Thursday, 31 May 2018

Chvrches - Love Is Dead

Chvrches - Love Is Dead

This might just be the most Chvrches album yet. The songs are smartly constructed, the lyrics more politically charged, and the production glossier than ever under the helm of Greg Kurstin.

The Glaswegian trio's third album, 'Love Is Dead' sees the band open to collaboration - Kurstin, The National's Matt Berninger and David Stewart from The Eurythmics. Sonically it's more of a spit and polish of what's come before, but clear pop structures and hooks bring greater approachability to their sound.

Take Get Out, the first single from the album. It's pre-chorus leads into the hooky repetition of "get out get out" in the chorus, later extended with the expansive refrain "So do you want to turn it around?". Forever and Never Say Die follow a similar structure: a throbbing pre-chorus and a simple repetitive hook, the former erupting into a synth solo in the middle eight. Heaven/Hell features melodies that gradually rise through the octaves towards a soaring "Is this heaven, or is this hell?". The extra trill in the final chorus is perhaps the album's most pop moment.

Far from dumbing down, though, it's a streamlining rather than an oversimplification. There's an urgency to the short, direct phrases, matched by the whirring of synths and driving dance beats. The repeated questions in Never Say Die build a confused tension, the chorus of "Didn't you say that?" adding a yearning desperation; Miracle lurches into a stomping blur of heavy beats and processed vocals, a sudden release. On Deliverance the band have never sounded so deliciously 80s.

It reaches a political peak with Graves, Mayberry questioning "Do you really expect us to care what you're waiting for?" after noting "They're leaving bodies in stairwells and washing up on the shore" and accusing politicians of being "high in your castle". And that's just the first verse in a rush of a pop song that's an urgent call to arms.

There's still a little something missing, though. Perhaps it's the album's relentless wave of high-tempo synths that doesn't pause for breath. Perhaps it's the lack of raw and biting lyrics we've come to expect from Mayberry.

Or perhaps it's just that 'Love Is Dead' feels too familiar. Collaboration has brought evolution rather than reinvention, but Chvrches are a force of pop with shuddering power - no matter how polished their sound.

4/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Forever
* Graves
* Heaven/Hell

Listen: 'Love Is Dead' is out now.




Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Rink @ The Southwark Playhouse

The Rink @ The Southwark Playhouse

Kander and Ebb's The Rink may not be the duo's most famous work, but it had a notable start. Its off-Broadway form was directed by Arthur Laurents, who was replaced by A.J. Antoon for the show's Broadway premiere in 1984 that was nominated for four Tony Awards, with Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli starring in the lead roles. Four years later it arrived in London's West End at the Cambridge Theatre and now finally returns to the Southwark Playhouse.

So how has this musical been forgotten? Reviews at the time were less than positive and the show has since been eclipsed by the likes of Chicago and Cabaret. But the show is a wistful exploration of the past - perhaps three decades later its nostalgia is more palatable.

Its set in a dilapidated skating rink, which set designer Bec Chippendale has imbued with a sense of faded glamour. The floors are scuffed, the paint is peeling, and coloured lights blink on the ceiling. Anna, the owner of the rink, is leaving having sold the site and wishes to move on from her past. Her estranged daughter Angel returns to relive her youth and claim her ownership, forcing the two women to settle their differences.

Caroline O'Connor, having understudied the role of Angel in the Cambridge Theatre production, now returns to play Anna and leads an exceptional cast. Though her diction in the muddled sound levels of the venue isn't always clear, her deep whiskey-soaked jazz voice is perfectly heavy with exhaustion and complex history. That's predominantly an abusive husband played by Stewart Clarke, whose sweet singing belies his masculine struggles. Gemma Sutton plays the young preppy Angel, who balances well her childlike immaturity and New Age feminine power - with a strong vocal to match.

The mother-daughter relationship at the heart of the show doesn't always seem credible, owing to some crass and sometimes harsh dialogue. Anna is perhaps too bitter about the past: a cold, fierce-tongued matriarch whose lines are played for laughs more than believability. Yet the actresses have great chemistry and excel in their individual roles.

Kander & Ebb's score is one of their most varied. Jazz rubs shoulders with wistful bossa nova guitar rhythms and bombastic oom-pah brass, guiding us through the narrative's past and present. Too often the songs are an entertaining diversion from the plot that's ultimately left a little thin, but it does allow for some show stopping tunes, some wonderful skating choreography from Fabian Aloise, and a plethora of comedy cameos from the male ensemble.

Director Adam Lenson handles the narrative shifts through time with clarity, for a revival that explores the idea of home with class, polish, and superb singing. It certainly offers a more sophisticated and intriguing performance than yet another Chicago run.

4/5

Watch: The Rink runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 23rd June.

The Rink @ The Southwark Playhouse

The Rink @ The Southwark Playhouse
Photos: Darren Bell 

Monday, 28 May 2018

God of War

God of War

Norse mythology is apocalyptic. Its most infamous event is Ragnarok: the end of the world in which almost all of its gods are doomed to die. It's this inescapable fate that makes them seem human and vulnerable. It's also the perfect setting for this new kind of God of War game.

Kratos is no longer a seemingly invulnerable, god-killing machine. He is older, wiser and weary. The death of his wife brings not revenge, but a seemingly peaceful quest to fulfil her dying wish. And he has a son, Atreus - perhaps his ultimate weakness.

God of War
It's this grounding in reality that marks a departure for the series. More than anything it's a game that explores fatherhood: learning to accept our children for who they are, torn between allowing them freedom to be themselves and protecting them from making the same mistakes we did. The relationship between Kratos and Atreus is at the heart of God of War and it's authentically played. Watching their character growth is one of the game's greatest pleasures.

The vastness of Norse mythology comes across in the game's multi-world setting, filled with memorable characters both large and small, as well as story details collected in the game's codex. Yet much of the mythology has been lost over time. That certainly allows for some creativity from writer Cory Barlog and the SIE Santa Monica team, who play fast and loose with the key characters and plotlines.

God of War
The core quest, though, ultimately dissatisfies. It lacks impetus and reason, instead meandering in convoluted fashion between worlds, with blocked paths and twists owing to video game mechanics more than plot. Too much exposition is left to optional conversations and a lack of some of Norse mythologies biggest names and stories leaves the game feeling open-ended and unresolved. Its final twist doesn't feel earned and so falls flat. Clearly this is the first game in a new trilogy, but as a standalone story it's incomplete.

Perhaps that dissatisfaction comes from a desire to learn more about this open world. It is one of the most technically accomplished and artistically inventive games to date (especially on PS4 Pro): vibrant, richly detailed and with beautifully intense lighting. But more so, it's full of intrigue and history, its map frustratingly compact and certain key areas literally blocked off. It's testament to the game's meticulous craft that we're left thirsting for more.

God of War
What does satisfy is the combat. The new camera perspective brings us closer to Kratos, figuratively and literally. Every swing of his Leviathan axe feels weighty and deliberate, each blow full of impact. Recalling the axe Thor-style never gets old. Levelling up skills, weapons and armour is initially obtuse due to confusing menus, but it does eventually allow for varying play styles. That goes for Atreus too, who evolves into another weapon in the player's hands. What begins as lumbering and slow soon develops into an elegant yet methodical dance, blocking and dodging attacks while retaliating in extravagant fashion.

Enemy design forces the player to mix up their strategy and boss battles are challenging as well as visually bombastic. The change of perspective, though, does affect the sense of scale: as expected there are colossal set-pieces strewn amongst the smaller battles, but the grounded camera is too close to really take it all in. And too often you're left to watch events rather than play through them.

God of War
Exploration is where God of War feels most like a video game. Taking its cue from Metroid and Dark Souls, the labyrinthine world twists and turns on itself, shortcuts allowing for quicker progression and secret areas requiring new abilities to enter. There's a disconnect, though, between Kratos as a god and the restrictive nature of the design. Here's a character who in cut scenes can leap great heights with ease while slaying titanic beasts, but in gameplay can still only climb certain walls and walk certain paths at a shuffling pace. It's a reminder that this is a video game and not a god simulator.

Again, frustration at that restrictiveness comes from a desire to further explore, to delve into the world's history and characters, to see what the designers can think up next. As a character study God of War excels, delivering a beautiful fantastical romp. And while its narrative is anti-climactic, it's clear that the best is yet to come.

God of War

God of War

God of War

God of War

Saturday, 26 May 2018

New Music Friday 25/05

Shawn Mendes - Nervous

Shawn Mendes - Nervous

Within seconds, it's obvious this was written by Julia Michaels: the sparse production, the limited melodic range, the repeated guitar hook. Mainly it sounds just like Selena Gomez's Bad Liar. Taken from Mendes' new self-titled album, it establishes him as a proper popstar and not just a social media celebrity.

Worth a listen.



Call Me Loop - Love The Lie

Call Me Loop - Love The Lie

Call Me Loop's Give'n'Take has been rattling around the radio for weeks. It's come out of nowhere as one of the catchiest songs of the year. Love The Lie is its follow up, pairing an infectious dance beat with a Spanish guitar for that bit of 90s Latin flair. Expect this to be played to death.

Add to playlist.



No Rome - Do It Again

No Rome - Do It Again

This sounds just like those little electronic interlude tracks The 1975 are so good at. Why? Because it was produced by two of the band's members - George Daniel and frontman Matty Healy. The latter has described Phillipine-based artist No Rome as his muse, but it's clear there's a mutual influence here. Do It Again is a polished and compact track of bleeps and bloops and a processed voice that sounds like a mournful computer.

Add to playlist.



