Monday, 21 May 2012

Grimes' 'Visions' (with a bit of a speculation on the music industry)

Released in March, this intensely electronica and simultaneously relaxed record spills influences from Bjork, the darkest corners of dubstep and electronica.

 I love that such a large sound has been produced by a solo artist. Is this the future of EDM? Is this the future of the no longer existent bedroom-based-singer/songwriter? It would now appear that we expect musicians to be songwriters, DJs and producers as some kind of musical all in one. With artists such as Grimes, SBTRKT, Deadmau5, Jamie XX and Burial as well as top dogs Calvin Harris and David Guetta - the all in one music maker has some heavy burdens to carry over and above being able to strum a few chords. To produce tracks, or to even leap from the springboard into this kind of industry the music maker/DJ/producer needs good equipment, some kind of alter ego or persona (see Grimes with her eye on her head, Deadmau5 with his Mau5-head or Feed Me with his massive smile-one stage) as well as the expectations of recording their own stuff to get noticed in the first place AND perform it all live to sustain their popularity. In other's HARD to break the scene with a modest budget and no plug sockets.

 That by no means says Grimes isn't a good musician. Her vocals are hypnostising and spectacularly eery which fuse well with the delicate keys and pads of the tracks. The illegibility of lyrics is one, insignificant problem. But, the fact that she can deliver these vocal lines live speaks volumes.  Catchy riffs, intense harmonies 'Skin' and 'Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)' create a mature evolution in the tracks way beyond this 23 year old's career.

I find myself frowning in trying to understand the complexities of the melachonic shape of chords and harmonies (Skin). All I can feel is pain. Does it matter how she gets there with repetitive drum loop and lonely guitar melody? No. Other similar tracks include; 'Eight' all which speak volumes in dictating mood and emotion. Why should music always be so blatant?

Pop-ier tracks 'Genesis', 'Be A Body' and 'Oblivion' have a bubble bass line that is a venerable, potential victim for re-mixes. With 80s effects (including sweep pads, an old school drum track and tons of reverb) threaded into the various instrumental parts (especially in 'Oblivion') its hard to slap a genre sticker onto this track. I'm going to have a go anyway and say neo electronica pop? Yes. That sounds good enough to me.

 I hope that this is an album which sticks with me long term and isn't a fad or phase. With the rise of electronic music I'm sure Grimes will become a key leader of the pack to a more alternative approach to synthesised sounds.

Fave tracks: Genesis, Oblivion and Be A Body.

Like Grimes? Try SBTRKT .

Saturday, 19 May 2012

BOY at The Borderline

  Fresh faced from Brighton-based-festival, The Great Escape just the weekend before, this female, swiss-German guitaring duo made their way to the rather cramped and jam-packed Borderline for a cheeky gig supported by a full band.

  Despite their relatively plain stage presense and modest personalities, they held their own on stage. I liked that this is the case with these two. No, they're not exactly in your face such as Jessie J or as introvert as perhaps Laura Marling, just sweet, nice, talented girls who can storm their own stuff live.

   With an album due for release in the summer, their genre of  music can be distinctively defined as indie pop. With catchy melodies, love sick harmonies and softly German-accented English you cant help but fall in love just a little bit with the two of them. Whilst on stage they give banter to the crowd and despite the language barrier, the two make good fun of themselves and the crowd. "We're disgusting... PAHAHAHHA HAHHAHAHA!!!" - goes the bassist Sonja Glass. "I mean-DISCUSSING!!!" And the entire venue falls about laughing. Absolute genuine charm.

  Catchy single 'Little Numbers' tip-toes around Regina Spector influenced piano fills and a catchy bassline that I plan on being (if not my own personal) a summer hit. I hope they have much more to offer us in the upcoming summer... Otherwise check out singles 'Drive' and 'Little Numbers'.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Jack White's 'Blunderbuss'

Ok, so it's been out for ages..... And yes, I've been slow on the uptake.

Recorded in Nashville (which is pretty well suited to the southern state roots this album has eg, 'Blunderbus' and 'I'm Shakin'') This first solo album by the rocker-of-three-bands (does that make him a band slut??) is not overly ambitious and ridiculously pretentious but contains strong song writing skills and a solid collection of a variety of tracks.

From the heavier 'Sixteen Saltines' to 'Freedom at 21' and 'I'm Shakin', the album contains the expected rock tracks that spill from the White Stripes era.

However, softer 'Missing Pieces', 'Love Interruption', 'Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy' and 'Blunderbus' show just damn good instrumentation and song development with improvised bluesy like roots that I lap up on my morning commute.

Such a recogniseable vocalist will always have the challenge of trying to create a new record.  White has appeared to overcome this via creating the track, riffs and instrumentation (with excellent backing vocals) to be the focus. His vocal is not the main focus here unlike say, Thom Yorke.

He was outstanding on Jools Holland (on the 4th May) - go and catch up with it if you haven't already seen it. He's a brilliantly established musician who knows what he's doing and I can imagine to be the driving force behind his own success as opposed to leaning on a big team. This is even backed by the fact that Indie label XL (who Adele's signed to) has him on their roster. Smashing.

No more needs to be said. Go and buy it, Goddamn it.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Richard Hawley's 'Standing a the Sky's Edge'

Opening with an eeriness, this album moves through the genres of late 90s rock and indie guitar music into it’s own developed record with fixed ideas in direction. Influences I think Hawley takes on for this album include; Oasis, Embrace, The Verve and to a certain extent, relatively newcomers to the scene, The Horrors. Hawley is a well established musician, probably best known for his short spell in Pulp, but it is obvious from the start that these British guitar bands are what contributes to the shape and feel of the album. This doesn’t by any means allow for this album to sound all samey-samey. The lazy, British and Faris from the Horrors-esque like vocals really gives it something that makes it stand apart from any average Kasabian, Mark Knopfler or My Morning Jacket record.
Track 1, ‘She Brings The Sunlight’ has a pretty large soundscape. With instrumentation including a pretty brash sitar and violin, the development of the parts work well to create a strong introductory track to the rest for the album. The guitar solo at 4:03 was inevitable, but with a splash of flange, it creates the perfect harmony between the melody of the solo and the sitar in the background.
‘Standing At the Sky’s Edge’ is a chilled out, reminiscent-of-a -Moby track with a soft piano part, lots of reverb, sustained vocals on harmony and a close mic (this also goes for ‘The Wood Colliers Grave’). All in all a very relaxing and unhurried track that deviates (shortly) from direction to a pointless, downwards chordal progression but otherwise the track is memorable and worthy of the album title to summarise the atmosphere. 
‘Seek It’ and ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’ give a more relaxed feel. With a repetitive riff in 'Seek It', its easy to kick your feet up and relax. ‘Dont Stare at The Sun’ contains less effects on the vocals add uses brushes on drums with an acoustic guitar that soothes the mood. This also goes for ‘Before’ which is excellently produced and has a wonderful build up into the escapism-like-instrumental.
It has to be said that by the time you get to track 7, ‘The Wood Colliers Grave’ you’re ready for a bit of a pick up... Which luckily is indulged by ‘Leave your Body Behind You’. A drum-heavy and instrumentally busier track then the rest of the tracks, providing a colourful side in a minor key. With a simple and catchy bassline, predictable chords and riffs it’s a compact and well written track that I fear is slightly overburdened in production where the (albeit repetitive and relatively simple) vocals are abandoned. But as ever, the guitar part is brought to the forefront from the mid section onwards to rock the heck out of the back-end of the track.
More impressive guitar indulgence can be found in ‘She Brings The Light’, ‘The End of Time Will Bring You Winter’, ‘Before’ and ‘Leave Your Body behind You’. Produced well with effects are essential here. Meanwhile, the continuous movement of the album such as ‘Time Will Bring You Winter’ into ‘Down In the Woods’ shows maturity, strong awareness of music and the needs of the listener to play on moods.
All in all, an enjoyable, well respected album in my opinion. If my Dad was into cooler music I’d happily share this with him, but as his collection consists of Enya, The Corrs and Savage Garden I think I’ll just keep it to myself....(and you guys!)

 Like Richard Hawley? Then why not try Bombay Bicycle ClubThe Black Keys or Jack Savoretti

Monday, 7 May 2012

Jodie Marie's 'Mountain Echo'

The enticing vocals of Miss Marie are enough to sell this album by itself. It's unquestionable that she has a beautiful voice with the ability to seep across many genres from pop into folk, jazz and blues. One could argue she has a tone (especially in 'Greeney-Blue') that matches Laura Marling (which believe you me is a compliment and a half from me as I am her NO. 1 FAN). This is really explored in the album. From the more bluesy tracks ('Singing Black Canvas') to the jazzier ('I Got You') and just for good measure some folk ('Greeney-Blue'), all tracks incorporate her abilities as a vocalist to showcase the extend of her voice.

 This however does sometimes act as a tad of downfall to the album. The change of direction in genres confuses me slightly. Undoubtedly, genres such as bluegrass, folk and blues have similar ties with each other...but I feel that if there was more binding of direction, the album may sound slightly more developed and perhaps mature. The album is one which shows some real highlights that sparkle just that little bit more than other, weaker tracks ('Remember Me') where there's simply not enough musical development.

 Saying that though, it doesn't stop me from enjoying the range of this genre-jumbled album. 'Greeney-Blue' for instance is a beautiful soft folk tune with lazy guitar accompaniment and a strong level of command in the vocal. 'What Would It Take?' matches this similar style but not to the quality or maturity that 'Greeney- Blue' has.

