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 

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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.