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My blog looks like it is on the verge of dying, so I thought I would cheekily post up some reviews of new tracks I originally wrote for the wonderful tn2 Magazine on here to keep things fresh.  I will get back to gushing sycophancy about bands I love soon:

Jamie T – Don’t You Find

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The name Jamie T is one that conjures up the cheeky-chappy minstrel behind the likes of the glorious, jangling sounds of previous singles, Sheila and Stick & Stones. Which is why this new track — his first solo release since 2010 — is something of a surprise. With a perfectly languid, almost reggae-style daydream beat, and beautifully, uncharacteristically gentle vocals singing the simple, melancholy refrain of “Don’t you find, some of the time / there is always someone on your mind / that shouldn’t be there at all”, it’s kind of brilliant. It all feels somewhat restrained compared to the brash nature of his previous releases, but it’s in a way that really works; as though, in holding back, Jamie T is able to get a bit more introspective in his observations. Put short: this is gorgeous.

Jeremih & Shlohmo ft. Chance The Rapper – The End

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Last year, with the release of Bo Peep (Do U Right), smooth as caramel Chicago R&B singer Jeremih and exquisite LA producer Shlohmo proved that their sounds married were a match made in heaven. Fast forward to 2014 and, after some scheduling difficulties with their record labels, a few days ago the pair decided to put out their long-awaited collaboration, the No More EP, for free (in celebration of Jeremih’s birthday). The EP overall is arguably not as sublime as it had the potential to be, but it’s certainly enjoyable, with this track featuring hip-hop’s rising star Chance perhaps being the stand-out.  With the kind of understated, urban beats that the fantastic Shlomho serves up best, and some enticingly sultry, melodic rapping from Jeremih, The End gets tastier and more intriguing with every listen.  It gets increasingly gritty too, with Chance’s somewhat in-your-face verse tailing in at the finish, but it makes for a fairly satisfying coda. The song is good and fresh, just – with the talents involved – it’s not as mind-blowing as you might have hoped. Free download available here.

Azealia Banks, Heavy Metal And Reflective

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You would be forgiven for feeling surprised at a new song from Azealia Banks, given that the years since her 2011 breakthrough 212 have been filled with little in the way of releases, yet much in the way of starting dubious, petulant Twitter beefs with a striking number of artists.  Banks’ brash personality aside, though, there is no denying that this track is promising, and it marks what is seemingly a new era now that the artist has broken free of her record deal at Interscope. There is something excitingly feral about Heavy Metal And Reflective, with Banks’ characteristic fast-paced, nonchalant flow over snarling, thumping urban beats which owe a lot to trap. It is not by any means a masterpiece — a comeback hype track, but arguably not a song with real longevity — but it is a pleasant enough reminder as to why we were all so excited about the controversial Harlem girl in the first place.

Karen O, Rapt

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A short, wonderfully sweet insight into Karen O’s forthcoming solo album Crush Songs, Rapt showcases the intimate, raw side of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ singer. Written back in 2006 in the midst of an all-consuming heartbreak which left the singer feeling as though she would never fall in love again, the track is stunningly tender and brilliantly caustic all at once. Gentle laments like the refrain of “Love is soft / love’s a fucking bitch” hint perfectly at that absorbing inner-turmoil of falling out of love, along with moments of wryly observed questioning and self-delusion: “Do I really need another habit like you? / …do you need me too?”. A lo-fi number with a dreamy, bedroom fuzziness, Rapt gets the perfect balance of sad and beautiful.

Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, Bang Bang

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A song featuring three of pop’s biggest current names, produced by the same team as Ariana Grande’s summer smash Problem, and which samples Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was always going to have a lot of pulling power. And indeed, there’s a brazen euphoria to the song, with a sugary, upbeat anthem of a chorus — though at times it feels like there is a little too much going on, and the whole thing is perhaps a bit overproduced and abrasive. The lyrics are bold and flirtatious (if somewhat questionable), with moments like, “She got a booty like a Cadillac / But I can send you into overdrive”. With that said, lyrical analysis and debate are perhaps unnecessary — pop is by nature frivolous and fun, and this is certainly that

“Wait – you’re writing a piece about us? Oh god, please don’t include any of this…what are you even gonna call it? ‘Meltybrains? are dix’?”

