning this social satire into a frightening reality - a modern day witch hunt. It's no coincidence it's set in Salem.

The internet empowers as much as it frightens, but Assassination Nation explores what happens when that power falls into the wrong hands. If teen films are about fighting back against adults, then Levinson's film represents the ultimate teen power fantasy, able to cause mass destruction at the click of a button.

Eventually these "assassinations" do become real and the film descends into grotesque and extreme violence, almost revelling in it. It evolves from a smart teen horror into a #MeToo feminist revenge story that's badass, but overstates the point before erupting into a full-on gender war. Speaking of gender, perhaps best of all is that one of the four girls is transgender and represented wonderfully by Hari Nef - not only a fully-rounded character far from ticking a box, but of course given all the best lines.

Assassination Nation is smartly terrifying yet utterly absurd in its cartoonish satire, as preposterous as it is close to reality. It's the perfect reflection of society today: a divisive film for a divided population.

3/5

Watch: Assassination Nation was shown at the London Film Festival and will be released on 23rd November.


Sunday, 21 October 2018

New Music Friday 19/10

Zara Larsson - Ruin My Life

Zara Larsson - Ruin My Life

Larsson's life is far from ruined, after the success of her debut album and featuring on Clean Bandit's Symphony. Ruin My Life isn't the all out pop banger we may want, but it's a yearning synth-ballad about the desperation of longing for a toxic relationship. News of the second album is set to follow soon.

Worth a listen.



Post Malone & Swae Lee - Sunflower

Post Malone & Swae Lee - Sunflower

You can't walk two metres without hearing Post Malone somewhere. The American rapper has certainly made a career out of a solid Drake impression and Sunflower is no different, with its downbeat melodies and pleasingly squelchy production. His style is notably sanitised for its inclusion as part of the upcoming Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse animated film, but it's not quite Kendrick Lamar for Black Panther.

Worth a listen.



Dua Lipa & BLACKPINK - Kiss and Make Up

Dua Lipa & BLACKPINK - Kiss and Make Up

At this point, Dua Lipa has become a global superstar. Partnering with K-Pop group BLACKPINK is therefore a canny move for all her Asian fans, though it's hardly the first time she's done this: Calvin Harris, Diplo, Sean Paul, Martin Garrix and Miguel have all been on her hit list. Kiss and Make Up is pretty much what we've come to expect from Dua, which is fine even when her ubiquity is starting to dull our excitement.

Worth a listen.



The 1975 - It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)

The 1975 - It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)

The return of The 1975 has been pretty lacklustre so far, but It's Not Living... is a return to form - least of all because it has a proper structure and actual melody. The stadium guitars and heavy snare drum bring back the upbeat '80s pop-rock sound we know and love, juxtaposed with lyrics that depict Matty Healy's heroin addiction. This is smart pop that could be an off cut from the band's previous album - definitely a good thing.

Worth a listen.



Friendly Fires - Heaven Let Me In

Friendly Fires - Heaven Let Me In

Love Like Waves earlier in the year was a brilliant summer tune that was criminally overlooked. Heaven Let Me In sees the band turning to full on house music. Choppy and funky, this is a bold but natural development of their sound - though it may upset longtime fans.

Worth a listen.



Mariah Carey feat. Ty Dolla $ign - The Distance

Mariah Carey feat. Ty Dolla $ign - The Distance

Brush aside the inclusion of an overly featured rapper for relevance, and this is a seductive return from Mariah with a bass line that is downright filthy. Vocally it's more limited than the songs she's known for, even though it's a familiar R&B groove. And that bass...

Worth a listen.



Tove Styrke - Vibe

Tove Styrke - Vibe

Styrke is known for her down to earth, relatable pop that continues with Vibe. "I thought we had a vibe," she sings in the chorus, questioning the reality of a failed relationship. It's taken from her album 'Sway' released earlier in the year - if you've slept on it, now's the time to check it out.

Worth a listen.



Cher Lloyd - None Of My Business

Cher Lloyd - None Of My Business

Yep, she's still going. None Of My Business is Lloyd's first solo release since 2016, and it's a sassy kiss-off to an ex-lover: "Damn, I heard that you and her been having issues / I wish you the best, I hope that she can fix you," she sings in the chorus, "but baby this is none of my business." It's a sultry comeback that goes some way to shaking off her bratty image.

Worth a listen.



Saturday, 20 October 2018

A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born

There's a speech towards the end of A Star Is Born where one character describes music as just twelve notes rearranged in a different fashion. It's meant to be a profound statement on the nature of music, but it's also an ironic metaphor for the film itself. It is a modern retelling of the 1937 film of the same name, itself remade twice more with Judy Garland and Barba Streisand, and whose story has been endlessly repeated in all forms of media.

It is an achingly familiar boy meets girl story. Girl is a struggling performer, working as a waitress and moonlighting as a singer in a drag club. Boy is a drug and alcoholic addicted rockstar whose career is waning. Somehow they fall in love. Girl sleeps with boy and, lo and behold, it's then she becomes famous.

