Category Archives: Reviews

James Blake – Live at Rough Trade East

Yesterday I got up early, stood in the corridor of a (busy commuter) train on the way to London and met my cousin to go and get wristbands to see James Blake play an in-store show at Rough Trade East, in celebration of his self-titled debut album being released. Rough Trade do a lot of in-store shows for bands, and for last nights show the way it worked was that you bought the album and got a wristband to go with it that gave you entry to the performance in the evening. The wristbands were on a first-come-first-served basis and so in fear of not getting one, we got there at 9:30am. This meant we had the whole day to kill.

After visiting a few of the best coffee shops in London (The Espresso Room on Great Ormond Stuff is fantastic) and picking up a few bits and pieces, it was time to get back to Rough Trade.

The gig, which was more of a brief showcase, started with album opener ‘Unluck’, greeting the fans with a simple ‘hello’. Hardly the most charismatic man of earth, James Blake is a man of few words that allows the music to take centre-stage and speak for himself. Rapidly flicking through album material, Blake isn’t scared to improvise and manipulate his live show. A lot of the chords played throughout ‘Unluck’ differed to those from the album, and ‘I Never Learnt To Share’ at points was more disjointed and free-form. Whilst this keeps his live show fresh and exciting, I wasn’t – and I’m still not – sure whether this was intentional. Blake is still a newcomer in a live environment; I know that his support slot at The Union Chapel in December was his first ever live gig with a band infront of a public audience, and I think he is using these more intimate shows to tweak and tailor his songs for a live show. Saying this, Wilhelms Scream and Limit To Your Love (video above) sounded very strong and were received with rapturous applause.

What made the night special for me was being able to put the hype surrounding James Blake into perspective whilst observing the man himself, who is completely baffled that anyone at all listens to the songs he made in his bedroom. It’s every young musicians dream and I was watching his own dream slowly coming true. Three months ago he was fairly unknown; a Goldsmiths alumni who was releasing very leftfield dubstep music on 12″. Now he is one of the biggest names in music, proven by the Radio 1 airplay, the posters advertising his new album around all the London tube stations and the sell-out crowd who witnessed last nights performance. Blake made a short speech about how he was so overwhelmed with the album’s reception, and you could tell how much it really did mean to him. After every song his face wore a grin, impossible to hide.

There were glimmers of brilliance throughout last nights performance, and a huge amount of potential yet to be utilised, but most importantly was the visible admiration James Blake holds for his listeners and fans.

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Review – Tahiti 80 – ‘The Past, The Present and the Possible’

‘The Past, The Present and The Possible’ is Tahiti 80’s sixth studio album. The indie-pop band from Rouen and Paris might not be flying the highest banner in the UK, but they are big in their native country of France and they even had a song on FIFA 07 (remember it? No, me neither).

Album opener ‘Defender’ left me impressed; the crunchy bass riff had me in a trance whilst synthesizers buzzed around my head left, right and centre along with a nice, big dollop of jazzy piano chord stabs. Front-man Xavier Boyer takes a back-seat on this song; it seems to me that the music does more of the talking and Boyer’s voice is just an extra instrument. I instantly thought ‘Beach Boys’, ‘The Doors’ and even The Great Escape-era ‘Blur’. From the second song onwards I was concerned that someone had swapped all their Blur CD’s with Cher’s back catalogue.

Such songs as ‘Gate 33’ left me cringing, Boyer singing such lines as “you know I made a movie of you, I really got you looking good it’s true” and “drugs and booze don’t always mix so well”, over a very, thin, airy musical accompaniment made by a band that sound extremely unlikely to indulge in any drug whatsoever apart from paracetamol. Once my face muscles stopped hurting from all the frowning, ‘Want Some’ made them hurt once again multiplied by a factor of four-hundred. It sounds like an over-diluted attempt at a Beatles Magical Mystery Tour B-side, with a completely unnecessary harmonica throughout (and no drugs). ‘Nightmare’ is a breath of fresh air, with some particularly impressive production and great vocal harmonies, it’s just a shame that the rest of the album doesn’t maintain this standard of song-writing. The album consists of far too many ambitious ideas that ironically results in an album with little depth and leaves the listener with no good reason to go and listen again. On the other hand, Tahiti 80 are a pop band, and if they want to write generic-pop music, they have more than done their job.

“Won’t you dig a little deeper?”, Xavier Boyer asks at the start of ‘Solitary Bizness’. Well Xavier, I tried and I tried but I just couldn’t. There was nothing deeper to dig.

Tahiti 80’s ‘The Past, The Present and The Possible’ is out February 21st on Human Sounds. Listen to Jimmy Edgar’s remix of Darlin’ below.



Darlin’ (Adam & Eve Song)(Jimmy Edgar Remix) by wearetahiti80

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Review: The Decemberists – ‘The King Is Dead’

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

With ‘Hazards of Love’, The Decemberists previous 2009 offering, receiving extremely mixed reviews across the board, Colin Meloy and company needed to create something captivating and perhaps less ambitious if they wanted to regain any lost reputation, and ‘The King Is Dead’ is what they have treated us to as their sixth studio album.

Recorded in a small barn on a farm in Portland, Oregon, The Decemberists have taken a step back from the pretentious instrumentation of ‘Hazards of Love’ and written an album that puts their previous album behind them and returns to their roots. Infact, do The Decemberists even remember recording ‘Hazards of Love’? It sounds as though they have forgotten completely. The opening track ‘Don’t Carry It All’ features a pounding drum beat begging to be acknowledged from the very first second, and it is a task in itself not to comply. Once the drums have captured you, Colin Meloy’s voice grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shoves you into the corner of a room. The front-man has a subtle croakiness and rawness in his vocal chords that shapes the music and provides something rather unique to a genre of music that can become extremely boring, extremely quickly (cough Mumford and Sons cough).

Luckily, this album does the opposite. Album highlights ‘Calamity Song’ and ‘Down By The Water’ are slightly more upbeat numbers, both featuring guitarist Peter Buck, just in case you didn’t think REM had enough of an influence on the album. Whether bringing in a legendary guitarist to contribute on the album can be considered a blessing or a curse is debatable, but the twanging, nonchalant virtuosity of Buck adds a new dimension to the songs. ‘January Hymn’ and ‘June Hymn’ are slower, heart-felt songs that will strike a chord with any human possessive of a heart.

The Decemberists are a versatile bunch of musicians. They are ambitious, inventive and experimental as showcased in their previous albums, but sometimes less is more. ‘The King Is Dead’ is hardly a groundbreaking record, but then again it isn’t punching above it’s weight. Sometimes less is more, and The Decemberists seem to have taken this on board and utilized this to the best of their abilities.

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Bands I’m An Idiot For Not Listening To Sooner: Mew

I think what drew me to them at first was the title of their compilation album released last year, ‘Eggs Are Funny’. Upon further inspection, I think I agree, but i’m not hear to talk about eggs, I’m here to talk about music.

I downloaded ‘Eggs Are Funny’ after discovering Spinner had a listening party, allowing you to stream the whole album. I had a listen, and got to downloading it straight away. My initial impression was that if Death Cab For Cutie and Sigur Ros formed a super-group, it would sound just like Mew. The Danish trio have actually been around since 1994, released their first studio album in 1997 and have since released a further four. It’s a shame I have only just discovered them as a band, but it turns out my mum and dad were too busy listening to The Verve’s ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ and various Gabrielle albums to start dabbling in Scandinavian art-rock and thus influencing my infant brain.

‘Eggs Are Funny’ is their first compilation album, spanning across all five of their studio albums and providing a brilliant introduction to the band, of which my discovery is proof. Songs like ‘International Palace Players’, ‘Do You Love It’ and ‘Am I Wry? No’ are a real feast for the ears, incorporating bundles of intelligent ideas into modern pop and rock music and pulling it off with a finesse that only a handful of other bands possess. Whilst the ‘art-rock’ tag is undeniable, songs like ‘Saliva’ and ‘Silas The Magic Car’ are very much pop pieces of music; ‘Saliva’ is very Beatles inspired, whilst ‘Silas The Magic Car’ is a particularly poignant song that if I could sum up in one word would simply be ‘Scandinavian’.

Scandinavian pop and rock music has become increasingly noticeable recently, or perhaps it has always been (I am only young after all!). No matter what band you listen to, be it Sin Fang Bous, Sigur Ros, Retro Stefson, Olafur Arnalds or Mew, they all seem to possess similar aural qualities. They write clever music that could be listened to by the masses, and on top of that they are really bloody good at writing beautiful songs (just listen to Hoppipolla if you haven’t already, although you are mental if you haven’t). Add to the above list Oh Land (mentioned in my previous post), Robyn, Bjork and, of course, Abba and you have some of the biggest names in popular music both at this present time and in past times. Never under-estimate the Scandinavians!

Mew’s ‘Eggs Are Funny’ is out now and can be streamed HERE on Spinner.

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My Top 5 Songs of the Year

The albums have been dealt with. As to not waffle on, I thought I would do the albums and songs in separate posts. I have picked my favourite songs of the year on the basis of the songwriting, musical influences and enjoyment on my behalf. Don’t expect a song off of each of the albums below, expect five great songs that have paved the way for more of the same terrific music in 2011.

(I realize that the embedded Youtube videos will not play on external sites, but there isn’t a way to work around this. Click ‘Watch on Youtube and listen to it that way, apologies!)

1. Cee Lo Green – Fuck You

Otherwise known as ‘Forget You’ to more radio-friendly ears, this is my song of the year, and I didn’t even need to give it one second of thought. Easily the most catchy and lyrically brilliant pop song of the year, I am in lust with this song. It has been a good while since anyone attempted the whole modern motown-pop song and made it work, but Cee Lo Green knocked this out of the park for six. I sing along to this song every time it comes on, I do a particularly good of Cee Lo during the ‘I pity the foooo-ooool…’. Most importantly, this song always makes me feel happy. An generously large nugget of pop music GOLD!

2. Gorillaz – Stylo

The album ‘Plastic Beach‘ was oh so near to making my top 5 albums list, so if it’s any consolation to them, Stylo is #2. First time I heard this I thought (my exact thoughts) “WTF is this!?“. Actually, I thought that about the whole album. But after a whole lot of listens, this song is just incredible, incredible, incredible. To be honest, whack Bobby Womack on any song and it will be amazing, but this song is electro-funk-disco-pop brilliance. A classic disco bassline, Mos Def saying something about lanterns, thunder and sunshine and a thousand million synthesizers giving a perfect lift to the song in all the right places. Damon Albarn is the male equivalent of Rihanna, he writes amazing songs and his voice is practically a hit machine. This will be up there on my New Years Eve playlist.

3. Big Boi – Shutterbugg

The. Best. Hip. Hop. Song. Ever. Unfortunately I didn’t think much of the album, but this song is something else. Scott Storch has created a masterpiece in terms of production, and whilst it is different in sound to his previous work, it is unmistakably Big Boi. Now all we need in 2011 is another Outkast album.

4. Jamie Woon – Night Air

This was only released in October but has made a lasting impact on a lot of people. Produced by Burial, Jamie Woon is a fantastic talent and is going to be huge in 2011, if every music critic hasn’t already told you that. Whilst the video is just awful – it looks like what Twilight would have been if David Attenborough directed it – do not let it detract from this songs beauty. You heard it here last, folks.

5. Menomena – Queen Black Acid

This is probably the song that everyone will think I’ve put in because no one has heard of the band and I totally knew them way before they got famous and people might think I listen to really underground music now?! No. This song is off of their 4th studio album ‘Mines’, and it is a brilliantly thought out, intelligent song, with the lead vocal reminiscent of Damon Albarn in my opinion. Anyone agree?

