Archive | December, 2014

Honeyblood ‘Honeyblood’ – Review

29 Dec

Run the Jewels notoriously gained attention for raging on ‘fuckboys’ on their amazing second LP, but the Bronx/Atlanta duo got nothing on the Glaswegian twosome Honeyblood. ‘I Will Hate You Forever’ is one of many hard-hitting hooks aimed at a not-too-fondly-remembered ex, ‘why don’t you just grow up?!’ is another. The lines are delivered with more bile and poison than anything else I’ve heard all year, but there is an equal amount of sweetness emanating from the gorgeous melodies and seductive accents. And so Honeyblood’s name is a good description of the noise they make. Something sugary, dark and vital all at the same time. Their hooks are sharp and their bite is sharper.

Stina Tweeddale and Shona Mcvicer exude confidence – confidence that translates into a snarl and sneer on ‘Super Rat’, but there are songs, less satisfying songs, where Tweddale positions herself as a victim. On ‘Choker’ She sounds sadly helpless and lost, and on ‘Bud’ she’s actually apologetic for her broken heart; ‘it’s not your fault the white flag is hanging from the wall’. Are these personas contradictory? Actually, no, because they are merely layers of the same personality. Layers of a complex woman who fronts as well as she pleads and reflects with as much sincerity as she screams. Sweet and vital with something darker underneath.

A lot of people are comparing Honeyblood to West Coast American bands like Best Coast, but to me they seem to be in the lineage of slightly grungy but sentimental and melodic Scottish indie rock. From Jesus and Mary Chain through Garbage and Camera Obscura, I can hear local history coursing through the veins of this record. Key Glaswegian traits also shine through the lyrics; toughness, humour and a no-nonsense attitude. Tweeddale has a distinctive lyrical voice and a way with words that is often direct and amusing. ‘Time is against us, circumstance likes to dick around’ is the opening line of the glorious ‘Killer Bangs’ and on ‘No Spare Key’ she wonders ‘do you ever feel like your brain might be conspiring against you? It keeps you awake at night, till it’s just you and your dirty mind.’ Best Coast would kill for some of these lines.

For a debut ‘Honeyblood’ is astonishingly well-developed and intelligently produced. The thinness of the group’s live sound has been skillfully beefed up with the help of National producer Peter Katis. Despite containing only guitar and drums the songs sound rich and textured, with layers of breathy harmonies adding colour to the mix. The static and grubbiness of the band’s early recordings is also a thing of the past, with Katis bringing out the pop instincts in Tweeddale’s songwriting. ‘Honeyblood’ still sounds endearingly alternative and messy in a year where those types of records have been few and far between, but equally you wouldn’t be surprised to hear ‘Bud’ or ‘Falls forever’ on radio.


Mcbusted ‘Mcbusted’ – Review

24 Dec

First off a little background. Mcbusted is a supergroup featuring two ex-members of Busted, and all four members of Mcfly. The relationship between the two bands has always been a bit incestuous; Mcfly’s Tom Fletcher was originally a member of Busted, till he got the chop in favour of Charlie Simpson, and he contributed songs to both of Busted’s albums. Likewise, Busted’s James Bourne, co-wrote songs for Mcfly’s albums. Both acts had considerable success that started in 2002 and, in Busted’s case, ended abruptly, and in Mcfly’s case, continued in a dwindling fashion until the moment ‘Mcbusted’ formed. Still with me? Mcbusted exist because Busted’s Charlie Simpson refuses to participate in any kind of pure Busted reunion. Charlie left the band in disharmonious circumstances, to concentrate on ‘Serious’ projects like post-hardcore/emo act Fightstar and a solo career as a Mumford and Sons style revivalist – hence, Mcbusted.

Mcbusted’s brief existence has been surprisingly successful. They completed an extensive sell-out arena tour, supported One Direction in Stadiums, and sold out a headline Hyde Park show in front of 50,00 fans. Nostalgia is responsible for a lot of the ticket sales though, and it remains to be seen whether this will translate in to a desire for hearing anything new (disappointing initial sales for single and album alike suggest not really). But either way, the extent to which you buy into the band will depend on how highly you regard the groups’ original records.