The opening act is creepy as hell, Bradley Cooper's Jackson Maine practically stalking Lady Gaga's Ally. He's a drunk sleaze bag who clearly wants to get in her pants, yet we're meant to believe that their meeting is (saccharinely) love at first sight? Weirdly, she actually falls for it. What ensues is a misogynistic story of a man controlling a woman's career - even when her stardom takes off, his final narcissistic act is to make it all about him.

What's more, the plot is a tired juxtaposition of authentic 'real' straight white country-rock music and manufactured pop. It's a mundane criticism of the music industry suffocating artists in the face of plastic consumerism, the same old boring narrative with nothing new to say. And of course the 'evil' music exec is British. Note to the world - pop music can be intelligent, authentic and 'real' too.

Cooper, in his directorial debut, films everything in close up, as if intruding on the minute details of these stars' lives. The handheld camera and washed out visuals give a (low budget) tour documentary feel that mirrors the 'authentic' theme of the film.

What that camera also does is show up every flaw. Every awkward facial expression. Every cringeworthy piece of dialogue. Every weirdly short and badly edited scene. Every unsubtle moment of foreshadowing that gives away the ending within five minutes.

The film is a star vehicle (pun intended) for Lady Gaga, a naturalistic actor who does well with some poor material. We're meant to see her as a strong visionary woman, but she's simply naively swept along in a fairytale - it's impossible to respect her decision to stay with Jackson. Does she really love him, or does she love fame? The film never explores anything like this and is vacuous as a result.

It all comes alive during the music performances, though. With no story for the camera to narrate, it highlights the power of music alone and allows Gaga to do what she does best: sing. As enjoyable as the songs are, though, the soundtrack is torn between that same authentic/pop juxtaposition. If we actually prefer the latter, what does that say about us? Are we not worthy enough for authentic music? And when Gaga herself has made a name for herself in the world of pop, what does that say about her fans?

It all drags on far too long and becomes more about Jackson and Ally's relationship than her birth as a star. Ironically enough, though, these characters are flat stereotypes, their partnership based more on artistic chemistry than anything else. Cooper is credible as the inebriated Jackson who battles over his love for Ally and his need for alcohol, but he's such a loathsome character that it's hard to care over the film's predictably tragic ending.

Above all, the key message of A Star Is Born is about having something to say, about opening yourself up to the world. And yet the film has nothing to say of note - about love, about music, about fame. It is unoriginal, shallow, ga-ga-garbage.

2/5

Watch: A Star Is Born is out now.


Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Been So Long - Tinge Krishnan

Been So Long - Tinge Krishnan

What was perhaps most divisive about La La Land was its evolution of the Hollywood musical into something more cynically realistic. For all its overt song and dance numbers and romantic visual effects, it’s a film about a normal couple with an all too relatable ending.

Been So Long, from director Tinge Krishnan, walks a similar line. This is an urban fairytale about love – set up immediately in the opening scenes – that centres on ordinary people with ordinary problems. The film makes a fantasy of the everyday, its London setting a place where epiphanies occur in a kebab shop, where love songs are (hilariously) professed in the shower, where friendships reach breaking point at a bus stop. All this to the backdrop of mundanity, of gentrification, of danger lurking in the night.

It’s a bizarre concoction but it works. The core narrative is little more than soap opera fluff with a will-they-won’t-they hook. Simone (Michaela Coel) is a single mother living in North London setting her own life aside for the benefit of her daughter. Raymond (Arinzé Kene) is fresh out of jail on probation, cleaning the streets and living with his mother. They make an unlikely couple but, predictable as it all is, it’s hard not to get sucked into their developing romance. Coel in particular leads the cast with warmth and humour, deftly balancing the ironic juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, and her chemistry with Kene is palpable.

By contrast, the various subplots are under-developed. George Mackay gives an accomplished physical performance as Gil – a presumably homeless guy (though this isn’t confirmed) with an obsessive vendetta against Raymond. Yet the film sugar coats the darker side of urban life, leaving Gil as a cuddly comedy character rather than a pitiable villain. The same can be said of Luke Norris as Barney, proprietor of the local bar that’s in danger of shutting down and who clearly has an unrequited crush on Simone. The film’s love conquers all message feels naïve and saccharine in such an urban setting.

More than anything, the film is a love letter to London and British culture. The city is filmed in soft hues often at the cusp of dusk, with vibrant colours popping through the lighting, sets and costumes. Neon lettering for phone communication adds a modern edge too.

The music, from Christopher Nicholas Bangs (based on compositions from Arthur Darvill), follows the British theme. It takes its cue from British R&B, soul and hip-hop, which adds authenticity to the setting. It’s in the songs, though, that the fantasy kicks in, which is jarring at first. It’s not helped by some trite lyrics and lacklustre vocal performances. But this suits the relatable, everyday nature of the film – normal people living a fantasy.

And we all need some fantasy in our lives from time to time. It relies too heavily on shallow cliché, but Been So Long is tongue in cheek and comforting – exactly what you expect from a movie musical.

3/5

Watch: Been So Long is showing at the London Film Festival and will be released on Netflix on 26th October.