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