Monday, 30 April 2012

Marina and the Diamonds - Electra Heart

Marina and the Diamonds is a curious pop star, her lyrics are full of evidence of her insecurities juxtaposed with her arrogance, slipping between ironic and painfully truthful. ‘Electra Heart’ is the follow up to her debut album ‘The Family Jewels’ and is based around a pop persona called Electra Heart who Marina described as ‘the antithesis of everything that I stand for’. But listening to the album you can’t help but wonder if there’s more of Marina in there than she makes out.

You can hardly fault her for her bold attempts to strive for pop martyrdom. In an age where ambition is frowned upon as arrogance, Marina has consistently come out stating her aims for top ten hits and number one albums, a sentiment echoed on the new album. ‘Electra Heart’ is jammed full of pop songs, some of which are magnificent, others less so. It’s been described as a break up album but if it is, it’s the most twisted break up album ever written all about power games and striving for success. Highlights have to be the bombastic ‘Homewrecker’ featuring Pet Shop Boys-esque spoken word verses and ‘Primadonna’, everything a pop song should be. ‘Lies’ is beefed up with far too many synthesizers until it is almost unrecognisable from the heartbreaking acoustic version, but somehow the song writing manages to pull it off.

When Marina’s good, she blows everyone out the water, which makes it all the more noticeable when she’s mediocre. In her drive for mainstream popularity and attempt to find a ‘big’ sound, she loses sight of the wider picture. Her sound is biggest when the songs are stripped down to their bones and left to speak for themselves, not hidden under layers of club music. ‘Teen Idle’ is simpler than some of the tracks nearer the beginning of the album, more accurately reflecting the sound from ‘The Family Jewels’ and ‘Fear and Loathing’ shows Marina’s remarkable voice at its best, while ‘Starring Role’ manages to sum the whole thing up with the lyric “you don’t love me/big fucking deal”. However noticeable disappointments like ‘Power and Control’ and ‘Living Dead’ taint the overall atmosphere of the album.

It is fair to say that Marina and the Diamonds divides opinion, from being called the ‘Welsh Katy Perry’ to the ‘greatest living popstar ever, except maybe Beyonce’ (ok that last one was just me); the point is that she prompts people to hate or love her music, to discuss it and moan about it, which is surely better than bored apathy. And at the end of the day there are more good songs on this album than bad ones.

Marina and the Diamonds: the marmite of pop music.


Jessy Parker

Codex Leicester - A Mad Man's Lullaby EP

I guess Codex Leicester fall into that ‘math-rock-post-hardcore’ category that plenty of bands have been stuck in recent years, though from the evidence here, they are way more about the huge blasts of noise than twiddly little guitar parts. Opener ‘Strong Like Bull’ sort of sounds like a mesh of Tubelord and (maybe) Oceansize or Yourcodenameis:milo, either way, it’s gets the listeners attention.

The rest of A Mad Man’s Lullaby follows a similar style. Little guitar and/or synth part, big wall of noise, repeat. The band don’t break many boundaries musically, but they’re rather good at what they do. ‘Concrete Stetson’ provides the EP’s highlight, mainly for being totally mental. Less than two minutes of huge guitars, echoed synths and damaged vocals. It’s brutal and comfortably short enough for that not to get waring.

The flaws may lie in the EP’s production more than anything else. The tracks manage to retain their power for the most part, yet at times the vocals are a little too high in the mix, and it feels like there may be one too many instruments being squeezed in. Take ‘Oh Wichita’, it feels like there is a great track in there, but once in the studio there’s just a few too many layers. It’s a combination of not wanting to sound too clean and wanting to add loads of layers that is risky to say the least.

Still, it’s a strong statement from the band. Brutal and to-the-point, it definitely keeps you entertained throughout, although the prospect of an album of that is a little daunting. Maybe it would have benefited from being a little less produced, I imagine these songs thrashed out live could be fairly brilliant.


Sean Collison

Arctic Monkeys - Electricity

Over the past six years Arctic Monkeys have built up a reputation for their versatility and continuous metamorphosis of their sound with every new musical venture. Each album seemed to present a test of loyalty to separate the men from "the Mardy bum crowd", until the release of the infamous ‘Humbug’ which threw many people off the bandwagon. Not a band to crack or compromise or be unhinged by do-rights or individes, they stuck to their guns and carried on doing what they wanted, dispelling any doubts of pandering to the masses. But it turns out they’re still exactly what the masses want. The first song off their new single ‘R U Mine?’ was released with no prior warning and was greeted with resounding praise. As an avid Arctic Monkeys fan I even managed to gauge it’s success by the fact that I had people coming up to me in the corridors at college eager to inform me that “OH MY GOD I LISTENED TO R U MINE? AND IT’S AMAZING I LOVE ARCTIC MONKEYS.” 

