Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Problem With … The Charts

Week two of Braden's column and whilst we still don't understand all of the pop-culture references from last week, he's promised that this week is slightly less confusing. At a quick glance, it seems that nothing's really changed but we'll see as he takes on the charts.



 From time to time, you’ll hear most music fans complain about the charts, say they don’t matter and/or later be surprised when their favourite artist makes the UK Top 40. We can throw the word ‘rigged’ around all we like but until that’s proved it has to be assumed that yes, there are that many people out there willing to forgive Simon Cowell for manipulating phone-lines, Pitbull for manipulating people into finding him talented or Chris Brown for manipulating the face of a young lady.

 Five years ago, you’d have found the worst offenders of these double standards sneakily hiding Limewire from their desktop and telling you how much their download didn’t matter in the grander scheme of things. Then came the Christmas Chart Battle of 2009 in which a Facebook campaign by Jon Morter led to Rage against the Machine going to the number one spot against The X Factor’s Joe McElderry. Not only was it a shock to the charts, but also it outlined that there’s still a place for ‘the alternative’ at the top of the charts when fans group together. It’s for this reason that ‘fringe’ artists such as Arcade Fire, White Lies and the XX have all had chart-topping records without once breaking the top 10 singles charts. Even Mumford & Sons have had a number one record without touching that golden half hour of radio on the UK Top 40's top 10.
One way to describe the alternative music scene to someone who doesn't understand where all the bands at Glastonbury they've never heard of came from, is in the style of drugs.
The majority of people stick away from them, preferring cigarettes and alcohol (Adele and One Direction for example); but many of us have a cheeky puff on a Foo Fighter every now and then. A tough shift at work or a chilled night of gaming could easily lend itself to a Dave Grohl special and let’s face it, he’s pretty unavoidable at major festivals.

That’s where most of us stop but others dabble further into different worlds, finding their niche; whether it be a Sigur Ros-hole, a tab of Tame Impala or a quick line of James Blake, the more you take, the further you go down the rabbit hole.
This is where you’ll find the route of complaints. You’ll hear my mate John from time ask why all the kids are listening to Alt-J whilst Dirty Projectors’ latest album only reached number seventy in the charts.
“They sound pretty much the same to me” he’ll say, staring like a puppy wanting the answer to be as simplistic as possible. Sadly John, there is no real reason or formula to define what will be successful. Much of it has to do with the way you market yourself (see Bastille and their mixtapes), the amount of years you’ve put in behind the scenes (see Frank Turner’s decade long solo career) and just having that right audible and visual aesthetic at the right time (see CHVRCHES and the1975.)


Honestly though, there’s no way to guarantee success, unless rumours about Coldplay’s secret blueprints are to be believed; but until we can all shout “FIX” and hope sure that Ant and/or Dec are there to verify the numbers, it’s probably not even worth contemplating that there may be a magic formula behind what makes people part with their money in order to own music. The only thing to do is make music from the heart and hope that your blood is as addictive as recreational drugs, or better still, Jack Daniels.

Braden Fletcher

Update: Icona Pop just went number one in the singles charts, we can all be happy for a week, even if Tom Odell did also go straight to the top in the albums chart,

Friday, 28 June 2013

Empire Of The Sun - Ice On The Dune




When Empire of the Sun first burst onto the scene a couple of years ago it was hard to know what to make of the Australian duo. Despite being named after JG Ballard’s traumatic account of his time as a child during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, Luke Steele from dopey, indie posse The Sleepy Jackson and his comrade in kitsch Nick Littlemore’s catchy fusion of eighties pop and summery anthems made them a surprise success story, going double platinum back home and cracked the top twenty over here whilst producing two massive hits in the form of ‘Walking on a Dream’ and ‘We are the People’.

Once again kitted out like Elton John role-playing Final Fantasy, their goal is still to provide the soundtrack to your summer but whereas their debut balanced the duo’s theatrical stylings against economical pop smarts, Ice on the Dune collapses under the weight of slick, shiny but soulless electro-pop. In the last three years pop music has moved away from Lady Gaga’s eighties revival and into the suffocating grasp of EDM and in pursuit of a smash successor to their radical debut Empire of the Sun have decided that they want a piece of the pie.

The sickeningly gaudy curtain raiser ‘Lux’ is as clear a manifesto as you could need: dense, shiny production, four to the floor beats and synthesised strings dominate on a record that plays like the worst wedding disco mix.

There are still hints at great ideas buried beneath the surface: the Michael Jackson meets Royksopp stomp of ‘Awakening’ and sing-along single ‘Alive’ stand out, but even the more experimental tracks like ‘Concert Pitch’, a slightly warped banger that sounds like MGMT cutting it up on the dancefloor, tend to be smothered in a glossy sheen of hairspray and production gloss. Closer ‘Keep A Watch’ seeks the drama of Berlin period Bowie but has to settle for one of the Scissor Sisters more insipid ballads whilst ‘Old Flavours’ and ‘Celebrate’ are straight up pop club bangers with distant echoing vocals.

For a duo prone to indulging their penchant for raiding the dressing up box there’s little wit or humour to Ice on the Dune. It aspires so transparently to reach a large audience yet sacrifices any reason for that audience to engage with the material in anything other than a superficial fashion and in the process strips Empire of the Sun of the humour, wit and wide-eyed wonder that made them a success in the first place. The majesty of a mighty empire makes those that look upon it tremble but it’s much easier to root for a rebel.

3


Max Sefton


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Tom Odell - Long Way Down



Tom Odell materialised from the unknown last year following the release of ‘Songs From Another Love’, following the standard Jools Holland milestone and reiteration of Elton John, Dylan, Bowie and Buckley as his influences. It painted a scenic and hopeful horizon for the British singer-songwriter. Odell showcased his potential with the earworm ‘Another Love’ which would surface in European chart. It condenses the album’s theme of relationship catastrophe as its bittersweet but ultimately wet base for existence- “I wanna cry I wanna love/ But all my tears have been used up on another love”. This river of tears has washed it into the main stream of familiar love ballads.

It’s not hard to draw parallels between Odell and his work. Odell is polite and inoffensive with a nice, clean boy look, but with strong enthusiasm. This clearly resonates throughout the album more so than his perfect-cadence structured piano playing along with his soft voice. When Odell claimed the Critic’s Choice award before his album was even released, it hinted something unique but the hype is pretty short lived. Odell is yet to fill shoes far bigger than his age and maturity allow him. Long Way Down does have melodic skill but the record still has something to prove his capacity beyond pining over heartbreak and na├»ve romance issues- “Grow old with me / / oh the best it could be”.

However it’s unfair not to praise some aspects- ‘Can’t Pretend’ and ‘Sense’ are the deserving force behind the anticipation- maybe this is what Long Way Down was intended for. He hits the spot with a sultry chord progression that expresses real desire and struggle, but he conveys futility in a coming-of-age feel very appropriate for him: “I’ve been feeling pretty small /Sometimes I feel like I’m slipping down walls”-yes he probably is. Odell previously expressed his intentions for the album as ‘to feel human, flawed… express heightened feeling we all get”. He certainly got the flawed part right but let’s not be too hasty to deem it the worst- there is time for things to develop.

5

Anna Wiley

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Gold Panda - Half Of Where You Live


Three years after 2010’s Lucky Shiner, and in particular its lo-fi centrepiece ‘Quitter’s Raga’, made him a Pitchfork fave, the British-born and German-based producer returns with his second album. As befits a musician whose greatest asset has always been his slightly uncomfortable sense of wanderlust, Half of Where You Live is a record about homes; or more specifically about the thought processes of someone who finds themselves on the edge of something, never quite able to put down roots.
In retrospect February’s excellent Trust EP serves as a primer for the Half of Where You Live’s stylistic diversity, see-sawing as it does between minimal, spacious techno sounds and glitchy space-bass. In recent interviews he admitted that originally he started making tracks for the record on Ableton but disappointed in the clinical nature of the resulting material he eventually returned to his old samplers – ‘S950’ is named after one such – to craft a record which explores and exploits the quirks and imperfections of his bank of samples.

From a technical standpoint Half of Where You Live is a beatsmith’s masterpiece; built upon a haze of diaphanous melodies and minimal beats. For an album that is almost entirely instrumental there’s a remarkable sense of being take on a journey. He’s spoken before about how touring Lucky Shiner allowed him access to the great cities of the world and it’s clear that his experiences travelling directly inform this record, flitting between the claustrophobic ‘Brazil’ and the homely ‘An English House’.

More importantly however Half of Where You Live also contains many of his strongest melodies to date, such as ‘Flinton’ which sees a curious Flying Lotus-esque sample chopped and twisted until it feels as if you’re being dragged down into watery depths or ‘The Most Liveable City’, which opens with a field recording of birds tweeting and could easily be read as Gold Panda’s ode to his childhood growing up in Peckham, where he grew up. Flickering along on skittering percussion and gentle celestial beats it bring to mind a more personal take on Burial’s enigmatic Untrue.

Perhaps Half of Where You Live doesn’t challenge the listener in the same way that the at times abrasive Lucky Shiner did but nonetheless it’s an immersive and engaging listen that sees Gold Panda expand his sonic palette whilst retaining the spark that made him special in the first place. For a glass half empty kind of a guy he’s got plenty to be proud of.

7.5

Max Sefton

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Sigur Ros - Kveikur


In recent years, viking funerals in which the deceased is sent out to sea on a burning pyre have somewhat decreased in popularity. However, if a standard cremation simply isn't your thing, Sigur Ros' latest release 'Kveikur' will serve as the perfect soundtrack.
In an interview with Pitchfork back in January the band described their new material as ‘more aggressive’: this is evident straight from the first track and first single from the album, Brennistein, a thumping song with a distinct lack of gravity pulling you out of yourself. There’s something distinctly worn and tribal about the album, as if it were not written but discovered in paintings on a cave wall. Kveikur – which translates as ‘Candlewick’ – marks a departure from Sigur Ros’ previously more prog sound, and into a world of tribal drums and campfire rituals.
Another strength of the album is a certain naturalistic quality with which the band is not entirely unfamiliar. Sigur Ros use as many amps and guitars and pedals and production tools as the next band, but there’s something inherently real and uncreated about their music. I guess this lies partly in the fact that the album is so well produced – they have their singles, but they’re not a band you remember for one song, doubly so if your Icelandic isn’t very good. Each song on the album melts together beyond recognition. There are nine tracks – but you only listen to Kveikur. And it's certainly a worthwhile listen.

7/10
Lewis Shaw

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Problem With... Yeezus

 Once a week, Braden will be writing a new column for Sound Influx. Most weeks, it will be entitled ‘The Problem With’ and will feature a certain aspect of what’s been going on in music and culture recently. He’s described it to us as Ten O’Clock Live for a music website but he also describes burritos as family. It’s probably best if we let him take it from here with his first piece (which we’re dubious of) on Yeezus.

When your name is Kanye West certain things are true that are not if you’re my friend John Edwards. Most noticeable of these things will of course be that John isn’t an internationally famous, controversial, millionaire hip-hop icon; John works in a high street store in Leeds and he’s most famous for winning the pub quiz a few weeks back. It’s safe to say that John’s claim that he was a God that night was false.

Kanye West however, in his sixth album has passed through his registration, graduation and his ascension to the fantasy world via a short film in which he meets an angel and is now a higher power himself. To him, the shouts of “Illuminati” and “conspiracy” aren’t so much unfounded as they are insulting to his status as a deity. With all of the hype, THAT interview and the resulting online pandemonium, the focus has been as much on the music as it has been the character (and he is most definitely a character) that created it.

As such, that is both the problem and the genius of Yeezus. Most conversation requires mutual knowledge. If you were to attempt to talk to the cast of Made in Chelsea about the current problems in Syria, it’s doubtful that they’d be able to fully engage. Similarly if you were to try talk to a Syrian about how Jamie (the one that looks like the Milky Bar kid but is actually a McVitties kid) and the blonde one that looks exactly like his twin but actually fancies him, had a talk about ‘them’, they’d rightly tell you to go away. Kanye West’s sixth record doesn’t require this. At its core, there’s an album, which features some of Yeezy’s best and most average work. Surrounding that, however is an entire world of discussion, a surface level of heated debate and an atmosphere in which the omniscient Kanye West himself views it all from next to Miss Kardashian and fellow Lord and Patrick Bateman impersonator Scott Dickstick. Incidentally the first track sounds like it was written by someone as tone deaf as a Kardashian, as if West allowed all of them at his MIDI pads at the same time and simply rapped over it (Daft Punk produced, sadly awful).  Not to bring it up again, but has Kanye listened to State of Grace? Now that’s quite the album opener (if pop mixed with loosely narrative country is your thing.)


