Monday, 1 September 2014

Ty Segall- Manipulator


Artist: Ty Segall
Album: Manipulator
Record Label: Drag City
Release Date: 26/8/2014

Ty Segall's latest is an unashamed exercise in self-indulgence but also shows off the rather visionary scope of his song writing

Over the last 2-3 years LA singer-songwriter Ty Segall has become one of the most blogosphere celebrated indie musicians of his kind. His strict DIY persuasion has seen him release at least one album (several under different monikers and collaborations) since his debut in 2008. On 'Manipulator' the musical sojourns he travels down are not particularly dissimilar to his actually quite individualistic take on '60s garage rock and psych-rock that he perpetuated before. But Segall is SO DIY that the fact that he rarely steps away from a strictly old school blueprint has more to do with his "if it ain't broke..." ethics than any critical acclaim. 

'Manipulator' is 17 tracks long and almost every single one of those tracks has one, maybe even two guitar solos (again, a testament to Segall's rigid morality of doing whatever he wants). There are times when the consistently blistering ascent into ravenous noodling becomes slightly tiresome and overloaded. But although none of the songs here are particularly complex or original, the charm lies within their simplicity, texture and melody, and the width of Segall's scope on these terms is actually rather visionary. 

'Tall Man Skinny Lady' is the kind of brilliantly catchy retro shuffle with its cracks filled in by the aforementioned soaring solos and screeching feedback that Segall has come to perfect. 'The Singer' is an almost Elvis Presley-esque waltz complete with swinging violin arrangements and that idealistic '50s idea of romance as he opens up "I can hear the sound, when my love's around". 'Feel' is a raucous Led Zeppelin- esque banger that starts as a humble shake-down but evolves into a hulking swarm of electrifying riffing and stinging virtuosity, which includes a jazzy, percussion heavy drum solo. 


Despite it being one of the album's paciest moments 'The Clock''s ambidextrous acoustic tumble and classically orchestrated instrumental dynamic sits very well. The hook provides the album with maybe it's darkest marker as Segall sings "Still we know, the clock will never show the wearing and tearing of the mind". 'Connection Man' is Segall's outright step into modernity and is carried by the chilling synth crawl its title suggests. The album's highlight, 'The Hand', is grandiose in its vision right from the start, and it's perhaps the ultimatum to the conundrum that you can do so much with very little, it's charming chord progressions never ceasing to be captivating. 'Don't You Want To Know? (Sue)' is a gorgeous track that subtly hits at a philosophical evaluation of life and the notion of youthful naivety. 

On 'Manipulator', like on most of Segall's work, it seems that the music comes first; lyrical substance is left a little bit by the wayside in favour of self-indulgence, and although Segall has a right to such musical braggadocia, your enjoyment of this record may depend on how many '60s rock albums you have in your record collection, and how much you enjoy guitar solos. All cynicism aside, 'Manipulator' is another worthy addition to Ty Segall's canon that proves that there's still a lot of varying types of thrill to be had in rock music, and the guitar certainly is not a forlorn instrument. 

Key Tracks: 'The Hand', 'Feel', 'Don't You Want To Know? (Sue)'
For Fans Of: '60s Garage Rock, White Fence, Tame Impala

7/10


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Common- Nobody's Smiling

  
Artist: Common
Album: Nobody's Smiling
Record Label: Def Jam
Release Date: 22/6/2014
Chicago Hip-Hop legend Common's 10th studio album occasionally strikes on hard-hitting brilliance, but often steps into the ditch of tiresome braggadocia too

Giving rappers passes for being arrogant is a dangerous ball game to play, especially in a post Kanye West-Taylor Swift encounter world. However, one could argue that Common has surely earned the riches and bragging rights he proclaims. Although not necessarily a house hold name outside of the Hip-Hop community (for his music at least), his appearance at the White House and the following controversy, as well as many appearances on US TV primetime shows have lead Common to the success that, on 'Nobody's Smiling', he clearly relishes. 

But here's the thing; 'Nobody's Smiling' is a strikingly disingenuous title for an album that sees Common spend so much time relishing his own technical ability and how much money he's got. This has been billed by some as his most personal record to date, and sure, there are moments of deeply heartfelt wordplay and subject matter that are among some of the most revealing tracks he's ever written. But the scales are tipped more heavily in the opposite direction by the amount of tracks here where Common fails to say much at all. 

