Thursday, 18 December 2014

The National @ O2 Arena, London, 26/11/2014


HEADS UP: Unfortunately I had to leave after the band played "Fake Empire" and so didn't get to catch the encore, hence why it isn't covered here. Sorry. 

In the couple of weeks leading up to Ohio band The National's super-sized show at the O2 Arena in London, everyone who I'd told about it met me with the same reaction; "sorry, who? Nah, never heard of them". It's odd enough that any band playing a headline show at the O2 should be met with such indifference, but the most perplexing thing about The National is why they aren't much bigger than their relatively confining indie status allows them to be. Barack Obama used their brass-fueled opus "Fake Empire" in his 2008 Presidential election campaign, and the amount of adverts on the back of magazines for "High Violet" when it was released in 2010 should have at least alerted the Q-reading community to the increase in their printed appearances. Maybe it's a conscious decision on behalf of the band to rock out on a low profile, and quite right too. All that being said, tonight proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that they're a band for whom a show like this has felt like a long time coming on these shores. 

Tonight, support band Wild Beasts (8) sound more robust and confident than ever before. Their whole stage presence gives off a vibe of natural ease, as if shows like this were more their habitat than the more modestly sized venues they usually indulge on tour. Vocally the tag team of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming are on magnificent form; the difference between Thorpe's falsetto and Fleming's deep baritone is now smooth and seamless rather than slightly comical. Their songs sound positively cinematic; the shuddering synth finale of "Daughters" is more thunderous than ever. They close on old crowd favourite "All The King's Men", which sees Fleming completely consumed by the bubble of his momentarily bawdy character. It's performed with the kind of conviction that proves they deserve to be here. 

When The National (9) arrive on stage to a satisfyingly rapturous reception, they look as suave and stately as always, oozing a sense of reserved but confident cool. Frontman Mat Berninger is the absolute epitome of this; his stage presence is rather understated but you can feel it perennially all the same. During the glorious instrumental passages of the likes of "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Sea of Love" (which soar even higher than on record), he strides back and forth across the stage in an almost schizophrenic manner, clearly lost in the moment. 

And he very much deserves to be. From the moment they kick things off with "Don't Swallow The Cap", the ball is set rolling for an evening that is consistently as energetic as it is spiritual. The succession of a life-affirming rendition of "Demons" into a stark but wholesome performance of the moving "Hard To Find" is resounding, Aaron Dessner's twinkling lead-guitar line bringing the track to its close profoundly. An extended intro encourages a whole-hearted clap along from the entire crowd into "Squalor Victoria", which continues on to become one of the night's very finest moments, resulting in Berninger screaming the title in a feral and totally captivating way at the end. 

The band's dry on-stage humour is received in deservedly high spirits too, perhaps testament to how much of their dark sense of sarcasm is very much at home in Britain. "This one's dedicated to my brother, it's his birthday today", says Mat before just before the band launch into "Abel". "He's a metal-head and fucking hates all our slow songs, so we'll play a fast one for him", he continues. Then, referencing the touching documentary "Mistaken For Strangers", a film made by Tom Berninger about his brother's band and the strain it sometimes has on their relationship, he says, "Happy 35th Birthday, Tom. You can start moving out of my garage now". 

"Shit! Sorry, I forgot you were waiting for me", exclaims Mat with genuine surprise after about a minute of the pensive intro to "Sorrow" has passed. "You're way too happy to be singing this song right now", jokes guitarist Bryce Dessner. "Fuck, have I messed that up?" chuckles Mat. "Yeah, you gotta get into character", responds his friend. It's this kind of accidental and genuine persona of all the band members that adds so much charm to the night's proceedings. It's a resounding signifier of just how at home they feel here. 

"Graceless" is the absolute pinnacle of the night. Moving, loud and absolutely pertinent in its own presence, it's the absolute summation of the power of the band's music. Berninger launches himself into the crowd whilst desperately staying out of reach of security and subsequently getting swallowed up by his adoring fans during the final throes of the song, and it's the kind of sight that works on a number of levels to justify not only this booking, but the band's status as a people's rock band. They close on "Fake Empire", which seems maybe too conspicuous, but it makes perfect sense; it's a fan favourite and easily their biggest record to date. It's a natural candidate for the close of a show that has been undoubtedly career-affirming.  

The overall sense coming away from The National's show at the O2 tonight is that this is exactly where they're meant to be. The crowd was almost certainly made up of well-affirmed fans, so a widening of the sphere that The National will reach because of this isn't particularly likely. However, for those who were there and consumed in the moment, this was a definitive one; the realisation of a band who truly deserve to be much closer to household name status than they are. 


Monday, 15 December 2014

Life's Too Short: The Riviera's Top 15 LPs of 2014


Greetings all! 

Every time I write a new piece for this site these days I precede it by doing the whole "I just don't have the time..." spiel. Over the past couple of months that has never been more true, but I'll save you that for now. I'll also save you the "this is just my opinion..." speech. There are those people who take this sort of thing as seriously as the invasion of Iraq, but they're to be ignored. The one thing I will say is that, instead of (as I have done in previous years) toiling for hours and hours a day over which album is TECHNICALLY better and more worthwhile than the other when compiling this list, I've ranked these albums in the most pure order possible; the amount which I've listened to them and the amount of enjoyment I get out of them. There's no science going on here. These are simply the albums that have made me laugh, cry, want to break things and contemplate the meaning of life consistently throughout the year. 

No doubt there will be some people reading this who think I've made serious omissions, so here is a list of albums that I've enjoyed immensely whenever I've listened to them, but maybe haven't sat with long enough or have come out too late in the year for them to really be considered for this list. These are ranked in no particular order, as although I think they're all brilliant, I haven't really considered them in a way that would make that process possible. So:

The Bug- Angels & Devils
Leon Vynehall- Music For The Uninvited
Teitanblood- Death
Grouper- Ruins
Full of Hell & Merzbow- Full of Hell & Merzbow
Jon Hopkins- Asleep Versions EP
Gazelle Twin- Unflesh
The Body (& The Haxan Cloak)- I Shall Die Here

Right, lets get into it then. Here are my top 15 albums of 2014. Hopefully there are some records in here you love, and hopefully there are some you may never have checked out before and this list is what urged you to do so. At the end of the day, the most favourable thing about doing this is the idea that I may introduce someone to some music that they otherwise may never have heard and they end up loving it, so fingers crossed! Enjoy. 

15. Taylor Swift- 1989



In a year when Ariana Grande fell well short of the talent she'd previously hinted at and Kylie Minogue caught a bout of the Madonna syndrome and slipped uncomfortably into middle-age, Taylor Swift's "1989" was especially important. Not only is it a collection of pure, nigh on addictive and crisply produced songs; the really beautiful thing about "1989" is the fact that it's obvious just how much unadulterated, unashamed fun Swift had making it. Although Swift's expressionism reaches a new level of accessibility, this isn't an album about selling records. In it's heart it just wants to be a fun, catchy and emotional experience, and it mostly manages to achieve those goals. Couple all of that with the fact that the songs are just damn undeniable and you've got the record the pop world has needed for a long time. Life's too short to be hating on music that's genuinely ace. 

14. Caribou- Our Love


Four years after Dan Snaith's critically acclaimed opus "Swim", the (expected) cynicism surrounding the quality of a new Caribou full-length was certainly rife amongst some spheres on the indie community. With "Our Love" however, Snaith has produced the most wholesome, beautiful and moving album under the Caribou moniker to date. Smooth at every turn, deliriously funky on the likes of the title track and re-inserting his magnificent sense of euphoria on "Can't Do Without You" as well as the far more mellow and swooning "Dive", it was an album that traversed the line between the slightly more accessible end of rave culture and the more IDM-specific realms explored by the likes of Gold Panda and Clark. Snaith's head for interplay, colour and texture has never sounded better. 

13. Run The Jewels- Run The Jewels II


As has already been remarked by some critics, the real power of MCs EL-P and Killer Mike's return as an actual collaborative project is that that's exactly what it sounds like. The intimidating chemistry between them was evident on the first record, but on "II" it sounds absolutely unbreakable. EL-P's wizard-like creativity on the production is nastier, grittier and darker than ever before, and the violent vitriol and anger-charged rhetoric he and Killer Mike spit back and forth at each other is seamless, especially on the likes of "Oh My Darling Don't Cry". Rage Against The Machine's Zack De La Rocha lays down arguably one of his finest verses to date on "Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)", there's the intensely graphic sex humour of "Love Again", and there's even a sense of narrative never really indulged in by Run The Jewels before on "Crown". All in all, "II" is proof that EL-P and Killer Mike are two of the most versatile, witty and able MCs in the game today. 

12. Busdriver- Perfect Hair


The recently customised rap collective Hellfyre Club's veteran underground icon Busdriver returned with his 10th LP this year and, from the word go, slammed in hard the argument that he'd lost none of his skill, wit or creativity since 2012's "Beaus$Eros". Beneath all of his somtimes impossible-to-comprehend wordplay and lightning fast flow lay hundreds of layers of social criticism ("Eat Rich"), personal reflection ("Can't You Tell I'm a Sociopath?") and razor sharp humour ("Retirement Ode"). Dig a little deeper than 6ft into his angular literacy and you'd find a middle finger raised to the tabloid-like journalism with which Hip-Hop is often dealt on "Bliss Point", strikingly moving heartbreak on "Motion Lines" and perplexing but captivating guest appearances from his fellow Hellfyre Club stalwart Open Mike Eagle on "When The Tooth-Lined Horizon Blinks". Far from accessible but all the more richly rewarding for it, "Perfect Hair" is the most consistently entertaining Hip-Hop album of 2014. 

11. The Twilight Sad- Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave


Celebrated Scottish miserabalists The Twilight Sad seem to be in it for the long slog, and when they're churning out albums as wholesome, emotional and stark as their fourth full-length "Nobody Wants To Be Here..." there's no reason why they should be either denied or ignored. After the mixed response of their 2011 indulgence in synth-pop on "No One Can Ever Know", the return of epic chord progressions, shimmering reverb and meaty bass lines was warmly welcomed by the indie community, and long-standing die-hard fans of the band received the album as their absolute finest since their debut, which it most certainly is. Whether it's the bleak space that surrounds every melody on opener "There's a Girl in the Corner", the wintry, rhythmic epicness of "Last January" or the lovelorn, almost gut-wrenching sadness of "Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep", there's a remorseful power to "Nobody Wants To Know..." that means you'll come out of it feeling like you've just seen the finale of a powerful 1970s-based police drama. 

10. Every Time I Die- From Parts Unknown


Although Hardcore veterans Every Time I Die's 7th full-length "From Parts Unknown" has less in common with their more lauded, southern-fried and stomping crossover output ("The Big Dirty", "New Junk Aesthetic"), it's their best work to date. When the band tried to re-connect with their more primal, dislocated and discordant earlier sound on 2012's "Ex Lives" it felt like they'd lost some of that visceral, caveman-esque brutality, but on "From Parts Unknown" that sense is here in abundance more than it ever has been before. Lead-off single "Thirst" was a no holds barred sledgehammer that set the precedent for an album that indulged as much in that rawness as it did in a slightly understated sense of melody, like on the very fine "Decayin' With The Boys". Keith Buckley's instantly recognisable lyricism  still has all its charm and intelligence in tact, though perhaps the most earth-shattering moment of his dialect comes on the closer "Idiot"; "All I want is for everyone to go to Hell/ It's the last place I was seen before I lost myself/ All I want is for everyone to come to Hell/ There we can be free and learn to love ourselves". Indeed. 

9. FKA Twigs- LP1


One of the most critically acclaimed releases of 2014, former dancer Tahliah Barnett's debut full-length was quite rightly received as the most intriguing, twisted and genuinely sexy r'n'b album for quite some time. The amount of mainstream appreciation the album got was rather remarkable given the outlandishness and oddball skronk of most of the production on the album, but in terms of vision and creativity there were almost no qualms to be had with the shapes and sizes that the tracks on "LP1" came in. Sensual and fleshy but also emotional and diverse subject-matter wise, Barnett confirmed herself to be much more than the body in the background she'd been previously (a subject addressed directly on most recent single "Video Girl"). A beautiful, visionary and mindful step into the realms of a genre that has recently been lapping up all the virtuosity it can get. 

8. Manic Street Preachers- Futurology


A sort of accompaniment piece to 2013's "Rewind The Film", the Manics' 12th full-length was rightly received as their most epic and heartfelt piece of work for years. It's astonishing reviews across the board were largely a product of its scope and emotion; both things the band have almost always had in abundance, but "Futurology" felt like all that scope and emotion had finally come full circle and been turned into something truly wholesome. The spirit of Richey Edwards loomed large on "Futurology", adding extra weight and depth to the gorgeous Springsteen-esque fuel of "Walk Me to the Bridge" and the more sombre "Between the Clock and the Bed". The band were as rich as ever in firebrand vitriol too, the groove-laden stomp of "Let's Go To War" perhaps the most Manics-esque moment they've conjured in years, and the more humourous "Next Jet To Leave Moscow", which fires a sharp middle finger at wannabe rock stars. A sufficiently magnificent album that proved that, in reality, the Manics never really went away. 

7. Behemoth- The Satanist


Even before "The Satanist" had its official release in January Metal critics across the board were calling it the album of 2014. At that time it certainly seemed like surpassing its titanic scale would be a work of wonder. Soul-crushingly brutal, destructively epic and yet still retaining that sense of artfulness and musicianship that had always marked the Polish legends out as visionaries, Nergal & co.'s 10th album was nothing short of a cascading masterpiece. Written and recorded in the wake of Nergal's recovery from Leukaemia, there was an especially emotional shadow hanging over "The Satanist" which increased its miraculous power tenfold, something emphasised by the moving "In The Absence Ov Light". Just as the thunderous, atmosphere drenched first chords of opener "Blow Your Trumpets, Gabriel" affirmed, the overall feeling of this album was one of absolute triumph, a sense of triumph that only one other album in this list has been able to rival this year. 

6. Comeback Kid- Die Knowing


It's hard to put into words just why Canadian Hardcore legends Comeback Kid's return with "Die Knowing" was so special. Maybe it was the un-fuckwithable punk rock spirit that oozed from every pour of the record. Maybe it was the life affirming, fists-in-the-air oblivion that, even if Comeback Kid were lacking in for a couple of records, they still do much better than anyone else. From the slow, dark crawl of the crushing title track to the blood-pumping skate-punk of "Should Know Better" and the urgent but fully-formed melody of "Didn't Even Mind", "Die Knowing" was just a case of punch in the face after punch in the face, in the very most enjoyable, exciting, blood-curdling and skull-shattering way possible. This is absolutely how Comeback Kid should sound. 

5. Animals As Leaders- The Joy Of Motion


For years the rock media's coverage of instrumental prog-rock trio Animals As Leaders has mostly been about the scintillating ability of guitarist Tosin Abasi. Whilst that trait is, in some regards, their absolutely most remarkable feature, their 3rd full-length "The Joy Of Motion" proved beyond measure just how much of a BAND they are. All three members put in absolutely blinding shifts on this album to create something that's an absolute whirlwind of beauty and soulfulness, as well as the occasional descent into crushing heaviness. The spacious, stratospheric floatiness of "Air Chrysalis" interracted with and was balanced by the gorgeous grooviness of "Physical Education" and the ten-tonne epicness of the likes of "Tooth and Claw" and "Mind-Spun". Never have Animals As Leaders sounded so fun, vital and just fucking brilliant. 

4. Mogwai- Rave Tapes


A bit like Animals As Leaders (and many other bands on this list) albeit of a much longer-standing nature, Glaswegian post-rock legends Mogwai have spent years honing, refining and changing their dynamic, and on their 8th album "Rave Tapes" it felt like they'd found a favourable way to be concise as well as soaring. Synths were more prevalent than ever in their sound this time around, adding a significant level of playfulness as well as depth and deep-seated atmosphere to the songs, something which was lacking on their previously release, 2011's "Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will". From the airy, sumptuous opener "Heard About You Last Night" to the apocalyptic peaks reached by the guitar-driven hue of "Hexon Bogon" and the near tear-jerking soulfulness of closer "The Lord is Out of Control", "Rave Tapes" felt like a PROPER Mogwai album, something that many people suggest hasn't totally been the case since 2006's "Mr. Beast". In every way they're still a totally imperative band. 