This and the anticipation of the limited edition purple 7” for Record Store day whet appetites and the run up to the 21st of April set a tangible buzz of electricity in the air.
Setting myself up for the first listen being on my record player, I was bitterly disappointed after seeing what I deemed to be an undeserving scene kid clutching the last Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane vinyls after a futile trek to the closest record store to me at an ungodly hour in the morning, and ended up settling (begrudgingly) for Youtube to deliver the blow.
But as always, a new Arctic Monkeys song was the antidote to any bad situation. It seems as though the Sheffield-four are untouchable once again; their new material manages to embody everything they’re about. ‘Electricity’ exposes you to the four live wires of O’Malley, Cook, Helders and Turner, and leaves you wondering how you ever lived without them; their spark casting other current bands into the shadows looking like burnt out matches. The vocals take a backseat here which is the only downside, but the relentless drums and thunder bolts of electric twangs from the guitar are enough to make up for it and as ever, seem to make the impossible, possible and create a heavy, fully loaded song sing-along-able. Breaking boundaries that you never knew existed as always, Arctic Monkeys have stood the test of time and the corporate musical conveyor belt, refusing to be moulded like play-doh, thank God they got off the bandwagon and put down the handbook, if this is love then it’s certainly neither blind nor deaf.

Bella Roach

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Jack White - Blunderbuss

Love him or loathe him, it's nigh on impossible to deny that Detroit's shining beacon Jack White has exerted more influence than pretty much anyone over modern rock music. From his most recognisable work with The White Stripes, to super-group style band projects The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who was entirely unfamiliar with his work, even if some only perk up to the infamous bass line on 'Seven Nation Army'. In fact, with all these projects on the go over recent years and a record label to run, it's mightily impressive Jack White found the time to record his own solo album, yet alone tour it with two different backing bands (one comprised entirely of men, the other of women).

Luckily though, despite his hectic schedule, Jack has crafted yet another joyously freeform and innovative collection of songs. In many ways, Blunderbuss effectively skips the the last few years and transports the listener way back to the time of The White Stripes in their prime. The guitars are lashing yet wholly accessible, and Jack's delivery is strikingly impassioned, even without the accompanying drum thuds from Meg. The more upbeat songs like the blues style rough-around-the-edges romp 'Sixteen Saltines' and the defiant 'Freedom At 21' showcase Jack's drive and phenomenally rousing guitar capabilities (as if they needed proving) expertly. Comparisons to these sort of songs can certainly be drawn to White Stripes albums such as their self titled lo-fi debut, or their more streamline embrace of noise 'White Blood Cells'. But what is remarkable, is that these songs that would have been so at home all those years ago, feel just as relevant and exciting in 2012 than 'Fell In Love With A Girl' did in 2002. 

The thrills of Blunderbuss don't just come in the short, sharp, quick fix mould. Many of this albums' true treasures lie in the more restrained tracks such as in 'Love Interruption' and 'Hypocritical Kiss'. Restrained in the instrumental sense anyway, with 'Love Interruption's fiery refrain "I want love to roll me over slowly, stick a knife inside me, and twist it all around". It's gloriously entertaining to listen to White's emotional exaggerations yet also strangely relatable.

There's also more straight up, simple bluesy style songs like 'I Guess I Should Go To Sleep'; obligatory for basically any Jack White release. These kind of songs working towards bringing more fun to the record (not that there's any lack of it). The whole album is almost like Jack is bragging, or celebrating everything that makes him so great as a musician. His guitar playing is on point, twisting and turning when necessary, and sometimes replaced with more subtle piano for more of an emotional impact. The songcraft is entirely in his hands and is shaped accordingly to force the listener to feel what Jack wants you to feel, or listen to what he has to say, or just straight up dance and have a good time on songs like 'I'm Shakin' or 'Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy'. (Warning: neither of those songs will leave your head after a couple of listens)

This is the most exciting Jack White has been in years, and should prove just resolution for pining White Stripes fans begging for a reunion, and will appease those left cold by Jack's numerous side projects and less than thrilling late White Stripes records.

Jack of all trades, master of all of them.


Toby McCarron

Florence And The Machine - Breath of Life

Florence returns with her second film soundtrack song, this time for Snow White and the Huntsman, directed by new director Rupert Sanders. Judging from the trailers, the blend of medieval drums, soaring classical strings and choir-boosted, operatic vocals seems very fitting to such a dramatic retelling of the classic fairy tale. Truth be told, the film looks slick, expensive, and maybe quite dark, but it doesn’t really appeal. (Mainly because the rather wooden Kristen Stewart is in it but that’s beside the point, and I’m willing to have my mind changed on that, anyway.) Ever since news broke of the song about two months ago, and a snippet of it was released, it became almost fabled in its mystery for hard-core FATM fans. (The other ‘Holy Grail’ being ‘Paper Massacre’, a half-finished song heard on one of the ‘in the studio’ videos from the ‘Lungs’ album.)

