Friday, 2 October 2015

Vök - Circles

Vök's music is continuously evolving from minimalism to a fully operational electronic project with sustenance. Where their first few tracks excelled in song-writing and production, they lacked in depth - offering up minimalism, though to the extend where percussion had become devoted to a singular instrument; be it the electric guitar on "Before", or the saxophone in "Ég bíð þín". Vök have moved away from this singular-instrument heavy material; it's probably for the best. Many artists make this change for creative reasons, but for marketing reasons too. Braids are a perfect example of a dream pop styled guitar heavy artist who dropped electric guitar to pick up electronic based instruments supported by strong production techniques. Although Vök are not similar in style, they're making this progression, completing their own circle - creating songs with purpose, character, but most importantly - substance.

You find this on every track, specifically the addictive "If I Was". They've really excelled in building a song based on simplicity and individual notes. "If I Was" is draped in character from the two-note / three-note synthesizer, to the vocal timings. That's correct, vocal timings. The lyrical progressions found on Circles speaks louder than David Gilmour's new album. It lets of the sense of professionalism, knowing full well that Vök, without even releasing a full-length album, seemingly fit within an industry built on experience and privileged social media campaigns. They combine the beauty of raw technical skill with electronica; without focussing on individual instruments as a frontrunner. Every atmospherical guitar riff, every refrain and high-pitched vocal - it just comes together as an explosion, all within three minutes, in what seems to be 30 seconds. That's how you grab hold of your listeners, by perfectly building a track from the first to the last seconf, filling it with meaningful instrumentation. If you're an aspiring electronic musician / producer, let "If I Was" be your benchmark; a truly captivating track.

If you think Vök cram a lot in to "If I Was", then the five minute "Waterfall" will seem like a century. It's the opposite in terms of captivating music to grab you by the scruff of your neck. That's not to say "Waterfall" is weak, that couldn't be farther from the truth. The slower, quieter (in terms of patience) electronic / ambience tracks are often the best - Slowdive's "Rutti" is potentially the perfect example of this. Like "Rutti", Vök's "Waterfall" is created and positioned first on Circles intentionally as the opener. Deep in wind chimes and whispered vocals leaves the listener deep in thought.

"Adrift" offers something different to Vök's output. It's somewhat stark in comparison to "If I Was", again carrying on from "Waterfall" with calm instrumentation. "Adrift" actually offers different musical comparisons in my strange brain. I hear Spyro the Dragon's ambient night levels, and Leonardo DiCaprio in the sunset beaches of... The Beach. Here we find a lucid, and much more focussed Vök from the somewhat archaic "If I Was". The saxophone returns as a background instrument - where it's without question stronger. It's similar to the closing self-titled track "Circles"; mixeing the best moments of "If I Was" with the characteristics of "Adrift" - perfect vocals and song structure, with the angelical sea-like instrumental we've come to associate with Balam Acab. This is what you get with Vök, mixed emotions and mixed compositions. Nothing is ever bland in their output. Even their previous EP Tension shows the signs of an artist ready-made and technically proficient. They're taking huge strides with their music, still - Vök is an artist designed for the cold winter months and dark autumn evenings. It's time for the eagerly awaited debut album, but I’m sure with their fast growing fan base, any material will be earned material for their listeners.
~Eddie Gibson

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Discover: Scott Robinson - Noticing

Keep It Up is Scott Robinson's second album - the follow-up to Hopeless Positivity, an album I missed. I've not listened to Robinson's music since 2013, since his Home Recordings collection of fuzz. That was back when Robinson had one like on his 'official' Facebook page, which was liked only by myself at the time. Amateurism musicians who rely on Bandcamp as their primary source of self-expression often find that their music is rarely heard. I'm sure after a few years of releasing music publicly, Robinson understands that Bandcamp perhaps is his port of importance, his safe-place of desperation - money doesn't influence this creative process.

"Noticing" is a stand out track on Keep It Up - it can be found at the 14ish minute mark, but go ahead and listen to the full album, it's not too long. That being said, there are aspects of Robinson's music which I straight up dislike, some parts are intentional to add sustenance which personally it could do without (percussion effects and mechanised wah-wah.) Listening through Robinson's music since Home Recordings is quite surprising as I didn't expect it to be so mellow. Where his original songs were demo-esque, the lo-fi recording was the appeal as it wasn't technically intentional lo-fi, it was lo-fi due to recording constraints - that's the kind of lo-fi which is in my books; passable.

This track certainly isn't lo-fi, it could be, but it isn't. Is it better like this? Perhaps, it's definitely more accessible and easier to hear the lyrics - Robinson's underlining quality. A test writers and musicians should do is strip down what they're listening to - hear it, see it as it's not supposed to be heard; that's when you can fully understand and grasp compositional writing. Stripping "Nothing" to its naked body unearths Robinson's jewels, song-writing and impressive unintended minimalism. The fade out, okay I despise fade outs, but I’ll let Robinson off because the content of "Nothing" does strike a chord with the listener. His influences seem to have changed from his conception - where the fizz sounds of Home Recordings was a clear call to Neutral Milk Hotel and Daniel Johnston, Keep It Up and "Noticing" in particular move away from the foundations of fuzzy alt-rock and indie, towards the realms of acoustic neo-psychedelia the likes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Ty Segall (specifically Sleeper's "The West") understand. Sure, the heartfelt song-writing of Johnston and Elliot Smith are still present, but the musical accompaniment will dictate whether Robinson's music will progress in to a part of music's memorable library, or like the 45-year olds on Reverb Nation still holding on to that Pink Floyd pipe dream. My assumption would be the former, but perhaps the effects and added substance need to be dropped in order to achieve that Smith / Drake winter feel, within Robinson's bright song-writing.

