Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Slugabed - Time Team


Ninja Tune often cite themselves as a shining beacon to the biggest and best new sounds that have emerged - and still are emerging - in an ever-changing landscape of electronic-influenced sound. From the likes of trip-hop enthusiasts Amon Tobin & Bonobo, to recently surging experimentalists like Wagon Christ, the label started by Coldcut's Matt Black and Jonathan More, remains one of the freshest independent labels in the market. And even as the electronic sound becomes more and more commercial - and thus, evenly split between the refined and the rehashed - the label still continues to promote and express both the biggest and the best without coming across as purely money-driven. Even when the subject of dubstep comes into play, the feelings surrounding Ninja Tune are one of respect, and most certainly, a degree of immediate curiosity. When describing his debut, 'Time Team', for the label, Greg Feldwick as he is known to his friends, family and fanatics - and Slugabed to the rest of us - says that "it's to do with deep feelings about mostly inexpressible things." It's a response that most would admire as purely human honesty, yet for a sound dabbling in several corners of beat-oriented electronics, the question certainly needs to be raised over what it is that is so inexpressible.

Well if said things are such matters on emotion or the innocence of such emotions, then that's certainly brought to light with the album opener 'New Worlds', a catering of glitchy beats and hip-hop organization fluttering to and fro on a track gladdened with glittering synthesizers and sampled harmonics. And it's the wonky spectral of synth hooks that are what drives this album forward, amidst all the dressage and apparel of cloudy effects and sparkling overlays that make it more emotive than what is necessary. 'Sex' is a showcasing of pure house-driven beats laid atop a bending zig-zag of electronic bass - totally devoid of any last-ditch addition of some fantastical territory into the mix. And while the track does wander into less-grittier more-wandering shifts in sound, the change - while contradicting - doesn't affect the main drive of the track's beat, in any negative way. So here, at the very least, we get some sense that Feldwick certainly has the skill and the know-how to construct his tracks - or at the very least, the tracks which may, to others, deliver the most when evaluating the album as a whole.

It's become a common pattern that vocal samples - and the appliance of it in line with the breakbeat nature of some corners of today's electronic music - find themselves meshing together with the heaviness of the drum beats used. Tracks like 'Travel Sweets', reminiscent of Bonobo's recent work, uses this in such a way that neither the vocals nor the music deter from one another, as if this new-found hybrid is a completely original venture in itself. And even when the vocals are stripped away, the track still manages to conjure this bouncy, energetic willingness to keep the song on its toes. Likewise, 'Unicorn Suplex' demonstrates a key eye for quirkiness in drum machine composition - the old-fashioned synthesizer of latter periods still showing the same relevance as its counterpart of modern-day wobbles of bass. Even without vocals though, there's still this know-how ideology Feldwick manages to leave shining in the shifting pitch of notes throughout.

To say this is an album less focused on the effect of layering and experimentation I feel would be too short and simple an explanation. On description, Slugabed's method of song-writing would be best described as dabbling with the potential realization that this is a sound completely enveloped by the music of yesteryear. True, there are as many contemporary ideas about the shift towards dubstep's focus on the centralization of bass, or breakbeat's consistently erratic signature of both time and rhythm. But the common denominator that links all these separate ideas is the pure-and-simple synthesizer: its pattern and its progression. And while the variety of old and new may work well for some, here though, it lacks in interest. 'Grandma Paints Nice' while showcasing some more warmer analog sounds and some interesting placements of plucking bass, ends up coming across too same-old same-old - helped in no way by how the track slowly begins to drag on as it passes the half-way mark. Slugabed's charm however, is when he shifts his attention on using the contemporarily-placed charm to lead the track, as is the case with 'Climbing A Tree' which again demonstrates more of this cluster of partially hip-hop, partially IDM, partially techno cocktails in slurred sound.

But again, I feel myself repeating what I've already taken note of, in that Feldwick often puts too much focus, and trust perhaps, on a simplistic deliverance of synthesized notation. 'Haze' for example may incorporate more sample-orientated sounds and ideas into how a track such as this gels as a whole, but the execution feels quite disjointed on listening. Whether this is down to personal preference or simply misguided ideas, the fact is is that moments such as these come as no surprise, given the way an album devoted to both the old and the new, has tried - with both success, and lesser of such present here - in giving each direction an equal share on the mix desk. The album's closer 'Soft Lunch' could be seen then as a weight off Feldwick's shoulders in that it clearly shows little remorse for being tried to be understood - simply going for it and pushing its warping and wrapping of woodwind samples and rattling snares in our ears. And surprisingly, the naivety of its execution actually comes across rather well, given the way the track's production leaves it swerving between left and right canals, only to be sucked back up and blown back once more.

I will cut this guy some slack, he's only 23 and this is his first time standing on, what is considered by most people, the biggest stage for instrumental electronic music such as this. It's not an attempt at waving excuses, but there has to be some credit given to a guy who is just as likely to have been collecting records, equipment and musical knowledge on the computer as much as he has in real-life, and the universal culture of online music certainly makes itself been known here on 'Time Team'. But Slugabed isn't just another one of your bedroom-producing adapters of the latest fad in today's music. Sure, the hint of today's scene of dub and bass electronics is present, but so too is the influence of the Roland and the Yamaha equipment in equal measure. For now though, he's a man solely intent on recreating the ideas he has, undoubtedly, grown to love. And if it's a love for everything electronic that is so inexpressible - as he mentioned - then that's one element of his artistry that can't be faulted.


Sunday, 22 July 2012

Live Show - Fear of Men

Where: Tramlines, Sheffield
Venue: New Music Stage

Tramlines has a tendency to surprise the casual listener. This years New Music Stage is far more audacious than the previous years. The obscurity level is sky high and the term 'new music' has never been more applicable than right here on this Saturday afternoon in Sheffield. Second on the 'Italian Beach Babes' stage was Fear of Men. We have two girls and two boys performing these sweet indie pop tunes. With their Fender guitars and heartfelt vocals, Fear of Men are quickly becoming a name to watch out for.

They recently toured with the mournful L.A indie poppers Best Coast, a band with little credibility, originality and stature. I'm not just being sinister either.. Anyway, so Fear of Men use pop tunes and harmonies alike Best Coast, they just get their point across decisively and sweetly. There is no self-loving, location appreciating cat songs here. Fear of Men are far more sophisticated, collective and exciting.

'Ritual Confession' matched the mood accurately. The sun was shining and the band members showed great interest in being here, unlike some who play at live shows, *Cough* Veronica Falls *Cough*. This single has a lovely melody. The breeze fits the delicate music, with lead singer Jess soaking in the atmosphere. The first words that popped out of her mouth in non-lyrical form were, "Can we have less of that guitar, and more of this one." It was something along those lines. She then welcomed the audience with a cute "Hello.." 

Fear of Men had a short but sweet set. Tracks such as 'Green Sea' sounded utterly brilliant. The twee guitar riffs matched the laid back bass and enigmatic drumming. This performance was special to be a part of. The audience seemed more friendly to Fear of Men, over the beautiful noisy Novella. Each to their own. Arguably their best track to date, 'Doldrums' is a fierce indie pop thriller. The lead guitar acts as a destructive piece of material. The loud nature of the layered guitars reminds me of Aztec Camera, Television and the lo-fi bands of the 90's. Art rock is seeping through here, with lead singer Jess delivering an ear catching vocal, suiting the structure.

They don't have the strongest of discography's, yet. They played a short set which was enjoyed by the noise driven audience. Not many bands can leave this stage knowing they've left an impact on the audience, well Fear of Men did leave an impact. They're most certainly a band to look out for in the future. Whether it's an EP or a demo album, I'm sure a shoal of indie pop heads will swarm at it.
~Eddie & Mary

Live Show - Novella

Where: Tramlines, Sheffield
Venue: New Music Stage

Kicking off the brilliantly planned 'Nandos New Music Stage' at Tramlines festival on Saturday was Novella. The first of many up and coming artists playing on this wonderful stage set deep in the city of Sheffield. For those of you that are not from Sheffield, Tramlines is a yearly three/four day music festival, now in it's fourth year. Nothing can rival a free festival in such a vibrant city... With a line-up of exquisite artists.

The quatro took to the stage smiling, frowning and staring at the beautiful town hall, where the New Music Stage was placed. Tracks from their debut EP sounded fresh, but not as harmonic as on recordings. 'Eat Yourself' opened up Novella's set nicely. It's first on the EP and rightfully played first live. The abrasive opening marks their territory nicely on a stage that would later feature Mazes and Future of The Left. 

The chord progressions of 'He's My Morning' sounded magnificent, as did the kick and layered electric guitars that follow. The bass seems to cascade down on the listener, that's if you're standing within 20 feet of the stage. The sound system isn't the strongest, but that doesn't effect Novella's lo-fi tendencies. Hollie's vocals are without girl power backing from Suki and Sophy, who have opted not to provide the harmonies. Hollie's lead vocal sounds clear and crisp, instead of smooth and harmonic. They perform their debut EP almost perfectly without flaws, it's just the odd few hinges that are missing from the live performance.

Our much loved 'Don't Believe Ayn Rand' is always pleasing to hear. To hear it live for the first time is orgasmic. There's something about the honest vocal and guided message which seems to be portrayed easily and effortlessly in Hollie's vocal. The guitars are loud, distorted and versatile with the structure. The girls seem confident enough to play bigger shows. 'Strange Things' and 'You're Not That Cool' both had a glamorous setting. Strange Things is dissonant and extremely noisy, where as You're Not That Cool is refreshingly textured and riff happy. The bass flows excitingly well with the guitars and the drumming never misses a beat. 

'The Things You Do' has this Spacemen 3 feel. Novella used this glorious track to close their 30ish minute set. It's extremely trippy, like woaaahhh tripppppyyyy maaaaan. The little breaks, or the chorus as it could be, has this straight edge drum beat and a pretty stark guitar chord progression. The following 'verses' of instrumentation and eerie vocals have distorted guitars playing very loud and aggressively. It's on the verge of punk, noise rock and shoegaze, whilst keeping the alternative rock aesthetic at it's core. I couldn't think of any other up and coming band that deserve the opening slot for this alternative frenzy of a line-up. Novella have the passion and the psalm to reach the next level, they're just as good live as on record.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Passion Pit - Gossamer


Manners - the 2009 debut of five-piece electronic outfit Passion Pit - was without a doubt one of the year's stand out albums. Though the tagging and the dressage of collective synthesizers and multi-tonal instrumentation, suggested this was yet one more record in the salvo of indie bands taking centre stage near the end of the noughties, the truth is that the album was a wondrous deliverance of anything, but. Showcasing a height of colour without being too blinding, and a darkening sound of provoking lyricism without coming across as egotistical, the band marked themselves a brightening highlight in American pop. Three years later and several months of speculation as to when it finally sees the light of day, the band return with their eagerly-awaited follow-up, Gossamer - an album that continues the band's elicit use of synthesizers and danceable beats, and expands upon it with more flashing arrays of frontman Michael Angelakos' oxymoronic cryptic simplicity of song-writing.

'Take A Walk' opens Gossamer in a stampede of organs and righteous drum hits that soon give way for Angelakos' multi-layered accompanied vocals to sift through the twitches of guitars and percussion thereafter. 'Practice isn't perfect, with the market cuts and loss.' Pit's vocalist swerves in shades of blossomed tone, 'I remind myself that times could be much worse' There is still the continuing undertone of more melancholic subject matter yet not only do the band in a sort of shrouding fog of electric haze and instrumentation, but if anything, the lyrics feel even more impacting because of said approach. And the follow-on of this marching tempo only emphasizes the directness the track imposes itself as. 'I'll Be Alright' by contrast is much less mannered and constructive in the solitary one-at-a-time manner. Beats are much more livelier and vocals too provide a much endearingly energetic muster in their undertones. But the real beauty and gem of this piece is the quirky, and quite crazy, letting go of its chorus hooks, break-offs of percussion and radiant synthesizers in time with the muttering of chipmunk nonsense in equal precision.

The main stand-out - and one that has to be merited as both an enjoyment and a revelation of mine - is that the band, while encompassing full-fledged party tempos in their compositions, still manage to find the space and timing to explore. This exploration comes in the shape of moments where vocals feel a lot more meaningful and less directed at the atmosphere of dancing, glitter and noise, and more on the hard-hitting sentience that lyricism can often strike so hard at. 'Constant Conversations' is one of these such tracks. Despite its slow-paced low-pitch, hand-clapping, head-nodding pacing - and even more-so excusing the whirling and twirling of dreamy harmonization in the background - Angelakos' vocals deliver to us much more than just some James Blake-esque pallette of composition, albeit slightly more weighted and direct. 'You can listen if you want/You can listen if you don't' is eventually spilled out, which only magnifies this delivery of lyrics on relationships, break-up and the resulting aftermath, into more direct and interpersonal perspectives. And all the while, the beat keeps thumping and the harmony remains fresh and surreally uplifting.

Surprisingly - or unsurprisingly if you've listened to their debut enough to realize the truth of the matter - this is an album that doesn't dictate such simple dictations of happy or melancholic. Sad, in whatever context you place it, may not exist but I can certainly feel some form of longing emotion seep through the likes of 'Mirrored Sea' - the frosted glass that are these mountains of drum beats and polynomial hooks, creating this often confusing, often double-take aroma of taking something at face value and then realizing something totally different in the following phase. There is of course, the catchy hooks and appliance of vocoder voices and electronic leads...yet the second way through - or even as the track finally reaches its climax - there's this sensation of wanting (hoping) to find the emotive reasoning for these sounds, and indeed, finding them. It's good to see then, that electronic music - or in this case, electronic-influenced indie rock - is finally getting its fair share of usage in telling a story and invoking some sense of drama or anxiousness. While the warming textures and progression is indeed more suited to the interior of clubs or halls, Angelakos has to be credited for bringing the band's sound out into more clearer (and as a result, more vulnerable) environments.

Even with tracks like 'Hideaway' and 'Love Is Greed', which in fact feel a lot more house-influenced and nostalgic for the dance clubs of foreign grounds, there's no denying the deepening longing ringing through the sparkle of keys and percussion throughout. Angelakos once more allows his shifting juxtaposition of voice lead the listener along this merry road of percussion and synthesized melodies. And meanwhile, throughout it all, there are these undertones of something much more impacting if the audience is willing to dig beyond just the surface of glittered palettes and a colorful collectiveness of group sound. 'Where We Belong' while ends on neither a bang nor a whimper, simply put, is a bright invitation to early 90's beats, smothered in a helping of Pit's spacious ambience and shyly-treading strings, present here on the album's closer. Quite possibly the band's most simplest execution of electronic sound on the album, its deliverance while having a set limitation, give Angelakos' vocals the well-timed opportunity of adding an appreciative flurry of tone and pitch that only emphasizes the emotive perspective this album comes across in.

Most bands that fixate themselves on delivering this similar category of sound, usually fall into the trap of being either one-trick ponies - in regards to the layering of electronics or the rhythmic instrumentation that may accompany it - or simply limited in variation of their sound and how it hopes to spark the listener's musical and non-musical means of perception. Passion Pit, however, have come from seemingly nowhere in the space of three years, and now, two highly-respected albums that showcase both an enjoyment and a longing through their music's content and context in equal measure. 'Gossamer' may not exactly conjure an instantaneous reaction to the general crowds of music fans. But to those who both love this particular genre or even love the prospect of a slow-burning sense of realization, this album will not only meet that target, it'll exceed it. Listen to it once and you'll enjoy the music. Listen to it multiple times however, and you'll love the honesty.


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Nas - Life Is Good

Nas is an artist who needs no introduction...No pun intended. Illmatic is undeniably a hip-hop classic, forever buried in the memories of the supreme hip-hop fanbase. DJ Premier produced Illmatic, but it was Nasir's flow and lyrical guidance that caught the ears of so many. N.Y State of Mind captured the essence of 90's hip-hop in one clean and imaginative lyric, "Straight out the fuckin dungeons of rap, where fake niggaz don't make it back." Illmatic acted as a diving board, with Nas taking the plunge. The reality is that Nas peaked on his debut album. He will never meet expectations because Illmatic is regarded so highly.  It's not as if his 'other' albums are bad, they're genuinely authentic and respective. 'If I Ruled The World' featured Lauryn Hill and gave Nas some RnB class on his follow up album 'It Was Written'. Nas is older, wiser and experienced. A collaboration with Damian Marley on 'Distant Relatives' was released in 2010. This saw Nas experiment with a hip-hop/reggae fusion, a step in the right direction if you ask me. Two years on and he releases his tenth studio album. His tenth, many people wouldn't be able to name three Nas albums, well now they can remember Life Is Good.

The production has been taken care of by a number of famed names such as No I.D and Salaam Remi. Production 'teams' take care of some of the album tracks, whilst No I.D and Salaam control the 'single' output and prosperous tracks. The album's opener entitled 'No Introduction', has a weak instrumental with orchestral features. It sounds clustered, especially when Nas rhymes so softly and realistically. The reverberated claps and thumping drum beat bears no marking. It's an opening track and the production kind of let's Nas down. His lyrics namedrop many high-class brands. In usual Nas style, he adds nostalgia to his work, looking back at the 90's just as the listener does. He raps, "I am a graphic classic song composer" / "Some of y'all might know Kelis, well this goes to her." No Introduction has a little bit of everything tucked away. The later lyric referring to the Nas/Kelis relationship which ended in divorce.

'Loco-Motive' has a brilliant bass heavy beat. The ghetto style lyrics work, with Nas reminiscing the old days. He rhymes about his previous living address in Queensbridge, with guest 'Large Proffesor' bigging up Nas in the breaks. This track has an old-school golden age hip-hop feel. The final verse is excellent with Nas telling how he listens to 'The Great Adventures of Slick Rick' in his truck, to then go on and say how his Rick's imagination is 'sick'. I feel the Slick Rick name dropping has reached a new high in recent years. Nicki Minaj even gave him a plug on the annoying pop/dance-hop thing 'Super Bass'. In retrospect, Nas ends with 'For my trapped in the 90's niggas."

This album has been made for 90's kids, bringing back a classic sound whilst sounding modern. 'A Queens Story' has a similar instrumental to Life Is Good's opening track, but Salaam makes good use of structures backing up Nas. The vocal is clearly the focus again, with Nas delivering a classic hip-hop vocal on top of a straight forward beat. Queens is the lyrical focus, and Nas pays homage to his youth, mentioning residents, deaths, places and cultural differences between the NYC boroughs. 'Accident Murderers' features Florida's Rick Ross. Nas delivers his vocal in the first half. Yet another story-telling, nostalgic track. Rick Ross gives his rag-to-riches story, surpassing Nas if you ask me. Rick Ross rhymes with clarity, age and grit. Ross doesn't have the flow Nas has, but Ross can write hard, and rap hard. Good stuff.

Previously released as a single, and among the better of tracks on Life Is Good. 'Daughters' tells the story of Nas's baby little girl growing up along side his charismatic and away from home career. He talks the listener through the stages of her life, up to present day, modern world. It may be slightly embarrassing to have your dad rap about your condom stash, however when your dad is Nas, it doesn't really matter. The beat is friendly, memorable and sweet. The piano has been utilized effectively with the percussion based beat. It's Nas at his honest best. 

'Reach Out' has Mary J. Blige as a guest vocalist. She adds the 90's dance/soulful groove on this very stark beat. The funky guitar breaks are tasty, as is the piano loops taken from Isaac Hayes. Another RnB track in 'Worlds An Additction' features Anthony Hamilton on vocals. He acts as the soft and sweet chorus and summary. Nas speaks heavily over another orchestral beat. These beats are different, but they don't sound memorable. They act as backgrounds for a fast past Nas vocal. I want more from these instrumentals other than some orchestral sounds and light percussion. It does set the mood, but it doesn't grab me.

The next track kind of brings Life Is Good down a notch. A rapper/producer I don't rate at all, Swizz Beatz delivers a repetitive and horrible vocal. He previously entered my listening habits on Kanye West's overrated My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Delivering the awful vocal, "One hand in the air if you don't really care. Two hands in the air if you don't really care." Basically, Summer On Smash has a modern beat which could have been made on FL-Studio. The synth sounds are extremely dated, and not in the Nas sense. The vocals are in your face, dark and boring. This ones for the trash can. 'You Wouldn't Understand' starts well with a light Eric B & Rakim sample, 'Eric B. Is President'. This track is far more light and mellow than the previous few. The beat is at a faster tempo and the instrumental seems to be full of nice little stabs, it's the synth line that shines through as the mood decider. Victoria Monet delivers a vocal which adds to the tracks RnB nature. It doesn't sound like a Nas track at all, which can be taken in many different ways. Victoria Monet's vocal and the 'different' beat puts the Nas vocal in full effect.

'Back When' is another nostalgic golden age hip-hop look back tune. It begins with 'The Bridge Wars' feud between Boogie Down Productions and Juice Crew. Nas is from the same hood as Juice Crew, sampling MC Shawn's single 'The Bridge'. Nas delivers an insightful vocal on the 80's NYC hip-hop music scene. This track is interesting as well as soulful. Nas incorporates a gospel like feminine vocal which surrounds the atmosphere as Nas raps over the MC Shawn sample. Hip-hop history is something that interests many people, and Nas covers the basics, a story of a feud which escalated and became one of the most effective and serious rapping feuds of all time.

'The Don' is the shortest and tightest track on Life Is Good. The beat was, according to Nas, made by Heavy D who gave it to Salaam for Nas to rap over. The lyrics tell several stories of a luxury life Nas now leads. This site will give you info as to what most of this track means. In short, Nas was once poor, now he's rich. The beat is heavy with an exciting bass that booms through the speaker. It's so simple, yet agonisingly compact. Nas raps, "Twenty years in this game, looking seventeen." I dig the Super Cat sample and the simplistic bass here. The following few tracks are not as habitual as The Don, however they have elegance. 'Stay' features an L.A. Carnival samples, 'Seven Steps to Nowhere'. The funky jazz instrumental is mellow and steady, with Nas rapping about his personal life. Every bit of soul has been put into the later half of this track with the backing vocals sounding supreme. Stay spawns my favourite lyric on the album, "Some seek fame cause they need validation. Some say hating is confused admiration." Nas gives an honest vocal throughout this album, and stay is the most efficient at validating his honesty.

The late great Amy Winehouse performs on 'Cherry Wine'. Her life has been edited and depicted as a rollercoaster of drug use and alcohol abuse. In the music worlds, she was actually a unique vocalist that actually had something which we take for granted these days, talent. Her soulful albums were produced by Salaam Remi, a close friend of Amy's. Thus Cherry Wine, the six minute dramatic thriller. Salaam drops an incredible beat with sophisticated jazz loops, fitting for Amy Winehouse. The track seems a little too forced and 'remember Amy' like. It seems since her death, hundreds of colabs have been released.. Amy died in 2011 and hadn't released a track since 2007.

Nas talks directly to Kelis on the final track 'Bye Baby'. He talks about his relationship in depth, mentioning many personal life details about Kelis. I'm not too familiar with their relationship, but it seems to have effected Nas enough to dedicate an album to his ex-wife, and rap about their relationship Marvin Gaye style. It's more of a personal track between Nas and Kelis, than a track to be listened to by literally thousands/millions of fans worldwide. Nonetheless, it ends the album on a bittersweet note. Ending a period, something Nas has wanted to do for years.. Something he has finally achieved on Life Is Good.

The album cover depicts the wedding dress worn by Kelis, with Nas looking sad, humble and holding a glass of champaign. I don't think he's celebrating. Life Is Good is a comeback album that's not really a comeback, because Nas never left. I've highlighted the weak tracks exclusively. Most of these 14 are delicious nostalgic hip-hop tracks with a youthful Nas delivering contagious rhymes with many guests from the 90's. The odd instrumental lets him down. Some are not as memorable as the pre released singles, as expected. Nas has something he can work on for the future.


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Track Review: Marika Hackman - You Come Down

We don't have enough folk. There, I said it. Singer-songwriters are becoming few and far between. The few folky singer-songwriters are heavily relying on 'rock', so they can appeal to wider audiences. PJ Harvey is a great example of this. Marika Hackman joins the lost of female folk artists heading towards a sturdy and moderately successful career, joining Lucy Rose in the process. This isn't the first Marika Hackman track to surface. A track entitled 'Here I Lie' was a featured track by Burberry earlier in the year. Now it's time for her debut double A-side single, You Come Down and Mountain Spines.