The five boys of Meltybrains? are running amok in a small square in Dalston after their first ever show in London (this latter point being a fact which leads to several dry comments about their songs all being “UK exclusives” during the performance).  Rather than their jokey post-gig brawling and bizarre conversations appearing in anyway as damning as band-member Brian seems to fear, though, there is something quite endearing and charming about their tangible enthusiasm that night.  Indeed, much as I am always open to title suggestions that involve edgy misspellings, it would be entirely unfair to label this Dublin band as being “dix”, or anything of the sort – which I think is a particularly noteworthy claim given that the band dress entirely in white for their show, and have a proclivity to wearing “meltymasks”: all things which one might associate with the band in question being a little bit pretentious.

The opposite is the case though: there is a light-hearted, playfulness to it all, and the masks and the white outfits just seem to add to the band’s wonderfully content, easy aura on stage, with pools of green and purple light flourishing over them as though they are splattered canvases while they craft their beautiful, otherworldly soundscapes.  At one point they insist the audience – who are just as delighted and passionately immersed in the music as the band themselves – join them in some choreographed dance moves to a sublime tropical-tinged, dancehall-esque number, moving into the crowd to make sure the attendees get properly involved.  That their lyrics include ridiculously great moments like “Listen to me speak, into this microphone / Meltybrains? is weak, would you like a scone?” is perhaps all that is necessary to prove that taking themselves too seriously is not something this band could ever be accused of.

I am normally somewhat loath to writing live reviews, but – having been meaning to write about this band ever since they were one of DWMD’s picks for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition, earlier this year – it was in seeing them perform that it struck me anew just how exciting this band are.  It is certainly one of the best, most engaging small-scale gigs I have been to in the past few years, with something immensely passionate evident in their playing – my friend was particularly taken with the way they all seem to have had their eyes closed and the way they’re all so palpably enjoying what they do.  

With every recorded release too, it becomes increasingly clear just how fresh and strange their music is, with their jittery, fantastically intricate percussion and dazzling electric swirls of synth and violin, all topped with the aforementioned bizarre but entirely fitting vocals.

Meltybrains? are doing something special.  They are undoubtedly weird, but that’s what is particularly captivating about them: no one is doing electronic music quite like this right now.  And so, primarily because I can’t think of a more fitting way to end this, I will conclude that, in fact: Meltybrains? are gr8.

Check them out on the SoundCloud to further understand why I have so much love for this band.  I am currently particularly a fan of Block Rockin’.

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For a lot of people, writing is a form of catharsis.  Putting everything out there in a way that is painful, but ultimately somehow cleansing.  I was going to write a post about Arcade Fire, because this week I am living my 2007 dream of seeing them live (for £2.50: hello), but every now and again I end up introspectively contemplating the purpose and nature of music-writing.  I think it is fair to say that, amongst my friends at least, the main reason to read Don’t Watch Me Dancing is to find something to mock me about – which is pretty fair given that I’m pretentious enough to put my gushing, sycophantic views on music on the internet.  So here, in the spirit of catharsis, is my unedited, undeniably cheesy 2010 review of ‘The Suburbs’ and, for all I am embarrassed reading it now, in fairness it is not really that far removed from how I write four years later (if with significantly less lyrical discussion than is my current norm), and pretty accurately surmises my love of Arcade Fire.  Still cringe-y though:

“It sounds a bit weird maybe, but I’ve always felt a closeness with Arcade Fire – I say ‘always'; I actually got onto them circa the release of second album ‘Neon Bible’, and even then entirely randomly. I bought the album having heard absolutely nothing from the band before; I was ordering another album – I think it may have been the latest Modest Mouse – and the website I was on recommended some random group called Arcade Fire’s then-new album. I took a chance – why, I’m really not sure – and it’s something I’ve been immensely grateful for ever since.

