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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Alt-J_-_This_is_all_yours

“There are people who were really into us when we started but don’t think we’re cool any more,” Alt-J’s keyboard-player Gus Unger-Hamilton recently admitted. With expectations high after their acclaimed debut and the departure of guitarist Gwil Sainsbury’s, there was bound to be trepidation regarding their next release. But it seemed with their second album, This Is All Yours, the now three-piece had taken these concerns into their stride, first releasing the ambitious single ‘Hunger of the Pine’, in all its Miley Cyrus sampling glory. But on first listen the album doesn’t quite live up to that track’s excellence, in spite of a glitchy, melodic intro that oddly recalls Enya. Structured around the Japanese forest of Nara, there are lots of sweeping, alien sounds on the album, but at times things can get somewhat overblown — the woodwind interlude of ‘Garden of England’ seems particularly self-indulgent (if comical). After the subtle sexiness of ‘Tessellate’, there is a grotesque clumsiness to lyrics like “I want to turn you inside out / and lick you like a crisp packet”. But when they’re good, there’s no denying it: ‘The Gospel of John Hurt’ is an epic, boasting their exquisite proclivity to perfectly syncopated beats. ‘Bloodfood Pt.ii’ is gorgeously realised with its rich swathes of brass, strings and piano. Closing track ‘Leaving Nara’ glimmers pleasantly too, but that’s the problem: overall it’s a pleasant listen, but — as was perhaps always going to be the case — This Is All Yours lacks the lustre of their debut.

Originally published in tn2 Magazine.

Karen_O_Crush_Songs_-_Final_Album_Packshot_4093f6ac-2c25-43e9-9693-b4445cf3ea3c-600x600

There’s a line in 80s romcom Sixteen Candles where the father consoles his lovelorn daughter: “If [crushes] were easy they’d call ‘em something else.” It seems a relevant quote when considering Crush Songs, the debut solo LP from Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O. Consisting of post-breakup bedroom recordings from 2006, the album showcases the intimacy of a diary, as O painfully lays herself bare: “Can’t stand still / I’m shaking over you”, she confesses on ‘Day Go By’. There is a confidence implicit in O’s openness regarding the harsh introspection of heartache (“gotta make it right / for yourself” is the reluctant acknowledgement on ‘Bodies’). This is no surprise given the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ oeuvre: O has always seemed remarkably self-assured with her eccentric outfits and nonchalant sprechgesang that channels the New York cool of Lou Reed. This is what ultimately makes Crush Songs underwhelming at times — while the tender vocals and acoustic guitar are often beautifully striking (particularly on fantastically sweet, caustic single ‘Rapt’), you can’t help but feel that O is holding back. With most of the tracks merely two minutes long, the fuzzy sound with shaky falsettos and introductory count-offs, Crush Songs doesn’t sound finished. But then, perhaps that’s the point: that a crush in itself is incomplete and fleeting. O wants her audience to appreciate that pretty state of vulnerability — to help soundtrack their own “love crusade”. And if that’s the aim then, overall, Crush Songs has succeeded; just, it could have done so with more of a punch.

Originally published in tn2 Magazine.

wonderfulgood

“Out there, at strange hours of the day and night,
are strange young men, pawing at strange instruments
and even stranger pieces of equipment, and now you
can hear what they’ve been up to.”

Swet Drems is an electronic compilation from the intriguing Dublin-based music and art collective Wonderfulgood.   When it first emerged on the internet in June of this year it seemed very fitting that the sun was shining because the music on Swet Drems often glitters like beams of light bouncing off a chlorine-blue swimming pool.  This is an alluring collection of songs from an array of sublimely talented Dublin producers, each with their own distinct styles which somehow merge pleasantly and warmly into cohesion (and I think “warm” is a very fitting word for describing the vibe from the compilation as a whole).  And so now the sun is out once more, even though this is months after its release, it is time to consider this track-by-track (because that seems the best way to deal with a compilation).

Opening with the rippling sunshine prettiness of Enda’s ‘Lost iPod’ it drifts seamlessly into the gorgeously immersive swathes of Flann’s ‘This Is The Sound Of’ (that seems at times to recall UK garage with its airy, shuffling beats).  There’s the squelchy strangeness of DJ Embarrassing Dad’s short but very sweet ‘Sleeping in the Bag’ followed by the aggressive, seductive intensity of Ickis Mirolo’s fascinating ‘Laughing Crow’.

Guns’N’Roses somewhat unexpectedly get a nod in DRUGSCHOOL64’s ‘November Rain’, an amusing, surreal but kind of excellent electronic medley of the band which sounds a bit like a sophisticated number from the Mariokart soundtrack featuring one beautiful moment of steel drums (which are always, always the right instrument for any occasion).  Zayfontaine’s ‘Got To Have Your Loving’ is deliciously funky, Hot Cops’ ‘Pool Scene’ boasts some seedy saxophone and crepuscular sounds, while the second track from Flann, ‘Russian Number Station’, is pleasantly dusky with a kind of Gameboy soundtrack type of breakdown.

There’s some sampling of Modjo’s ‘Lady’ on another track from DJ Embarrassing Dad which – perhaps because I know the original so well – seems a bit too choppy but it’s got some nicely ornate percussion at the end.  Those familiar with Dublin’s music scene might well already know audiovisual pair CLU, and their track ‘Templar’ here is strange and beautiful, and is certainly a stand-out moment with its tranquil, intricate, slowly syncopated sounds.  Rosbeg’s ‘E-mu’ is oddly engaging with its slow, swirling mazes of synth and final track ‘Neiva’ by Dendito has a sparsely urban feel, slowly melting into softer, warmer territories with smooth beats rippling through like a heartbeat.

As a showcase of the electronic production coming out of Wonderfulgood – particularly alongside the enigmatic accompanying artwork for each track by artist Liam Morrow – it is certainly as strange as it promised to be; and that’s kind of it’s charm.  Swet Drems offers weird, otherworldly sounds from a variety of Dublin artists and while it’s probably not going to change your life, there’s something oddly nourishing about listening to it.  It would seem (and I am only slightly apologetic for ending this way) that Swet Drems are made of this:

loylecarner
Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of discovering Loyle Carner (a name perhaps most familiar from his appearance on Rejjie Snow’s ‘1992’). I pretty much became immediately enamoured with the artist after catching him live in London back in July, taken in by his affable, laid-back flow and the great music from Rebel Kleff. This afternoon saw Loyle Carner’s new EP drop and – much in the same easy way that he seemed to win over that crowd back in July – ‘A Little Late’ seems effortlessly special.

“Everybody says I’m fucking sad / of course I’m fucking sad, I miss my fucking dad”, is his melancholy, conversational refrain at the end of lullaby opening track ‘BFG’, and there’s something so perfectly understated about his delivery: not angry, necessarily, but rather he is slowly, reluctantly dejected and accepting, with emotion seeping subtly through the restraint and bravado.  Then there’s the gently romantic ebb and flow of ‘October’ with sweet vocal interludes from Kiko Bun (“yes, I’ve got you on my mind, girl”) and a gorgeously fluid guitar melody all topped with Carner’s smooth, deftly-observed bars, “I think I said too much / From love to lust in a heartbeat / The riddle combusts”.  

‘Pieces’ is slickly produced with some sultry saxophone weaving through the polished beats – in fact, the entire EP boasts the stellar production of aforementioned Rebel Kleff, with a distinct style that certainly nods to J Dilla.  Kleff also features as a rapper on ‘The Money’ which has a euphoric swing with its zig-zagging organ and exasperated but kind of amusing refrain of: “damn, I need to make some money for my fam”, which descends into a nicely candid little a capella moment at the end.

The EP finishes with two older tracks – the glimmering, lithe, summery ‘Sea Shells’ and, finally, the languid reflections of woozy ‘Cantona’ which – if memory serves correctly from that July gig – is also about his relationship with his father.  Again, it’s so beautifully understated but incredibly evocative in its lyricism and delivery: “We’d sit for hours: sun, thunderstorm or showers / In that same living room, watching the bloom turn to flowers”.  There’s a sense of monotony in the way he repeats that particular memory in his chorus between the suffocating rush of the stream-of-consciousness verses, forcefully boxing the listener into that living room until his decision to leave – “I dream of sneaking through into freedom” – makes sense.  But when he ultimately returns to the chorus, there’s a palpable tinge of lament and nostalgia now he looks back.  Needless to say, this is powerful music (…which I am almost certainly lyrically analysing far more than is necessary).

I have not written on here in over a month, but today Loyle Carner reminded me why I love gushing about music so much in the first place.  ‘A Little Late’ is a beautifully serene and articulate EP and this guy is very, very exciting.  Listen: