Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Single of the Week: Chvrches - "The Mother We Share"

The latest single from Glasgow-based electro pop newcomers Chvrches may bear similarities with more than just a name of a certain other song, but when all the best qualities of the genre's expansions over the last ten years are present, the end result is an undeniably catchy and rewarding pop hit. "The Mother We Share" has icy, disembodied vocal "oo"'s, handclaps, lyrics like "the way is long but you can make it easy on me", and most importantly a great big synthesized chorus, but what Chvrches create is bigger than the sum of its parts. It's universal, euphoric, and just too loveable to dismiss; that more than makes up for its lack of originality by crafting from the sounds around as brilliantly as possible.

Angel Olsen - Half Way Home added to 2012 Recommended Albums

I'm making a conscious effort to make my reviews shorter from now on (it's only by accident that over time they've become wordier), so the choice moment for me to announce that is on a review of an album which associated genre I know little about anyway (or is short enough not to demand further description). All I could really find out about Angel Olsen was that she's been a member of Bonnie "Prince" Billy's Cairo Gang, the band Will Oldham has used for several of his last few albums and tours. A six-track cassette of Olsen songs entitled Strange Cacti was also released in limited supply last year, but Half Way Home stands for all its intents and purposes as her debut album.

It begins with the mesmeric "Acrobat". One of the few numbers to stretch out its instrumentation beyond merely vocals, acoustic guitar and occasional drumming, it nonethelesss pulls one of country music's most searing qualities straight to the foreground: its capability to showcase great sadness. This is painful music, and Olsen makes no bones about wanting to break your heart while she's being recorded. Her voice is a major catalyst in this regard, more specifically the moments when she strains her cords into uncomfortable, even unsettling territory. At other times it shrinks back down to the level of the guitar, and she can be an equally effective comforter, albeit a melancholic one. This dualism is particularly apparent on the extended centerpiece "Lonely Universe". The storytelling on this track is also vivid, beginning with the childhood loss of her mother, before sliding back into a more regular register, although not completely, whilst giving out sagely life advice. The refrain also contains one of the album's strongest thought-provoking images: "Goodbye sweet Mother Earth / Without you now, I'm a lonely universe". Death is a major theme of Half Way Home, and Olsen's attitudes really have to be heard to be appreciated; however love is just as prevalent, cropping up on virtually every track. The shorter tracks that are more focused on the subject - "You Are Song", "Free" and "The Waiting" - rank among the best.

Half Way Home feels like a special album; a strangely nostalgic one at that. At times it reminds me of the kind of music my parents used to play through the house when I was growing up. I've avoided specific cornerstones to avoid inaccuracy, as I'm really a novice when it comes to country, but this album is a welcome discovery, and easily ranks beside the best I've heard this year. Hopefully her connection to Will Oldham will allow Olsen to get her music into the wider community, because her current perspective is a fascinating, alluring one.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Deerhoof - Breakup Song added to 2012 Recommended Albums

I understand that giving the new Deerhoof album, Breakup Song, the "recommended" tag is very much a personal decision. Not many people would be so praiseworthy of it, which isn't to say it's not very likeable, rather it can be tough what to make of it. Although in this sense it would appear to be a challenging album, it's actually a very immediate and straightforward slice of art-pop lasting nigh-on exactly 30 minutes. The 11 songs on here are over in a flash, but it's not like they need to get started, as they burst into your eardrums right from pressing play. First track "Breakup Songs" sets this example, with shards of electric guitar and drums resembling harsh electronic noises. This is the chorus; the sweet-as-ever vocal of Satomi Matsuzaki tells you of this. Each track makes an average of two or three radical changes on average, in as many minutes. And these changes rarely miss the mark either.

