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Today I discovered that this blog is over three years old (a somewhat terrifying realisation), and so I felt the need to write something. Yesterday a friend of mine claimed that the Julian Casablancas + the Voidz record was one of the best guitar records of the past year. I had been avoiding the album because I don’t want my heart broken anymore than the majority of Comedown Machine managed, and recently watching the Voidz performing ‘Vision of Division’ at Primavera was difficult to say the least (not going to link to the video, because that is how upset it made me). And yet, it only seemed fitting to give Tyranny a little test run this evening, given how inextricable my Strokes love is as regards my music taste (and, indeed, as regards the name of this blog).

Writing about a record you’ve only listened to once is perhaps not the best way to treat an album – things that leave only faint impressions on you probably make more sense with each listen, I think. However, for the sake of ease we are going for a First Listen approach with Tyranny, and I will admit that I’m (just about) pleasantly surprised.

Opening track ‘Take Me in Your Army’ has this wonderfully disconcerting slowness; an intriguingly hypnotic, almost seedy swirl of a ballad. At its best that’s what this record does, creating a spiralling, strange ambience that convulses just beneath the surface, as on ‘Xerox’ and the epic, swoon-y majesty that is lead single ‘Human Sadness’. But it is perhaps when that convulsing side of thing rears its head a little too much that things seem a bit hard to stomach. It’s what I would argue was the problem at times on Casablancas’ solo record, Phrazes For the Young: at times, it was brilliant, but at times he tried to do much, and there can be a brashly overwhelming feel to his baroque opulence. Take from this what you will, but I do think Tyranny sounds very much like the logical next part to Phrazes.

This is an odd little record that’s often compellingly angry and sad (a surprising amount of yelling from Casablancas on songs like ‘Where No Eagles Fly’) and it seems to wind its way between a variety of genres and time signatures, with sometimes poignantly off-kilter, striking lyrics (“I’m the worst” is the refrain on ‘Xerox’). There’s a sweet taste of something akin to African high life on ‘Father Electricity’, nods to metal on ‘Business Dog’ and weird flourishes of tabla and strangely (if not dubiously) Indian vibes on ‘Dare I Care’.  There’s an 80s lilt to ‘Nintendo Blood’ while tracks like ‘M.utually A.ssured D.estruction’ I would go so far as to say sound a bit prog? Which is no bad thing, but still something I never thought I would say about a record created by a member of the Strokes. But maybe such comparisons are problematic in themselves: what one might consider as that detached, nonchalant, quintessentially “Strokes” sound hasn’t been a thing since around ten years ago. Much as hearing Casablancas’ smooth, seductive vocals unobscured aside from the distant fuzz of distortion would be beautiful, what he is trying to do musically here is incredibly far removed from what he was doing back on Is This It?. Strokes comparisons, I would posit, are irrelevant.

Tyranny isn’t a masterpiece, but ultimately nor is it underwhelming. There is a constant odd, enthrallingly siren-like nature to the record, and at times it can be a bit much. Overall I suppose you can’t fault Casablancas on ambition. It seems to be a record that might grow with each listen and, while I doubt I’m going to fall in love with it, there are some nice enough moments on it that I will certainly come back to it.

[You can listen to Tyranny on Spotify here.]

handsomeeric

[Originally published on GoldenPlec]

It is an increasingly rare occasion for a record to hit you like a ton of bricks upon the first listen. For Dublin teenager handsome eric, though, it seems an almost effortless achievement.

It might seem like one of the most blasé titles possible, but this latest release in handsome eric’s oeuvre of bedroom recordings, the oh, cool EP, is aptly named. On its surface this is an EP full of garage and shoegaze-style tracks drenched in reverb, boasting amusingly honest but grim descriptions of youthful hedonism (“My friends like when I pass out / give them more to joke about”, he expounds on ‘Mopiest Boy In Leopardstown’)But it is a more assured record than such a description might allow for, with musings that run deeper than vague social commentary.

Indeed, amidst the wavy, atmospheric bedroom lo-fi, and the rich, drawling vocals, are impressively jaded lines about drinking, friends, self-destruction and death. The record as a whole seems to encapsulate that spiralling feeling of being lost in your own head. “Three fucking months and all my songs are still about you” is the sort of strikingly beautiful, melancholy lyric that Stephen O’Dowd (the man behind the moniker) seems to specialise in. But these moments of dark romance are carefully hidden beneath the distortion and occasional bouts of whirring cacophony.

It’s that idea of youth as an exercise in acting, rolling smokes and getting drunk – “we’ll pretend that it’s alright / trashy on six cans of gold”, he confesses at one point. O’Dowd is hesitantly confronting those personal yet universal sadnesses and insecurities, whilst simultaneously hiding them, washing over them with gorgeous, echoey swathes of guitar and anecdotes of the techno club.

“I always hope you notice when I’m not alright” is the line on ‘Coast To Coast Will Never Be A Hype Track, Kevin’ that perhaps sums up oh, cool the best. The darling melodies and refreshing percussion make it easy to ignore, and that nonchalant title brings to mind trying to play off everything as not a big deal. But at its core, there is a lot about the confusion of youth and heartbreak on this record, even if it’s almost drowned out in the sound of fluid, grey-blue seascapes. And that’s part of this EP’s beauty. It shyly hides beneath something much bigger.

To say this is “cool” would be an understatement: this is a sublime little record for those growing pains. It’s honest and angsty and brims over with thoughts and sounds that don’t quite seem fully-formed, and it’s all the more delightful for it.

downtothebone

[Originally published on GoldenPlec]

From the very first track there is an arresting beauty to Anna Mitchell’s debut album. Released earlier this year, Down to the Bone is noteworthy in its subdued nature; the way it sways unassumingly, all blue and yearning. Indeed, said opening song – ‘Paradise’ – sets the tone for what at times can be a quite majestic listen.

Despite hailing from Cork, Mitchell showcases an echoing Americana sound that swells almost ominously around tracks like debut single ‘Let’s Run Away’ and ‘Long Time Gone’There is a rustic sense of world-weariness to her tone, which belies the singer’s age – indeed, the 24-year-old’s voice is at once tremulous and unfaltering, whilst retaining a pronounced soulfulness throughout the album – notably on slower, achingly evocative numbers like ‘Songs of Love’.

For all that is impressive about the record, however, there are times where a bit more variety might have been welcome, as the pace in the second half begins to feel a bit repetitive (if never quite listless).

The poppier stylings displayed on ‘When My Ship Comes In’ sound somewhat disingenuous with its cloying country twang, particularly when compared with the stark honesty of the folk-tinged songs otherwise in evidence on the LP.

At her best moments, though, there is no denying Mitchell’s talent. ‘Tennessee’ is all affirming, gorgeous piano and melancholy, and rich vocals longing for elsewhere. “Let’s go to Tennessee / there’s nothing left for us here anymore”, the singer laments.

And perhaps that is what is striking and, at times, seemingly incongruous about Down to the Bone. Mitchell’s passion for that roots-y Americana sound and so encompassing that, in her music, she is reaching out for a sweetly idealised notion of the Deep South. While the swathes of country might seem ill-fitting to the humble folk stylings of this Irish artist, one might concede that, overall, Mitchell’s dream of escaping to her hallowed America is sonically realised here.

What’s more, it is realised with an impressive passion that makes us intrigued to hear more.

wayne-J-Dancehallstarz.com_

Do you remember being 12? Let me rephrase, in fact: do you remember being in any way genuinely cool aged 12? I for one am pretty sure I was significantly lamer than I am now (hard to imagine, I’m sure), but I have always liked to think that this was something of a universal – awkward preteen years aren’t kind to anyone. And yet, there are guys like Wayne J who, at 12-years-old, is releasing some astounding jams on the Kingston dancehall scene.

In ‘Any day now (Ben10)’ the child prodigy references Scooby Doo and Ben10 as though he is some normal kid, but – if Aaliyah taught us anything – age ain’t nothing but a number, and his lyrics run deeper than you’d think. As he explained to Dazed, he wants to be a role model to his peers, singing about “positive stuff. Like, staying in school. No underage smoking and drinking.” And his vocals are as wonderfully sweet as that aim might suggest, at times recalling the smooth and chill voice of Billy Boyo; and yet there is a striking presence and command to his style that goes beyond said sweetness, underpinned nicely by the fiery passion of the instrumentals on vehemently charged tracks like ‘Slacky Mouth’.