~Eddie Gibson

Robinson's Keep It Up can be downloaded for free on Bandcamp here.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Discovery: Tuath - "Viholliseni Maala"

Tuath (pronounced two ah) are an Irish shoegazing two-piece - enriched in anti-nationalism, and the music in which they believe to be the neutral ground between politics and music. Self-announced as the first ever Irish language noise rock band, Tuath blend the drones of noise rock with the melodic and sensual sounds of shoegaze - at least it’s melodic to me anyway.

“Viholliseni Maala” is the English title - the actual Irish language title is “I D’tuath De Mo Cuid Namhaid”, a beast to take in. If you haven’t recognised the title, it’s because you’re not a fan of The Brian Jonestown Massacre; or just haven’t heard their 2012 album Aufheben. This is of course Tuath’s cover of the TBJM original, and it’s adequately on par with the original in my opinion.

On TBJM’s version from Aufheben, the vocals manage to get lost in the Clinic-esque production, where the drums sound like their coming from your neighbour’s garage, and the guitars are upstairs. Tuath took the tempo and slowed it right down, without losing the context of the songs original rock song structure. Reverb and delay embark on their voyage in quick strums introducing the listener to the TBJM chord progression. The sound is matched by Tuath’s quality at replicating and taking an original sound to their own level. The drums are slower and lively - sounding unique on the ear. Then the vocals kick in, and it’s quite surreal actually. Tuath clearly don’t hold the vocal power to sing freely on Capital FM, but they do the job their music compliments.

This is of course shoegaze, the scene which celebrated itself two decades and counting ago - Tuath are in no way bringing a noise rock revival to Ireland, but by singing 100% in their, THEIR language, they add a personality and character beyond the band name, and beyond the music. The music just happens to be pretty good with raw sounding percussion and incredibly well produced guitars. There are not many flaws with this cover, the only criticism I can actually give the track is the needless 20 second fade out which burns a hole in my ear drum. Nevertheless, a very good cover and executed well.
-Eddie Gibson

MRD's Discovery

We're happy to publish the first issue of MRD's Discovery. It's the start of a series which we hope will relay across a number of platforms, and a number of styled 'MRD's .....' They won't all be Discovery, but this will be the first of many Discovery releases by Music Review Database. It's where we get the most enjoyment, and it's where the discovery tagged artists get the most attention in music media - if they haven't already been picked up by a hip intern at IPC. We applaud anyone giving attention to the artists behind closed doors, and those far from the weak critical acclaim of BBC Radio 2's Drivetime. We believe some have enormous potential within their respected musical path, others we're just happy to give constructive criticism to. Most importantly, MRD's Discovery's intention is to bring attention to artists in the same light as others do for chart toppers. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Interview: If These Trees Could Talk

MRD: How did this band realise that they could work together?

We have all been close friends since we were young. I think that is why we work so well together, because we understand each other’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses and since we were friends before we were band mates we have a strong bond. Everyone except Mike went to the same high-school and we all kind of ran in the same circles.  Zack and Cody obviously have known each other the longest being brothers. Zack and I started playing music together when we were about 14 I think. Then in high-school we met Jeff and Mike and Matt Socrates and we all had different groups we would get together and jam with. The five of us have been in various bands together playing stuff from Alt-Rock to Metal to Classic Rock in the past but this formation has been by far the most successful.

Did you have any lineup changes before you stuck with the current one?

No. Same five guys since day one. It would be really hard to replace anyone because we are so used to each other. There is certain chemistry, even things outside of music like just being in a van together with the same guys you really get a special bond that would just seem different if we brought an outsider into. 

Did you always play the same style of music as you do now?

Officially as the Trees Yes, it’s always been this post-rock-ish stuff. But growing up and being in different groups, No. I think we have all had some periods in which we experimented with other styles and genres. I was in a couple different punk-rock and ska bands. Then I started playing gigs with a couple different bands that Zack and Mike were in that were more Alt-rock I guess you could say. Cody, Mike and Zack gigged in a metal band together for a while. And throughout all that we all played covers of all kinds of different stuff. I guess between us we’re all over the place with influences like Punk, Jazz, Industrial, Motown, Classic Rock, Anything from the 90s, etc&hellip

How did you get signed to Metal Blade records? Was it at a gig they attended?

That’s kind of a weird story. We had always released our own music except for the vinyls which a couple labels helped us to print and distribute. So we have never officially been on a label before now. We just went out and did our stuff the way we wanted to, when we wanted to, and the music just kind of got out there. Eventually through different channels, mostly digitally and word-of-mouth I would guess, a chef named Chris Santos got a hold of our stuff and happened to be hanging with Metal Blade founder Brian Slagel in New York. He got Brian to listen to some of our stuff and then he got in touch with us. We chatted a few times and before you know it they gave us an offer and we couldn’t have been more excited to become part of their family!

Why don't you have vocals on your songs, is this a preference?

This whole style grew from a demo project Zack started while he was away at Art School. He was into stuff without vocals like Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky and wanted to record the ideas he was having. Some of those tracks made their way onto our first EP. None of us are much of singers and we really were just into the music anyway so we never really cared to add vocals. With all three guitars working different parts it’s nice to just focus on that. We always get asked if we ever want to get a singer, and honestly if we ever did it would be something different. The Trees are going to be without vocals for the foreseeable future.

