Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kindness, Otherness

Again, late 80’s essence, massive bass lines, an essence of an era that celebrates the birth of a modern hip hop style. And from the very first song, World Restart, you can hear that ’’Fresh Prince from Bel-Air’’ kind of monotonous, non-sense, funky brass line, fighting with beats, which, somehow, slowly melts into the second tune on the album and the first single, This Is About Us, which is actually pretty much about Soul II Soul kind of groove. 

And why do we love so much that period, and why are we going back to that groove? Because that Soul II Soul, Maxi Priest, Joyce Sims, Janet era is the end of the music as we know it and the beginning of a Timbaland era that made hip hop sound crunchy and sexist and non-relevant. This is not just a throwback, socially, this a correction period, where we go back in order to make a statement and say ’give us back those happy times when we weren't ashamed of club culture’’, times where you didn't have to listen to Nickelodeon and Disney stars at clubs, times when you could say fuck but still make proper love.

Otherness is like a precious stone, lyrically taken to another level. It’s not about clubbing anymore, it’s much more intimate, melancholic, even when it’s  followed by heavy beat like in Who Do You Love, a collaboration with the amazing Robyn. It’s a blur, it’s like trying to remember a love and trying to find these feelings through a cloud of haze, just using your senses.

Don’t let the noise confuse you, that’s just the thing that you’re used to
You never knew any different, there’s something else if you listen

From the very beginning of Geneva you think – Imogen Heap, but then it slowly turns into a piano ballad that combines elements of acoustic and electronically modified choir sounds. And once again, it’s about that blur, that haze.

With You, a collaboration with Kelela, is a very sensual, stripped, saxophone and bass driven slow-tempo, that may be the most experimental track on the album. Have you ever found a perfect and forgotten vinyl from the late 70’s and made love to it? Me, neither, But, let’s try it.

The only track on the album I don’t quite get is the Mike Oldfield-y acoustic guitar driven For The Young. It is a good break from everything else and an interesting step backwards, but still it may come across a bit as cooking TV show tune in the background that bothers nobody. On the other hand, it’s a beautiful reverie type of songs, so I don’t know, I’m torn there.

The thing I have been waiting for is the last track, Why Don’t You Love Me, a collaboration with Dev Hynes and Tawiah. And it’s just personal. Everything else is already said.

Otherness still is a big step forward from his debut album World, You Need A Change Of Mind, which was more funky and in a way reminded me more of Dev Hynes’ kind of vibe. Otherness is pure Kindness album. And anyhow the two of them are two pieces of a puzzle that I’m more that happy to be witnessing assembling before my very ears.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mapei - Hey Hey

Her first single Don’t Wait left us all blown away and awaiting for her debut album to come out. Like many others said, it is a pop perfection, it is a nostalgic and catchy indie hip hop anthem, with strong beat lines mixed with finger snapping, sitar-like and calypso-like folk instruments and pitched-down vocals in the verses. It sounds fresh and eclectic, it is a song for almost every occasion, it simply works in every scenario. What makes it fresh are the  simple and laid bare lyrics, and that amazing video, directed by the amazing Dori Oskowitz, we all fell in love with at first sight.

In all that anticipation, the final result isn't what we exactly could expect, it’s even more eclectic in a degree it becomes unrecognizable. Yes it is innovative and different and funky like Things You Know Nothing About, but it would be a damn good move if there were more songs on the album, like Don’t Wait or Blame It On Me. Instead, Hey Hey is filled with more indie than hip hop or folk tunes. And for a debut album, it is a very dangerous move that can finally result in forgetting her name soon after the first single drops from the charts. 

The second single from the album, Change, is an adrenalin filled tune with strong beats like a song with this title should be.  The third single, Believe is a sleepy anthem of empowerment. It sounds much like a mix of Radiohead and Macy Gray. Step Up, like many others on the album, is an adrenalin mix of rock and hip hop with Mapei’s tired voice, tired and weary, reminding me in a strange way of Noel Gallagher's. As 1, a neo soul love ballad, makes a really nice moment for the album, and once more her voice reminded of some contemporary soul singer. 

All in all it makes an interesting debut album that may not conquer the charts but is an eclectic and innovative vision of pop. This Swedish-American (who even was Lykke Li's roommate while she was living in New York) definitely deserved some success after many years of fighting for her place on the scene. Sure, Mapei needs to strengthen her music identity, but her artistic identity is indisputable. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Jessie Ware - Tough Love, unfolding the unknown

The much-anticipated Jessie Ware sophomore album is finally out. Things haven’t changed radically after her first album got recognized as the album of the year and got a Mercury Prize in 2012. But Jessie Ware is a quiet  kind of artist, and the one that may not blow you away completely at first but she’ll certainly be here for a while and at one point her voice will get to you for sure. So with that magic in her voice, with her previous producer Dave Okumu (of The Invisible) and a new one Benny Blanco (best known for his collaborations with Maroon 5- Moves like Jagger, Payphone; Katy Perry, Jessie J and many more), with a little help from her friends, such as Ed Sheeran, Dev Hynes and Miguel in the songwriting, Tough Love is an album worthy of the singer’s voice and image since all of these people were focused on making a Jessie Ware record and not a hit record.

The second  single from the album, Say You Love Me, co-written with Ed Sheeran, has a clear Ed Sheeran stamp on it. However, the story of making this record is as spontaneous as it can be in the music industry today. Allegedly they met in New York one night and Ed Sheeran offered to write a song for her new album. The singer, as well, encouraged her regarding using her higher register and put into her some of his touring experiences. And naturally, a collaboration like this has got to yield a hit, which Say You Love Me will definitely become. It will give her a much needed attention of the single hit charts. And truth is she took it to a whole different level, with an emotional shotgun that her voice is.

Dev Hynes collaboration, Want Your Feeling, is a throwback down tempo with heavy bass guitar riffs and synths playing a monotonous tune in a different harmony giving impression of a total melodic bypassing, but it's actually pretty daring and innovative. Songs like Champagne Kisses, Cruel and Sweetest Song create perfect, sensual moments you don’t want to come out from. But not enough memorable melodic lines. Probably I’ll forget them later today when I stop listening to them. This is my problem with Jessie Ware, there must be a border between the heavily produced auto-tuned mainstream and  faceless lounge, and I don’t want to see her in neither one of the two mentioned categories. She does let herself be laid bare and emotionally dismantled, but in such a shy way that it leaves me wanting more.

When I think of this album I will think of some great moments, Say You Love Me for some time, and Want Your Feeling forever since it makes a perfect moment for the album. From time to time I’ll play just the first couple of beats  of Say You Love Me’’in medical purposes’’ or I’ll just want to hear again that cuckoo synths of Want Your Feeling. It’s a great album, although her velvety and cathartic voice deserves some more personal and distinctive songwriting, with one exception to that being Pieces, a laid bare down-tempo with a beat line reminding me of a typical Florence and the Machine moment. It's an honest confession with an interesting melodic plot in the bridge, and this is a moment when we see Jessie one hundred per cent and as she is.   

I had to shatter to pieces, you made me reveal myself
So if you no longer need them, then give them to someone else 

Even though our ears are used to some’fast love’ meaning we want some cheese we want the tears we want it all, Jessie Ware is harmonizing her way in the music business and remains a silent, sensual girl we will all, at one point of our lives, fall in love with. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Nick Mulvey, First Mind

Once a percussionist in the English jazz, indie-folk group, Portico Quartet, now a brilliant guitar player, Nick Mulvey, releases his debut album in the shadow, as if he wanted to suit the intimate sound he created on this record. He also played the hang, a 21st century percussion instrument, for those who are not familiar with it. But he’s a multi-instrumentalist and a free thinker it seems to me. Not only that his album is eclectic, it takes you to a special kind of atmosphere where you are pushed to dig deeper into yourself and think more freely. 

This music takes you on a grungy road trip (Juramidam) on a windy and intimate journey (First Mind), on a trip to some exotic places seen through the eyes of a northern man (Cucurucu). And that is precisely how I would describe this album, a northern man’s playing evocative of southern seas. Nick Mulvey did, indeed, spend some time in the Caribbean, he studied music in Cuba, he has a degree in ethnomusicology focusing on African music, and that’s where his vibe comes from. It as confusing combination of north and south, confusing since you have to think what this is, and who this man is, and what does his music remind you of. Well, it may remind you of Jack Johnson at places, Steve Reich, or John Butler Trio, or even Jose Gonzales. That is all up to you. But the truth is that this music takes you to some wonderful places you think you have but actually have never seen before.

