Friday, 30 September 2011

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

This is a Kanye West album, which means it's full of guest singers, guest producers, guest guitarists and more guests from just about every industry..
I have listened to all the Kanye West albums that have he has previously released, my opinions vary from each album. I loved the early material, i also liked some stuff from Graduation and parts of 808. He is a respectable artist who can put samples to good use. This has been the case throughout his early career as a producer, producing some of the big tracks on the early, less commercial Jaz Z albums. This album was hyped almost every day in the 3 months leasing up to release, i mean.. it literally was hyped so much, that we were expecting something from out of this world. Some people still say this is the greatest album of 2010, that's fair enough, but to me i dont think it is. 

The content then.. well it's very well produced, so good in fact that some could say it's over produced in places and under produced in others. Some tracks have delicate vocals and fantastic samples, other have poor guests with poor flow and straight up bad singing. In most cases, the tracks are good, i would call it Alternative Hip-Hop as opposed to the traditional Hip-Hop, because it just isn't Hip-Hop. We see Jay Z, Kid Cudi and several other big names involved on this project, i think that's because Kanye aimed at reaching a more critical mainstream audience. As his last was left with mediocre success and little appraisal.

Dark Fantasy is far too long for an opening track, at almost 5 minutes, it drags on for far too long. It has a nice intro and a nice beat and a chorus. The track just keeps repeating itself with mediocre lyrics. It's such a time killer. Kanye's delivery isn't brilliant, he's not the best rapper or singer, i think he knows this, he can give a good rap sometimes. 

Gorgeous has a nice guitar riff and a big beat, the strings are really attractive here. I have to say the chorus is very good with some pretty good lyrics being sung. Kanye's vocal effort seriously shouldn't have came out like this. It was clearly intended but it just sounds poor. The lyrics are poor, including content like 'Choke a South Park writer with a fishdick'. Just fitting this in a song is bad to start with. It just doesn't fit and is simply immature. 

Power really does stand out, with a fantastic beat with the fantastic samples. However the inclusion of King Crimson doesn't really fit, the concept fits, but it just doesn't sound right. It does split up the song and give the listener more imagery than the simple song. It's a nice track, it is the single and by far the most radio friendly. Much alike All of The Lights which follows, featuring a vocal by Rihanna. This song could be played in all the mainstream clubs, for a reason I'm not sure of, it isn't. If it was, it would be a hit with the crowd. It has a great riff and the vocals come across well performed.

Monster really is a key moment on the album, it's the half way track. It also features segments by separate artists, Kanye delivering a very good rap and Nicki Minaj also giving a very good effort. Rick Ross has a very good rap as well. The whole song is spectacular, it's my favourite from the album and also is the only track with visible low frequency bass, which everybody wants to hear. I enjoyed this track, unlike the following two tracks which to me where just total disappointments after Monster. At over 6 minutes So Appalled is by far the worst track on the album. The opening minute is amateur and straight up terrible, bad delivery, bad lyrics and basic production. It does improve as it goes along, but not to a respectable standard, the instrumental does improve. Devil In A Dress is much better, production sounds great, so much time and effort has been used in the making of this track and the album.

Runaway is a very good song, lyrically. The delivery by Kanye isn't amazing, nor the simplistic beat and instrumentals. It's just a good song with very good lyrics, i really do like it and i find myself singing along sometimes. It's respectable and has it's moments, but then again it is over 9 minutes long and the last few minutes are utterly pointless, but that's just me.

The last four tracks are not as strong as the opening half of the album, we have Hell of a Life which uses sampling well, but it doesn't really pick up at all. Blame Game again uses fantastic sampling, taking an Aphex Twin sample, one of his more delicate piano compositions. This track also has a fantastic chorus, Kanye has a thing with brilliant choruses separated to the rap delivery on the verses. I simply hate the Chris Rock vocal on Blame Game, i like Chris Rock as a comedian and a voice over actor. But i just don't like this. The following few tracks have a distinct style, which grew on me, they are well produced, but i don't think Kanye had much to do with these other than delivering the idea and samples. 

Don't get me wrong, this is a good album. At times you can really hear some great material and effort. Other moments are met with time wasting and repetitive vocals. You can hear some great songs and some poor, this being the case I'm not sure why this album was met with raving critical acclaim, part of it must come from the unbelievable hype, the other must come from the perfect production, because the production certainly is perfect in most places. The album is just let down by poor lyrics, poor guest vocals and poor time lengths. I can see why some people can really get into the album, but from my point of view, it doesn't deserve the acclaim or general fondness. It's one of his better albums but not the best.


Thursday, 29 September 2011

Josef K - The Only Fun In Town

This album was released in 1981, yes.. 1981. It's hard to imagine the singles from this album being played on the radio at the same as Blondie and Soft Cell. Well i haven't researched this so I'm not 100% sure, but i cant imagine them being played on the mainstream radio stations at all.

Josef K are an influential Scottish Post Punk band, who paved the way for the 'Revival' of the Scots in the 21st Century, we see artists such as Franz Ferdinand breaking through who bare a striking resemblance to Josef K. The band name has been taken from the Franz Kafka novel, The Trail, Josef K being the lead protagonist within the novel. I've just been reading some of the lyrics, it really does give me an idea on how educated Paul Haig is. It's happy to know that some artists do have intellectual singer songwriters within the band, putting those skills to practise within Post-Punk is only the right way to go about it. If we look at Mark Smith of The Fall, we see an exquisite writing style which nobody previously had portrayed within there lyrics.

The Only Fun In Town is Josef K's only studio album, for that i am happy, as a follow up would certainly not be as special or independent as this release. I might be wrong in saying this, some things just need to be left as they are, for instance i feel bands such as Glasvegas, should have either worked incredibly hard to create a new sound or image, or stop making music under that name altogether. This is because i really enjoyed the self titled they released in 2008, it was special in it's own unique way. It touched upon Shoegaze and kept an alternative look on 'Indie'. But they let themselves down by releasing a mediocre album this year, it's a shame.

Fun 'N' Frenzy kicks off the album with jangly guitars and a driving bas riff. This is exactly the kind of dark spirited music which Josef K create on this album, so if you're reading this whilst listening to the album, you have been warned. It's nice to hear the production really keeping Josef K intact here, the song is over before you've had a chance to express your initial opinion. It's a cracking opener for this album in my opinion, you can really feel the energy and low fidelity.

Similar patters follow for the entire album, some will think this is a bad thing, but the songs are fresh. Josef K are not bad musicians, they are able to create songs which make you want to listen on, you are able to distinguish tracks, even if the style is separate and restricted. This is Post-Punk however, it's what the listener expects.

Just listening to Crazy To Exist, i find myself dancing along, it's carefully energetic, keeping with the serious style the band magnify with there music. This song has always been one of my favourites because of the delicate chorus, which really does excite me, the dynamic change and vocal harmony really keeps your attention, 'It's crazy to exist'.

With most albums, some songs stand out. As i previously stated, Fun 'N' Frenzy is a nice and neat song for the album, Crazy To Exist being one of the 'singles' as well as my favourite track. We also have Sorry For Laughing which closes the album. This funky 3 minute track has a real emphasis on bass and a very fast style of play. 

After listening to the 29 minute long album, you stop to wonder what you were just listening to. The production isn't top quality, however in general fairness, for the budget, which i can only imagine being generally low, the album sounds really good. the Jangly guitars and moving bass really help to keep you interested in the band. 


Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Pheonix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

When you think of the music of France, what's the first word - or rather genre - that comes to mind? Is it the traditionalist folk of pre-20th century. Or could it be the multitude of tags ending in the word 'House' of post-20th century? Regardless of where your music knowledge and preferences lay, we can all agree that France has contributed more than its fair share to the overall 'scape of sensically-arranged sounds and noises.

One genre you may not (at first) identify with the western-European country in question is either pop or rock music. So when in 2000, a four-piece band by the name of Phoenix emerged, blending the two tags together so whimsically, it was going to be an intriguing sight as to how the French would convey this. Fast-forward 9 years and we have before us their forth studio album, the unambiguously-titled 'Wolfgang Amadeus Pheonix'.

Phoenix have shown that despite composing albums of varying track-lengths and structure, their signature optimistic blend of alternative rock and dream pop has failed to provide anything short of a success.
Wolfgang, in result, is a culmination of a nearly decade's experience in this field. The album's opener 'Liztomania' is typical of Phoenix's signature sound - dreamy lyrics floating above feet-tapping guitars and low-hitting drumbeats. Indeed, vocalist Thomas Mars' voice stands out tremendously as it sways to and fro, '1901' providing even more light-hearted emphasis behind an electronic fuzz. And on 'Fences', Mars demonstrates this to an amazing extent.

Even without vocals, the band continue to demonstrate a key understanding in rhythm on the album's doubt-less highlighter, 'Love Like A Sunset', a true testament to Pheonix' conveyance of pop rock at its purest and rawest form. Bright monotonous keys give way to patterns of guitars and drums as the song continues to kick up in gear, eventually breaking out into its signature pattern. Before long, Mars reintroduces himself to the listener before the flutter of guitar strings fizzle out.

'Lasso' continues on where the first half of Wolfgang... left off - Mars extending his straight-forward optimistically-charged tone into the heart of the song, where the instrumental plucks of strings and beat of drums on 'Rome' and 'Girlfriend' remind us time and time again of its crucial role in Phoenix's melodic charm over its listeners.

In 'United' & 'It's Never Been Like That', Phoenix demonstrated how such simple and charmingly clever song structures could strike a chord in such little time. On Wolfgang... the four-piece have clearly succeeded in cementing their status as one of the most intriguing and crucial French acts to emerge in the past ten years. And if their status as a fortified band to love isn't enough, they truly have proven one thing with this outing...the almighty fusion of alternate-dream-synth-pop-rock is here to stay.


Gotye - Like Drawing Blood

It's 2006, you've found yourself in the initial stages of "getting into" electronic music. You're browsing online stores, editable encyclopedias and monthly magazines hoping to find something that can kick off what you hope will become the principle genre for personal enjoyment. It was half-way through the year on a curious May when I came across a fairly abstractly-defined record by the name of Like Drawing Blood. Its tags classed it as "electronica" and its length clocked in at just under 48 minutes. There's no denying this was an album I would have no hesitation in looking into. But what about its sound: a worthy starting point for electronic music? In the end, definitely not. But what about music as a whole; music as an experience, an adventure and of an emotive form of expression. Without a shadow of a doubt. YES.

The first "non-skit" track 'The Only Way' is a groovy flutter of jazzy guitars, drums and the occasional horn echoing from out of the corner of your speakers. Gotye, real-name Wally De Becker, switches between gentle mutters and heightening hold-ons, voice playing both the part of meshing the instruments together, before breaking them apart - horns bellowing out a sound scape that continues to stretch out before us. Its clumsy-esque pattern works well to rise the listener's mood in the opening minutes. A perfect scenario so that all can be dissolved back into obscurity with the following tracks 'Heart's A Mess' & 'Coming Back', de Becker's lyrical specialism at holding notes at the right point allowing the music to flow from one  delicately stringed instrument to what could either be the soft press of percussion, the elevation of string arrangements or something else entirely.

It's when we get to 'Thanks For Your Time' - a four-plus minute homage (or rather anti-homage) to call-centres and company customer service, or the lack thereof - where Gotye's charismatic, almost innocently naive, approach to lyrical context comes into full flight. The song itself is quite simple, a lone synthesizer laying down a beat while a moody bass line accompanies De Becker's minimalist choice of vocal tone. What makes this song stand out - no doubt credit to the lyrics is needed - is the level of emotion and outright human connection to the concept of the song; Gotye singing/listing off our shared frustration
and both experiencing it himself. It counts towards the track, yes...but when contrasting against the rest of the record, it demonstrates De Becker's widened talent at picking specific moods for specific themes.

Gotye makes no hesitation to trying to pack-in as much into a solitary album as possible. No doubt people will argue over whether this album is classed as "electronica" - the very same no doubt would prefer to class this as "pop" or "indie" perhaps - but in this case, it doesn't matter. There are elements of this and bits-and-bobs of that, one would be forgiven for thinking it sounds misdirected or undefined. But the truth is, the opposite is true.

The album is one man's adventure/misadventure into music as a human experience. And where 'Learnalilgivinanlovin' is an upbeat feel-good heightener, other tracks such as 'A Distinctive Sound'lean more towards music's emotive properties on us as humans. And it's the album's unofficial closer, 'Night Drive' that truly stands out as a heart-bleeder. A comfortably repeated guitar pattern and choir-esque layering of sound (and later vocals) leave De Becker's soft and harmless voice to float between the time signatures. If earlier tracks demonstrated Gotye's playful and in one case, humorous approach to music, then this no doubt is a clear example of his more serious side; a side more lenient on romance and the romantic bond between voice and sound.

In truth, Like Drawing Blood as a whole demonstrates this. But what makes it stand out above all independently-produced records is its pic-n-mix nature; its almost non-sensical expression of many emotions- be it joy, sorrow, love or even sarcasm - and above all, its organic-esque swirl of ideas and approaches. Each track a different take; each sound a different emotion; each verse telling its own story.

Much like its cover, Like Drawing Blood can be summed up in a few words: bold, experimental, rich...and a little on the childish side.



Saturday, 24 September 2011

Braids - Native Speaker

Braids are a Progressive Dream Pop outfit from Canada that rely on loops and ambient like drones to keep them afloat. They do this well, the previous EP wasn't released to much acclaim, but was liked by early and new fans of Braids for it's long compositions. Some can call Braids Dream Pop, others tend to sway towards Art Rock, but in this case, they will just be Braids.

The album is filled with delicate guitar loops which all have the same style of direction. 'Lemonade' being one of my favorite tracks of the year ends really well with the repeated phrase of 'all we really wanna do is love'.

I guess you could name a few improvements within the style of music, but for a  debut album this is very professional and straight up good. I like the majority of tracks both musically and lyrically, the vocals are calming to hear.

'Plath Heart' is steady, but keeps within the same looped motion and direction as Lemonade, the drumming is consistent and is placed within the background. It's a decent song with some nice hooks and vocal melody, but even at 4 minutes it is slightly repetitive.

'Glass Deers' has been a song that i have been listening to a lot lately. It has this certain feeling which it gives off, the simplistic Dream Pop ambiance that is portrayed really does work, it;s simple yet iconic, which is hard to say for an album released in 2011.

'Same Mum', has really grown on me. It starts with the bass drum beat and some Math Rock like guitar playing before the drones and vocal kicks in. The song is steady but eventually it starts making sense, with everything coming together in one big wall of sound. The album ender, 'Little Hand', is again much alike most Math Rock compositions. it's a very nice track and a lovely way to end the album.

Overall i think this is a solid album with some very good tracks and some slightly average but still likable tracks, out of the seven tracks, none of them are disappointing or skip worthy. I can see Braids only becoming bigger and better with time, a very good debut effort by the Canadians.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender

Joanna Newsom was brought up in Nevada City California, surrounded by a family of idealists restricting her from the radio and certain television shows because of 'bad influence'. She is characterised by strong, rich vocals and talents in songwriting and composing. On initial listen, you may be put off by her vocals, it's down to personal opinion on her singing style, but i personally grew to like it, you may not. She began recording songs on a fisher price tape recorder, these songs were released on the 2002 EP Walnut Whales, which features lo-fi early versions of some of the songs that were later re-recorded for this album.

Even with a first listen, the start of the album begins with a delicate vocals and increasing harp playing which picks up and reaches high pitched notes as the song progresses along with her falsetto vocals which at this point are a stand out to me. The song fades out as Sprout & The Bean begins, the song is.. Just amazing. The lyrics are absolutely incredible, i cant emphasize my great like for these lyrics, they just flow so well, which is a trait for the album. This song uses the harp and her voice as an instrument, it's one of the early stronger tracks on the album. The song has structure and skill which artists within the field try so hard to replicate but fail in doing so.

Some could say Joanna Newsom is one of today's best modern composers. Her harp playing is outstanding even on the slightly weaker tracks. For what i can gather, the lyrics flow rather well, i enjoy listening to this album, which i couldn't say on my first few listens. Compared to the 2002 EP, the re recorded songs have more of a refined acoustic feel which the EP didn't have. Both produced by then boyfriend Noah Georgeson who at the time had no form of producing and recording back file.

Peach Plum Pear has stood out to me as the best track. It's a song played by Joanna on a Harpsichord which sounds remarkable. The child like vocals only excite me even more as she sings the chorus of 'Na na na na na na na na etc..' This song alone makes this album what it is. A traditional Folk album with modern day 'Indie' aspects and compositions. It's acoustic and shows great lyrical skill, something which i really enjoy. The song is far more refined and full than the version she played on the Walnut Whales EP.

This is an album which you just need to listen and form your own opinion from it. It should take a few listens before you 'understand' what she's all about, but when that moment happens you'll stop and think to yourself why you didn't listen to here sooner.


British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?

British Sea Power from Kendal in Cumbria, Indie Rock. As with every band under the umbrella term Indie, the lyrics are about money, life or relatio.... Wait. This is British Sea Power.

I really like this album, it's due to the sheer fantastic production by Graham Sutton (previously of Bark Psychosis). This entire album could be performed on the biggest stage to the biggest audience in the world, it really could. It's so loud and energetic. It instantly blew me away with the first few tracks, all in a similar style, but all good in their separate way. It sounds so bright and full, something which Indie Rock sometimes doesnt have.

'Waving Flags' is so thunderous it has to be played loud or you wont hear it in full. I'm not kidding, this album really does need to be heard with the volume turned to the top. Lyrics are a little predictable, noting minimum wage and drinking ages etc.. not the best of lyrical topics for 2008 as these were the focal point for the majority of artists at the time (The Wombats, Arctic Monkeys).

'Canvey Island' has a little bit of melancholy, with the subject matter being completely different to what i expected. This is my favourite from the album due to the lyrics and pure brilliance of the build up and good guitar work. They show some characteristics which other bands from the UK just don't have.

Past these few songs in the first half of the album, nothing else really happens. It would make a great 9/10 EP, but the back half just let's the band down. The infamous filler bites away here. These last 5 songs are much more slower and less full, they don't have much need on this album, the final track is a fantastic closer none the less, with a little 'All In It' reprise, with Noise and distorted guitars it's a nice but sad and to the album with one half of glorious tracks.


Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights

Being just 19.. Nearly 20, It's hard for me to say that I'm a long supporter of Post-Punk, but I've always been a fan of the classics and the Experimental attitude Post-Punkers had. Knowing this, it was hard for me to actually listen to Post-Punk Revival, first of all i cant stand the term, we don't need the 'revival', it could be left at Post-Punk, because that's what it is. Just because it's 10 years late doesn't mean it needs a whole new label. Well here we have Interpol from New York!.. yeah.

The album has that eerie feel which today has become overused, but for 2002, used to great success. Interpol have that Baritone vocal style which lead singer Paul Banks uses to great effect in some places. The vocal style has been placed within Post-Punk due to Joy Division's cult status along with the dark and atmospheric image that comes with Post-Punk.

I have been known in the past to mention my dislike of the band, my distaste comes from the follow up albums 'post' Turn On The Bright Lights. Forgetting this my main criticism has been the guitar style. I can understand it being used in some songs, but it is a common use in every track, it's usually just one note played continuously within the time signature, i don't know about you, but this bores the hell out of me. The bass playing is standard at best, drumming isn't innovative or special in any way. At points the vocal work just bores me, nothing special. The drumming does sound advanced in places, but it's nothing special when comparing it to other artists within Post Punk and it's disciples such as The Strokes. 

You can clearly compare this album to Is This It by The Strokes released the previous year, which was released to major critical acclaim much like this album. For me it comes down to the band being far too repetitive. I like the song 'NYC' and it's clearly to me the best and standout track. It has a far better feel and release than the other tracks. The atmosphere on this track has been created rather well, with the noted use of Reverb being used to full effect. 
The first half of the album features the best lyrical songs as well as the better tracks musically. The last few are filler, with no direction or grip. My apologies to the hardcore Interpol fans, in my opinion, listen to Editors instead.


Amy Winehouse - Back To Black

This album was released during the female takeover in 2006, where we saw notable releases by Lily Allen and Adele. Whilst Adele took to the Soft Rock style, Lily Allen blending Grime and Pop, Amy Winehouse took to blending Soul and R&B with a key emphasis on keeping it Poppy and commercially successful.

What we have is an album full of Saxophone and distinctive lyrics, which raises Winehouse's vocals to a completely different level compared to any singer within this era. With production being covered by Mark Ronson, it was obvious this album would reach heights. I first heard the album on a Saturday afternoon, sat in the back garden of my local pub. I can only recall listening to Rehab and Back To Black, as they were both stand alone tracks, but in general, the image and original release led to a great positive public reaction. 

Winehouse wrote the majority of songs, with the title track written in partnership with Ronson and one song giving credit to the mastermind behind 'Aint No Mountain High Enough'. Which Ronson samples for 'Tears Dry On Their Own'. The writing focuses on personal topics related to Amy's life such as drug use and a relationship with 'Blake' who was serving a prison sentence at the time.

Orchestral instrumentals really do form the album, with a very basic use of percussion used to push the tracks along. The focus for me is Amy's lyrics and strong vocals. It isn't an album by an XFactor winner, the songs are written and performed by Winehouse, her emotions are clearly portrayed to great effect. One great example would be in her song Wake Up Alone, 'I stay up clean the house, at least I'm not drinking. Run around just so I don't have to think about thinking.'

Key tracks for me have always been Rehab, the title track, Tears Dry On Their Own and You Know I'm, No Good. Of course, these are the singles.. But these are just superior to the lackluster second half of the album. It has little filler as such, but it lacks in originality and direction at some points which is a big criticism here. It's radio friendly and touches upon some controversial topics which later lead to the downfall of Amy Winehouse as a recording artist and performer. Ignoring her event less last years of life and final fall, Winehouse released an album worthy of a spot in British music.