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.