‘Breath of Life’ is no change from Flo’s recent epic pop, and for those who aren’t into the heightened emotion and imagery in her music, this won’t make any new fans. This song is huge in its scope. The true meaning of an ‘epic’. But there is no doubting that her voice works well with the huge choir, trumpets and fraught strings. There’s also no doubting that the song sounds like a film score, especially with that choir, the soundtrack to a huge battle scene, with vocal resemblance to ‘Heavy In Your Arms’- her other soundtrack offering.

Fit for purpose then, and in fitting with the darker elements of ‘Ceremonials’, but here’s hoping that this doesn’t define Florence And The Machine’s future direction too much as the quieter, less layered moments on ‘Ceremonials’ are what make such tension and emotion bearable for a whole album. Still, a huge and musically accomplished piece, and for the fans, one of the ‘Holy Grail’s reached.

Listen to the track here via FATM Army. 

Holly Read-Challen

Friday, 27 April 2012

Death Grips - The Money Store

Death Grips first release came swaddled in samples. Entire songs were based around them and they formed the basis for some of the best moments on that abrasive, thrilling album. Though their use often lead to moments of terrific invention it also starved the band themselves of a real identity. The Money Store is decidedly the antithesis of this.

Though seemingly less outwardly aggressive than its predecessor, further listening reveals this simply to be the product of less emphasis being placed on loud-quiet-meltdown dynamics and more being placed on layers upon layers of sound. Here the samples are less obvious and recognisable, mainly stemming from field recordings made by the band members and as such, the whole thing has a more natural tone to it. By no means is it less dense or intricate, Zach Hill’s drumming is stepped to a whole new level here, eschewing the subtlety he applied to Exmilitary in favour of a return to his usual batshit energy (the percussion of the opening six tracks flows together perfectly, seemingly detached from the music around it).

But there lies The Money Store’s secret weapon: it has a definite sound. Each track carries common threads and relatable elements; the drums will sound like the arrival of the apocalypse but will be placed deep in the mix, the prominent instruments will sound totally blown out and crappy, the synths and riffs will sound crystal and Stefan Burnett’s vocals will refuse to relinquish their grip on everything around them. The vocals here deserve mentioning for their sheer energy alone. Never before has a vocalist sounded so totally committed and involved, let alone on a hip-hop album. Prime examples of this golden formula are 'The Fever (Aye Aye)' and 'Hustle Bones', both of which could work in both a club and a ritual sacrifice.

Tellingly, they close with 'Hacker', easily their most ambitious and accomplished track to date. The disco groove, stuttering synths and distant electronic drum fills all call to mind vintage LCD Soundsystem but fed through a faulty loudspeaker. The schizo structure is, oddly enough, the most straightforward on the whole album and the track’s gradual build proves that Death Grips really are capable of restraint.

A massive step forward, a mission statement or a giant fuck-you, however you choose to read The Money Store, one fact is unavoidable: as long as this lot are around, no one’s safe.


Ned Powley

Live At Leeds 2012 - Preview

Now in its 6th year, Live at Leeds is back to kick start festival season. Big acts such as Marina & The Diamonds, The Enemy, Ladyhawke and The Subways top the bill, as well as over 100 other acts encompassing many a wide variety of genres. Acts are performing in venues all over Leeds City centre, making £20 for a ticket a very reasonable price. Here are my 5 picks for the weekend:

Leeds’ very own Blacklisters will be eager to show visitors to the city just how Leeds likes to turn it up to 11, with deafening riffs and a great live show you would be a fool to miss out. Expect to hear songs from spectacular debut album ‘BLKLSTRS’ you lucky, lucky devils.


Mercury prize nominated MC, Ghostpoet gained wide acclaim for his individual style of storytelling over simple, yet compelling beats on debut album ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam.’ Fans of the man should get themselves over to the ever welcoming ‘Brudenell Social Club’ come 11pm for what is sure to be a unique and special performance. 

Hawk Eyes

Another local act for visitors to this glorious city to stumble upon, Hawk Eyes (or Chickenhawk as you may remember them) aim to smash their way through ‘The Well’, playing tracks from new album ‘Ideas’ which has gotten 5/5 in the likes of Kerrang, Artrocker and Big Cheese, this band can no longer be ignored.

Los Campesinos! 


7 piece Los Campesinos! will be warming up for an extensive US tour by headlining Leeds University Stylus this May Day holiday. Fans of indie pop, make sure your 10pm slot is empty, you don’t want to miss this band. 



Yet another Leeds band that’s going to get guests to Leeds city jealous about the thriving music scene, Eagulls are one of many hotly tipped acts in Leeds to go onto great things, check out their unique breed of punk rock over at ‘The Well’ this May bank holiday weekend.

Tickets for Live at Leeds can be found at:


Aaron Lewins

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Futureheads - Rant

The Futureheads have ditched guitars! They have made an a cappella album! It’s a totally NEW direction! Let’s get that obligatory stuff out of the way.

On first impression, ‘Rant’ is a vague soup of harmonies and ‘doo-wop’s, which I must admit kinda sounded like those doo-wop bits on Glee in-between scenes. (I watched one series to see what the fuss was about, OK!) However, after a few listens, some songs do begin to emerge. ‘Beeswing’ is a huge nod to traditional folk singing and is really quite touching; "She was a rare thing/ Fine as a bee’s wing/so fine a breath of wind might blow her away", and even moving ; "they say her flower’s faded now/ hard weather and hard booze/ but maybe that’s the price you pay for the chains that you refuse", telling a classic tale of a scatty girl for whom "even a gypsy caravan was too much settling down". The second track is a cover of Fergie’s ‘Meet Me Half Way’ which, once you get past the original amusement, is a bloody good cover, reinventing the song and really making it their own (just like THAT Kate Bush cover from a few years back). Barry White’s vocal succeeds in bringing out the meanings of the words and the emotion behind them, compared to the rather bland original. Another highlight is the band extolling the virtues of robotic love in ‘Robot’: ‘the best thing is our lifespan/ we last 900 years/ if that means we’ll be together …’

The Futureheads’ electric songs often sound urgent and sometimes quite boisterous. It would be far too simplistic and just plain wrong to assume that this is lost in the harmonies the a cappella songs (they have also always, remember, been very harmonious). On ‘Meantime’, the first song of the album, Barry Hyde almost snarls "when I said you were a moron/ when I said it I was smiling/ so you thought that I was joking." In this way, the band (or maybe that should be ‘group’ now?) manage to steer away from the twee and the fey. Some songs do sink into the vagueness, but I have no doubt that on further listens they will begin to take shape. This album is a refreshing antidote to the bland, electronic computer-fuckery that’s around these days, and shows a real and deep understanding of song writing and harmony.


Holly Read-Challen

Bands to look out for #13

The Manic Shine

Currently breaking the mould in London’s indie-rock scene is the electronic-rock based band, The Manic Shine. They are a four-piece who are signed to The Animal Farm Records (who have worked with the likes of like Blink 182, Alkaline Trio, At The Drive-In, The Ataris, Less Than Jake and many more) and they have been grabbing attention with their genre-merging sound. The band's music combines a traditional rock sound with a synthesised, electronic edge, which they achieve by using a lot of new technology such as synthesisers on iPads. A lot of their music starts its life on the Apple music software, Garageband. 

The Manic Shine’s latest release, ‘My Woman (I Love Nothing About You)’, shows this sound off perfectly, and has already reached Number 13 in the Beat 100 charts. The band are now celebrating the success of the video release for the ‘My Woman’ single, after it was released a few weeks ago. With the band's trademark aggressive guitar riffs and harmonies, and a catchy chorus-line, it is a track that grows on you after only a few listens. Their Blindsider album was also released just a few weeks before the single.

The band have been supported by NME and BBC Introducing’s Tim Robinson, and their live performances are filled with energy and intricate sounds that are sometimes left off of their recordings. The band recently finished a leg of their UK tour in March, and they are currently creating their line-up around the UK for summer 2012, which already includes gigs in Southampton, Brighton, Derby, Nottingham, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Doncaster, Leicester, Newport, Ipswich, Bicester, Essex and London. They have also just recently finished shooting an acoustic promo video for the reggae-style version of their classic-rock track, ‘Legs’, at The Animal Farm studios in London.

The band consists of lead singer and guitarist Ozzie Rodgers, bassist James Hutchinson, guitarist and backing singer Orren Karp, and drummer Tamir Karp, who are from a diverse range of backgrounds; Orren and Tamir are from the foot of Golan Heights in Israel, Ozzie (short for Osama Rodgers,) is of Syrian, English, Hungarian and Italian origin, and British-born James has travelled and performed with Romany gypsies. And it is this range of diversity that adds to the band’s raw sound and unique edge. With musical influences including: John Mayer, Counting Crows, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, ACDC and Rage Against the Machine.

Each of the band’s members has some kind of music degree or experience; for example the they have been on stage with The Maccabees, Tamir holds a degree in Popular Music Performance, and former LSE student Ozzie has performed with the legendary Megadeth, and ska-punk band Reel Big Fish, and it is these influences and advantages that make The Manic Shine stand out from a lot of new and emerging bands out there.

The band’s next Blindsider Tour gig is at The Empire in Leeds on Thursday 26th April 2012.
You can keep up to date with the band’s tour dates here

Leanne Sherman

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Mystery Jets - Radlands

It feels like a long time ago since the Mystery Jets released ‘Making Dens’, their first album in 2006. 6 years on and ‘Radlands’ is the fourth offering from the Eel Pie Island boys, and the last with bassist Kai Fish. Having thrown off their twee mantle on ‘Serotonin’, Mystery Jets have continued to make a name for themselves as an actually good guitar band, a precious commodity these days. ‘Radlands’ is a 50 minute opus seeped in imagery, intense guitar lines and America.