No I.D.'s production is relatively stellar throughout the album. His beats are punishing when they need to be, bounding when they need to be and reflective when they need to be. His ear for sensitivity when matched against Common's wordplay at any given time is what makes their partnership such a rewarding formula most of the time. On the cocksure braggadocia of 'Speak My Piece' Common resides over a bouncing, modern boom-bap instrumental. The title track, one of the finest moments here in terms of wordplay, is a brilliantly grimey crawl that backs a bleak account of life at street level in Common's home town of Chicago, as he references big time drug dealing, poverty and Treyvon Martin. 

'Rewind That' is one of the most touching retrospective's Common has written in years. The first verse poetically relays the age-old story of working his way up from a life of hardship to one of fame, but it's the second that hits home the hardest as he, in deeply personal fashion, recounts his friendship with the late J Dilla; "You never gone you live on through the song, I feel it when I see 'em with the Dilla shirts on". 



Perhaps even more hard-hitting though is the 6 and a half minute album stand out "Kingdom" featuring a much hyped Vince Staples, who is on terrifyingly good form. Common's subject matter sees him talking us through themes of death, religion and being a father (amongst other things) with the kind of poise that only someone with a deep experience of all those things could. "These keys got me locked up with older men... they ended up being the keys for my life to end", he raps at one point. Staples delivers his own absolute slams throughout his verse too, at one point quipping "I'm trying to watch my back 'cause these stripes ain't free". 

But for every moment where Common has something to say, there's another where he has nothing but bragging rights to offer. 'Real' may very well be an accurate pinpoint of his life situation, but its shallow misogyny doesn't do him any favours. On 'Blak Majik' Jhene Aiko comes through with perhaps her most splendid contribution to date, however short lived, but once again Common's wordplay fades into mediocrity. 'Diamonds' is slightly more fulfilling; even Big Sean sounds OK, and Common's lyric "they say time is money, forever is my currency" reels off the tongue, but again there's little of substance there. 


'Nobody's Smiling' does nothing to knock Common's integrity, particularly, but all too often it leaves you feeling with in a state of "meh" rather than "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, suburban America is doomed!". As said previously, there are moments of brilliance here when Common proves exactly why he's so lauded state side, and maybe he shouldn't be vigorously blamed for suffering a little from the Kanye/ Jay-Z syndrome of being wrapped up in the life he leads. It's just that on 'Nobody's Smiling' there's not enough substance to counter the riches. 

Key Tracks: "Kingdom ft. Vince Staples", "Rewind That", "Nobody's Smiling"
For Fans Of: Kanye West, The Roots

6/10



FKA Twigs- LP1



Artist: FKA Twigs
Album: LP1
Record Label: Young Turks
Release Date: 6/8/2014

UK singer/songwriter/producer/dancer puts the art back into twisted pop and wonky R'n'B on her debut full-length

The 00's and the post-2010 years have had a bit of a way with saturating often rather bogus revival scenes. '90's indie, '80's electro-pop and more recently late '90's/early 00's r'n'b have been run through the ringer in terms of a sort of re-celebration on various artists' behalf. There's nothing wrong with paying a little homage every now and again, obviously. But the population of faded, hazy and stoned r'n'b artists that have followed in the wake of The Weeknd and latter-day Drake has this reviewer wondering if he never needs to hear another slightly far-out but altogether insipid project again. 

It would be easy to lump Gloucestershire-born singer-songwriter, producer and dancer Tahliah Barnett, aka FKA Twigs, in with the new wave r'n'b brigade, but the truth is that 'LP1', just like the couple of EP's she released last year, is much more than that. There's more than a modicum of the virtuoso singing associated with said genre in her scintillating falsetto for sure, but there's plenty of other elements pulled together to form a genuine sculpture. 'LP1' jumps between the experimentalism of Grimes, the hyper-sexuality of Aaliyah and throws in a dash of Kate Bush's eccentricity here and there for something that genuinely sounds like not much else. 'LP1' is a record that sees art put back into a genre in a way that has never really been waltzed with before. 