ZAYN - Entertainer

ZAYN - Entertainer

This new track from Zayn Malik is basically Zayn Malik in song form. It's smooth and subdued and laidback, his voice fluttering in soft falsetto, the chorus lyric "when you need me the most / I will turn you down" a sexy kiss-off. It's also too subtle, trying too hard to be cool, and ultimately lacks impact.

Worth a listen.



Emily Burns - Cheat

Emily Burns - Cheat

Burns is proving to be quite the pop breakthrough this year. Each song features her gentle vocals belying the biting tone of her lyrics and Cheat is no different. "Don't have to say you're sorry / let's just forget that you're a cheat," she sings in the chorus as the beat kicks in and the synths glitter in the breeze. It's a more uptempo take on her sound, without losing the subtlety of her songwriting.

Worth a listen.



Crystal Fighters - Boomin' In Your Jeep

Crystal Fighters - Boomin' In Your Jeep

The English-Spanish folk-pop group are back with a song that completely rips off M.I.A's Paper Planes, minus the cash register sounds. Still, the buoyant beat is catchy beneath the sun-soaked production. Perfect roadtrip music.

Worth a listen.




Friday, 25 May 2018

Sex with Robots and Other Devices @ The Kings Head Theatre

Sex With Robots and Other Devices @ The Kings Head Theatre

Androids are everywhere. At least, that's what popular culture would have us believe. Cinema is full of android characters examining their humanity, Blade Runner 2049 and Ex Machina to name two recent examples. On the silver screen, there are new seasons of Westworld and Humans. And it extends to video games too, with new game Detroit: Become Human on PlayStation 4 depicting an android revolution.

Sex with Robots and Other Devices at the Kings Head Theatre fits into this sci-fi oeuvre. Set in a twisted, dystopian near-future, it is essentially an episode of Black Mirror in theatrical form. Lifelike robots have become a sexual commodity impacting a whole range of different relationships. But how does that affect our humanity? And what about the humanity of the robots themselves?

The piece shifts through multiple stories, showing different sides of the same issue. Amongst others, there's a man who clones his ex-lover to relive their relationship; a couple looking to explore the "sin" mode of their android; and an android who slowly learns feelings and begins to question whether sex with his owner constitutes rape. Really, the use of robots is a metaphor for us to question the very prevalent notions of consent and exploitation.

The sci-fi themes are perhaps unoriginal, but Nessah Muthy's play is sharply written and well thought out. It's concise and compact, much like the staging that features multiple compartments in the tiled floor, and the use of just three actors whose subtly mechanical movements are suggestive of these near-humans. Choreographed scene changes also add a stylish flair.

The use of multiple stories does create a convincing world, but the lack of a continuous narrative means this is more a broad exploration than a deep dive into the individual dilemmas the play presents. Each of the stories is intriguing enough to warrant a longer performance, but they're frustratingly cut short. The final scene, however is a misstep: a direct address to the audience that undermines the subtleties of the work overall.

Muthy is also too preoccupied with a dark and disturbing vision. Each of the stories focuses on the negative impact of robots into our lives - but what about the positive effects? Could robots actually benefit us in some way? By merely touching on themes, the play results in a multitude of further questions. That spark, though, is testament to the strength of the writing.

3/5

Watch: Sex With Robots and Other Devices runs at the Kings Head Theatre until June 2nd.

Sex with Robots and Other Devices @ The Kings Head Theatre

Sex with Robots and Other Devices @ The Kings Head Theatre
Photos: Nicholas Brittain

Saturday, 19 May 2018

New Music Friday 18/05

Clean Bandit feat. Demi Lovato - Solo

Clean Bandit feat. Demi Lovato - Solo

This is essentially a song about doing it with your hand. "I wanna f-, but I'm broken hearted," sings Demi Lovato, "T-t-touch but I got nobody, so I do it solo." Clean Bandit always deliver, though, and Solo is no exception. The tropical production is a bit 2017 but the trademark strings are timeless.

Worth a listen.



Christine and the Queens feat. DâM-FunK - Girlfriend

Christine and the Queens feat. DâM-FunK - Girlfriend

She's shortened her name to Chris for this return, signalling the new album's exploration of machismo. Effortless funk production (alongside American funk artist DâM-FunK) ensure this remains as smooth and danceable as her previous hits, now with a heady dose of sweat and sunshine.

Add to playlist.



Camila Cabello & Pharrell Williams - Sangria Wine

Camilla Cabello & Pharrell Williams - Sangria Wine

Another artist this week aiming for song of the summer. Sangria basically is wine, but here Cabello's stirring up a new dance. Sexy Cuban rhythms have become her default mode, but with Latin music so popular this is guaranteed to rise up the charts.

Worth a listen.



Betty Who - Taste

Betty Who - Taste

Betty Who is still slaving away for that smash hit. Taste marks a change in direction: gone are the fizzing synths and empowering lyrics and in their place are breathless melodies, sensual rhythms and sharp syncopations, all delivered with a knowing wink. It's intoxicating.

Worth a listen.