The religious aspect of ‘Radlands’ is inescapable. From the title track opener of Blaine whispering “we’ll be together until hell freezes over” to upbeat ‘Sister Everett’ you can’t help but feel that the band have been wrestling with their faith during the song writing period, making some of the songs feel intensely personal. ‘The Nothing’ is a Bowie-esque drift away from some of the more melancholy songs, while ‘The Hale Bop’ is infused with so much enjoyment it’s impossible not to grin. The only wrong step is ‘Greatest Hits’ which simply feels like an attempt to reference as many different things in three minutes, but then other people have picked it out as the best song on the album, maybe I’m missing some of the wit there. I could be reading too far into the album but ‘Take Me Where The Roses Grow’ feels like more than a subtle nod to Nick Cave’s duet with Kylie Minogue on ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, whether it’s the boy/girl vocals or the shared affinity with flowers.

The change of scenery for the recording of the album (Radlands was recorded in Austin, Texas) makes it feels more polished and almost as if the band have reached a kind of maturity, away from the raw sexuality of ‘Serotonin’ and the ‘sweet’ indie pop of ‘Twenty One’ and ‘Making Dens’. This is album is filled with brilliant song after brilliant song and I could gush about it for a very long time. By the time you have reached the end, following the torturously beautiful ‘Luminescence’, you’ll just want to go straight back to the beginning again.


Jessy Parker

St. Vincent - Krokodil

Ever since Annie Clark A.K.A St. Vincent’s debut full length ‘Marry Me’, she has been slowly edging towards heavier material, ramping up the drums and unleashing her insane guitar playing, a strange juxtaposition to the composed and sweet-natured person she is when removed from the music. Last year’s critically acclaimed ‘Strange Mercy’ saw her give herself more freedom in the music, trying to cater to what she would want to hear, rather than what her audience want from her; with her drummer even saying in an interview with Under The Radar ‘the one rule was that she wanted the drums to sound like sex’. ‘Krokodil’ is definitely a darker side to Clark with brash distorted guitar shredding, a steady drum beat and wailing and shouting vocals; sounding the heaviest she’s ever sounded with an extremely badass attitude. It’s a departure from what we’re used to from Annie, although as with everything she does, she executes this well and here’s hoping that there’s going to be more material like this on her next record. 

Aurora Mitchell

Peaking Lights - Lo Hi

Having only released ‘936’ last year, married couple Indra Dunis and Aaron Coyes work fast, especially considering the arrival of their baby boy, Mikko. Although in this case, this has given them a new lease of life as they cite him as a guiding light muse for their new album, ‘Lucifer’. ‘Lo Hi’ is a celebration of their parenthood as Mikko makes garbled noises in the background of Dunis’ breathy and distorted vocals repeating ‘lower…higher’ as the foundation of a psychedelic dub beat with echoing percussive elements meandering along; having a hypnotic effect. Although Dunis and Coyes have widened their influences for ‘Lucifer’, ‘Lo Hi’ sounds unmistakably like old material but that’s in no way a bad thing. Those expecting more straight up accessible songs like ‘Hey Sparrow’ will be sorely disappointed by new material judging by this 7 minute long offering which cements the love shared between the duo and their son, the experimental equivalent of Jay Z’s ‘Glory’ if you like. 

Aurora Mitchell

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Hunger Games

So I’ll admit, I only read The Hunger Games because I was sick of all the hype and wanted to be a cynical so-and-so and declare to the world “It’s a rip off Battle Royale!”. But the two can’t even be compared.

The Hunger Games, if you didn’t already know, is set in the dystopian, post-apocalyptic country of Panem or North America as we know it today. Panem is split into 12 Districts with a shining, wealthy Capitol who exert their power over the proles by entering a boy and a girl from every district, to fight to the death, into the annual Hunger Games. The film reflects the book perfectly as District 12 is shown as a dusty, 1984-esque, bleak wasteland that forces Katniss Everdeen to escape to the leafy, green woods, with her close friend Gale, to hunt. The journey to The Capitol reflects how the elite live, while the rest of the country starves, with lavish food, expensive furniture (mahogany to be precise) and a team of stylists to transform the tributes before they’re thrown into the arena to bludgeon each other to death. It’s America’s Next Top Cadaver to quote Xan Brooks

Peeta Mullark, the male tribute from District 12 who’s played by Josh Hutcherson, fawns over Katniss for the entirety of the film, shocks the capitol during interviews with the amazing Stanley Tucci and magically transforms into a rock. There are also appearances from favourite video camera obsessed loner Wes Bentley who sports some amazing facial hair and everyone’s favourite psycho Russian orphan Isabelle Fuhrman who again, goes a bit psycho and attempts to kill everyone. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks provide the much needed humour that balances out all that killing and bounce off each other as the depressed, alcoholic mentor Haymitch Abernathy and the peppy, glamorous Effie Trinket. And then there’s Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, the smart, brave heroine of the film. She doesn’t fawn, she doesn’t whinge and she certainly doesn’t give up. Finally! A strong female character that teenage girls can look up to!

