November 2, 2012
French songwriter Melody Prochet has taken her time over the development of her latest project, Melody’s Echo Chamber. Indeed, it was over two years ago, at a show by psychedelic rockers Tame Impala in Paris, that Prochet began formulating the fuzzed-out pop that permeates her debut album, enlisting that band’s Kevin Parker on production.
The pair are an ideal fit, and Parker’s presence is tangible throughoutMelody’s Echo Chamber, from the rounded bass and phased guitar picking of ‘Crystallized’ to ‘Endless Shore’’s loping psychedelia. Yet Prochet’s unique character and way with a tune shines through enough to make this far more than a Tame Impala tribute exercise.
‘Some Time Alone, Alone’ is a highlight on an album that seldom — if ever — resorts to filler, its chiming guitar work echoing the hearty chorus of opener ‘I Follow You’, while elsewhere there are darker moments treated with icy reserve (‘Mount Hopeless’, the cannibalism-themed tale ‘Snowcapped Andes Crash’).
There are one or two hints of the late Trish Keenan in Prochet’s delivery, and she regularly dips in and out of her native tongue effectively, such as on the 5/4 shuffle of ‘Quand Vas Tu Rentrer?’ and ‘Bisou Magique’’s breathy performance over a rolling breakbeat. There are attractive touches of keyboard in amongst the phasing guitars, most notably the swirling chords and sci-fi- sweeps on ‘You Won’t Be Missing That Part Of Me’, and Prochet’s voice is well-suited to floating above the tracks in the slightly distant way she executes so well.
The reversed freneticism of ‘IsThatWhatYouSaid’ offers little outside of a reassertion of the album’s psychedelic grounding — a not-altogether unwelcome addition — while the child-sung hook of closer ‘Be Proud Of Your Kids’ adds a touch of charm that successfully manages to avoid being sickly sweet.
Prochet has delivered a strong, fully-considered debut here, and appears to have been developing a project with more substance to it than the airy platitudes of My Bee’s Garden, the band in which she got her start.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
October 29, 2012
“I hate rock and roll, and everything rock and roll stands for. I love the new wave, and everything new wave stands for”, The Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly explained in 1981, an apt description of the group’s musical ethos.
Formed from the ashes of Manchester punk band Fast Breeder, The Durutti Column were one of the first signees to Factory Records, remaining one of the roster’s most under-appreciated acts. Operating essentially as Reilly’s solo project, the group’s output over the last 30 years has been prolific to say the least, which is why they can afford to have ‘lost’ albums as high in quality as ‘Short Stories for Pauline’. Recorded in Brussels in 1983, the 14 songs that make up the album were abandoned and replaced by a neo-classical set based on the track ‘Duet’. Now, for the first time, the original collection sees the light of day, highlighting Reilly’s rambling compositional style and shimmering guitar melodies once again on cuts like ‘Destroy, She Said’ and the brilliant ‘Journeys by Vespa’, his unassuming voice peeking through highlight ‘Take Some Time Out’.
The ragged intensity of Reilly’s playing is accentuated in the accompanying ‘Live in Bruxelles 13 August 1981’ disc, featuring the tumbling guitar melodies of ‘Jacqueline’ and ‘Sketch for Summer’. But it’s the original ‘Short Stories…’ collection that’s the real star here, the chiming guitar duet of closer ‘A Room in Southport’ gently capping an album that’s remained criminally unreleased for almost 30 years.
Read this review in context over at ArtRocker
October 23, 2012
When Kendrick Lamar told The Stool Pigeon back in August about the time he witnessed the filming of Tupac’s ‘California Love’ video just down the road in his native Compton, he spoke in reverential tones, recalling seeing the late rapper and his producer, Dr Dre, returning as superstars to the streets that raised them. Fifteen years on, and this time Lamar himself is Dre’s protégé; the notoriously troubled LA neighbourhood a weighty presence throughout his major label debut.
It’s been a year full of furiously hyped releases with a hit-and-miss success rate, from Frank Ocean’s widely lauded Channel Orange to Lana Del Rey’s rather anticlimactic Born To Die, and good kid, m.A.A.d city is another. Fortunately, this one follows through on its promise.