Musically, it's the detail of Twigs' production that makes this album such a wonder. 'Preface' sets the tone near-perfectly. It's just under 2 minutes long but still an intensely detailed offering of odd-ball and glitchy trap, Barnett's siren-like delivery soaring over a righteous low-end rumble. It's a precedent that holds no bars for the next track 'Lights On'. Instrumentally the track twists its way through unexpected alleyways comprising of weirdo electric guitar lines and staccato synth bleepery, levelled out by a sense of accessible romance as she coos "when I trust you we can do it with the lights on" sweetly. 

The gorgeous wonk of lead-off single "Two Weeks" is the most instrumentally direct and accessible moment here and is an anthem in its own right. 'Numbers' is an unnerving, cyclical footwork-inspired jaunt that weaves itself a core of sadness not previously touched upon on the record. "Was I just a number to you?" asks Barnett as the song gets more layered melodically but in a perpetually icy and heartbroken way on the hook. 'Closer' is a heart-warming broadcast from a secret cave on a forgotten beach, full of mystery, romance and momentary perfection. 


Lyrically Barnett's fascination lies in both romance and the fleshy, au natural sexual expression that has always been the forerunner in R'n'B, even dating back to Marvin Gaye. But the way she plays with both sexuality and sex is a poetic deliverance one might usually associate with the likes of Wild Beasts. 'Hours' is weighed out by both eerie but somewhat seductive submissiveness ("am I suited to fit all your needs?") as well as demanding confidence ("How would you like it if my lips touched yours and they stay close baby 'til the stars fade out?"). 

On one hand, 'Kicks' plays on the idea of revelling in one's own sexual freedom when alone ("I just touch myself and say I'll make my own damn way") as well as sounding desperately lonely on the hook as she sings "tell me what do I do when you're not here?". On "Weak Spot" she endorses a well-worn but not shoddy dialect that runs the thin line between creepy and seductive in an almost Robert Smith-inspired fashion as she whispers the verses breathily. The track fades in and out for its duration, maximizing both the intoxicating weirdness and sweeping, far-away scope of its melodic passages. 


Essentially then, 'LP1' is what the modern age hipster R'n'B fan has needed ever since the sound started becoming more dated than it did refreshing, but to enclose Barnett and her music within those brackets would be a mistake. It's an album that, although distinctly odd and in some cases distinctly sexual, is more than capable of garnering a mass appeal, as has already been somewhat proven by the mulling of it by a multitude of alternative music publications. 'LP1' is a detailed, complex world of its own, and it's a world that seems more and more inviting the longer you dwell in it. 

Key Tracks: 'Two Weeks', 'Hours', 'Closer' 
For Fans Of: Aaliyah, Grimes, Kate Bush

8/10



Wednesday, 30 July 2014

New Tracks: Doomtree- .38 Airweight


A couple of days ago fiercely independent Hip-Hop collective Doomtree released a brand new song entitled ".38 Airweight." Comprising of some of the most revered and talented MCs in underground rap music (amongst the most renowned of which are P.O.S. and author, poet and singer-songwriter Dessa), Doomtree have been backpacker darlings for about a decade now, and rightly so. Their 2011 collaborative album "No Kings" was one of the finest examples of conscious, indulgent abstract rap that year, and this new track pulls no punches in terms of showcasing the group's respective ability. 

Pieced together sonically by the group's masterful production tag-team, Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger, it's a multi-faceted banger. It's a noisy, restless affair with a backbone of blaring sirens, low rumbling synth-bass and catchy electronic guitar amble. The flows brought to the table by P.O.S., Mike Mictlan, Cecil Otter and Sims are all excellent; the lyrical themes of the hardship of life, growing up and adulthood are delivered via vitally colourful flourishes of language and imagery, proving in spades that they're some of the most creative writers in the game. It's a shame not to hear more of the brilliant Dessa, but her gorgeous vocals add plenty of depth and flavour to the final hook. 

Listen to ".38 Airweight" via youtube below. 


And if you fancy gaining a further insight into the wondrous work that Doomtree do, here's a video of their full live KEXP performance, as well as an interview. 



Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Noise



Artist: Boris
Album: Noise
Record Label: Sargent House
Release Date: 16th June 2014

Heavyweight Japanese legends deliver much of the euphoria, epicness and power we've come to expect on their 19th album

It doesn't always sound like a compliment when bands have been around for so long that they are now (albeit with tongues firmly placed in cheeks) referred to as "institutions", but in the case of Boris to refer to them as such could only be complimentary. Having crafted themselves the legacy of being one of the most artistic and ongoing forces in Metal and experimentalism, their cross-boundary appeal and supposed inability to stop making music has been largely a blessing to anyone who cares to concern themselves with it.

So not only can Boris be positively deemed an "institution" due to their sheer righteousness, but also because with the arrival of 'Noise' they're now 19 albums into their career; a life span that not even Microsoft probably dreamt of achieving at its conception.

One of the most mesmerising things about Boris has always been their ability to churn out new sonic pastures that neither they (nor often anyone else) have travelled before. 'Noise' is perhaps the most conventional release Boris have put forward in years, but this, of itself, is not really anything to be concerned about. Whereas before a "conventional" Boris album (was there even such a thing?) would have meant making the most epic but mind-fuckingly strange racket plausible, but now it means euphoria in spades with a slight Metallic favouritism (save for the sugary pop/krautrock of 'Taiyo No Baka').

Opener 'Melody' captures the glorious pinks and oranges of a Tokyo sunset, as well as wrapping its entire trajectory in a planetary, interstellar level of feedback and triumphant guitar melodies. Crucially, there's a keen ear for a pop sensibility that lurks within, a sensibility that, despite the sometimes frantic heaviness, weaves its way into proceedings throughout 'Noise'. 'Heavy Rain' is on one hand a grizzly Doom Metal crawl held up by thunderous sludge-induced riffs and painfully slow pounding, but its multi-faceted pride allows the glistening lead guitar to glide overhead with subtle agility. The 19-minute monolith 'Angel' meanders its way through floating, repetitive arpeggios before exploding into (expectedly) heavenly proportions. It's the kind of thing that, in the hands of a lesser band might be written off as slow-churning wankery, but Boris play with such magnitude it's nigh-on-impossible to deny their force.

'Noise' is not, despite its title, anything like a definitive Boris record. For all its shuttles into the stratosphere it sometimes sounds frustratingly restrained, like on 'Vanilla', or the speculatively filler-esque ditty 'Siesta' that brings the record to a close. In many ways its Boris securing a relative comfort zone, but there's no guarantee that it'll be so for their next release. It may leave long-time fans of the band wanting something more, but for this listener's money it offers up enough euphoria, epicness and power to be perceived as a stock addition to the Boris canon.

7/10

Key Tracks: 'Melody', 'Heavy Rain', 'Angel'
For Fans Of: Anathema, Electric Wizard, SunnO)))

Jungle



Artist: Jungle
Album: Jungle
Record Label: XL Recordings
Release Date: 14th July 2014

Heavily hyped London duo launch a debut that breeds unashamed confidence and style, but falls short in terms of being as special as some have deemed

There's something rather dated about making a serious point about anonymity in music in 2014. As far as marketing gimmicks go, it's a pretty well-worn idea. Burial and Zomby have been flying the flag for their dark post-dubstep shapes since their very, ahem, *appearance*, and on a less renowned level Dragged Into Sunlight have hurried away from any kind of pin point media limelight. Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom Macfarland, the two friends who, on paper at least, make up Jungle, have only just been identified as such, after a rather vivid attempt at mysterious anonymity that actually, well, didn't really pay off. I mean, if they were hoping for small levels of speculation as to what two relatively ordinary blokes from London looked like then fine, but one suspects that the endeavour was more scripted than that.

Thus comes forth their self-titled debut record, and alas faces can now be applied to names. If Jungle's attempts at identity-classification did very little to add to their character, then there are a handful of tunes on this album that go much further. The subject of influence throughout 'Jungle' is somewhat of a taboo, duly because the records Lloyd-Watson and Macfarland obviously treasure are hinted at so unashamedly on the duo's sleeves a lot of the time, but there are songs here that forge a sense of own-branded identity. There's still something irrevocably addictive about the multi-layered and textured synth heaviness of 'Busy Earnin'', and the glitchy approach to cut-n-paste sampling  and soulful euphoria that grips 'Julia' screams "THIS IS JUNGLE" more vitally than anything else on offer here. 'Son of a Gun' and the more expansive and smoother 'Lucky I Got What I Want' too, are pleasantly singular.

But back to that old-chestnut of originality. Sometimes the lack of anything really unique works in their favour; 'Crumbler' is a relatively gorgeous soft-funk sex ballad that is precisely great because it's stripped of all pretension. Even with its tinges of '80s daytime TV show soundtrack 'Accelerate' passes as a well pieced lo-fi summer crawl.

But opener 'The Heat', with its slinky bass-line, reverb shrouded noodling and colourful synth flourishes, although concreting a pretty aesthetic for the rest of the album, is far less original than perhaps Jungle believe. The slightly more shady 'Platoon', with its maleficent goad of "I'll knock you down, brother", could  fit on, well, any TV On The Radio record really. There's something genuinely appealing about the winding, rhythmic lurch of 'Drops' but it runs its tracks far too close to James Blake-esque blubbery.

The thing about 'Jungle' is that, if you listen to any of the artists the band cite as major influences- J Dilla, Prince, etc.- and then go back and listen to it, those pioneering artists' DNA will kick out hard enough to crack a nerve in your brain that says "actually, I might go and listen to 'Sign of the Times'". There are some brilliant songs here, but unfortunately Jungle's oeuvre seems a bit too contrived to  really do this often rather ordinary album justice. As is the case with any young band travelling a slightly left-of-the-dial path, there's plenty of room for growth; let's just hope they turn further left than heading straight for the Radio 1 A Playlist.

6/10

Key Tracks: 'Julia', 'Crumbler', 'Busy Earnin''
For Fans Of: Prince, TV On The Radio, Michael Jackson

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Let's Wrestle



Artist: Let's Wrestle
Album: Let's Wrestle
Record Label: Fortuna POP!
Release Date: 10th February 2014

Over the past 5 or 6 years there's been a significant increase in the amount of spiel written about the evolution of a select few UK bands that deservedly have garnered sizeable followings due to their forward-thinking ethos' and creativity. Foals, Wild Beasts and The Horrors have been flying the flag for those who still have a morsel of belief that UK Indie didn't spend its last pickings when The Libertines split up. The somewhat conservative nature of the UK press however means that several bands have been left in the corner to trundle their charm to those diligent enough to seek it out; The Wave Pictures, British Sea Power and London trio Let's Wrestle all wear this sense of being left in the lurch on their sleeves, and albums like the latter's self-titled new release are testimonies to how much unknown talent resides in those distant corners.

The general artistic trajectory of 'Let's Wrestle' is almost romantically eccentric. A wry, often forlorn sense of humour sits atop jangly indie pop with a backbone of swirling orchestral instrumentation. Its charm is thoroughly placed in its quirkiness, its ability to not take itself all that seriously, and the fact that the lack of a massive fan base doesn't matter; 'Let's Wrestle' is wrapped up in its everso-slightly cutesy universe.

Opener 'Rains Ruin Revolution' is a jangly, clean-cut affair that kicks into action the band's sardonic take on the wider social situation in 2014, seeming like a call for more confidence in today's youth as it asserts "rains, ruin, revolution, they'll all get wet, they never have belief in themselves". 'Codeine and Marshmallows" is a sombre but summery Real Estate-esque affair about the aftermath of a relationship, sagging deep into melancholy as the chorus suggests that "codeine and marshmallows have an aftertaste of sick, blood and loneliness".


'Care For You' is a witty, Girls-esque brass inflected pop bounce that indulges in the complications of young love (sample lyric: "I love you... But just not enough to need you honey"). The idiosyncratic thrill is given extra vertebrae by a complimentary saxophone solo.

'Opium Den' is lined with '60s psychadelic synth parps that only get more oddball as the track continues, coupled with slightly angular, catchy guitar noodling and lyrics seemingly about losing a friend to a soul eating drug addiction. They end on the resonantly positive 'Watching Over You', a boisterous but controlled reverb-laden jaunt, like a toned-down My Bloody Valentine. It's a clamour that feels somewhat righteous and a fitting ending.


'Let's Wrestle' is a mish-mash of charm, wit and heartbreak, and those things combined make for a kind of story-telling that, although entirely of its own, never loses its grasp on tangible entertainment. As they head along it seems increasingly unlikely that Let's Wrestle will get the attention they deserve. In their case though, it hardly matters; they're happy inhabiting the territories that people stumble across almost by accident. They're still among the last bastions of off-kilter, secretive romance in British Indie.

8/10

Key Tracks: 'Codeine And Marshmallows', 'Opium Den', 'Watching Over You'
For Fans Of: The Wave Pictures, British Sea Power, Christopher Owens