There are moments that contrast with the bloodshed, constant surveillance and manipulation of the battle arena that will leave you weeping and cheering, sometimes at the same time. Yes people actually cheered during the film! The Hunger Games is a spectacular, fast paced, exciting action film with the only explosion scene that I can tolerate, heartfelt moments that contrast with the murder and an ending that leaves you hungry for more. Oh and the next person to compare The Hunger Games to Battle Royale gets a lengthy rant from me.

Eden Young

Little Boots - Every Night I Say A Prayer

Not too long ago, we got Shake. Whilst the full version was little under 7 minutes, its concise radio edit gave us 4 minutes of glamorous disco that pulsed through the airwaves as if Shit Robot had met Madonna. A few months down the line and some were starting to worry about how long this return was taking. Fear not longtime indie-dancefloor lovers, Victoria Hesketh aka Little Boots has been working her dj kicks off and is back with a belter of a pop song that forms an eerie prelude to her forthcoming second album. “I have seen into the future; I want you to take me there” she sings in the chorus. It’s again a bit Madonna, but without the modern day dross that comes with that name. With a gentle piano line giving way to a bouncing synth line, it’s as much a train-head-bobber as it is a genuine dance track. With a remix from Tensnake also floating around and gaining radio play, only time will tell if Boots’ music will go properly pop or dance, but here’s to hoping that as she mentioned at her Record Store Day show at Rough Trade, there’s a strong house element to it, because losing Boots to low chart pop would be nothing short of a tragedy.

Braden Fletcher

Friday, 20 April 2012

Ladyhawke - Sunday Drive

"Finally! After so many years New Zealish indie-electro-disco-pop queen Ladyhawke has returned to free us from all the disposable pop divas clogging up the charts cooing over euro trance!" chanted all the indie kids of 2006 and 2007 (well, maybe some of them) upon Pip Brown's return to music earlier this year. Ladyhawke was really something when her debut album was released, a great pop record with more alternative sensibilities crammed with crowd-pleasing tunes like 'Paris Is Burning', 'Dusk To Dawn' & 'My Delirium'. And hell, her comeback single 'Black, White & Blue' released about a month ago was an enjoyable blast of noise even if it did lack a bit of fun.

In fact, that's the overwhelming impression given off by 'Sunday Drive', a lack of fun. There's such a lack of anything on 'Sunday Drive' to be honest, a tune is there but stick in your head, it does not. Maybe people would care if Pip had released this in 2009, but in an ever expanding world of musical tastes (via the internet) I wouldn't be surprised if many of the kids that became infatuated with her debut have moved on to either the current indie crop, or the new batch of much better alternative female pop figures (Marina, Lykke Li etc...) Ladyhawke is certainly in a tricky position, unless her new album 'Anxiety' really hits the mark she may have waited just a little bit too long. On the evidence so far, it's not looking too good.

Toby McCarron

ASAP Rocky - Goldie

Show me someone who’s not riding the ASAP Rocky wave and I’ll show you a straight up liar. Following on from his critically acclaimed mixtape LiveLoveASAP, Rocky returns with the first single off his album (slated for a July release). Following from a weekend where the ASAP mob stormed through Coachella and stole an arguable best set over the weekend, the Hit-Boy produced single picks up exactly from where the mixtape left off. Codeine references, weed references and dick sucking references are all in the track as Rocky raps about critics talking “shit ‘till they got lock jaw”, new Ferrari’s and the money he’s now got. For a rapper riding on the year’s biggest hype train, ASAP Rocky definitely seems to be taking it in his stride. 

Robbie Baxendale

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Simian Mobile Disco - Seraphim

After the release of the under-the-radar compilation album ‘Delicacies’, James Ford and Jas Shaw return with new album ‘Unpatterns’, due for release in May. In recent press, the duo have stated that they have been “inspired by ideas of repeated loops and patterns breaking down and decaying over time” and on lead single ‘Seraphim’, the influence is extremely easy to spot. With a simple synth line repeated throughout the main production, with a subtly but silky bass-line accompanying it, Simian’s return to the electronic music scene isn’t a brash and in your face affair. The single, paired with b-side ‘Put Your Hands Together’, has a light touch of the deep-house genre that moves away from their usual wild and electronic sound. Ultimately, the track reminds fans that they have kept up with the modern scene with gusto and are definitely running with it. Seraphim reignites a passion for Simian Mobile Disco which was kind of lost after the “difficult second album” and personally, I can’t wait for the next productions from the album.

Robbie Baxendale

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

BadBadNotGood - BBNG2

Over the past few years, hip-hop has started to find a hipper way of being hip-hop. In the post-chillwave phase of the internet, and everyone taking influence from classic styles (sort of an interenaissance if you will), hip hop has been one of the main focuses of people’s attention. Coupling that with the genre blending retro obsessions of late, it is only typical that a second look is a more considered one. This has led to folk taking staples and expected ideas of making music and shaking them up, communing them with others or simply approaching them in a different way. One of which would be Canadian based BADBADNOTGOOD.

