Tuesday, 12 August 2014

FKA Twigs - LP1 Review



It is not uncommon for an upcoming artist to build interest through the release of an EP (or in this case, two EPs), especially in an age where technology is progressing at a frightening rate and artists tend to have a diminishing window of opportunity to make an impact and sustain a fanbase large enough to ensure longevity. But what is particularity astonishing about Tahliah Barnett's ascent to prominence is how she manages to captivate the internet by defying the norms of modern pop. Each track came accompanied by unique and stunning visuals which encapsulate the mood of the tracks whilst not detracting from the music itself. Her sound was always startlingly assured for such a newcomer to the game; rich in texture and brimming with off-kilter beats and sounds, she seemingly ripped apart any genre-specific labels the industry or media may have tried to impose on her. Suffice to say, Barnett has truly delivered a game-changing debut album which pushes all the boundaries whilst maintaining a considerably expansive reach.

Imagery is an integral part of Barnett's artistry; her visuals and sonics go hand in hand to create an experience for the listener/viewer, this enables them to feel even more connected to the music on a deeper level. Arguably one of the main reasons for the immense success of prior singles 'Water Me' and 'Papi Pacify' is the music videos which accompany them. They immerse the viewer in the concept of the song and bring new meaning to Barnett's lyrics. The artwork of LP1 (created by Jesse Kanda) itself is no exception to this; the cover art is a partially digital portrait of  Barnett is placed on a tranquil blue backdrop, representing the more ambient part of her sound whilst the quiet sense of longing on her face lends itself to the darker soundscapes in her music.

The album opens with 'Preface', which consists of one, very powerful lyric; "I love another and thus I hate myself", a quote from the 16th century poet Thomas Wyatt which I feel sums up the lyrical tone of the record to a tee. The notion of self-loathing induced through the love and undying devotion to another human being is a poignant one, this only reinforced by the throbbing basslines and punchy synths laced across the record. And then of course, there is her voice. And what a voice it is; from breathy and wispy coos to gutsy and rich cries, her vocal delivery is as colourful and dynamic as the production it juxtaposes. Despite its running time, it makes a huge impact on the listener and sets the tone perfectly, it oozes grandeur with every second, much like the lead single 'Two Weeks'. The latter is undoubtedly Twigs' most accessible song to date, plus it's a bona fide jam; the throbbing bass line, shuddering drum beats and spine tingling vocal delivery as well as the accompanying visuals take Twigs' regal aesthetic to the next level. The lyrics on the other hand are anything but, "Higher than a motha fucka, dreaming of you as my lova" are hardly the words of a queen, though the way said lyric is delivered evokes an overwhelming sense of empowerment, she is truly owning her sexuality here and it's awe-inspiring to witness.

You'd be foolish to even attempt to pigeonhole FKA Twigs; she does not belong in any old rigid genre structure, her sound created through the fusion of various styles and the intention is not to fall into any genre-specific category. Nobody I feel articulates this better than Barnett herself, in a recent interview with The Guardian, she said: "When I first released music and no one knew what I looked like, I would read comments like: 'I've never heard anything like this before, it's not in a genre.' And then my picture came out six months later, now she's an R&B singer." Essentially, because she's mixed race, people (the music press) rather carelessly class her as "Alt-R&B", because its easy and they don't care to look deeper into the music she creates, and that's a great shame. Barnett's genius is in the fact that she creates boundary-less and thought-provoking electronica with nods to chamber music, soul, trip-hop, along with avante-garde and ambient thrown in for good measure.

In that same interview Barnett also declares her love for "annoying sounds, beats, clicks. Kakakakaka", this is evident on many of the tracks on LP1. Take closing track for example; laced with haunting vocal samples and throbbing synths, 'Kicks' climaxes with a glitchy and unusually catchy breakdown which ends the album on a euphoric note. She also said [of the album] that "the structures aren't typical, it's relentless. It's like punk; fuck alternative R&B!", another statement I'd have to agree with, Barnett's sonic innovation in this record's production is certainly that. A prime example of this is the track 'Pendulum', which features Barnett's signature 'clicking'; though brittle, it is also unsettling and gives the track a subtle sense of menace. The track then opens up in the most mesmerizing and majestic of ways into an explosion of plush soundscapes as she coos "so lonely trying to be yours, when you're looking for so much more".

