Think of any of the major MF DOOM collaborative projects (Madvillian, DangerDOOM, JJ DOOM), and now think of the classic albums that they spawned (Madvilliany, The Mouse and the Mask, Key To The Kuffs), and NOW think what is the thing that binds them together above all else… Terrific and individualistic beats, an endlessly endearing abstract aesthetic, and most of all, the wildly inventive lyricism and distinctively thick voice of MF DOOM. So, given MF DOOM’s tendency be a part of such collaborations, when the ‘NehruvianDOOM’ project was revealed mid-2013, a team-up with veritably unknown rapper Bishop Nehru, there were a certain number of expectations the music community had in mind…. Ladies and gentlemen, Continue reading
Ever since Radiohead began to take many years to release follow-up albums, it seems as though the media has been desperate to label any up and coming artist with a flair for the intelligently odd and alternative as the ‘new Radiohead’. This is by no-means a new phenomenon in music, as people by nature usually desire name-checking of earlier musical artists so an idea can be formed of what the new thing is. While this is something that will never die within the realm of music journalism, one thing should: The claims that alt-J are the ‘new Radiohead’. Even though they do share similarities (both British, both formed at university, both call their unusual lyrical choices trademarks), alt-J are a distinctive band who have an easily recognisable sound. If you hear an alt-J song, you WILL know it is an alt-J song. Continue reading
Casablancas’ highly underappreciated 2009 solo masterpiece Phrazes For The Young, was at the time, the most radical thing we’d heard from the Strokes’ frontman. On average, 4-5 minute songs of clattering and multitudinous instrumentation, labyrinthine passages, and a charming sense of experimentation. What we didn’t realize was…that was all foreshadowing for Tyranny, and in comparison to Tyranny, Phrazes For The Young sounds as commercially appealing and simple as The Strokes’ first album Is This It.
A big part of this can be attributed to the presence of a ‘band’. While Phrazes For The Young was very much a ‘solo’ album. He played all the instruments, wrote all the songs, and that is just him on the cover, well unless you count his dog Balki. But Tyranny has a couple of group songwriting credits, a band name, and the actual band on the cover. Tyranny is a group effort. Casablancas fuelled so much hype for Tyranny, from surprise performances to gimmicky methods of obtaining the album à la Jack White (USB with the album on it disguised as a cigarette lighter anyone?). This, combined with some very grand musical statements from Casablancas, and the annoyingly embarrassing song titles, which read like the product of teen-angst scribblings about the corrupt nature of society, seemed to hint either the greatest album ever or a catastrophic mess. The fact that the answer is in the former camp does not take long to realise.
Take Me in Your Army snaps into life on a clanging and metallic beat before widening open into a discomfortingly pretty chorus and washy synth breakdown. Already one gains the sense that this is new territory. Crunch Punch shoves its way into the mind’s door with swaggering charisma, and then, 38 seconds in, it just stops, then you wait 5 seconds, then the ‘crunch punch’ comes in. A constant, drilling bass riff menacingly keeps the song progressing amid the falsetto spikes, guitar squall, unexpected stops and codas, and radio advertisements.
It should be noted at this point that Julian Casablancas is a difficult personality, musically. While he usually appears effortless surrounded by tight and economical guitar pop scuzz, his own ambition over the years has grown to alarming levels. Some say, to levels out of his comfort zone. But amidst the naysayers, Casablancas has an individualistic vision that shines through no matter what he does, regardless of the quality. Now, as he arrives on easily his most mature album of his career, Casablancas can sit back and give the finger and simply just look cool in the face of all those who ever doubted his talents.And while there aren’t tracks as immediately ear-worm as 11th Dimension, or as achingly heartfelt as Glass, Tyranny is still a masterstroke.
Where No Eagles Fly appears to follow ‘standard’ rock song rules: confident vocals, an oddly cheesy synthesizer punctuation, and New Order-esque bass patterns, before quickly slowing down the tempo and launching into an even larger snarling beast. The creeping beauty of Xerox perfectly evokes the discomforting modern sheen of its title with a Closer by Nine Inch Nails inspired beat and wriggling synth lines. As a lifelong Nintendo fan, I’m especially glad that Nintendo Blood manages to be just as evocative and wondrous as some of Nintendo’s best game soundtracks, while going the extra mile by dropping David Byrne-isms and purely epic displays of emotion. Father Electricity rides a jaunty and mechanical reimagining of Yes’s Roundabout rhythm throughout, fragmenting its own formula over and over again before calming down with a soothing lullaby coda. “Awwww Maaaan! What are they doing now?” Casablancas languorously questions, just the song catapults into perhaps the funkiest and joyous section of the entire song. One might even say…Strokesy… This further enforces the notion of Casablancas’ desire to distance himself with the Strokes label thrown on him. He’s aware it’s a good label, but he doesn’t want to be a one trick pony. While on such speedy songs on the most recent Strokes album Comedown Machine such as 50/50 and All The Time, Casablancas sounded like he was trying to sound like his older self. On Tyrrany’s two punkiest numbers Business Dog and M.utually A.ssured D.estruction, Casablancas sounds fresh, frenetic, and best of all…relevant.
Lyrically, Casablancas is on top form. While many of his lyrics need to be uncovered amidst the excessive instrumentation, the way in which he expresses them is the most passionate we’ve ever seen from Casablancas. He shrieks, growls, croons, hisses, and breathily wails in all registers of his vocals to glorious effect.
By the time track four arrives, the average listener wouldn’t usually be prepared for a career-altering epic of cataclysmic proportions of experimentation and beauty, especially on an album like Tyranny, which leaves its listeners reeling and struggling to catch up as every second passes. But that’s exactly what Human Sadness is: 11 minutes of a slow, synthetic dirge that harmoniously drifts along the ground like a ghostly fog. Casablancas’ lyrics are all but reduced to an unitelligable babble for the most part, but Julian’s vocals instead add an otherworldly grandeur and serve as an instrument in and of themselves. At precisely the 7 minute mark erupts one of the most gorgeous guitar solos to enter recent consciousness. By the time it is all over, you don’t really know what to think. So you listen again, and then you find there was a strange pop melody trying to escape, and the beauty, and the excess, and that guitar solo! And then you know that it is brilliant.
Tyranny is in a time of its own. Somewhere far in the apocalyptic future, where conventions no longer dominate and all music is a swirling vortex of melodies, time signatures, and crazy quirks, just like the launching into a hi-hat cracking disco strut to conclude the epically powerful Dare I Care. Tyranny is definitely an overwhelming album, which can be a turn off for those who like their Julian Casablancas short and concise. But the enveloping sprawl of Tyranny is easily amongst the best things Casablancas has ever produced. Every song present here is a shook-up bag of ideas and experiments, all of which are rewarding in their own merit, but gain a certain level of force and wonder when laced together. It’s hard to make an hour long album sound so effortless, but Julian Casablancas & The Voidz do, whilst also serving up an instantly affecting and totemic pillar of musical power that rewards multiple listens and excites on the first. While definitely a self designed uncommercial and divisive album, which can appear as being off-putting, for those with patience and the stomach for it, Tyranny can be an enthraing album
An excellent marketing scheme, or creepily invasive? This is the fine line U2 have to balance on following the surprise release of their latest album Songs Of Innocence. The deal is; U2 struck a deal with iTunes so that their album is already downloaded to anyone who opens up iTunes at the moment, with no cost to the consumer. Before I continue, I must digress. You see, Radiohead’s In Rainbows was also subject to an odd marketing scheme, and as such, the album received an unprecedented amount of attention that focused on how it was released. While this attention could have threatened to cast the music on the album itself as an afterthought, In Rainbows was good enough to rise above its ‘pay-what-you-like’ marketing campaign, and stand up tall as one of Radiohead’s finest albums. Songs Of Innocence however does not match the remarkable power of its distribution scheme when it comes to the music, which sounds like most of the music U2 have been making recently: echoes and reverberations of greater anthems of the past.
Prior to recording Songs Of Innocence, U2 stated that they were upset with the 1 million+ sales of No Line on the Horizon, and really needed to consider ‘what it meant to be in a band’. So, perhaps in an act of pure bluntness, U2 have given everyone the album! No exceptions! (Although personally if I was concerned about ‘low album sales’ I wouldn’t be giving out an album for free! – Sidenote: The album cover is desperately trying to be as arty as the Yeezus cover). It is quite difficult to discuss the music without referring to the iTunes distribution deal because it is in a way they are largely representative of each other. Only a band as massive could have pulled a marketing stunt like they did, and only they could replicate that with a suitably massive set of tunes. The only issue is, those tunes are just not that good or memorable. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) showcases some Black Keys influenced electric guitar fuzz (oh yeah, Danger Mouse is a producer here on the album. His results are suitably polished, and his (as well as The Black Keys’ influence is definitely heard, for better or worse). As an opener, The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) can draw parallels to what Zoo Station attempted to do as an opener on 1991’s Achtung Baby, introduce a radically different sound and a change in direction. That it fails is besides the point, besides being an apparent tribute to a punk icon, the song is in fact a highly egotistical. Every Breaking Wave is a pretty little power ballad with pristine chorus melodies and guitar effects. Bono’s paen to the orange tinted beauty of the East Coast, California (There Is No End To Love) is easily the most memorable and best thing on the album. Drifting in with a chant of “Bar-Bar-Barbara, Santa Barbara”, which could easily double as a nod to The Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann, over slowly intensifying singular piano stabs, shooting glory of a song, that reveals in the epic tone it creates for itself as well as its surging guitars. Sure, the typical U2 anthemic tropes are here, such as the “woah woahs” and the spiraling violin lines that lead into the chorus, but they are so expertly showcased that the song can’t help but be endearing and exciting.