The joy of Breakup Song is not knowing in what way it's going to go next. After you've realised the formula the album takes, and it's done over such a short length of time that it remains effective, it's simply a matter of following it's windy trajectory wherever it jitters. "Zero Seconds Pause" opens like a huge, flourescent rave, but then decides to roll over Greg Saunier's tumbling drum patterns. "The Trouble With Candyhands" fades in with Latin horns, which seemed wonderfully inspired as a lead single, but is just another happy left turn by the time it shows up on Breakup Song eight tracks in. "Flower" bounces off a fat bass synth riff, which contrasts hugely with the following song "To Fly Or Not To Fly", that instead has an oriental-inspired rally from some imagined neon Kurosawa battle scene. And I've just described less than half of the tracks.

The message of Deerhoof has always been fun, but Breakup Song increases it's potency to unrelenting levels by speeding their music up and turning up the volume. And it's been created by musicians that have proven to be not only capable but innovative. There's not a moment where Saunier's drums won't souund impressively complex, or a synth part won't be gleefully smothered in distortion. And despite the amount of change the album experiences Deerhoof always moves tightly with it. It's only been eighteen months since Deerhoof Vs. Evil but Breakup Song is meticulously crafted and feels endlessly rehearsed for it to sound so effortless. And it's title doesn't lie either, it feels like one long song with hundreds of minute changes composing several huge ones, moving together, but never inthe same direction twice. What a song it is.

Single of the Week: Bat For Lashes - "Marilyn"

Natasha Khan values the idea of people. The most popular (and dare I say best) Bat For Lashes songs have used the concept of first names as a gateway to deeper moods, themes and explorations into relationships. "Marilyn", the second single from The Haunted Man (after the similarly-eponymic "Laura") is no different to these. The large, glistening, Cocteau Twins-like instrumental backing suits Khan's lyrical atmosphere perfectly. As she examines the notion of celebrity, contrasted with her own normality, you get the image of Khan's proximity to the sublime. "Marilyn" is a pretty track, but it's also substantial, and breathes deeply into the spaces that "Laura" found more effective to leave untouched.

This track is free for all Amazon.co.uk customers. Download it here.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

El-P w/ Despot - Birmingham Rainbow Warehouse (15th September 2012)

Despot (left) and El-P (right) leading the audience's free aerobics session (you couldn't make this up)

Anyone familiar with Despot's work will be glad to know his onstage presence matches expectations in terms of comedic value. His brief opening set involved not only the first rap aerobics session/performance I've ever attended (pictured), but also conversations with his iPad, and a whole slew of nonchalant one-liners. We (the audience) also managed to convince him that cake was a drug (a made-up drug). The set was made up of mostly new material which Despot claimed to be taken from his debut album to be released "soon" (and produced entirely by Ratatat). I assume I speak for many when I say that album needs to see the light of day because both the beats and the MC's technique worked amazingly together. "I'm goin' ham, I'm goin' bread, I'm goin' cheese!!!"

Knowing Despot was just the warm-up act made the anticipation for El-Producto's set even more tantalizing. When it did begin El sinply didn't let up - and he and his band played Cancer For Cure from beginning to end. And the fact that C4C is easily my most played album of this year didn't stop every track from hitting as hard as the first. Personal highlights were the full-throttle "The Full Retard", surely one of the smartest dumb rap singles in years; and Despot's returrn for his verses on "Tougher Colder Killer" felt like the stars had aligned. El-P also played the perfect host to the night's preceedings; it's no wonder that he's popularly considered the underground legend that he is.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Danny Brown announces new EP and mixtape

The ever prolific Danny Brown has unexpetedly announced a new EP with his Bruiser Brigade crew, apparently set for release "next week". The news comes from ScionAV, who were behind releasing Brown's "Grown Up" single and music video.

Also recently announced was a collaborative mixtape between Brown and production team Johnson & Jonson (a.k.a. Blu & Mainframe). The dreadfully titled Danny Johnson is coming out through New World Color and has no release date as of yet. It may or may not feature "Change", a track Brown has called "old as hell" (supposedly it was released bck in 2010 and has been floating around the internet since). Here it is regardless:

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Watch a new documetary about D.I.Y. pop legend R.Stevie Moore

R. Stevie Moore's been experiencing an increase in popularity lately, in part thanks to the success of his supporters such as Ariel Pink, to whom Moore has played the part of unofficial mentor, and collaborator on this year's expansive Ku Klux Glam project. Moore has also recently been the subject of an atempted "best-of" collection, Lo Fi Hi Fives, curated by Tim Burgess. Now French director Arnaud Maguet is the latest to add a chapter to Moore's legacy; he's called it I Am a Genius (And There’s Nothing I Can Do About It): A Movie About Some Situations With R Stevie Moore. Here are the results:

Single of the Week: Disclosure - "Latch" (feat. Sam Smith)

I'm the kind of listener who if questioned would say that the best thing Disclosure have done until now is their superb remix of Jessie Ware's "Running", a track that comes dangerously close to beating everything on her recently released debut album Devotion as well. Everything the duo have tried since seems to be overshadowed by it, however "Latch", the first single from their upcoming 2013 debut album suggests this may not be te case for much longer. The next-to-unknown Sam Smith is Disclosure's singer of choice this time around, who sings with consistent fire and intensity, reaching a huge crescendo at the chorus. This chorus is also where Disclosure deploy their signature "skipped beat", showing of their drum programming mastery and knowledge of the club environment. Overall "Latch" proves to be their best standalone single yet.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Wild Nothing - Nocturne added to 2012 Recommended Albums

For certain people, the "dream-pop" label can carry with it a number of negative ideas. Ideas of sunbaked American students spending hours in dorms with MacBooks and the latest music editing software, writing songs about the girl they're too wet behind the ears to ask out at the cocktail bar. Moreso than that this new generation of indie songwriters are accused of being lazy and unoriginal, favouring the trend of soaking their guitars and vocals in reverb to hide the lack of substance to their work. Add to that the derivative nature that comes from the copy-and-pasted style thse bands follow and dream-pop becomes ripe for parody and ridicule.

The upshot of this genre's popularity is that when someone like Wild Nothing (aka the now Brooklyn-based Jack Tatum) comes along, a songwriter with integrity and charisma, he isn't slept on. Nocturne is the second Wild Nothing album, folowing 2010's sleeper success Gemini, and on surface level there maybe isn't enough change here to convert the typical dream-pop cynic. The most significant is the introduction of producer Nicolas Vernhes, who insures a professional touch to Tatum's otherwise homespun sound. Also of note from a sonic perspective is the influence of 80s British electronic acts such as New Order in some of the guitar/keyboard lines and occasional Stephen Morris-esque drum patterns. Much has been made of this, and it does serve as another usp for Wild Nothing, but you're not going to mistake it from a Factory Records album anytime soon. We are still firmly in the land of reverb.

The true asset to Nocturne is Tatum's capabilities as a songwriter, the moods and themes he creates through his aesthetic. Maybe it was supposed to be Gemini's darker twin - the first three track names "Shadow", "Midnight Song" and "Nocturne" seem to suggest so - but its breezy nature makes that idea a little hard to take seriously. Instead we're treated to songs about girls called Heather and Rheya, and told that "love is paradise" in the five-and-a-half minute centrepiece, the most ambitious track by a stretch. Not exactly dark night of the soul-like stuff. That's not to say these moments aren't rewarding in themselves, and that trio of openers does hold a more tortured presence under all the wistfulness. Take lead single "Shadow". Although the vocals are low in the mix (below some lovely string arrangement), they're not so indecipherable as not to catch such pessimism as "I'd go with you if you asked me to / but we wouldn't get very far, two strangers in the dark". It's a pop song in the Robert Smith template: couterbalancing the instrumental's glimmer of optimism with crushing lyrical blows, and it can't be helped to hang on to the lyrics from there, whether they're the sensual "you can have me"'s of the title track, or the aforementioned laments for "Rheya".