Perhaps that’s what it’s all about though. Hooking the fish in with the hype, pulling them in with the controversy, slapping them in the face with On Sight and turning them into tasty sticks whilst declaring your divinity for the rest of the record. The problem with Yeezus is that you don’t need to listen to it beyond this point to know if you like it. The rest of the record is West being West. If you like him, you’ll most likely like this dip into darkness. If you don’t, you don’t have a choice; you’ll be subjected to his words and sounds regardless. Turn your phone off (and/or/don’t turn someone’s grandfather on) and take a walk. If you’re out in Leeds on a Tuesday morning, you might even catch my pub quiz team and I having a celebratory breakfast, demanding our croissants.

Braden Fletcher

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Shigeto - Ringleader




Shigeto's output thus far has been absolutely stellar; last year's 'Lineage' mini-album skirted between tender and being just downright impressive and intricate, as you'd expect from an artist on Matthew Dear's Ghostly label. And his remixes have been nothing short of jaw-dropping, my particular favourite being his beguiling reinterpretation of Sufjan Stevens' heartbreaking 'Futile Devices'.

Expectations are high (for me anyway) for his new record coming out soon on Ghostly, and this new track 'Ringleader' with its chopped'n'screwed beat and chimes, serves as a warm reminder as to just why Shigeto is so magnificent at what he does.

Toby McCarron

Parklife Festival 2013






Saturday

First on my list to see was Lapalux. After seeing the Essex boy and RnB bootleg advocate earlier in the year and being more than impressed I wanted to see if he could match that performance to a larger, younger, Levi cut off wearing, Mkat sniffing audience. All of this on top of a set early on in the day and a very large tent must have been intimidating, compliments to Now Wave.

Known best for his merging of RnB and synth that coincide with sublime future garage and deep house remixes Saturdays set wasn’t as I’d hope. The sound was poor, non of which was Stuart Howard's fault, and the audience (that were sat down) were even worse. I felt pity on the dude! Big tune and a personal favourite notably released on Fly Lo’s Brainfeeder label ‘Guuurl’ wasn’t received as highly you’d expect as the majority of the audience looked as if they were on a school trip and/or day release. Please, leave your bum bags and snap backs at home.

Parklife was a dire representation of Manchester and all the talent it houses. Although the variety and caliber of electronic music was on point, the crowds were not and never have I realised what impact this makes. A clear representation of this was Dusky's set.

After previously seeing the London duo at Sankeys, they delivered a similar set with new age anthems such as Calling Me, Nobody Else and Murial. With releases on Aus, Dogmatik, Aunjunadeep and the mighty School Records, its crowd pleasing, it’s a little cautious and it’s oh so Swamp 81. The tent was more so full than my previous visit for Lapalux and the light warehouse tech/bass soul connoisseurs ‘worked it.’ Recent released EP Vanishing Point was a favourite.

After a wonky wait to speak to a Parklife affiliate about using my camera in the pit without being looked at if I were a criminal and getting NOWHERE I decided to venture back to the Now Wave tent to see the infamous Four Tet grace his presence. As expected, expectations were high and like the whole weekend, a bit of a let down. Without blaming the genius himself, nothing could be helped from the poor sound nor the squalking 15 year old girls that kept asking the question ‘Is this Four Tet?’ This and the combination of large inflatable balls and riled up coke heads donning their wifebeaters jumping in all directions proved too much for not only me but the majority (and small selection) of the crowd. The sound picked up slightly towards the middle of the set and we heard the likes of Pyramid, Jupiters and Lion from the fantastic creation that is Pink. I was hoping to hear his recent remix of JT’s Suit and Tie but unfortunately 25 minutes was enough to send me under.

The majority of my Saturday was spent speaking to and getting nowhere with various members of staff, practically babysitting the amount of pissed up children that attended and trying to find somewhere to sit down. Can’t say this years festival was for me.

