Tag Archives: album

The 1975 ‘I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’ – Review

5 Mar

The 1975’s second album is called ‘I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of it.’ There are seventeen tracks. One of those tracks is a six minute ambient instrumental called ‘Please Be Naked’. Another is named ‘The 1975’ and is itself a new arrangement of a track called ‘The 1975’, which was the opening song on their debut, ‘The 1975’. The target audience for the album is 14 year old girls. Lead singer Matty Healy said in a recent interview ‘it’s art. The world needs this album’. If any of these facts make you feel queezy then you have two options. You could stop reading now and try to avoid the band at all costs. Or you could embrace that queezines. Try and listen without prejudice (as one of the band’s influences, George Michael once said). Try and listen as a hormonal, uninhibited teenage girl might listen. Learn to love The 1975, because on this evidence, they’re going to be massive.

‘Love Me!’ That’s the imperative, and the hook, placed right at the front of this gigantic slab of pop and the band do everything in their power to convince you that you should. It’s an album that lures you in with juicy choruses, primary coloured chords and bags of personality. Once it’s got you hooked it starts to flex its muscles. Over the course of 75 minutes you’ll hear flashes of Arena Rock, House, Shoegaze, Post Rock, Ambient Music, R&B, Acoustic Balladry and Gospel. All of it is rendered through The 1975’s baby pink pop lens that amplifies the hooks and emphasises melody. The broad strokes are emphatic but the finer details are equally well executed. The production is glistening and detailed. Evocative retro sounds rub against elements of contemporary bass and electronic music which shows The 1975 keep one eye on the past and one on the present. It looks to the 80s for inspiration but They are a thoroughly modern band in their outlook – or ‘post-ironic’ as they put it. They don’t have the hang ups and cynicism that used to blight rock fans for too long (judging by one or two sour reviews, some critics don’t seem to have moved on); they will use the Careless Whisper sax on ‘This Could Be My Dream’ with smiles on their faces, just see if they don’t.

They make unbelievably provocative decisions like calling their album’I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of it.’ They’re trolling the haters. One song on the album is called ‘Ughhh!!’ And it’s about Matty’s own exasperation with his drug habit. Like most of the lyrics on the album it aims at profundity but ends up revealing a certain self obsession. It’s this pretentious element that has raised the eyebrows of A LOT of people, especially as Matty falls flat on his face just as often as he hits the mark. But you appreciate the effort to say something meaningful even when it doesn’t work out. That ambition results in one liners that are as sharp and witty as anything coming out of the rarified corridors of indie rock or experimental music. And when they fall short they do so with humour. ‘Was it your breasts from the start? They played a part’ is just one gloriously ridiculous example. They just don’t care about how daft they sound and that’s admirable because so much modern music lacks risk. Bands are scared to say anything out of the ordinary but The 1975 are never afraid to dip their toes in uncharted water.

Matty Healy frequently comes out with smart Alec remarks dripping with self-importance, as if he’s the first person to make the connection between personal decay and cocaine or realise that celebrities are prone to being vacuous. But his tone Is never didactic or pandering. He treats his young audience with respect and understands that they will come to their own conclusions. He sings frankly about drug use, mental health issues, death, religion, fame and love – the big subjects – and never offers easy answers. He does this with tremendous tenacity and a tongue always near his cheek. He’s utterly pretentious but damn, he knows it, and he worries about it. After name checking Guy Debord he exclaims ‘I’m the Greek economy of cashing intellectual cheques.’ As preening and smug as he can be, It’s hard to hate him when he comes out with self-deprecating put downs like that.

Some of the criticisms I’ve read, aside from often being utterly patronising and condescending to the group’s young audience, are awfully pedantic. I’ve seen criticisms that they’re too emo, that their songs are poorly structured, that the album’s too long (well duhhhh). Come on. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of emo, who cares how the songs are structured when the hooks hit this hard and hip hop albums, never mind mainstream pop albums, are routinely longer than this and nobody says a word. It’s as if the world has come to expect a group of four guys with guitars to play it safe. The 1975 are a throwback in some respects to groups at the start of the CD era, like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins – bands full of ideas, with the ambition to match. How have THe 1975 answered their critics? In the video for the delicious house-pop number, ‘The Sound’, criticisms flash across a baby pink screen as the band play in a box to a hoard of sneering haters. By the end of the video it’s the critics who are in the box and the only thing they can do is point and scowl.

At at the end of the day I could talk about the unnecessary and overlong instrumentals, the considerably less enjoyable middle section and some of the many lyrical misfires – but that would be missing the point. These things speak to the band’s range and ambition. As is often the case, The 1975s flaws only make them more loveable.

Why aren’t this brilliant band being more regularly applauded? Critics have thus far been allergic to the 1975. They are a serious band making trivial pop music, which is an unfortunate category to fall in to if you’re seeking acclaim. If you’re a male band, play guitar music and have mainstream pop aspirations beyond just the indie/punk demographic then you’re in trouble. It’s the reason Coldplay and The Killers have never received their due – as if what the have achieved is easily attainable?! The lesson they want us to learn, it would seem, is that If you’re in a band you BETTER know you’re place. Leave pop to the pop stars and stick to being alternative. But we’re told guitar music is dead aren’t we? Here are a band with sky scraping tunes, ambition, real personality, good looks, style, a young fan base and bags of attitude. They are a young, talented group putting three minute pop songs on the radio, with guitar solos, and having hits! This is the best pop-rock album since ‘A.M’. My advice? Learn to stop worrying and love The 1975.

9/10

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Eagulls ‘Eagulls’ – Review

13 Apr

If there’s one thing you learn about Eagulls on their self-titled album it’s that they’re angry young men. Angry about something, definitely, even if they can’t quite articulate what they’re angry about and even if you can’t exactly hear what frontman George Mitchell is saying. This is anger in its prepubescent, angsty form – anger without direction. We’ve all felt like Eagulls at some point; frustrated and unable to express it in anything other than a primal, guttural howl.

Mitchell falls somewhere in the murky water between Robert Smith, John Lydon and Liam Gallagher. He shouts but doesn’t scream, he’s melodic but he doesn’t really sing, he’s  insular but has swagger. It makes his a rather distinctive new voice, and it’s easily Eagulls biggest weapon. While Mitchell’s voice stands out, the songs all kind of sound the same. They’re all roughly the same length, structurally similar and many of the choruses are virtually identical. ‘Hollow Visions’ is a great song, one that would blow radio 1 wide open if they decided to play it, but alongside ‘Yellow Eyes’ it kind of gets lost in the chaos.

‘Possessed’ and ‘Opeque’ are the two songs that stand out because they are poppier and more illuminating than the rest of the album. If a few more songs went in this direction, or any other direction, the album would be a more varied and balanced proposition. As it stands It’s a rather one-dimensional album, but at least Eagulls have forged a musical identity that they can call their own. Their sound is a form of post-punk recorded in a gutter; It’s a lot more polished than their early releases and live shows made me think it would be, but the album still sounds sweaty, raw and yes, angry.

As I mentioned earlier, It’s difficult to discern exactly what Mitchell is saying, and when you read the lyrics on paper you come to the conclusion that this is probably a good thing. For a band who have demonstrated in press interviews and on their blog that they have a lot of interesting, and often controversial, things to say, Eagulls have remarkably little to talk about on their album. It’s lucky for the band that they have a frontman who is able to convey emotions, or rather one emotion, without the need for strong words.  Eagulls have an uncanny way of making slight guitar riffs and bass lines sound vast and absorbing and Mitchell has the same knack when it comes to elevating rather empty lyrics. It isn’t easy to make the listener feel something, even if you’re singing great lyrics, but Mitchell makes you feel something even when he’s not. That’s an impressive skill. So “Eagulls” may not be a perfectly formed debut, but the band aren’t dealing with perfectly formed emotions.

7/10

Beyonce ‘Beyonce’ – Review

2 Feb

Beyonce has been on a journey with a classic narrative. A young, good looking girl from out in the sticks forms a girl group, managed by her father, that become massive. The girl successfully embarks on a solo carer, marries an equally famous husband, has a baby, lives happily every after.This is basically what Beyonce’s last album, ‘4’ preached about; at times her life sounded so perfect and happy it was if she was almost mocking the listener – ‘Look at how great my life is!’ There is no doubt that ‘4’ was the climax of that narrative and it’s the job of the follow up to swipe the table cloth from under the plates. Beyonce is where Madonna was before ‘Sex’, or where Prince was before he became ‘The Artist Formally Known as Prince’. Whereas those legends reinvented themselves with new personas, Beyonce has self-titled this album, and seems to be saying ‘this is who I’ve always been underneath.’ This is a brave move because there is no running away from this ‘reinvention’. It’s got her name right there in the middle of it. A lot rests on ‘Beyonce’.

unfortunately it disappoints on a truely gigantic level, because underneath the level-headed, hard-working, likeable role model we’ve come to know, there is a  cocky, needy, sex maniac who rises to the surface. On the opener, ‘Pretty Hurts’ Beyonce sets up a legitimate if unoriginal premise that the world is obsessed with aesthetic and surface. Which would be fine if ‘Beyonce’ (both the album and the lady herself) wasn’t all surface in 2014. ‘Perfection is a disease of a nation’ Bey spits in the most luxurious of voices. ‘It’s the soul that needs the surgery’ she adds, while looking unattainably beautiful in the glamorous video. This is a visual album, released with a dvd of music videos (a curiously old-fashioned idea – even more so considering the exciting and unexpected way this album has been unveiled) and everything about it speaks to that visual identity Beyonce has carefully constructed, and then deconstructed. Doting wife? watch her wrap her legs around a pole in the video for ‘Blow’. Dignified mother? Hear her swear throughout the album. I suppose there is no real reason why Beyonce should be restricted from doing whatever she wants, it’s just a strange and unnecessary path to venture down at this late(ish) stage in her career. And I’d always had Beyonce pegged as a 21st century feminist icon, but this demonstrates that she is far from it. Like Miley Cyrus and Rihanna before her, Beyonce has fully succumbed to the idea that women need to strip half naked and flirt their way to the number one spot.

Of course, a modern interpretation of feminism is that women should embrace their sexuality and flaunt it if they want – but I’m not convinced of her motives here. In fact, I’m rather surprised at all the glowing reviews ‘Beyoncé’ has received, particularly from those feminist critics proclaiming it to be a poetic and proud statement of confident sexuality when it clearly isn’t. A line like ‘I cooked this meal for you naked’ is neither poetic or self-assured. Subservient wife still be cooking the meals. Naked. For her husband. And I mean, you could argue that if she wants to cook a meal naked for her husband that doesn’t necessarily degrade her or make her any less of a feminist – but I still don’t want to hear about it. Who does? But when she says ‘bow down bitches’ I’m afraid that does make her less of a feminist; it also makes her a shocking role model, a terrible lyrist and frankly a bit of a dodgy human being.

The single, ‘Drunk in Love’, probably the catchiest thing on here (which isn’t really saying much), is a song that tries very hard to be sexy and fails miserably. It’s a disturbing tale of confusion, spelt out through a serious of unaware contradictions. ‘I get filthy when that liquor get in me’ Bey says with seemingly no self-awareness at all – is this meant to be a come on? A metaphor? It’s a weak one if it is. ‘Why can’t I keep my fingers off it,’ she says, which seems a troubling admission in a song probably about sexual addiction rather than alcohol addiction – but still. ‘Feeling like an animal with all these cameras on my grill’ she purrs (she’s still got a great voice to be fair), convincing no-one that ‘grill’ is a part of her natural vocabulary – she barely builds up the enthusiasm to snarl it and indeed nothing about this album seems natural or enthusiastic, save for some tender moments towards the end. When she sings ‘Can’t keep your eyes off my fatty’ this confidence (or arrogance if you want) isn’t CONFIDENT in the same way that ‘Single Ladies’ or ‘Best thing you never had’ were. In fact, it can’t even muster the same swagger as ‘Girls (run the world)’, a relatively forgettable Beyonce single. All this talk of ‘rubbing’ and ‘grinding’ lends the song a certain raunchiness but Beyonce will never convince me that she’s prince when she’s spent so long trying to convince me she’s a princess.

Elsewhere, Beyonce ‘the feminist Icon’ seems to have forgotten just who is in control. On ‘Blow’ she ‘must be good to you’ whilst elsewhere on the self-hating track she sings ‘Baby put your arms on me, tell me I’m the problem’. One minute she lacks confidence, the next minute she’s manufacturing it in all the wrong ways. It’s a distressingly lost album from someone who until this point seemed so in control. Listen to ‘Single Ladies’ or ‘Surviver’ again if you want a reminder of how this act should work.

If I didn’t have such concerns about the lyrical content then I think I would rather like ‘Beyonce’, although I would still find it a little snoozy. The beats (provided mostly by the talented young producer Boots) are taught and luxurious, like a more finely tuned take on what The Weeknd has been doing in recent years. Whereas some recent Beyonce songs, particularly the singles, have been aggressive, these tracks are impressively chilled out. Baselines hover almost casually, synths glide in and out of focus and the vocals become the central focus. It turns out I rather like this minimalist side of Beyonce. Structurally though the record is rather messy because of all the directionless songs that kind of glide in several directions before doing 180 flips. It does all add up to a rather disorienting album. Over the course of an hour I lost interest, and it lost direction. That kind of sums up the entire album for me – I genuinely think Beyonce has lost her way. This is a statement album that lacks a meaningful statement; and I respect the fact that she’s playing with fire but I’m afraid she’s been burnt.

3.5/10

MGMT ‘MGMT’ – Review

25 Sep

Does anybody know who MGMT are? Who they really are? Are they the rock-star-dreaming-prankstars who write songs about Electric eels? They certainly don’t seem to think so. Are they the pastoral psychedelic punks who make pretend it’s 1969 forever? Maybe. Maybe not. This self titled record, their third, doesn’t clarify things. In fact it muddies the narrative even further. They’ve clearly self-titled it for a reason; perhaps this is the album that they feel sums up who they are – which is weird cos it doesn’t really say anything about anything. But Ben and Andrew must feel it reveals the essential truth about MGMT. Perhaps that essential truth is that they are contrarians. This is an album that plays against their greatest strengths; it’s an album that feels not only a world away from the giddy electro pop of ‘Electric Feel’ and ‘Kids’ but also from the psychedelic whimsy of Congratulations.’ It doesn’t defy expectations or even ignore them, it acknowledges them and joylessly and self-consciously sticks its tongue out at them.

‘MGMT’ is the album that some critics thought ‘Congratulations’ was. They thought ‘Congratulations’ was difficult, tuneless, weird and un-poppy which just wasn’t true. ‘Congratulations’ was slightly strange but it also had the most gorgous melodies and sticky hooks. It was extremely accessible. ‘MGMT’ on the other hand is all those other adjectives. On this album MGMT sound like a band for whom songwriting is a genuine inconvenience that gets in the way of getting high and making weird sounds. These tracks are congested with dozens of fantastical musical ideas that are all played out at once. It’s claustrophobic and paranoid. There is no movement or progression. Songs start, they stop and in between a lot happens all at once. Melodies roll out quietly over the top but they aren’t considered important. Lyrics aren’t important. Guitars don’t really feature. rhythm is almost nonexistent. Every vocal has been distorted or clipped or given some weird warbly effect. The duo sound like sugar high kids in a major label sweet shop, given the resources and time to experiment with anything they like. It makes for the most aimless, meandering and frustrating record you’ll hear all year. But it’s also sparingly brilliant.

Album opener ‘Alien Days’ is the only song on here that you could pass off as a true success, and unsurprisingly it’s the only song that would have sat comfortably with its sonic brothers and sisters on ‘Congratulations’. Here the duo marry a sweet melody (that doesn’t sound like an afterthought!) with a progressive and interesting musical arrangement. ‘Cool Song Number 2’ snaps the momentum with a dowbeat tempo and some minor key noodling but It’s still the next best thing on here thanks to another stupendous melody that recalls Syd Barret era Pink Floyd. When they want to MGMT can still write impressive, hummable tunes – but that’s the point – they just don’t want to.

‘Your Life is a Lie’ for example has a fantastically nagging hook that sticks in your head, but for a reason known only to the band they make a mockery of it, repeating said hook until it evolves from an ear-worm in to a parasite. ‘Introspection’ is another song with real potential that’s undone by indulgence and extravagance. The production provided by the usually masterful Dave Friedman buries the potential deep in a boggy pit of synths and compression. The above songs make it out of the same pit alive by the skin of their teeth but the likes of ‘A Good Sadness’ and ‘Astro-Mancey’ get well and truly buried and forgotten.

The second half of the album just rambles along with no structure. It’s hard to convey just how plodding ‘Death and All His Friends’ feels for example. ‘Plenty of Fish In The Sea’ on the other hand is juvenile, throwaway and cheap, but in that sense it’s the closest relation to the band’s early hits. It comes from the same carefree place as ‘Electric Feel’ and it doesn’t sound burdened or heavy. unfortunately It sticks out like a sore thumb.

I think that’s the most frustrating thing for fans like myself. It’s not that we want MGMT to write another ‘Electric Feel’ (although the album would certainly benefit from something as sprightly as that) – the band themselves seem to be the only ones hung up on that notion. We want them to be true to themselves, we want them to be experimental, we want them to push the boundaries but we also want them to play to their strengths, and they don’t do that here. They are naturally melodic, naturally humourous and naturally quirky but they seem hell-bent on going in the opposite direction. This is a cynical, indulgent and self-sabotaging mess that will come as a massive disappointment not only to fans of ‘Oracular Spectacular’ but fans of ‘Congratulations’ as well. The fact that it’s occasionally brilliant just makes it all the more aggravating! MGMT are still a great band – there is enough evidence of that here – they need to learn to embrace that fact.

5.5/10

Daft Punk ‘Random Access Memories’ – Review

29 May
Unity is one of the most overlooked casualties of the Internet age. It’s a myth that the Internet brings us together. Theoretically It makes it a lot easier for people to communicate but practically it isolates us. We sit alone at computers as the hours pass by, staring at a screen. It’s also a myth that the Internet has opened this generation’s minds to new ideas. Sure, we have access to all kinds of Information, but do we take it in? Look at music; we now have access to pretty much every song ever recorded but does that make us intrepid explorers? Of course it doesn’t. When you go to a buffet you end up having what you know you like and in the same way when you open spotify you listen to music you know you like. We go to forums to play-fight with like-minded individuals and we visit websites we know are going to back up our arguments. The Internet has enabled us to become even more caught up in our own preferred sub-cultures. We tweet our opinions in tiny sound-bites that are so numerous and inconsequential that nobody cares to read them. We talk AT people about music but I bet we don’t talk TO people about music anywhere near as much these days. The internet has divided us.
But I think music still has the potential to bring us together, even if it’s happening less and less. Traditionally album release days have been hugely important in uniting us but in 2013 everyone listens in fragments. First there are the dodgy youtube live versions, then the leaks, then the amazon-previews and the official streams… people get their music at completely different times. The other week it was reported that Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’ is likely to overtake Oasis’ ‘Be Here Now’ for highest first week sales, and it’s interesting to think back to the release of that Oasis album. People qued around the block for it, waiting for record stores (where are they now?) to open so they could be the first to PURCHASE (not stream it or download it or steal it) the album. They went home and listened to it at pretty much the same time on the same morning. News stations sent reporters down to Interview the fans lining up outside. In one such clip found on YouTube a young Pete Doherty is interviewed in line, along with other music-greedy teenagers, eagerly anticipating a new release from his favourite band. It’s hard not to be nostalgic on several different levels; nostalgic for teenagers with patience, nostalgic for a time when a new Oasis record was a big deal, nostalgic for physical albums, nostalgic for Pete Doherty’s innocence and nostalgic for tangible music fandom.
Music fans rarely get that excited these days. But something similar is happening with ‘Random Access Memories’. You just need to watch footage from the release parties around the world to see how excited people have been for this. Daft Punk fans are excited. People who had never previously heard of Daft Punk are excited. School Kids are excited. Their parents are excited. Their grandparents are excited. Radio 1 DJ’s are excited. Heart FM DJs are excited. Late Night Pirate Radio DJs are excited. Hard boiled critics are excited. Poptimists are excited. I’m excited. The world is excited. It feels for the first time in ages, everyone is on the same page about something. And this is no exaggeration – I’ve yet to meet a person who has heard Get Lucky and hasn’t been counting down the seconds, minutes and hours ‘till the release of this album. The amazing thing is that Daft Punk haven’t released a record in 8 years – and their last one was savaged by the press and only entered the charts at number 10! It’s been well over a decade since their last hit and last indisputable triumph and yet ‘Get Lucky’ is on its fourth week at number one. Daft Punk are in their 20th year as a band but they’ve never sounded so relevant.
Their current success is down to hype caused by a remarkable PR campaign that saw the band steal the show at Coachella with a 30 second advert, parodied at Funnyordie.com for their collaborator videos and take over a small rural Australian Agricultural festival. In the process they’ve hardly made an appearance, instead leaving it to the likes of Pharell Williams, Georgio Moroder, Todd Edwards, Nile Rodgers and Panda Bear to do the talking (and in the process drop superlatives like they’re going out of fashion). Mystique is another dying art that Daft Punk know how to create.
In fact, they’ve created such a storm AROUND the album that there’s a very real danger the music itself will be reduced to a footnote – which is the complete opposite of what they want to achieve. The whole point of this record is that it puts the focus back on pure, man-made, lovingly crafted MUSIC. It’s an album designed to unite the people.  The opening track is called ‘Give Life Back to Music’ and it plays like a working manifesto. It’s a roaring success. It’s had to express just how ALIVE the song feels. Every element of it is warm, detailed and joyous.  It sets the tone for an album that is (ironically considering their whole ‘robot’ personas) one of the most human sounding releases I’ve heard in ages.
‘Give Life Back to Music’ melts into ‘The Game of Love’ a song that shimmer’s and ripples like the most laid-back disco classic. Listen to it long enough and you can visualise the light reflecting from the disco ball in a dark club. The robots’ vocoder vocals are an object of great beauty; playful, mysterious and futuristic but nowhere near as creepy or manipulated as the auto-tuned garbage you’re used to hearing in mainstream pop. The synths almost glide; they don’t poke against the other instruments as synths usually do, instead they are used as a bed for everything else to lie on, or a bath for you to soak in. I hope I’m expressing just how warm and smooth and essential the sonic soundscape of the song is. It’s just flawless.
Over the course of 73 minutes (the absolute maximum run time of a single CD), you’ll be transported through many sounds and moods. From the theatrical oddness of the Paul Williams (dude wrote the soundtrack to the Muppets Christmas Carol) co-penned ‘Touch’, to the silky LA soft-rock of the Todd Edwards co-penned ‘Fragments of Time’, this is an album that frolics in kitsch and corn with a non-ironic smile. It’s fun and sometimes funny. It loves with an open heart and doesn’t have a discriminative bone in its body. The session musicians featured, as much as the marquee names, exude class and expertise. The ‘Billie Jean’ bounce on ‘Instant Crush’ is provided by the legendary session player J.R Robinson (he actually played on Billie Jean) and features Julian Casablancas doing his best 2013 Julian Casablancas impression (hey, it’s the best thing to bear his name in at least two years, even if he is sticking with that dreadful falsetto vocal). And it may be Pharell Williams who sings on the two singles but it’s Chic legend Nile Rodgers who provides his now staple funky riff. Elsewhere seasoned guitarist Paul Jackson Jr (whose credits include Thriller) and bass player Nathan East (co-wrote some of Phil Collins hits) sprinkle some star dust over some old-fashioned song-writing.
Despite being such a long and diverse collection, many of the songs are striking in their immediacy. ‘Lose Your Dance’ may be the slightly stodgier, slightly less groovy brother to ‘Get Lucky’ but it has summer smash hit written all over it. ‘Contact’ is a euphoric climax that takes off to the sound of an astronaut discussing some kind of alien object as seen from a distance. Best of all is the epic ‘Georgio by Moroder’. When I heard they were putting a ten minute long spoken word piece as the third track I was justifiably intrigued and perplexed. How could this possibly work? Especially so early on? Well It does. Something about his accent (‘the synthesiser‘), the ‘I Feel Love’ hook and repetitive groove make it one of the definitive disco tracks of recent years.
As a perfectly HUMAN album it’s logical that ‘Random Access Memories’ should be imperfect, which it is. The other week I spoke to a serious collector of obscure disco, a guy who really knows his stuff. I asked him what he thought of ‘Get Lucky’ and although he was as charmed as anyone else by the song’s luxurious melody and accurate recreation of the Chic sound, he was slightly disappointed. ‘I just wish they’d done it harder. Just…HARDER.’ Although I didn’t really know what he meant (he was extremely drunk at the time…possibly stoned) at the same time I knew exactly what he meant. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to drum n bass BPMs and dub-step drops, but ‘Random Access Memories’ feels very light and un-forceful. Nothing on here ever really pushes the tempo and there are one too many ballads for a dance record. I’m reminded of their own song: ‘HARDER, BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER’. Maybe they should have taken on board some of their own imperatives. The only other major flaw of the album is its length. All the classic disco albums (as few as there are) are under 40 minutes. ‘Random Access Memories’ is twice that length, and it loses focus because of it. The only discernible filler is the completely pointless, lethargic and forgettable ‘Motherboard’ but I would have also sacrificed ‘Within’ and ‘Beyond’ – two atmospheric slow jams that dull the pace a little too much.
This is such a hefty, rollercoaster of an album that it can be a little hard to comfortably digest, especially on early listens. It’s called ‘Random Access Memories because (and I’ll quote Daft Punk on this) “It helped us understand how all of these collaborators could live together, because if you look at this bizarre list of people on paper, you could be like, ‘Whoa, that’s gonna be a big mess.” Seen from this perspective the album makes a lot more sense. As a coherent, front to back record it doesn’t work well at all. But as a series of random musical, collaborative memories collected together, it does work. It works very well indeed. In fact it feels like a very important album. It’s one that most people are likely to hear at some point, in some way, and therefore most people are going to form an opinion about it. You will continue to hear ‘Get Lucky’ everywhere. Probably ‘Loose Yourself to Dance’ as well. Sure it has its flaws, but I’m pretty certain you’re not going to remember what you disliked about Random Access Memories, you’re just going to remember its triumphs. I can already imagine it soundtracking key events in 2013 and beyond: Family barbeques, birthday parties, long car-drives, DJ sets, festivals, weddings, tv shows, freshers week shenanigans etc. ‘Random Access Memories’ is going to help create some pretty epic memories.
When people left Coachella they weren’t talking about anything other than Daft Punk and I’d be surprised if people left 2013 without that name still being on their lips. In a very old-fashioned, but very 21st Century way Daft Punk have put us all on the same page again. So whether we are listening to them at festivals or on itunes, talking about them in record store ques or on blogs, thinking about how retro they are or how futuristic they are, we will be united over Daft Punk.
9/10

Jake Bugg ‘Jake Bugg’ – Review

6 Nov

What’s the worth of listening to something without an ounce of originality? I think your answer to that question will determine exactly how you respond to Jake Bugg’s debut album. You may think there is great worth in listening to something that sounds almost exactly like some of your favourite records, or you may think there’s no point at all. From the sepia toned portrait that adorns the cover, to the recording style, that on some tracks mimics the crackles and pops of an old record player, almost everything about ‘Jake Bugg’ is borrowed (some would say stolen) from another age.

This week Bugg said ‘I’m keeping that X Facror shit off the top spot’, which I suppose is a factual statement seeing as he’s number one in the charts and Leona Lewis is number 3. His music is clearly a reaction to the over-processed pop that clogs daytime radio playlists. It’s always been like this, a battle between the authentic and the supposedly inauthentic, rock and pop, but it seems unusual that Bugg and his band of admires (such as Noel Gallagher and NME) should be banging on about his authenticity when he’s mining a genre popularised in the USA at least four decades ago. I guess what they mean is he’s genuine, as in, he means. He’s an authentic kind of guy.

It helps that the songs are raw and honest. Most are acoustic, with minimal arrangements; they are usually impressively restrained, if occasionally a little too restrained (As on ‘Two Fingers’, an enjoyable single that feels slightly limp and lifeless). Bugg’s guitar work is impressive; he’s an 18 year old lad who plays like someone far older and wiser, whether he’s chugging away in the skiffle style or finger pickin like his idols Donovan and Don Mclean. Sometimes this elder statesmen charade is a little tiresome though, as when he says ‘I’ve seen it all, nothing shocks me anymore’. There are a few moments like this where you wonder if Bugg really means what he’s singing or if he’s just repeating what he’s heard on older records like a impressionable parrot.

Guitar music isn’t in vogue at the moment, that’s no seceret, but Jake Bugg is sitting pretty in the number one position. He’s succeed for the same reason that Adele succeeded – he’s very good at what he does, even if what he does isn’t particularly fashionable or innovative. There’s still a sizable audience for this type of music and Jake Bugg is here for that audience, so what’s wrong with that? The ballads (‘Slide’, ‘Broken’, ‘Someplace’) are bigger and the opening trio of songs (‘Lightning Bolt’, ‘Two Fingers’, ‘Taste It’) are more passionate than just about anything you will hear all year. He may not be as authentic as he likes to think he is but Bugg is still walking talking proof that talent will out.

7.5/10

Crystal Castles ‘Crystal Castles’ – Review

29 Apr

The new Crystal Castles album has creepy cover. It’s just a picture of a strange, pale girl dressed in black and hunching over a grave. It’s a striking image yet a vague one, hard to define, hard to connect with. These accusations could just as easily be thrown at the duo’s music not too long ago – sterile, distant, weird and yet striking.

Their debut album defined a certain feeling in electronic music a couple of years back. In particular ‘Alice Practice’ captured an excitement that a new age of nostalgia fueled electro was upon us. It took the beeps and sirens of rave and contrasted them perfectly with 8 bit game sounds and It was something of a revelation. But if people thought that the song would change the face of electro they were wrong, it wouldn’t even predict the major mood of their album. It sat along side a whole host of different musical styles from synth pop to digi punk, techno to shoegaze. It was a deliberate mish-mash of everything and the result was an equally brilliant and frustrrating experience.

Now they are back with album number two and to confuse us even more this is also self titled. Like the first record there is a lot to digest here, it’s fourteen tracks long and each song sounds unique.  This time though they have given us links, themes that reappear along the way, and these titbits keep the songs glued together to make a cohesive and well structured whole. A hip hop beat for example is used to great effect on several tracks, including stand out ‘Empathy’. Alice’s vocals are given the shoegaze treatment most of the time, her voice is hidden and soft making a few tracks sound like M83. It makes the album a smoother ride than the first one, which featured all kinds of crazy vocal tricks and distortion.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still lots of shouting and noise – too much on album opener ‘Fainting Spells’ and first single ‘Doe Deer’ – but the noise now seems to be more carefully considered as a part of the whole. There are no jarring departures from form like there were on the first album, instead emphasis seems to have been placed on the overall sound rather than a single hook or lyric. Therefore when their custom 8 bit sounds appear on ‘I Am Chalk’ they don’t sound gimmicky, they sound like just another instrument.

It’s hard to judge, sitting in an arm-chair, just how good this album is – it simply isn’t meant to be listened to like that. These are songs that need to be heard on the dance floor, or live at a sweaty club. Crystal Castles have always enjoyed a reputation as one of the most insane live acts around and I get the feeling that these songs will fit in nicely with their older material. As a studio band they have moved on leaps and bounds with album number two – it may not have the zeitgeist defining singles that the first one had, but it irons out the niggles and flaws of that album very well. They are still the old Crystal Castles but just more refined.

8/10