Archive | August, 2013

Earl ‘Doris’ – Review

31 Aug

Earl Sweatshirt’s back-story is a lot more well-known than his musical output, which up until now has consisted of the odd mixtape and guest verse on other Odd Future releases. I won’t bother repeating it here, but needless to say Earl has had an interesting couple of years. That isn’t particularly reflected on his debut album ‘Doris’, a record which keeps autobiography to a minimum. Instead, Earl raps in a type of stream of consciousness style, putting obscure images together to achieve maximum sensatory thrill. Don’t worry about the meaning, just let the syllables clash into you, let the internal rhymes grind against each other, let the intense and often vile language kick against your better judgment.

‘Doris’ is endlessly quotable, but read off the page the words can’t hope to carry the same power. Case in point: ‘Momma was often offering peace offerings, wheeze, cough, scoffing nd he’s off again.’ On page, it’s technically all over the place, almost childish in its enthusiasm for rhyme, rash and impulsive and probably unedited. Earl makes it work. He drizzles the words out in a deceptively lethargic way. The power is in the words, not necessarily in the way he delivers them (although his casual delivery has its charms as well). Ultimately his flow is stupidly impressive; he’s one of the most distinctive new voices of recent years.

And that is unashamedly the central focus of ‘Dorus’, for better or worse. His rhymes take centre stage, and every thing else takes a back seat. Beats, melodies, production – even Frank Ocean and Tyler the Creator. It’s just as well really; his raps are so intense that if any other element tried to be as in your face it would make for an overwhelmingly busy album. As it is, ‘Doris’ is made up of the unshowy beats and sinister synths that Odd Future have made their name on. But the production is easily the most regressive thing about ‘Doris’; two years on from Tyler’s excellent ‘Goblin’ and Earl’s own self-titled mixtape, it sounds like they’ve run out of fresh ideas on the production side of things. It’s what prevents ‘Doris’ from being a great record. So while Earl is a more interesting and imaginative rapper than say Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky or Chance, he makes very hard work of it, and ‘Doris’ is a lot less enjoyable than recent releases by those artists.

But what it lacks in musical hooks it makes up for with some of the best rapping you’ll hear this year. At the heart of the album is ‘Chum’, the most personal song on the record, in which Earl discusses his relationship (or lack thereof) with his father, his friendship with Tyler and his own personal demons. It’s here where he hits upon an evident truth; ‘I’m indecisive, I’m scatterbrained and I’m frightened.’ That’s basically Earl in seven words, and that’s what comes across in spades here.

Of course, Odd Future made their name on homophobic, misogynistic rape rap and for the most part Earl avoids all that here. He gets personal. Then on ‘Whoa’ Tyler stops the beat to say ‘Nahh, no, nahh, nahh, fuck that. Niggas think cause you fucking made “Chum” and got all personal that niggas won’t go back to that old fucking 2010 shit about talking ’bout fucking everything…all. No, fuck that nigga, I got you. Fuck that.’ Earl then proceeds to rap about flicking cigarette ash at ‘bitches’, eating hash, smoking bongs, smacking up little rappers, and using used syringes. His tongue cuts like barbed wire and that’s the point. He is scatterbrained, he is indecisive and at times he’s frightened, but he’s also still a kid, and a troublemaker, and he’s provocative and contrary. If ‘Doris’ is a sign of things to come then expect the unexpected from America’s most talented young rapper.

7.5/10

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Franz Ferdinand ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ – Review

30 Aug

The music video for Franz Ferdinand’s comeback single ‘Right Action’ is extraordinary because it reminds you in three and a half minutes what you’d forgotten over the course of four long years. Namely that Franz Ferdinand are a terrific pop group. It does this in a very similar fashion to ‘Undercover of Darkness’ by The Strokes, the song that heralded their return after what felt like a lifetime away. It’s energetic and demanding. It’s inherently nostalgic and yet very current. It reminds you of the group’s strengths without sounding like a rehash. The guitars move at right angles, the hook never disappears for more than thirty seconds and the melody is just the right side of ‘Take Me Out’. The video is filled with the type of dadaist imagery that defined the band’s early music videos and it translates the song’s unshakeable enthusiasm exactingly.

In 2003 The NME infamously declared ‘this band will change your life’ and ‘Right Action is a song that could have been plucked from the evidence file of that original manifesto. The band’s own aims were slightly more modest – ‘we want to make girls dance’ – they said. The likes of ‘Take Me Out’, ‘Michael’ and ‘Do You Want To’ achieved that – in fact they’re still regularly making the ladies pull shapes at a propaganda club night near you this coming weekend. ‘Right Action’ would sound equally compelling on the dance floor. It harks back to a brief time when songs like this seriously bothered the number one slot, and it makes you wonder if Franz hadn’t dithered so long in-between albums, it would be them selling out Wembley and not The Killers. It would be them headlining Glastonbury and not Arctic Monkeys.

As if to make up for lost time, on ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ they bash out the songs in quick-fire. The album barely passes the half hour mark and, at only ten songs long, it certainly feels dynamic, if not a bit slight. It’s almost as if the band are scared of losing the momentum they have gained with the single. The aforementioned title track is rightly positioned proudly at the start of the album, and it’s followed, almost in descending order of quality, by the most immediate songs on the album. Track two ,’Evil Eye’, is on very shaky ground lyrically (‘Yeah red ya bastard!’) but there’s no denying it’s incredibly funky hooks. ‘Love Illumination’ feels more rigid and durable in comparison, the beat sticking you to the spot, the horns serenading you with authority. ‘Stand On the horizon’ channels ‘Rip It Up’ era orange juice (It also sounds like Edwyn Collins appears on the verse though I can’t confirm this) by way of Chic. ‘Fresh Strawberries’ then picks up where the likes of ‘Walkaway’ and ‘Katherine Kiss Me’ left off, with a 60’s indebted melody and melancholic pondering about love and loss. ‘Bullet’ calls in the second side of songs; it’s a punk number that you would happily sit alongside the more ferocious material on ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’.

After this the album takes a tumble down a slow but sure slope. ‘Treason! Animals’ is catchy but sinister (not to mention more than a bit ridiculous) and nowhere near as clever as I suspect the band think it is. ‘The Universe Expanded’ on the other hand is very clever, poetic even, but lacks a memorable melody or hook. ‘Brief Encounters’ meanders when it should get straight to the point (though it has a fantastic chorus) and album finale ‘Goodbye Lovers and Friends’ is second tier Franz; not bad, just forgettable. It revolves around a series of ironic statements such as ‘I don’t like pop music’ and ‘this is the end’. It’s a rather cynical and anticlimactic way to end the album. Alex Kapronos has proven himself to be a fantastic lyracist in the past, but ‘Right Thoughts…’ doesn’t relly hold up to close scrutiny. ‘Matinee’ and ‘Darts of Pleasure’ won’t lose much sleep over these lyrics (‘The Universe Expanded’ aside) so it’s best not to think too much; just enjoy the way Alex delivers these words in his giddy Glasgow accent.

‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ is a very good album for a band in mid-career. It compares favourably with recent albums by Maximo Park, Bloc Party, The Killers, Keane, Kaiser Chief and the rest of the class of 2004. Their debut, and it’s underrated follow-up, are both stone cold classics, and it’s a compliment to say that at least three of these tracks would stand up very well on either album. The general public are a lot less receptive to guitar pop in 2013 than they were ten years ago, and unfortunatley that means that this album isn’t destined for great commercial success. But for those who still hold stock in the idea that girls need good music to dance to, well, they will find a lot to enjoy here.

8/10

Alela Diane ‘About Farewell’ – Review

12 Aug

The few classic ‘break up’ albums are SO good that they make it very difficult for any newcomers to compete. What can the likes of Alela Diane say that Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ryan Adams, Paul Simon, Elliot Smith or The Mountain Goats haven’t already definitively said? But Diane has given it a good go anyway, as any artist worth their weight should. She’s also done a pretty good job of finding her own voice in a crowded field.

Break up records are usually overwhelmingly raw, fragile and emotional. Clear minded writers can go potty, so overcome with grief that they forget their training. Even the cool-headed Bob Dylan became an angry, bitter, resentful wreck in the mid seventeen after his divorce. Alas, Diane doesn’t hit the traditional road bumps. ‘About Farewell’ is stunning in its precision and almost clinical in its attention to detail – to the extent that you start to wonder if it’s a little too calculated to be sincere. It’s never as over-indulgent or draining as even better records of this type are.

‘About Farewell’ begins as it goes on, with a clear and crisp description. ‘I drove you home that autumn day, to your mother’s house / the paint was old, the dogs were barking / I sat upon the rug.’ These are stories told from a safe distance and a lot of time is spent setting the scene. Diane is less a song-writer, or even poet, and more a reporter. She is not fond of lush imagery; metaphors and similes are hard to find here, instead she relies on sturdy adjectives and concrete nouns. ‘It was an Indian summer, wildfires were burning’ she sings on the album’s standout ‘The Way We Fall.’ ‘I Can still evoke the stale smoke of his cigarettes’ she says, remembering the last time she was intimate with her husband. She picks out quite mundane details that still make an impression.

On all but the nostalgic opening track, Diane describes herself as the initiator of the break up. ‘I’ve got to let you go’ she sings on ‘About Farewell’. It’s interesting that she paints herself in a fairly unsympathetic, even harsh light, and yet it makes for an interesting twist when most break up songs are sung from the victim’s perspective. On ‘Before the Leaving’ she describes how she revved herself up to leave her husband. She paints a picture of the hotels, roads, trucks, seats, curtains – normal objects that are cast in a sad shadow by the prospect of what’s to come. Diane has been very open in interviews about her personal life and what she’s revealed can’t help but colour your interpretation of these songs; and yet just enough is left to the imagination.

Diane worked on the record mostly on her own, which adds a sparseness that matches the thematic isolation. Her backing band are notable by their absence; the only voices you hear are hers and most songs feature only one or two instruments. Sad piano here, delicate guitar there, some atmospheric percussion or string arrangements if you’re lucky. It works to the extent that it makes for a dark and appropriately melancholy musical experience, but it does leave the record feeling a touch two dimensional. A bit more variety would perhaps make this an album you would want to listen to time and time again, as it is you feel you have sufficiently explored it after a few close listens.

No, there’s no hiding the fact that the lyrics are what make this such a worthwhile record. Thoughtful and considered, they are a world away from the Taylor Swift school of heartbreak that has dominated pop music for years. My favourite break-up song is ‘Most of the Time’ by Dylan, a song that doesn’t indulge in the stormy aftermath of his divorce but picks up years afterwards, at a point in Dylan’s life when he was happy ‘most of the time’ – the implication being that from time to time he was still pretty sad. The song is great for what it implies and for what it leaves out rather than what it knocks you over the head with. And that’s the same quality that makes ‘About Farewell’ such a good record. Diane doesn’t knock you over the head with her emotions and she doesn’t spill her heart all over the carpet. It quietly, but surely, finds truth and subtly reveals it. ‘Said what I needed to say I guess’ she sings on album closer, and that’s exactly what she’s done. It’s what she doesn’t say that makes this such an impressive record.

8/10