With Wild Nothing's gift for songwriting and extended instrumental and tonal pallette, Nocturne successfully bucks the "style over substance" argument for dream-pop out of the water. Although Jack Tatum's heart is still firmly stuck to his sleeve his lyrics, song structures and tasteful nods to his influences add up to a sincere talent, and there are enough musical ideas happening for the album to work satisfyingly well. Until now I found the closest thing to a varied dream-pop album to be DIIV's Oshin, released a few months ago also on Captured Tracks. And while that certainly isn't a bad album it takes something like Nocturne to show that with any genre there's no obligation to play by the rules when it comes to making an album. There's plenty to stake out on the fringes.

Death Grips - "@deathgripz" and video interview

The 13th and final entry into Adult Swim's 2012 Singles Program comes appropriately enough from Death Grips who as promised close the show with a single planned for release between their two 2012 albums The Money Store and the forthcoming NO LOVE DEEP WEB. It's called "@deathgripz" and can be downloaded for free (along with the other twelve entries in the series) here. Below watch a new video interview released in tandem with the single:

Stream Grizzly Bear - Shields and Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet On Sky

I've been up early, working my way through the new album by Grizzly Bear, Shields, and have now moved onto Dinosaur Jr. (pictured) - I Bet On Sky. All thanks to NPR Music. Links:

Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet On Sky
Grizzly Bear - Shields

Friday, 7 September 2012

Dirty Projectors present their short film Hi Custodian

On the subject of short films, Dirty Projectors have premiered their visual accompniment to recent album Swing Lo Magellan, which was produced in association with Pitchfork x Youtube. Written and directed by bandleader David Longstreth, and starring bandmembers David Longstreth, Amber Coffman, Nat Baldwin, Haley Dekle and Mike Johnson, Hi Custodian is now available to view below. As promised the film contains elements influenced by Kanye West's similar 2010 project Runaway, not least alternate versions of songs featured on Swing Lo Magellan, so if you're still not convinced of my review of the album look no further:

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Introducing the short film for Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes

As is now sometimes the case with new high-profile releases, the upcoming Flying Lotus album Until The Quiet Comes has an accompanying short film of the same name, directed by Kahlil Joseph. It's a really quite moving work, violent yet beautifully shot and coloured, that features not only a cameo from Steven Ellison himself but also music from the album, including a snippet of the Erykah Badu-featuring "See Thru To U" not heard on the single release, and parts of two Niki Randa-sung tracks: "Hunger" and "Getting There". Although it's still early days, judging from the quality of this latest package my hopes for the album are higher than ever. 1st October!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Single of the Week: Angel Olsen - "Acrobat"

This is the second time I've blatantly ransacked a Pitchfork Best New Music track for my own Single of the Week feature, but whatever. When a track evokes such strong feelings of desperate hope and lovelorn curiousity as "Acrobat" does, it becomes a disservice not to recognise it. The opening track to Angel Olsen's second album Half Way Home, out now on Bathetic, does all these things by tugging at the line that seperates harmony and dissonance, played out through creeping yet comforting synthesizer, occasional guitar notes and the lower register of Olsen's extraordinary voice. The lyrical themes are perhaps more affecting, also using binaries to pattern the narrator's intricate feelings, including in the refrain: "I am alive / I thought that I'd died". Other lyrics capture the feeling of distance like some of the best of any unrequited love song; Olsen wishing to be merely "a bit like you" and "that distant thought, / Some growing meaning in yor mind", which in turn creates an interesting contrast with the unrestrained nature of the guitar and vocals. The only trrue reference to an "acrobat" in the song is the one that Olsen manages to survive these imbalanced ideas.

Angel Olsen - Acrobat (Official Music Video) from Toshadeva Palani on Vimeo.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Introducing Culture Shock: September 2012

An idea that's finally happened, I'm pleased to present this month's playlist in the form of the first part of a Mixcloud series called Culture Shock. It's mostly similar to the previous playlists only all in one place, and has vocal inturludes by myself going through each of the tracks selected. Episode 1 (September 2012) can be streamed below: