Sunday, 23 February 2014

St Vincent - St Vincent Album Review

Annie Clark has been going from strength to strength since the release of Marry Me, her debut solo album under the moniker St Vincent. Her last album Strange Mercy was what cemented her status as the queen of abstract indie-rock, songs like 'Cheerleader' and 'Strange Mercy' showed off her poignant lyricism whilst the catchy 'Cruel' and 'Surgeon' allowed her music to reach a wider audience. There has been a lot of hype around this release and pressure on Annie to produce something better than her last effort, though this task may have seemed impossible, she has done it.

The opener 'Rattlesnake' is a tale of when Annie was nearly bitten by a snake when naked on a friend's ranch (don't ask). 'Prince Johnny' is a swooning ballad with a melody built on ethereal minimoog and modest guitar riffs under Annie's gorgeous vocals. Things get funky on the standout track 'Huey Newton', the song floats on a hip-hop recalling groove with crisp synths before it blasts into a huge distorted guitar riff (Annie's specialty) as she spits "With fatherless features, you motherless creatures you know".

The influence of David Byrne (with whom she made 2012's Love This Giant) is most prominent on the track 'Digital Witness' in which she vents her frustration with the technology obsessed world we live in "what's the point of doing anything", she huffs over whirling synths and a brassy instrumentation which wouldn't have been out of place on Love This Giant. The heart wrenching 'I Prefer Your Love' hits the hardest; the melody recalls Sinead O' Connor's version of 'Nothing Compares 2 U' whilst the distant production recalls Julia Holter's 'Hello Stranger'. It's absolutely mesmerizing. 

The second half of this record is when the album gets into poppier territory and this is no bad thing.The insatiably fun 'Bring Me All Your Loves' sounds like a 00's pop star malfunctioning over an onslaught of distorted riffs and synths. The outstanding moment on this album though (and what may well be her best track yet) is 'Psychopath', it's unashamedly pop whilst still maintaining her unique sound. The souring hook "Keep me on your soft sites when all of the rest have moved on" is backed by subtle yet wistful synths and fluttering guitar strums. The record reaches a fittingly majestic climax on the closer 'Severed Crossed Fingers'. The light and fluffy production juxtaposes the gruesome lyrics, the macabre couplet "Spitting our guts from their gears/ draining our spleen over years", being a prime example. A wonderful barbed-wire sandwich that leaves you wanting more.

It isn't easy to create such beauty in a sea of distortion and noise, but Annie Clark manages it every time and this is why she is one of the greatest musicians in the world right now. Her immense talent for abstract storytelling ('Prince Johnny'), observations of the world ('Digital Witness') and bearing of her soul ('I Prefer Your Love') cannot be disputed. She is well and truly the master of controlled chaos.


Key Tracks: Prince Johnny, Huey Newton, I Prefer Your Love, Bring Me All Your Loves, Psychopath, Severed Crossed Fingers

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness Review

Missouri singer/songwriter and I Plug To You favourite Angel Olsen's assent to prominence wasn't instant; much like her songwriting, her fanbase has grown and developed over time. I was fortunate enough to discover Angel way back in 2011 shortly after she released her debut mini-album Strange Cacti and I've been hooked ever since. Strange Cacti was a curious record, despite the heavy reverb her skill and immense talent were crystal clear. Although, the true extent of Angel's semi-operatic lull wasn't apparent until the release of her debut album proper, the stripped back Half Way Home the following year. With such high expectations, I can wholeheartedly say that she hasn't disappointed in the slightest.
The album opens with 'Unfucktheworld' a timid two-minute track which, much like her previous material, references the sensation of loneliness (the repetition of the lyric "I am the only one now" being most prominent). 'Unfucktheworld' acts as the calm before the storm that is the mighty single 'Forgiven/Forgotten' which sent the music community into a frenzy when it dropped late last year. Here we see a new, more assertive Angel as she chants "I made up my mind, I made up my mind/I wasted my time, making up my mind". The alt-country stomper 'Hi-five', like it's predecessor is backed by a full band  which help maximize the impact of the comic line "Hi-Hive! So am I!". 'White fire' on the other hand is a sobering 7-minute journey of a track which lures you in further with it's dark intensity and sinister undertones as she warbles "I heard my mother thinking me right back into my birth, I laughed so loud inside myself it all began to hurt".
Just when you wonder if Angel's more upbeat sound was just a phase, you are hit with the anomalous 'High & Wild' which like the name suggests is erratic and totally random, in the best possible way.  Angel broadens her horizons further with the introduction of piano to her ever-expanding repertoire. The piano rattles alongside the drums and gritty guitars as she sings "I'm neither innocent nor wise when you look me in the eyes". The next stand-out comes in the form of 'Stars'; the hearty guitars and pounding guitars recall the instrumentation found on Anna Calvi's atmospheric debut alongside Angel's gorgeous coo which soars as she cries "I'll close my eyes, I'll close my eyes so tightly for the world".
'Dance Slow Decades' is an elegant  ballad which builds into a majestic climax to become one of Angel's most optimistic tracks yet. Like on 'Hi-five' , here we can see Angel's maturity and development as a person as well as an artist as finds a more positive outlook on life . On 'Enemy', Angel is opening up to her lover over a skeletal guitar line which showcase her voice wonderfully to great an intimate and warm listen. The closer 'Windows' has an underlying resilience which juxtaposes the fragility of her voice as she asks "What's so wrong with the light?". It's as if (as cheesy as it sounds) through opening the window, after all the sorrow, she is finally able to find a glimmer of hope in all the gloom.
From the the glorious highs ('Hi-Five') to the devastating lows ('White Fire'); Burn Your Fire...'s genius is in it's ability to strike the perfect balance between the two. Whilst her debut was crippling at times ('Safe In The Womb' in particular); Burn Your Fire... turns despair into triumph as it sticks up her middle finger to loneliness and sorrow before leaving them behind on the wonderfully uplifting 'Windows'. 
Key Tracks: Unfucktheworld, Forgiven/Forgotten, Hi-Five, Stars, Dance Slow Decades, Windows

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Katy B - Little Red Album Review

It's a rare moment when a song actually blows me away, there have been many I've really enjoyed over the past few years but only a handful of songs have fully knocked me off my feet due to their sheer brilliance. Katy B's debut single 'Katy On A Mission' was one of those songs. The beat. Katy's vocals. The chorus. It was all so right. This wasn't a fluke though, she backed it up by an equally excellent album, the Mercury nominated On A Mission. Following up such an accomplished debut album was never going to be easy, but Peckham's dancefloor queen has delivered once again.

Little Red opens with the extremely 90's sounding 'Next Thing' which is one of Katy's most club-ready tunes to date with it's heavy house beat and layered samples. Next is the catchy-as-hell single '5AM' which still sounds as fresh as the first time I heard it. The highlight of course is the 2012 buzz single 'Aaliyah' featuring the excellent sultry purrs of fellow South Londoner Jessie Ware. 'I Like You' (originally the b-side for 5AM) was a surprise addition, while I can't help feeling that she should've saved it for the album instead of dropping it earlier, George Fitzgerald's progressive production still burns bright. 

There are times when I miss the ramshackle charm of her previous material; the tracks on Little Red feel much more polished, this isn't necessarily a bad thing but at times I wish there was a bit more rawness production-wise. The ballads 'Crying For No Reason' and 'Still' show a new, softer side to Katy and give this record more depth than her debut. Sapha's soulful tone bounces of Katy's vocals perfectly on the track 'Play', and the twinkling production make it a nauseatingly beautiful listen. Sadly like on her debut, Little Red has a bit of filler, the tracks 'All My Lovin'' and 'Emotions' feel a bit unnecessary on such a strong album. However, 'Everything', 'Play' and 'Still' prevent it from being top-heavy 'banger'-wise. 

Overall, Little Red is an immensely confident body of work. Katy continues to utilise her gorgeous hook-laden voice and her knack for selecting the best dance producers around to create 2014's first great pop album. Whilst it isn't as good as her debut, the 
best moments on here show that there is much more to come from this ever-rising star. 


Key Tracks: 'Next Thing', 'Aaliyah', 'Play', 'Everything', 'Still'

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Best of January 2014

Let’s face it, January is crap. It's cold, it’s stormy and pretty much everyone is skint from Christmas. Fortunately, there has been a heap of good music for me to sink my teeth into and stop me from loosing the will to live at this dire time.

Album of the month - Warpaint - Warpaint

Admittedly, there wasn't exactly much competition considering January is never the optimum month for album releases. There were valiant efforts from Dum Dum Girls and Actress but this release from Warpaint stood out for all the right reasons. Despite being more subdued than it's predecessor, Warpaint made a quantum leap with this album. From the sultry coos of 'Love Is To Die' and 'CC' to the buzzing bass lines of 'Hi' and 'Disco//Very', there is a lot to love here. 

Check out my review in full here.

2. Dum Dum Girls - Too True
After two LP's Dee Penny and co. have finally stricken the right balance between shoegaze and indie-pop to create a extremely fun, catchy and exciting record in the form of Too True. Album standouts 'Rimbaud Eyes' and 'Lost Boys and Girls Club' are easily the best songs they've ever produced. Third time lucky I guess...

3. Actress - Ghettoville 
Despite being a bit too long in my opinion, when this record is good, it's really good. From the intense 'Rims' to the nauseating 'Rap'; this album is full of textures and layers, as long as you have the patience to find them all.

EP of the month - Menace Beach - Lowtalker

Whilst I'm not really a fan of the EP format, the debut EP from Leeds band Menace Beach was a great way to kick of 2014. A band which features members of Hookworms, Sky Larkin and Pulled Apart By Horses were never gonna disappoint were they? They embody the best of 90's rock whilst recalling other influences to give a new take on the genre. I am looking forward to what else they'll put out this year.

Songs of The Month

1. Kyla La Grange - Cut Your Teeth
The Watford singer/songwriter returns with a new look and a new, improved sound. Through trading her gutsy folk guitars for crisp synths she has taken her artistry to the next level.

2. Real Estate - Talking Backwards
The New Jersey slackers return with one of their catchiest songs to date. Although they haven't really changed their sound much, when their sound is perfect, is change really necessary?

3. Neneh Cherry - Everything
18 years since her last solo album (1996's Man) Neneh Cherry is back with a new sound and more confidence than ever. Her soulful vocals are complimented perfectly by Four Tet's sparse beats. The song get better as her vocals become more unhinged and the bast become looser, so far this new album is shaping up to be one of the year's best. I am particularly excited about her collaboration with fellow Swede Robyn.

4. Bombay Bicycle Club - Luna
With shimmering production and a hell of a crescendo, 'Luna' continues Bombay Bicycle Club's thus far flawless album campaign. 

5. St Vincent - Digital Witness
Speaking of flawless album campaigns, here's Annie Clark (A.K.A St Vincent) with yet another incredible new song from her self-titled forth solo album (due in February). 

6. Angel Olsen - Hi-Five
Angel Olsen can do no wrong in my opinion, with a voice like hers it is impossible to produce a bad song. She continues her gritty streak with this blues-infused alt-country stomper. 

7. Mac Demarco - Passing Out Pieces
Everyone's favourite goofball Mac Demarco is back with a summery new tune to get us through the cold. Judging by this, his new album Salad Days could see him reaching a larger audience.

8. Lyla Foy - Feather Tongue
Formally known as WALL, Lyla Foy is gearing up for the release of her debut album Mirrors In The Sky in March. 'Feather Tongue' is yet another light and sweet slice of indie pop.

9. Perfect Pussy - Driver
DC punks Perfect Pussy *sniggers* are following up their angsty EP I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling with their debut album Say Yes To Love later this year. 'Driver' is a loud, punchy, fun and aggressive slice of punk, but it's certainly not for everyone.

10. MØ - Don't Wanna Dance
Far from her best, MØ's new single is a bit more generic than her previous material but is still good enough to warrant a place on the list. Here's hoping she returns to her 'Maiden'/'Pilgrim' style on her debut album.

Worst Song - Foster The People - Coming Of Age
Now I'm saying this as a huge fan of their first album, but this song is terrible. Maybe it's because of the high expectations I had after their old material? or maybe this just isn't very good...the production is sounds dated, the chorus falls flat and it's just really boring quite frankly. I'm trying really hard to like it but it just isn't happening. Hopefully there will be better songs on their new album but for now I'll stick to Call It What You Want.

Judge For Yourself:

With new releases from the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, Patten, Katy B, St Vincent and Angel Olsen, February will be an absolute belter.