What we’re listening to

What we’re listening to (#22): ‘Midnight Snack’ by Homeshake

HOMESHAKE is the alias of Peter Sagar, best known as being the former touring guitarist of Mac DeMarco – he took time off from the touring life citing loneliness and detachment from friends and family to focus on his solo project, releasing The Homeshake TapeIn the Shower, and, most recently, Midnight Snack.

Comparisons to DeMarco will always come up – the jangly chorus effect guitar is still there, some wavy synths, some falsetto crooning, the ingredients to a DeMarco album are all there. But there’s something to Sagar’s music that’s a bit different. Where as his former bandmate’s Another One  is filled with charming love ballads topped with trademark goofiness, Midnight Snack is more RnB, more spacious, minimal with a twang of experimental,  and perfect for a midnight listen (who’d have thunk it?).

The introductory spoken word piece drops you seamlessly into the opener ‘Heat’ – a detuned synth  and a drum machine loop, a change from In the Shower‘s guitar led tracks, provide the backing for a catchy opening and chorus vocal melody, the subject matter definitely evoking the loneliness aforementioned – “All alone and got nothing to do
except lie awake and dream of you”

‘He’s Heating Up!’ follows, the guitar making its debut on the album, shaky and rapid riffs the core, a bass lumbering in the background – the chorus is the key to this song, the vocal melody is really catchy, the basketball analogy works well, and the manipulated-backing vocals aren’t too intruding that it takes away from the song. The song is so minimal, but it’s most definitely more than the sum of its part.

“Looks like I put up a brick again
I can feel it
(He’s heating up!)
Got stoned and then he jammed it in
I can see it
(He’s heating up!)
One lonely shot no good for two
But I need it
(He’s heating up!)
You wanna hold onto him too
(He’s on fire!)”

The vocal manipulation is much clearer on other tracks – ‘Give It To Me’ is perhaps the best track on the album. A trunk-shaking 808 is the heartbeat of the track, and whilst Sagar’s falsetto is on full display a pitched backing vocal picks up the rest of the weight. An extremely sensual guitar riff breaks the pattern in the chorus, windchimes ringing along for the ride. A cry for feeling and love, quintessential dream pop.

‘Under the Sheets’ continues the vocal manipulation, strongly so – drumless, synth stabs provide the percussion for the bass to follow, whilst airy and robotic vocals fly over the top. It’s probably the least pleasant listen on the album if I’m honest, and doesn’t quite fit the rest of the album’s more laid-back vibe. It’s up to you whether you want to applaud the imaginative production or not.

When you’re listening to this album, throw any connection to Mac DeMarco away – there are some things Sagar does better than DeMarco, and there are things DeMarco does better than Sagar, but they’re two different musicians. The first half of the album is stronger than the second, and whilst the drum machine use does tend itself towards repetitiveness, it’s easy to get lost in the airy and spacious nature of the album so it’s really a minor drawback.  So, what are you waiting for, grab yourself a snack and give this album a listen.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez 

What we’re listening to (#21): ‘Submarine – EP’ by Alex Turner

Submarine, a 2010 film directed by Richard Ayoade of IT Crowd fame (who has directed some past Arctic Monkeys’ music videos, notably ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and ‘Cornerstone’), was about story of Oliver Tate and his comically strange and awkward coming-of-age. Visually it’s slightly washed out, a faint sepia colour correction a feature of most scenes, some Super-8 footage thrown in to boot. It really is a great film overall, quirky yet cool, and not too far on either side of the scale, topped off by a phenomenal soundtrack as written by Alex Turner.

He ditches his typical rock style that he’s been known for a long time and instead opts to pick up his acoustic guitar to provide at the time five (and a half) new songs – it’s soft, ballad-like, and there’s not too much going on that it detracts from itself as well as the film. If you’re watching the film, the tracks are more of a secondary focus, and so Turner doesn’t pull all the tricks from out of his sleeve lyrically and musically, instead restraining himself. The result is an album that on the surface, especially when combined with the content of the film, perfectly reflects the uncertainties of adolescence whilst showing the growth of Turner as a musician separate from the Arctic Monkeys, his at times snarky yet retaining tenderness.

