Tuesday, 31 January 2012

January Round Up

As starts of years go, 2012 has started with a bang in the musical world.


January saw some major shifts in the ways people listen to music, with the proposals of US congressional bills SOPA and PIPA dedicated to eradicating internet pirates illegally uploading copyrighted material, which in fact threatened to damage blog and mixtape culture significantly. Luckily the act wasn't passed, but the removal of major file-sharing site Megaupload came as a shock to the system.

The internet also received (and continues to receive) significant backlash over the hyping of one Lana Del Rey. It's been well documented, the sudden rise of signature track Video Games leading to slanderous comments on Lizzie Grant's image, background and her less than thrilling Saturday Night Live performance. If anything, this shows how powerful the internet has become with influence over new artists, Lana Del Rey acting as an unwilling puppet to demonstrate the brutal nature of the modern hype machine. 

Elsewhere, legendary singer Etta James saddened many with her passing, Michael Stipe of REM kicked up a fuss about Youtube's removal of the tastefully homo-erotic Perfume Genius album promo, Michael Kiwanuka surprised many by scooping the BBC's sound of 2012 poll giving hope for boring lounge music everywhere and Disney got hipsters hot and bothered over a badly judged Joy Division t-shirt.

In terms of album releases January hasn't been too shabby either. Here are some choice picks we at Sound Influx have been particularly enjoying:

The Maccabees - Given to the Wild

"This should be the album that catapults The Maccabees to greater things, whether it’s higher chart placements or bigger festival crowds, it will guarantee one thing; more fans of this beautiful music."
Check out Calum Stephen's full 9/10 review here

Islet - Illuminated People 
"But for all its failures, Illuminated People remains a ferociously sturdy and confident debut, because it isn’t really a debut at all, it’s the logical next step in Islet’s story. And that’s the album in a nutshell, a ball of frenetic contradictions and clashing ideas. This isn’t the first message to the world, this is them having a shot at mass communication and telling people to get ready, because no-one knows where they’ll go next, not even themselves."
See Ned Powley's full 8/10 review here

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

 "Already developing into a major artist on the strength of her first two singles alone, Born To Die will push her further into the spotlight. The only question is whether she’ll thrive or squint her eyes and hope for a moment of darkness."
Read Aurora Mitchell's 8/10 review here

Howler - America Give Up

"Howler have crafted a very promising record, which will no doubt strike a chord with many due it's undeniable sense of fun and Jordan's witty and wholly likeable lyrics and personality. Howler have dealt with the threat of hype impeccably and the Rough Trade signed band are certainly worth investigating."
 Read Toby McCarron's full review here

Roll on February!

By Toby McCarron

Porcelain Raft - Strange Weekend

I first heard Porcelain Raft on Resonance Fm, the avant-garde arts radio station with connections to Wire magazine. However, I first heard Mauro Remiddi, the man behind Porcelain Raft, in indie pop group Sunny Day Sets Fire, a band who threw melodies in your face like custard pies. Unsurprisingly, Remiddi’s debut album as Porcelain Raft is a grand combination of these two introductions; a pop record unafraid to experiment.

Having spent nearly three decades travelling across Europe and the US recording tapes of music and performing in various bands, ensembles and even circuses, Remiddi has finally put out an - if you like - ‘official’ solo record. But whilst the music he picked up on his travels undoubtedly flows subconsciously from the capsules of his memory, Strange Weekend remains spectacularly fresh and modern.

Remiddi kicks off Strange Weekend with a spinning piece of electronica that, like its title, drifts in and out. The album gets properly under way however with ‘Shapeless & Gone’, a burst of colourful psychadelia that is not unlike Secretly Canadian label mates The War on Drugs. Its mesmerising guitar line and resilient beat assist Remiddi’s vocals that, on this song particularly, draw comparisons to those of Andrew VanWyngarden on MGMT’s sophomore album Congratulations. His musical influences become clear on songs like ‘Put Me to Sleep’, which recalls 80’s new wave, and ‘The End of Silence’, a track that uses ‘that classic’ Phil Spector drum rhythm (bum-ba-bum tsh, if you like) but in Remiddi’s own processed and skewed way.