The trio use a digital looping recorder, or ‘Deeler‘ for short, to record all of their songs, setting a tempo using a click track and then passing the ‘Deeler’ around the rooms in turns, recording each part separately, then resulting in, hopefully, a song. It is a great, experimental way to liven up the recording process and if you can come up with songs like this one, I want a ‘Deeler’ for christmas.

…and there’s my top 5. Again, let’s get some discussion going. Coming up soon are the honorable mentions for albums and songs.



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My Top 5 Albums of 2010

It’s that time of year where newspapers, magazines and blogs release their top “insert number here” albums and songs of the year, and you realize how many critically acclaimed albums you are yet to hear. I imagine Rapidshare and Mediafire are going into overload right now whilst everyone tries to desperately download and listen to certain albums before the year is over. I thought I would lend my hand to the ‘albums and songs of the year’ trade with my very own list. I have taken extra-special care not to pick albums because other certain websites and blogs love them; I have picked what I have enjoyed the most, not anyone else. Enjoy!

 

1. Everything Everything – Man Alive

This is my album of the year. Released on August 30th, I don’t think a day has passed since then when I haven’t listened to at least one song off of this album. When I asked TIm Jonze on Twitter why this album didn’t feature in anyone’s top ten albums on The Guardian’s critics Top Ten Albums lists, he replied ‘bit strange that I guess – reckon a lot of people just bored with all-male indie bands, I certainly am’. It’s a fair point, the Maccabees are lucky to still have such a large fan-base in my opinion, but I don’t think I would ever categorize Everything Everything as ‘indie’. This album has more influences than you can shake a drum-stick at.

The four-piece are all huge R’n’B fans; when asked who they would most like to duet with, front-man Jonathan promptly answered ‘Beyonce’. And you can hear it in the music. ‘Schoolin‘ has a particularly off-kilter drum beat and a superb funky bass-line that could match any Destiny’s Child song. ‘Two For Nero‘ consists of just vocals and a simple harpsichord riff for half of the song, yet it is as captivating as the rest of the album, filled with intelligent and unpredictable harmonies and the hypnotic repeat of “make a child, a child, a forest” as the song is brought down to a close. The incredibly clever musical features of this album are what makes this my record of the year. The way the vocals match the snare and the bass matches the kick drum on ‘Weights‘, the sheer brilliance of the drum production on ‘NASA Is On Your Side‘, the vocal harmonies throughout the whole album but particularly on ‘Suffragette Suffragette‘, and Jonathan’s ambiguous and ridiculous lyrics throughout.

Frankly, Everything Everything have set themselves a stupendously high mark for which they must surpass in their second album, but I have absolutely no doubts that they will. This album is nothing like any other you own. It is refreshing, extremely intelligent, invigorating and will always be a favourite in my personal record collection.

 

2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

A conceptual work of art. ‘The Suburbs’ is the 3rd album from a band that have thrown away what ‘Neon Bible’ stood for. The general emotion emitted from their 2nd album was one of impending doom, being content with the mundane, yet hoping that one day it might all get better. “Lord, can you send me a sign, ’cause I just gotta know if I’m wasting my time“, Win Butler pleads in ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)‘. Lord must have listened to his cry for help, as ‘The Suburbs’ is an uplifting piece of work, a million miles from the first two albums. “We used to wait for it, now we’re singing scream the chorus again!“, Win sings at the end of ‘We Used To Wait‘.

I couldn’t begin to tell you exactly what the album stands for, the songs are lyrically metaphorical and cryptic, allowing each listener to dissect them in different ways. The opening song, also entitled ‘The Suburbs’ is a jangly nostalgia fest, musically reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, with the line “…But by the time the first bombs fell we were already bored“, bearing similarity to the line “…I was bored before I even began“, from The Smiths song ‘Shoplifters of The World Unite‘. ‘Month of May‘ is a fast-paced, reckless, rollicking bulldozer, that doesn’t hold back and shows their versatility as a group. ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)‘ is essentially an 80’s disco, Blondie-esque song that shouldn’t fit in with the rest of the album, but it kind of just about does. On the other hand, ‘Sprawl I (Flatland)‘ is extremely haunting and sad, stopping you in your tracks and demanding you to think about everything you have just listened to, like a primary school teacher who makes you stand in the corner bellowing “think about what you’ve done!”.

There are plenty of singles on here, but this is one of those albums that was recorded to be listened to purely as an album. The singles work, as ‘We Used to Wait’ and ‘Ready To Start‘ have proved, but listening to the album from start to finish is a terrific experience that not once bores, lacks in interest or deteriorates.

 

3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

When this first came out I thought it was the best thing I had ever heard in years and thought it would be my #1 album without a doubt, but after putting things in perspective  and weighing up each album individually, it sits quite happily in bronze position. That is not to say it is particularly lesser to the other two albums, this record is something extremely special. Combine the whole of ‘College Dropout’ the best parts of ‘808’s and Heartbreaks’ and a whole throng of guests and you have ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. This is Kanye balancing on the thin line between sanity and insanity. Kanye relied strongly on Twitter as a tool for media hype around this album, and many times claimed he was losing his ego completely, but it wouldn’t be a Kanye record without a ginormous ego sitting on top. “I guess every super-hero need his theme music” he drawls on ‘Power‘, a song essentially about how great he is. But the problem is that you can’t deny it; he is undoubtedly the best at what he does. He does take the time to convey his flawed self though, ‘Runaway‘ is the musical equivalent of Mr West sitting in a church confession booth complaining about how much of a ‘douchebag’ he is/was.

From his weekly ‘Good Friday‘ releases on his website to his self-confessions on Twitter, the man is articulate, extremely intelligent and knows exactly what he wants, inside out and outside in. There isn’t one fraction of this album that hasn’t been meticulously thought over and perfected in Mr West’s precarious mind. Highlights for me include the star-studded ‘Monster’ (apologies, I can’t find a version on Youtube that isn’t pitch-shifted), Kanye pouring his heart out in ‘Runaway’ and the explosive ‘All Of The Lights‘. Buy it, cherish it, love it.

 

4. The Roots – How I Got Over

Congratulations to ?uestlove and the crew for getting to #4 in my chart! This my second favourite hip-hop album of this year followed in 3rd place by Drake’s ‘Thank Me Later‘, which I only started listening to recently but I absolutely love. For anyone not aware, The Roots are a live hip-hop band, with drummer ?uestlove (Questlove) leading the troupe. Their unique blend of jazz, funk, lounge, rock and old-school rap is infectious and makes you wonder why there isn’t more hip-hop music nowadays that isn’t afraid to lean outside of it’s comfort zone and try something new. Title track ‘How I Got Over‘ portrays everything you can expect to hear within the album, rawness, energy, rhythm and great rhymes. ‘Dear God 2.0‘ uses the Monsters of Folk song ‘Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F)‘ as it’s backbone and switches the whole thing around to create something that is arguably better than the original, “…why is the world ugly when you made it in your image?“. ‘The Fire‘ featuring John Legend may well just be the terrific climactic point of the album and ‘Doin’ It Again‘ (this particular version is AMAZING) has me air-drumming along every single time. Another feature of this album which I absolutely adore is the way none of it seems to have been recorded with the use of a click track, giving a natural feel to a music genre which is normally artificially modified beyond recognition.

The album itself isn’t particularly ground-breaking – The Roots have been honing their live hip-hop niché for years now – but I believe this is album marks the point at which they perfected that niché.