So as you may have gathered, I am pretty much infatuated with this record, but don't take my word for it; the world of FKA Twigs is ready and waiting to be delved into. But what I can offer you is the following advice: If new to Twigs, give it time (less than two weeks) and you will reap the rewards. If already accustomed to her artistry, you'll agree it's a masterpiece and want to marry it. And if none of the above don't apply, I simply do not know. I've listened to this record relentlessly and can assure you that there are no weak spots, each track is special and will become your favourite at one time or another, that's the beauty of it.

9.2/10

Standout Tracks: Two Weeks, Pendulum, Numbers, Closer, Give Up, Kicks

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Best Of July

Even though we are over half-way through the year, I truly feel the best is still very much yet to come; upcoming releases from Rustie, Perfume Genius, Flying Lotus, The Wytches, Karen O, Caribou and Zola Jesus all have AOTY potential. Not to mention FKA Twigs, whose debut album has been blowing my mind for some time now, so make sure you check that out when it's released in August. Here's a roundup of the albums and tracks which have been on heavy rotation in July:

Albums of the Month



Alvvays - Alvvays

As you may have guessed (if you read my review, that is), I'm pretty into these guys (and have been all year). Whilst many debuts tend to blend into a host of other sub-Parr albums before fading into obscurity a few years (or even months) later, I feel that this won't be the case with Alvvays. Even though it's clear that Alvvays are influenced by bands such as The Smiths, The Vaselines and Teenage Fanclub, they pay homage to them through crafting songs that are often on their level of greatness. This is not only true for the excellent pre-release singles, but for many of the other album tracks also, primarily 'Next Of Kin' and 'Party Police'. Their brand of jingle-jangle pop evokes all the happiness that makes the genre so great whilst adding more dimensions through their melancholic moments of lyrical genius. In summery, this record won't change the world but it certainly makes mine a little happier, and therefore better.

Read my full review here.

La Roux - Trouble In Paradise

If you journey back to January, I wrote a post about the albums I hoped would surface at some point this year, one of those was a new album from La Roux. And to my delight (and surprise), La Roux returned (as a solo artist) and released this masterpiece. Ok, maybe it's not a masterpiece, but it's still pretty darn good. After 5 years, the pop scene is almost unrecognizable, so for her to come out with a bold tropical-pop record of this calibre is pretty impressive. Summer soundtrack for sure. 

Jungle - Jungle

Following the release of their (ever so slightly overrated) buzz track 'Platoon', Jungle have been making their way to the forefront of the British music scene. As samey as their melodies can be, the production is consistently solid on this LP, not to mention a handful of tracks (The Heat, Busy Earnin', Lucky I Got What I Want, Lemonade Lake) being among my favourites of the last few months. If the band can find a way to introduce some more eclectic and varied sounds on their future releases, I'm sure whatever they produce in the future will be very special indeed.

Honeyblood - Honeyblood


As far as debut albums go, Honeyblood has it all; anthemic moments like 'Super Rat' and 'Fortune Cookie', melodic slow burners like 'Bud' and '(I'd Rather Be) Anywhere But Here' and of course, the band's specialty, raw and punchy pop gems like 'All Dragged Up' and 'Killer Bangs'. Yes, one could say that it would've been slightly better had the track list been a little shorter to allow the very best songs to shine brighter. But from where I'm standing this is a record created with passion and skill, making it an absolute joy to listen to and proving that you don't need a multitude of synths and software to make an excellent record in 2014.

Read my full review here.

Songs of the Month



Rustie feat. Danny Brown - Attak

Glasgow producer extraordinaire Rustie is set to follow up the incredible Glass Swords this month with a new LP titled Green Language. Thus far we've been treated to lead single 'Raptor' (which I featured in last month's write-up), and now he's also put out 'Attak', a collaboration with Pigeons and Planes fave Danny Brown. In true Rustie style, the arrangement is chaotic and the beats are as hectic as ever, but Danny's flow takes Rustie's production to the next level of explosiveness. A dream partnership.

Perfume Genius - Queen

One of my favourite songwriters of all time; Mike Hadreas, who performs under the moniker Perfume Genius, has released two of my favourite albums of the last decade. His vocal delivery is startling raw and emotive whilst his arrangements are experimental and bold. On this new single however, we see Hadreas more confident than ever; this is easily his most ambitious track to date, and insinuates that his forthcoming album Too Bright will be excellent. 

FKA Twigs - Video Girl/Pendulum

As I said earlier, I've heard the FKA Twigs album and I can tell you that it's pretty much immaculate. There is no filler on LP1, just killer. She could've put out any song from the record and it would be as strong a representation of the overall quality as any of the other tracks. Her approach to melody, production, tone and songwriting are exhibited wonderfully by both tracks, with 'Video Girl' sporting one of my favourite hooks of the entire record. (Only 'Video Girl' is available on soundcloud so 'Pendulum isn't on the playlist:/)




GOAT - Hide From The Sun

Following their ground-breaking debut World Music, GOAT have announced its follow-up in the form of Commune, which supposedly features their heaviest material to date. So colour me excited. Our first taste, 'Hide From The Sun' features psychedelia in abundance, not to mention a killer guitar solo towards the end. 

Spoon - Do You

Spoon are one of the most well-respected and loved rock bands of recent times, which is probably why I never really got into them previous to this campaign, I've acknowledged their existence but that's about it. But for some reason, their latest album They Want My Soul has really captured me, particularly this track, which is easily their most upbeat and catchy track to date.

Karen O - Rapt

Following their, well, shite fourth studio album Mosquito, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are having a bit of a breather. In the meantime, front woman and all-around badass Karen O has decided to release an album of old demos called Crush Songs. As much as I would have loved some new material, if new material would've sounded anything like this, I'd gladly take a collection of old demos, thank you very much. Anyway, the first track, 'Rapt' is gorgeous and can be streamed via the rather ethereal clip below. 




Shura - Just Once

As crowded as the whole, 'sparse R&B indietronica pop' scene is becoming, when a track is heads and shoulders about the other efforts, it really shows. Relative newcomer Shura has offered yet another stellar track in the form of 'Just Once', a track which oozes sophistication and breeziness in every immaculately-produced second. More please. 

The Wytches - Burn Out The Bruise

Over the past year, Brighton's finest The Wytches have become one of the most exciting emerging forces in psych-rock. This is completely understandable, after all their rhythm section is incredible in every track, the vocals are punchy and the level of reverb is just right. Their debut album Annabel Dream Reader is out in August and if the singles are any indication, it should be one of the best of the year . 

Lia Ices - Higher

As I mentioned last month, Lia Ices' new material is bloody excellent. Adding some more off-kilter beats into her folky repertoire has clearly worked wonders for her sound. On 'Higher', Ices is able to retain her ethereal aesthetic whilst also emitted a sense of  strength and bite through the audacious flourishes in the production. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Alvvays - Alvvays Review


Indie rock, indie pop, jingle jangle pop, or whatever you want to call it, is a genre I am generally rather critical of; Despite how excellent it can be when its done well (The Smiths being the optimum example), I feel that bands (mainly new bands) can sometimes be a bit half-arsed with their approach, whether it be their lyrics, arrangements, melodies, hooks, vocals or production; many indie pop bands tend not to be able to deliver a solid record. Step in Alvvays, a Canadian outfit whom have received immense critical acclaim with their prior singles 'Adult Diversion' and, more notably, the brilliant 'Archie, Marry Me'. With the internet swooning over their glistening indie pop, the band have exploded out of buzz-band status with an impressive debut.

Judging by the calibre of the material we were treated to prior to its release as well as the fact that it is merely 9 tracks long; Alvvays was intended to be an all killer, no filler affair. And that it certainly is. Every single track on here is strong and memorable in its own right; even the lesser tracks are brilliant in their own way. 'Adult Diversion' kicks off the album with a blast of sun-drenched guitar hooks, before frontwoman Molly Rankin's sugary sweet vocals elevate the dynamic hooks further. This is preceded by 'Archie, Marry Me' (arguably my song of the summer) which, despite the heavy reverb on this track, never feels disconnected and is easily one of the most engaging slices of pop I have had the pleasure of hearing in a long while. 'Next Of Kin' provides a toe-tapping moment which feels ideal for a day frolicking around at the beach (which is kind of ironic as its about drowning).

Now at this point you may be thinking: "Yeah, yeah. But what (if anything) makes this particular record any different from the multitude of indie pop albums which are generally warmly received and then swiftly forgotten?". Well, Alvvays just has a lot more depth than your average indie pop record, not only do the melancholic lyrics juxtapose nicely with the campfire aesthetic, but instrumentally it is rather complex at times. For example, the 20 second outro of 'Party Police' or what I describe as an insanely pretty spiraling manifestation of  synth which is easily the most intense moment on an otherwise joyous and breezy record. Despite its breeziness, this is also a dense and layered record, this being exhibited through its use of psychedelic guitar-led soundscapes on tracks such as 'Ones Who Love You' as well as the lyrics, which, in terms of delivery are very Morrissey at times (though, to Rankin's credit, far less pretentious).

Whilst many debuts tend to blend into a host of other sub-Parr albums before fading into obscurity a few years (or even months) later, I feel that this won't be the case with Alvvays. Even though it's clear that Alvvays are influenced by bands such as The Smiths, The Vaselines and Teenage Fanclub, they pay homage to them through crafting songs that are often on their level of greatness. This is not only true for the excellent pre-release singles, but for many of the other album tracks also, primarily 'Next Of Kin' and 'Party Police'. Their brand of jingle-jangle pop evokes all the happiness that makes the genre so great whilst adding more dimensions through their melancholic moments of lyrical genius. In summery, this record won't change the world but it certainly makes mine a little happier, and therefore better.

8.6/10

Best Tracks: Adult Diversion, Archie, Marry Me, Next Of Kin, Party Police, Atop a Cake

If you like what you've read, check out my introductory Alvvays playlist below. I thought it'd be nice to include tracks from relevant bands (mainly those reference in the review itself), plus they only have 2 tracks on their soundcloud and I wanted to flesh it out a bit, so...

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Honeyblood - Honeyblood review


The relevancy of guitar music will always be a hot topic, especially considering the popularity of artificial production methods (not to mention our reliance on technology as a whole). Are guitar bands dated? What's the point when it's all been done before? My personal response is response is: Who the hell cares? All that matters is that the music is well-made with thought and soul, regardless of genre or format. Honeyblood are one in what has proven to be a surge of rock duos to surface in the last few years (Royal Blood, Deap Vally and Drenge being a few examples), all of which embracing sounds from many other, more established bands yet still managing to find their own style to an extent. Hailing from Glasgow, a city which produced Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura amongst many others; Honeyblood seem to have hearty indie rock prowess running through their veins as killer melodies come ever so naturally to them. This, their debut album has certainly done their city and it's rich musical heritage proud.

Honeyblood's greatest strength is it's consistency, all of its 12 twelve tracks contain a memorable hook or refrain which makes each track stand out in its own right.  Although every track is equally satisfying and enjoyable, it also means a handful of tracks could be removed from the track list and it wouldn't make that much of a difference. That being said the highs on here are truly glorious; standout track 'Choker' is full to the brim with crunchy hooks whilst 'Killer Bangs', the album's most erratic moment, grabs the listener with an irresistible ramshackle melody. 'Super Rat' meanwhile provides the album's key sing-along moment as Stina Tweeddale chants "Scum bag sleaze! Slime ball grease! You really do disgust me!", an insult if ever I heard one. All lyrical themes revolve around relationships, romantic or otherwise, from the highs to the lows, no base is left uncovered here, thus complying with the compelling nature of the melodies perfectly.

Sometimes with duos, there is an issue with diversifying their sound due to their set up size, Honeyblood manage to overcome this through channeling country/folk sounds on tracks like 'Bud' and '(I'd Rather Be) Anywhere But Here'. For me, the most impressive moment on Honeyblood is the immense closing track 'Braid Burn Valley' in which we see Stina at her most venomous as she spits 'Another fucking bruise, and this one looks just a rose' against a blazing guitar riff and an intense drumline, courtesy of Shona McVicar. The way in which the instrumentation builds to this epic moment, not to mention the unexpected addition of a piano ballad in the form of a hidden track prove that Honeyblood have far more tricks up their sleeves.

As far as debut albums go, Honeyblood has it all; anthemic moments like 'Super Rat' and 'Fortune Cookie', melodic slow burners like 'Bud' and '(I'd Rather Be) Anywhere But Here' and of course, the band's specialty, raw and punchy pop gems like 'All Dragged Up' and 'Killer Bangs'. Yes, one could say that it would've been slightly better had the track list been a little shorter to allow the very best songs to shine brighter. But from where I'm standing this is a record created with passion and skill, making it an absolute joy to listen to and proving that you don't need a multitude of synths and software to make an excellent record in 2014.

8/10

Best Tracks: Fall Forever, Super Rat, Choker, Killer Bangs, Braid Burn Valley

Discover Honeyblood's music with this handy little playlist I put together below:


Monday, 30 June 2014

Best of June

Now I don't wish to startle you, but we are already half way through 2014. I know, where did the time go? But at least it's summer now. In homage to this I decided to focus on the more summery tracks of the past month in the playlist (below the songs section). And of course with releases from the likes of Spoon, Alvvays (<<AMAZING), FKA Twigs, Jungle, Honeyblood, Royal Blood, La Roux and The Wytches, this should be a summer to remember. Before we get too ahead of ourselves I feel it would be appropriate to look back at the best releases of the month just (swiftly) gone.

Albums of the Month



Lone - Reality Testing

There is an immense confidence felt throughout this record, a self-assurance in Matt Cutler's flawless production which makes Reality Testing feel more entrancing and engaging than your average electronic record. Not since Jon Hopkin's astonishing Mercury-nominated Immunity have I felt such warmth and depth from an electronic record. With Reality Testing there is a real sense of balance between paying tribute to older scenes such as Detroit techno and Chicago House and innovating new sounds. As a result I feel this record will stand the test of time, to the extent where it already feels somewhat of a classic, to me anyway. Hopefully between this and the popularity of acts such as Disclosure and Julio Bashmore, mainstream dance will regain its credibility once again. 

Read my full review here.

How To Dress Well - "What Is This Heart?"


There has always been something unique about How To Dress Well's sound, encompassing the past, present and the future through Krell's eclectic palette of sounds and both visual and sonic influences. On "What Is This Heart?", the ancient Greek and Roman imagery creates an interesting juxtaposition with the colorful R&B beats and abstract melodies,  particularly on the entrancing slow jam 'Words I Don't Remember'. This along with Krell's attention to detail equates to an album which is dynamic as well as cohesive, to the extent where not listening to all tracks in order just feels plain wrong. The subtlety found in Krell's former releases has vanished, making this his most dynamic and confident work to date.

Read my full review here.

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

'Spiritual', 'cinematic' and 'almost so dark it's listenable, these were the hints that Lana Del Rey gave earlier on in the year regarding Ultraviolence, the follow up to her massively successful major label debut. Not only are the individual tracks on here stronger, but I feel her approach is far less forced. Here she has replaced hip-hop beats and her prior pop sensibility with a far more baroque-rock infused sound. Lana has proven that she can back up her style with substance and with the help of The Black Key's Dan Auerbach on production she has evolved into an artist who is so much more than your run-of-the-mill pop star.

White Lung - Deep Fantasy

Like with many punk albums, my only major qualm with Deep Fantasy is the lack of variation between tracks. But to be fair it would of been difficult for White Lung to fit any more sounds in considering the running time of this record. Giving credit where credit’s due, in 22 minutes White Lung managed to pack every millisecond with noise, angst, attitude and, most importantly, passion. This passion for their craft is not only apparent in the superb instrumentation and punchy lyricism (themes include rape, sexism and power), but in the prowess with which the former two are executed, Deep Fantasy oozes confidence, and this is what makes it such an enthralling listen. With this record, I think it’s fair to say that Mish Way has cemented herself as one of punk’s most important frontwomen.

Read my full review here.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Days Of Abandon

One of the year's more underrated releases I feel; Days Of Abandon sees the band embrace a more celestial 80's pop inspired sound, and boy does it work. It would be easy to despair at the lack of heaviness in the guitars in comparison to their previous efforts, but with tracks like 'Until The Sun Explodes', which features one of the band's best riffs yet and not to mention and amazing video. Elsewhere the tracks 'Simple And Sure', 'Kelly' and 'Eurydice' are among my favourite of the year so far. 

Songs of the Month



Caribou - Can't Do Without You

Bearing in mind his thus-far flawless back catalog, you can only imagine the immense pressure upon Daniel Victor Snaith (A.K.A Caribou)'s shoulders at this point. This hasn't stopped him from taking a risk with his latest single though; with such a long build up in proportion to the pay-off this could've easily become tedious and flat, thankfully it hasn't and is in fact a massive, massive tune. Fair enough, it's no Odessa but is still more enough to whet my appetite for his new album, even if it is bloody well due in OCTOBER. The wait begins...

My Brightest Diamond - Pressure

Ever since I heard St Vincent's excellent eponymous album earlier this year I was convinced that she was the official queen of art pop in 2014, but now it seems Shara Worden is giving her a run for her money. Releasing music under the moniker My Brightest Diamond since 2006; her work hasn't really clicked with me before this point, that has all changed with this, her latest single. The excellence of 'Pressure' is undeniable; from Worden's immaculate vocal delivery to that drumline, it's all just so right. Look out for her new album This Is My Hand in September and prepare to be blown away. 

FKA Twigs - Two Weeks

Through the release of her two very excellent EPs (the creatively titled EP1 and EP2), FKA Twigs has become one of the most hyped UK artists of the last few years. And now with the release of her debut album (called...you guessed it: LP1) she has only gone and dropped one of the best tracks of the year so far. Seeped in sensuality; 'Two Weeks' is a seductive slow jam which still maintain Twig's elegant aesthetic, this being reiterated by the stunning video for the track.   

The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

As far as indie super groups go, The New Pornographers is definitely one of the best (and not just because of the name). And with Neko Case on board you cannot go far wrong. Their new album Brill Bruisers (due in August) is promised to be a "celebration record", and judging by the title track there will be plenty of celebration on my part when it finally drops. 




Rustie - Raptor

Having crafted one of my favourite albums of all time, Glass Swords back in 2011, Glasgow's finest Rustie sure does have a lot to live up to with album two. 'Raptor' is the perfect track to ensure that my faith is fully restored.  Vicious and all-encompassing; 'Raptor' is a beast of a track which is certainly not a faint-hearted.

Lia Ices - Thousand Eyes

After her criminally underrated debut album Grown Unknown; Lia Ices has returned with not only a new and improved sound but a new concept altogether, flight - the concept of leaving the earth and all of it's stresses entirely. 'Thousand Eyes', the first taste of new album Ices is a melodic slice of folktronica with an essence of reggae thrown in for good measure. More please.

Zola Jesus - Dangerous Days

Nika Roza Danilova (better known as Zola Jesus) has always sparked intrigue in me; I have always had a degree of admiration for Zola's concept and sound, but as yet has not created a full album that has completely grabbed me (it is worth noting that 2011's Conatus was very nearly there). But I think it's fair to say that new single 'Dangerous Days' is a complete game-changer for Zola, it is easily her most accessible release to date, but is no less epic and grand than her previous work. With her new album Taiga sounding ever-tantalizing this could be a major turning point for Zola.  

Jamie XX - All Under One Roof Raving

The XX are undoubtedly one of the UK's greatest success stories of the last 10 years, from humble beginnings they exploded with their sensational debut album, taking the world by storm and arguably re-shaping the pop landscape with their sparse approach to production. Jamie XX, arguably the mastermind of the trio, often remained in the shadows of his band mates, but if he continues to produce tracks of this standard that will not longer be possible. An ode to the ever-vibrant London urban scene (of which I am rather accustomed to); 'All Under One Roof Raving' is an ode to London with added tropical flavor, courtesy of steel drums alongside the persistent sample usage. That full length solo album cannot come soon enough. 



Jessie Ware - Tough Love

Jessie Ware is a goddess, no more explanation required. 

Menace Beach - Tennis Court

As promising as their debut EP was (so much so that I made it my EP of the month all the way back in January), I honestly did not expect such an excellent single this soon afterwards. 'Tennis Court' is easily their catchiest and most skilled track yet, it embraces the best of 90's nostalgia while the hook-laden chorus sweetens the deal. Just in time for Wimbledon too.

Ryn Weaver - OctaHate

I'll let the music speak for itself on this one: this is the best pop debut single of the year so far. And with over 500,000 soundcloud hits in a matter of days, Ryn Weaver may well be a force to be reckoned with. 

Esben and The Witch - Blood Teachings

I thought I'd end things on a more sombre note for a change, ya know, just to be different. Espen and The Witch only caught my attention very recently, after listening to this rather Swans-esque track I was compelled to hear more (mostly due to my immense love for the latter's latest LP To Be Kind). Fortunately the band are releasing their debut album in September so I shan't have wait too long.  

Monday, 23 June 2014

How To Dress Well - "What Is This Heart?" Review



As 2014 progresses, the marriage between the 'indie community' and R&B seems increasingly prominent; beloved acts such as Warpaint and Sharon Van Etten are experimenting with R&B sounds on their respective recent releases whilst 'indie icons' like Grimes and Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino have been proclaiming their love for R&B stars like Drake. Though this all may seem quite sudden, 'Indie R&B' has actually been in existence for quite some time now. Tom Krell is somewhat a pioneer of this sub-genre, creating intriguing and textured down-beat R&B under the moniker How To Dress Well since 2009 with a series of free EPs. It was his critically acclaimed 2010 debut Love Remains which first turned by attention to Krell's sound; a strikingly assured debut, Love Remains offered soulful R&B jams under a blanket of  haze. Follow-up Total Loss was an equally down-beat affair, though Krell's strengthened sense of melody in his songwriting made it far more accessible than it's predecessor.

Lyrically, "What Is This Heart?"  is very much in the same vein as Krell's previous two LPs. Though with themes such as love, pride and trust being addressed in an equal measure to loss, anxiety, fear and shame, "What Is This Heart?" certainly feels more uplifting than anything he has ever done before. Without even listening to the record, the imagery immediately provides you with contextual ideas which coincidentally tie in rather well with the music itself. The cover is a stoic portrait of Krell gazing into the distance with a sense of anguish, longing and (possibly) inner-turmoil in his expression. In the elaborate deluxe packaging there is a stone-carved image for every song on the record, each evoking a tone and aesthetic similar to that of an Ancient Greek or Roman mural. This is reiterated by the record itself, with lyrics reading like a Greek tragedy at times and the production grand and cinematic (see 'Pour Cyril').

Following the stripped-back opening track '2 Years Back (Same Dream)', the tone shifts into much darker territory with the commanding beats and echoing vocal samples of the menacing 'What You Wanted'. Krell continues to explore the darker side of his sound on the trip-hop infused 'Face Again' (the video of which  features Krell as a God-like figure, reiterating the album's aesthetic once more), with the heavy manipulation of his vocals and thumping beats in the chorus, this is certainly one of his more intense tracks. However, not all tracks are as enthralling as these, the track 'See You Fall' unfortunately lacks the melodic flair that is otherwise consistent on this LP, causing it to fall rather flat, though due to it's length it fails to spoil the flow of the record.