Becca Kennedy























Sunday


I hate students. You're always cheering and hollering about something. After a packed tram ride to Heaton Park full of said students and their stinking armpits in my face I made my way just in time to see my first act of the day, Action Bronson, who's spearheading the revival of the good old days of New York Hip Hop with the likes of Joey Badass and The Flatbush Zombies. His set is tight and very entertaining, singles from his new EP 'SAAB Stories' such as Triple Backflip and Strictly 4 My Jeeps get an airing and there's even an appearance from Danny Brown for their verses on ASAP Rocky's track 1 Train. The set comes to a close with Bronson taking his microphone out of the tent and walking around Parklife causing a near stampede of people trying to get back into the tent with him as he makes his was back to stage via the crowd. 
Danny Brown's on next after a short DJ Set from his DJ Skywlkr, whipping the crowd into a frenzy, Brick Squad will always be well received at a DJ set, even if you're a total joke of a DJ, so Guetta if you're reading this, take 
notes. Danny Brown's got a back catalogue to be proud of, tracks from mixtape XXX get an airing, as do singles produced by the likes of Araabmuzik and Flosstradamus, and judging by the couple of songs he played from upcoming album 'Old' the album's going to be a corker. There's moshpits and crowdusurfing galore, and despite the shitty sound over at the Hudson Mohawke tent, he has the crowd in the palm of his hands, at one point a fan gets a little too excited and receives a 
crack over the head by Danny's microphone and he doesn't even miss a beat, incredible. And then something strange happens, Action Bronson walks back out to let us know his iPhone has been stolen and there will be a cash reward for anyone who returns it to him, up jumps a kid (a little too fast, if you get what I mean) and hands him his phone, Bronson gives the kid £2000 as a thank you, lifts him over his shoulder and takes him backstage leaving the crowd with jaws wide open. 
Joey Badass has already started his set at the Ape Parklife Beatdown (I have no idea either) tent by the time I get there with the majority of his setlist coming from his debut mixtape '1999' the show ends with the song that made him an overnight star 'Survival Tactics' chaos ensues and there's a stage invasion, man of the day Action Bronson rescues Joey from the over-eager crowd, I think it's fair to say that hip hop's just got exciting again. On the main stage are one of the only acts in Hip Hop to always keep it real, despite its sudden taking over of the mainstream, Jurassic 5, who had a packed crowd grooving and grinning like cheshire cats in the scorching heat, there was even para-gliders dancing overhead 
to classics such as Concrete Schoolyard and What's Golden, a memory that will stick with me forever so thank you J5.
 I end the night back at the Hudson Mohawke tent to see the man himself along with Lunice, TNGHT, they play tracks from debut EP TNGHT and plenty of Kanye West songs, so much in fact that it was just short of an interruption from the man himself. Parklife have plenty to improve on for next year, there was no signal, the majority of the bar staff seemed not to be able to count, the stage times and map on the £6 lanyard were largely wrong and I ended up being kettled for 2 hours waiting for the bus home, but if they manage to keep the sun, incredible acts and get a lot of the students to leave their shitty LADish attitudes back at their shitty uni halls, they may just have a winning formula.
Aaron Lewins 


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Lorde


Signed to Universal at the very young age of 12 thanks to a video of her singing at a talent show being noticed by their A&R, 16 year old Ella Yelich-O'Connor, otherwise known as Lorde, has everything incredibly well put together. Having complete creative control over her material, writing and producing her songs herself and a debut single ('Royals') that's gone double platinum in New Zealand, it's hard to comprehend the amount of talent she possesses. The hip-hop inflected instrumentals paired with Yelich O'Connor's hazy vocals that make up Lorde's sound have predictably garnered comparison to Lana Del Rey. 

Not only are her two singles, 'Royals' and 'Tennis Court' brilliant but she's also recorded a sultry cover of Kindness' 'Swingin Party' which features on the Tennis Court EP.  In spite of everything, Yelich O'Connor seems incredibly grounded - not bothered by the perks of potential fame and having a sense of self-awareness, carefully thinking through the decisions she makes as a young artist. On 'Tennis Court', she sings "never not chasing everything I want" and that's clear as she's managing to become an overnight success, all whilst still studying at college. 



Aurora Mitchell