The Lemon Twigs ‘Go to School’ – Review

16 Sep

The Lemon Twigs ‘Do Hollywood’ was one of the most accomplished debut albums of the last decade, rendered more remarkable by the fact that its chief architects weren’t out of school when they recorded the album for the legendary 4AD studios. Now, the band are describing their new, second album as a musical – and this isn’t a half hearted claim either, there are points were it really goes full on Bugsy Malone. To say that this is an unexpected development for a band coming hot on the heals of a cool, acclaimed debut might be an understatement. But then there was always a theatrical edge to the band that split critics down the middle, and a prevalent sense of ‘expect the unexpected’. For fans, ‘Do Hollywood’, demonstrated a range and ability that artists twice their age would struggle to compete with. ‘Go to School’ ups the ante in almost every sense; it’s even more eclectic, even more ambitious and, somehow, likely to prove even more divisive.

The attribute that Lemon Twigs have in spades, that separates them from the crowd, is enthusiasm. They remind us of how fun it feels to be young, celebrated and drunk on rock n roll. This is the band we would want to be in if we were 17 and had a touch of the same confidence, talent and tenacity (just one of the three might do). Every single song lives out a different kind of absurdist rock n roll fantasy with an excitement that belies any sense of giving a damn. Sincerity is just another pose. High kicks are the cost of entry. Eyes wide, eyeliner primed, glitter bombs at the ready.

And why not? When did Rock stars start taking themselves so seriously? In their heyday, bands like Queen and Led Zeppelin were characterised by flamboyant lead singers and a sense that they were in on the joke. Somewhere down the line Rock became the domain of boring Joes, your Royal Bloods and Imagine Dragons. And that really is a striking about The Lemon Twigs – the unabashed silliness of two brothers parading around on stage in tight vintage outfits, singing songs about a monkey who falls in love with a human girl. That they find the humour in their subject without becoming the joke is testament to an insane natural ability and impeccably well honed understanding of their genre.

This all encompassing rock n roll vision is filtered through a homespun lens that gives a charm to material that might easily become cliched in a more refined setting. The brothers produced the album themselves, from a home studio, and as a result it has a close, warm atmosphere that appropriately gives ‘Go to School’ a distinct vintage feel at odds with modern rock music. The Lemon Twigs are a throwback in other respects as well. The gutsy, bold songwriting, particularly in the opening few numbers, will remind you of Big Star, The Beatles Todd Rundgren, Beach Boys and The Who – all bands The Lemon Twigs have covered at gigs in the past year. These aren’t just imitations; theirs are unusual, creative melodies accompanied by expansive, and daring arrangements. In isolation, any one of these songs will inspire distinct admiration. The album’s success as a whole piece is more debatable.

The thing about musicals is that they have a strong visual element and almost always contain dialogue to set out exposition. Without either of those elements, Lemon Twigs rely purely on their lyrics to do the heavy lifting. Invariably the songs that advance the plot drag the album down. The middle third is particularly exposition heavy, and suffers as a result with show tunes that seem to serve no other purpose than to make a plot point. And, as you might expect, the storyline about poor Shane, an unloved and well meaning chimp,, doesnt keep your attention outright. Only when accompanied by blistering music, as on the incredibly powerful ‘The Fire’, or the explosive ‘Rock Dreams’ does the plot truly come to life. The campy piano ballads that clog up the middle stretch (‘The Lesson’, ‘Wonderin Ways’, ‘Born Wrong’) feel too calculated and generic to really excite.

Not all the songs benefit from being so tethered to the plot. The sincere message of ‘Lonely’ a disaffected, pretty ballad in The Carpenters mould, and a song written about personal experience when Michael was still at school, gets lost in between the more contrived showtunes. Likewise, the cute, yet moralising, ‘If You Give Enough’, and even the whip cracking ‘Queen of my School’, so memorable as The Twigs staple set closer, feel reduced in this context, burdened by odd plot details, awkward turns of phrase (‘Shane boy, be my toy / my pussy, you’ll employ’) and overbaked production.

In fact, Michael and Brian overegg the pudding at almost every opportunity. Too many songs descend in to ridiculous musical extravaganzas. The bossanova inflected ‘The Bully’ unexpectedly bursts in the second half with processional horns and marching band drum rolls. ‘Rock Dreams’ comes undone towards the end with a chorus of demented choir vocals that strongly remind me of the voices from The Beatles ‘Flying’. The hyperactive, scattergun arrangements nearly undid their debut but this approach feels more significantly detrimental on a record nearly double the length of ‘Do Hollywood’. The more understated harmonic touches on ‘Always in my Heart, Never in my Arms’ and particularly the coda to ‘The Student Becomes the Teacher’ speak to the Twigs true calling; not as stage school wannabes but as heirs apparent to The Beach Boy and Beatles.

Even so, their faults, if you want to categorise them as such, are endearing and stem from that genuine enthusiasm I gushed about earlier. The same instincts that led them down these roads are the same instincts that inspired the abandon and wonder inherent in their finest moments. They don’t just get by on giddy excitement either; their understanding of craft and there attention to detail is notable, particularly for anyone whose ever paid close attention to ‘Radio City’ or ‘Something / Anything’, classic albums of a similar ilk made by far more experienced artists, with significantly higher bank balances, in posh studios. Without meaning to be condescending, the fact that The Lemon Twigs produced a concept album as daring and accomplished as this, at their age, with their resources, is somewhat remarkable. ‘Go to School’ isn’t the masterpiece musical it desperately wants to be but it is something more precious – an unguarded, kooky snapshot of youth and a love letter to rock n roll dreams.

8/10

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Miles Kane ‘Coup de Grace’ – Review

28 Aug

Miles Kane sounds like a man who still hasn’t figured out who he truly is, yet has made a career out of demonstrating the long list of people he’d like to be (starting with Paul Weller and ending with Mark Boland). On third solo album ‘Coup de Grace’ the flaws in that strategy become abundantly clear. The problem isn’t necessarily that imitation reaps limited rewards (Miles has proven throughout his career that he can be a very successful impersonator in the right circumstances), it’s that his imitations are so obviously rendered that the listener is left with no discernible role. Everything is spelt out in big, bright letters. Every note, every lyric, every cliche is delivered so predictably that you end up becoming a passive participant, not trusted to think for yourself. There’s little fun in that.

‘Coup de Grace’ was allegedly composed in a fortnight, and it shows in the scrappy, barely there opener ‘Too Little, Too Late’, a song apparently inspired by the Dammed and The Fall. But there’s more to punk rock than turning up and stringing the right three chords together over a strong backbeat. The faster numbers all suffer from a similar lack of understanding. ‘Cold Light of Day’ has an infuriatingly simplistic hook, repeated ad-nausium and mirrored almost identically by the melody. It’s bargain bin riff rock. ‘Cry on my Guitar’ is just a bit more slinky, Miles’ heavily affected snarl imitating T-Rex whilst name checking Sweet.

Kane has called this his ‘Adele album, and I think he means that it was inspired by a break up (certainly, he can’t conjure up the same level of vulnerability, let alone sense of power that Adele has). Indeed, the best songs are the ones that cut most closely to the bone. The ones where the swagger and tomfoolery is kept (mostly) at arms length. ‘Since you’ve been gone, left the tv on / let the milk go sour, let the bills pile up / but I swear I’m a funny guy’ he croons mid way through ‘Killing the Joke’, which comes as close to a revelation as you’re likely to get on ‘Coup de Grace’. You see, In certain quarters Miles Kane has built a reputation as something of a sleaze, in part down to a bizarre series of interviews given to promote the last Shadow Puppets record, and particularly one unfortunate joke made to a female reporter on said press circuit. However real or unreal, offensive or otherwise Kane’s persona may be, it seems to have cost him at least one relationship as well as any lingering critical credibility. That lyric is as close as he gets to unpacking this reputation.

I think that when people say they dislike Miles Kane, what they really mean is that they dislike what he represents – rather than what he presents. ‘Coup de Grace’ is a totally inoffensive collection of sprightly rock n roll songs that surely wouldn’t agitate a soul anymore than it could stir up a flame. It’s reasonably short and listenable from start to finish. But to many critics, Kane is as clear a representation of toxic masculinity as any – he’s your moderately talented white male, almost entirely influenced by and reflective of other (often inexplicably) successful white males, who was granted opportunity because he was cousins with the guy from the Coral and best mates with Alex Turner; a sleaze ball who ditched his friends in The Little Flames and The Rascals to put his own name up there under bright lights, who, to paraphrase Pitchfork, always happens to be in the right place at the right time whether he’s welcome there or not. Of course this is an ungenerous perspective that misreads the winking humour of Kane’s personality, and undersells the difficulty of remaining in the indie cosmos for over a decade. After all, one could argue, there must be a better reason for his continued success, when so many of those indie landfill bands from 2003-08 fell by the wayside, than ‘he’s Bessie’s with the singer from Arctic Monkeys.’

Kane is one of the best showmen left in Rock n Roll, and has a dynamic stage presence that belies the mundanity of his solo material. On stage his talents are far easier to ascertain – his style, his charisma, his fierce vocals, his banter – on records those traits are concealed. Then again, I don’t see any discernible reason why Kane has to prove himself as a songwriter at all. Some of the best performers – Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Englebert Humperdink and of course Elvis – were ultimately at the mercy of other songwriters, for better or worse. I’d like to see Miles wrap his lips around an album of rock n roll standards. Or what would happen if he truly gave himself over to other writers? Not an ambitious or alluring career progression perhaps, but one that would suit his particular set of talents. Because the truth is, no matter how many friends he has in high places, an album as average as ‘Coup de Grace’ is nothing to sustain a career on.

5/10

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Rolling Blackouts C.F ‘Hope Downs’ – Review

27 Aug

Rolling Blackouts C.F make the type of indie rock – all shimmering, twelve string guitar jangles and generously melodic bass lines – that we are almost predispositioned to associate with a certain type of longing and heartbreak. I’m thinking of Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, The Feelies or more recently Alvvays and Real Estate. Yet on ‘Hope Downs’ the band subvert our expectations by making an album almost entirely divorced from that particular strain of heartbreak. Rolling Blackouts C.F instead dive in to far more weighty topics head on.

‘Mainland’ is one shining example. This, perhaps the most frantic and energetic song on the album, is written from the perspective of a refugee stuck at sea ; ‘winds of fortune shove us where they will/ woke up coughing on the shore..’. It’s more observational than sentimental and a bright exploration of a dark subject. They don’t stop there. On ‘Bellarine’ they sing from the perspective of a father separated from his daughter, while ‘Cappuccino City’ describes an unhappy couple in a trendy cafe drinking coffee whilst referencing ‘Belgians in the congo’. Rolling Blackouts C.F are a literate bunch and this is a lyrically ambitious statement.

The three singer/guitarist/songwriters – Tom Russo, Fran Keaney, and Joe White – trade lyrics and hooks but you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between them such is their synergy. Each sing-speaks, in a droll Australian style that just about delivers the understated melodies in recognisable shape. Each writes impressionistic, vaguely psychedelic lyrics that resemble jigsaw pieces; each perfectly shaped and interesting in its own right but part of a larger picture that’s difficult to piece together. Occasionally they over reach thematically, and their writing style leads to the odd high school Dylanism (‘on closer inspection, it’s just a reflection’) but these are endearing faults that speak to the band’s enthusiasm.

In large part they askew the typical decisions made by jangly indie rock bands – there are a lack of harmonies, arrangements are light in reverb and choruses come and go without much actually developing. This leads to a simplicity that cuts through a lot of the noise and distraction that currently buzzes around the genre. Opener ‘Air Conditioned Man’ establishes the tone – get to the point quickly and don’t look back. Every song rattles at a moderately fast pace – even the slower numbers ‘Cappuccino City’ and ‘How Long’ make a point of their steady, straight ahead beat (no time for drum rolls or fills here). Initially this all feels a little one dimensional, and even somewhat academic and dry. But after a few listens the warmth of the arrangements, and delight of the cryptic lyrics, reveal themselves. From Fran Kearney’s chugging, acoustic guitar that underpins the propulsive rhythms down to the twanging solos that come and go, they’ve truly mastered this particular type of indie rock song. It will be interesting to see if, and how, they move things on next time around.

8/10

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Tony Molina ‘Kill the Lights’ – Review

15 Aug

Life is short, people are busy and distractions abound. Tony Molina gets it. He knows that our attention spans are shortening by the minute, and a lot of people no longer listen to albums. With this in mind, Molina carefully crafts songs for his generation; songs that are short (almost every track on ‘Kill the Lights’ lasts between one and two minutes) but feel perfectly constructed, with no real reason to be any longer. Molina packs in fingerpicking, bluesy solos, harmonies, and killers choruses. The arrangements are generous and the melodies tight – all of which is to say that these songs are short by design, not through carelessness, laziness or a lack of ambition.

Molina has turned his back on the grotty guitar anthems of his debut, and headed firmly for warmer, lighter air. The chords are brighter and the production now allows the little details to pop. Despite clocking in at only fifteen minutes, ‘Kill the Lights’ is a varied and wide reaching collection. Molina wears his influences very clearly on his sleeve; ‘Nothing I Can Say’ mines similar ground to early Teenage Fanclub, perhaps because Molina and The Fanclub both cite Big Star as a looming influence. On the gorgeous ballads ‘Wrong Town’ and ‘Before You Go’ he nods to Simon and Garefunkel, whilst the more expansive ‘Jasper’s theme’ (over 2 minutes!) more subtly recalls Weezer. These are somewhat familiar references but Molina’s enthusiasm is infectious and his execution flawless.

Most importantly, Molina hits his emotional marks at nearly every turn. ‘Kill the Lights’ is a fifteen minute long break up album that is at once romantic and relatable. ‘Nothing I Can Say’ opens the album with the narrator struggling to end an unfulfilling relationship, a decision he spends the next nine songs seemingly regretting. At many different points he asserts his loneliness, helplessness and general anxiety about being lost in a gorgeously understated whisper of a voice. It’s a thematically cohesive set of songs that does occasionally feel repetitive and simplistic, making you wish that Molina would sometimes stretch past the easy hanging fruits of monosyllabic rhymes and cliched metaphors. But its naive simplicity is very much part of the appeal, and Molina knows it.

Through the twanging twelve string guitars and wash of gentle harmonies, a true personality is quietly revealed, one that in the lineage of indie rock puts Molina next to Christopher Owens. Like Owens, Molina’s lyricism is deceptively simple and unadorned, his sentiments hopelessly soppy and naive but inexplicably affecting. And like Owens, Molina is a brilliant guitarist with roots in Punk and Hardcore. Though he never shreds, there are some subversive bursts of noise and anger that hint at darker sounds and themes to be explored in the future. ‘Kill the Lights’ is an unassuming gem of a record, one that you could happily listen to four times in the space on an hour and still find yourself going back for more.

8/10

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The Carters ‘Everything is Love’ – Review

21 Jul

There is something otherworldly, glamorous and ridiculous about Jay Z and Beyoncé’s marriage (a relationship honestly divorced from any sense of realism) and those are elements that they have gloriously mirrored in ‘Everything is Love’s expensive, pristine productions. The cover art, promotional photos and lead music video all prominently feature the louvre and its many prized artworks. The crystalline beats, soulful chords and honeyed vocals are arguably as opulent as anything contained in that famed institution.

This is a slight but ambitious record where Beyonce in particular pushes herself in to new poses. She has diverted so far from her initial sweet spot that it’s a little difficult to gauge how much of her we can recognise in these deliriously affected raps. She’s technically proficient, undoubtedly, and confident in a way that allows her to adopt wild and unusual personas. For better or worse, she rarely sounds like the natural diva who belted out relatively straightforward anthems like ‘Crazy in Love’ and ‘Single Ladies’. Jay Z meanwhile is Jay Z – less audacious than twenty years ago, perhaps, and not much more mature, but still one of the most distinctive and unflappable rappers out there.

Lead single, ‘Apeshit’, – catchy, relentless, dramatic – is an example of where The Carters coalesce perfectly. So perfectly in fact that the rest of ‘Everything is Love’ pales in its wake by hitting similar beats thematically without ever matching ‘Apeshit’s brazen artistic confidence.

‘Summer’ is an inauspicious opening track. Over a laid back groove, Beyonce swoons over her husband, imploring him to make love to her on the beach. As ‘so real…so real…so real’ echoes, you can’t help feeling that there is something very unreal about this cinematic fantasy. Nothing about the cliched imagery ‘water’s so blue’ ‘beach sands’ ‘play the game’ feels original but by the time Jay Z appears to disrupt the romance, the imagery has become so decidedly evocative and desirable that you can’t help but be sold on this dream of an idealistic relationship. This sets the tone for ‘Everything is Love’, an album so steeped in thick and carefully placed metaphors that it feels almost disappointingly evasive and hard to pin down.

Somehow though Beyonce and Jay Z manage to sustain this level of desirability, even as they reveal glimpses of folly. Events of the past two years have dramatically demonstrated that this dream relationship is no such thing. In their spats, both public, artistic and private, The Carters have been humanised in a way that didn’t seem possible a few years ago. Cracks, albeit beautiful cracks, are clear on the surface (and they are a couple totally obsessed about the surface). None of that is explicitly excavated on ‘Everything is Love’, which perhaps isn’t unexpected, after all both ‘Lemonade’ and ‘4:44’ did very good jobs of analysing the hurt of the situation. Instead this album tries to present a positive public face. As Beyoncé rattles through the affirmations on ‘Love Happy’ – ‘love is deeper than your pain’ ‘I believe you can change’, ‘we’re flawed but we’re still perfect for each other’, ‘this beach hasn’t always been paradise’ – the soulful sincerity of her vocals soothes any doubts or disappointments.

This is neither artist’s best work, not by a long shot. Beyoncé doesn’t sound as fierce or as emboldened as she did on ‘Lemonade’, where the moods were far more deeply sourced and her vocals more powerful. Likewise Jay Z isn’t afforded the space to get particularly wordy or insightful and on the album’s strongest songs – ‘Apeshit’, ‘Summer’ and ‘Love Happy’ – he is either muted or comfortably outshone by his better half. You also never particularly feel like The Carters make the most of this pairing; few of these songs feel like genuine collaborations, rather they are Jay Z or Beyoncé tracks that briefly feature the other half. Beyonce’s backing vocals on ‘Black Effect’ are a rare example of where she integrates herself in to the architecture of her husband’s song. Jay Z meanwhile never really feels like more than a passer by on her tracks.

From start to finish, ‘Everything is Love’ is a projection; a fantasy presented as something deep and personal. It isn’t in any recognisable sense – the productions are far too on the nose, and the lyrics are the carefully considered output of a committee. But as a projection, it is far more unique than the average confessional. Has there ever been a power couple on the level of The Carters? And if there has, did they take the brave and unusual step of unravelling their complex relationship issues on a daring pop album? ‘Everything Is Love’ is therefore a significant record, and one that will be referred to and poured over for years to come by fans, gossip columnists and commentators alike, digging for any insight in to this fascinating couple. It’s elusive more often than not, but perhaps that adds to the intrigue.

7/10

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Drake ‘Scorpion’ – Review

18 Jul

A little Drake goes a long way. The the last thing that anyone who heard ‘Views’ or ‘More Life’, thought was “Drake needs to put out longer albums.” ‘Views’ in particular was simultaneously extravagant and draining; with an almost total absence of good taste and restraint, jewels like ‘Hotline Bling’ and ‘One Dance’ were buried deep amongst countless other, sprawling, Drake-by-Numbers escapades.

But ‘Scorpion’ ups the ante even further; its 25 songs deep, with ‘side a’ containing largely hip hop tracks, and ‘side b’ establishing a more languid, r&b mood. It’s a strident division that doesn’t particularly do Drake any favours. The unspooling flow of his music, along with his stylistic preference for hybridity, suggests that the track listing would almost certainly have benefited from a bit more fusion between styles. But I guess in the era of hyper playlists, that may be missing the point. Drake is the most modern of contemporary pop stars, and there is little about ‘Scorpion’ that wants to be acknowledged as an ‘album’ in the classic sense of the word. Drake practically encourages you to pick and choose your favoured songs, whilst the others simply serve to enhance his streaming statistics.

If that concept seems very futuristic then know there is isn’t much about the music itself that is similarly out there. ‘Scorpion’, like ‘Views’ before it, is largely a collection of watered down ‘Take Care’ vibes, with very little variation. Noah “49” Shabib is once again in control of the production, and his soundscapes are as rich and sophisticated as you might expect – but that’s the problem, they’re exactly what you expect. When Drake does diverge, as on the exhilarating ‘Nonestop’, he sounds a little too indebted to the acts he’s riffing off (Migos, Future, Stormzy…). The trick for him now is to push at the boundaries of what a Drake song can be without losing sight of his own distinctive personality. The chill ‘Summer Games’ is a brilliant example of where this happens; the lyrics, rich in summertime sadness and longing, are an extension of Drake’s classic modus operandi, and perfectly compliment the dreamy synths that are far more classically stylistic than his usually preference.

Oddly for a rapper, Drake has always been more palatable on the songs where he doesn’t do much talking. The laid back sideways r&b Numbers are therefore far more enjoyable than the wordier tracks on side a. ‘Don’t Matter to Me’, in particular, is perhaps his finest pop moment to date. For an artist who shows such a blaring lack of restraint on a macro and personal level, he is a master of it on a micro, musical level as ‘Don’t Matter to Me’ demonstrates. The song makes the most of a previously unheard Michael Jackson demo from the ‘Thriller’ days; over a spluttering beat and woozy synths, Jackson’s otherworldly falsetto is transported fully in to Drake and Shabib’s moody and menacing sound world, and it’s a surprisingly spot on fit. The contrast between Jackson’s tone and Drake’s flatlining, Canadian drawl is practically fluorescent. Both artists shine.

Of the rap numbers, ‘God’s Plan’ and the meme ready ‘In My Feelings’ are inarguably the brightest moments whilst the headline baiting ‘Emotionless’ contains the most talking points. But far too many of these tracks are simply forgettable. I’m looking at song titles on iTunes – ‘8 out of 10’, ‘Mob Ties’, ‘Can’t Take a Joke’, – and I’m struggling to remember how they go, even after several listens. There is a numbing effect to hearing 25 Drake songs in a row. Mid paced, stylistically similar, lacking edge and emotional range – nothing about the extended format plays to Drake’s strengths as an artist. ‘Scorpion’s side a is enjoyable in short bursts, and contains a handful of songs that rank up there with his finest work but the less successful songs are diminished further when strung alongside one another like this. A pop album shouldn’t feel this much like a chore – especially as, ironically, Drake has one of the most effortless voices you’re ever likely to hear.

Another road block to enjoyment is Drake’s lack of self awareness. At what point did his emotional vulnerability boil over in to petulance? I swear that on ‘Take Care’ he largely came across as empathetic, open and relatable. Time and time again on ‘Scorpion’ he displays a lack of compassion that is sometimes subtle and sometimes blindingly obvious but makes large stretches of ‘Scorpion’ almost unlistenable. He steamrolls over a past lover on the risible ‘I’m Upset’, sounding like nothing more than a heartbroken child lashing out against the world. Elsewhere his insights in to social media and the intricacies of modern relationships have all the nuance we might expect of someone who has comfortably lived in the bubble of celebrity for most of the past decade (Spin have just posted an article highlighting the frequent bizarre references to Instagram). Somewhere over the past half decade Drake has crossed the line from insightful to out of touch and on ‘Scorpion’, an album that tries so hard to grapple with contemporary dilemmas, that has never felt more apparent or more damming.

It’s hard to see where ‘Scorpion’ will sit in the Drake canon. It’s certainly on a level far below his obvious classics, ‘Take Care’ and ‘Nothing Was the Same’, it lacks the purpose and direction of ‘Thank Me Later’, and isn’t as enjoyable as his more adventurous mix tapes and playlists. It does however hang together better than ‘Views’ (which may be damming with feint praise) and I genuinely love a good handful of these tracks. But those songs only account for a quarter of the thing, if that. As it is, there is little to recommend ‘Scorpion’ as a start to finish experience. Rumours are that the album is a contract closer and that a new release is just around the corner. But as I said at the start, a little Drake goes a long way, and now would be a good time for him to take a step back. Work on becoming the best rapper again and not just the biggest.

6.5 /10

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John Hopkins ‘Singularity’ – Review

5 Jul

On John Hopkins first album in five years, ‘Singularity’, You almost seem to glide from the big beats of the more recognisably techno numbers like ‘Emerald Rush’ to ethereal and quiet piano meditations like ‘Recovery’. On its best song, that voyage happens in the space of a single track; the twelve minute ‘Luminous Beings’, which pulsates and spins, fades in and out of itself, and seems to be in a near constant state of growth and dissolve. Songs like this dare you to dance and then stop you in your tracks. The vulnerability that comes then is even more stark because of what proceeds these moments.

At its weakest points (which are nonetheless few and far between) ‘Singulairty’ sounds like the sonic equivalent of an enthusiastic and well meaning gap year student ‘finding themselves’ in foreign terrain. But more often, Hopkins experimentation feels authentic, genuinely thoughtful and exploratory in revelatory ways. Pre-album talk about meditation and psychedelics made me cringe a little but actually the album feels enriched by the sense of adventure. There is a fluidity in the way instruments merge, melt and spring to life. And there is Interesting tension between the loud and quiet, fast and gentle, moments which feels like a step away from the repetition implicit in contemporary dance music.

Without a doubt ‘Singularity’ is one of the most sonically daring and textually complex albums of 2018. But it’s the gorgeous piano melodies and sparkling arpeggios that give this album heart. The simple ambient piano notes of ‘Echo Disolve’ gently rise and fall above what sounds like the distant hum of traffic and everyday life. Here Hopkins reclaims the calm in a loud and busy environment. Final track ‘Recovery’ is even more sparse, and even more beautiful, but it’s essentially take on the same idea. The reverb and the background noise disappear to leave just the piano. Here Hopkins classical training, and his experience, comes in to play – he’s never risked being this unguarded before. There is daring and honesty in this degree of simplicity. And as the album closes with the same note that opened it, there is a sense of the world spinning on its axis. It’s here you understand Hopkins interest in connectivity; the way in which sounds play off each other, the ‘drones’ and ‘bridges’ that connect notes, songs, worlds. Of course this idea is best encapsulated on track four ‘Everything connected’, which is a seamless juxtaposition of sounds and feelings. It’s perhaps too cliched to describe music as taking you on a journey but with John Hopkins ‘Singularity’, no other metaphor feels quite as appropriate.

8.5/10

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