Pop

Where in the world is Jai Paul?

With the long-anticipated release of a new Frank Ocean album finally coming to fruition, another equally elusive artist came to mind: Jai Paul.

Jai Paul is an artist who came into the scene having already formed a unique and personal sound, a sound that you can recognise as his own from hearing a few seconds of most of the songs he’s made. And trust, I’ve looked for similar styled artists, artists who try similar things in their experimental production, but it always feels as if they’re either not as good as Jai Paul or that they’re copying him rather blatantly.

 

Paul being elusive however is not to say he’s unknown – having only one demo underneath his belt, XL Recordings signed to him to a deal in 2010, releasing an edit of the track a year later in 2011. ‘BTSTU’ is a stunning track, especially considering it was Jai Paul’s first full-fledged effort. Juxtaposition is used to full effect, with half the track being led by a surprisingly powerful falsetto which is backed by a harmonic vocal melody, and the other introducing itself with wave after wave of distorted synth along with Paul’s regular singing voice. The whole track is chocked full of effects, and introduced us to one of Jai Paul’s personal favourites, the sidechain, providing moments of subdued almost-silence, a palpitation-like impact. Although the parts individually seem to be rather upbeat, ‘BTSTU’ at its heart is rather angry, the opening lines becoming comic once you understand what they actually are (something which can be quite difficult with Paul’s music):

“Don’t fuck with me, don’t fuck with me

Since you shipped my ass off to sea”

The demo provided Paul with a copious amount of media coverage, being played by DJs such as Zane Lowe and Annie Mac, as well as being sampled by heavyweights such as Drake  (‘Dreams Money Can Buy’) and Beyonce (‘The End of Time’).

A year later came his next track, ‘Jasmine’ which again received similar critical acclaim, once again being lauded by Lowe and Mac. Guitar features more prominently in the track, an electric guitar laying down the main chord progression whilst what seems to be a bass guitar with an auto-wah effect providing some funk-era vibes. ‘Jasmine’ also marks the formal appearance of Jai Paul’s brother, A.K. Paul, who is credited not only with bass design but also c0-writing props as well (A.K. Paul has since worked with artists such as Sam SmithEmeli Sande, and Miguel, but has also remained rather elusive). The tone of the song was less aggressive, more romanticised, presenting a desire for a something or a someone, rather than a push away from it.

 

Work with artists such as Big Boi on the track ‘Higher Res’ (upon which he left a definite mark) followed, until 2013, where an artist’s (especially an artist like Jai Paul) worst nightmare was realised – a Bandcamp album was released supposedly under the guise of it being Paul’s debut effort, with the internet being set ablaze before Paul himself said it was a leak. This didn’t stop the hype surrounding it though, Jai Paul being listed in various ‘Best Albums of the Year’ lists. In reality, it was obvious that the album was not ready to be released, the mixing on many of the tracks was extremely unbalanced (and not in an edgy, “ooh it’s Jai Paul so it’s fine” kind of way), and many of the recordings were almost too distorted. Perhaps most noticeably was the far inferior version of ‘Jasmine’ that featured on the album.

 

That being said, the leaked album is by far one of the most exciting and explosive listenings I’ve had the joy to experience. Explosive and far reaching synths, arcade-sounds, Harry Potter samples, Bollywood samples, extreme sidechaining, layered guitar, and more all combine to give an incredibly genre-bending and unique album. And yet despite this, we haven’t heard anything from Jai Paul since. No one knows if these tracks were the finished product, whether or not we should be listening to them, or whether or not Paul has simply thrown these tracks away (a testament to the skill and musicality of the artist). The last posts on Paul’s Twitter and Facebook have both been from 2013 stating that the album was indeed a leak – nothing else has appeared on either social media format:

Alas we have heard virtually nothing from Jai Paul since. This year he started The Paul Institute with his brother, though the only track that has surfaced from there has been A.K. Paul’s ‘Landcruisin”.

In the age of the internet where everything is at our fingerprints, Jai Paul has managed to stay out of the spotlight – do not think this is a show of disinterest, or a lack of desire to produce more music, rather it is a sign of perfectionism and knowledge of timing, that when he feels his music is ready to be revealed bare he will do so. And I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting the day.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

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Album Review – ‘Mind of Mine’ by ZAYN

The first effort of Zayn Malik’s solo career I came across was a cover of Rae Sremmurd’s ‘No Type’, Mic Righteous providing the verses – what comes across is that he really does have vocal chops, but the R&B style of the hook didn’t quite suit him (you definitely couldn’t imagine One Direction hopping on it to give it a go), and you could tell he was trying to do too much with his voice, meaning some of the emotion he was trying to get across was lost. It was like he was lost being the sole focus of attention without the rest of the boys singing with him, and it didn’t really put me in a settled position when it came to thinking about what I should expect from his solo debut Mind of Mine.

 

Then ‘PILLOWTALK’ dropped in late January, one of two singles from the album – it genuinely shocked me how much I enjoyed the track, solid vocal melodies in the verses and its more mature content (though, generically so, the classic ‘I’m not a teenage boy-band member anymore, I’m a real man’ kind of vibe), and some very tight production with stuttering trap influenced 808s/909s laid beneath heavily modulated and distorted guitars. Comparisons with The Weeknd come to mind, not only sonically, but also lyrically in the combining of pleasure and pain of sex – he’s not quite got the same grasp as The Weeknd in delivering simple lines which still hit home though. The chorus is actually the weakest part of the song, a simple bemoaning of “it’s a paradise, it’s a warzone” making the dichotomy not quite as complicated as it should be. If you listen past his brazen happiness to be free from past-label requirements though, his voice definitely picks up the slack.

Similarities with other heavyweights of the genre spill-over into the next track ‘ITs YOU’, that sounds like it could have been taken straight off of Channel ORANGE (helped by the fact it’s produced by Ocean’s producer Malay), a low organ sitting below falsetto crooning delivered well, despite it being quite out of place straight after the club-friendly ‘PILLOWTALK’. It might be his best effort at putting out a slow jam, the distorted guitars returning to provide a neat and gentle crescendo.

‘BeFoUr’ channels Drake’s tried and tested ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ formula, the drums sounding eerily a little too similar for comfort, and even the vocal melody sometimes sounding samey at points too. Once again Malik saves the track with his (obviously) superior singing as he recounts his experiences just prior to him leaving One Direction.

If you couldn’t tell by now there’s a theme developing – the album is definitely a new sound for Zayn Malik, who in our minds we still link to One Direction, but as for the genre in general there really isn’t much new about Mind of Mine. What’s more there isn’t really that much of a unified sound despite it sounding like a lot of thought has been put into how the album should sound.

 

‘INTERMISSION: FLoWer’ feels very out of place, a homage to his Pakistani heritage as he sings the song entirely in Urdu. And yet, by itself, it’s definitely not a bad track – pads quietly soar in the background as an acoustic guitar is fingerpicked, and the reverb on his vocals give quite an ethereal and spectral vibe to it, also helped by the fact that he barely enunciates his words when he sings (whether in English or in Urdu), which I initially found a tad annoying but grew to deal with.

“Until the flower of this love has blossomed,
this heart won’t be at peace,
give me your heart” (translated from Urdu)

Kehlani, the only feature on the album, shines on ‘WRoNg’, seemingly another Weeknd inspired track, with one of the stronger hooks on the album, though that isn’t really high praise as in general the earworm-level hooks that you would expect from The Weeknd are definitely not present here. ‘LIKE I WOULD’ fairs a bit better in that regard, the verses and bridge in the second single, much like the first, carrying strong melody – the chorus, whilst also strong, is a very blatant borrow (that’s putting it nicely) from ‘Can’t Feel My Face’.

 

Malik dips into a few other artists’ bags, moving towards a Michael Bublé/Mariah Carey style on ‘FOoL FOr YoU’, a classic piano-based chordal progression forming the basis of the ballad (and it must be said that his voice could be placed in the same calibre as those two artists), and then strangely dipping into reggae on ‘DO SOMETHING GOOD’, which works somewhat (though the attempt to modernise with a stuttering siren really didn’t work), but when I read the lyrics on paper (or rather, on screen) it really didn’t impress.

I think there was lot of pressure Malik for his debut solo effort, many people comparing his trajectory to that of Justin Timberlake  who burst into stardom after taking a break from NSYNC – just watching the music videos and his live performances, he seems kind of stiff, not ready to take the main stage and the world by storm. That being said, this is definitely not a flop of an album, and fans of Zayn prior to his split from One Direction will not be disappointed; he may even gain some new ones too. He just needs to take a much more relaxed approach with his next effort, and needs to search for his own sound. If he does so, it wouldn’t surprise me if he followed JT’s narrative of leaving his boyband in the dust.

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

Album Review – ‘1989’ by Taylor Swift

It’s pretty evident that Taylor Swift isn’t your generic pop artist – she’s not someone who has a popular rapper in every song, and she’s not someone who litters 808 drums throughout all of her songs. She leaves behind sexualising and misogynistic lyrics, opting for something she (apparently) knows a lot about: love.

The opening track ‘Welcome to New York’, laden with eighties synth and electronic drums, professes her love of the freedom she has in the Big Apple, singing “you can want who you want”. It’s not a ground-breaking song by any means, but it definitely sets the mood for the whole album. Tracks like ‘How You Get The Girl’ return to the Nashville singer’s usual topic of relationships, both good and bad; a man rekindling a failing relationship, singing “broke your heart, I’ll put it back together”.

Whilst it’s refreshing to hear songs that aren’t about sex, drugs and partying, the theme of love does get a bit repetitive – it’s at the core of almost every song on the album, and just when you think she’s moving away from it, she’ll drop in a “my ex-man brought his new girlfriend” in lead single ‘Shake it Off’; it’s lead some to call her a one-dimensional singer whose just trying to be different for the sake of it. That’s not to say it’s a bad song though, as the brass section churns out an incredibly catchy progression whilst Swift has a few minutes of telling her ‘haters’ to leave her be, though the breakdown in the middle of the song is cringe-worthy material.

What really ties this album together is the production – Max Martin, who’s been at the forefront of pop for the last decade or so, managed to make every song danceable whilst still allowing for Taylor Swift’s personal style, which, although strange at times, is rather unique. A complete album that any fan of Swift will devour.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez