Archive | May, 2011

Jamie Woon ‘Mirrorwriting’ and Katy B ‘On a Mission’ – REVIEW

16 May

Lots of people are saying that Jamie Woon and Katy B are going to take bass music mainstream. Never mind that Much the same thing was said about James Blake, Magnetic Man, Skream and Joy Orbison; we are  assured that Katy and Jamie are the ones take bass music to the top of the charts. They say ‘bass music’ because the pair don’t easily fit into a more specific category – dubstep, garage, house, Drum & Bass, techno, r&b – they kind of put all those genres into a big blender, and then pour the contents into tasty little shots that are easy for the public to swallow. Jamie Woon has concocted a fruity, mature wine, whilst Katy B has made something that tastes like WKD. The blue one. Both are quite more’ish.

Katy B has sort of gone mainstream already – her album reached number 2 in the charts and she’s had three top ten singles. Woon’s debut on the other hand slipped in at a rather disappointing number 15 and he’s yet to have a single break the top 40. It’s not hard to see why Katy B’s ‘On a Mission’ has been the more successful of the two records. Not only is it the better album in its own way, it’s also the more commercial one. It’s filled with songs about dancing that are perfect for people to dance to. It doesn’t really cut much deeper, but that’s ok , we never really ask it to. Songs like ‘Perfect Stranger’,  ‘Broken Record’ and ‘Lights on’ are exceptionally catchy, well produced four to the floor stompers, and you’d have to be pretty sour faced not to enjoy them.

However I do have to take issue with Katy B’s dubstep association (not that anyone really cares about labels anyway). Whilst a dubstep influence is apparent from time to time in the wobbly bass and accelerate/decelerate rhythms, this could easily have been released five, or even ten years ago; cutting edge this isn’t (as far as I’m concerned). Katy goes for the massive hooks where dub-step is usually restrained. She isn’t afraid to be euphoric where dub-step is usually introspective. She goes for the jugular with direct shots, dub-step takes more of a scartter-shot approach. Which is not to put her down; this is a very good party album, probably the best I’ve heard all year, it’s just not the experimental party album it’s being billed as.

Jamie Woon has certainly got a more obvious link to the dubstep world. The mysterious and influential producer Burial worked on a couple of his tracks, and the album has the same late night atmosphere that worked wonders for The XX and James Blake. The difference is that Woon started out acoustically, making pretty little ballads and playing to tiny crowds in hip London pubs. Those acoustic origins shine through despite the very electronic production. I don’t know what those gigs were like but I imagine that they must have been pretty sedate affairs because if you were to strip these songs of the innovative production you would discover that ‘Mirrorwriting’ is a pretty bland collection of songs. ‘Lady Luck’, ‘Night Air’ and a few of the other numbers are catchy enough but there is nothing on here that will have you jumping to your feet screaming ‘eureka!’

Take out the clever production tricks and this could be an r&b record from the 90’s. The vocals tickle and tease, the melodies are understated and Woon plays the role of seducer. He has cited Michael Jackson as an influence but rather than mining Off The Wall and Thriller like most R&B singers do, Woon has clearly been listening to later day Michael; Dangerous, History and even Invincible. It works for him – he is quite the singer, and he knows how to mingle classic production with 21st century studio trickery. It’s just a shame the songs themselves aren’t as well constructed.

Comparisons have obviously been made between Woon and James Blake, but influences aside the similarities are few and far between. Blake’s album sounded brilliantly effortless; it was condensed, considered and unafraid of silence. Woon’s debut is far busier with ideas and it’s less distinctive, but it also lacks the songs that Blake’s debut had.  Albums made for the night are often in danger of actually making you fall asleep, and  ‘Mirrorwriting’ had me nodding off a few times. It just needs a few more tunes with the urgency of ‘Shoulda’, or ‘Lady Luck’ and the emotional punch of ‘Waterfront’ to keep me from drifting away.

If it was a competition (and despite lumping the reviews together, I’m not suggesting that it is) then Katy B would win just for having the chooooons that Woon’s album sorely misses. But whilst Katy has made the better album, I would say that Jamie Woon is the one with real potential. ‘On a Mission’ lives for the moment, but it doesn’t have any great depth and you suspect that Katy B is a disposable pop star in the same mould as Miss Dynamite or Dido. Jamie Woon on the other hand has real talent in his blood and whilst he may not have made a perfect debut, you are left feeling sure that better things are on the horizon for him.

Jamie Woon ‘Mirrorwriting’ – 6/10

Katy B ‘On a Mission’ – 7/10

Arctic Monkeys do Jools Holland and Radio 1’s Big Weekend!

14 May

Arctic Monkeys are on the road to releasing ‘Suck it and See’, and this week they played a couple of concerts (which had sweeeeet setlists) and they’ve just done Jools Holland and Radio 1’s Big Weekend. Check out some videos below, including performances of previously unheard songs ‘library Pictures’ and ‘Reckless Serenade’.