Your music is very progressive, so I was wondering if you have any prog influences on your music, like Liquid Tension Experiment for example?

With all the different genres that each band member is into I’m sure there is some prog-influence in there. I don't think there is any one specific band that we could point to as modelling our sound from. It just comes together the way it does. I think we all would say there is something unique about doing things in a manner other than the simple straight-forward 4/4, verse-chorus-verse thing. So if you want to call our creativity and ambition to do things our own way progressive that’s fine. I’ll be the first to tell you there are a ton of bands out there doing things way more “progressive” than us.

Malabar Front was featured in the video game Infamous, how did you feel when this song was picked for a game like that?

For us, that was the first major recognition that we had ever received. It feels pretty good to have someone come along and tell you that they like your music so much that it inspires them and they want to use it in something they are creating. That got us some more publicity I think because after that we started to get more requests and license offers. We like the artistic projects that come up the best. Obviously we feel like artists and want our music incorporated into more unique projects that other artists are working on. We had a couple of major motion film trailers that we've been in the running for but so far haven’t landed a big one yet.

You formed in 2005, but only got signed a few months ago; did you have any other encounters with record companies?

As I mentioned before, we have never been officially been on any other labels other than Metal Blade. The other companies we have worked with (The Mylene Sheath and Science of Silence) have been agreements to release vinyl records of the albums we had already released ourselves. These were small runs which is why until now we haven’t really had the ability to get our music in physical form out to all the people who want it. There have been a few smaller labels that we had considered trying to work with but to be honest Metal Blade is the first and only one that made us a legit offer that we felt would really help us grow and get our music out to our fans around the world.

Is it hard to make it onto the music scene in Ohio, and what is the music scene like there?

I think “making it” here is probably just as hard as it is most anywhere else. Outside of LA and New York I suppose. There aren't really any major labels around so it’s all about getting your music out there into the world. You've obviously got to have talent first and foremost, but I think there is a lot of coincidence that goes into it too. You've got to have the right person hear it at the right time for things to work out. 

The scene is pretty eclectic. There’s all kinds of stuff; metal, rock, punk, folk, soul there are a couple of cool jazz clubs in town here in Akron. It’s kind of all over. Most notably in recent years Dan and Pat from The Black Keys came from Akron which I’m sure you already knew. There is also a sweet pedal company called Earthquaker Devices who’s here in town. When you get into some of the big university cities like Columbus you see a lot more stuff from those crazy college kids.

Do you think it's more difficult drawing in a crowd being an instrumental band?

At times I think it can be tougher, but we have found by opening for all kinds of different acts that our sound connects with a lot of different people for the simple fact that we don’t have a singer. I mean, if we had a “metal” singer who screamed and stuff we probably wouldn't appeal very much to the people that aren't into that kind of thing. But at the same time, our sound would lend itself to that if we so chose and the more metal inclined fans probably would say that would sound good if we had it. I guess being instrumental has its pluses and minuses for that simple fact.

What is the key thing to your live performance that attracts the audience?

We work hard to make sure that we are tight and get our timing down. We like to play loud but it’s got to be tight or with as many guitars as we have it would just get sloppy. We want to continue to add to our live shows to make it more of an experience with lighting and other visuals, but it all starts with being able to play the music well.

Your last prominent recorded material you have was Red Forest, what is next for you guys on the recording front?

We have already begun tracking our next album, the first to be released as Metal Blade recording artists. It is as of yet untitled but I can tell you we are happy with what we demoed out and can’t wait for people to hear it. Hopefully it will be well received as we feel we are continuing to grow and develop our sound. The goal is to have it ready for a release in the latter part of the year.

Will you be gigging soon? You seem to be quiet on social networking when it comes to live performance.

For the time being, our focus is getting this album tracked and back to the guys at Metal Blade. We all feel really lucky to have the opportunity to work with them and we don’t want to let anyone down. So we are 100% focused on that right now. We have had a few things come up for some possible touring but the timing just isn't right for us. As soon as we get through our studio time, I can guarantee you’ll see us out on the road.

Do you guys find it difficult to make any money in the music business as it is showing a dramatic decline financially?

That is something we are still trying to learn the formula for. For us, thus far we have not had the ability to commit full-time solely to the Trees. We all work other jobs to support our families. The band has become somewhat self-sufficient at this point but we hope that it can be more. If you are able to wear more than one hat in this business you have a better chance of succeeding. If you can write, produce, engineer, create artwork and play you can certainly give yourself a better opportunity for success. Just playing an instrument occasionally at a gig or two isn't going to keep food on your table.

You have a fantastic following, with comments on YouTube ranging from “This album makes me want to smoke some weed” to “Their music consists of ultra-relaxing songs, which are great for daydreaming and piecing together landscapes”, how happy are you reading comments that compliment you in  different varieties?

It’s really great to know people dig what you’re putting out there. We are grateful to each and every person who has given us a chance and supported us. We’d probably still be making music if nobody was paying attention but to have been able to positively affect so many people is inspiring and keeps us going. We can’t wait to get out on the road to all the places we have not had a chance to go and continue to play our music for people.

Interview by Matthew Clewley, words by Tom Fihe.

The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free

A Grand Don't Come for Free - Mike Skinner's magnum opus under his pseudonym The Streets. It's all somewhat taboo labelling The Streets' sophomore album a classic, but remember it's been over 10 years now since its release with Locked On Records giving us the go ahead to review, admire, and praise. It's simplicity attracting listeners to Skinner's music, though the listeners are far from simple. UK hip-hop, the genre often associated in the scrub lands as 'grime' innit, but Skinner's hip-hop is leaned towards 2-step garage, as heard on the exceptional Original Pirate Material released two years prior to his Grand piece. His upbringing, Birmingham, rich in musical culture and multiculturalism as Skinner's musical influences would suggest - ranging from the reggae sounds introduced to the UK through Island Records' humble beginnings, to the smart rapping and production skills of the Wu-Tang Clan. His story on Original Pirate Material was street music for street people - electroheads and stoners united. It wasn't so much an album displaying the hard life youths often face in Birmingham, but the comedic and varying sounds of a period remembered mostly for Ronaldinho's chip - normal, day-to-day life for a 'lad'. Skinner took the lyrical realism to the next level on A Grand Don't Come for Free, creating a real world version of Deltron 3000's self-titled debut album; something hip-hop / music in general was in need of - the concept album hasn't been matched to this detail since.

"It Was Supposed to Be So Easy" - He failed on the DVD, he couldn't withdraw any money, or call his Mum for tea, or get his savings on the side next to the telly. Skinner doesn't have the best of days in A Grand Don't Come for Free's opening track; the protagonist tells the audience of his day-to-day failings, mentioning his initial problems such as failing to return a DVD to the video store (pre-Netflix,) and losing his £1,000. Those that have heard this album in full will know the story and know how it ends, but if you haven't... go listen to it before reading on. Musically, the opening track like most of A Grand Don't Come for Free comes second to the lyrics. This is typical garage fashion - with Skinner exploiting the simple structures, and often standard beats with his additional piano playing. "Could Well Be In" is the perfect example of this; simple beat, very thin structurally, with lyrics applied to the tone of the instrumental. It introduces the love interest - Simone - with the atypical Skinner refrain: "I saw this thing on ITV the other week. Said, that if she plays with her hair, she's probably keen. She's playing with her hair well regularly, so I reckon I could well be in."  Though, the cuteness of Skinner's lyricism comes to a swift end. "Not Addicted" makes sure the listener fully grasps the lifestyle of Skinner's protagonist. He explores the degenerate lifestyle of part-time weekend bettors, contemplating whether or not to bet his bankroll on one bet through his 'instinct'. He fails to put the bet on, then explores the highs and lows of being angry not being on, then relief through the realisation of losing his bankroll.

A Grand Don't Come for Free also stepped in to the innovative foundations of the dubstep genre which peaked a few years later. "Blinded by the Lights" explores subjects untouched in Skinner's previous releases. The club becomes the setting, drugs the content - with classic Skinnerisms throughout. As a story, "Blinded by the Lights" is right up there as one of the best on this album, spoken perfectly with just the right level of confusion and club life slang. Skinner's production here is flawless, hard hitting bass synthesizers reminiscing the sound of 90s trance mixed with the 2-step beat creating an original dubstep recording with faint whiffs of ambience backing the sharper synthesizers.

Skinner is quite simply an extraordinary musician from his lyrical poetry to the raw production skills. This album acts as a compilation of all his skills and stories from what he sees and hears from his time growing up and living pre-Original Pirate Material, and post-Original Pirate Material. It's the varying nature of Skinner's protagonist in A Grand Don't Come for Free which resonates with so many listeners, At times he's incredibly lucky to be in a financial position to have his drugs, alcohol, and relationship life - explored deeply as a level of stability in "Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way", a tale of decision making and settling for the sedimentary lifestyle. Demolished on "Get out of My House" by the vocal introduction of his love interest Simone or C-Mone as the actual vocalist is known as. These are both examples of Skinner's extremely British lyrics; his use of slang terms and cockney rhyming may confuse the non-British listeners, but at the same time activates a specifically intended style of vocal delivery actually acted out in real life. This is delivered exceptionally well on "Fit but You Know It" - the ultimate lad song pre-Magaluf: "See I reckon you're about an 8 or a 9, maybe even 9 and a half in for beers time." Skinner's lyrics take place on what appears to be a holiday abroad where the beers are flowing and the birds are flying all over the pavement. It introduces the non-British listeners to the state of British women, or the perception British men have of women who put very little effort in to the pulling game, it specifically applies to cheap holidays in the sun.

Skinner's protagonist often comes to his senses throughout A Grand Don't Come for Free. He's constantly making self-reflecting comments, questioning his own thoughts and desires. "Such a Twat" has an angrier tone - the fun and games of "Fit but You Know It" are coming back to haunt Skinner, and what seems like the listener for partaking in his moments. This track acts as a buffer for the remaining tracks bringing A Grand Don't Come for Free to a close. "What Is He Thinking" carries on Skinner's self-inflicting anger. It's passionate spoken word questioning, in a Silent Witness / Midsummer Night Murders fashion - loosely. Skinner comes to the conclusion of his 'mates' betrayal, in a typical human hypocritical fashion after the events of "Fit but You Know It" and "Such a Twat". His passionate love for Simone falls to desperation on the penultimate track "Dry Your Eyes", the soul searching tear-jerker on A Grand Don't Come for Free - it just had to have one to complete the story, and Skinner executes it well. Acoustic guitar, the repetition of the word "please" and even more realisation that the protagonist's life has taken another, massive hit - leaving the listener in a state of mourning for his woes.

The closing track is a remarkable end to Skinner's sorrowful concept album. It's a classic The Streets track, Utilising basic structures to create a masterpiece right after delivering what’s come to be known as The Streets' most known and successful single "Dry Your Eyes". On the album closer, the audience is exposed to different endings. The first ending is what Skinner's previous 10 tracks would realistically ask for - confusion, self-inflicting anger, and the passage the protagonist would rightfully take in the real world. The second ending is what the listener wants, what Skinner's protagonist wants, and what would be considered unnatural, and fanatical for its fairytale ending. It's seen as an anomaly on A Grand Don't Come for Free because of its length (8:15,) and content. "Empty Cans" involves the listener more so than any of the previous tracks, its intention is to close the album, and complete the story arc in a typical Hollywood linear cycle. The first half of "Empty Cans" doesn't do this - and it's not the only reason why A Grand Don't Come for Free ends there. Skinner's not finished. The sound of a vinyl being rewound can be heard before the same opening to "Empty Cans", only with piano accompaniment - heard previously on "Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way" when the protagonist was last in his comfort zone. Of course, he does end up in his comfort zone as expected. The second half of "Empty Cans" brings together the characters, finally united as one. It closes A Grand Don't Come for Free with an answer to the £1,000 problem. Again, he thinks, deciding on allowing his mate back into his life to have a look at his TV: "It's the end of something I did not want to end, beginning of hard times to come. But something that was not meant to be is done, and this is the start of what was." Skinner delivers this with such conviction. He really does make you want to get up off your arse and do something, be it reconciling with a lost friend, or completing a set goal you made five years ago. The ambient synthesizers and piano increase in volume, the strings enter, and the bass becomes more dominant. Skinner finds his grand, completing the cycle he started in "It Was Supposed to Be So Easy". Choosing to forgive his mate, and realise his life can only be decided and looked after by him, and as he says it, the refrain enters, bringing together the cinematic vibe A Grand Don't Come for Free cries out for in its raw percussion and spoken word poetry. And it's in the dying seconds of "Empty Cans" when the protagonist finally sounds at peace - which resonates with the audience who have been involved in Skinner's first hand events throughout the album. It's not only a complete circle for Skinner's story and The Streets, but for you and I who put so much time and attention in to this music; music, it's so much more than that on A Grand Don't Come for Free, that's why it's a classic, and that's why it deserves all the plaudits - truly innovative right from the start.
~Eddie Gibson


Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Drake - If You're Reading This It's Too Late

Drake's back catalogue varies from exceptional recordings, to pathetic attempts at hip-hop music - the variance often relies on the producer, or a guest artist. He's never really been listened to as a standalone product, even his early mixtapes were dominated by others like Nickelus F and Trey Songz. Then there's the actual musical content; at its best when the samples are originally, the best - "Take Care" for the Jamie XX creative touch to Gil Scott-Heron's genius voice / "Started from the Bottom" relying on an ambient sample / "The Catch Up" for James Blake's soft touch, and of course "No Tellin'" from If You're Reading This It's Too Late for Riber Tiber's "No Talk". Though there are of course some exceptions such as Drake's best - "Hold On, We're Going Home" - but for the most, he's pretty reliant on what his producers create for him.

That being said, If You're Reading This It's Too Late really pushes Drake's vocal and lyrical capacity to the limit. It's not considered an album, and yeah, Drake was going to put this out as a mixtape - all the semantics around this don't really bother this review, that's something for the hardcore Drake fans who think they're paying for water... though to some, Drake music is basically water. But there's good and bad water - a little like every single Drake album to date, If You're Reading This It's Too Late is no exception. This tends to rest on the production, or the style of lyrical content / delivery. For example, "Know Yourself" instantly stands out as the best track due to its slow, excruciatingly slow build-up and refrain repetition: "Running through the six with my woes," / "You know how that should go." Though spoilt through the use of gunshot and siren sounds, well meme'd by 420blazeitnoscope videos. It's hard to remember that these pointless sirens and gunshot sounds were a staple mark on mixtapes of the past - Drake uses it as a nostalgic reference to this past.

Some of Drake's best material is drenched in this nostalgic referencing - "Energy", for its radio styled introduction - though in all honesty, "Energy", like the opening track "Legend", can be summarised quite simply through saying 'Drake-esque' - typical slow speaking tracks, unnecessary use of post-fame bragging makes me skip (same reason why it's becoming increasingly difficult to sit through Kanye West and Jay Z albums.) Drake is now incredibly famous all over the world, he was even five years ago - so these self-loving, self-referencing tracks only put off the more, cultured, hip-hop listener. "Legend", "Energy", "6 God", and "6 Man" are the worst offenders of this: "I'm making millions to work the night shift," easy lyrics, makes these tracks void from my care. Again... there's an exception - "Star67". He Drake's: "Brand new Beretta, can't wait to let it go," in a different style of vocal delivery to Drake's norm. It's a stark contrast to the almost 'in yo face' "Legend", on "Star67" Drake pays credit to various sauces - including Notorious B.I.G with a shout out, and a more sophisticated way of saying he's now rich and famous: "My nigga Biz said the first mill gon' change you." He does this by referencing his past, his persistence to get known out of the six - and eventually, take it.