‘Neon Bible’ was an epic; swirling cacophonous noise pouring out of a church organ brought you down to depressing depths, contrasting with the majestic uplifting power of orchestral melodies – you have to understand, I’m a flute player, and finding a band that can make your geeky woodwind instrument seem credible is quite something. And it wasn’t all intricate yet distorted baroque grandeur either, as you’d suddenly find yourself in the stripped-down company of merely acoustic guitars and vocals, a beautiful juxtaposition to the fullness of the sound on other tracks. Truth be told, I barely listened to the Modest Mouse album, such was my newfound rapture with Arcade Fire, this wonderful band who made music unlike anything I’d ever heard.
I eagerly sought out their debut ‘Funeral’ next, and was not disappointed – the woeful charm of the album was undeniable, and I found I loved it just as much as ‘Neon Bible’, if for different reasons – musically at least, it was certainly a less weighty affair than their second album. The band have described their musical aspiration as wanting to bring medieval music to the Pixies, and crazy as that might seem if you’re trying to imagine what that might sound like, that really does just sum them up; they have mastered that epic fusion of new and old, and have managed it incredibly.

So, two wonderful – somber now and then, yes, but wonderful nonetheless – albums in, and here we are now with their third offering, ‘The Suburbs'; I’m not going to lie, I thought I would be disappointed, but once again this band who, for me, came out of nowhere, have left me pleasantly surprised. Once again we find ourselves greeted by darkness, but as ever with Arcade Fire, there is a crack of light – perhaps even more so than on either of their previous albums – that diffuses through the album and somehow makes listening to an album about suburban doom and gloom a relatively enjoyable experience. As well as the expected incredible mix of guitar rock and classical music, the album sees forays into weird and wonderful M83-style dazzling synths, as well as creepy and dissonant distortion. Amazing.
Time and more listening will tell if the album will achieve for me the heights of bittersweet beauty, ‘Funeral’, or the abundant allure of ‘Neon Bible’, but having listened to it as a whole a couple times now, it is thus far an amazing follow-up. Even disregarding their previous efforts this album is something to be proud of, a fantastic listen in it’s own right. Arcade Fire seem to be one of the few bands out there who know exactly how best to exploit their sound, and it seems that album after album they will continue to achieve something that sounds fresh and new, yet somehow just as sublime as before.”
I suspect finally seeing one of my favourite contemporary bands live will give some affirmation as regards music-writing, anyway.  I am very, very excited, and I guess that enthusiasm is probably about as much purpose as I need for writing all my overblown gushing about music.

sumochief

 

Hip-hop and jazz are genres which, while not necessarily standardly associated with one another, have something of a natural affinity: that similar inclination towards boundless, exciting, uninhibited free-styling and improvisation.  Think of The Roots and their bluesy, soulful off-the-cuff sounds; the sultry vibe of Mark Farina’s Mushroom Jazz compilations; Robert Glasper’s mesmerising musical explorations; or, indeed, the slick, seamless beats and production of J Dilla.

Thus enter Londoners SumoChief, straight out of the spectacular creative hub that is Steez, bringing live instrumentation back to the forefront of the game with their new ‘Sumobeats’ EP, out last week on Lunatick Records.  The sound is fresh and fairly minimalist, with pretty trills of keyboard, chilled, airy beats and sweet, fluid lines of guitar rippling over the top in track ‘1 of 1′.  The sublime ‘Gator Season’ has a somewhat more urban feel, with beautiful piano samples and a perfect dusky feel which just begs to have some verses spit over the top – a sentiment that makes the reworking of the song into ‘It is What It Is’ with guest bars from MadLean a very welcome addition to the end of the EP.  Slam the Poet and Cecil B Demented feature too, on the sweet and breezy ‘Segundo’, while ‘Happy Joy’ is a little odd – if gratifyingly so – with a recording of Alan Watts expounding on music interspersed throughout the pleasantly laid back, immersive melodies.

There’s a nice immediacy and freshness to their use of live instrumentation in hip-hop, and there’s something incredibly telling about the sample in ‘Gator Season’ where the speaker laments, “There’s a whole generation that attends concerts now who has no idea what live music is supposed to be about”. Sumochief could be bringing this new generation of hip-hop fans back to that exquisite rawness that only comes with live music.  It’s not groundbreaking, certainly, but ‘Sumobeats’ is a welcome start: a respectful nod to those in the genre before them, and a looming promise of exciting future collaborations to meld with their crepuscular sounds.

TT_hi (by Robert Glowacki)

Technology and teamwork are both words one might associate with the World Cup, a sporting event which I essentially stay aware of and mention for fear of otherwise being socially ostracised.  Topical reference to prove my worth now made, Technology+Teamwork are in fact a band comprising of Anthony Silvester (of XX Teens) and Sarah Jones (of both Hot Chip and NYPC).  After meeting at Bestival, the pair decided to create music together, and thus exists the strangely entrancing new debut single, Small Victory.  It’s an odd track – slightly jarring and dissonant with its ethereal, dislocated vocals singing the sweet little refrain of “You saw something in me (I didn’t know what you were looking for) / something no one else can see (I didn’t know what you were staying for)”, both their disconcertingly electronically-treated, robotic yet warm voices melding together over the top of eerie, whirring, whooshing melodies and beautifully light, frenetic rhythms.  Then there are the yet-to-be released remixes – a squelchy, upbeat version from Joe Goddard that vaguely recalls New Order, and a gorgeous, dazzling, slow yet funky take from Grosvenor.

The single is out via Parlour Records on 21st July [pre-order here], and is very much worth a listen if somewhat disarming, unusual synth-pop is your thing.

Ben_Khan (1)I had a conversation today about how, because of the internet, there is this pressing need to be up-to-date on new music.  If Jamie xx dropped a track three days ago, then that might as well have been three months ago, such is the sheer volume and frequency of releases out there, and the sense of duty to be in some way ahead of the curve.  It is not necessarily something that this blog has ever been particularly swayed by, given my propensity to post here about three times a year and, on those sweet, rare occasions, to write about some entirely irrelevant album from ten years ago.  Nonetheless, I feel strangely inclined to apologise for being behind the rest of the world when only posting about Ben Khan now, even though his debut EP, ‘1992’, isn’t even out yet.

Politely tight-lipped about his identity beyond what he thinks people need to know, Khan is an artist making music from a beautifully unique amalgamation of different genres.  The songs are at times lush R&B with a sultry, soulful, bluesy undercurrent, but then there are glimmers of glitchy, removed, pretty electro shuddering through, with a sometimes almost Middle Eastern, ethereal vibe.  His wonderful vocals are soft as a caress on top of it all; somehow coy yet knowingly seductive.

There is a crepuscular warmth to his tracks – a splash of something almost tropical in moments like the elephant-like sirens of trumpet bursting forth in ‘Eden'; a disarming darkness to the gentle, titillating sway of ‘Drive (Part I)’, with its pseudo-breathless vocals.  ‘Savage’ pulsates with a heady, squelchy dance-y sound, though ultimately it does less for me than the rest of his demoes.  ‘Youth’ slowly crescendoes from a subtle, refined quietness into a gorgeous, sunny piece of delight; all glorious, bouncing beats, saccharine sweet vocals and pretty little trills of synth.

Needless to say, the promise of Ben Khan is seeming a very exciting prospect on the basis of these sublime tracks.  With his EP out on May 5th, now seems as good a time as any to acquaint yourselves with the reasons for the hype.

Listen to Ben Khan on his SoundCloud. You can pre-order his ‘1992’ EP from iTunes, here.

 

lateofthepier

 

As is customary procedure every two months or so, I have been on a bit of a David Bowie binge these past couple days.  At some point I will be sure to wax lyrical specifically on the great man himself, but this particular spell of Bowie indulgence has led me to metaphorically dusting off my old Late of the Pier MP3s because, in my mind, musically Late of the Pier were innovating in the spirit of Bowie, and their inexplicable absence for the past few years has been very upsetting.

Their Erol Alkan-produced debut album, Fantasy Black Channel, was released back in 2008, and boasted some extraordinary soundscapes.  Bright, brazen and brimming over with a really wild, weird sense of otherworldliness, these were songs which wouldn’t have sounded amiss soundtracking Bowie’s Labyrinth – or, as the band described themselves, it was “music to have asthma to”.  There aren’t really any two Late of the Pier songs which sound the same, and yet their sound never seemed to lack a sense of cohesion – rather, it was quite exciting that everything could be so all over the place.

‘The Bears Are Coming’ has its tribal, almost afrobeat rhythms, dancing beneath lush ripples of chaotic synths; ‘VW’ is an intense instrumental cacophony of brilliance, with thick, dramatic, dissonant swathes of sound; ‘Focker’ and ‘White Snake’ are both frantic and bizarre numbers with a much bigger nod to rock than the rest of their oeuvre; while ‘Heartbeat’ is a beautifully fluid piece of pop with a particularly sweet guitar line; and I always had a soft spot for the squelchy, sparkling, short but sweet ‘Random Firl’ with its lovely, brief, kind of psychedelic lyrics: “Lately, I’ve been thinking this whole world seems too hard / And I’d be better off to undo everything / But maybe it was only the Sun behind the clouds making everything seem nasty / Behind the clouds / It’s lovely behind the clouds”.

This is without covering a lot of their work, but my favourite three Late of the Pier songs would have to be ‘Space and the Woods’, ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ and their last (hopefully not last ever) single, ‘Blueberry’.  I’m not necessarily proud about it, but the band’s first single – the Gary Numan-esque ‘Space and the Woods’ – was my ringtone for a time, with its twinkling intro diffusing into dark, punchy, dance-y melodies and surprisingly quite profound lyrics, trying – according to an interview I just read - “to weigh up what is more important; a person or an inanimate object, or an absence of anything”.  ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ is a a fantastic piece of dance pop, wearing its odd, glam ’80s influences on its sleeve, all jumping beats and spacey rock with some exquisitely realised moments: “So put your hands on your waistline / and move your body to the bass line / And get your hands on some cheap wine / And keep moving ’til you feel fine” is arguably some of the funnest, most delightful lyricism of the past ten years.  ‘Blueberry’ was something a bit different, though: all gorgeous soaring anthem full of spacey strangeness, with delicate, pop verses and a sublime, again kind of psychedelic sound, with a chorus of children singing at the end, and it seemed promising of incredible things to come.    

I do not know what Late of the Pier are currently doing.  I do not know when – or if – they will release more music.  I just felt the need to take a moment and heap some gushing praise on a band whose oeuvre should not be left to gather dust in the recesses of 2008 when the NME were trying to make “new rave” a thing.  They were making some amazingly weird and innovative stuff, and the British music scene was all the more exciting for their presence.  Wherever you are, please come back soon.

968full-yeah-yeah-yeahs

It was around this time two years ago when the idea of dumping my very neglected old music blog in favour of starting a new one which I could neglect just the same first crossed my mind.  The time of year, tellingly, is my annual pre-exam study leave, during which I am sitting around listening to music and looking for ways to procrastinate even more so than is normal.  Two years ago, I decided that the raw intensity of Le Tigre’s eponymous album was perfect study music, finding something quite motivational in the raucous yet driven songs.  As I embark once more into exam season, my ability to concentrate on one topic of study for a prolonged period of time is wavering more than ever, but as the riotgrrl music before made me realise, channelling stress and rage into work can be a fairly efficient way of going about these things – hence, my rediscovery of the Is Is EP by Yeah Yeah Yeahs has gone down pretty nicely as regards imploring myself to put my head down and work.

Released back in 2007, this early EP is a bit different from the poppier, synth-tinged era of It’s Blitz (which love, but for slightly different reasons).  This EP is rock music: brazen, gut-wrenching, turbulent, sexually-charged, fantastic rock music.  Karen O screeches and sneers, one minute all shrugging nonchalance in her New York cool sprechgesang, the next bold and impassioned in her teasing, seductive, feral growls of melodies.  The music of Zinner and Chase swells around her, sometimes washing her along into intricate, blazing crescendoes and sometimes ebbing into sparser yet just as provocative and fervent shuffles of instrumentation.

Incredible opener ‘Rockers to Swallow’ is all raw, vigorous intensity with threatening, commandeering, throatiness from O and spiralling, gritty yet somehow almost-psychedelic guitar and chaotic yet somehow controlled drumming.  ‘Down Boy’ starts as a gentler, more romantic sounding number, with Zinner’s sweet, twinkling keyboards ushering in smooth percussion and soft vocals from O – that is, for around forty-five seconds, before things get intense all over again in the chorus and, no, she’s not yelling quite so much anymore, but O is still a domineering force, all coy but in control as she sings, (and you can almost hear her smiling), “Down boy, down” atop of the more tumultuous guitars.  ‘Kiss Kiss’ is a glitchy song full of frantic, lusty, propulsive palpitations, while ‘Isis’ swirls and snarls with a strangely dissonant, quasi-Middle Eastern vibe.  The final track ’10 X 10′ with the juddering, potent instrumentation and O’s repeated girlish “ah-ah”s, contrasting with her low, unforgiving growl throughout the rest of the song perhaps best surmises the EP – it can have moments of nonchalant, coy femininity, certainly, but the Is Is EP is primarily angry, turbulent and, well, empowered sexiness.

I am detracting from it massively to say that it is good background study music, because it is a fantastic rock EP (with the flaw that befalls all good EPs of being too short and leaving you wanting)… but it works pretty well in that exam time capacity all the same.

You can buy the Is Is EP here.  If you’re into your Lou Reed and your Patti Smith, you will love this as much as I do.

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Hearing this for the first time today, I genuinely thought that I was being played some remix of an obscure ABBA B-side.  With its frothy, sugary choruses and squelchy, cheesy beats resonating beneath, the latest track to be revealed from Metronomy’s upcoming album (incidentally, also called Love Letters) is a joy to listen to.  The song bursts to life with spiralling keyboards and yearning, romantic lyrics from the delicate intonations of Joseph Mount and that euphoric ’70s pop punch of Anna Prior’s chorus, all melting nicely into some warm and smooth caramel trumpet jams.

Between the sheer catchiness of the music itself and lines like, “From far across the sea / they fly from you to me / but still I get no sleep / oh, my love / don’t be mad / ‘cos I’ll keep on writing / love letters”, it’s hard not to be a little bit besotted with Love Letters.  The video was also directed by Michel Gondry, which makes for some pretty wonderful watching.

The other taste of the new album last year was the dazzling lovelorn shuffle of I’m Aquarius, with the beautiful caress of the looped female vocals singing, “shoop-doop-doop-ahhh”.  Between that and the title track, then, it would seem Love Letters is an album to get very excited about.

You can pre-order the album (out March 10th on Because Records) from here.

Collaborations are always a fun aspect in any genre, but I think ’90s/’00s R&B had some particularly great examples of artists coming together and creating some one-off wonders.  There are a whole host of excellent tracks which highlight this idea, but I’d say that some of the best of these efforts were between male hip-hop artists and female R&B artists.  This set-up of one male, one female allowed for sometimes sugary, romantic numbers, but just as easily lent themselves to some all-out sleazy vibes.  The male hip-hop star and female R&B/pop singer collaboration is one that lives on into the 2010s, and it tends to go down very well – however, I firmly maintain the glory days are those of Ja Rule doing collaborations with pretty much every female artist going, living it large.

I don’t think there’s any point in denying that there is a whole lot of misogyny and over-sexualisation of women in ’90s/’00s R&B and hip-hop (B2K, I love you, but these lyrics are a wee bit questionable), but if Robin Thicke has taught us anything this year, it’s that pop music in general has a tendency to be pretty sexist.  Luckily for this era of R&B, ladies like Destiny’s Child and TLC kept the girl power going – but that’s a topic for another post.  For now, here are seven (sometimes a little bit sexist) classics of male-female duets, rooted in ’90s/’00s R&B:

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