'You Come Down' is full of life. I can comprehend comparisons with fellow authentic folk vocalist Vashti Bunyan, who still leads a life of music. The vocals are layered carefully and the echoes are delicate. Strings are utilized, being implemented within the structure. The most ear catching moment is the introduction of bass and Marika's multi-layered earthly vocal. The percussion isn't too loud, too quiet or too distant, it's just right. This is an impressive track by an ever improving artist, good things are to come from Marika Hackman, I can assure you of that.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Track Review: The XX - Angels

Three years ago, The XX released their debut album. Three fucking years it's taken them.. Mind my language, ok. Anyway... They have their critics, and they also have their dedicated fanbase. Their debut album is there to be seen, and it's simplicity cannot be argued. With this comes the problem of a follow-up album. It needs to be different, yet keep the main basic ingredients. The XX are just the basic ingredients, so they just need something more and unique rather than the lazy and in my opinion, dull vocals/guitar work. Jamie XX is a brilliant producer. He's becoming recognized and has put his name towards many successful projects since releasing XX back in 2009. 

'Angels' will be the first track on the bands sophomore album, it's also going to be the first single.. Clearly. 'Intro' was a magnificent opener on the bands debut album. Many thought it was in fact the best track on the album, myself included. Angels is slightly different, however technically the same. The whole backbone of The XX is Jamie's drum machine. This piece of equipment is non-existent here. His contribution is the production, the percussion and the hypnotic bass. The 'new era' of The XX starts off with a short, cute and quirky single with Remy at her strongest. 

A majestic atmosphere surrounds the room. Remy delivers a quiet and quality vocal. Her refrain, "love, love, love", is simple, yet bold. Everything about this track is minimal and simple, nonetheless it manages to sound bold and full. It's quite extraordinary to listen to this different structure and quietness, compared to the more beat heavy, faster and unfulfilled tracks on their debut album. Oliver gives all the bass he can possibly give on top of Remy's characteristic guitar. Drenched in reverb as per usual, but the effect is necessary.

People want to hear a great sophomore album. This is the first track on the album, and the mood has been set nicely. The direction cannot be understood after one track has been released. As tracks go, this is rather nice... It's peaceful, steady and relaxing. More please.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Saint Saviour - Union


Back when I was a wee lad - browsing on a computer full to the brim with overly-protective security software and an internet reliant on no one else using the phone line - I had this idea in my head that females to their own could not live up to the lengths at which their male counterparts could push the medium of music down emotively convincing avenues. A fairly bias and objectively-minded view I know, but it's safe to say twelve years of discovery have shifted that belief and opened my eyes to a lot more than just what was, for a time, a male-led market. Women of music, could be argued, are now becoming the ones with the biggest drive in today's changing culture of song-writing. Whether it be the mainstream or the underground; the record-breakers of sales or the lesser-publicized highly-respected, women have surged these past 20 years, and that's still down to a drive and a willingness to do what they enjoy best. While most may recognize England's Becky Jones as being one of the lead-guest vocalists for electronic dance carvers Groove Armada - last year helping them co-write one of 2010's underrated records of that year - it won't be that much a surprise if after 'Union', Jones' full solo debut under the name Saint Saviour, this will mark a rise in attention and reason to take note of this girl's equally-brimming passion and flurry in song-writing ability.

There's a certain tense yet deeply hidden honesty to the way Union's sound is projected. The opening track 'Mercy' reads like something straight out of a desolate late-night club, Jones' accompaniment of piano keys and frosty electronics tap away at the warming humbleness to her buttery vocals. Likewise, 'Tightrope' - with its percussive instrumentation and drawn-back echoing comes off in the same way the likes of Vespertine had in all its frosted-glass luminescence. Here though, Jones isn't one for simply masquerading a copy-and-paste as something fresh. The truth is, is that she goes beyond the effect-laiden vibes - hi-hat drumming and gorgeously soft harmonics adding that extra bit of humanity into the layering. Above all else, and beyond the simple case of mapping out the instrumentation for name's sake, it shows a deep and potentially over-looked hinting of an artist drenched in both the nostalgia of enjoyment yet the excitement for what may lie around the corner.

'I Call This Home' could be regarded then as Saint Saviour's (pardon the pun) saving grace against the risk of becoming too indulgent later on. Lush paddings of guitar strings and beating-heart drums lay out the vector for which Jones expands her acutely high enormity of voice, in both scale and direction, across the soundscape. Gone is the previous introversion and the more whispering-into-a-microphone deliverance, and in its place comes this explosion of sound which is rather fitting for a performance more on par with the baroque region of pop and rock music. Whether this album can be classed entirely as such a genre remains unanswered; Jones clearly demonstrates both knowledge and expertise in the beat-focused confines of trip-hop and disco in as equal measure she does the more ballad-orientated compositions we see in everyday music markets. Her work with the Armada might be the reason for this. It, in equal measure, might not. But for a sole female, she has the intensity and deliverance of an act four or even five times her number. 'Liberty' is a definite showcasing in this level of confidence, synthesizers a key and perfectly cued accompaniment in Jones' more alternate-placed lyrics: 'It's a question for you, it's a question for me/Are we really free?' Despite the back-and-forth nature here, it works surprisingly well against the mellow beat of something dripping in nostalgic dance memories.

Moments such as these run the risk, as noted, as being mistaken for missing the point or forgetting altogether that quality of deliverance trumps quantity. Jones may be sticking her fingers in a lot of music genre pies here - maybe too many, in some people's opinion - but the fact is, is that her confidence and trust in her own vocals is what stands out the most in this record. 'This Ain't No Hymn' is a continuation of Saviour's grand-scale deliverance of chorus drops and emphasis on harmony. Lyrics may swing to-and-fro and be devoid behind the veil of string instruments, but the accompaniment to the track's squawking of electric guitars and crystalline drum beats creates both something with rhythm, yet importantly, something with pace. Jones' biggest shift into full-scale rhythm and pace, comes in the shape of 'Jennifer' - glitchy tides of synth percussion and thundering guitar buzz create a bold yet moody atmosphere to a track shrouded in erraticism. Working just as well for the disco as it does the home stereo, it's a welcome reminder to Jones' musical physique with electronics.

The album closer 'Horse' may well be instantly recognizable for its similarity for most contemporary bands, in how outspoken and pouring with sincerity Jones' vocals come across as. It's a solitary piano that provides the backdrop to this rainy-mood self-analytical ballad, before the track ascends into a more outspoken and direct deliverance of percussion and supportive harmonizations that feel more integrated, rather than accompanied, to Jones' own expression. The track does however end on a somewhat unfinished unanswered disposition, but that in itself almost feels meaningless when you consider how solitary and little the song initially picks itself up and starts as. For a closing statement, it packs quite the punch in demonstrating how far - both musically and independently - Saint Saviour has found herself here.

It's that same longing independence I have to give full credit to on this, Saviour's proving ground as both a musician and a sculptor of the ethereally provoking through voice and instrumentation alike. It's this very tenuous nature that I find extremely appealing, because it's not just limited or even relegated to just one narrow (or even spacious) part of her sound. Rather, the feeling is all around us - within the music, around the music and even away from it. Jones I feel, because of this, is one of the few artists out there that can truly make a simple note or solitary pressing of a button on a synthesizer, come across as a lot more grander in scale and intensity, than what it originally is or ever was. It's not a vaguely-patterned rock construct masquerading as full-on disco, or even a synthetic outfit trying to sound humane. To put it straight, Saint Saviour has laid out a multilayered blossoming of maturity, that shows very little to suggest she is either hopelessly proud or self-made important. Importance, for that matter, doesn't even come into the equation. The only thing that does here, is honesty. And 'Union' is as honest and touching a record you may possibly experience for some time.


Friday, 13 July 2012

Summer Sundae Weekender 2012

This years Summer Sundae will take place on the 17th, 18th and 19th of August. Located within the grounds of De Montfort Hall and Victoria Park in Leicester, Summer Sundae has always been a family friendly music festival for all ages. One of the many reasons that make SSW unique is it's location. Very close to Leicester's city centre and just a short walk from Leicester train station, De Montfort Hall is the ideal place for a three day music bonanza. I'm here to guide you through the music, the prices, the stages and the schedules. 

If you're staying for the weekend, you should of arrived on Thursday. Those day trippers / local resident will make their way to the grounds early - mid day. You wouldn't want to miss anything would you? Another reason that makes SSW unique is the ability to bring in your own food and drink. I'm talking about alcohol. At some of the UK's biggest and best festivals, you can bring alcohol with you, but you're unable to bring it into the 'arena', it must stay in the campsite. Well not at SSW, a big money saver. In terms of food, if you're camping and can bring/cook food, go ahead and do it. Festival food prices are extremely inflated. You're better eating home made food or cooked food wrapped up for the three day duration. I'm not calling the SSW food bad, it's merely expensive. From experience, SSW has a diverse range of fast food from all over the world.

Friday's music isn't as clinical as the following two days. For this, prices are actually £10 cheaper at £35, compared to Saturday and Sundays £45 each day ticket prices (Weekend is £105). Please refer to this SSW poster. As you can see, Friday isn't the best of line-up's. SSW has four music stages and one comedy/poetry tent. The main arena (see photo) is referred to as Lion's Den. De Montfort Hall (Inside stage / Drowned In Sound) is Crocodile's Lagoon and so on. The reason why the stages have these names is because of SSW's yearly theme, this year it's Safari. OK onto the music.

Friday. Clock Opera will be an exciting introduction to the main stage. Guy Connelly has expanded Clock Opera from a one man band to a fully fledged synth pop/electronic band. There isn't a lot of music on Friday that draws me in, so Clock Opera will be the first of several artists I'll personally see on Friday. Local musician Uncle Frank is up next, but instead of seeing somebody I could catch down the local pub, I'll opt for something more desirable and head into the unknown. By the way, if you're into gags, happy faces and funk-like music, go ahead and see Uncle Frank, they're not that bad actually. So after Clock Opera, I will make my way over to see what Last.fm can produce. Last year they gave quite an incredible line-up with Shonen Knife, 2:54, Dry The River and Born Ruffians. This years Last.fm bill isn't as spectacular or well known, but be sure to check some out some of these bands, you may remember them for the distant future. Without a time schedule it's hard to pick and choose so early on, but I'm guessing Tiny Ruins, Clean Bandit, Y Niwl and Bastille will be four artists to check out on the last.fm rising/musician stage buried in SSW's corner. Make sure you're back inside for Leicester locals Kyte, who will no doubt play an extensive and loud indie pop filled set. They're a very prospectful local electronic / indie rock band. Francois and The Atlas Mountains are a band not to be missed back at the last.fm stage, with Willy Mason performing his folk straight after. Willy Mason's set will clash with Ghoestpoet and Asian Dub Foundation. So do some research on the three, and go for your desired choice. I'll find myself travelling between all three.

After making your tri-clash decision, it should be nighttime. That means it's the final few artists before the stages become void. The next clash sees Patrick Wolf inside De Montfort Hall, Sway on the last.fm stage and Katy B on the main stage. Folk, hip-hop or dubstep-ish. That's your choice for tonight. Katy B will be an enjoyable set I can assure you of that. Critically acclaimed and well sought after since last years debut album 'On A Mission'. Sway will deliver a beat heavy hip-hop/dance set. Patrick Wolf will be playing an acoustic set inside. This is where I'll be stationed on Friday night. His indie folk/baroque pop isn't the most popular, but it's calming, enjoyable and fitting for De Montfort Hall. Friday is certainly the day to explore and check out new artists. The two clashes will cause a stir between audiences, and the weather may effect your decision. Opting for the dry inside stages rather than braving the wet Katy B and Asian Dub Foundation sets. Whatever your choice may be, make sure you get there on time and find a reasonable place to enjoy some music. You don't want to be trapped at the back between all three stages at night.

Saturday. There's several big name artists not to be missed on Saturday. If you want to see the most promising and best of artists, you'll have to stage hop throughout this day. In short, the artists i'll be seeing are Speech Debelle, Jonathan Richmann, tUnE-yArDs, Death In Vegas, Adam Ant and Ocean Colour Scene. Lucy Rose will clash with Dog Is Dead, so that will be one for the misses to pick. Goodnight Lenin will also be another interesting folk artist to see. I wouldn't like to miss the Brooklyn indie pop band Friends either. So that's Saturday's highlights highlighted for you. of course, most of these will clash. The biggest clash will be tUnE-yArDs and Adam Ant. I'm sure they'd like to see each other perform as much as I'd like to see them both perform. Unfortunately, I'll be missing part of Adam Ant's set for tUnE-yArDs. The reason being, I saw Adam Any at Latitude last year and tUnE-yArDs just cannot be missed. Ocean Colour Scene will clash with Death In Vegas. Again, this is a decision which must be made by the misses, otherwise I'll be standing between both stages pointlessly weighing up who to see and who to miss. 

Saturday's peerless set will be by Jonathan Richmann, without a doubt. The Modern Lovers released one album, recorded in 1972. These tracks were years ahead of their time, and Jonathan Richmann will play his laddish punk rock/new wave to an audience of 40 year olds + me. Hopefully Jonathan Richmann and Friends don't overlap for too long, because it's exciting to have such a huge performer in my average city. Make your decisions wisely for Saturday. If you have time, check out Jake Bugg and These Furrows, two upcoming artists who are currently making a breakthrough.

Sunday. It's always sad waking up on your last day, so make the most of it. This is where the nerd in me takes over. Sunday's line-up is mouthwatering, it really is. For £45 or a third of your weekend ticket, the amount of brilliant artists you ll be exposed to on this day is insane. I will be positioning myself inside De Montfort Hall for Drowned In Sound's takeover. Maybeshewill and Her Name Is Calla will be the first bands to perform. Both of which are local Leicester bands. Both of which are post-rock oriented. This is one to be enjoyed in total silence. Enjoy you're Sunday morning everyone who's into post-rock; If you're not, and I'm guessing most of you aren't... Then check out the last.fm/musician stage for some lovely rarities. If that's not your fancy, then the poetry tent is a nice place to be on a Sunday morning. I'd advise you to stay away from the main arena in the morning. Cowboy isn't an artists to play the main stage and Jersey Budd just isn't a credible performing artist in my opinion. I've seen him live for free in a pub, don't waste your festival on his plain and simple 'singer-songwriter' set. Again, if that's your thing, then check him out.

After seeing two of my favourite local bands, I'll probably take a stroll over to the last.fm/musician stage once again to see what they've got going on. Make sure you're back for Japandroids inside De Montfort Hall. I don't care who they're clashing with, make sure youre in the audience for Japandroids. It will quite literally be a blast. If you can't handle the noise, then tough... Japandroids released one of 2012's best albums so far with Celebration Rock. The Twilight Sad will settle down the mood after Japandroids. They released their third album this year with a fascinating direction into electronic music, whilst keeping their alternative rock/shoegaze features. They're another band not to be missed. When The Twilight Sad finish their set, you'll have three choices once again. It's especially hard for me to pick this time round. Down in SSW's corner they'll be folk-punk legend Billy Bragg performing Woody Guthrie songs. Inside Django Django will be playing tracks from their critically acclaimed self titled album, up their with Japandroids for album of the year so far. Reverend & The Makers will begin their set during Django Django's. By experience, I'd rather stick with Billy Bragg or Django Django and leave Reverend & The Makers out of the equation. If you're a R&TM fan, go ahead. 

After Django Django / Billy Bragg, make your way to the main stage for Public Image Limited. You may not be old enough to remember PiL, but you won't forget John Lydon's voice. That set will be long, energetic, heavy and worldly. If PiL isn't your thing, then head over to see Stay+. they're an exciting electronic outfit that can put on a visual show. Your options are limited, I know, but make the most of the final night. Closing the festival (if my sources are correct) will be Gold Panda. If you're not familiar with Gold Panda, now is the time to get familiar. I saw him live in 2011 midday, everybody was dancing. Gold Panda seems to have this ability to put his audience in a trance. He may debut new material, he may not. His electronic/dance rhythms will go down a storm after Public Image Limited. I hope PiL and Gold Panda don't overlap, it will make for an enthralling close to this years Summer Sundae Weekender.

Summer Sundae is one of the most eclectic festivals out there. Latitude and Bestival are obviously more expensive, bigger and better. If you enjoy good music, like to explore new music and want a moderately cheap festival, then Summer Sundae is for you. Just remember to bring your own alcohol, download the time schedules and enjoy yourself.
Prices can be found here.

Violens - True

Four years ago a close friend and I went to see a little known band called MGMT in Nottingham, England. The support act was a five piece that went by the name Violens. They had an EP out at the time which was rather raunchy and straight forward. I'm not sure what happened, because it took two years to release their debut album 'Amoral', in 2010. They never received a large sum of attention, which is why you may not have heard of Violens before. True then, is their second studio album. 

Don't get confused, Violens are indie pop to the core. Psychedelia runs through their nerves, but indie pop ultimately is released when they play music. 'Totally True' is a lovely little three minute synthy tune with harmonic vocals, light reverb and an echo guitar riff which reminds me of Morrisey. 'Der Microarc' doesn't give me anything else to work with. Violens use structures well, layering vocals with the heavily effected guitars. It's the bass and drumming that fails to amuse me. The drumming is predominately dormant, silent and electronic. The bass here never stretches the imagination or strives in a different direction, it's just simply there. 

'When To Let Go' is a dashing track. It's single material with an exciting crystal guitar riff. I'm almost certain I've heard this riff before, and the same progression, nonetheless When To Let Go is by far one of the best tracks on this album. It has a dance feel, it's funk and the vocals progress well on both the chorus and verses. This album is pretty standard when you think about it. Indie pop bands release albums every year, two years and I'm afraid Violens will fall into a wilderness of indie pop. Indie Pop does have it's genuine brilliance, mostly lyrical, however Violens fail to achieve a clear vocal. This is down to the lead singers quiet and soft voice. That plus the reverb effect. 'Sariza Spring' is an example of a vocal gone wrong. Now if you're My Bloody Valentine, then fine. I just don't understand why Violens don't have a clearer vocal on a track like this. The vocals sound dated, layered and un-clear. 

We hear an improvement on 'Every Melting Degree'. If indie pop isn't your thing, then stay away. If you like the 80's synth pop movement, synthetic vocals and sweet sounds, this might just be your album. One things for sure, this Violens is a completely different band to the band I saw in 2008, not literally. This album is prettier than their previous releases. it's quieter at times, louder at others. 'Lavender Forces' is a good example of a louder Violens. This short drone piece isn't characteristic of Violens, but has the energy and presence to be passed off as a Violens track. It differs almost entirely to the next track 'Unfolding Black Wings'. I love speedy introductions, and this fast paced - turned slow -  melodic track has one of the best structures on this album. The bass finally takes control on this track, with the guitars in full throttle. Without the reverb, delay and the layered vocals... This could be a punk track. Just like the follow up track 'All Night Low'. This time we have the same drumming as before, but with louder and more energetic guitars. The slowed down, break segments of this track are fantastic. These two tracks are definitely the highlights on True. 

The short break of fast paced catchy tracks save this album in my opinion. 'Watch The Streams' fails to capture my attention. This is down to the the simplistic structure and annoying vocal. The same goes for 'Lucent Caries'. It's just a simple guitar riff looped, with a stash of ambient music. 'Through The Window' makes use of yet another loop. The track does become slightly predictable, but that's not my biggest gripe. The drumming is still pretty straight forward and so is the bass. I can see this track being played on a Friends-esque television show during a montage. The guitar riff has this forced nature. It's like one of those pre-recorded samples you find on Dance EJay.

Although True is an improvement over Amoral, it never surprises me. Certain albums have an element of surprise, every time you listen, you're surprised and you notice/hear something new. With True, you get what you're given, at face value. There's nothing hiding in the dark. The final track 'So Hard To See' has another layered vocal and just about every instrumental in the previous half an hour has been repeated for this final track. It may be because I'm a boring young bastard, but I just can't get into this music. It's something about the synth pop and indie pop genres that when crossed, become incredibly simplistic and frustrating.


Track Review: The Killers - Runaways

The Killers are one of those 'used to be' bands. Formed in Las Vegas after singer Brandon Flowers saw Oasis live. Pretty much sums them up to be honest. I can't offend The Killers fanbase... I can't offend The Killers fanbase... Yeah. They'll always be in my memory for partaking in the 2005 - 2008 indie rock NME storm in Britain. Hot Fuss was released and my god, people ate it up. Plenty of singles were releases among the filler. Among all of these was 'All These Things That I've Done', the rock ballad. It's still liked and listened to regularly to this day and will always be the best and most enjoyed track by The Killers. Sam's Town did have some decent material, Day & Age was atrocious. That brings us to present day The Killers!!! 2012, and their Fourth album. 'Runaways' being one of the singles expected to top charts, or something.

Runaways sounds incredibly outdated. 1980's power pop, Queen and AIDS.. Just some of the things the world could of done without. Brandon Flowers sounds like a synth pop diva singing clearly, in comparison to his early career of spitting, with distortion. The guitars are very simplistic here. The lyrics are 'lovely' and 'sweet'.. Sure. This has pop written all over it. I never really took a liking to The Killers in 2005 and I'm certainly not going to start liking this music now am I. Runaways does have this catchy feel to it, I'll admit. It just doesn't serve any purpose for me. The guitars are far too basic, the instrumentation needs to be stripped down with effects taken away and replaced with something authentic. This is like Maroon 5, not the 'I want to be in a rock band like Oasis' Brandon Flowers. 

AMNPTN - Melancholia

Here's something new for you guys. AMNPTN or Amineptine, is the pseudonym for the London based post-rock/ambient/instrumental artist who goes by the name of Sid. AMNPTN is a little bit different to the usual band dynamic in post-rock, meaning he works alone and utilizes several instruments to formulate his layered sounds, rather than a group of musicians and so forth. Melancholia has it's drone phases, it also has a very memorable classical feel with the piano. The album cover looks like something Burial would come up with. Baring in mind the type of music here, the cover is fitting. 

The dark energy and eerie feel is put across well on the opening few tracks 'Eidola' and 'Acedia'. Eidola is a short introduction, with loud strings, trickling keys and a hard hitting bass. All of which come together to form what I call, a horror soundtrack. Acedia sounds intensely aphotic. Guitar strings have been scratched to create this industrial sound, mixed with the horrific imagery this music brings with it. The vocals are quiet, slow and in the same essence as Mogwai. 

'Dysphoria' continues the shrieking guitars and loops. We have more layers, more noise and more horror as the sound gradually picks up. The final few minutes are heavy on the ear, with the behind closed doors drumming which has been drenched in reverb, giving it this other worldly sound. This track closes with a few seconds of eerie piano. A short two second break separates those piano drops with an even darker and thought provoking piano on 'Nausea'. I'm thinking of Shutter Island, but in the Nazi era. The Pianist, but on an island. That's what Nausea sounds like. The drumming is breathtaking with the faint vocal and the aggressive synthesizer. The bass is loud and heavy, everything you would expect. This is a standout track right here.

'Epicedia' passes smoothly on the ear. What it lacks in layers, it makes up for in drone ambiance. It fades into the title track 'Melancholia' with ease. This track has the same kind of feel as the previous few. That's one of the AMNPTN's flaws. Yeah, this music may be horrifying, beautiful at times... But it never really captures my full attention because of the simplicity of the structures. It comes down to tracks sounding the same. Melancholia makes good use of reverb, however the screeching guitars... I've heard that before, like one minute ago. Things need to be shaken up a little for tracks to be recognized individually, rather than collectively. 'Chroma' has it's moments, like the choir-like harmonies and piano. I'm enjoying the percussion thoroughly, and it works well with the guitars. The vocals are present, but they seem invisible amongst the thunderous instrumentation. Things start to sound a little too predictable for my liking. The piano is smooth, but the progressions can be quite easily identified. That's the trouble with looping in a slow structured track. The guitars are layered with the choir vocals, this works a treat, it sounds superior, and up on the ceiling compared to the rest of the track. This track has an extraordinary outro. The thumping bass sticks like a fierce dramatic moment in a movie, the white noise can be confused with a bunch of fast cars at full speed, great stuff.

The closer, 'Ataraxia', features more pianos and more screeching guitars. A vocal loop is used in the introduction, over the trickling piano and keyboard loops. The drumming is heavier than usual, with an emphasis on the bass. This track is over in a flash, sort of a let down when compared to some of the other tracks. I was expecting a magnificent, well constructed closer. AMNPTN has gone for a smoother, laid back finishing touch to this album.

I do like my post-rock, my ambient and my drone music. I like the variations more than anything. Melancholia does have plenty of exciting features. The guitar sounds, the soundscapes, layered vocals and reverb. Most of these tracks sound alike, which is a blunder when it comes to an entire album review. Individually, some of these tracks would sound great in TV shows, movies etc.. Melancholia in itself would make a brilliant movie soundtrack to an independent shot horror film.