5 Seconds Of Summer – 5 Seconds Of Summer

Released, June 27th, 2014

Released, June 27th, 2014

First thing 5 Seconds Of Summer want to make clear, is that they are NOT a boy-band. They play their instruments, and write their own music, so in their minds, they stand in the same ball park as rock stars, more particularly pop-punk stars like Green Day and Blink-182. 5 Seconds Of Summer… I’m sorry, but no, you’re wrong. The definition of a boy-band is “a pop group composed of young ‘men’, whose music and image are designed to appeal primarily to a young teenage audience”, so 5 Seconds Of Summer, you may well just be a boy-band. But this pigeon-holing that the music industry is so fond of is really quite tiresome and superficial. Despite this, the eponymous debut album by 5 Seconds Of Summer can still be defined in those two words: tiresome and superficial, with or without the stigmatised ‘boy-band tag’.

Sure the songs have catchy hooks and melodies, they all do! But apart from one or two exceptions, they all fade away as soon as each song’s running time elapses; and then you are left with…nothing. Whenever any factors of any of the songs begin to seem moderately appealing (which is usually the surging pop-punk guitar rhythms), there are always loud and proud moments that leap out at you to remind you that what you’re listening to is not good music. The inane and tedious lyricism and the hackneyed production techniques suck any enjoyability these songs were hoping to achieve. The lyrics are by far the greatest travesty of the album. The lyrical tales told in the songs are copied word-for-word from the weak, limp-wristed scribblings of teenage diaries and godawful poetry. Prime examples: “She’s a good girl, a straight A student. She’s really into self-improvement”, and worst of all, “he treats you so bad and I’m so good to you it’s not fair”. Nobody is going to deny that these are not instances that occur in teenage lives, but if they are going to be sung about, there are rules. Ones which 5 Seconds of Summer have clearly not followed. The main one? DON’T BE SO BLUNT! Such lyrics are so utterly heavy-handed and are both sung and read foolishly. When these matters are approached in song, subtly is essential, otherwise they come of as purely cringe-inducing and feeble.  Oh, and don’t worry, there is an even spread of shallowly anthemic “ooo ooo’s”, “hey heys”, “doo doo’s” and “aaa aaa’s” that further add to the embarrassing mess.

Lead single She Looks So Perfect is polite enough, with its muted rhythm guitar and easy to digest chorus line, but the complete package is ultimately a stale one, exemplified by the utterly generic vocals. Everything I Didn’t Say is the album’s best song, and is actually quite good. Charming instrumentation, a well constructed middle-eight, and an infectious chorus (courtesy of the well-worn “4 chord song progression”) makes the song quite enjoyable. But once again, the song’s formulaic and unoriginal approach serves to render the song relatively MOR (Middle Of the Road). The best of the songs are forgettable, and the worst, such as the sissy Beside You, are just plain sickening.

The worst thing about 5 Seconds Of Summer is that despite all of this, it will still be popular. There is no way it can’t be. The hype machine is fully operational, the band have the image, and as a result, the teen girls will eat it up. It’s an album purposefully designed to be commercial on the most basic, and ultimately shameful level. Each song is churned out and dished up like a packet-cake, with a specific recipe and no risk guarantee. As such, there is no real excitement, and the energy seems vapid, forced and flat. This is not a lasting album, and one that you won’t be proud you listened to, let alone owned. So don’t own it. Avoid it. 5 Seconds Of Summer are not bad because they are a boy-band, they are bad because their music is terrible.

2.4/10

Yanni Markovina

A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent – Review

Released, June 24th, 2014

Released, June 24th, 2014

Oh, what a glorious display Sea When Absent is. The multi-continental six-piece A Sunny Day In Glasgow have produced an album gob-smacking originality, endless surprise and intrigue, and an innovative maelstrom of ideas, melodies and instrumentation, which is ultimately, sheer mind-blowing genius.

Trying to compare A Sunny Day In Glasgow’s sound on this album to anything is almost impossible. The band has steadfastly tried and succeeded in achieving a sound all of their own. The closest musical comparison could be shoegaze, with the slathering upon slathering of textures, but where shoegaze has its eyes to the ground and serves to wash over the listener, Sea When Absent picks up the listener, hoists them high into the atmosphere, so that the glory of the sun, moon and stars are appreciated all at once.

This album is the epitome of enjoyable experimentation, of playful exuberance, with a complete disregard for convention in pop music. As such which makes most concurrent music seem pale and boring in comparison. Just feel the glitzy synthesisers of MTLOV (Minor Keys), working in perfect conjunction with the sporadic acoustic strums and rhythmic handclaps, the smooth flowing majesty of Crushin’, the faux 1980’s indie gem The Things They Do To Me, or the chiming guitar, wobbly synth, and comforting lyricism of Never Nothing (It’s Alright (It’s Okay)). But in all honesty, Sea Within Absent is an album that each individual listener can find something for themselves. There’s just so much noise, so much structure, so many melodies, that it is as much an absolute pleasure experiencing it all at once, as it is following one element of a song along until it decides to shapeshift into something else.

The six members of the band were never all at once in the same room during the recording of the album, with much of the album being the result of each band member emailing song fragments to eachother. This serves to give the album its fragmentary nature, without ever appearing over-cluttered or unnecessary.

In Love with Useless (The Timeless Geometry of Time Passing) appears like four different songs strung together with gossamer thread, without ever seeming like a pretentious “mini-opera”. This is achieved through the multitudinous brilliant ideas thrown together, which all strangely work together. Soaring vocals, angelic vocals, frenzied vocals, abstract lyrics, simplistic lyrics, distorted guitars, clattering drums, and a positively gorgeous chorus. Oh, I’m a Wrecker (What to Say to Crazy People) has an odd but strangely triumphant aura of anthemicism with its shouted chorus, gliding synth solos, and  dive-bombing guitar effects. The song hits an emotional core with the instantly singable line “we love you and that’s really all there is to hear”, perfectly encapsulating the intent of A Sunny Day In Glasgow: They love us, and are offering us this music as their gift. Not much else to say.

Sea When Absent reaches a perfect conclusion with the over-exuberant, emotional, heart-on-its-sleeve Golden Waves, which takes only 30 seconds to paint an image of all-consuming romanticism. Singing strings, passionate, overlapped vocals, and intelligent design lend the song an epic and transcendental quality. Don’t be surprised if there are tears of joy rolling down your face during this song.

One might accuse A Sunny Day In Glasgow of being slightly aloof, hiding behind a self-constructed wall of sound. However, on the interlude Double Dutch, the listener is treated with the sound of laughing and coughing throughout the song’s coda. This brief moment is a reminder of the band’s humanity; they are real people, and as such are making music for your experiences and your dreams.

9.3/10

Yanni Markovina

Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

Released, June 13th, 2014

Released, June 13th, 2014

Ultraviolence: Alex DeLarge’s code name for unforgivable and horrific acts of violence in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Assaults on the body, the mind and the senses are all part of the package. Thankfully, Lana Del Rey’s follow up to 2012’s Born To Die is anything but, in fact it’s rather enjoyable. Well, if enjoyable for you consists of slow tempo, glacial dirges sung over with the voice of crying starlet from the 50’s. The actual sound is better than this sounds.

When the stellar Video Games was dropped, the world was caught off guard. What to make of this bittersweet string-laden pop gem? What of its creator? Nothing was similar to it, and I guess that nothing is, still to this day. This is for better or worse. There were definitely detractors ready with knives out after Born To Die didn’t fulfill the lofty promises made by Video Games, and as Lana’s musical vision was particularly unique among the pop world of the time, she had nowhere to hide. It would’ve been so easy to give up and try something radically different. But Born To Die wasn’t all bad, it just needed to be more focused. Enter Ultraviolence

Ultraviolence is a lush, messy, and ultimately glorious collection of tunes, many of which are more ‘rock’ focused than before, with gritty, spiky guitars being the basis of many of the songs. The twangy first notes of opener Cruel World just hint at the epic emotional outburst that is to follow. Brooklyn Baby features a mesmerising melody, accompanied in no small part by Lana’s sighing vocals and the chiming acoustic guitar riff. The unnerving, cyclical guitar patterns of Shade Of Cool sound effortlessly mature, and are wonderfully supported by swelling strings and Lana’s soaring chorus vocals. By the song’s conclusion, a completely unexpected guitar solo erupts with bristling, face – melting exuberance that has you wondering if this is still a Lana Del Rey song. Much of this ‘rock’ and guitar edge (and in fact much of the success of the album) can be attributed to The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who handles production and guitar duties. This unlikely pairing works far better than anyone would’ve predicted, maybe it’s the shared passion for vintage sounds that draws them together so well. Switch Lana’s vocals for Auerbach’s, and Sad Girl could easily fit somewhere on Turn Blue.

Once again, the main problem is Lana’s questionable lyrics, many of which read like depressed teenage diary poetry. But despite such heavy-handed cuts such as Money Power Glory and Fucked My Way Up To The Top, most of this lyrical choicing is made up for by the stunningly glistening instrumentation.

The centrepiece of the album, and a close tie for her best song so far, West Coast is a subtly menacing love song/attack on the Hollywood life that is a perfect synthesis of musical glory (just check out that shift in tempo!), lyrical content, melody and vocal prowess. Cheeky grabs from The Beatles’ And I Love Her and Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen sweeten the concoction. The exclusive Radio Mix is even better, a stripped down version that allows for the beauty of Lana’s voice to be revealed. The gloriously vintage The Other Woman drunkenly yet sweetly shuffles and swings along, and provides a wonderful showcase for Lana’s vocal prowess.

Sure, it’s a victory of style over substance, but it’s still a victory. Ultraviolence is a wonderful effort that proves Lana Del Rey’s relevance in this musical climate. You may choose not to be taken along for her nostalgic, string-drenched, emotional ride, but you can’t deny that Lana is the best at what she does, whatever it is.

7.5/10

Yanni Markovina

Glass Houses – Zaba

Released - 9th of June, 2014

Released – 9th of June, 2014

Steeped in luscious black cold nuggets of enveloping bass, cooing vocals, intrigued lyrics, and a whole manner of odd percussive beats and rhythms, Zaba by Glass Animals is a quietly experimental collection of melodic and rhythmic soundscapes. Think a less freakish Animal Collective, a more energised Rhye, and…well… Alt-J. Indeed, get used to hearing this Apple Mac command, for on Zaba, Glass Animals reveal that they are more than just fans of Alt-J.

The start-stop percussive beat of “Black Mambo” makes it one of the standouts. A simple muted and spidery guitar motif adds a surprising amount of weight to the song, which is only further intensified by breathy vocals and descending keyboard notes. “Wyrd” is just what its title implies. A weird, yet strangely cute number, with a hypnotic power over the listener as a result of a strange beat, that is equal parts Timbaland/Timberlake, 808s and Heartbreak-era Kanye West (coincidence then, that they covered ‘Love Lockdown’ on Like a Version?), and yes, Alt-J. “Gooey” manages to achieve the impossible by somehow making the line “peanut butter vibes” seem utterly romantic. Other than this, “Gooey” is a perfect light-dimmed bedroom track, and is a supreme grower. “Toes” sounds like it’s going to break into ‘Breezeblocks’ at any moment, “Pools” is a deceptively playful number that has a subdued instrumentation that makes it all the more mysterious, and “Cocoa Hooves”, despite like once again sounding like one of the better Alt-J tracks, is wonderfully pretty, with smooth enveloping bass working in perfect harmony with waving vocals and synths. The annoyingly titled closer “Jdnt” (along with “Gooey”) is the closest Glass Animals come to achieving a singular sound of their own. A majestic musical collage of clicks, snaps, tinkling bells, chimes, and aquatic keyboards, all adding up to a  rousing and swirling climax, and is fine closer, to a relatively fine album.

Glass Animals prove to be sonically, very gifted. Sure, the sounds are all familiar to us, but to some, that just adds to the charm. Also, writer/singer Dave Bayley proves to be a competent producer, managing to effortlessly evoke a ‘midnight in a jungle’ atmosphere, with the persistent sound of bubbling, trickling water stringing the tracks together into a cohesive whole.

Zaba is a confident debut full length album, with a clear grasp on the sounds it wishes to call its own. For what it’s trying to do (be Alt-J’s sophomore project), Zaba is in fact quite a good album of mellow, indie-trance tracks with subtle grooves. However, Glass Animals reveal with Zaba that they are still in the phase of listening to their favourite artists and trying their best to sound like them, hoping to somehow become them. Only losing points for its derivativeness, Zaba is a must own for the laid-back indie.

 

7.4/10

Yanni Markovina

Jack White – Lazaretto

Released - June 6th, 2014

Released – June 6th, 2014

It is no secret that Jack White is obsessed with vinyl, but his sophomore effort Lazaretto proves that he’s insane about vinyl. Lazaretto has been hyped in a very peculiar way, not by a specific single or sound, but because the vinyl release is host to a vast array of gimmicks, such as Side One having to be played from the inside out, two hidden tracks hidden beneath the labels in the centre, both sides ending with locked grooves, an electric or acoustic intro for the song Just One Drink depending on where needle is dropped, and even a hologram of an angel etched directly into the vinyl. White has dubbed this the ‘ultra LP’, a claim that not many would be willing to doubt, but for the majority of people who’ll either buy the CD, get it from iTunes or (block your ears, Jack White) download it illegally, the true debate is whether Lazaretto is an ‘ultra ALBUM’?

Lazaretto has two sides (I’m not talking about the vinyl, I’m talking about stylistic sides!): Bluesy freakout and shimmering neo-country rock. And while this offers differentiation across the album, the end result still sounds strangely messy as a conceptual whole. Opener Three Women mines familiar Jack White terrain, with spiky organ, spikier guitars, a subtly funky groove, and is ultimately a hell of a garage-blues delight. The title track is a frenetic showcase of jittering guitar riffs, exploding out of nowhere, deranged vocals, spouting freakish gibberish about leper colonies, blue veins, and electric brain bones, and a scintillating fiddle solo. This could only be a Jack White song, and only Jack White could make this song so insanely fun. Would You Fight For My Love? is a genuinely brilliant track, with ghostly vocals and dramatic piano contributing to the song’s epic quality. The lyrics tell the tale of one demanding another’s loyalty and love, a story made all the more real when viewing White’s recent marriage break-up. The frightened The Black Bat Licorice quivers and skitters along with fervent yelps and wicked guitar licks, and perhaps features the one greatest moment of the entire album; after the line “I never liked it! I never will! Now let me say the same damn thing with the violin!”, a freakish violin solo brings the song to a terrific close. The instrumental High Ball Stepper a wild showcase for White’s virtuoso guitar skill and is punctuated by a high pitch squealing…sound. It calls to mind the track Black Mud from The Black Keys’ 2010 effort Brothers (but perhaps The Black Keys are the last artists White wants to be reminded of as of recently).

This is sadly where the highlights end. The rest of the album mines too similar territory to his solo debut Blunderbuss, and when White instead opts to place a ten gallon hat on his head and rock his peculiar form of country, it seems a bit…odd. Just One Drink is an enjoyable enough track, but it’s formulaic stomp is a bit too Sticky Fingers/Exile on Main St. Rolling Stones. Temporary Ground and Alone In My Home are sweet but ultimately forgettable, and the dreary closer Want and Able has to be one of the most embarrassing things White has committed to tape.

Jack White appears to be at a crossroads, both personally and musically, but let’s discuss musically here. He is at his best when dishing out his bizarro psych-blues that he has mastered to a tee. But if he continues with this, the sound runs the risk of being stagnant, and White’s only place in the world of music will be the overly eccentric ‘vinyl Willy Wonka’, keeping alive the old art form whilst absorbing into the retro palace that Third Man Records is. There is still time though, and there are enough strong moments on Lazaretto to prove that Jack White is still a genius.

Lazaretto is best appreciated on vinyl, the way that White would’ve wanted it. Can you really blame him? Lazaretto on vinyl is a fun mixed bag of tricks that all audiophiles should be able to appreciate. For the rest, concerned only with the music, Lazaretto doesn’t really deviate from the well-worn path that White has rocked down for the past ten years. That being said, any Jack White fans will devour this record, and it truly does contain some shining moments, but Lazaretto isn’t an album that will change people’s preferences. Call it a glorious stop gap.

6.9/10

Yanni Markovina