Lykke Li - utopia

Lykke Li - utopia

This wistful ballad was shared on Mother's Day with a video of childhood footage, an ode to the dreams of mothers after her own mother died last year and her son was born the year before. It doesn't quite have the same raw impact as the heartbreak of 2014's 'I Never Learn', but it's a beautiful song nonetheless.

Worth a listen.



Backstreet Boys - Don't Go Breaking My Heart

Backstreet Boys - Don't Go Breaking My Heart

Yes that's right, THE Backstreet Boys are back. You might expect an ageing boyband to deliver a boring ballad (and that's how this track begins), but this is a driving 80s synth-pop jam with falsetto vocals and a heavy snare beat. Backstreet is well and truly back.

Worth a listen.



Britt Rion - Hide

 Britt Rion - Hide

This track, from the New Zealand dream pop songstress, has everything. Thumping beats, ethereal vocals, a screaming guitar solo and eventually a full rave breakdown. But it's so expertly put together, the way it layers up towards a banging climax that's pure euphoria. Definitely a young talent to keep an eye on.

Add to playlist.


Rita Ora @ O2 Brixton Academy

Rita Ora @ O2 Brixton Academy

Rita Ora's in a funny position. Her breakthrough on the DJ Fresh track Hot Right Now was way back in 2012 and since then she's released an album, featured in the Fifty Shades films, presented America's Next Top Model, coached and judged on The Voice UK and X Factor UK, and split from her management company. She is undoubtedly a huge star, but she still only has one album and a clutch of singles.

Yet since signing to Atlantic last year, she's finally becoming the popstar she was always meant to be. As she tours around the UK and Europe this summer, this return to London was a triumphant, exuberant display of her talents.

Perhaps surprisingly, she frequently delved into her back catalogue - much to the delight of the cheering crowd. "When you come to a Rita Ora concert, there aren't any breathers," she quipped and she wasn't wrong - R.I.P, How We Do (Party), I Will Never Let You Down, Black Widow, Doing It (sadly sans Charli XCX). For a relatively small number of singles, every one sounds like the big anthem to end the night - except they just keep coming.

Of course, it's the new singles that she's really promoting. Comeback single Your Song opened the show after a bombastic opening video of grand cityscapes and extreme close-ups. Anywhere was its bookend, complete with confetti cannons that seems poised to blow at any point throughout. In the middle were Lonely Together - a fitting tribute to the sadly passed Avicii - and latest single Girls where fans joined her on-stage, presumably to distract from the recent controversy surrounding the lyrics. A glimpse into the future too, with Summer Love (a collaboration with Rudimental) set to take over the summer months.

Too easily, though she slips into the overblown, a parody of a popstar. For Body On Me she played with fabric in front of a wind machine; later she was attacked by gigantic doves, dipped in a bath of milk, and sang along to her own gigantic face. Fireworks accompanied almost every song. It was bonkers.

Arguably she danced more than she sang - her voice was frequently drowned out by the backing track - and her few interactions with the crowd were mainly "make some noise!" She is an entertainer more than an artist, but here she delivered a performance worthy of a stadium tour. With such a huge screen providing the backdrop, it was like being immersed in a music video.

Bonkers, yes, but brilliantly entertaining.

4/5

Rita Ora @ O2 Brixton Academy

Rita Ora @ O2 Brixton Academy

Rita Ora @ O2 Brixton Academy

Rita Ora @ O2 Brixton Academy


Friday, 18 May 2018

Charlie Puth - Voicenotes

Charlie Puth - Voicenotes

Puth's second album was self-produced in his bedroom. You wouldn't know that just by listening, though, such is the care and attention that's gone into crafting it.

'Voicenotes' was originally set for release at the start of the year but was pushed back, presumably to allow for extra polish. And it shows - from start to finish this is pop at its glossiest and most meticulous.

Puth's confidence comes across in the songwriting as much as the production. Sonically this is a more complete album than his 2016 debut, 'Nine Track Mind'. Taking inspiration from 90s R&B, it's all funk guitars, catchy hooks and layered vocal harmonies - though it's not quite up there with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars or even Nick Jonas.

Take opener The Way I Am, a track full of hooks that slowly build into a rich texture. Driving rhythmic guitars are joined by funk bass and modern synths; falsetto vocals are enhanced by warm harmonies, each vocal melody layering up towards a kaleidoscopic ending. Tracks like Attention and How Long follow suit, months of hard work resulting in a smooth, effortless sound. Rolling Stone even interviewed Puth on the construction of the former.

Other tracks drift back to the 80s: the fluttering melodies of BOY and its neon, fizzing synths; or the pure new wave pop rock of Somebody Told Me. Both of these were produced by Puth alone, where others had songwriting assistance from some big US and Swedish talent: Savan Kotecha, Jacob Kasher Hindlin, Rami Yacoub. Even Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates fame helped on Slow It Down.

It's in the ballads that Puth falters. If You Leave Me Now features the ultimate 90s R&B act Boyz II Men, but it comes off as a poor pastiche with Puth utterly out-sung. Patient is a schmaltzy John Mayer knock-off. Change features American songwriter James Taylor, but it's saccharine to the core.

The real issue with 'Voicenotes' though is not the music but Puth himself. Who is Charlie Puth but another young, white, identikit male popstar? What does he stand for? By the end of the album it's still not clear. From his videos he's cute, likeable and slightly dorky, but his music feels like he's aiming for something far more serious and polished. He's clearly poured his heart and soul into this album and that shows, but you wish he'd open that bedroom door a little more often and let us in.

3/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* The Way I Am
* BOY
* Somebody Told Me

Listen: 'Voicenotes' is out now.



Saturday, 12 May 2018

New Music Friday 11/05

Rita Ora feat. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha & Charli XCX - Girls

Rita Ora feat. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha & Charli XCX - Girls

This sounds like a Charli XCX track in all but name - fizzing electro pop production and a shouty chorus. It's with the lyrics that things get muddy though. On the one hand, this is a song from four girls who aren't really known for kissing girls, about kissing girls while under the influence of wine. We've all moved on since Katy Perry's I Kissed A Girl, but Girls does make a mockery of lesbian and bisexual relationships - Hayley Kiyoko, Muna and Shura have all commented on Twitter. On the flip side, if sexuality is a spectrum then we're all allowed to experiment once in a while, right? And that "I could be your lipstick for just one night" line is great. Whichever way you fall, we can all agree that this is some of the worst cover art in history.

Worth a listen.



Years & Years - If You're Over Me

Years & Years - If You're Over Me

At first this doesn't have the bold immediacy of Olly Alexander and co's best tracks. The light, airy production and nursery rhyme melodies feel flimsy. But slowly those twinkling synths creep up on you and the breeziness of it all belies the heartfelt lyrics of a lover who's gone cold. "One minute you say we're a team, then you're telling me you can't breathe," sings Alexander, culminating in the repeated, pained and exasperated "just go if it's over" in the final chorus.

Worth a listen.



Childish Gambino - This Is America

Childish Gambino - This Is America

You've all been watching the iconic video all week, but even just listening the attack on racist American culture is palpable. The repeated gospel refrain is a (perhaps fantastical) ray of light before being undermined by that menacing trap beat and the spiteful words of reality "this is America". Just as the video plays with iconography, the music is a collision of black America past and present. It's devastating.

Add to playlist.



Bastille - Quarter Past Midnight

Bastille - Quarter Past Midnight

Quarter Past Midnight captures a vision of the city at night, the streets filled with drunkards, vomit, chip packets and unlikely couples - "good times, bad decisions". The song's tempo shifts from reflective, questioning verses to a high speed rush of a chorus: "we're just getting going," sings Dan Smith; later "why are we always chasing after something like we trying to throw our lives away?" It's an ode to nightclubbing and Britain's binge-drinking culture, but it's also lacking a truly memorable hook.

Worth a listen.



Selena Gomez - Back To You

Selena Gomez - Back To You

This begins as an introspective acoustic ballad, its verbose verses detailing the conflicted feelings of loving someone who could hurt you back ("you could break my heart in two, but when it heals it beats for you"). Cue outdated comparisons to Justin Bieber *eye roll*. But then it all builds up to a generic club beat that's all too predictable. Wait for the acoustic only remix.

Worth a listen.



Christina Aguilera - Twice

 Christina Aguilera - Twice

After last week's shallow romp Accelerate from forthcoming album 'Liberation', Christina Aguilera's gone to the other extreme with a contemplative ballad that sees her reflecting on her life so far. Vocally she sounds as great as ever, but the grandiose, religious imagery of the lyrics has her bombastically questioning the very meaning of life. As a result it just comes off as overblown and not the raw honesty she was probably aiming for.

Worth a listen.



Jungle - Happy Man / House in L.A.

 Jungle - Happy Man / House in L.A.

The London collective's self-titled debut was the sound of summer 2014: Busy Earnin' could be heard blasting out from seemingly everywhere. Four years later and two new singles are released. Happy Man is another heady summer offering that seems like an off cut from their debut, with its falsetto vocals and booming horns. As a pair, House In L.A. sounds like the former in slow-motion, the heat sweltering, the sweat dripping, the sun smothering everything in a hazy glow.

Worth a listen.



Meghan Trainor - Can't Dance / Let You Be Right

Meghan Trainor - Can't Dance / Let You Be Right

Another artist with a double release. Can't Dance is trash but Let You Be Right is a disco-pop banger that's annoyingly easy to like.

Worth a listen.


Monday, 7 May 2018

Eurovision 2018

Eurovision 2018

Last year's win for Portugal's Salvador Sobral was a win for "authentic" (i.e. old and boring) music.

For this year's competition in Lisbon a few entries have followed suit, but thankfully there's still the typical mix of anthemic ballads and Eurodance. The usual countries are likely to be on top - expect top finishes from the Scandis for sure - but there are some surprise entries here that could throw a curveball.

The likelihood is that we'll all be partying in Tel Aviv next year after an Israeli win - this year's weirdest, quirkiest entry that's currently odds on favourite - but keep an eye out for Cyprus too. Fuego!

As for the UK, this year is our strongest chance in a long while, but let's not get too excited eh?

All aboard the hype train!



Albania
Eugent Bushpepa - Mall

Albania don't have a great track record since they joined Eurovision in 2004. This song won't change that: a bland acoustic rock song from a performer with a decent voice.



Armenia 
Sevak Khanagyan - Qami


Armenia are well known for their dramatic, moody entries and this is no different. The song's title "Qami" means wind and the yearning chorus melodies soon whip up a frenzy with strings and screaming guitars and piercing vocals. This could cause a storm on the night.



Australia
Jessica Mauboy - We Got Love

Another reality show entry from Australia here. Mauboy has a load of awards to her name since featuring on Australian Idol in 2006 and an equally impressive voice. The song is an enjoyable enough ballad but is lacking that magic quality needed to win. But then, I'm still bitter that Dami Im didn't win in 2016.



Austria
Cesár Sampson - Nobody But You

Is he really singing about "hot tuna" in the opening lyric? Sampson is clearly a fan of James Blake owing to the production here, but then it turns jarringly into a cheesy gospel-tinged chorus. The choir's nice though.



Azerbaijan
Aisel - X My Heart

It's a soaring electro-ballad from Azerbaijan this year. It euro-bangs, but it's nothing new.



Belarus
ALEKSEEV - FOREVER

The video for this song is full of images of blood and pain, which reflects how I feel listening to it.



Belgium
Sennek - A Matter Of Time

This sounds like a 90s Bond theme, which is fitting for a singer who participated in the 50th anniversary celebration of the franchise. Interesting voice, 90s synth bass, and orchestral strings rip off "Tomorrow Never Dies" in a very enjoyable manner.



Bulgaria 
Equinox - Bones


Bulgaria are serving electro goth-pop this year. The group consists of five performers who have joined forces especially for the competition, so hopefully this won't result in a confusing stage performance. This one of the most intriguing entries this year.



Croatia
Franka - Crazy

A fierce singer and a slinky, sexy song. It's perhaps too much of an acquired taste to do well, but it makes an interesting contrast to the rest of the competition.



Cyprus 
Eleni Foureira - Fuego


This could do very well indeed. Albanian born Foureira is already a huge star across Cyprus and Greece and "Fuego" is a tailor-made summer hit in the making, seemingly snatched straight from the European charts. Tropical beats, sing-along hooks and the traditional pop "hey!": this is literally fire.



Czech Republic
Mikolas Josef - Lie To Me

If Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty To Me" was performed by an irritatingly smarmy Czech boy, it would be this.



Denmark
Rasmussen - Higher Ground

Viking Les Mis.



Estonia
Elina Nechayeva - La Forza

Opera star in a big dress. But she's no Cezar from 2013.



F.Y.R Macedonia
Eye Cue - Lost & Found

The worst named act ever? This ska pop-rock track actually has a decent chorus, but it takes far too long to get there.



Finland 
Saara Aalto - Monsters


UK fans will of course recognise Saara Aalto from X Factor. "Monsters" is the lead single from new album 'Wild Wild Wonderland' that's chock full of Eurobangers. With its synth sound, hook-laden chorus, diva vocals and campy video, this is arguably the catchiest, most Eurovision song of the night. Top five for sure.



France 
Madame Monsieur - Mercy


France have recently been putting in some brilliant entries. This song from Madame Monsieur is a lowkey banger with its emotive melodies and understated synths, its catchy repetition of the song's title "Mercy" in the outro perhaps an intentional double-entendre on the French for thank you. How very Français.



Georgia
Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao - For You

Ethno-jazz does not a winner make.



Germany
Michael Schulte - You Let Me Walk Alone

Michael Schulte delivers a very traditional and safe piano ballad. It's sparse and emotional, the storytelling slowly drawing us in. But does it have enough immediate impact to rise up the rankings?



Greece 
Yianna Terzi - Oniro Mou


This is a great mix of the modern and the traditional. Sinuous melodies and ethnic instrumentation with epic synth production and grand sweeping melodies. Yianna has served up one of Greece's best entries in years.



Hungary
AWS - Viszlát nyár

Lordi aside, rock hasn't always faired well at Eurovision and this nu-metal entry is unlikely to change that.



Iceland
Ari Ólafsson - Our Choice

The schmaltziest ballad of all.



Ireland
Ryan O'Shaughnessy - Together

Folky singer-songwriter stuff that's more interesting for its queer video than the song itself.



Israel 
Netta - TOY


If last year's winner was all about authenticity, then this year's likely winner is embracing bizarre pop. "TOY", a.k.a The Chicken Song, is the one to beat. At the very least it's the most memorable of all, with its quirky vocals, Jewish strings and dance beats. Its wackiness may turn some off, but its campy fun is inescapable.



Italy
Ermal Meta e Fabrizio Moro - Non mi avete fatto niente

A political ode to refugees that's musically...horrible.



Latvia
Laura Rizzotto - Funny Girl

Can we just have Aminata back please?



Lithuania
Ieva Zasimauskaitė - When We're Old

This is far too subtle to do well.



Malta
Christabelle - Taboo

The Gladiator / Game of Thrones video is giving some serious melodrama to what is otherwise a pretty standard Eurodance club banger. A solid entry, but not distinct enough to go the distance.



Moldova
DoReDoS - My Lucky Day

This is a very silly summer song that's about ten years out of date.



Montenegro
Vanja Radovanović - Inje

The orchestral bombast of this is an assault on the ears. Between the grand instrumentation, the almost operatic melodies and the frequent key changes, there's just too much going on.



Norway
Alexander Rybak - That's How You Write A Song

The man with the violin is back. The return of this Eurovision favourite seems like a cheap way to get noticed, but "That's How You Write A Song" is thankfully a much more modern track than his 2009 winner. It'll be popular on the night, but it's not a deserving winner.



Poland
Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer - Light Me Up

This club track is just too generic and forgettable to do well.



Portugal
Cláudia Pascoal - O Jardim

Two years in a row? Nope.



Romania
The Humans - Goodbye

Early 90s U2-esque stadium rock ballad. Anthemic tbh.



Russia
Julia Samoylova - I Won't Break

Another controversial entry from Russia - Samoylova was meant to be last year's entrant but withdrew after she was refused entry to the Ukraine. Now she's back with a new song. Russia have been very consistent in recent years so this could do well, but it's by no means the country's best.



San Marino
Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening - Who We Are

This lacks the sophistication of other entries this year and ends up feeling dated.



Serbia
Sanja Ilić & Balkanika - Nova deca

An atmospheric opening of two beautiful voices in harmony singing Slavic melodies ruined by some male singer and generic beats. Disappointing.



Slovenia
Lea Sirk - Hvala Ne

The non-chorus has become a staple in modern pop. But is it really appropriate in a songwriting contest?



Spain
Amaia y Alfred - Tu Canción

Time to put the kettle on.



Sweden 
Benjamin Ingrosso - Dance You Off


The traditionally brilliant entry from Sweden. Its electro-funk production is impossibly polished. It takes less than twenty seconds to get to the chorus. It's smooth and cool. It's catchy. The singer is cute. They just make it effortless don't they?



Switzerland
ZiBBZ - Stones

This is the best Swiss entry in a long time, all industrial beats and blaring horns. It should get them back in the competition after failing to qualify ten times since 2004, though it won't be in the running to win.



Netherlands
Waylon - Outlaw In 'Em

Of all things, Netherlands are serving up some American blues-rock. Waylon is popular in his homeland, but is his music too much of an acquired taste across Europe?



Ukraine
MÉLOVIN - Under The Ladder

Once the beat kicks in this is a fun sing-along, but the vocal just isn't strong enough to sustain it.



United Kingdom 
SuRie - Storm


An incredibly polished pop song with shades of Katrina and the Waves' feelgood message and a strong vocal from SuRie. Dare I say it - our best chance in a long time?!





Sunday, 6 May 2018

Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer

Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer

Janelle Monáe is an artist who works in concepts and metaphors. Her previous two albums centred on the narrative of an alter-ego android - Cyndi Mayweather - as a route to explore ideas of identity in a digital world.

That cyber theme continues more forcefully than ever on 'Dirty Computer'. "Crashing slowly, the bugs are in me," she sings on the opening title track, while on Take A Byte she uses a computerised pun as a path to self-realisation.

Yet this album is the first to not be part of the Cyndi Mayweather narrative. It might be trite to say, but this really is the true, unfiltered Janelle Monáe no longer hiding behind the facade of a concept.

What follows is, fittingly, an album about liberation. Black liberation. Gender liberation. Sexual liberation. The freedom of all people to simply be themselves.

The smooth, seductive I Like That is a celebration of difference, but it's the vibrant Crazy, Classic, Life that most explicitly examines these themes. "Young, black, wild and free," she sings at the start, later "I am not America's nightmare, I am the American Dream." It's specifically American identity that's reclaimed on 'Dirty Computer', most apparent of all on the celestial closer Americans that criticises the country's racist traditions. "Love me baby, love me for who I am," she sings before repeating "I'm American, I'm American, I'm American."

And it's not just the liberation of the audience that's explored, but of Monáe herself. Prior to the album release, Monáe came out publicly as pansexual. There's newfound sexual freedom here in abundance.

