Thursday, 31 January 2013

A$AP Rocky- Long. Live. A$AP.

Artist: A$AP Rocky
Album: Long. Live. A$AP.
Release Date: 11/1/2013

A$AP still thrives too much of mundanity to be considered a true Hip Hop star

Ever since his rise to acclaimed assertion via his 2011 mixtape “LiveLoveA$AP”, A$AP Rocky has been the most prevalent catalyst for the argument that lyrics in Hip Hop aren’t anywhere near as important as they once were. There’s proof via the rise in popularity of Trap music too that the whole Hip Hop genre revolves much more around sound and bass than rhyme schemes now. There are not many people, genuine and casual Hip Hop fans alike (or indeed, not Hip Hop fans at all) who would dispute that A$AP Rocky is a mediocre rapper, but in the developing throes of what will surely become his empire, it hardly matters. Ultimately, your enjoyment of A$AP Rocky depends on your willingness to adapt with the times musically.

“Long. Live. A$AP”, his debut full- length proper, sees Rocky branch out production wise (the mixtape was single- handedly produced by rising sonic voyager Clams Casino) and that is in many cases, the strongest thing that this album has going for it.

The first noticeable thing is the increasing of variety, but also on a lyrical level Rocky has stepped up his game somewhat. There are flashes of genuine brilliance here concerning other things than his banal trademark quips about money, women and drugs. On the eerie, distant opening title track he raps “Strangers make me nervous/ who’s that peeping through my window with a pistol on my curtains?”. On “Goldie” a beautifully twinkling and atmospheric beat rattles throughout, whilst lyrically the song is half a defiant middle finger to the haters (“Niggas talking shit until they get lockjaw”) and half about how much money he’s got (“Call me Billy Gates I got a crib in every State”) and it’s rather enchanting.

Production wise the beat on the otherwise mundane “PMW (All that I need)” is gorgeous, and Clams Casino returns to the fold on “LVL” providing a hazy, reflective and glitchy fade- out soundscape.

But it’s not all as pretty, and rather expectedly, Rocky sounds unimaginative and lethargic more than he does seriously talented. The production on “Hell” is like a turned down glacial Crystal Castles slow burner and is painfully boring, Santigold providing a passionless hook in the chorus. Skrillex’s whooping production on “Wild for the Night” is obnoxious.

There are lyrical moments on here that if they don’t have you shouting “ARE YOU ACTUALLY SERIOUS?!” at the stereo then you must be one of A$AP’s crew. One such ridiculous specimen is “Fucking Problems.” “I love bear bitches that’s my fucking problem, yeah I like to fuck I got a fucking problem” goes the hook. Even more peevishly A$AP drops the line “They say money make a nigga act nigga- ish, but at least money make a nigga nigga rich.” If it’s meant to be a joke then it simply isn’t funny. In the same vein, the hook on “Fashion Killa” protrudes thusly: “She a fashion killa, and I’m a trendy nigga,” followed on by that most childish of opening gambits, “Rockin’, rollin’, swaggin’ to the max.” Sorry, WHAT?!

What’s most alienating about A$AP Rocky is that, even if he isn’t a particularly potent MC, tracks like the suicidal “Phoenix” and even the tortoise- paced closer “Suddenly” have serious defensive morals that are worth promoting. The production is, at times, absolutely stellar, and even A$AP’s flow is sharper and more appealing than the monotony of previous projects. However any real talent is often substituted for juvenile fooling and an arm stretched for the mainstream. It’s still early days in A$AP’s career, despite the lightning fast rise to fame, but the trajectory needs to change if he is order to prove himself to anything other than the casual Hip Hop listener.

Key Tracks: Phoenix, Goldie, LVL

For fans of: Lil Wayne, Drake, Kendrick Lamar


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Cult of Luna- Vertikal

Artist: Cult of Luna
Album: Vertikal
Record label: Indie Recordings

An epic and dense vision of futuristic dissolution from Swedish metallers

The future is an undeniably frightening concept for any individual, even on the most base of levels. When coupled with the fear of a world so far elapsed into the fire and smoke of the ever present growth and expansion of industrialisation, it can seem an endlessly bleak notion. Swedish post- metallers Cult of Luna (no newcomers to the idea of darkness themselves) could have worked this out for themselves, but in the case of their 6th album “Vertikal”, it was Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis” that spurred them on the path to record a concept album revolving around “machinery, repetition and clear, linear structures.”

Not that said inspiration had any detrimental effect on “Vertikal.” This album is a sprawling, heavily built and sometimes nightmarish vision of descent into a grey, mechanical future, best summed up the impressive array of styles on the 19- minute “Vicarious Redemption.” Its ritualistic 5 minute intro reeks of horror movie intensity. There’s even a wobbling dubstep- tinged excursion 11 minutes in, and the sad, clear cut beauty of the final 7 minutes is moving.

Things get even darker on the motoric, guttural grind of “Synchronicity” showing that the band can operate thrilling results on a ground level. Things soar back up again on penultimate track “In Awe of”, which sees rushes of soaring synths and dense riffage reach an epic pinnacle.

There are times, like on “I, the Weapon” where the band fails to reach the amount of impact they attempt, but for the most part “Vertikal” is a demolishing beast that is as determined in its path as the oncoming mechanical storm it seems to fear. A contradiction in terms perhaps, but one that upon listening to the album makes complete sense.

Key Tracks: Vicarious Redemption, In Awe of, Synchronicity

For Fans of: Neurosis, Isis, Opeth


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Villagers- {Awayland}

Artist: Villagers
Album: [Awayland}
Record Label: Domino

Conor O' Brien's folky voyagers improve, exapnd, and create something of a beauitful if cynical journey

Conor O’ Brien and his band Villagers have a somewhat undiscovered knack for hinting and the stylistic trajectory of their albums via the titles they give them. For example, the Irish quintet’s 2010 debut “Becoming a Jackal” was exactly the kind of lyrically ragged and intoxicating but subtle set of songs such a title would suggest. It makes sense right from the off then that “[Awayland}”, by contrast, sees the band indulge in a much more expansive, immersive and mountainous sound. That title,”[Awayland}” not only suggests detachment due to the arrangement of syntax, but more than anything suggests that this will be a dreamy, illustrious lift off to another place.

That’s mostly exactly that’s what it is. Endorsing much more the full- band kind of sentiment and sound, “{Awayland}” is rich in layered, sometimes eye- wateringly moving orchestral sections and electrifying pulses. Opener “My Lighthouse” starts things off on a profusely mellow note, close in flavour to the sound of their debut with its structured, fluttering harmonies and pensive acoustic picking.

The seismic shock kicks in straight away afterwards though with the arrival of “Earthly Pleasure.” A shuffling, robust beat is accompanied by an off- kilter funky bass line and soaring strings. It’s the first sign that O’ Brien has expanded his lyrical game too. He always had a sharp tongue for the bleak, but here he takes a leaf straight of Nick Cave’s songbook, conjuring up a surreal, twisted narrative about a child a mysterious lady in a half spoken delivery as he mutters breathily “so there he was in front of her divine simplicity, she was speaking Esperanto and drinking ginger tea.” 

On “Judgement Call” a fusion of bleepery, xylophones and a darkly beautiful bass line and guitar melody spring forth in an intelligently venomous assault on Religious piety (“I don’t need no proof… We gotta get the kids before they grow”).

 The album highlight is the kaleidoscopic “Nothing Arrived”, full to the brim with a subtly driving drum beat and an upbeat if slightly melancholic piano melody fizzing high above the rest of the mix, as O’ Brien wallows in a loss of hope as he sings “I waited for something, but something died/ So I waited for nothing, and nothing arrived.”

Towards the end, O’ Brien finds a balance between the previously dominating pessimism and hope in “In a New Found Land you are free” as he reasons “In a new found land comes new found grief, but in a New found Land you are free.” At this point we’re still two songs away from the end of the record, but it’s ultimately the taste of this sentiment that O’ Brien and Villages want to leave on our tongues. Surrounded by continuously moving soundscapes and a wonderfully realistic world view, it’s summed up brilliantly by “[Awayland}”, which in its own right, is a majestic beast.

Key Tracks: Nothing Arrived, In a New Found Land you are Free, Earthly Pleasure

For Fans of: Stornoway, Grizzly Bear, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

L. Pierre- The Island Come True

Artist: L. Pierre
Album: The Island Come True
Record Label: Melodic

Aidan Moffat takes us on an endlessly tantalizing and emotional journey on his latest Lucky Pierre project

As artists like Brian Eno and Oneohtrix Point Never have proven upon countless releases that there is a huge case of faith required when conducting ambient music. Not only does the innovator have to have a huge amount of faith that the listener will be strung along, but the listener has to exert the same sort of faith in believing that there is emotional value and depth in what they’re listening to. Ultimately, its music that is either going to inspire you or leave you by the wayside entirely.

Aidan John Moffat is a figure of cultish legend. He’s arguably more renowned for his word play and lyrics than musical ability, but since the demise of his group Arab Strap he’s proven via solo projects (three previously under the guise of Lucky Pierre) and various collaborations that he is musically sensitive and knowledgeable to a remarkable extent. The entirely instrumental “The Island Come True” is particularly special, because the unacquainted ear will find examples of that musical sensitivity in abundance here.

“The Island Come True” is a chopped and screwed record comprising entirely of samples, loops and field recordings compiled by Moffat. “Well, anyone can lunge together a few old records and say it’s art”, you might be thinking. But it takes a well- seasoned ear and hand to put something together as chimerical as this. Moffat says of the album that he “hopes it takes the listener on a wee bit of a journey.” There we strike upon another aspect as to why this album is so special; it’s entirely up to the listener to interpret it as they will.

Featuring samples of old 1920s jazz vinyls, even older classical pieces and strangely hypnotic cuts from films, “The Island Come True”’s roots grow much deeper than can be anticipated upon first listen. Every sound, every melody is so full and engulfing that the emotion present in these tracks is almost impossible to contain. The crackle and hiss of the vinyl deck hums all over the album, giving them an exceeding sense of history and that homemade feeling.

The overall tone of the album, to this listener’s ears at least, is melancholy. Opener “Kab 1340” hits with an ominous wall of synth and cacophonous clanging of bells and guitars before pilfering out via a rich string section. It’s a coastal night time storm and the following serenity of the morning before anyone notices that anything’s damaged. “Harmonic Avenger”, with its doom- laden piano melodies and woeful accordion and violin excursions is sitting alone in a dark room with no furniture, drowning your sorrows in a bottle of whisky. “The Grief that Does not Speak” (a line appropriately lifted from a speech in Macbeth) is a moment of terrible realisation, irreversible tragedy. “Dr. Alucard” is a sleazy late night party in 13th century Jerusalem.

“The Island Come True” is a narrative, prompted by Moffat but created by the listener. One late evening this week, after everybody else has gone to bed, grab a bottle of wine, close your eyes and let it engulf you. Alone is the context in which it makes most sense, and which it’ll be most appreciated.

Key Tracks: Harmonic Avenger, Exits, Kab 1340

For fans of: Pre- 1960s media, Brian Eno, Nils Frahm


Monday, 21 January 2013

Christopher Owens- Lysandre

Artist: Christopher Owens
Album: Lysandre
Record Label: Turnstile

Simple, sweet and fun, Christopher Owens' pop classicism becomes a musically illustrious narrative on his debut

There were telling signs that at some point in his career Christopher Owens would indulge in a solo project. San Francisco slack poppers Girls’ were always his baby in terms of the song writing impetus, and his overwhelmingly heartfelt and sensitive ruminations on love were straight out of a budding poet’s handbook.

 “Lysandre”, his debut solo album, is not worlds away from Owens’ former work in Girls. In that band he carved out a distinctive niche as one of the most prolific modern writers reverting to old- school pop song craft, and on “Lysandre” he pushes those tendencies as far as they can go, to the point that they are almost always inescapably cheesy. However, the record is still eccentric, short and sweet, and like all of Girls’ work, follows a touching and heart reaching narrative.  

“Lysandre” follows the tale of a girl of the same name who Owens had a brief affair with when Girls visited France on their first tour together. “Here We Go” is full of lushous acoustic arpeggios and Owens’ blatant hints at what’s in store as he coos “If your heart is broken, you will find fellowship with me.” Similarly blissed out moment “A Broken Heart” is lovelorn, supposedly from the point of view of his band members, as Owens venomously writes “I wish it had never happened, ‘cause all you cared about was that girl.” “Everywhere You Knew” is a sleepy, romantically beautiful ditty full of classic Owens’ romanticisms like “we lay in the park until the same came up.”

“Lysandre” certainly can’t be considered original or revolutionary. Owens’ code of conduct that he has written for himself when it comes to the art of pop song writing seems to be rigid. However, “Lysandre” is littered with charmingly simple prose and often gorgeously expansive orchestration and is firm ground for Owens’ no doubt ambitious if simply charming vision.

Key Tracks: Lysandre, Everywhere You Knew, Part of Me (Lysandre's Epilogue)

For Fans of: Mac Demarco, M. Ward, Girls


Everything Everything- Arc

Artist: Everything Everything
Album: Arc
Record Label: Sony

The Manchester quartet's bleak outlook on the future of the human race is sometimes beautiful, but sometimes too unfocused to be memorable

The problem with creativity, or the attempt to be creative, is that it inadvertedly gets linked hand in hand with pretension. This was an issue that Manchester art- poppers Everything Everything experienced within the criticism of their 2010 debut “Man Alive.” So exhausting were their bunny hopping genre antics and undecipherable lyrical prose that the critical backlash heavily featured the line that they seemed to be trying a little bit too hard.

“Arc” sees Everything Everything start to find their own niche to a certain extent. They’ve still got those central aspects that their debut utilized in abundance; intricate guitar lines, ever- evolving and rolling drum patterns and gorgeous harmonies. It’s safe to say though that on “Arc” it sounds like the band have found better grounding for their creative juices, a more accessible platform within which all their ideas sound more at home, even if at some points it still feels like the band are trying to fit too many ideas into a 3 minute song.

 With a much more viable lyrical concept running throughout, the overall tone of “Arc” is incredibly bleak. It deals with the supposedly doomed future of the human race, and its chief sentiment is that said doom is irreversible and terrifying. Opener “Cough Cough” marries demonic, tribal drum patterns with heavenly harmonies and post- rock spaciousness in the chorus, a testimony to the band finding a way to make their ideas work musically. “Kemosabe” is a gorgeous electro ballad in which frontman Jonathan Higgs makes the assertion that “it doesn’t matter if everyone dies” before sounding genuinely lonely as he wails in his soaring falsetto “I am alone” in the chorus.

On the glistening riffage and bleepery of “Radiant” the unnamed doom of our time is upon us, as Higgs urges us “Go, leave your homes/ take whatever you can/ it’s coming towards you.” The stunning “The Peaks” is effective in its cause to move and act almost as a moment of realisation. “I’ve seen more villages burn than animals born/ I’ve seen more towers come down than children grow old” coos Higgs with an air of fragility and a frightening bleak outlook on what’s to come.

 However, there are still signs here that the band are not completely devoid of their overwhelming ADHD tendencies. “Torso of the Week” comes closest to the whimsy of their debut, as it opens up on the line “Girl you’ve been hitting that treadmill like a freak” before embarking on a bridge and chorus that are completely at odds with the verse musically. “Choice Mountain” sounds equally as dysfunctional with its fusion of Wild Beasts- esque tight- knit riffing and clangy chords. The case with slow- burner “The House is Dust” is just that it fails to be interesting.

The ideas are definitely still in abundance on “Arc”, and when they find strong footing and resound together it results in gorgeously anthemic and moving results. However, the poorer moments here are just so disjointed that they simply don’t work, or don’t maintain the interest that the most profound moments on here do. Everything Everything have the capacity to make a potentially incredible album. They just need to realise that the most impacting records aren’t always the most intelligent.

Key Tracks: The Peaks, Kemosabe, Radiant

For Fans of: Radiohead, Wild Beasts


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

New Sounds Special: Iceage, Planet Asia & Sielunvihollinen

Brilliant young Danish punks Iceage have released "Coalition", the first song to appear from their upcoming second album "You're Nothing," which is due to be released on February 19th. "Coalition" sees the band sounding cleaner and more controlled than any of the moments on their fantastic 2011 debut (which was one of my favourite records of that year). However, this has in no way diluted Elias Bender's snarling, snotty delivery, or the band's penchant for writing vicious, thrilling and deliriously catchy punk tunes.

Producer Gensu Dean and rapper Planet Asia have joined forces to release a single by the title of "Faces on the Dollar", which will appear on a collaborative album titled "Abrasions." Production wise the song is a near masterpiece. A spacey, slightly squelchy and reflective synth flutter forms the main part of a melody as a profound and memorable bass line and clicking beat drive it forward. Planet Asia's lyrical ruminations deal with having what he never had growing up- money, and enjoying it, whilst realising what a hardship gaining money can be. 

The final track of this New Sounds edition comes from Sielunvihollinen, and elusive Finnish Black Metal group who have just dropped this incredibly raw and fuzzy demo. It's not exactly drenched in virtuosity, but it's how old- school Black Metal should be done, and has an epically melodic lead guitar line bringing to mind the soaring qualities of bands like Agalloch. 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

New Sounds- New David Bowie!

At 5am this morning, the Deity that is David Bowie released the first single to be taken from his new album "The Next Day" (due out 12th March) called "Where are we now?" to celebrate his 66th Birthday. The song traverses along a slow, quietly grandiose trajectory through lushous piano chords, '80s synths and a shimmering guitar line towards the end, and Bowie rounding off the song lyrically by asserting a sense of positivity as he sings "As long as there's me... As long as there's you."

It's perhaps not as profound as would have been preferred, but it is still quite lovely. And of course, Bowie albums are famously wrapped in diversity, so maybe there'll be some more kicking tracks on "The Next Day." Nevertheless, this is worth a listen, as is anything the man puts out.

New Sounds- New Suede Song!

Last week, the signs of Britpop icons Suede's return to the public musical sphere were made even more tantalizing by the publication of a cryptic letter online by front man Brett Anderson. Whether the letter contained lyrics or was just typical Anderson metaphors, we don't know. However, they upped the chase once again yesterday by posting a free download of the first song to be unveiled from the new record, which is called "Bloodsports" and is due to be released in March.

The said song, "Barriers" is undeniably Suede in mannerism and fashion. It's lead forward by glistening, clear- cutting guitar lines, enormous walls of synth Euphoria, a rolling rhythm section and Anderson's heart rendering romanticism. It's a better comeback song than most were probably expecting, and if it's anything to go by then "Bloodsports" will be a mighty beautiful release.

You can grab the song as a free download from the band's website, linked below.