I once tried to start a regular feature on this blog “For the love of R&B”, in which I would gush about how amazing ’90s and early ’00s R&B was. The section has been neglected greatly, but yesterday was Ashanti’s 35th birthday and I’ve been listening to her a lot lately and man, she has some jams. Accordingly an R&B post revival was in order, in appreciation of the one and only Ms Ashanti Douglas.
It was in the 1950s that a movement amongst certain European playwrights saw the development of “Theatre of the Absurd”. Famously, these were plays that explored the mundaneness of human existence. They focussed on a breakdown of communication – the likes of Beckett and Pinter created funny yet tragic plays with repetitive, seemingly pointless dialogues that were laced with a sense of hopelessness and triviality. Holding Hands With Jamie, the debut album from Dublin’s Girl Band, could be considered in a similar light – there’s an odd lyrical focus on the banal that more often than not ends up drowned in frustrated, fantastic cacophony.
The sun has been shining all weekend which means my life has obviously been soundtracked by glorious reggae, dancehall and soca. One particular sound has pervaded the vibe – the seminal Sleng Teng riddim.
A brief explanation of the riddim concept is perhaps necessary. Riddims are the rhythmic patterns of a song – predominantly the bass and the beat, but essentially the riddim is the instrumental track of a song. There’s no exact equivalent outside of Afro-Caribbean music, as far as I’m aware; sampling is probably the closest you get to it. But while a sample is re-using a section of a song, riddims are “versioned” – so hundreds of different artists will have versioned the same riddim. That is to say, entirely different songs will be constructed over the same rhythmical track. In part, it seems to derive from the reggae and dancehall traditions of adapting old lyrical phrases and tunes in new songs.
It’s kind of a fascinating challenge: you’ve got a track that everyone agrees is great, but it’s not yours, so what are you going to create on top of it to make it stand out – how will you make it yours? From a legal standpoint it’s a complex system regarding ownership and international copyright – increasingly so in a digital age. If you’d like to know more about it all, then the Manuel and Marshall essay on riddims is super.
A perhaps lesser-known example is the Diwali riddim, produced by Steven “Lenky” Marsden which is used in a ton of great songs, including Sean Paul’s ‘Get Busy‘ and Wayne Wonder’s ‘No Letting Go‘ (yes, I am mentioning this solely because I am charmed by the coincidence of a riddim with a name alluding to my Indian background happening to backtrack two songs I love).
Carly Rae Jepsen faces an unusual problem with her third studio album. There’s no pressure on her to follow-up her last album Kiss because – for all the million or so copies it sold – frankly, no one remembers it. The praise and acclaim that surrounds her name is all to do with ‘Call Me Maybe’; that glorious 2012 track that seemed to become universally acclaimed with its sugary innocence, its abundance of hooks and those delightful strings.
So to whom does the ostensible one-hit wonder turn? The answer is to the coolest producers that pop has to offer. Emotion sees credits go to the likes of Dev Hynes, Sia, Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid (the producer who has worked with Beyoncé, Usher and HAIM, to name a few).
It opens with the oddly captivating siren-call of ‘Run Away With Me’. The track packs a punch with its whirring strut of a chorus and its full, glossy production; it’s a banger, and the album is quite literally full of them. This perhaps shouldn’t be surprising, given that Jepsen reportedly amassed 200 songs ahead of the album, before whittling them down to just the 12 on Emotion. Famously, groups like The Beatles and ABBA used to treat every song like it might be a single, and their LPs would consist entirely of songs that had the potential to be a hit – it feels like the thought-process behind this album was very much the same.
After a year-long hiatus, psychedelic Dublin five-piece Beach are back. The intriguing group released their beautiful new track ‘Fionn’ last week, a short song suitably poised as a teaser to get us intrigued for what’s to come. It has a certain hymnal solemnity; engrossing and oddly cathartic, with its gentle sonic warmth and disarmingly transcendental Irish vocals not too far removed from monastic chanting. Meanwhile the accompanying video is a veritable kaleidoscope of pretty visuals.
And this is just the first sign of things to come. Beach have a self-produced double A-side (recorded at Lamplight Studios) scheduled for release later this year. On first listen the singles – ‘Arabia’ and ‘Moon Smoke’ – boast characteristically rich, soaring vocals over slow-burning, lush melodies and wonderfully jarring loops of electronic sound.
Ahead of those exciting forthcoming releases it seemed a fitting time to introduce Beach to a new audience. We caught up with the band to find out more about who they are and what exactly they’ve got on the cards.
I’ve been listening to the Velvet Underground a lot in the past few days. I think it kind of started on my final day living in Dublin last week, my things all packed up and me floating around the house not really sure what to do before leaving for the airport – so I put on ‘Sunday Morning’, and it seemed kind of appropriate somehow; all light, pretty and surreal. The Velvet Underground and Nico is probably still my favourite VU album, not least because it’s the first one I ever listened to – it has that sense of familiarity and nostalgia about it, and that inherent weirdness, extraordinary diversity and sheer ingenuity, all of which I love. But, since then, this week I’ve been listening to the 1985 outtakes compilation, VU, quite a bit because it was only introduced to me recently (and it has some incredible stuff on it – ‘Temptation Inside Your Heart’ is an absolute delight with the ridiculously irreverent/incredible Cale/Reed chats over the top).
But also I’ve been playing their last record (Squeeze doesn’t count) 1970’s Loaded a lot too, and so when I saw they had just announced a 45th anniversary re-issue of the LP I felt I might as well write a pointless essay about why I think Loaded is so great.
All good things must come to an end. Earlier this week famed Dublin club the Twisted Pepper announced that it would be closing its doors as a music venue for good. Ahead of the final few days of Abbey Street fun this weekend, it seemed fitting to write a eulogy of sorts.
It was hardly a space without its problems, but for all the sweaty walls and sometimes sketchy sound (in the earlier days), there’s still no doubt that with Twisted Pepper the people of Bodytonic provided something unique for Ireland’s capital over these past seven years.
We reached out to some of the artists, promoters and patrons to whom the Pepper became something of a second home, reminiscing on their times in the venue that veritably became a part of Dublin’s music history.