Album

Album Review – ‘Reverie’ by Tom Misch

Tom Misch, singer, guitarist, violinist, and producer, puts together a perfect Summer record with his EP Reverie. I had first ran into him whilst surfing those YouTube channels who are wanting to make themselves home to a particular style of music (think Majestic Casual, Holy Chill, Chillhop, etc.). The track I actually heard is featured on the EP, a collaboration with his saxophonist sister Laura Misch.

Tom Misch’s soothing voice pairs fantastically with the saxophone in the chorus, especially when the harmonies kick in. The double-bass behind the track has been beefed up in the low-end providing a more 808 like style, filling out the track considerably when paired with the drum loops. Lyrically there’s not much to be amazed by, but by no means does it hinder the track either, the scat “m-m m-m-m-m maybe” being a very nice touch and variation to the song.

Despite Misch’s instrumental prowess, he actually employs drum loops and all four tracks of the EP. This could have felt repetitive had the rest of the production not been rather interesting. Opener ‘Crazy Dream’ has a nice enveloped synthesiser which is joined by funk-inspired guitar and bass on the chorus. The rapping, whilst matching Misch’s soothing vocals, almost sound too smooth and relaxed, but again, it’s not a major upset or anything to criticise overly, especially when the lead synth is embedded beautifully towards the end of the track, and so Loyle Carner‘s feature does not go to waste.

‘I Wish’ features a snap-snared beat following a summery-acoustic guitar, an opening which remained me of Chance the Rapper’s ‘Favourite Song’ – I wasn’t quite sure of the chorus, it doesn’t quite fit with the more downtempo feeling of the song, the bass guitar and guitar pairing together to play a much upbeat riff. Had this solely comprised the chorus it would have been a questionable decision, but Misch adds his vocals prior to this little section, accentuated by crash cymbals to make it the change-up manageable.

‘Watch Me Dance’ closes the album, Misch’s violinist upbringing coming to the fore as the track is introduced with a lamenting string section which slips to the background as he brings in guitar and vocals. At around the 1 minute 40 second mark the name of the track comes to light as the kick drum drives the track forward with the bass guitar and guitar riffing away over the top of this.

The track really demonstrates his influences from funk, to hip-hop, to house as well. For someone who has yet to release a full-length debut album, Tom Misch is continuing to make waves, impressively selling out venues and embarking on his first US tour. I’ve yet to find a song that he’s written that I dislike, or rather that I don’t like, and so I hope he continues his ways and wish him success.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

Album Review – ‘IV’ by BADBADNOTGOOD

I’ve talked in the past about how jazz as a genre constantly moves in cycles (to use Q-Tip’s language), and BADBADNOTGOOD are perhaps one of the figureheads of the most recent revival – earlier albums featured reformulated covers of hip-hop classics such as Slum Village’s ‘Fall in Love’, as well as fresher reimaginings coming in the form of, for example, Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘Earl’. They even dabbled in some shoe-gaze in covering My Bloody ValentineSuch albums also displayed a sort of humour and style that represented the fresh-faced persona of a trio who were barely entering adulthood.

IV however ditches the pig masks, cereal-eating, lion mascot dancing, Lil B shoutouts, and even the monochrome artwork used on past albums. It’s a maturation, a foot in the same river as Kamasi Washington (and ergo Kendrick Lamar), best represented by the introduction of Leland Whittey as a full-time member of the band – returning after a fantastic feature on III‘s ‘Confessions’, Whittey helps open the album with a solo on the electronica-infused ‘And That Too’, then taking centre-stage on the title-track which sounds as if it could have been pulled directly from To Pimp a Butterfly. His highlight is the high-energy battle with Arcade Fire contributor Colin Stetson, trading frantic and raspy saxophone lines back and forth in ‘Confessions II’:

