Monday, 22 June 2015

Jaakko Eino Kalevi - S/T review

Jaakko Eino Kalevi st

As you may have gathered from my Jamie XX review earlier this month, I have a deep appreciation for music which encompasses levity and space whilst retaining its hooks and melodic charm. Unlike In Colour however, the focus of Jaakko Eino Kalevi isn’t in the club, but rather the subtleties in basic day-to-day life, viewed through tinted spectacles. His music first caught my attention when I heard the stunning “No End” from his Dreamzone EP back in late 2013, I was captivated by the hushed vocals (courtesy of frequent collaborator Suad Khalifa) and the woozy yet distinct melody which circulated my brain for the last two years (no exaggeration). Even though none of the 4 tracks from the EP made it onto the track list, Jaakko Eino Kalevi feels very much like an expansion upon the ideas he presented on Dreamzone, cementing his status as the best thing to have come out of Sweden in recent memory.

Before I heard this record I was slightly anxious as to whether or not Jaakko Eino Kalevi could pull off an album’s worth of material, Dreamzone may have worked incredibly well as a 4-track EP but would his act wear thin on an entire LP? The answer is yes, yes he can. The opening track “JEK” and the unpronounceable closing track “Ikuinen Purkautumaton Jännite” act as bookends for the record, both mirroring the same progressive production style with glacial synths driving their melodies which build up to epic climaxes, especially the closer, which erupts into a fantastic horn section. For the most part Jaakko Eino Kalevi is made up of avant garde lounge pop, with many tracks being suitable for some kind of obscure ’70s movie with heaps of smoke and mustaches (which would be aptly strange). The track “Room” encompasses this imagery the most, with Jaakko and Suad’s hushed vocal harmonies creating a sultry bedroom jam.

Away from the more ambient and atmospheric sounds that dominate the album come some more distinctive and memorable tracks, some more ‘poppy’ moments if you will. The obvious standout is “Deeper Shadows”, with it’s hook-laden panpipe-led melody and meandering dual vocals, making this his catchiest and most instant track to date. Elsewhere the disorientating shoegaze of “Double Talk” draws on simplicity with the refrain “You talk, double talk/you think, double thoughts”. The penultimate track “Hush Down” calls upon a funkier aspect of JEK’s sound, particularly the warped synth-heavy pre-chorus leading up to the joyous slurry grooves of the chorus. These tracks in particular standout against the chilled and surreal backdrop of the rest of the LP, creating a sense of diversity.

What is so remarkable about Jaakko Eino Kalevi is that there aren’t actually that many standout tracks in the traditional sense (besides the three singles), yet every track plays a vital roll in pulling the listener into the surreal dream-pop universe created by this synth-pop troubadour. Whether it be the icy synths of the unofficial theme tune JEK or the jazzy outro of the closing track, there are plenty of astonishing artistic achievements scattered across this excellent record. This is undoubtedly one of the best debuts of the year so far and one that simply must grace your summer playlist.


Best tracks: JEK, Double Talk, Deeper Shadows, Hush Down, Ikuinen Purkautumaton Jännite

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Florence + the Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful review

florence and the machine How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Over their spectacular albeit short discography, Florence and the Machine have achieved both critical and commercial acclaim ever since they burst onto the scene in 2007 with “Dog Days Are Over” and subsequently their debut album Lungs. What initially drew my attention to FATM was the commanding and passionate vocals of front woman and primary songwriter Florence Welch alongside the organic and ‘quirky’ instrumentation that dominated the band’s early material. On their sophomore album Ceremonials however, the band left the meadows and forest creatures behind in favor of soul choirs, lavish string arrangements and a new, more sleek aesthetic altogether. As much I adore both of the aforementioned records, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful comes as a refreshing new chapter for the band’s discography, delivering a sharp, streamlined yet equally enjoyable record.

As the title hints, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful contains a fair number of epic moments, in fact, I’d go as far as to say that the record is dominated by huge choruses, much like the band’s previous material. ‘Ship to Wreck’, one of the more uptempo and joyous cuts, laced with jingle-jangling guitar chords which recall the solo work of Fleetwood Mac legend Stevie Nicks. One of the bigger moments on the record come on the horn-laced “Queen of Peace”, which is one of the strongest tracks the band have ever produced both sonically and lyrically, the tense horn/drum combo along with the regal imagery capture Florence Welch’s lyrical talent at its very best, a career highlight. Another standout, “Third Eye”, displays Welch’s knack for hook-laden songwriting, complete with soaring chants and the desperate assertion of the lyric “I’m the same, I’m the same, I’m trying to change”, once again reinforcing the idea that this record is a new chapter for the band.

Between these grand moments Florence and Co. also come through with some more reflective cuts, some rather blue moments, if you will. This mood is captured perfectly on the track “Caught”; what feels like a real breakthrough for Welch artistically, “Caught” is a frank and honest confession of her shortcomings, as if she’s coming clean and leaving her mistakes behind in order to free herself at last. This reflective vibe serves her less well on the track “Long & Lost”, one of the weaker tracks on the record. Here the instrumentation remains stagnant and even a little drab despite Welch’s voice being as stunning as ever. Even if the melody isn’t up to much I will always welcome a track where I can hear Florence giving a more restrained vocal performance, so this is still very much an essential part of the album.

When the moments of melancholy subside, the clouds eventually part to reveal a glimmer of sun to penetrate the grey-scale sheen, making for some, dare I say, rather beautiful moments. With harp being such a prominent feature on many of their older tracks, we know that Florence and the Machine never shy away from a more ethereal and otherworldly sound. On the stunning penultimate track “St Jude”, we hear a more skeletal and vulnerable side of the band’s sound, the use of organ reflecting the soulful grandeur of Ceremonials, to some extent. The title track is one of the more dynamic moments on the record, deviating from folk-rock to baroque and chamber pop when the horn and string sections kick in towards the swooning outro.

With such an ambitious title and such a long absence, it is just as well that Florence and the Machine have in fact come through with a record which is big, blue and beautiful (I went there). With only 11 tracks on the standard edition, every track is vital to the flow and momentum of the record; gentle and reflective cuts like “St Jude” and “Caught” ensure that there is emotional diversity whilst the more anthemic tracks like “Third Eye” and “Queen Of Peace” retain the mainstream appeal of the band’s older sound, striking the perfect balance between appeasing loyal fans and including those who didn’t quite get the oddball charm of the band’s earlier material.


Best tracks: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Queen of Peace, Caught, Third Eye, St Jude