Miles Kane ‘The Colour of the Trap’ – Review

12 May

Miles Kane Recently said of this album – “it makes you feel like a real man”. Here is an old-fashioned rock n roll hero. Someone who dresses in only the finest suits, who dates only the finest models and who collaborates with only the finest songwriters. He appears on the album cover ‘because I just had to’ – his words, not mine. If only more rock stars were like Miles Kane. He is a real man.

This is an unashamedly retro rock n roll record, one that features nods to just about every variety the genre has to offer. There are dirty, chugging riffs on ‘Come Closer’, ‘Inhaler’ and ‘Better Left Invisible’ and it’s these songs that will catch your attention; however it’s the ballads that will hold it. The title track is pure pop gold, a sly wink to John Lennon’s more melodic solo material (it’s also the song that most fondly recalls Kane’s work with The Last Shadow Puppets). ‘My Fantasy’ and ‘Take the Night From Me’ are Roy Orbison-esque in the way they slowly build melodrama, and the former features Noel Gallagher on backing vocals. ‘Quicksand’ takes a decidedly more upbeat turn whilst retaining the sophistication of the slower numbers, and ‘Happenstance’ is a loving homage to the Gainsbourg/Bardot duets of the sixties.

I hadn’t expected this to be such a diverse album, Miles never repeats himself and therefore he never gets tiring. Occasionally however the experimentation doesn’t pay dividends; ‘Kingcrawler’ is the album’s psychedelic number but it isn’t really as strange or as interesting as Miles obviously thinks it is. ‘Telepathy’ is also a bit of a bore, the surf rock guitar sound is cool but the tune lacks a decent hook or melody, and ultimately it passes you by. It’s easy to forget the flaws though because Miles is so ambitious in the range of styles he has tried his hand at – you have to admire his ambition. Largely he is successful; there isn’t anything on here that’s bad and in fact the vast majority of it is very good indeed. ‘The Colour of the Trap’ is not cutting edge and it’s not mind blowing, but it is extremely well made, and there’s no denying that fact.

Miles Kane – the Last Shadow Puppet – has stepped out of Alex Turner’s shadow with this album (although he’s taking baby steps away from Alex, who co-writes half of the songs). The Little Flames (his first band) were a non-event, The Rascals (his second band) had potential but, a few snappy songs aside, were a bit of a disappointment. Now at last he has unleashed his true potential with an album of finely crafted, old-fashioned rock n roll songs. Alex Turner may still be the senior partner of the Shadow Puppets but ‘The Colour of the Trap’ proves that Miles isn’t that far behind him.


Foo Fighters ‘Wasting Light’ – Review

9 May

The grass is green, the sky is blue, 1+1=2, Barack Obama is president of the USA and everybody likes Foo Fighters. These are facts. FACTS! Even people who can’t stand arena rock seem to fall at the feet of Foo Fighters; pop fans, metal fans, dance fans, hip hop fans – everyone! It has a lot to do with Dave Grohl’s deserved image as the nicest man in rock, but even more to do with his history as Nirvana’s drummer. He is the underdog done good; he went from the guy sitting at the back of the stage, to frontman of one of the biggest bands in the world and he did it without making a single enemy.

But mainly Foo Fighters are beloved cos they make brilliant music and the band’s latest, ‘Wasting Light’, is especially brilliant. I always knew Foo Fighters were a great singles band (they’ve probably got a claim to having made more classic singles over the past 15 years than anyone else within the same time frame) but this is a great album. actually it’s a great singles album as well, because almost every one of these songs sounds like a hit. Yep, this genuinelycould be a greatest hits – ok, it would probably be the greatest hits volume two, the one that collects the singles missed off greatest hits volume one, but still a greatest hits nonetheless.

Very few rock bands can pull off this type of music without coming across as idiots; these days hard rock bands seem either to have their tongues firmly in cheeks or take themselves way, way too seriously. Foo Fighters are not a super serious, straight-faced band but they are serious about what they do. They never come across as pretentious or arrogant and yet neither are they the class clowns, they aren’t doing this for fun. Simply, they just do what they do and they do it better than anyone else.

This is an album that sees them revisiting various strands of rock they have explored over the years; ‘White Limo’ represents a return to the thrash influenced punk of Dave’s youth, and ‘Bridge Burning’ (the album’s opener) is exactly the kind of riff centric belter that has been a part of the foo’s set since the early days. ‘Rope’ is yet another example of a flawless Foos single – massive chorus, infectious riff, anthemic lyrics, crystine production and solos to bang your head along to. Fantastic. ‘Arlandria’ will sound equally at home on daytime radio playlists when it  inevitably gets released as a single; it’s a power pop smash with a verse that sounds like any other band’s best chorus, and an actual chorus that takes it to another level altogether.

It has to be said that the album itself isn’t as perfect as the chorus to ‘Arlandria’, it falls over the same hurdles that most modern rock albums do. Innovation and experimentation were clearly not on the band’s mind when making this album, and that’s fine, but over eleven songs they are in danger of repeating their formula one too many times. ‘Miss the Misery’ and ‘I Should Have Known’ sound a lot like filler, and I just wonder if it wouldn’t have been more beneficial to insert an acoustic number onto the album at that point, y’know, nothing too drastic, just something to shake the album up a little.

The music is kind of old-fashioned and generic but we forgive the band that (and actually thank them for it) because they pull it off with such craftmanship and charm; unfortunately the same cannot be said for the lyrics which are just badly generic. It feels like Dave is trying to tick off every cliche in the book – he should have known better, he’s learning to walk again, he’s burning bridges, it’s only a matter of time etc. I guess the songs are easy to remember so that thousands of fans will be able to sing along at Wembley, and I suppose that is the point at the end of the day, afterall Dave has never claimed to be a great poet. But still, it would have been nice to see them pushing themselves a bit more in that department.

‘Wasting Light’ has been called a return to form by some critics, and as this is the first studio album I’ve heard from the band start to finish (shock horror!) I can’t really comment on that. However, the band are certainly on form, whether they have rediscovered that form or not, I don’t know. If you like your rock music loud,  heavy, melodic and d.u.m.b without being dumb, then you are going to love this album. Ok, it’s a bit formulaic and old-fashioned, but when It’s done as well as this who cares? Besides, he’s the nicest guy in rock. ‘Nuff said.


Fleet Foxes ‘Helplessness Blues’ – Review

5 May

On their classic 2008 debut, Fleet Foxes told us that ‘Memory is a fickle siren song, I didn’t understand’. That album’s long-awaited follow-up, ‘Helplessness Blues’, is about the process of trying to understand; it is an album steeped in memories. ‘Remember when you had me cut your hair?’ Robin asks on ‘Sim Bala Bim’. On ‘Bedouin Dress’ he sees an ex-lover who is wearing a ‘Geometric patterned dress, gleaming white, just as I recall.’ Practically every song sees Robin fretting over one memory or another, before usually coming to the conclusion that at some point, somehow, he got old and alone.

Of course, to try to tie this album down to a single theme is silly, this is one of the most richly textured albums I’ve heard in a long time. Symbolic references to fountains, light, dreams and time spring up in virtually every other song and you could easily point out several major themes linking the tracks, memory is just the one I decided to mention. ‘Helplessness Blues’ is a highly anticipated album, and the pressures of following the debut clearly got to Robin, but this is far from a thrown together follow-up that retreads old ground, it is incredibly detailed and magnificently ambitious whilst feeling totally understated.

Fleet Foxes never re-invented the wheel, but they were so much better at what they did than everybody else that it felt almost like they had reinvented the wheel. Everything from the artwork to the harmonies to the production was just flawless. This time around they haven’t got the shock factor to blow people away, so I half suspected them to go in a completely different direction – but thankfully they haven’t;  They do push the boat out at times, but for the most part it’s all fairly familiar. That said, there is nothing on ‘Helplessness Blues’ to match ‘Fleet Foxes’ best moments,  and strangely enough, the highlights here are essentially solo songs. ‘Someone You Admire’ is a gloriously restrained song about conflicting emotions, and ‘Blue Spotted Tail’ is one of a few songs where Robin ponders his place in the universe, alone and with his guitar.

The other Foxes grand contributions are a lot less obvious than they were on the debut. It seems to me that Robin is harmonising with himself a lot of the time; the type of a capella sing-songs that defined the debut are rarer to find (although they still sound brilliant when they do show up). Instrumentally the album is fairly traditional; there is the odd foray into the strange and unexpected (such as the violin on ‘Bedouin Dress’ and ‘An Argument’) but don’t expect a synth pop or dubstep diversion. The epic ‘The Shrine/An Argument’ is the musical centerpiece, an 8 minute exploration of folky ambiance, loud-quiet dynamics and choral chanting.

This is an album of contrasts; many songs are more condensed and straightforward than anything on the debut, but several are far longer and more complex. There are some of the band’s most melodic and beautiful moments on here but there are also some of their darkest. You get poppy moments (‘Lorelai’, ‘Grown Ocean’ and ‘Battery Kinzie’) followed by very un-poppy moments (‘Bitter Dancer’, The Cascades’, ‘The Shrine’). The sheer amount going on makes ‘Helplessness Blues’ feel longer than it actually is and I wonder if this is an easy album to admire but a difficult one to love; some of the things that make it so impressive and occasionally brilliant are the things that hold it back. Just maybe it’s a bit too ambitious and try-hard for its own good.

I’m still trying to understand ‘Helplessness Blues’ to be honest, there are so many contrasts and contradictions that just thinking about it makes my head spin. It can’t hope to match the impact of the band’s debut, but it pulls of the difficult job of staying true to the bands roots whilst subtly pushing their sound in some new directions. Overall, this is one of the year’s best releases and it practically defines the term ‘grower’, so don’t be surprised to see this at the top of many end of year best of lists.