The album also features a heavier amount of collaboration – Colin Stetson already mentioned, Kayranada lends his own sub-genre melting-pot style to ‘Lavender’ by providing buzzing synthesiers to the psychedelic and groove heavy journey, a sound reminiscent of Karreim Riggins‘ debut effort. Walking further down this road, Mick Jenkins perhaps shows BADBADNOTGOOD’s potential in the hip-hop genre when they’re not tied down to Ghostface Killah‘s nostalgia on previous album Sour Soul this is best seen in Alexander Sowinski’s drumming which is in this track is one-hundred times preferred to a drum machine. Again, following in similar veins as Washington and indeed Terrace Martin and Robert GlasperCharlotte Day Wilson‘s vocals provide a smooth-jazz atmosphere on ‘In Your Eyes’.

Perhaps the best feature is of Future Islands’ frontman Samuel Herring on ‘Time Moves Slow’, in essence a solemn follow up to the band’s reinterpretation of ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’. Chester Hansen’s bass provides the engine for the track, whilst Sowinski once again spices up what could have been a very simple 16-beat drum loop, and adding Matthew Tavares’ organ-synth, it provides perfect backing for the wavering and crumbling vocals of Herring as he croons “running away is easy // it’s the leaving that’s hard”.

Amongst all of this however, it should be noted that it doesn’t feel like there’s a massive progression in sound – at the close of the BADBADNOTGOOD’s debut album, Sowinski is asked what he thinks of John Coltrane‘s widely-regarded seminal jazz album Giant Steps – he answers:

 “Fuck that shit, everyone’s played it, it’s 50 years old, it sounds like crap, write a new song, and stop playing that God damn song. I don’t care if you can fucking modulate it and change shit up, you can play it in seven, you can play it in nine: it’s fucking boring. That’s what I think about Giant Steps”.

There’s no such moment, no such feeling with this album – the band has grown up, but perhaps too much. If the title-track did not have Whittey’s saxophone on it it would have fitted in very neatly on previous albums with Tavares’ electric piano making light work of (rather impressive, it should be said) solos, and the strings featured in ‘In Your Eyes’ felt very similar to those employed on III. They have explored new ground in terms of their own personal musical journeys, but on the grand stage of the genre and music as a whole, this album appears to hold less weight. Closing track ‘Cashmere’ perhaps encapsulates these sentiments well – the quartet are obviously talented, there’s no doubting that, and Leland Whittey’s addition is a very welcome change, but it doesn’t feel like an exciting and fresh take on the genre. Yes, that’s a lot to expect from a band, but it’s the reputation that BADBADNOTGOOD have built for themselves, and so we should not be hasty to be disappointed with this effort.

//tools.applemusic.com/embed/v1/album/1112802198?country=us

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

Album Review: ‘The Interpreter’ by Danny Ruane

We had a look at Danny Ruane’s last work, Arrythmiatake a look here

The album begins with a remix of Martijn Comes’ ‘Depths of the Nile’. ‘Depths of the Nile (Danny Ruane Remix)’ is an incendiary, atmospheric assault onthe senses that teases the listener with its heavy avant garde structure and machinations of sound. The remix of ‘Phaneron’ by Trinkkets follows a more conventional song structure, using heavy purring synth sounds reminiscent of Ruane’s previous works. The Aniki San Remix (Inverchoulin) that follows sees the first implementation of conventional instrumentation, with soothing electro-piano lines that fall over a funky rhythm that turns almost into afro beats. The beat drives the song forward with pace and provides an interesting back-drop to the piano and also strings that come into the song later. The beat then falls away to reveal thicker and thicker string instrumentation before returning to the piano and beat combination.

Ruane’s second Trinkkets remix, ‘Lace’, is one of the longer tracks, building darkly through a moody beat and intermittent industrial sounds. As the song progresses it becomes recognisably more ‘techno’ and the bassline thumps and drives more and more aggressively, culminating with an ultimate crescendo of bass and industrial drum beat. The first Ruane track on the album is ‘Leaf’ remixed by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. The track opens to an almost siren like effect over the top of some frantic drum beats. After a minute or so the song moves up a gear as heavy synths and the same frantic drum beat take hold, the siren still intermittently sounding over the top of the snarling back track. The song punches on with dark determination until it eventually slowly fades out and pulses out into nothing.

 

‘Switch’ is another Ruane song, this time with editing credits attributed to LOFTMIND. This tune opens with an unrelenting drum beat which is often a hallmark of the album. The build-up is slow and subtle as the backing track slowly comes alive, intermittent sounds hovering over the beat as tension is built. A light synth line slowly feeds into the mix as the high-hat opens on the off-beat. Tension continues to rise as more is added to the song. Suddenly, however, the song changes as it goes up another few notches almost without warning. The song’s new tempo adds a greater dance aspect that isn’t seen in the other tracks in the same way – this song definitely shows the dexterity of Ruane as an artist.

‘Tranquilizer’ appears twice on the album, being remixed by once Shay and then being ‘recalibrated’ by Trinkkets. The Trinkkets recalibration is the end track on the album and is a strong sign off from the album. Opening on an almost explosive feedback, there’s a dark mood to the track, the echoing mournful synth behind the explosive noises reminiscent of choral church singing. It paints a conflicting picture between the harsh electronic noises and the soft sounds that weave behind them. There is no backing drum beat, but this ambient track would lose much of the feel that it created through the use of a conventional beat. The synth sounds become faster and faster and then drop away again, eventually the sounds falling away completely to leave a wash of sounds from the back of the mix to fade out the song.

 

Overall, whilst Ruane’s album is by no means commercial, it is very listenable and fairly accessible. The hooks and subtle building of the songs grab the listener and keep them guessing for the whole song. It’s a strong album from a strong artist who’s going places in the electronic scene.

You can pick the album via bandcamp here

This article was written by Samuel Brunt

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. 

Album Review – ‘Blackstar’ by David Bowie

By Mo Hafeez

“Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen”

I’d already planned what I was going to say about this album before I heard the news of Bowie’s passing, and I promised myself that it wouldn’t colour my opinions of the record, but when there’s an opening line like that (from second single ‘Lazarus’, released two days before his death), it’s obvious that it was indeed planned.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 01.37.16 Long-time producer and occasional collaborator Tony Visconti reveals Bowie’s intent

 

Blackstar is the twenty-fifth (!) studio album released by David Bowie, and like many of his previous records, it’s filled with experimental and compelling instrumentals to go along with melancholy vocals and thought-provoking lyrics (especially now we have the unfortunate context of the album).

Also, like past releases again, it’s quite a change from what we’ve heard from Bowie previously – this is not a pop album, that’s for sure, but then again it’s not entirely unique. You hear shades of his former style, and you hear his influences too. There’s definite hints of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly in there, the saxophone taking the key instrumental position, which may or may not take you back to Bowie’s Pin Ups,  though this time he’s not doing the playing as Donny McCaslin takes that role instead. The horns here though are not used for energy per se, but rather instead create quite creepy and unsettling phrases.

The opening title-track, with a video containing symbolisms on symbolisms of death, features the distinct voice but in an almost weary and whimpering-like fashion, the percussion menacingly backing up with snare rolls. And then, a genre-switch midway through the track to a more standard Western feeling, Bowie’s chants of “I’m a blackstar” intermittently breaking the initially uplifting chords, before the song moulds slowly back into its initial theme, closing with a droning and eclectic crescendo, a scampering flute at the centre.  The lyrical content is hard to decipher, though McCaslin has rather strangely suggested that the song was written about the rise of ISIS – it would seem to fit the theme well if Bowie did write it regarding himself, but nevertheless:

“Something happened on the day he died,
spirit rose a metre and stepped aside,
Somebody else took his place and bravely cried,
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar”

‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’ and ‘Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)’ were re-recorded for this release, the former following on from ‘Blackstar’ very nicely, the saxophone playing a much more manic role throughout the song whilst a more standard kit-beat provides the backbone. The latter’s drumbeat reminded me of Earthling‘s ‘Little Wonder’, and the rest of the instrumentation catches up with this comparison towards the end when the distortion is laid on thick, the line “The clinic called, the X-ray’s fine” perhaps taking on more significant meaning in light of Bowie’s death.

The metaphysical nature of the lyrics don’t stop there, the track ‘Girl Loves Me’, in which the snare provides a militaristic backing to Bowie’s singing (containing words in a language taken from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange) – he yells “Where the fuck did Monday go?” repeatedly, but with no answer, and we are left with a sinister feeling that Bowie mourns the passing of time and indeed his own death (Bowie, of course, passing yesterday, on a Monday).

The album closes with ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, lyrically the most direct song on the album – it almost feels like his own obituary as he opens with “I know something is very wrong, the pulse returns the prodigal son”, as he samples his own song ‘A Career in a New Town”, a final hark back to his past, he tells us this is the last he has to offer, that he has given as much as he can,  and that he perhaps could not physically give anything more musically. Instrumentally though, it’s not a sad goodbye note, it’s warm, hopeful even.

I won’t be silly and say that the album brought me to tears during my most recent listen, but it definitely felt a little bit more sombre and a little bit more significant, that’s for sure – I paused for a moment of reflection when the organ faded away and just thought. I thought of Bowie’s legacy, and thought how this was a truly brilliant close to his life and career, aware of his past, but not overly nostalgic.

May you rest in peace David Bowie.

Album Review – ‘Currents’ by Tame Impala

Tame Impala climbed to the top of the genre by adding electronic production techniques to what a lot of people felt was a call-back to the 60s and 70s psych-rock, though you’d be hard pressed to call previous albums like Lonerism revivalist as it represented a clear push away from Kevin Parker and the gang’s influences.

Currents is another step forward for the Australian band, and with this step one clear thing is left behind: guitars (synthesizers are the preferred instrument choice on this record). This kind of genre-changing switch-up is rarely seen in the psychedelic genre, and it’s pretty clear that this idea of reformation and transformation is a key theme through the album, not just on a musical level, but also on a personal one too. Parker’s pretty blunt in explaining this too once you see tracks called “Yes I’m Changing” and “New Person Same Old Mistakes”. Almost every track is filled with romantic despair. Currents is pretty much a break-up album at its core, but it’s definitely not a conventional one – it’s more observational than judgemental, more exploratory and a self-examination than just bitching.

That’s not to say that you haven’t got catchy songs on this album – the electronic noise that precedes the heavily distorted main riff of “Eventually” is a perfect set up to sucker-punch people who aren’t expecting it(since there’s nothing of that kind of weight in any of the previous tracks), the synths droning to a crescendo before Parker comes in. The idea of solitude creeps in again as Parker sings about the end of a relationship, a relationship which creeps up on him again in the following track “Past Life”, a heavy fingersnap beat sandwiched by Parker’s pitch-shifted monologues which come across as almost narcissistic.

“Well, somewhere between a lover and a friend – It was different back then – Surreal, poetic so I’d say, like a bizarre chick flick with a confusing end”

Something to credit is just how many genres this album covers – after listening for a while you simply don’t know what to expect track after track, tracks like “The Less I Know the Better” will have you thinking that Parker’s holding onto his to roots of guitar based tunes, and “The Moment” definitely has “Elephant” like vibes,  but then you realise that the album opened with “Let It Happen”, an almost 8-minute synth adventure that sent many Beatles-based Tame Impala fans running for the hills when dropped – think more Daft Punk than Beatles. Psychedelic, experimental, electronic (obviously), rock, R&B, soul, it’s all here. What’s more, these genres are explored with great talent too, one need only look at the short interlude track “Gossip”.

Even though Parker envisioned this more dance-based album being played in clubs, I urge anyone who wants to give it a proper a listen to just plug in, sit down, close your eyes, and just go.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez