Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Miike Snow's album 'Happy To You'

This open minded trio of Swedes released their second album 'Happy To You', following up from their eponymous first album. With a strong set of catchy riffs that would make MGMT jealous, drums to startle an army and a genre that can be shortly defined as electronic indie pop, the album includes a scattering of strong re-mixes alongside their own masterpieces in their full glory.

So there's not the usual instrumentation ('Enter the Joker's Lair' including a Marimba), lyrics ('Paddling Out') and mad rushing ('Archipelago') you may hear in an extrovert Indie-electronica group such as Foals, Justice, Hot Chip or MGMT but it carries it's own niche sound very well. With the inclusion of Swedish military drums in 'Bavarian' and 'The Wave' to the Miike-Snow-typically white washed vocals in 'The Wave' to the synths in 'Vase'. The group sustain their unique sound which is so distinctive from their previous hits such as 'Silvia', 'Black and Blue' and 'Animal'.

Tracks to WATCH OUT! (in a good way) for are include 'Devil's Work'-a favourite of mine (and Tiesto's) with it's big brass, singable vocals and break down on the second half of the chorus with stabbing strings and full of emotion, the song is perfect for pulling apart which is precisely what DJ Alex Metric has done. It'll also most probably be the next release off the album... 'Bavarian' includes a delicate and repetitive minimalist piece that warms the heart. With it's strong structure, and genteel approach to layering against the harshness of the snares in the military drums, the track really clings onto something unique. Not to mention the vocals and harmonies which include surprising directions that inevitably round up into the repetitive riffs that were introduced at the very start. Genius.

Unfortunately the album has low production on an overall scale. Play it after any dance track you have on your ipod and you'll hear the failure in the size of the sound that's produced overall. This is probably a result of less cash been thrown at the band as say, DJ Fresh or Madonna but at the end of the day, the rest of the album points out that the album IS produced to a very high level of production. Tracks 'Enter the Joker's Lair', 'Devil's Work' and 'Archipelago' just point to the range of the production techniques from creating soundscapes in 'Enter..." to the typical band sound with rock drums, driving keys, strings, brass and functional bass that is required in 'Devil's Work'.

The first single 'Paddling Out' is a real keyboard basher with condensed songwriting and excellent builds in the bridge up to the chorus which provides a brilliant release. The single was the reason I delved further into the album and the lads should be proud of it, exploit it for re-mixes (which they have) and really channel it as a dance anthem for the summer. Unfortunately there's a distraction bleep/glitch that sounds somewhere between an Apple Mac uploading something and a metronome which really grates on me. However, remixes on the album are also noteworthy- Wolfgang Gartner's remix is a bass and dancefloor friendly version that underpins the entire track with a simplified but big drum sample and a contrasting chorus including a heavy, trance - chunky synth part which holds a strong line throughout the rest of the track after it's initial introduction. The Jacques Le Cont remix includes a tad more creativity, thought and brilliant build ups, releases and alternative structure to the instrumentation whilst it also pulls apart and stretches out the track. Much more Justice-like and adds a layer of grandeur.

I hope that the extent of the band's creativity and lack of fear to try anything new will help this album rocket. With Radio 1 plugging them on Annie Mac's show and Tiesto including them in his podcast, I think they'll be able to capture a pretty large audience.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Michael Kiwanuka's 'Home Again'

This British musician offers a fresh injection (and for some, introduction) of soul into the charts. Recognition in the BBC's Sound of 2012 Poll has evidently led Kiwanuka to the bright lights of fame and the ever important airplay. His jam packed festival timetable this year includes Bestival,
Liverpol's Sound City, Latitude and naturally, Radio 1's Big Weekend which just goes to shows how high in demand this new talent is.

Opening with track 'Tell Me a Tell' is a fantastic and simplistic introduction about what this artist and his music represent. Soul, country and blues. With heavy accents on upbeat vocals, a subtle use of soft brass and the flurry of polite flutes as well as brushes on drums a genre is defined in seconds. There's a real rush that the verse provides which contrasts against the coolness and release of the chorus ('Goooood gooooood lovin').

First single 'I'm Getting Ready' is one which breaks up the average grafters day as it floats through your radio speakers against the background of Swedish House Mafia and Katy Perry. The swung guitar rhythms and swishing of the snare on drums is delightfully refreshing, meanwhile Kiwanuka's mature and rich vocals transcend his years by about two decades. The next single which features on the album, 'Home Again' is a heavily guitar-fill filled track. Strings here are not an understatement but a necessity to chunk out the layers and emphasise the chorus on 'One day I know I'll be home again'. I'm glad however, that the producers and Kiwanuka have kept it relatively simple to reflect its bluesy roots.

As the album moves through soulful tunes including acoustic guitar licks, flute flurrys and more off beat rhythms, tracks to listen out for include 'Bones', a bluesy love song with saloon styled piano and irresistible backing vocals. Its horse and cart styled rhythm with extra swooning on the vocals allows the song to propel itself as well as pick up the pace of the album.

'Always Waiting' is a darkly charming track which delicately balances the effects to allow a softness on the acoustic guitar part. Minor chords interject the upbeat guitar licks whilst a troubled trombone slides in and out of the orchestration to add extra sincerity and loneliness. A lack of lyrics in the chorus adds an air of hopelessness. All in all, I consider this track to contain many elements that pull the fundamental intention of hopelessness, loneliness and acceptance together.

For something a bit different, skip to track 'I wont Lie' for it's impressive brass and instrumental interjections that swamp the vocals. It sort of reminds me of a Christmas track. The primary focus appears to be on the grandeur nature of the orchestration and creating a big sound whilst the vocals play a secondary part. Furthermore, I don't feel that the vocal line is that strong or catchy but it certainly stands out on the album.

Finishing off, 'Worry Walks Beside Me' is an electric guitar accompanied track that shuffles the album to a close. Not only is the vocals lazy but it's a great sing along song when drunk and I think has potential as a single. The pain and recognition of blues here is evident. A slight downer to finish an album on, but a track that certainly makes an impression.

To have succeeded in such a stark genre in today's chocca-dub-block styles that are flittering around, Kiwanuka goes to show just how some time out is desperately needed by some of us.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Florence and The Machine plays Alexandra Palace

Following her outrageously and gloriously overly exuberant performance at the Brits, the swiping of 2 NME awards and much dancing at the after party with Rizzle Kicks just a few weeks ago... Florence Welch took on Alexandra Palace on Thursday the 8th March 2012.

The Horrors, as second in line for support set up in a very casual state while Faris got his fringe flinging on. They were tight, they were cool and their new stuff is brilliant. Despite the Southend group hardly pumping me up for Florence and the Machine, it was music at a good calibre of musicianship and if at the end of the day, I hadnt got that from the Horrors, with their four albums, countless festival performances and being the teacher's pet of NME, I would have been disappointed. And disappointed I was not.

After a diva-ishly long wait for Flo.....she came out from behind her 1920s deco-adorned stage in full cape, sparkly shoulder pads and pinned up deep red hair. YES, gold and sparkles is still in season apparently (check out the fcuk website if you dont believe me). Backed by a ten piece choir and a string section TO DIE FOR (not to mention her Mcfitty lead guitarist) and of course, the harp. All in all, it was a very impressive presence on stage. Opening with Only If For A Night Florence set off with her stationary new style although there was some twirling and pointing with the arms to get some movement into that cape.

She continued through various tracks off the new record and then launched into some of her old stuff including Cosmic Love with an outstanding break-down in the middle where she completely owned the entire room. (I'm going to also state here, quite outrageously, that I believe Welch to be one of the strongest vocalists certainly in the UK and potentially in the western world right now.)

Once she'd proved her worth of owning the palace she launched into a bombardment of uplifting tunes and ever so gradually returned to her immature character which encompassed Lungs. Beginning with current single Shake It Out and moving a bit more around the stage (the cape was long gone by now to reveal a black velvet catsuit) the next song progressed to Dog Days Are Over where suddenly she returned to her old self, flailing arms around, skipping and general fiasco.

Alternative adaptions included Heartlines where a 12 string guitar was introduced to create a more folky approach and initially softer drums which gave all the more impact when they did play in full. Leave My Body was dowsed by the choir and given a more soulful vibe. There was a brief interlude as the strings did their thing over a few chords to introduce You Got The Love and naturally, the room was filled with the punter's voices fused with the intermediately overwhelmed and giggling, but fantastic Florence's.

As the first of many, many gigs I hope and have no doubt that the rest of the tour is to the same standard. Florence appeared affectionate to Alexandra Palace as a venue, especially as her family was there (apparently a rarity). But to be honest, I think the girl's got it all under control and will nail the rest of the tour as it sets off across the country and Europe this spring before a handful of festivals, come summer.