As it happens I rate both of Busted’s albums, and Mcfly’s debut, very highly indeed. At the time I was put off by the more flourescent aspects of the band and their music (I’ll come on to this later). The fact that their audience was almost exclusively tween girls didn’t help endear them to the 12 year old me either, but I’ve warmed to them over the years, drawn to their helplessly catchy tunes, inventive lyricism and slick production. ‘Mcbusted’ is produced by Steve Robson, who worked on those original records, and it sounds just as slick. Vocally every member of the group sounds better than ever, and they each get a turn to shine in a singing rota that alternates voices, verse to chorus. For all their flaws, and there are flaws, Mcbusted are a band full of rich personalities and those personalities shine through. In its brightest moments the album is tuneful, energetic and funny; listen to the inspired conflict of ‘Hate Your Guts’ or the sticky chorus of ‘Get Over It’ or the surprisingly mature confessions on ‘What Happened to Your Band’. It’s difficult to dislike a group of enthusiastic and talented musicians playing with such joy and excitement.

I’m just GENUINELY sorry it doesn’t entirely work out. ‘Mcbusted’ is a failure on three levels. Firstly, it’s annoyingly juvenile. Busted were always juvenile, but that is because they were teenagers, and it felt true and endearing, if somewhat annoying. Ten Years later it feels slightly phoney. Songs like ‘Riding my bike’ and ‘Air Guitar’ and ‘How’s My Hair?’ are underwhelmingly slight and silly. Remember we’ve waited a long time for this, and while we would expect some goofiness from the band, they should have remembered that a little silliness goes a long way, and Mcbusted’s reliance on childish lyrics actually undoes some of the musical sophistication, particularly on the Cure-esque ‘How’s My Hair’ (‘Riding my Bike’ is beyond redemption).

The second big disappointment is how dated the record sounds. In light of the success of Five Seconds of Summer and The Vamps, I was expecting Mcbusted to come out of the blocks with something more contemporary. In fact, Mcbusted sounds like it could have been released ten years ago. Busted’s debut featured spot on references to pop culture – songs like ‘Britney’ and ‘Dawson’s Geek’ were funny, self-aware and of the moment. The pop culture references on ‘Mcbusted’ would be much more at home on THAT album, back in 2002. S Club 7 and Slipknot get a shout out, Sex and the City is mentioned, one of the song titles is a nod to 50 Cent, and Blink 182’s Tom Hoppus gets a guest slot. Of course Mcbusted’s fans have grown with the band and none of these references will go over their heads but it does rather restrict the interest of new fans. Musically it’s equally regressive, which is perhaps because some of these songs are quite old. By the band’s account, at least three of these songs can be dated back to the last decade, and only one was worked on by all six members. Nothing here sounds particularly fresh or innovative in a 2014 sort of way.

Which is directly related to the third big problem. It sounds like a rush job. The band started work on the album after the Hyde Park show in June. That left them about four months to make the thing, and it’s telling. The songs don’t always sound completely thought through – who makes a song dedicated to an air guitar and then forget to include a guitar solo? There are wild jumps in style and quality, from straight up pop-punk numbers to heavier ballads and quirky left-field pop songs. It doesn’t sit together at all well. Nothing here can live up to either the best Mcfly or Busted songs, and some of the songs rank as the worst material in either band’s discography. ‘Riding My Bike’ is a dreadful ‘Fireflies’ rip off that sits like a roadblock in the middle of the album and sucks up any momentum. ‘In Da Club’ is an obnoxious and slightly mean-spirited take on a ‘lads living it up’ anthem. Equally cringe-worthy is the vaguely sexist, moderately arrogant ‘I See Red’ in which Tom excuses himself from any bad behaviour as he is ‘in a band’. These songs call to mind Busted’s worst excesses and reaffirms the things that initially jarred me about the band – their fake American accents, cheesy posturing and over-excitable nature – as well as some negatives I missed first time (revisiting Busted’s first album I’m struck by the casual misogyny and crassness of songs like ‘All the Way’, ‘Crash and Burn’ and ‘Dawson’s Geek’).

But there were great things about Busted too – their exuberance, enthusiasm and the abundance of catchy tunes. These things carry over to ‘Mcbusted’, just not enough to mak it a successful record. At it’s best ‘Mcbusted’ is enjoyable but it’s never anything more than that, and often a fair bit less.


Caribou ‘Our Love’ – Review

10 Dec

It’s been a bit of a bad year of populist dance music. Basement Jaxx comeback album was underwhelming, sophomore releases by Rustie and SBTRKT were good but disappointingly slight, Orbital called it a day, prodigy’s album failed to materialise, long awaited debuts by Tensnake and Skrillex were hit and miss, EDM is still unfathomable popular and nobody new has truly capitalised on the runaway success of Disclosure, Rudimental and Duke Dumont. Truly great stuff has been coming out in small doses through boutique labels like PC Music and R&S, whilst Todd Terje has released hands down one of the best records of the year – but 2014 still feels like a let down.

Enter Caribou. Saying Caribou make dance music is like saying The Beatles were a rock band or Deafheaven make black metal. It’s true in a sense but it’s too reductive. Caribou’s songs are rooted in house music but structured almost like prog. He flirts excitedly with bass music, but the pop melodies undo the hip posturing. There lurks the atmosphere of deep house, especially in the tempos and drum sounds, but the overwhelming feeling is one of euphoria and joy which rather goes against everything that deep House suggests. If I had to label ‘Our Love’ I would say that it is some kind of psychedelic House music that has yet to be named. Not Acid House, but something altogether more contemporary, inspirational and moving.

To my ears, ‘Our Love’ re appropriates the characteristics of psychedelia for a modern audience more effectively than any record since Animal Collective’s ‘Meriwether Post Pavillion’. The synths are elastic and weird, the structures are unusual and unpredictable, the harmonies are reverby, shadowy and are often twisted, distorted and warped in and out of focus. Listen to the way the simple phrase ‘I love you’ is toyed with over and over again on ‘our Love’ to convey how such a statement is far from being as clear and straightforward as it initially appears. Those words are some of the most loaded in the English language and with minimalist effort Caribou nails that complexity.

There is an argument being made on ‘Our Love’, and the argument is both musical and lyrical. It’s there in the celebratory, rising notes at the climax of ‘Silver’, It’s there in the classic bass step that intrudes unexpectedly half way through the title track. It’s there in the album’s many mantras: ‘I can’t do without you’, ‘Your love will set you free’, ‘I just want to be with my next love as much as I can be’, ‘I love you’. The argument is that love is unpredictable, absorbing, destructive but nourishing, complex and ultimately essential to a sense of completeness.

Nothing In ‘Our Love’ is ever straightforward. If you think you’ve figured a song out, your probably haven’t. When you think you know which direction it’s going in, it will snap, bend or dissolve all together. It’s a surprising record but at the same time it’s approachable, snappy, inviting and enjoyable.

Dan Snaith Is a good melodist (even if ‘Our Love’ is short of truly classic tunes) and a capable singer. His falsetto isn’t scene stealing, as he seems to be aware, but as another element in the mix it is effective. His personality seeps through the voice more on ‘Our Love’ than it has on any of his previous records. However the album’s centrepiece belongs to another singer Jessy Lanza Sings ‘Second Chance’ In a turn that recalls classic house but equally reminds me of recent r&b singers such as Jessie Ware.

‘Our Love’ is a concise and unassuming record, unlike the other great Dance records of the last couple of years (‘Settle’, ‘Glass Swords’, ‘Random Access Memories’) it leans towards minimalism rather than maximalism. A little more ambition, exploration and depth may have elevated it even further, but there is equally the chance that it would have undone the record’s balance, or lost some of the central meaning. The clarity of ‘Our Love’ amidst all the complexity is what ultimately makes it such a transcendental album.