On the end of their self released, free-to-download (or FTD. Yes, I am going to create an acronym for bands who are committed to free downloadable content. You gonna cry about it or are you going to accept the future, fuckstick?) debut album, a sound clip of the band goofing is heard, and the drummer Alex is asked what he thinks of a staple jazz classic. He basically says that people involved in the jazz world are so stuck on ‘classics’ that they never write any new music, or try to evolve the genre. A bold statement, but a true one, I feel. And they are reliant ambassadors of their own philosophy too, fusing tight and technical hip hop beats with jazz sensibilities. The cake is jazz, the icing is not.

With that comes album number two. I’ve hit a few different places with this one. Some feelings I like a lot, some less so. A lot more of the tracks on BBNG2 are original tracks. In the past, taking the jazz tradition, they were known for jazzolving (yep. I said it) a few Odd Future songs on some old demos, and other hip hop based (l-o-l) tracks on BBNG1. On this new album, they have an adapted version of their cover of 'Bastard / Lemonade' (originally by Tyler the Creator and the other by Gucci Maine) into a shorter version than the demo version which also included another Tyler track, in ‘AssMilk’. However, I personally do not prefer the new version. I like the way it opens with that ominous and meandering jazz keyboard, however as for the rest of the track, it just gets a bit repetitive. In the original, because of the included other tracks within it, it gave it more room for variation and you weren’t left on a certain chord progression for too long. However, with this version, by the halfway mark, the entire track has said all it needs to say, and from then on it basically reiterates it.

And this is a problem I have with a few of the tracks on this album. There are a lot of appealing chords and it all sounds shimmering and lovely, but in terms of the songs in their entirety, there seems to be a lot of track length, but not a lot of variation. A lot of these tracks will have a set impression of chords or stanza, and will basically reiterate it, alternate it and poke at it until the track finishes. I’m thinking of 'Rotten Decay', 'Vices', 'CHSTR' and the aforementioned 'Bastard / Lemonade'. And sadly, it happens more times than it does not, in honesty. It’s almost as if, they’ve gotten into a mould of being more hip-hop than jazz that they’ve become a bit more loopy than beautifully meanderingly jazzy - which is a shame. Personally, I want more jazz and less loop, please.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are parts of this album I really like. When the track (and therefore video) for 'UWM' dropped prior to the album being up for FTD (HEHEHEH), I really liked it. There was a bit more of a jazz progression going on in the chord progression, whilst still having some basis of chords. It just felt like it had more parts, and peeks and flows and it had kept to that improvised feel I enjoyed so much about BBNG. Also, I really like the saxophone work by Leland Whitty on this and in all other parts he is on in the album. He brings that classic brass jazz element into the mix, keeping it sporadic and awesome. An advisable move would be to get him in for future work, I feel - he adds a lot to the sound and keeps the sound fresh and funky. 

All in all, I’m not sold yet on BBNG2. Although I do like the way it is mixed as the sounds are lush and come off really well and there are a lot of nice chords the trio throw into the mix here, I feel there could have been less of an attempt to write strict songs and more of a dedication to their improvisational elements, of which, they do very well. Either way, it’s definitely worth a DL and who knows - it’s probably a grower. 


Eliot Humphreys 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Clock Opera - Ways To Forget

The immediate impression 'Ways To Forget' gives is one of an album that has been in the works for a while. One where every minuscule detail has been worked on almost too much. It reminds me at times of 'Man Alive' by Everything Everything. A lot of great ideas crammed into too small a space producing something that sometimes feels a bit messy amongst all the creativity.

Not that ‘Ways To Forget’ is a bad album, in fact it's far from it. The care that has gone into the layering of synths on opener 'Once And For All' only adds to its power, and the summery Late Of The Pier-esque single 'Man Made' is just plain brilliant. The jittery 'Move To The Montains' showcases where the care put in here pays off, the latters work perfectly together and the result is beautiful.

All too often though, they get lost in their ideas. Attempts at grandeur fall into a mess of layers that tend to detract from the track itself. '11th Hour' feels fairly dragged out by the end and 'White Noise' is so hard to get your head around. It feels like Clock Opera can't decide if they want to get lost in synth patterns or great rousing Elbow like choruses and trying to blend the two rarely pays off.

‘Ways To Forget’ is, nonetheless, a strong debut. It is full of great ideas and it almost feels like it could have been great had they not put as much time in. Let loose on tracks like ‘Man Made’, Clock Opera are fantastic, and were this a 20 minute EP it would be brilliant. Over the course of 45 minutes however, the ideas drag out a little and the listener may find them self slightly confused what it is the band are actually going for.


Sean Collison

Friday, 13 April 2012

Oberhofer - Time Capsules II

Oberhofer aren’t really a band. Although technically there are four members, Oberhofer are the brain child of Brad Oberhofer (makes sense really doesn’t it?). Applauded for his age by many, 20 is hardly young in music terms. Especially to write an album as simplistic as this. ‘Time Capsules II’ lacks a maturity to turn its tweeness into something more enjoyable. Another thing that annoyed me is that I don’t understand why anyone would name an album Time Capsules II. I mean what happened to the first time capsule?