If there is anything on Songs Of Innocence that sounds remotely different or new, it would be Sleep Like A Baby Tonight, and even that starts with the distorted synth pulses that threaten to break into Grime’s Oblivion at any moment. Subtle percussion, slow tempo, sliding synth washes and disarming vocals all contribute to a sense of enveloping unease yet surreal beauty. THAT however, is where the ‘good’ times sadly end. The rest of the album is either dull stabs for attention or grandiose statements which beg profusely for attention. This isn’t helped by Bono’s stereotypically over-arching ‘preacher-man’ tone that infuses his lyrics; then endearing, now sternly silly. “You’ve got a face not spoiled by beauty” he sings on Song For Someone, a fairly standard and heavy-handed affair which tries to be universal, but falls flat. Sadly, the most redeeming quality of the song is perhaps the most embarrassing. A tacked-on spindly guitar riff that chimes beautifully near the song’s conclusion…which sounds uncannily like a riff Coldplay might have conjured when attempting to sound like U2! Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you The Ouroboros Effect! (U2 emulates Coldplay emulating U2). Songs like Volcano and Raised By Wolves on the other hand attempt to emulate some more menacing act form the 1980s that U2 were probably too big to acknowledge at the time, with questionable success. And songs like Cedarwood Road and Iris (Hold Me Close) are just simply, unremarkable in their anonymity.
While the album is free and technically a good deal considering a few notable moments, as a musical statement, the act of giving away Songs Of Innocence for free makes it seem cheap, and it just reveals that U2 are struggling to maintain artistic relevance in todays musical landscape. Sure the songs sound big and powerful, but do they feel powerful? Are they affecting? By sticking to their familiar musical tropes and choosing to appeal to the broadest audience, U2 effectively do not connect with anyone on Songs of Innocence. Which is sad, considering they were at a time, the worlds most important band.
I would at this point recommend you either go out and get this album or not, but you already have it! U2 is watching you. Like Big Brother I guess.
The Kooks have always been one of those bands that you never take that seriously. Often sidelined as the second or third choice when compared to other more acclaimed artists, The Kooks have merrily made their way through three light and inoffensive indie pop albums. Albums which, although not contributing great amounts of progression to the genre, did contribute the growing dismissive suggestion “indie shit”. It’s not that The Kooks have ever been hideously bad, in fact, it’s quite difficult to not like at least one of their songs; but the fact that they are primarily a singles band, along with the sheer simplicity and usually unremarkable nature of their albums, leaves The Kooks open to the harsh insults of cynical critics. So what better way to stage a glorious turnaround? After taking a few years off to ‘find themselves’, The Kooks are back. And what do they ask of us? Well they ask us to Listen.
Perhaps the most notably difference of Listen is the producer. Inflo, a young hip-hop producer brought on board to add some edge. Nowhere is this more explicitly showcased on the opener Around Town. A danceable collage of gospel choirs, tinkling metallic percussion and pop-tastic handclaps that serves as a direct clue of what to expect on Listen. Something new, a change, a wholloping new statement. Yes. Listen is The Kooks’ experimental album. The fun continues on the positively exuberant Forgive & Forget, with extroverted background vocals and a sunny disco beat assisting the song’s good-time atmosphere. The playful little guitar lines nicely echo the white pop-funk of Maroon 5 to perfection. Westside is a charming chant of a track featuring some nimble guitar lines and a chorus punctuated with washy synth stabs. In fact, much of Listen features some of the best guitar work of The Kooks’ career, most notably on the politically-minded It Was London.
However, The ‘patchy-album’ spirit of The Kooks inevitably comes through, with the sappy piano ballad See Me Now, complete with shoe-horned in choir vocals that add nothing. Bad Habit‘s chanted “woah woah” that punctuate the song seem to call to mind Kanye West’s Power just a little too much. Kanye West and The Kooks: I never thought I’d be calling out similarities between their music, but hey! EXPERIMENTATION! The song is okay enough though. Dreams sounds dreamily sunken. Featuring MGMT inspired synthesiser solo, it’s fine, but nothing to get jumpy about. Sunrise‘s Michael Jackson-isms work surprisingly in its funky favour. Then there’s the single Down, which has received a lot of mixed reception since it’s release. And rightfully so. It’s a sparse little thing that just can’t sit still, featuring one of the most annoying choruses you will ever hear from this year. The repetitive proclamation of “Down Down Diggity Down Down Diggity” comes across as something your little brother would sing on a continuous loop just to piss you off. Of course it is infectious, but in the worst way possible.
However, much is redeemed upon the hearing of the track Are We Electric which is easily the greatest Kooks song. To Gary Numan’s question Are Friends Electric?, The Kooks answer with a resounding yes, proclaiming that all will be alright as long as “we are electric together”. Due to verses that gleefully surprise upon every listen courtesy of some odd decisions regarding chord changes, the pure and unabashed glory of the chorus shines even more brightly. More so than any song in The Kooks’ discography, Are We Electric finds the perfect balance between playfulness and sadness, culminating in a powerfully moving and nostalgic pop rush.
While the image of frontman Luke Pritchard standing with a CD, ordering you to ‘listen’ is a strange if not realistic image, and the title does come across like a plea more than anything else, Listen is the finest album of The Kooks’ career, and one that should have come out after their debut just to show the world that they had the chops and weren’t afraid to experiment with their sound. It might just have arrived a tad late. Like most experimentations from bands firmly established in their own style, the results are always going to be mixed, but still, Listen does deserve a listen.