What is clear is that Krell is at his best when he embraces a poppier approach to his melodies, the lead single and standout-track 'Repeat Pleasure' being a prime example of this. Here he showcases his breathy falsetto over an infectious soul-pop backing, making the triumphant lyric 'Pleasure repeats on and on: even broken my heart will go on', even more poignant. More so on any other record of his; on"What Is This Heart?" we see Krell embrace his influences, even recalling Prince and early Michael Jackson on the excellent 'Precious Love'. A more contemporary comparison can be made on fellow highlight 'Very Best Friend', which could easily be a chart-topping Drake hit with its glitchy hip-hop beats and slick delivery. Meanwhile, the astonishing 'A Power' sees Krell more audacious than ever with cinematic piano chords and thumping percussion assisting his ever-excellent vocal delivery.

There has always been something unique about How To Dress Well's sound, encompassing the past, present and the future through Krell's eclectic palette of sounds and both visual and sonic influences. On "What Is This Heart?", the ancient Greek and Roman imagery creates an interesting juxtaposition with the colorful R&B beats and abstract melodies,  particularly on the entrancing slow jam 'Words I Don't Remember'. This along with Krell's attention to detail equates to an album which is dynamic as well as cohesive, to the extent where not listening to all tracks in order just feels plain wrong. The subtlety found in Krell's former releases has vanished, making  "What Is This Heart?" his most dynamic and confident work to date.

8.5/10

Best Tracks: What You Wanted, Face Again, Repeat Pleasure, Words I Don't Remember, Precious Love, A Power, Very Best Friend





Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Lone - Reality Testing Review



Though dance music is arguably the biggest genre in mainstream music today, I feel that many people my age are still fairly unaware of the diversity and rich history of dance music. I believe the mostly 'dumbed-down' dance music found at the top of the charts, predominately by bland and faceless eurotrash DJs don't represent the excellent dance sub-genres including house, techno, drum & base, trance and new wave, to name a few. This coupled with the surge in accessible electronic sounds due to the prominence of artists such as James Blake and Burial can make it all a bit confusing to many. Enter Matt Cutler, a Nottingham-based electronic producer who crafts rich, atmospheric and very dance-able electronica, infused with a variety of different sub-genres whilst also creating something completely fresh.

Opening track 'First Born Seconds' sets the tone perfectly, with euphoric synths and heavenly chimes it acts as a musical breath of fresh air, giving way for the heavier tracks to come. What I feel sets Reality Testing apart from other electronic dance records is Lone's incredible outros which allow the tracks to flow seamlessly into one another, making the whole album an experience. However there are still plenty individual standout moments such as the thumping italo house chords on the track 'Aurora Northern Quarter' or the euphoric hip-hop infused '2 is 8'. Though none of the tracks feature singing, at no point does Reality Testing feel repetitive or as if Lone is running out of ideas. He uses a mesh of samples throughout the record which weave seamlessly into the narrative, take the track '2 is 8', for example, the samples of laughter bring an element of fun and naivety to the care-free summer-y vibes of the track whilst on 'Stuck', the production asks as a backdrop to the vocal sample. 'Cutched Under', the closing track, ends the record with a subtle sensuality with neo-soul recalling bassline and more colourful beats over the top and ensures the album goes out with a bang.

There is an immense confidence felt throughout this record, a self-assurance in Matt Cutler's flawless production which makes Reality Testing feel more entrancing and engaging than your average electronic record. Not since Jon Hopkin's astonishing Mercury-nominated Immunity have I felt such warmth and depth from an electronic record. With Reality Testing there is a real sense of balance between paying tribute to older scenes such as Detroit techno and Chicago House and innovating new sounds. As a result I feel this record will stand the test of time, to the extent where it already feels somewhat of a classic, to me anyway. Hopefully between this and the popularity of acts such as Disclosure and Julio Bashmore, mainstream dance will regain its credibility once again. 

9.2/10

Best Tracks: Restless City, Meeker Warmer Energy, Aurora Northern Quarter, 2 is 8, Jaded, Cutched Under