His father Wayne Senior, himself a DJ and singer, was the 12-year-old’s inspiration, and the two of them have been writing tracks together for the past couple years. Since his first release, the intensely uplifting number ‘Stay Ina School’, Wayne J has turned local hero, rightly making waves on the dancehall circuit with his assured delivery, catchy, danceable songs and his generally good vibes. I’ll forgive him for highlighting my ineptitudes aged 23, let alone at 12, because this guy is ridiculously exciting and a welcome addition to an increasingly impressive scene.

Pay close attention: the future is looking bright, and Wayne J might well be next in line to the dancehall throne.

femikuti

In continuing with the theme of rehashing pieces I’ve already written and posting them here as though they are new and exciting, here’s a longer, improved version of a column I wrote a couple years ago on the link between Lagos and the development of my beloved Afrobeat. Having spent this pleasantly sunny afternoon half-heartedly attempting to pack a suitcase whilst blasting out the Fela, it seemed pertinent to post this edited tn2 piece up:

Though its founding fathers can be linked with many cities, it is only right to trace the development of Afrobeat back to Lagos, Nigeria. In 1963, after several years in London studying music whilst playing jazz and highlife, Fela Kuti returned to his native Nigeria seeking to form a band. Kuti asked drummer Tony Allen to join his new band Koola Lobitos, having previously played with him around the Lagos gig circuit. Allen was an unusually talented percussionist, effortlessly playing an eclectic blend of traditional Nigerian yoruba rhythms and Western jazz – it is no coincidence that Damon Albarn famously sings “Tony Allen got me dancing” in Blur track ‘Music Is My Radar’.  Allen’s was an unprecedented mix of rhythms which, along with Kuti’s fantastic musical fusions of soulful Western funk and African grooves (topped characteristically with pidgin English), would form Afrobeat.

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bbb

[Originally published on GoldenPlec]

The only New Orleans-style brass band in town, Irish eight-piece Booka Brass Band are renowned for their raucously engaging live performances. Their reputation for pop covers precedes them – we’re talking ‘Crazy in Love’, ‘Talk Dirty to Me’ and even a tasty little rendition of supreme Destiny’s Child hit ‘Survivor’.

All of which is why, on paper, the idea of this – their debut EP – might seem a bit hard to swallow: can the incredible, tongue-in-cheek vivacity of their live show truly translate into a cohesive original recording?

The answer, thankfully, is yes.

Right from the swelling intensity of opener ‘Make That Do Noise’ through to the swinging, spiralling richness of ‘Legion of Boom’the BBB EP certainly has a lot to offer. The former of these two is an absolute storm of a song. All fast-paced drums and stupidly danceable refrains, ‘Make That Do Noise’ recalls the likes of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble in its sheer enticing energy. Meanwhile the latter track starts all soulful and melancholy before crescendoing into something quite glorious.

It is apparent how clearly the group are aware of the potential of each instrument, and what works best to create the most striking, complementary harmonies. Indeed, from its forlorn, military-esque fanfare opening into the ending cascade of triumphantly forceful sounds, ‘Legion of Boom’ is everything you might hope for from said title.

The previously released ‘Nute’ is a sweet and subtle number, with its slow, nuanced build into an enthrallingly full timbre of sounds. All of this is underpinned by an intriguing, almost Bossa Novan sway in the bass. Title track ‘BBB’ is probably the jazziest song on the EP with its jaunty percussive shuffle. It is a pleasantly upbeat listen, though it fails to reach a satisfying conclusion.

As debut EPs go, the BBB EP is a solid start. It is a bold, brash and wonderfully polished early taste of an act with longevity beyond their live reputation.

We hope that the Booka Brass Band keep on making that do noise.

The BBB EP is available here.

eventhescore

For most people, awards season is a time to discuss things like Amal Clooney’s white gloves, Benedict’s Cumber-baby and whether or not Emma Stone is really as down to earth as she seems. Spare a thought, though, for drummer-composer Antonio Sanchez, who won’t be enjoying Oscar-time frivolity after his widely-lauded, Golden Globe-nominated score for Birdman was disqualified by the Academy. This was due to the intermittent use of pre-existing classical music that interspersed Sanchez’s own compositions, seen in the Academy’s eyes as undermining his original, captivating percussive work. This raises a lot of questions about the nature of music composed for a soundtrack and whether the film industry needs to re-think its somewhat archaic rules surrounding such scores.

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