Upbeat, classy and jazzy 'I Got You', uses huge orchestration inclusive of strings, many guitar parts and  an organ to really add va va voom. Vocals let rip here which I enjoy after the contrast of Greeney-Blue beforehand. However, I'm uncertain as to whether the vocals are still big enough to match the sheer size of the instrumentation. I would've also really liked maybe a break-down in the middle to add an extra section and some suspension to the track. However, I consider it to be a well composed, catchy and finger clickin' good! Similarly, largely orchestrated 'On The Road' is a delightfully bright, exciting and catchy gem which matches Marie's vocals in all it's grandeur.

'Like a Runaway' is a very Alison Kraus-like-country-come-bluegrass track. The use of country electric guitar, harmonies on vocals, brushes on drums and saloon styled piano helps point this album is a slightly alternative light. I think the contrast in these genres, such as the pop-ier track 'Numb' goes to show just how well the album is produced. Not only is the delicacies of Marie's vocals captured well ('Greeney-Blue'), but the right feel for the more country orientated tracks and prioritising of instrumentation against effects and the placement of vocals has really been produced very well.

My fave tracks are; 'Greeney', 'On the Road' and 'I Got You'.

Like Jodie Marie? Then why not try Lianne La Havas, Honey Ryder or Marching Donald?

Santigold's 'Master of My Make-Believe'

I couldn't wait for this album to come out....did it live up to my hopes? Well here is my dissection, in a typically rambling like manner...

 Opening with 'Go', all the elements than define Santigold for what she is remains the same (which I love). For example, the distinctive vocals, alternative harmonies and funky beats are sustained throughout the album. Admittedly, there are some overly similarly tracks to the debut album 'Santogold'. But I loved it, so why complain?

 The single 'Disparate Youth' has basslines which I'm sure shall be pumping through an Urban Outfitters BY YOU soon. A staccato, synth string section and ridiculous echo on the drums, this track gets your head bopping from the very start. With remixes of the anthemic tune by The Two Bears and Justice, it's soon to be a hit in the coolest of clubs. In summary, it has distinctive and sensual vocals that reflect everything Santigold has done in the past with intimate drums throughout the chorus and a guitar lick which punctures the vocal line and harmonic progression. The keys are hypnotising and the bass is pulsating from the very beginning.

Perhaps most alike to this upbeat, reggae and electronic pop fusion is 'Fame', a catchy and I'm sure favourite of the Santigold fans. "Me don't want no fame" is a catchy and down-with-the-kids-lyric. Leaps and unexpected turns in the vocals keeps this track fresh. More fusion tracks like this includes 'Freak Like Me', an edgy, hyped and again, unpredictable track. I think this stop-start track is quite similar to her older works such as 'Unstoppable'.

'God From The Machine' is the third track which edges away from the angelic pop electronica and moves to a brave reggae rhythm with ghostly backing. A haunting vocal line and lack of rush is key to this track. Off beat rhythms is what Santigold does to a tee, from the beats in 'Go!' to the syncopation in 'Disparate Youth', to the bass and off-beat accents in 'Pirate in the Water'.

'This isn't Our Parade' and 'The Riot's Gone' shows that she hasn't moved entirely into a world of  reggae beats come synth pop fusion but that she still has the ability to write the cutest of love songs including alternative keys and her ever powerful vocals. With hazy accompaniment that lazily joins in as a mimic of the vocal line "I can hear you now, I hear you calling", the song feels personal, the delicacies of the sustained chords, gentle drum track and reserved use of fills makes me feel subjected to Santigold's deepest depths.

In terms of musical development, the production of each track is exquisite (just listen to 'Pirate in the Water') . It's evident much time, energy and money has gone into perfecting the production, making everything as tight as possible and so has added an extra layer of electronica which may have not been as present in the first album. I like it. I think it helps move Santi into 2012.... And I was also extremely impressed how well this was brought over when performed live on Zane Lowe's show last week. Her band is TIGHT.

 In terms of songwriting, she hasn't taken any extreme paths away from the Santogold feel and I'm glad.  Some tracks do throw a curve ball into the equation such as 'Look At These Hoes' which features much more rapping and more aggressive songwriting that perhaps equates to 'Creator' from the first album, but the heavy dependency on the bass, contrast through the use of more R&B lyrics, the backing atmospheric wash and electronica adds a bit of spice to the album. I would have liked to have heard maybe just the odd track that could've offered something completely different. But her distinctive sound is what makes her stand out, especially for me anyway, in the alternative world.

Fave tracks: Disparate Youth, God From The Machine, This Isn't our Parade, Look At These Hoes and Big Mouth.

Like Santigold? Then try SBTRKT