At the beginning of ‘Time Capsules II’, if one is feeling quite good natured, it is not bad. Yes the songs are very twee but its all fine, maybe the album will mix it up later on, a bit of twee here and there never did anyone any harm. But my goodness as you continue to listen to Oberhofer the songs become hip and annoying and grating. Jangly guitar lines spin before your eyes, you get that feeling where you want to rip your headphones out of your ears/break your speakers (depending on how you’re listening to the album). ‘Cruisin’ down FDR’ is probably the most pointless , ridiculous song I have listened to this year.

Saying all that, there are moments of genuine enjoyment on this album, ‘Haus’ and ‘HEART’ being the two best examples. ‘Haus’ flits from verse to verse with no obvious direction but it is the change from ‘indie by numbers’ which marks it out. Opener ‘HEART’ features some real emotion as Brad murmurs ‘you gave me your love/then you ripped me apart’. When some emotional depth is found here and there, the songs actually become more than pointless fodder.

It is by no means time to give up on Oberhofer. I am fully in confidence that they have the ability to do what a number of other twee bands have done (Noah and the Whale, Los Campesinos!) and tweak their sound . Then they will be cruisin’ in the right direction.


Jessy Parker

The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet

The change in style was apparent from the very first track; but then that wasn’t exactly surprising. The Mars Volta bring something new to each record they release, gaining new fans and losing a few disgruntled old-time fans along the way. What you can’t argue with is that each album has incredible musical merit, and Noctourniquet is no exception.

The Whip Hand is a seemingly gentle opener that suddenly bursts into an incredibly prominent synth bassline, unlike any TMV track I’d heard before. It’s a big impact track and it throws you straight in at the deep end of the album. The record uses synths more than in previous records, although The Whip Hand isn’t exactly representative of the rest of the album; while the synths do reappear, they take a more background role in most of the tracks. Initially I was disappointed by this as I enjoyed the twisted electronic style; but I then got down to listening to the other tracks on their own merit and was greeted by another work of genius.

It seems like while the whole album is pretty great, the best songs were thrown in at the start of the record. Aegis and Dyslexicon follow as tracks 2 and 3, and both possess hints of old Mars Volta and the new style. It sounds a bit more simplistic than previous work (though I doubt it’s that easy to play!) such as The Bedlam in Goliath; still my favourite TMV album, but that doesn’t take too much away from the quality.

Because the best three tracks are the opening three (in my opinion) it does make the rest of the tracks seem a little disappointing, but only relative to what’s gone before. Everything seems to calm down a bit after the opening, with the odd burst; and unfortunately it can be hard to keep focussed on the album, which is its biggest failing. All the tracks ARE good, but a few of the later ones serve best as background music, something previous works rarely had a problem with (except the final track of Amputechture)

If you buy the album, be aware that sound quality is not what it might be. Dynamic range is only 3 decibels on this album, which is bafflingly low. This is presumably an attempt to make the whole album sound more loud and ‘in your face’ or some odd cost cutting. All it means is there is only 3dB between the loud and soft sounds in the album; an average pop album has somewhere between 6 and 12dB. If you’re somebody who demands the highest quality sound then maybe this could be frustrating. Personally I have no great problem with it and can still enjoy the album, but it’d be interesting to know the thinking behind it.

Either way, it’s certainly worth a listen. If you’re new to The Mars Volta, I’d recommend starting with Deloused in the Comatorium or The Bedlam in Goliath, probably their best work; but this album is solid, and has some real standout tracks. The best thing as always are the constant adaptions and changes that always keep TMV fans guessing before an album is released, and keep their sound fresh and exciting.


Ewen Trafford

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Dirty Projectors - Gun Has No Trigger

2009’s ‘Bitte Orca’ saw Dirty Projectors combine intricate compositions, featuring guitar and vocal acrobatics, with a more accessible, pop hook. It was their most acclaimed album to date, winning over new and old fans alike. The first track released from forthcoming album ‘Swing Lo Magellan’, ‘Gun Has No Trigger’, is a stripped-back and fairly relaxed song by Dirty Projectors’ art-pop standards.

The music is barren and somewhat naked, only a razor-sharp drum beat and reserved bass melody in terms of instrumentation. The focus is more on the vocals in the foreground and background. Lead vocalist Dave Longstreth’s voice has divided opinions in the past, yet on ‘Gun Has No Trigger’, he sounds incredibly focused, providing a great melody throughout. The female harmonies backing him vary from soothing, for the majority of the song, to sharp, during the chorus and especially at the mention of the song‘s title. It’s simplicity at its very best, and Dirty Projectors are the last band I thought I’d say that about.

Whether the rest of ‘Swing Lo Magellan’ will be as succinct as its first preview is yet to be seen. Hopefully, Dirty Projectors can find a way to balance the simple with the abstract, because they’ve already shown they can produce great music in both fields.

Calum Stephen