Lamar’s buzz began some time ago, the result of a furiously fast-paced work ethic, one well-received full length and a hatful of mixtapes, as he began to emerge as the foremost talent of an exciting collective known as Black Hippy. Interesting, then, that only one of his crew appear to make the cut for his big money Aftermath release; a handful of features instead handled by some of hip hop’s veterans, from MC Eiht to Mary J Blige, and, of course, Dre himself.
Opener ‘Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinter’s Daughter’ is a coming-of-age, sexually charged love song, an articulate paean to teenage desire, before ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ sees Lamar’s affected flow lope over a wistful Sounwave beat. Greg Kot, writing in the Chicago Tribune, describes Lamar as a “character actor”, using the platform this release affords him to perform a “12-act play about his hometown”. It’s a useful way to consider good kid, m.A.A.d city, as Lamar’s versatile vocal style twists and turns not only rhythmically, but also in pitch, tone, mood and character.
The swaggering arrogance of ‘Backstreet Freestyle’ is perhaps the best example of this, a showcase of flows and flavours, brags and boasts, all crammed into a breathless three minutes, while an extended version of the already released single ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ sees Lamar flitting between a number of pitch-shifted voices representing different parts of his psyche, all throwing in their two cents about his approach to the devil’s nectar.
One of the things that makes good kid, m.A.A.d city so stimulating is its restlessness. A number of tracks refuse to stick to one beat or idea for their duration, such as the lengthy ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst’ or ‘The Art Of Peer Pressure’; a track that starts out with a gently rolling piano-led production that morphs into Aquemini-era Outkast atmospherics. Over the top of the latter, Lamar nails home one side of the album’s split-personality theme: that of the push/pull dynamic between a life of crime and the warmth of family and community, with a bleak description of some unsavoury activity that the young rapper simply explains with the shrug of a lyric: “that’s ironic / cos I’ve never been violent / until I’m with the homies”. The two fulcrum tracks that combine to give the album its title display this thematic schism in more straightforward terms, and a number of skits coming at the end of many tracks include dialogue that drives this idea home in yet more explicit terms.
The slightly weak closing duo of ‘Real’ (featuring Anna Wise) and ‘Compton’ alongside uncle Dre seem slightly tacked on, and maybe the ambitious ‘Sing About Me…’ would have made a better sign-off, but this does little to damage good kid, m.A.A.d city’s credentials as one of the strongest rap albums of the year.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
September 30, 2012
As if ties to Punch Drunk, Young Turks and countless 12”s on a host of other labels over the last year isn’t enough, Bristol man Vessel has now landed himself a deal with purveyors of all things electronically moody, Tri Angle Records – a perfect home for Gainsborough’s dark, veiled soundscapes. His first release for them (and first official full length), Order of Noise, is a consolidation of the young Sebastian Gainsborough’s work to date, with more than a little respect shown to his new home.
It’s hard to tell whether Gainsborough’s recent Tri Angle surroundings have had a deep impact on his sound, or whether his new ethereal direction pre-empted the move itself. Either way, the ghostly layers and clouds of dark ambience that filter through Order of Noise certainly owe a debt to label mates like Holy Other, Balam Acaab and oOoOO.
Opener ‘Vizar’ sets the tone, its sweeping pads and long, droning harmonies creating an unearthly ambience. The disembodied vocals that define much of the Tri Angle sound make an early appearance, with Gainsborough using them subtly and to good effect.
‘Stillborn Dub’ incites comparisons to the German minimal producer Pole with its spaced out delays and clattering, lo-fi and low-filtered percussion, while ‘Silten’ is a hypnotically dragging piece, full of glassy synths and snatches of wordless vocals. ‘Images of Bodies’ is spaciously minimal techno with a first glimpse of Vessel’s characteristically deep bass tones, before ‘Lache’ brings a chaotic intro into focus with a perfectly timed beat drop.
The influences of dub are heavily in attendance on Order of Noise (check out ‘2 Moon Dub’ or the echoing ‘Aries’), and there’s even a touch of high energy Euro-house on ‘Plane Curves’.
Gainsborough’s more experimental efforts are largely successful too. The franticly building ‘Court of Lions’ and ‘Scarletta’’s explosion of grainy synths and scattered rhythms particular highlights, and there’s a touch of Hype Williams at their most distant on closer ‘Villaine’ – bookending the album perfectly with ‘Vizar’.
It’s a strong debut for Gainsborough, managing to twist his own unique compositional style perfectly to fit with Tri Angle’s ethos – a label that’s successfully positioning itself as the number one source for this particular strain of narcotised, ethereal production.
Read this review in context over at HYPONIK
September 24, 2012
Kanye West started his GOOD Music imprint (a saccharine acronym for Getting Out Our Dreams) in 2004, releasing albums from the likes of Common, John Legend and Kid Cudi over the following years. Now he’s brought much of the label’s roster together for a collaborative team-building exercise called Cruel Summer.
Unfortunately not an homage to the Ace Of Base album of the same name, Cruel Summer is instead a showcase for the (variable) talents of the GOOD Music crew, with a bit of help from a few outside big hitters.
Things don’t start well. The R Kelly-voiced opener ‘To The World’ easily has to be one of the worst things on here, despite the R&B monolith’s absurdist sense of humour on lines like “the whole world is a couch, bitch I’m Rick James tonight”.
‘Mercy’ ties a Soulja Boy steel drum loop and southern crunk beat to some uninspired verses from Big Sean and 2 Chainz, and it fast becomes clear that Cruel Summer has all the swagger and arrogance of a Kanye-authored album, just without the creativity and marmite-like concepts of his production. Its blandness is definitely its weakness.
There are one or two brighter moments: ‘Clique’’s minimal production has a hint of mid-’00s Neptunes about it, with West’s Watch The Throne partner Jay-Z turning up to lend a verse, while Ghostface joins forces with Pusha T to good effect on single ‘New God Flow’. The Wu-Tang connection continues into ‘The Morning’, as Raekwon brings his husky street rap to a sparse IllMind production alongside a rabble featuring Common, Kid Cudi and Nigerian rapper D’Banj.
The auto-tune is kicked into overdrive on ‘Higher’, with R&B star The-Dream joined by one of rap’s perennial second-stringers Mase among others to knock out some phoned-in verses over another minimal beat.
‘Sin City’ is a low point, a mismatch of industrial snares and overblown vocal performances from John Legend and Teyana Taylor, before ‘The One’ trumps even that with cliché-ridden sentiments about being “a soldier” over a piano-ballad beat. It’s one of two productions on Cruel Summer from Hudson Mohawke — fresh from teaming up with Canadian beatmaker Lunice for the fantastic TNGHT EP — both of which don’t show him from his good side.
Outside of a couple of base-level bangers, Cruel Summer offers nothing new or of any real note, and perhaps it’s telling that West has taken a step back from the production duties so as to slightly disassociate himself from the work churned out by his underlings. While Watch The Throne and 808s & Heartbreak benefit massively from repeated listens and dissection, Cruel Summer acts as placeholder, a way for West to keep his name out there while he plans his next project. Here’s hoping for that Ace Of Base tribute.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
September 21, 2012
“Do you remember the 1990s? Do you remember the 1980s? Do you remember the 1970s?!” screams Jon Spencer on ‘Bag of Bones’, an early highlight on Meat and Bone. It’s an interesting series of questions, one that the first Jon Spencer Blues Explosion studio album in eight years seemingly answers thusly: no; no; yes.
Meat and Bone is packed to the rafters with all the bluesy, gnarly garage rock and slapback delay you’d expect from Mr Spencer et al, and vinyl purchases of the album even come complete with a custom made, individually numbered ‘Blues Exploder’ fuzz pedal. Don’t forget: this is a group who, in their 20 year history, have uncompromisingly continued headstrong into the murky world of the overdriven and gritty, positioning themselves as kings of the new wave of blues-punk.
A true power trio fleshed out by Judah Bauer on guitar and Russell Simins’ rock-solid backbeat, the group waste no time getting the ball rolling on Meat and Bone, with opener ‘Black Mold’ exploding out the blocks with a crunching, descending riff and Spencer’s grizzled holler. The esoteric frontman has long thought to have been plucked from the rib of the late Don Van Vliet, and there’s a touch of Beefheart-type growl to his performance on ‘Ice Cream Killer’ and ‘Bag of Bones’ among others.
‘Unclear’ is a low-down and dirty blues stomper, honouring the genre’s lineage with more than just hackneyed pastiche, while ‘Bottle Baby’ sees Spencer giving a mock acceptance speech at the podium before pointing out he’s “still got a problem paying the rent.”
Unlike compatriot rock ‘n roll revivalists Jim Jones Revue or fellow garage rockers like Ty Segall, the JSBE aren’t afraid to get into a groove every now and then too. The heavy duty, jam band funk of ‘Get Your Pants Off’ and the extended instrumental workout of closer ‘Zimgar’ hint at a variety that’s not always necessary, but nonetheless is gladly received.
Meat and Bone is exactly what you might expect from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – nothing more, and definitely nothing less. The group offer little that can’t be gleaned from the recent early years collection Dirty Shirt Rock ‘n’ Roll, outside of a rawer, more distilled JSBE sound. But then if that’s what you’re after, fill your boots.
Read this review in context over at THE 405
September 19, 2012
Difficult Second Album Syndrome (DSAS) has been the clichéd undoing of many an ambitious artist keen to recapture the magic of a well-received debut, with either a misguided attempt at a new direction or a desperate re-treading of former glories usually to blame.
How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell would be forgiven for suffering from a touch of DSAS, considering everything he’s been through in the two years since Love Remains — his influential first album that mixed washes of ambient noise and reverb with touches of early-nineties R&B and a haunting falsetto vocal. Instead, the Berlin-via-Brooklyn resident built on that album’s strengths, and crafted an emotional document of grief entitled Total Loss as its follow-up.
“I started writing in early September of 2010,” says Krell. “I was in the throes of a really fucked-up period in my life. My best friend had just died, totally unexpectedly, and I had gotten into a long-distance relationship, which is emotionally rending. And then my uncle passed away, and he was quite a figurehead in my family. It sent my mum into a depression from which she has not recovered, which rendered her silent for about two months. She couldn’t speak. I’ve never seen anything like that happen, you know?”
Understandably, the collection of songs that Krell accumulated over the following winter was incredibly dark. Most of these tracks haven’t made the cut for Total Loss, but one that did — positive closer ‘Ocean Floor For Everything’ — served as a framework for the album over this period.
“It was one of the first songs I put out [from Total Loss]. In that winter, I started to feel that if I didn’t figure out how to get out of the darkness that was taking over my life, it was just not gonna go well for me. And so I actually started using ‘Ocean Floor…’ just like a beacon, like as an end that I wanted to chart a path towards.”
In all, Krell estimates he made around 23 songs for the project. So what of those that didn’t make the album?
“The thing with the dark songs is that I’m very keen to release them, and I’m excited to release them, but I can’t imagine touring them,” he admits. “They’re still too depressive. There’s something magnetic about depression. It starts to pull you back into its rhythms and affects. I really look forward to releasing it in the future, but it just wasn’t right now.”
Despite a noticeable clarity in the production on Total Loss — in stark contrast to Love Remains’ blurred, cavernous aesthetic — stylistically the album has Krell’s “narcotised strain of R&B” dialled up to the forefront. And considering the state of mind of its creator during inception, there’s an unmistakable positivity to the release that sits comfortably alongside Krell’s musical ambition.
No sign of DSAS here, then.
Read this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
September 12, 2012
On the day the band’s second album, Coexist, is released, The xx are glad to be home. Vocalist/bass player Oliver Sim expresses as much with a characteristically short and simple bit of crowd interaction following tonight’s opener ‘Angels’. After essentially spending the whole year working everywhere but London, it’s to be expected.
Coexist has been a while in the making, but for those worried about a major diversion from the Mercury Prize-winning combination of space and minimalistic intimacy of the group’s debut, this sold-out show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire should calm those nerves.
The new album — featured heavily throughout — slots effortlessly into the band’s repertoire, with tracks like ‘Chained’ utilising vocalist/guitarist Romy Madley Croft’s echoing guitar lines over a skipping, Burial-like beat.
‘Missing’ is a good example of The xx’s ability to blend pensive songs of loss and yearning with slightly ominous overtones, something demonstrated equally well when Sim takes centre-stage for ‘Fiction’; a touching Coexist highlight delivered in his deep, distinctive baritone. The new album’s title is pertinent on a number of levels, not least in the organic duality of Croft and Sim’s voices — once more, a key feature of this follow-up effort — demonstrated again and again throughout the evening.
Producer/percussionist Jamie Smith pounds away at all manner of electronic drum pads and samplers behind the front pair, his hands flurrying over the steel pan loop on ‘Reunion’ or hammering out the solid beat of ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’.
Despite the prominence of the new material, some old favourites are present. ‘Crystalised’ is given an even sparser reading in the live setting, while the rhythmic guitar loop of ‘Islands’ adds an uplifting touch to proceedings.
The unhurried and unassuming nature of the trio, although initially refreshing, makes it difficult for them to maintain momentum, and towards the end of the set things start to sound a little texturally samey. The pace rarely leaves lethargic, and when it does, it’s for Smith to bring his deep house solo styles to the party, sliding some four-to-the-floor kicks under a reworking of ‘Shelter’ that doesn’t quite sit right with the direction of the rest of the show. A poignant version of ‘VCR’ brings things back into focus, prompting a mass sing-along — something that shouldn’t fit The xx image, yet ends up strangely touching.
The xx are a band that have excited critics with an unforced, natural, yet hard-to-define sound since the success of that debut three years ago. In whatever pigeonhole they do belong, however, the trio have no equals — a fact underlined by tonight’s showing.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
September 10, 2012
For the last week or so, Damon Albarn has been travelling the country on a specially kitted-out train filled with stars of the African music world (and a few Brits), crew and journalists, christened the Africa Express. The 100-strong rabble has been rolling into cities like a wandering WOMAD, performing workshops and pop-up gigs before wowing audiences with a lengthy, collaboration-heavy show at the end of each night.
Tonight’s gig, at the newly developed Granary Square in Kings Cross, is the project’s last, and they aren’t prepared to go out on a whimper. Bathed in late-summer sunshine, the outdoor event has a festival feel to it as the pleasingly ramshackle nature of the onstage coming and going of performers builds momentum over a five-hour show.
Early highlights include a delicate cover of The xx’s ‘Crystalised’ by Martina Topley-Bird and Congolese vocalist Jupiter, backed by an unassuming John Paul Jones on bass. Jones is among a stellar list of stars that Albarn has pulled from his address book for tonight’s gig, and the Led Zep man returns sporadically through the evening, most noticeably on a run-through of ‘Kashmir’ with British MC Kano.
The show then gathers pace as Jack Steadman of Bombay Bicycle Club fame puts a highlife-based spin on recent single ‘Shuffle’, before rapper M.anifest gets a helping hand from Romeo of The Magic Numbers on his track ‘Suffer’.
M1 of legendary New York rap group Dead Prez brings the energy levels to a peak with a supercharged run-through of anthem ‘Hip-Hop’, the stage slowly filling with rhymers desperate to grab a verse (Brits Kano and Bashy among them) making for a riotous conclusion.
The momentum is upheld by explosive Malian vocalist Fatoumata Diawara and The Noisettes, whose respective high energy performances are interspersed with softer moments from Eliza Doolittle (covering Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’) and a Spoek Mathambo-featuring version of ‘People Get Ready’.
Albarn himself is behind one of the evening’s more touching moments: his piano-led version of Gorillaz song ‘On Melancholy Hill’ given added poignancy by the sublime vocal talent of Mali’s Rokia Traoré.
Traoré then takes lead on the evening’s first surprise: a killer version of her song ‘Dounia’ backed by Paul McCartney and the return of John Paul Jones (unfortunately strumming a mandolin, not having a bass-off with Macca). It’s an intriguing moment, ruined only by the sea of camera phones obstructing the view and, to his credit, not by McCartney himself, who enters the collaborative spirit of the occasion and slips on and off to little fanfare.
Indeed, when he returns towards the finale with Gruff Rhys and Tony Allen among the performers, the Beatle even resists the temptation to lead a 30-minute sing-along of ‘Hey Jude’, opting instead for ‘Coming Up’ and Wings track ‘Goodnight Tonight’, before the ever sharp-suited Malian guitarist Amadou closes the night and tour with his ‘Masiteladi’, everyone onstage for a Last Waltz-type finale.
It’s clear that all the artists involved with the Africa Express project have fully embraced the concept, and there are random onstage appearances from many of them throughout the show to simply grin at the crowd and take personal photos. Though some may dismiss it as an ego-massaging, industry back-patting session, it’s hard to not be enthralled by the sheer number of talented performers onstage each night, never mind trying to gauge what a logistical nightmare the whole experience must have been.
Albarn’s post-Blur projects have been nothing if not divisive, but surely this one must be considered among his best.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON
September 3, 2012
Generally thought of as a seminal group of the ‘90s ambient house scene, The Orb have actually been surprisingly prolific over the last ten years. Various works with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Tim Bran of Dreadzone (on Metallic Spheres and The Dream respectively) throughout the ‘00s proved that Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann’s way with a collaboration hadn’t deserted them, further evidence of which comes in the shape of The Observer in the Star House alongside esoteric dub legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
The collaboration has arguably been in motion for a number of years now, since Paterson played DJ to Perry’s toaster in Mexico back in 2004 and was taken with the infamous and charming eccentricity of the dub pioneer. Eight years later, and that familiar, wiry voice and humorous flow is proclaiming “I’ve got something to say/You wanna hear it? Hear it!” over opening track ‘Ball of Fire’’s intro horns.
The Orb’s cosmic ambience and sci-fi sensibilities are a perfect match for the out-of-this-world Perry (a shared aesthetic that’s echoed in the album’s title), and references to space and its possible inhabitants are made regularly throughout. ‘Man in the Moon’ is a sparse production, a cavernous dub over which Perry explains his interstellar credentials, while ‘Hold Me Upsetter’ throws sliced guitar and string samples into the mix, the accompanying video a suitably psychedelic affair complete with galactic imagery and a Buddha holding a Chelsea FC badge.
‘Golden Clouds’ is a nod back to The Orb’s 1991 classic ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’, with the same “what were the clouds like when you were young?” question asked of Perry that was squared at Ricky Lee Jones in the original. Scratch answers in a surprisingly straightforward manner (“Blue space, white clouds/Sometimes we got rain”), before settling down into a more characteristic ramble.
‘Thirsty’ pairs an old skool hip-hop break with some echoing, offbeat dub chords, while a delightful mangling of the Perry-penned classic ‘Police & Thieves’ is a clear highlight, and perhaps the album’s most overtly dub-centric production.
Fehlmann’s techno instincts are tempered here in respect to Perry’s languid drawl, but hints of the industrial background of Berlin (where the album was made) make sporadic appearances. ‘Go Down Evil’ opens with a racing sequencer phrase, while ‘H.O.O.’ is full of the space and airiness of minimal electro.
Some of the best on moments on The Observer… occur during the mellower, more pensive tracks. ‘Soulman’ is a delight: a mid-tempo beat layered with a minor key drone, a chopped and twisted King Tubby sample coming and going underneath. Perry’s regular assertions that he is the titular “soulman” have different connotations in this context than the rhythmic grunts of the original godfather of soul, taking on a more spiritual meaning here. The hypnotic skit ‘Ashes’ seems like the sketch of an idea that unfortunately wasn’t extended to full song length, and closer ‘Congo’ is a mystical jungle dub, Perry’s filtered vocals drifting over an entrancing, percussion-heavy rhythm.
For those looking for more than veteran ambient electronica stalwarts backing up the charismatic, if slightly meandering, stream of consciousness from one of music’s great figures, disappointment was always going to be the outcome on The Observer... Yet the creativity and mutual respect on show here makes for a worthy collaboration and an intriguing listen, one worthy of a prominent place in the respective canons of both parties.
Read this review in context over at THE LINE OF BEST FIT