Whilst much of the record focuses around Remiddi’s production trickery and versatility, closing tracks ‘The Way In’ and ‘Picture’ prove that this is a record for both the head and the heart, with the formers sentimental lyrics (“you don’t need help, you can make it for yourself”) becoming drowned in warm and inviting synthesizers. ‘The Way In’ sounds somewhat like the soundtrack to a drive through a snowy winter’s night, and even evokes the schmaltzy 80’s pop of Wet Wet Wet and Deacon Blue. It’s effect is that of a lullaby, lulling in the end of the album.

For all its successes, Strange Weekend does have its faults. ‘If You Have a Wish’ is forgettable to say the least, and for the most part, ‘Is It Too Deep for You’ is repetitive and grating. These moments are partially obscured by the intrigue and depth that Remiddi brings with his production and ambience, yet I can’t help but feel that something is missing. A distinction, a lasting effect (maybe even a clich├ęd ‘wow’ factor), but nonetheless a moment of brilliance that makes an appearance on ‘Shapeless & Gone’ seemingly doesn’t return. If it does, it is slightly diluted, or less effective. Strange Weekend does however manage to come away feeling like a good pop record, and whilst it may not last a life time, it is at least an enjoyable and interesting listen.


By William Hall

Ladyhawke - Black, White & Blue

Cast your mind back to 2008 and a rising New-Zealand based synth pop star going under the alias of Ladyhawke, ripping up indie dance floors all over the country. Four years later and Pip Brown is back. Putting her lengthy absence from the music scene down to resisting the urge to quickly record a follow up to her eponymous first album, having realised she was exhausted from extensive touring, it’s refreshing to know an artist spent time thinking over her second album. But is Ladyhawke going to be able to make the wait worth the while? Pip Brown has described the new album ‘Anxiety’ as a lot more guitar based than her previous record but there is little evidence of this on first single ‘Black, White & Blue’. 

Curiously reminiscent of some Summer Camp material, if anything there are more synthesizer bleeps bringing out the sensual vocals and euphoric chorus of the track. The song wouldn’t feel out of place Ladyhawke’s first album as it effortlessly manages to do pop by numbers. Although Pip Brown doesn’t seem to have spent the past four years expanding her musical horizons, when you can write pop songs as good as this, who needs to? If the rest of the album can match up to ‘Black, White & Blue’, it will be like Ladyhawke never went away.

By Jessy Parker

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Twilight Sad - No One Can Ever Know

To get straight to the point, The Twilight Sad have changed. In place of the roaring crescendos of noise and crunching bass lines, the band have created a sparse and dark record, full of throbbing synth loops and an almost industrial sound at times. Importantly however, ‘No One Can Ever Know’ remains instantly recognisable as the same band. They haven’t thrown away everything from their past; rather evolved to a clearer, more powerful sound.

Take lead single ‘Sick’. Its opening electronic drum loops and repeated guitar line are more reminiscent of something you wouldn’t be surprised find on a later Radiohead record. There are many moments where you expect the band to explode and drown the music in noise, but they keep themselves on a similar level throughout. It’s a careful and considered approach that has paid off in spades and said care is reflected in its length; 9 tracks, just over 45 minutes and not a second spent on notes that aren’t necessary to the sound.

Not that the record stays at the same level for it’s entirety, it just saves it’s explosions for when they’re truly necessary, preferring to build with doom-laden synths for most of the choruses, the previous energy replaced with a hard to escape, claustrophobic sound. Still, the band haven’t lost the ability to dole out the energy when it’s really required. Take the pounding drums on ‘Not Sleeping’ that take the listener by surprise, the pacey bass line of the Joy Division-esque ‘Another Bed’, and the underlying dance vibes of closer ‘Kill It In The Morning’.

One thing that remains constant from the band’s history is the strength of frontman James Graham’s vocals. Here he tells tales of past lovers and dark secrets, his cryptic lyrics (and frankly, his accent) masking his true meaning. His delivery meets the music wonderfully, equal parts delicate and foreboding.

The feeling ‘’No One Can Ever Know gives off more than any other is that of confidence. Here is a band who know exactly what they’re going for, and have put in the work required to craft it to perfection. Whereas previously they could hide behind walls of sound (and it was good, don’t get me wrong), here each note and drum beat are carefully laid together to create a dark beauty rarely heard. It’s the sound of a band in their prime, ready to make a serious impact.


By Sean Collison

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Ninetails - Rawdon Fever

Despite being quite a new band, Ninetails are already an exciting sound. Taking conventional elements of math rock and indie rock, they neatly add in subtle smudges of progressive rock, giving things a soft and considered atmosphere. A follow-up single to their pay-anything debut EP, Ghost Ride The Whip (I'm not sure what it means either), Rawdon Fever takes more of a mellow approach than the stuff on the EP, which had more poppier elements to it.

 Though this is still poppy in the sense that it is immensely catchy, it isn't a song to dance to; more to quietly lose yourself to. The song paints very earthy, atmospheric colours, coated in a lot of reverb and echo, and long, held vocal notes. The pick-chords of this song are the things to be taken away, it's such an interesting exercise in harmony and melodies that even if you're feeling guilty for enjoying something so catchy, the beautiful ambience of it all settles you quite nicely, and makes you want to lie down in a big forest and absorb the sounds, as it feels linked to the nature around you. 

The musicians in Ninetails are clearly very technical and precise, and, from knowing one of the members of the band, Ed Black (guitarist/vocalist), they've crisply hit an intended sound that they can be comfortable with. 

By Eliot Humphries  

We Have Band - Ternion

Opener 'shift' starts the album off with shimmering, hypnotic synths and dreamy vocals, offset by insistent drums. After a few minutes of this, the song degenerates into a cacophony of bleeps and symbols, which is so textured it is almost difficult to listen to. This seems to set the tone for the whole album.

The vocals on 'After All' are reminiscent of Hot Chip's Joe Goddard, with the dryly delivered lyric 'After all/ This is heaven/ But being biblical/ Is so dramatic', and the song as a whole seems to sounds like a less sparse Hot Chip. However, the greater amount of layers is not proportional to a better quality of song, and the buzzing bass synth starts to grate towards the end of the song.

The most infectious and memorable song on the album, and definitely a highlight, is 'Where Are Your People?'. The song is full of pop hooks and a chorus that will stay in the brain for a long while. 'Where Are Your People?' seems to have less of the subtle (but slightly irritating) sound effects that some of the later songs on the album do, and stands out in an album full of tracks that seem to roll together into one long song of bleeps and synths.

There are some other genuinely gorgeous bits though, such as the harmonies in 'Visionary', which contrast with the glittering wind-chime esque noises, and the fading vocals at the start of 'What's Mine, What's Yours'. 'Pressure On', the last track on the album, is also beautiful, but again there are some layers of sound that are not needed; they do not add anything and in fact seems to take away some of its beauty, had it been more sparse and stripped back. Still, a perfect chilled track,  perfect for a sunny Sunday Morning playlist

This album is one suited for dance floors at indie discos or 3am at a particularly cool party, or even, due to its very hypnotic nature and blended tracks, as background for working. Maybe it's a grower.

By Holly Read-Challen 

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Islet - Illuminated People

In October 2010 I saw Islet play in a tiny art venue in Dalston. It was totally rammed and the whole event carried that vague whiff of being an event, of being something special that would serve as a real bragging-rights gig. Then Islet fucked off and let us forget about them. But this hibernation wasn’t an artistic statement, it was an opportunity to cast of all the words and ideas pinned to Islet the first time around. Sure, the touching points of no wave, prog, krautrock and psychedelia remain, but Islet’s fearlessness has led to new sounds seeping into the maelstrom; What We Done Wrong begins with lush folky strings before pulling the rug out and going all in with garage rock stomp and an ending that (almost, almost) transcends into something resembling a post-hardcore track.

So really, nothing’s changed at all. With Islet the appeal always lay in their unexpected nature, the sense that listening to any of their recorded output was going to be an experience rather than a casual dalliance. So what do they do to change that? They play it straight. The schizo nature of earlier EPs Celebrate This Place and Wimmy just wouldn’t work when pulled out to full length and the Sturm und Drang would have worn off quickly. The problem is, Islet aren’t a singular band, in fact, they’re at their best when they sound like 5 bands playing over the top of each other and by outsourcing to a sound more accessible and approachable means the whole thing doesn’t (for the most part) feel like a band who could freak out and change styles at the drop of a hat.

But for all its failures, Illuminated People remains a ferociously sturdy and confident debut, because it isn’t really a debut at all, it’s the logical next step in Islet’s story. And that’s the album in a nutshell, a ball of frenetic contradictions and clashing ideas. This isn’t the first message to the world, this is them having a shot at mass communication and telling people to get ready, because no-one knows where they’ll go next, not even themselves.


By Ned Powley

Tribes - Baby

Let me be clear from the start; when I first listened to Tribes I thought I was having an epiphany. I genuinely believed they were going to be the band to support the future of guitar music in 2012, what with being tipped by the Mystery Jets and all that. And they started off well. The first single ‘We Were Children’ was a raucous romp that seemed to justify the hype the band were stirring up. So it’s fair to say that I was quite excited to listen to this album.

To put it bluntly it was a hell of a disappointment. ‘Baby’ is 40 minutes of what is basically the same song repeated again and again with different lyrics. What was a half decent idea becomes god-awful about 4 songs in, let alone by the end of the album, each song full of obvious hooks and laddish choruses all swathed in just the right amount of feedback. The subtle nationalism of ‘Corner of an English Field’ features possibly the best rhyming triplet of the whole musical year with the day you dyed your hair/we watched the people stare/you said you didn’t care. Wow, you can tell what a corker this album is! From here on in, it’s safe to say that it is almost impossible to take the album seriously. Ooh look a reference to the ancient Greek poet from Lesbos, how intellectual. A slow song to mix things up, goodness this band are pioneers. ‘We Were Children’ firmly rubs in what the band could have been, as does an appearance of ‘Nightdriving’, originally a free demo but now over produced and its low key charm lost. You can’t help but feel that if Tribes hadn’t been noticed, they would have written a rougher but better album. 

It’s a trick bands like Coldplay among others have tried (and succeeded in), of writing the same song and hoping that the masses will follow. And I wish all the luck to Tribes, I’m sure they will pick up a pretty decent following of teenage girls due to extensive radio play and the attraction of four scruffy boys from Camden. But if you want to listen to a decent, clever guitar band this year, at least go and check out Howler before this lot. 


By Jessy Parker

Friday, 27 January 2012

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

'I would wait a million years’ Del Rey said on Blue Jeans. It feels like we’ve been waiting about that long for Born To Die since the hype machine churned out story after story, both degrading and heralding the 25 year old New Yorker about the longevity of her music and her physical attributes, but that’s another story. Pouting her way through live performances and interviews, she owns the most talked about lips this year and plays up to the whole doe-eyed innocent act which has made people fall in love with her and appeared on so many magazine covers already in 2012. Labeling her music at the start ‘Hollywood sadcore’, Video Games certainly adhered to this with spliced footage of old Hollywood and her emotive vocals. Ever since its release, there’s been constant talk about whether the album will live up to one of the best songs of 2011.

Perhaps to please fans, the first five tracks of Born To Die are ones we’re already familiar with. Whilst Off To The Races, Born To Die, Blue Jeans and Video Games stay untarnished, Diet Mtn Dew receives some production adjustments; sprinting through the song and giving it a rather callous nature as the intro is a chorus of discordant vocals that sound as pleasant as nails down a chalk board. More often than not, artists tamper with perfectly good songs, make a right mess and end up with something less aurally pleasing than they started with. Although, there’s no doubt that standing alone, these are strong songs but hearing them together consolidates just why Lana Del Rey has become so popular over the past few months.

Standout ‘National Anthem’ incorporates the two styles Del Rey switches between for a patriotic anthem. Many photographs of Lana Del Rey show her flaunting her patriotic nature, whether that is by saluting in front of the American flag or wearing a baggy sweater with the American flag on it so it was only a matter of time until she transferred this into song. You can hear the 4th of July fireworks fizzling and crackling in the background as the sweeping violins, that sound eerily close to those on The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, foreground and then quickly switch to a hip hop beat as Lana half raps, half sings, reminding us that she ‘grew on hip hop’. She epitomizes the corruption of the American Dream as she asks ‘Money is the anthem of success/so before we go out, what’s your address?’ hinting that where you come from reflects on your wealth. What on the surface is a catchy ode to America is actually rich with dark and sexual themes. The subject of money and sex having a close relationship is also the clearest here as she sings ‘Money is the anthem/God you’re so handsome’

In the second half, Lana swaps chiming orchestral elements for brash drums and high pitched bratty pop vocals. As a whole, Born To Die has an early ’00 pop vibe to it and parts sound like a mix between Nelly Furtado and Gwen Stefani but unmistakably there are resemblances to older artists such as Nancy Sinatra and the cartoon Jessica Rabbit. There are a lot of points on the album where the instrumental sounds borrowed but you can expect that from any pop album nowadays. Already developing into a major artist on the strength of her first two singles alone, Born To Die will push her further into the spotlight. The only question is whether she’ll thrive or squint her eyes and hope for a moment of darkness.


By Aurora Mitchell

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

ASAP Rocky - Celebration

A$AP turns to his neighbour sitting at the next table. “I don’t have a dollar sign in my name for nothin’”. His neighbour smiles and raises his glass, before sipping at it awkwardly. A$AP looks around the room, and grins to himself. After five minutes of this self satisfaction, it’s his turn. He gets up from his comfortable wooden chair, and makes his way forward.

“Ladies and gentlemen... A$AP Rocky!”

He stands there, confronting the room with wondering eyes beneath his shades. He tilts the frames, up... and down... He slowly lifts his head, first up... then down... His grin widens. At the back of the room there is some movement. A synth enters the room. Somebody coughs. The synth tone clashes with the expensive walls and decor.

A spotlight flicks on. A$AP, now well lit, echoes a lyric from Kanye West’s homonymous track. “It’s a celebration bitches, grab a drink grab a glass, after that I grab yo ass”.

The synth finds a partner. A$AP releases an “uh”. The song bursts into life. Claps from both a drum machine and the audience drive it forward. An electric piano rolls down the right side of the room. The lead becomes frantic. The song prevails, the melody infecting the ears of the listeners. Between words A$AP repeats the smile of the audience.

It may not be a masterpiece, but it’s his celebration.

By William Hall

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Jessie J - Domino

Jessie J’s ‘Do It Like A Dude’ was a slightly irritating, yet somehow intriguingly different pop song. She showed us her personality and sense of humour in her video, as well as the confidence of knowing she was going to do well. The ‘Sound of 2011’ winner sprung to fame after gaining the Critic’s Choice Brit Award, and seemed to have a slightly loveable quality. Her edgy style and sleek black bob set her aside as something a bit different, but it seems she has abandoned this in a bid to win over the American audience.

Latest single ‘Domino’ is all too reminiscent of Katy Perry. In fact, ‘Domino’ is basically Jessie’s answer to ‘Last Friday Night’. The riff, the vocals and even the lyrics are almost exact to Katy Perry’s.  Jessie J sings, ‘we can do this all night, turn this club skin tight’ which is lyrically similar to that of Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’. The sugary pop melody of this song is just all a bit too much, and the Willow Smith style graphics in the video are just a bit try-hard. Jessie J may want to win over the American fans, but she needn’t lose her English crowd because of it. ‘Domino’ is just a wannabe Katy Perry song, and not even a decent one at that. After singing ‘just be true to who you are’, you’d think Jessie J would have thought twice before reinventing herself for the masses at the click of a finger. 

By Hannah Bettey

Cursive - The Sun And Moon

Cursive feel like a band who have been around for years but still retain their same original freshness and excitement, hardly surprising considering they’ve been making music together since 1995. After the darkness of 2009’s ‘Mama, I’m Swollen’ the band are back with follow up ‘I am Gemini’. ‘The Sun and Moon’ is the first track from the new album and it sees Cursive seguing into a slightly more mainstream rock vibe, leaving behind some of their post-hardcore roots. Starting with a familiar drum beat and guitar riffs it sees lead singer Tim Kasher rejecting his usual mumbly vocals for clarity and even some falsetto. Segueing from section to section the song twists and turns in a fairly enthralling manner managing to build up excitement before hitting a group chorus of crunchy guitar chords. Think ‘Pork and Beans’ era Weezer but still retaining the angsty undertones which have defined Cursive over the past decade or so.

By Jessy Parker