 

 

‘Stuck on the Puzzle’, fairly barebones with simple percussion providing backing a slowly picked chordal-background, a solid bass riff, and a watery organ synth that comes to the fore at the end, is perhaps, audibly speaking, one of the more catchier songs on the album. Turner croons away about the stubbornness of a teenager’s emotions and the perceived eventual change in view that comes with age, and a realisation at the end that he just ends up in the same place he started, confused as ever:

“I tried to swim to the side
But my feet got caught in the middle
And I thought I’d seen the light
But oh, no
I was just stuck on the puzzle
Stuck on the puzzle”

‘Piledriver Waltz’, later reworked into a more upbeat and rocky version on the Arctic Monkeys’ Suck It and See, is also notable, it’s crescendo building up perfectly, a breathy delivery of the words ‘Piledriver’ bringing in the organ synth that lays in the background for the whole song to play a fantastic melody – lyrically though it’s not quite there, and Turner only just manages to make the hotel metaphor of the chorus work, the line “If you’re going to try and walk on water make sure you wear your comfortable shoes” wrapping it up nicely. It’s a great way to close the EP, the time-signature changes a great highlight.

 

The other three tracks feature less instrumentation but provide better imagery via the more classic Turner-lyricism on display, and there’s so many lines that can be pointed too. Personal favourites include “And I will play the coconut shy//and win a prize even if it’s rigged//I won’t know when to stop//And you can leave off my lid, and I won’t even lose my fizz//I’ll be the polka dots type” (on ‘Hiding Tonight’), and “It’s like you’re trying to get to heaven in a hurry//And the queue was shorter than you thought it would be//And the doorman says “you need to get a wristband”” (on ‘It’s Hard to Get Around the Wind). The latter evokes almost Bob Dylan/Simon and Garfunkel-esque vibes with its fingerpicking, strings extremely delicately placed beneath, the former’s electronic notes almost equally as unobtrusive. ‘Glass in the Park’ features some fantastic secondary-lead guitar for a bit extra melodic weight.

The album does sound quite samey throughout, but that’s what was trying to be achieved, a soundtrack that could be followed with the progression of the film, with the progression of the character of Oliver Tate, and in fact shows very well the progression of Alex Turner as an artist.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

What we’re listening to (#20): ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ by Drake

I went back to listen to this album after I had a friendly debate with good friend of mine about two of hip hop’s modern day heavyweights: Kendrick Lamar and Drake.

I’m in the camp that absolutely adores Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but my friend made some valid points about the anachronistic nature of his instrumentation when compared to many other artists around today, and how his delivery is seemingly too forced at times – he said that he was ‘too conscious’ at times, and at first I wrote this off as complete rubbish, but I began to think about it a bit more.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and To Pimp a Butterfly are both albums that I can listen to the entirety of the way through, but they provide such different experiences – To Pimp a Butterfly is a more memorable experience, complex composition, social-lyrical wizardry, and interesting vocal inflections make sure of that, but Drake’s album is a fluid experience, one that I can lie on my bed and listen to, downtempo vibes throughout. Drake and Kendrick are two sides of the same game, both bringing forward different things.

This record releases Drake of his commercial restraints (well documented on the album); there aren’t too many club tunes on this one, you get stripped down and filtered production from his frequent collaborators Boi-1da and Noah 40 Shebib. The backbone will often be a simple piano or synth line, or a tender chord progression. Stuttering high-hats and some sub-bass round out the instrumentation, resulting in eerie, captivating, yet easy to listen to beats – ‘Star67’ and opener ‘Legend’ in particular take on this role. That’s not to say that you won’t be getting hyped at some points in the album, the still powerful ‘Know Yourself’ provides the best hook on the album and brings great energy, whilst the fast-paced synth of ‘6 God’ provides a much more menacing feel.

On some tracks Drake vents and rants, ‘Energy’ clear in this aspect as he goes in on those things which drain him, and ‘No Tellin”, where he talks of his record label issues, saying “Envelopes coming in the mail, let her open ‘em, hoping for a check again, ain’t no telling”. The highlight has to be on bonus track ‘6PM in New York’, where he comes out with a now infamous line against Tyga:

“It’s so childish calling my name on the world stage, you need to act your age and not your girl’s age”

Yes, the rough Drake is not convincing as the ‘Drake the type of n-gga who…’ Drake, and yes the first half of the album is in fact much better than the second, and yes the guest producers on the album really don’t do as good as a job as they should have, but we have to remember; this was just a stopgap, a mixtape, almost a track-dump. The fact that he felt confident to put such compelling songs on this album should make us all feel incredibly excited for Views From the 6.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez. 

What we’re listening to (#19) – ‘James Blake’ by James Blake

James Blake – Mercury Prize winner and Grammy nominated electronic/post-dubstep producer, singer-songwriter, and remixer (under the name Harmonix).

After releasing the Klavierwerke EP (German for ‘piano works’) for his second-year assignment at Goldsmiths University, he released his self-titled debut studio album under his own record label ATLAS, supported by A&M Records.

Relying on original samples (i.e. sampling his own vocals rather than other artists), Blake creates an often minimalistic-based yet full sounding atmosphere, his soulful, whispering voice being bent and manipulated to haunting effect.

Opener ‘Unluck’, unsettling and peculiar, shows Blake’s ability to build crescendos to claustrophobic effect, the simple synth that opens the song being enveloped by distortion, backed by an irregular drum beat. His vocals later take centre-stage, being gradually processed like the synthesizer, the wobbly breakdown laid under his pitched vocals, repeating different variations of only six lines to incredible effect.

 

‘The Wilhelm Scream’ follows, a cover of Blake’s father’s ‘Where to Turn’, which is clearly much more acoustically-based than his son’s formulation. Again, a filtered synth opens up the song, a simple drum pattern to back. Again, lyrically, there a few lines, just two verses which are repeated, building with synths which are slowly eaten away with overdrive and waves of ambient noise to powerful effect.

“All that I know is,
I’m falling, falling, falling, falling
Might as well fall in”

Other highlights include a cover of Feist’s ‘Limit to Your Love’, based around a masterfully employed sub-bass, a reverb-laden piano, and Blake’s crooning vocals. Removing the optimistic introduction and bridge of the original, this version is a much more heart-wrenching rendition, the crescendo being a patterned bass-pattern over a simple bass-snare groove with an 808-life ride cymbal.

 

The beauty of many of the songs on this album is that Blake can reproduce them to incredible levels of similarities live – this record contains instrumentation and vocals that go well beyond James Blake’s then 22-year-old, so the fact that he can emulate the same sounds live is a great feat that is rare in this decade of music.

Blake’s style can be tiring at some points, most evidenced in ‘I Never Learnt to Share’, there only being one line repeated throughout the whole song, and sometimes it does feel like he’s manipulating and adding effects just for the sake of it, but listening to the double-billed ‘Lindisfarne’ will answer most questions as to why he pursues his chosen stylistic path of music

This article was written by Mo Hafeez. 

What we’re listening to (#18): ‘6 Feet Beneath the Moon’ by King Krule

By Mo Hafeez

I recently reviewed Archy Marhsall’s latest effort, A New Place 2 Drown – give it a read here 

King Krule a.k.a. Zoo Kid a.k.a Edgar the Beatmaker a.k.a. DJ JD Sports and so on and so forth – Archy Marshall is no stranger to music, treading the fine line between multiple genres, from jazz, punk, and hip-hop, to more obscure post-punk and new-wave. Under the King Krule moniker, he’s paid more attention to the former three.

Anyone who’s friends with me on Facebook will know that the main album that I’ve been listening to over the past week or so is ‘6 Feet Beneath the Moon’, King Krule’s debut full-length album released in 2013 – in actuality, what I’ve been listening to is more of a compilation album, as the majority of the tracks on the record have been featured on past EPs.

Recording all tracks before he even reached the age of 20, what was surprising was the gravel and gruffness in his voice, a kind of baritone rife with emotion, leading to some fantastic moments of intensity on the album. His voice bites and stings, its detuned nature gripping to listen to.

Musically, the album is dripping with reverb, both on his voice and his guitar, and the soundscape in general feels barren , not overly crowded by unnecessary features. Spacious drumming and/or drum loops back him up, echoing around the room, giving an intimate feeling with its minimalistic nature.

New tracks on the album include ‘Baby Blue’, a dreary ballad featuring Marshall singing to a lover who does not have mutual feelings for him, and though it treads around cliche territory lyrically, his drawl somehow gives the words some deeper meaning, the way they’re awkwardly pushed out. Instrumentation is kept basic, smooth jazz-guitar picking the main focus, laid on top of an almost trap-inspired drum beat.

‘Easy Easy’ features even less instrumentation, with just Marshall and his guitar telling a story of a man chased by the police with no escape from them and indeed no escape from his daily life – again, it treads around cliche territory lyrically, but again it’s saved by vocal delivery that adds deeper more emotional meaning, especially on the choruses where he almost loses his pitching. It should be noted that live versions feature some excellent drumming, and an added guitar and bass guitar.

‘Out Getting Ribs’ was re-recorded for this album, released previously under his Zoo Kid moniker – however, in my opinion the song in fact feels much better in the original recording rather than the studio recording, the echoey screams of “Don’t break away// I’ll waste away” having a much greater impact than when they’re just sang, and the emotional “I’m sorry” which splits the song also adds to it. Again, just a reverb-laden guitar backs up Marshall in this song he wrote when he was just 15.

More fast-tempo songs on the album include ‘A Lizard State’, lyrically perhaps a weaker song but instrumentally exciting, horns providing excellent backing to Marshall’s band, and giving an extremely soulful and jazzy solo here and there too. On ‘Neptune Estate’ and ‘The Noose of Jah City’ you can hear his early forays into hip-hop and rapping, the delivery on some lines almost spoken-word esque.

If the single he released prior to the release of this album, ‘Rock Bottom’, had replaced one of the weaker songs on the album, he perhaps would have captivated for the entire 52 minute experience, and he perhaps would be experiencing greater recognition today – either way though, this album is a fantastic listen.

What we’re listening to (#17): ‘Veneer’ by José Gonzalez

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I’m a supporter of Swedish singer-songwriter José Gonzalez and his stripped down album Veneer, the only two personnel on the record being himself and Stefan Sporson (who appears on only one track, ‘Broken Arrows’).

Not only is Gonzalez a very talented guitarist, but he also has a knack for bringing somewhat-classically styled playing to a larger audience in the format of indie-folk tunes. In fact, he’s so talented that it kind of takes away from his lyrical prowess, which when you look at on paper, is nothing to go crazy over, with much repetition being used throughout – however, when you combine the two together, along with his low almost mumbling voice which are double tracked to great effect at various points on tracks, it creates a very ethereal atmosphere.

The only time he picks up the energy (only very slightly) is in ‘Hints’, centered around a fairly complex riff when combined with the fact he’s singing over it – his lyrics are more forcefully delivered, the guitar more tense, the only percussion present being Gonzalez’s fingers move up and down the fretboard, his use of non-standard tunings creating an interesting chordal basis for the track.

Other originals like ‘Crosses’ and ‘Remain’ continue to showcase talent, particularly his unique strumming and picking patterns,  but perhaps the repetitive lyrics might throw some listeners off. The latter’s riff stuck in my head long after my first listen, and the very well built up ending is another instance where Gonzalez goes a bit more upbeat, with Bonfa-esque jazz vibes.

The song that most people know from this album is ‘Heartbeats’, a cover of a song by the Swedish band the Knife – perhaps most remember the Sony Bravia television shot in San Francisco advert more. Even though it’s not his own song, he makes enough changes to it to keep it original, to keep you listening, and whilst he was that, he also crafted a melody that many aspiring guitarists took their time to learn (including myself). The lyrics, whilst not his, are poignant and are sung poignantly:

“And you, you knew the hands of the devil
And you, kept us awake with wolf teeth
Sharing different heartbeats
In one night”

This album has the power to put you asleep, and I mean this in a good way – Gonzalez’s voice has a certain quality that is difficult to place your finger on.

If you’re craving for something different, pick up this album.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

What we’re listening to (#16): ‘Sunny Side Up’ by Paolo Nutini

Paolo Nutini’s debut album These Streets honestly didn’t do much to set him apart from his peers – he hadn’t quite landed on a genre, and his lyrics were very casual at times, especially in ‘New Shoes’. He was a simple singer-songwriter who was acting older than he really was. Extremely tight production often took away from the gruffness in his voice that was starting to come through, but it meant that the record was relatively accessible. The album wasn’t a flop by any means, managing to sell a few million over time, but it wasn’t enough to save him from the James Blunt and James Morrison comparisons.

Sunny Side Up isn’t a regular sophomore album, it sounds like an album made by someone who’s been on the circuit for a while and knows his niche well.  His voice is the real kicker here, it progressed from barely post-teenager to fifty-something crooner in three years.

“10/10” opens up the album with reggae, and arguably it’s not the most exciting foray into the genre, but enjoyable nonetheless – the song perfectly introduces us to Paolo’s more growling-prevalent stylings. “Coming Up Easy”, welcoming listeners back to Nutini’s regular style, a great whirling organ-backed piece that breaks upbeat verses and choruses with a short sucker-punching bridge – he also does the same towards the end of the track, with a great crescendo over the words:

“It was in love I was created and in love is how I hope I die”

He does a similar thing at the end of “No Other Way”, albeit in a much more soulful manner – the brass creeps in, building towards the chorus of the Scottish-Italian singing about the ups and downs of relationships. A short offbeat reggae styled bridge breaks up the 2nd verse and the chorus, and after this extended chorus, Nutini lets it rip, all out screams of the words “oh baby” providing a fantastic goosebump-factor.

“Pencil Full of Lead” was one of the songs of the summer, receiving extended radio-play for a few months, and acts a fantastic pick-me-up along with “High Hopes” on an album which is otherwise quite sombre.

The album’s first single “Candy” is also worth a listen, and once again he employs a crescendo towards the end, which was often cut-off when played on radio – without it, it has to be said that it might just be a regular rock-soul ballad. It does showcase Nutini’s talent to write songs about relationships and what not without sounding to cliche or cutesy, and he does it very intimately on the track:

Nutini’s follow up to this album wasn’t too shabby either –

This article was written by Mo Hafeez