Take queer anthem Pynk that pairs cheekily provocative lyrics with a sweet, girlish vocal that eventually cries out in orgasmic ecstasy - a song paired with a video of iconic female imagery. The guitar-heavy Screwed is a double entendre on sex and the state of the nation. I Got The Juice is about owning sexuality, Monáe spitting the line "If you try to grab my pussy cat, this pussy grab you back" in a nod against Trump. Most biting of all is Django Jane, a searing feminist monologue.

Lead single Make Me Feel may be a more straightforward feelgood anthem, but as a collaboration with the late Prince it has informed the sound of much of the album (not to mention Monáe's career as a whole). The up-tempo funk rock sound is heavily Prince-inspired, but she's also acquired his ability to bend and mould genres. There are elements of electro, R&B, soul, gospel and pop here in a wildly inventive mix, something only aided by her choice of powerful black (Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams) and feminist (Zöe Kravitz, Grimes) collaborators.

It is perhaps her most accessible and pop-friendly album, but that seems intentional not only to widen her audience but in the creation of a more inclusive message. The second half does tail off a little, but the songs flow beautifully from one to the next together with quotes and speeches into a single textured argument.

In a year of openly queer popstars, powerful feminism and a hugely commercially successful Afro-futurist film in Black Panther, Monáe's 'Dirty Computer' is the perfect musical embodiment of these ideals. That's what makes it such an essential listen.

5/5

Gizzle's Choice:
* Crazy, Classic, Life
* Pynk
* Americans

Listen: 'Dirty Computer' is out now.




Saturday, 5 May 2018

New Music Friday 04/05

Troye Sivan - Bloom

Troye Sivan - Bloom

This '#20GAYTEEN', queer artists are providing some of the best pop music. Troye Sivan is at the forefront of that with My My My! and now Bloom. It's essentially about losing your virginity, its flower imagery juxtaposed with snappy, bubblegum production (that drum beat!) leading towards the breathless vocals in the middle eight. It's erotic in the sweetest way.

Add to playlist.



Christina Aguilera feat. Ty Dolla $ign & 2 Chainz - Accelerate

Christina Aguilera - Accelerate

This is a mess. Fragmented melodies. A meandering bassline. Choppy production. Constant interjections from rappers Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz. Produced by Kanye West, this sounds like a hip-hop track on which Christina Aguilera features, rather than a Christina Aguilera comeback single. And then there's the attention-seeking video composed of explicit sexual imagery. The whole thing just screams desperation.

Worth a listen.



Jess Glynne - I'll Be There


Jess Glynne is known for her feelgood anthems. For her proper solo return (after featuring on Rudimental's irritating These Days) she's released another, bleating and emoting gospel-tinged melodies and corny lyrics about love and support. Basically it sounds like a Children In Need charity single.

Don't bother.



Florence + The Machine - Hunger

Florence + The Machine - Hunger

If Sky Full Of Song was a taste of Florence's new direction, then Hunger is the big main single. It definitely lacks that track's subtlety as her vocals blast out at full throttle throughout, but lyrically this is as raw and honest as she's ever been. Comparing her teenage experience to that of girls today, this is a soulful anthem that comes from the pit of her stomach, matched by Emile Haynie's distinctly unpolished production.

Worth a listen.



Tove Styrke - Sway

Tove Styrke - Sway

She's had a string of brilliant singles recently and now Tove Styrke has released the full album that's...basically just the singles put together. Sway is the title track and arguably the weakest of the bunch. But while it's all too brief, this collection of sweet yet spiky tracks are some of the best pop this year.

Worth a listen.



Dagny - That Feeling When

Dagny - That Feeling When

The latest single from Norwegian songstress Dagny is a bittersweet affair. Lyrically melancholic, its sombre verses shift gear for a widescreen chorus that soars. Her previous singles were all upbeat Scandi-cool; this, though, is a more introspective side that only proves her versatility.

Worth a listen.



Céline Dion - Ashes

Céline Dion - Ashes

The DRAMA of this song. On its own this would make a great ballad. But it's taken from the Deadpool 2 soundtrack, its melodrama taking a turn for the ironic. Céline Dion manages to do the double: a touch of self-deprecating humour plus an awesome vocal performance.

Worth a listen.



Charlie Puth - The Way I Am

Charlie Puth - The Way I Am

'Voicenotes' is still a week away but here's another funky pop single from Charlie Puth. Driving rhythms are at the core of smooth, polished production and falsetto vocals that all come together in a richly textured whole. It's a well-constructed pop song, which bodes well for the full album.

Worth a listen.



Emma Blackery - Agenda


Some of the lyrics in this new single from the YouTube star are horribly forced. Agenda is saved, though, by vibrant bubblegum production with a strong 80s vibe. Its youthful energy is perfect for a young star seeking a radio-friendly hit.

Worth a listen.



Salt Ashes - Girls


Not to be confused with Rita Ora's just-announced new single of the same name, this is a biting, fizzing piece of menacing disco-pop. "Stop treating me like one of those girls," she demands in the chorus over heavy beats and a kaleidoscope of synths. You don't want to mess with her.

Add to playlist.