The first single, Cucurucu, is a grower. It introduces you slowly into the atmosphere of the song, and then when the beat starts it is rhythmically delayed a bit. It makes you think at first, you start thinking, and then the song creeps in on you, and gets into your skin. It is about a young pigeon holding his mother at her feet, yearning to belong, while his mother sings him a lesson of life saying: listen to me son I’ll tell you why your father’s strong, cause he can still say every single day he’s yearning to belong. ’’And all of my manhood is cast, down in the flood of remembrance, and I weep like a child for the past singing cucurucu...’’ There, all of his manhood and pride are gone, he is reminiscing on his past and says he’s a man who cries and weeps, and wants to know where his home is. He’s yearning to belong. Everything is covered in fog of trying to remember of an ocean scent, of a wind that takes you back to where you really belong. It is now clear that this is one the best songs of this year.

Nick Mulvey is one of those people you just have to listen to, ears and then mind fixedly reproducing pictures, while you just dive and lose your senses. And it is not only because of music, when you come to hear the lyrics you will simply smile. 

La Roux, Trouble In Paradise

New lamps for old 

Now, there’s another great album no one will talk about, and another great tour no one will visit. And it’s only because their second album, Trouble in Paradise, doesn't have any catchy hook and therefore it will doubtfully yield any hit for them now. This is not what their (or just her, since the duo has separated and now it’s only Elly Jackson forming the group) fans expect anyway, but it seemed like it was the only way. I am always happy to write and talk about people who understand where music needs to go. This was the only way because music needs to go back to listening the albums, at least, artists need to respect fans who do that, who buy vinyls, CD's, or download integral albums.

 It seemed like Elly was interested in finding the perfect sound, and although 70’s indie pop might be totally in and in the same time a bit weary right now, you still have to know the sound to make it work. That’s it, know the sound. See it. Throughout the whole album you can see the ghosts of Blondie, Talking Heads, and it’s actually the new wave revival story. Synthesizers, drum machines, fuzzy and worn out guitar echos making a rock sound muffled in disco.  People have been doing that for the last couple of years, (Foster the People, Haim, Gossip) but nobody came this close. These echos are best shown in the first single, Uptight Downtown, not so much worth commenting lyrically, but only as a well-crafted song announcing the project.

The singles people will probably like the most would be Kiss And Not Tell and Sexoteque, for two reasons, the first being that they are the happiest tunes on the album and most likely to be played in clubs, the second being that they remind us, more than the others, of their previous songs like I’m Not Your Toy or Bulletproof. Let Me Down Gently, lyrically brilliant song, with a promising start and verses sounding much like Madonna’s late 80’s phase (Live to Tell and Like a Prayer) develops into a slow disco jam, lustful and innocent in the same time.

...I hope it doesn't seem like I’m young foolish and green, let me in for a minute, you’re not my life but I want you in it, and I hope it’s sinking, left behind your perfect skin, that’s a part of you that’s free, and I know there’s a place for me...

The last song on the album, The Feeling, is recorded in a way that impersonates an old recording, much like Jack White’s instant recording booth, only here La Roux needed much more engineering to be done. Anyhow, we needed that scoop of past not only for nostalgia’s sake, but to go back and think a little bit more about what we are going to do in the future, what type of sound we need to create. Tropical Chancer, had a big name included in it’s production, Jeff Bhasker, who previously collaborated with Alicia Keys (Girl on Fire) and Kanye West (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 808s & Heartbreak, and Watch the Throne with Jay-Z), other than that, it is Al Shux, Elly Jackson, and her previous band mate, Ben Langmaid who cut the cloth. 

It is inspiring to see artist standing their ground and fighting for their freedom of expression. I won’t go that far and discuss if it’s just a copy of a foggy disco sound, since I want my generation to sound that good and since we know that her creative ideas cost her losing her partner in crime, Ben Langmaid. Elly had approached him with some  old and rare disco recordings which he openly disliked from the very beginning of the writing, so she knew she had to carry on alone and pass her vision. He, on the other hand, knew he needed to help her with that before leaving, so they wrote a couple of songs more and disembarked/embarked on a yet another musical adventure. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sia, 1000 forms of fear

A three letter name that made pop sound dissolute and dauntless

Oh, that husky voice! Doesn't it sound amazing at the highest tone of Chandelier when she sings I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry, with all that metal weight in her voice? Yeah, it does, and it’s quite impressive. This album promises to sound more like her Zero 7 phase if we look at the cover, and if we listen to the leading single, Chandelier

But it’s not like that at all. It’s poppy, and P!nky at places I’d say, if we listen to the second track on the album, Big Girls Cry. But luckily that changes soon and the third track, Burn the pages  is more Sia, more dissolute and dauntless. That’s what we love about her. She shows you everything and then she just jumps. The same way she jumps into such a high register not being afraid of losing her voice, which she does sometimes, but that’s all part of the game, and that suits her character perfectly. 

I love Fair Game, it reminds me of young Dolly Parton, Lana del Rey, it’s a stripped and a simple storytelling that just stands out from everything else. Free the Animal, amazing track, but unfortunately not that original. From the very beginning it’s clear that it’s a Haim tribute, actually. Throughout the whole song you can simply see them rolling their hairs and dancing incoherently. It suits Sia as well, but the voices in the chorus shouting from behind are just a shameful production copy. In the Cellophane she goes country, she goes places, and that would be an interesting material to develop for this album. And from the title you would expect more fear and darkness spoken explicitly, but it’s actually very subtly shown in the very song titles with words such as: elastic, chandelier, eye of the needle, cellophane, knife, hostage, gasoline, dressed in black.

 It all makes a unity and a cohesive work that, truth be told, would sound much better with less production and more creative freedom that undoubtedly lies there. However, it still is somewhat different from the pop products, and promises to bring Sia a huge commercial breakthrough that she actually doesn't want, but definitely deserves.

As for Sia, this lady needs no introduction, she’s a pro. ’I know I’m good at it, singing and performing, but you get tired after so many years touring. I’d rather sit at home with my dogs and write songs for pop stars and make millions of dollars’’. So, who doesn't hate her and her indisputable talent. The originality comes and goes, but there is no doubt that Sia has such a unique tool of transforming everything into gold and take it to another level, just as she did so many pop singers, and paved a way for their careers to grow and for people to take them as serious artists. Yeah, well... that’s all Sia, folks!

I definitely recommend Fair Game, Cellophane, and Free the Animal, until the album comes out on the 8th of July. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Clean Bandit + Jess Glynne = New Eyes

The happiest band of the year release their debut album, New Eyes, a perfect blend of classical and house music, after couple of years of struggle in the music industry. Nobody took them seriously. And why would they? It seems to me that the more pathetic you get today, more executives will think you are a serious selling material. Whatever happened to going to live shows, listening to bands playing live, whatever happened to that serious state of exuberance caused by good music? I don't know, but we somehow got stuck on Adele on YouTube and made it a trend.

Rather Be, the single that made Clean Bandit a place in the music business, is a happy happy tune, yet simple and profound, beautiful lyrics, but what makes the day are the amazing vocals by Jess Glynne, who is the one to watch in the nearest future. Her silvery, yet slightly husky voice is a perfect universal tone appealing to everybody.

The first single from the album, Mozart’s House, dates from 2010, and is the one that made them less credible in the eyes of music producers. It's perky and twisted in the same time, and definitely lots of fun. And it's definitely the group's credo. ''so you think house music is boring, you think it's stupid, you think it's repetitive,... now we made it to Mozart's House''. Extraordinary, sharing it’s sensibility with Rather Be, a soothing tune that probably gained it’s popularity thanks to the amazing video, introduces us to another amazing voice on the album, Sharna Bass.


Everything you can hear on this album is screaming fun and freedom, it’s a crossover album of a band that don’t take themselves seriously, and therefore, that makes them honest, real musicians, spontaneous, and edgier than anybody else on the scene right now.