Archive | August, 2011

Surfer Blood ‘Miranda’

31 Aug

A new song from the always entertaining Surfer Blood. It’s taken from their forthcoming e.p ‘Tarot Classics’.

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Bon Iver and James Blake duet!

30 Aug

The biggest and best sad acts of 2011 have to be Bon Iver and James Blake, both of whom made terribly weepy albums that still managed to find critical and commercial success. A collaboration sounds like a match made in heaven and on the evidence of the song below it’s turned out they are indeed a match made in heaven. No news yet if this is a one-off or if an album is on the way (fingers crossed for the latter!)

Jay Z and Kanye West ‘Watch the Throne’ – Review

26 Aug

Jay Z and Kanye West are unquestionably the two biggest stars in rap, and possibly the best as well. So surely a collaboration album couldn’t fail? Well in many respects ‘Watch the Throne’ doesn’t fail; It’s a massive, skyscraper sized, gold-plated, stadium ready record, featuring the most expensive samples money can buy and guest appearances from the likes of Beyonce, La Roux and Frank Ocean. Needless to say it shifted nearly a million units in its first week alone.  Both Jay and Kanye’s last solo albums were their biggest and most over the top to date and, in certain respects, this album is even more ambitious and dramatic. So If that’s what you were expecting then ‘Watch the Throne’ is a roaring success, but if you were after something more substantial or exciting then you may well be disappointed.

Whilst ‘Watch the Throne’ is somehow even bigger than ‘The Blueprint III’ or ‘Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy’ it’s more streamlined and less chaotic. In fact it arrives in what can only be described as an understated manner. Opening track ‘No Church in the Wild’ is a slow burner, dominated by a Frank Ocean chorus and a couple of verses from Jay. When Kanye steps in, quite late in the day, he steals the show with a line about how doing cocaine off the body of a black woman makes her look like a zebra. Classic Kanye no doubt, but it’s too little too late to save this song. Beyonce adds a bit of energy to track two, ‘Lift Off’, but for some reason the track fails to “lift off” in truly spectacular fashion. It’s only on first single ‘Otis’ that things really get going. This is a chooooon in which both Jay and Kanye manage to convince you they are the coolest men in the universe whilst unleashing some funny one liners that prove they still know how to have some fun. The antics get wilder on ‘Niggas In Paris’, which is built around a quote from the Will Farrell comedy ‘Blades of Glory’.

However, not all of the album is as ‘chillaxed’, and as it progresses the mood becomes more serious, with themes of race, nationality, wealth and politics becoming central to the conversation. ‘Made It In America’ works in this respect, but ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Murder to Excellence’ are considerably less successful. ‘That’s My Bitch’ is a strangely addictive song but it’s strikingly similar to one of the hip hop parodies from Chris Liley’s ‘Angry Boys’ show. The sexist chorus is a just a bit embarrassing, the beat a bit too clinched, and the sample has been used countless times. It’s just far too predictable to work. The album closer ‘Why I Love You’ is also a bit underwhelming – the duo are at their best when they are trading verses, but their solo raps are a bit unmemorable and a bit too familiar a lot of the time.

Part of the appeal of Kanye’s excellent ‘Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy’ was hearing him knock down some of the public perceptions. He revealed a human side that hadn’t been seen before, and his confessionals were fascinating. ‘Watch My Throne’ just reinforces these perceptions; it’s the stereotypical big budget hip hop album and for the most part it’s pretty joyless and arrogant. In fact, I like it when Jay and Kanye cut loose, as on ‘Otis’, but far too often they are trying to get away with meaningless rhymes or straining to be serious, as on ‘Murder to Excellence’. I’m left feeling a bit confused as to what they were trying to achieve – was this meant to be a serious and innovative rap album or was it meant to simply be a chance for Kanye and Jay to let off some steam and have fun? It sounds like they weren’t sure either which has resulted in an inconsistent, incohesive, clichéd and sample heavy mess. From time to time they show why they are the best rappers (and why Kanye is the best hip hop producer) but they do it far too little to make this the classic album it wants to be.

5.5/10

Spector

26 Aug

Here is a new band worth getting excited about (they have been few and far between in recent months). They’re called Spector and the two songs I’ve heard have been stuck in my heard for days.

New From Girls ‘Honey Bunney’

23 Aug

Taken from their forthcoming album ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’.

Charlie Simpson ‘Young Pilgrim’ – Review

17 Aug

Charlie Simpson is only 26 years old. This surprised me. Busted bounced (literally, if you remember) onto the scene in 2002, which means that Charlie would only have been 17. Not even an adult. Maybe (definitely) we were too harsh on them, but they were an easy target; popular, crude, Americanized, talented, unstoppable and irresistible to the opposite sex. But listening to their music today it is startlingly clear just how unique Busted were – a boy band that could really play instruments and really write songs, a many of which were funny and catchy enough to outweigh their annoying tendencies. Listen to ‘Crashed the Wedding’ –  wouldn’t you just kill for your younger sibling to be listening to that today rather than ‘Swagger Jagger’ or that really annoying JLS song?

But they clearly had a short shelf life, two albums as it transpired (and a reunion is apparently less likely than The Smiths getting back together). Charlie formed Post-hardcore/metal band Fighstar next, and what he brought to Busted he also brought to his second band – it wasn’t the grand departure it was billed as. Fightsar were, and remain, a heavy and shouty but melodic and likeable band, and they’re excellent live. Charlie (like any former pop star the public are on first name terms with him) now brings these qualities to his first solo album, ‘Young Pilgrim’, another melodically charged, catchy record, but one that is sonically and musically far removed from both Busted and Fightstar.

Electric guitars have been replaced by acoustic ones, the drums sound charmingly untuned, there are banjos, harmonies, clapping; he keeps getting compared to Mumford and Sons but this is probably a red herring, I can hear the influence of Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Cat Stevens and CSN. Old weird America as done by a middle class Brit. Yes, if you were cynical you could say that the timing of the album’s release is a little too perfect, arriving as it does slap bang in the middle of an acoustic revival, but Charlie does seem sincere and ‘Young Pilgrim’ sounds authentic and genuine enough (but then again he seemed sincere in Bused and it turns out he hated life in that group).

The songs here are poppy, but not in the Busted way, they are often minor key, moody and deal with some pretty uncool/old-fashioned themes. song titles include ‘Thorns’, ‘Riverbanks’, and ‘Farmer and His Gun’, and musically they have the same earthy quality. Emphasis is on acoustic instruments, the rhythms are rambling, and the harmonies recall family sing alongs or church choirs (they are expertly sung by Charlie himself). The album was produced by the guy who did Coldplay’s X&Y, and that band’s influence surprisingly looms large over ‘Young Pilgrim’. The choruses are larger than life, inclusive, emotive, hands-aloft sing-songs – almost without exception. It works  most of the time, especially on ‘Parachutes’, ‘Down Down’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘All at Once’. It’s probably the least innovative or adventurous album I’ve heard all year, but that’s it’s charm – I can’t see anyone being blown away by it, but if you like old-fashioned, down to earth music then this will be your cup of tea.

‘Young Pilgrim’ is not a stylish album, it goes for the jugular and it takes the most obvious route there. You can see the choruses coming a mile off and the arrangements and lyrics are straightforward and occasionally clumsy. A couple of years ago this type of music would have been ridiculed, but how times have changed, in the wake of Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, Charlie Simpson now has a chance of returning to the top of the charts. Despite a couple of reservations about it, ‘Young Pilgrim’ is a more than decent debut album, perhaps a bit clichéd and effected, but well crafted, magnificently sung and likeable in a quant way. By my count this is Charlie’s seventh album in almost as many years, and by anyone’s standards that is pretty good going. ‘Young Pilgrim’ is a nice little addition to that discography.

6/10

Howler

16 Aug

Heavily hyped new band from America. Their debut e.p  has been released by Rough Trade ten years to the day they released ‘Is This It’. Make of that what you will.