 

5. Hot Chip – One Life Stand

 

 

The problem with Album of The Year charts is that a lot of people seem to disregard a lot of albums released within the first half of the year – I must admit I had to create a smart playlist on my iTunes for all albums released in 2010 – but this album never once left my mind and proudly sits at #5 of my chart. Since they released ‘Coming on Strong‘ in 2004, Hot Chip and more specifically frontman Alexis Taylor have found it a slow process coming into their own and dealing with the widespread attention they have received, but ‘One Life Stand‘ is an album made by a band completely confident in what they are doing yet unafraid to try new and exciting things. Even huge hits such as ‘Ready For The Floor‘ from 2008’s ‘Made In The Dark‘ has that underlying feeling of Alexis looking down at his feet whilst bashfully kicking the air.

As much as I love the schizophrenic complexity of ‘The Warning‘, ‘One Life Stand’ has its feet firmly on the ground. This album is warm, soulful and exotic, thanks to the extensive use of steel pans and modal scales. If I may get down to the nitty gritty musical features for a brief moment, I love how the steel pans provide the attack of the notes whilst the synthesizers provide the sustain, it’s a deadly combination. ‘Brothers‘ is a touching anthem of companionship, ‘Alley Cats‘ is a floaty, airy number very similar to one of the quieter tracks off ‘The Warning’ and ‘I Feel Better‘ wins the award for Most Ridiculous Video of the Year, directed by Peter Serafinowicz.

In a way, this album is similar to ‘The Suburbs’, it is the point in both bands lives that sees them absolutely content with both the status and musical sound they have achieved, and it isn’t often you hear such joy, confidence and meaning in a collection of songs.

 

So there we have it. My top 5 albums. Agree or disagree? Do you think ‘One Life Stand’ is actually a load of meaningless rubbish, or do you think ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ should be #1? Let me know what you think and let us get some healthy debate flying around. My top 5 songs will be up in the next few days.

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A Venture Through Costco

A few days ago I took my first trip to the monstrous wholesale giant mega-man warehouse that is Costco in Reading. I have friends whose families make regular trips there for household supplies, and when someone brings in a blueberry muffin the size of a small cat into school for lunch, you know there is only one place it came from. Basically everything there is big, big and big. It is really big. To shop there you need a membership under a certain profession, due to it primarily being a shop for businesses, restaurants, companies, you know the deal. Or just large families with large exteriors.

As well as everything being very big, a lot of it is very cheap as well. The café there sold humongous slices of pizza for a mere £1.25 and a bottle of water was just 25p (which I personally believe all bottles of water should be). Refusing to regret not buying beer once we left, I bought 24 bottles of Desperados, probably my favourite lager, for £25 and 16 bottles of various Badger ales for £19. I can’t complain. The other highlights for me included the bumper-super-saver-mega-value packs of 8000 pain au chocolats at the bakery, buckets of Hellman’s mayonnaise and my personal favourite, a box of Small Fish Balls:

Probably due to the fact that Costco is American founded and owned, they were extremely generous when it comes to free samples! My first taster was a slice of butter brioché, “delicious!”, I thought, “I bet the other free samples will be just as mouth-wateringly satisfying, and maybe, just maybe, they will have free samples of the small fish balls!”. So as we walked around the rest of the shop I kept a keen eye out for little Costco humans brandishing perishables. The second human we came to wasn’t offering as great products. She presented me with a tiny plastic cup full of grated cheddar cheese:

The cup baffled me the most, even more than the fact that they were giving out grated cheddar cheese as a free taster. Why put it in a tiny plastic shot glass!? It looked as though it was prodded in with a finger, and so I simply downed it like some sort of cheap spirit. Other taster highlights included some less than satisfactory cous-cous and a crinkle cut crisp in a cupcake case. Unfortunately for me there were no small fish balls to taste. I’m not sure if I would prefer more places like Costco in the local area upon further thought. With more wholesalers around, the novelty of going to places like Costco would surely wear off, and because there would be no novelty any more people would just start eating huge portions as habit and would visit the free sample stands for their breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, when you can find mayonnaise in tubs as big as this, you know you are somewhere very, very special.

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