3. Wild Beasts- Present Tense


Every time Wild Beasts release a record it's like a new sonic journey into some uncharted but endlessly fascinating world. Although "Present Tense", the band's 4th and synth-heaviest album to date, wasn't received quite as gratuitously as 2011's "Smother", it blew the gates wide open in terms of the band's dynamic. A fast-paced, blood-pumping romp through righteous political and social anger ("Wanderlust", "Daughters") as well as the Kendal quartet's favoured old calling card of sex ("Mecca") and a spectral, philosophical and multi-faceted eye cast at life in the modern age, "Present Tense" was an album for the here and now in the truest sense. Although the sense of thematic identity isn't as strong as it was on previous releases, this is their most colourful, life-affirming album to date. 

2. Trap Them- Blissfucker


In terms of sheer nihilism there aren't a great deal of bands who walk in the same ball park as Trap Them. "Blissfucker", as it's title suggests, was the absolute epitome of the idea that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and that hope for mankind, on a social, cultural and sometimes personal level is an idea invented to blind people from seeing what the reality actually is. Unrelentingly bleak, pummelling, groovy and bone- shattering, "Blissfucker" is a rollercoaster ride through a black-hearted, blood-bubbling nemesis that reserves very little dignity for anything other than the dark message it portrays. In the epic "Savage Climbers" too, Trap Them have written one of their best songs to date. 

1. Swans- To Be Kind


When I wrote about the reformed Swans' 2012 masterpiece "The Seer" I said it was an album that was far too big for words. Just like that album, I find writing any kind of summary of "To Be Kind" excruciatingly hard without hitting and going over the 2,000 word mark. It's probably easiest to say that there has never and probably will never be a band as capable of creating the sound of entire universes exploding as well as Michael Gira's experimental veterans. "To Be Kind" seems to have a generally more positive root at its core than anything else Swans have produced. On the 34-minute centrepiece "Bring The Sun/ Toussaint L'ouverture", the glorious chants of "Suuuuuuuuun!" that consume the most thunderous build up you'll ever hear feel more like a celebratory paean to pagan Gods rather than a nihilistic sooth-sayer fortelling the doom of our time (see Trap Them). On majestic opener "Screen Shot" Gira's random, rambling two- word phrases all combine to create a sense of (whisper it) hope and life rather than negativity. One could probably interpret "To Be Kind" in some sort of Freudian reading, but more accurately, this is the sound of Gods judging men. This is the sound of the sun exploding, purely because it wants to. This is the sound of Yellowstone Park laughing as it lays Wyoming to waste. If you're of the persuasion that something that is catchy is by definition good, then "To Be Kind" is not exactly going to be pleasurable, but if you're a There Will Be Blood, heads-getting-smacked-against-walls and gazing across worlds kind of person, then there's not really any excuse to not indulge in this wonderful piece of art. 

The Riviera's Top 15 Albums of 2014

15. Taylor Swift- 1989
14. Caribou- Our Love
13. Run The Jewels- II
12. Busdriver- Perfect Hair
11. The Twilight Sad- Nobody Wants To Be Here & Nobody Wants To Leave
10. Every Time I Die- From Parts Unknown
9. FKA Twigs- LP1
8. Manic Street Preachers- Futurology
7. Behemoth- The Satanist
6. Comeback Kid- Die Knowing
5. Animals As Leaders- The Joy Of Motion
4. Mogwai- Rave Tapes
3. Wild Beasts- Present Tense
2. Trap Them- Blissfucker
1. Swans- To Be Kind

There you have it, then! Is there anything I missed? Anything that should be in there that isn't? Anything that is in there that shouldn't be? Please let me know if you're so inclined, and let me know of your favourite records of the year too. 

I'll be publishing a Top tracks of the year list tomorrow, as well as a couple of other pieces that I've got in the works and hope to get published within the next couple of weeks. Until then, thanks for reading and a very Merry Christmas to you all! 

Jack







Monday, 3 November 2014

Time Is Too Short: Bumper Review Edition November 2014, Vol.1

 
Artist: At The Gates
Album: At War With Reality
Record Label: Century Media
Release Date: 24/10/2014

Gothenburg Melo-death pioneers At The Gates' first album since their seminal 1995 album "Slaughter of the Soul" (deemed by many to be the pinnacle of the Melodic Death Metal Genre), "At War With Reality" was always destined to suffer the wrath of keyboard warriors and the "Carcass 'Surgical Steel' syndrome" upon its arrival. Almost as soon as the record starts however it'll take the most stone-hearted of Metal fans not to pump their fists in relief. The eerie, Spanish spoken word intro leads destructively into "Death and the Labyrinth", a steam-rolling fusion of righteous tremolo picking and massive, rollicking grooves. Immaculately produced, both searing melody and crushing heaviness are served up plentifully here; "The Circular Ruins" is a definitive marriage of both those aspects, whilst "The Conspiracy of the Blind" is classic At The Gates in the truest sense. That song, along with the more mid-paced "Order From Chaos" are nowt short of beautiful in their melody. A return that had many trembling with nervousness should see the same people trembling with happiness. 

8/10



Artist: Flying Lotus
Album: You're Dead!
Record Label: Warp
Release Date: 6/10/2014

Experimental Hip-Hop, Electronic, Neo-Soul and Nu-Jazz producer Flying Lotus' fifth opus, "You're Dead!" has a rather self-explanatory fascination with the macabre subject of the end, and all its finality. Consistently diverse, captivating and colourful atmospheres and soundscapes are conjured, all inexplicably reflecting the album's morbid spacial comfort zone, all confirmed by its title and track titles like that of the 40 second stop-start haze of "Fkn Dead". Some of the finest moments here come from some of the features; Snoop Dogg makes an excellent appearance on the Nintendo-synth happy crawl of "Dead Man's Tetris", and upon closer inspection past the clash of compositional personalities Kendrick Lamar brings some absolute fire to "Never Catch Me". "Ready Err Not" is an eerie, bleepy transmission from a subterranean dimension, and "Descent Into Madness", featuring vocals from occasional collaborator Thundercat, is the album's darkest, most paranoid and genuinely spine-chilling moment. 

7/10


Artist: Leonard Cohen
Album: Popular Problems
Record Label: Columbia
Release Date: 19/9/2014

Here's the frustration with Leonard Cohen's 13th studio album "Popular Problems"; it may be slightly unfair, but it's hard to not want him to release something genuinely classic again. There are times on this record where he writes some of his most prolific observations for years; "Almost Like The Blues" combines some horrific imagery with with trademark razor-sharp wit (sample lyric: "There's torture, and there's killing, and there's all my bad reviews"). "A Street" too is a crawling, smooth reversal of morality. But for every one of those moments (see also "Nevermind"), there's the relatively lazy jaunt of "Did I Ever Love You?" runs far too close to daytime radio American Country music for comfort. "Born In Chains" is standard Cohen miserabilia, and "You Got Me Singing", despite some self-referential poetic observations, is just an irritant. Cohen's been in the game for 45 years, and at 80 years old, one suspects he's running out of things to write about. Let's just hope he doesn't exhaust the practice before it's too late. 

6/10


Artist: Obituary
Album: Inked In Blood
Record Label: Gibtown Music/ Relapse Records
Release Date: 28/10/2014

The second returning legendary Metal act to feature in this piece (this time stalwarts of the Florida Death metal scene), Obituary's 9th full-length and their first in 5 years "Inked In Blood" sees them attempt and largely succeed in re-capturing the vicious, feral and groovy-as-fuck swagger that made them such a force to be reckoned with in the early '90s. "Violent By Nature" is a track that screams "this is how Obituary should sound", all chug & riff heavy gnarly-ness and some melodic chord progressions thrown in for good measure. "Visions In My Head" revolves around a deliriously rollicking stop-start groove. Occasionally the hefty, pummeling mid-paced DM is interrupted by Hardcore-indebted Thrash ragers, like the opener "Centuries of Lies" and the mid-point banger "Violence". "Within A Dying Breed" flits seamlessly between a sequence of some of the album's stinkiest, most pulverising riffs. It's not all as engaging as its finest moments, but it's a straight-up, no Bullshit Obituary album, and as such it's hard to complain a great deal. 

7/10


Artist: The Twilight Sad
Album: Nobody Wants To Be Here & Nobody Wants To Leave
Record Label: Fatcat Records
Release Date: 27/10/2014

Epic Glasgow Shoegaze/ Indie band The Twilight Sad's 2007 debut "Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters" is deemed by some in the indie community to be one of the finest albums of its ilk this millenium. After their excursion into whispy synth-lead wonderland on 2011's "No One Can Ever Know", on "Nobody Wants To Be Here..." the guitars are back, as are the wholesome soundscapes, heartfelt stories and the bleak fog of winter that gave their early work such character. Straight from the off the album proves itself a listening experience for dark winter nights alone in front of the fire with "There's A Girl in the Corner", which drips with remorse from the melancholy reverb on the guitar to the assertion that "she's not coming back from this". The euphoric finale of "Last January" is one of the album's most life-affirming moments. James Graham's direct lyricism gives the impression of a coherent narrative more than any of their other releases, especially on tracks like the oddly titled but positive "Drown So I Can Watch" halfway through. Heartbreaking closer "Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep" will leave a lump in your throat, probably due to both its own sadness and the beauty of the piece as a whole. 

8/10


Next Time: Taylor Swift, Melvins, We Were Promised Jetpacks and more...



Monday, 13 October 2014

Busdriver- Perfect Hair


 

Artist: Busdriver
Album: Perfect Hair
Record label: Big Dada
Release Date: 5th September 2014

Veteran avant-garde MC offers up a healthy dosage of emotion, societal critique and satire on his 10th LP

It seems that the age of the Hip-Hop collective is mustering its forces and preparing for a coup d'etat once again. The past 5 years have bestowed upon us varying levels of attention grabbing communal groups via the likes of the A$AP Mob, Black Hippie (Ab Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock) as well as the Beast Coast movement (comprimising of the Joey Bada$$ featuring Pro Era as well as groups like The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies). In the more conspicuous but just as worthy climbs of the underground sit The Hell-Fyre club; A group of self-proclaimed backpackers who revel in nothing less than their own sharp-witted, self-conscious nerdy-ness. For avant-garde Rap veteran Busdriver to be named as part of this collective (which also features heavy indie-rap hitters Milo and Open Mike Eagle, amongst others) despite having a good decade of records beneath his belt may have ran the risk of seeming like a re-invention gimmick, but one thing proven by his 10th full-length LP "Perfect Hair" in abundance is that he deserves his title as an artful maverick perhaps more than anyone else. 

There's a strict binary aesthetic that underpins the Hell-Fyre Club, perhaps more so than in any of the aforementioned groups. An intense knowledge of wordplay and lyrical structure, as well self-deprecation, emotional substance, hilarious (sometimes deliberately cringeworthy) punchlines and a great big dollop of acute self-awareness to top it all off. It was more or less a blueprint laid down by Busdriver on his seminal 2002 album "Temporary Fever", and the oddness and intellect that has informed most of observations is in rude health 12 years later on "Perfect Hair". 

Throughout the album, whether produced by Busdriver (as most of the tracks are) or not, the instrumentals are twisted, layered and bottomless, leaving plenty of room for interest whilst not distracting from the MCs lyrical abode. Occasionally Busdriver's ruminations are inaccessible to the point of over-indulgence almost, but, as with the best work of rappers like EL-P and GZA, scraping beneath the surface offers the highest reward. 'Retirement Ode' begins by offering up a large dose of hilarious irony, as Busdriver intones in a reverential stance "the shit used during the 7 days in which "Perfect Hair" was recorded cost approximately everything". The rest of the song runs the line of schizophrenic balance between self-deprecation and humourous braggadocia, his enthusiasm drenched flow punching the ear drums like a fog horn. "My clothes are dirty, and I'm over 30... it's about time we admitted how sick this  has become", he notions ambiguously.

'Bliss Point' indulges in a gorgeously layered electronic bubble which sits over a driving but suitably un-distracting 2-step patter, with a lovely trumpet inflection that joins the foray later. His half-sung observations are wry middle fingers swung at the insidious and tabloid-friendly sojourns of the music media; "Does Hip-Hop really have the body type to pull off that outfit? Who is Hip-Hop dating?". 

"Yeah I know what you're saying, but is it sexier than torture?" begins the dark, distorted 6 minutes of 'Ego Death'. Busdriver is on absolutely furious form, his impossibly fast and verbose delivery making the equally as dextrous Aesop Rock (who appears next) pale in comparison. "Sleep and death have always been conjoined twins" he notes dropping a surreptitious Nas reference. The 3rd verse is delivered by Danny Brown, and along with his gambit on Rustie's 'Attak' released earlier this year it's one of the finest verses he's laid down in a while. 


"Upsweep" is entirely sung over a reflectively hazy, rising two-tone synth drone. Busdriver's lyrics take a satirically ambiguous note, as he protrudes that he's "bringing Obama-isms to an abrupt ending... I'm being targeted by a jet plane, because I'm so motherfuckin' subversive". There's a general wider street-wise consciousness at play here too as he sings "I can hear you dying just a little bit in the upsweep...". The same biting societal critique continues on to "When The Tooth-Lined Horizon Blinks". Fellow Hell-Fyre Club cohort Open Mike Eagle begins proceedings with a fantastic verse that sees him drop lines like "house party playing twister on the autism spectrum", before Busdriver assaults technological reliability and it's impact on morals as he raps "everybody's getting sentenced to death in the computer lounge". 

The heartbroken "Motion Lines" entwines beautiful, morose guitar notes with equally as reflective synth intonations. Busdriver is as passionate and steam-roller-esque as ever in his delivery, but it's his most tender moment on the record. "I'm impossible to love but can I keep an open mind?... You left me getting shredded in your motion lines" he asserts in the chorus before more brutally going on to say "My love feels like a Cervix tear". 

Although kooky, Kenny Segal's production on "Eat Rich" is the most accessible moment on the album. Its catchy synth melody is underpinned by a sequence of squelchy, Nintendo Gamecube friendly bass notes and intermittent wooshes of swirling noise. Lyrically it almost reads like a working class manifesto, as Driver delivers the hook "I'm so hungry man I could eat, eat, eat the rich" in purposeful tones. 


Like all rappers with an emphasised literary base, Busdriver sometimes becomes too cryptic to be able to listen to some of the songs here just for casual enjoyment. In the context of "Perfect Hair" however, this makes absolute sense. Like all his albums, it's a full piece of conjoined prose, an incomprehensible  but fully-formed beast that reveals more with every listen, and launches the kind of aural charge of emotion, political and social awareness and satire of which Bill Hicks would have been most proud. 

Key Tracks: 'Bliss Point', 'Upsweep', 'Motion Lines'
For Fans Of: Milo, Open Mike Eagle, Aesop Rock

8/10






Friday, 12 September 2014

6 For Friday: My 6 Favourite Songs Of the Moment


Hello folks!

I don't really get the time to write record reviews for the site anywhere near as much as I'd like to, so I thought I might try and get something a bit more regular in place. Obviously, the use of the term "regular" in this context is slightly preemptive; it might turn out that this piece is the biggest load of shite I've ever published. However, you don't know until you've tried it, right? (warning- definitely do not employ this logic with EVERYTHING that you come into contact with in life). 

The idea behind "6 For Friday" is that every week, on Friday (HA! you would never guessed it, would you?), I'll be publishing a piece entailing a small paragraph and youtube links to 6 songs that I've had on repeat over the last week or so. These will not all be songs released in 2014. For example, I think the only song in this edition that was released this year is Chromeo's "Jealous (I ain't With it)". Far more likely to appear in this piece are songs that have been favourites of mine for a long time (Souls of Mischief's "'93 Til Infinity") or songs that are so brilliant that no matter what decade, vortex or demographic they come from I feel the need to share. 

I will likely consciously make the effort to cover a wide range of different genres of music, so hopefully if you take the time to listen to any of the tunes I post you'll find something you'll like. It's totally understandable if you don't though, obviously. 

Jon Hopkins- We Disappear

Last year electronic wunderkind and sometime Coldplay arrangement master Jon Hopkins released his 4th full-length 'Immunity' which was widely (and deservedly) recognised as somewhat of a masterpiece. 'We Disappear', the first track to grace one's ears after pressing play, begins with recordings of the fug of outside traffic as Hopkins unlocks his front door and enters his house. Ghostly atmospheres then gather and build into a lushous, bleepy and chilly rave wonk. Melodically layered and wholesome, it's a song that twists within its own shell with remarkable, dance-floor friendly ease. 





Drake- Hold On, We're Going Home

Firstly, I know I'm late to the party on this one. Secondly, anyone who knows me well will almost undoubtedly at this point call to command all the times I've dismissed Drake as being one of the most dismal MCs I've ever heard. As a rapper, I still think Drake is far less appealing than auto-tuned, post- cough syrup OD Lil Wayne after pummeling a bullet through his chest. Alas, just as I was for a long time, you'd be a wally to deny 'Hold On, We're Going Home'. Drake's croon is perfectly understated as it glides over the track's driving beat, reflective synth-chord sequences and resounding, deep bass rattle, and in "you're a good girl and you know it" he's written one of the most fantastically ambiguous lyrics I've heard for a while.



Real Lies- World Peace

Some of you may remember that I wrote a gleaming review of this track when it dropped last year. Having heard it again for the first time in months just a couple of days ago, I was instantly drawn back into its glorious abode. Its Pet Shop Boys-esque synth arpeggios seem almost the ideal soundtrack to watching the sunset over decrepit London terraces, and its organic bass wig-out provides an ambidextrous backbone. There's still no sign of a full-length from the elusive trio, but here's to hoping pointers emerge soon. 



The Bug- Skeng (Autechre Remix)

Just a couple of weeks ago Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, released 'Angels & Devils', the follow up to his ground-breaking 2008 debut 'London Zoo' (review to follow shortly). As one of 'London Zoo''s darkest and most punishing moments, it makes perfect sense for warped electronic mind-benders Autechre to remix 'Skeng'. Their version takes nothing away from Flowdan's unnerving tales of murder and callous threats. Instrumentally the already nightmarish affair is twisted into an even more spine-tingling, eerie deap-seated rumble of intoxicating atmospheres, reshaped wobs and cavernous yet barely there synths. 


Souls Of Mischief- '93 Til Infinity

Over a magnificently blazed beat the MCs that comprise California's Souls of Mischief lay down virtuosity drenched flows and verbose verses in what has become one of underground hip-hop's stoner anthem ultimates. Best suited to evenings in the garden with friends clinging on to summer's last throes. 


Chromeo- Jealous (I Ain't With It)

Yes, the Daft Punk/ Nile Rodgers blueprint for entwining modern electronic wiggle with classic funk and soul flavours has been revisited ad nauseum since the release of 'Random Access Memories' last year. However, Chromeo have produced a single so unashamed, groovy and catchy whilst applying that blueprint that it's nigh-on impossible to dismiss. Go on... try not having fun to this song. I DARE you. 


As I said eariler, I'm hoping to have a review of the new album by The Bug up at some point next week, as well as maybe a couple of others. Failing that, 6 For Friday may also make a return. The future is lashed with the unprecedented. 

Until next time! 

Jack



Thursday, 4 September 2014

Ariana Grande- My Everything


Artist: Ariana Grande
Album: My Everything
Record Label: Republic Records
Release Date: 22/8/2014

Former TV starlet's second full-length unfortunately brings nothing new to the table

It's the kind of re-hashed old story that's regularly done the rounds over the last 5 years or so, but the Disney TV starlet turned rising pop sensation phenomena recently reached it's head with the re-invention of ye olde Miley Cyrus a couple of years ago. Cyrus shattered any illusion of her being the sweet-smile gifted teen star of previous years by making her tongue and mostly naked body the key to her right to expression. Making the point of her hyper-sexual re-invention seems redundant now, though; she was hardly the first (*COUGH* Rihanna) to make that transition, and therefore cement the notion that female sexualisation was now a corner stone of the cynical minds that skulk behind the curtains and in the dark gutter ways of the recording industry. 

Former star of the Nickelodeon show Victorious, 21 year old Ariana Grande, hasn't succumbed to the voyeuristic prying of those who would see her less well-made, it seems. 'My Everything', her second full-length LP, retains a sense of classiness (or perhaps innocence?) that sees it stay far clear of Miley-sized pitfalls of degradation. It's an issue that she addresses directly on the track 'You Don't Know Me'. "They try to tell me who I am, they don't understand" she croons, raising a pleasant but resounding middle finger to the tabloid sniffers and big money label execs. "You want a perfect picture to believe in... Well you can't be looking for me then" she continues. As decent a sentiment as it is, in a way 'You Don't Know Me' summarises the entire ethic of the album; well-meant and performed with conviction, but ultimately just another cog turning in the machine of cliched and insipid pop the modern charts demand. 

'My Everything' boasts one fantastic song. 'Hands On Me (ft. A$AP Ferg)' drops late in the tracklist, but it's layered, insanely catchy and sassy production is real rejuvenation by this point. It is a song destined for chart success, but has an undeniable sense of snobbery-devoid joy at its core. Ferg's verse is as superfluous as they come, but as with all his best work, it revels in its own numb-skulledness (sample lyric: "You got a cake can I put my candle on it?"). 

Other favourable moments include the rather organic and grandiose 'Why Try?', with its heavy-handed piano chords and rumbling, marching band-esque tribal beat. It's slightly later-era Katy Perry-lite, but it's a good song in its own right. 'One Last Time' is much more insipid and stops just short of trashy, but it is also catchy and somewhat euphoric. 2013's mega-hit 'Break Free', produced by Zedd, does cross the border into trancey-synth trash land, but despite its fabrication it does have a chorus to boot. 


But almost everywhere else Grande runs into the barrier of not being innovative or interesting enough in terms of lyrics to really claim to bring anything new to the table. The whispered male vocals over the rumbling bass of the bridge section in 'Problem' is an interesting dynamic, but fails to add anything to the wider equation, otherwise made up of Grande's well-worn perceptions, an obnoxious synthetic saxophone hook and a fast paced but lazy verse from Iggy Azalea. Big Sean shits awkwardly and irreversibly all over 'Best Mistake', which makes an impression purely because of how atrocious his verse is ("I know love can be like a beach with no shore"- oh, PLEASE Sean). 

"Break Your Heart Right Back" is the real kick in the teeth though. It's exceptionally produced; an atmospheric, reflective strut evolves into a sample of Diana Ross's glorious 'I'm Coming Out' for the chorus. Grande's lyrical premise of a cheating lover is sad, but her lyrics are as run-of-the-mill as is possible when it comes to dealing with heartbreak. The inclusion of Childish Gambino, although perhaps a shrewd manoeuvre to reel in the "backpacker" community, brings him no favours. Not only does it not at all fit with the song's subject matter (save the first and final bars) but for an artist whose solo output is so obsessed with the idea of personal integrity, hearing him rap of "money too much" and "when I step on the stage girls move too much" is striking to say the least. 


'Just a Little Bit of your Heart' sits quite well sonically as a piano-lead ballad, and Grande's voice rings with conviction, but so dour are the lyrics that (as is the case with most of the indistinct moments here) the song fades from memory almost before it's over. 

I'm still waiting on a young pop star to emerge who genuinely challenges the rather insidious nature of the mainstream pop pursuit. I thought it might have come in the form of Ariana Grande, and to be fair, she seems to be holding her own. However, very little in the way of innovation streams out of 'My Everything', which would lead the cynical mind to suspect a road trip into more distressing areas of daytime radio airplay on her next album. It seems harsh to say that I'd hoped for a lot more even if I shouldn't have expected it, but that is the case. 

Key Tracks: 'Hands On Me (ft. A$AP Ferg)', 'Why Try?'
For Fans Of: Katy Perry, P!nk 

4/10


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Godflesh- Decline & Fall EP

Artist: Godflesh
Album: Decline & Fall EP
Record Label: Avalanche Recordings
Release Date: 2/6/2014
One of Metal's most influential bands mark their return with 4 tracks of glorious sonic abuse
The Heavens have opened and the Gods of all things rhythmic, dark and hostile have returned to Earth! Throw aside your Fear Factory LPs and grab a sledgehammer, for Birmingham's secondary sons of mechanical, systematic and grey fear-mongering have returned!
Hyperbole aside (sort of), the return of Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green's incredibly seminal band Godflesh is, for a Metal head, one of the most favourable pieces of music news transmitted so far this year. People well versed in Broadrick's dealings know that he's a maverick of several music spheres and sounds, but the influence and power that Godflesh instilled in Modern metal throughout the '90s cannot be understated.
'Decline & Fall', the band's first new material since they disbanded in 2002 (and subsequently reformed in 2010) is not only exciting; it's an opportunity that younger Metal heads should revel in. Like many indoctrinated into the ways of Metal in their young teens, bands like Korn, Slipknot and Deftones were a right of passage for me. It wasn't until years later that I realised that those bands, as well as a plethora of industrially minded groups and Black and Post-Metal bands, took more than first meets the ears from the blueprint laid down by Broadrick and Green. This new EP (as well as the new full-length, 'An Autumn Lit By Fire' to be released shortly) is so classic Godflesh that it could, and should, serve as a standard bearer for the precedent for all the slightly uninitiated people that haven't dug quite deep enough yet to find the worthiness of 'Streetcleaner'. 
There's none of the sprawling, airily bleak soundscapes that also perpetuated Godflesh's catalogue as well as that of Jesu (Broadrick's second most renowned project). The 4 tracks on 'Decline & Fall' are all inarguably bangers of the most uncompromising persuasion. 'Ringer' kicks things off in rigidly fine fettle. Brutal, repetitive and pounding, Green's bass ruptures your brain encapsulation into submission. Broadrick's riff is indebted with enough sludge and groove to level tower blocks. This is industrial urban repugnance, laying waste to its own backbone with head-bobbing precision. 
'Dogbite' is shorter and more melody centred. Green's bass is as virile and cocksure in its pulverising heft, but Broadrick's riff rises above in shimmering but unnerving style betwixt more descents into more swampy furrows. 
The most "Fuck me! They're back!" moment comes 3 tracks in, courtesy of the monolithic 'Playing With Fire'. It's ludicrously rhythmic in the way that everything meshes into a destructive, looping whole. "It's all pain... There's no gain" barks Broadrick over surely one of the finest riffs to his name. Amongst his slightly dissonant, echo heavy vocal effects its possible to discern dark ruminations of "tainted feelings" and "invisible chains". 

They deal one final bout of decimation with the closing title track, which is one of the more multi-faceted tracks here, manoeuvring seamlessly between cathartically violent riffing, screeching noise and the heavy-handed synthetic drumming that is dealt with steamroller-esque force throughout the EP. 

'Decline & Fall' is, in some ways, the ideal way for Godflesh to mark their return to the public conscience. It's only 4 tracks long and thus doesn't contain a great deal of their titanic scope, leaving plenty to be had from 'An Autumn Lit By Fire' when it's released. At the same time, these are 4 tracks of glorious sonic abuse that should make both old fans and newcomers spit out their morning coffee across their sitting room amidst feelings of joy, horror and relief. Essentially, it can ONLY be a good thing that Godflesh are back; still destructive, still artful, and still sounding not quite like anyone else. 

Key Tracks: All of it
For Fans Of: Godflesh, Anaal Nathrakh, early Korn

8/10