There are moments of pure musical attraction, such as the backing track to "Preach" - Henry Krinckle's "Stay" makes "Preach" bearable. Though like so of Drake's back catalogue, the dumbing down removes all originality from the content. PartyNextDoor is the reason why "Preach" suffers; just like his artist name, auto-tune is incredibly lame. Drake recovers "Preach" on his verse, but the damage is done. The same applies to "Used To", which is by far the weakest track on this mixtape musically and lyrically. The production is off, Drake's lyrics are not at all fearsome as intended - and the inclusion of Lil Wayne just makes me switch off personally... that, and it opens with the lyrics: "Sound, sound, sound," like a 90s Geordie  rave. But If You're Reading This It's Too Late prides itself on special moments of quieter, more acceptable tracks where the smooth music takes control - "Wednesday Night Interlude" / "Madonna". Then there's the musical attraction, and lyrical attraction - "You & The 6" / "Jungle". The former being a lovely Drake track, perfect for Mothers Day, but more so connected to the city and world engulfed by the six - Toronto. The latter closes If You're Reading This It's Too Late, and it's of the top production quality, utilising piano and sampling to the best they possibly could.

If You're Reading This It's Too Late - Drake's mixtape / album which never quite lands softly on its feet. Sure "Know Yourself'" and the latter half of "No Tellin'" are Drake tracks to remember well in to his future, but there's just far too much mediocrity here for this music to be considered anywhere near as good as R&B contemporaries The Weeknd / Frank Ocean / J. Cole. Lyrical content has to mean more in Drake's music. He perfected "0 to 100 / The Catch Up" with its intelligent quips and references, not to mention the quality musical production. There are moments on If You're Reading This It's Too Late which deserve to be questioned, the vocals on "Preach", the repetitiveness of "6 God", the aimless "Madonna", and the production throughout - which doesn't raise Drake's bar at all. After "0 to 100 / The Catch Up", excitement was really brewing to what Drake was putting out next, and that excitement still exists because If You're Reading This It's Too Late is only a small part of Drake's musical releases this year - if anything it could essentially be a bunch of b-sides and shelved material wanting to get out of that record deal he has with Young Money - but as mentioned before, let’s leave the semantics out of it. "Know Yourself", "No Tellin'", "You & The 6", "Star67", and "Jungle" are worthy tracks. Sure, that's only a third of the album with any real clear intention and musical quality, but apart from the duds and the filler, there's some standout Drake tracks, where he doesn't just rely on samples to carry his voice and lyrics. Drake's lyrical work can be improved if he stopped telling people how many millions he's made in the past year - the key around this is to start taking up a line either politically, or culturally. See Nas on Life is Good, or Kendrick Lamar on his latest effort To Pimp a Butterfly. The dumbing down of lyrical content is in part down to pop culture and fame, which is typically poorly received due to the nature of showing-off: "Black Benz on the road boy, already had a Rolls Royce, sold a couple Bentley last week, them were my old toys." 
~Eddie Gibson


Sunday, 29 March 2015

Discovery: Vladimir - In My Head

The last time Vladimir were being featured on Music Review Database, they had just finished up touring with the likes of Catfish and The Bottlemen and The Twilight Sad - now they have London in their sights supporting none other than The Fall. Yeah, The Fall are one of MRD's most lauded artists to distort through the post-punk passage of time, so excuse me, but if  supporting The Fall doesn't refer to 'making it', then nothing will. This is a Dundee band enriched within the local music scene, but not confined to Scotland. Sell out shows at King Tuts is something to have on your CV, but playing with The Fall is a whole different ball park. It's not as if Vladimir are undeserved of this either, they've proven to be a reputable live act (so my sauces say,) and their recorded material only seems to be getting better.

"In My Head" sounds like a bleaker version of British indie rock bands circa 2006. Putting a definitive comparison to a specific song or band from this period is difficult, but the sort of Bloc Party "Helicopter" style of rock, just slower, sadder, and grittier. You wouldn't put "In My Head" to a video compilation on Google Videos of 'football down the park' as you would with "Helicopter", this is much more serious. There are more aspects to Vladimir's sound on "In My Head" compared to their earlier recordings. Their version of Underworld's "Born Slippy .NUXX" was almost unrecognisable if it wasn't for the opening lyrics. It's a noise rock guitarathon of distortion and improvisation, not quite the formulaic sounds of "In My Head" - a three minute pop song in the indie rock fashion. Here's where we find Vladimir's redeeming features: warm percussion produced well with varying effects with raw sounds, alike the vocals which at times sound Tom Meighan-esque, but often revealing a more sinister Julian Casablancas; confirming that there's certainly more to come from Vladimir.
~Eddie Gibson

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Interview: The Answer

The Answer have been a prominent name in the world of rock music since their debut release, Rise. Raise a Little Hell is the next installment in The Answer's discography, with hopes of it reaching it's the charts more than the previous albums have done. As they are ready to set sail around the world playing venues and drinking exquisite beer, I managed to have a chat with bassist Mickey Waters - I like having chats.
~Matthew Clewley

Raise a Little Hell has been released, have you enjoyed making this album like you have done with the previous ones?

I have, more than most to be honest, this one didn't have any agenda going into the studio it was very much just taking off with a bunch of fresh ideas and making the most of hanging out in a comfortable studio. It's definitely the most honest record I've ever done because we pretty much trusted ourselves to come up with strong ideas and under the pressure of the studio atmosphere, but not forcing it as it was a cool idea to jam for an hour and hit the record button.

Why did you record it in Spain?

We did, we chose the producer of this record is called Will Maya, who's an old friend and worked on our first record with us almost ten years ago, and since then he worked in the background with us with b-sides and live albums. He really wanted to do the record and he owns a residential place an hour north of Madrid in the mountains, it looked like a theme from a spaghetti western! It was a really cool atmosphere and a different place with a lot of inspiration to think about what we are doing.

Did he produce the rest?

Yeah, he has credits in pretty much everything what we do. We used to be pretty fussy by going to meet producers and pick someone who will bring something to the album. What he did bring to the album is that he knows us so well and can bring the best out of us. He was trying to put his own stamp on the record and wanted to get the best out of us performance wise.

What was so difficult about recording this album?

I guess asking ourselves “How good can we be?” or “Are we good enough?” to be put on the spot and come up with ideas. When you turn on the red light and you come up with a chorus and a melody, and musically we're coming up with these ideas on the spot was very challenging. I think that's why this record has more edge because the last couple we rehearsed like hell in the studio a month before we went the studio to know where all the riffs were, the bass line were as they were all marked out, but with Raise a Little Hell it has more edge than our previous records because it's all kind of new, I did a session now in Belfast and I had to rehearse the single because I was like “did we change that a little?” and it's never happened before, but it keeps everyone excited and on edge, and that gets a better performance I think.

How long does it take for you guys to write a song?

I think I am what I am has wrote in 10 minutes, it's been knocking about for a while and that was started on the last album and wasn't quite finished and then shelved it. We've done that a lot in the past, like the song Renegades, some of these have been two years in the making whilst some have been made in five minutes.

You've consecutively charted in the UK and Japan since Rise, are you expecting the same reception?

I mean, touring is pretty good and hopefully with the album I will get top 20 in the UK and we do well in the European charts as well, Germany, Spain, France and we want to do well in the States as we have been getting a lot of press there recently and we're going to tour there for six weeks. We want to make some sort of impact, with rock n roll we have got to get touring, and for the next 6 months we will be hitting the road to see what happens.

Are they your favorite places to tour?

We love playing the UK because we have so many friends there and we've done it so many times and we know somebody we're gonna get a beer with, but when we tour across America, you know that dream you have as a kid where you go on a tour bus and you're going to places like San Francisco, Seattle and you have to picture yourself doing it, and it's our favorite place to tour.

You guys have stuck with the same line up since day one, how does that feel knowing that?

Yeah we have for over 10 years now since we were teenagers.

Have you had any arguments?

Ah yeah we fight like hell all the time, we've had fist fights and a drunken brawls regularly, but the next morning it wouldn't occur. It's kind of like a marriage to be honest, having fights all the time with creative business and you're never out of each others pockets when you're touring, and we've been touring a lot. At the end of the day, it's our job and we've been doing this, we love what we do, when we have a good show everything is fine, but we're hard on ourselves and if we aren't performing well it gets us down. We're working as hard as we can, and people are buying tickets with their had earned money to our shows, so we want to give it our best.

What's the key to your live performances?

I think we are passionate for rock n roll music, and if you're honest with yourself and know your capabilities and you have that gel, it wasn't easy to find. We locked ourselves in rehearsal rooms in school every day for years just to practise and practise until we knew what we are doing. I already look at James and know when he's doing something, it's that natural instinct we have for each others playing and we know what we want to do next that makes it a little bit of magic when it goes well. Sometimes it doesn't go well when there is something going wrong in your life, so we try to keep things consistent.

Are you booked for supporting bands like AC/DC again?

Yes and no, I think we felt for a little while we were a support band as we supported bands like The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Aerosmith, and in a way that pissed us off a bit because we wanted to do our own thing, but on your first album and these opportunities come you have to cease them as you;re spreading the word on a regular basis, it got us noticed, but we wanted to do our own thing a little bit more.

You were featured on the Black Ice tour, was that the best tour experience you've ever had?

We knew when we were on that it was the biggest tour in the world because of the figures coming in every night, I knew it was special and they knew it was special. I think they couldn't believe how well this tour has done, the right things happened at the right time. It was an amazing experience, everyday was an adventure.

Have you listened to Rock or Bust?

I've only heard the single, I've got a few ACDC fans that are friends and they think it's the best thing since their last record. I've heard the single, and I think it's a strong record.

Are you influenced by AC/DC?

I think AC/DC influence every rock band, they influenced modern rock as I played AC/DC  to death when I was a kid, we all did, and it's impossible not to be influenced by that infatuate groove they have. The sound is so good, Back In Black still sounds like the best sonic rock albums ever. Of course, I'm massively influenced by AC/DC, The Who, Whitesnake, we all still listen to it.

Would you play into your 60s/70s?`

I think we're only getting warmed up to be honest, we're getting more focused with what we're doing.I think in the past when we come off tour we get out of each others hair for a few months we go and write songs ready for the rehearsal room and then go to the studio, now we write all the time, everyone is writing everyday. We have more to write about now.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Pop Corner: Mumford & Sons - Believe

Mumford & Sons, always my antagonist, but somehow keeps being your protagonist. I mean, how on earth are they still relevant to you? Buzzfeed stopped caring years ago you know. They're returning with their third album this year titled Wilder Mind. Apparently influenced by Led Zep and Radiohead - god help me. The first cut from Wilder Mind happens to make all the hardcore Mumford & Sons fans rage, which makes me want to put on a fedora and become a huge Mumford & Sons fan. When Radiohead left Ok Computer for Kid A... What the hell am I doing using these albums as examples of Mumford & Sons progression. Screw it. When Radiohead left Ok Computer for Kid A, sure, some fans were not happy with the change, but it created a whole new side to Radiohead which they 100% had to do in order to advance as a recording outfit after their commercial success with Ok Computer, one of alt-rock's best. Alienating fans is sometimes necessary, especially for your own creative needs. Mumford & Sons alienating their audience is different because in this age, alienating your paying audience can be extremely harmful. And although i'd like to say this is the right direction, it's not financially, but in order to rid the world of that god awful banjo chorus', yes, please carry on.

"Believe" actually isn't repetitive; which for a Mumford & Sons song is a pretty big accomplishment. This is partly down to stretching the build-up for two-minutes in a Coldplay Viva La Vida 'wait for it' kind of way, but also because if I started singing along to the instrumental, I wouldn't start singing lyrics to "The Cave", "I Will Wait", or "Little Lion Man", which are pretty much the same song where the chorus' could be interchangeable. It's no surprise Mumford & Sons have a different producer for this album, with James Ford taking control after his stint with Jessie Ware. The differences in sound between "Believe" and Babel are not that astonishing to be honest, you have to see it through their eyes rather than your own selfish ears.

Then again, this change in direction really does leave them open to criticism from all angles. Including the obvious one: what are they trying to do? The influence of Radiohead / Led Zeppelin is funnier than James Corden's stand-ups. The 'atmosphere' is so Jon Hopkins / Brian Eno it's just asking to be bullied. The layered vocals scream Chris Martin on recent Coldplay, not the good Coldplay circa Parachutes. It leaves Mumford & Sons in no man’s land, unfortunately for them and their hardcore 'folk' fans - laughable in itself. If this is the direction Wilder Mind goes, then it might as well be thrown away now. "Believe" does nothing for your emotions, musically it's far too reliant on sounds they wouldn't have created, and as far as style or genre goes, well, they're non-existent. For fans of M&S, I’d like to help you fill the void. 
~Eddie Gibson

If you're attached to the banjo: Andrew Jackson Jihad, Neutral Milk Hotel, Sufjan Stevens.
If you like the way this sounds, but want better: Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head, and just about every Elbow album.
If you liked the folk element: Fleet Foxes

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Pop Corner: Nicki Minaj - Truffle Butter

"Truffle Butter" is the best track on Nicki Minaj's Pinkprint by a country mile; and it has 'chart-topping hit' smothered all over it. The fact that a Minaj tune has the potential to be one of her best without the usual verse-chorus structure is disturbingly amazing; especially one without a bridge. I'm quite frankly surprised that so many of her hardcore following have backed this, given its clear electronic sounds - massively differing from her previous releases. Though (being brutally honest.) this is the best Minaj track since "Superbass", and it's shamefully a 'bonus' track on The Pinkprint. The ear-catching nature of "Truffle Butter" is down to producer Nineteen85, who (according to Complex) has such an unimportant role at OVO Sound, that he's got a barber and Drake's personal trainer to surpass in order to reach level two on the OVO pyramid. He has no credit on Drake's latest 'mixtape' album - though gaining recognition through Drake's best tracks: "Hold On, We're Going Home" and "0 to 100 / The Catch Up" - not too bad. Regardless of Nineteen85's actual production contributions on Drake's music - he's clearly the man that's linked "Truffle Butter" to Maya Jane Coles' "What They Say", for that, he must be appreciated within Drake's clique. He's not only showing an interest in the ever developing hip-house genre, but bringing positive exposure to an artist who probably earns less in a year than how much Lil Wayne made with his verse on "Truffle Butter" -  an example of when rapping is vastly inferior to the sample.

One can only assume Minaj, Drake, and Lil Wayne are going to split from Cash Money not only for their control over solo recordings, but to form some rap supergroup called The Trio or something. They're so involved with each other’s music it seems almost inevitable Onika, Aubrey, and Dwayne will cross paths once their deals are done. I've lost count how many times these three have collaborated together, but it seems like a lot - it seems to work chart wise, and financially. Here on "Truffle Butter", the 'three rappers' approach works better than the 'featured artist' you see as credited. It's only a Nicki Minaj song because it's on The Pinkprint. Honestly, all three would have been better off if they released it under a different moniker keeping it away from The Pinkprint, as it's fundamentally wasted. 

It seems Tyga (Mustard on the beat?) was dropped from Minaj's group of guests prior to The Pinkprint being releases, which allowed Lil Wayne to give the final verse. In all honesty, Lil Wayne's is the better out of the three. Drake - although I’m getting used to his snobby attitude - offers nothing new to the domain, it feels as if I've heard his verse 10 times before. Minaj offers her usual vocal cuts, though unfortunately her soundboard forgot to include a 'Pull-up', though the listener does get a 'Yo'. Again, her verse sounds similar to previous Minaj tracks where bragging comes across as arrogance rather than sustenance: "I'm still the highest sellin' female rapper, for the record, Man, this a 65 million single sold, I ain't gotta compete with a single soul." - Another reason for audiences to argue the talent / money claim. On the other hand, as mentioned above... Lil Wayne actually succeeds in the bragging because it's funny rather than annoying: "I could be broke and keep a million dollar smile." / "LOL to the bank checkin' my account, bank teller flirtin' after checkin' my account." Overall, the lyrical value isn't so important on a track with such an infuriatingly catchy beat - and that's props to the creator Maya Jane Coles, it doesn't matter who's delivering a verse on this - it could be a 14 year old with a rap dream, or a collection of Star Trek quotes put together - the beat will prevail. 
~Eddie Gibson