Monday, 21 June 2010

Drake - Thank Me Later

Thank Me Later“Hip – Hop is dead.” professes Nas and the stream of under par debuts and less than bad hip hop songs, concede to this statement. Though the veterans still cast their shadow over hip hop (even bloody P Diddy), the game has lost so much. Introspection left with Arrested Development and Common still struggles to get airplay. Love is bumping, grinding and booty shakin’. Either way, it’s not like I’m struggling from romantic nostalgia or anything but what hip hop needs is an injection of performance enhancing beats and steady stream of excitement. Lucky for us Drake is this; integrating what Hip Hop has lost as well as excitement on this hotly anticipated debut.

For all its pros Thank Me Later is neither bold nor original despite its attempts. Vocoder?  Yes, but no 808’s. Karaoke’s is the only left field song, a Smooth Operator for the hip –hop generation. Regardless, originality isn’t everything despite what Pitchfork says. Drake delivers a strong album exhibiting his RnB credentials with help from RnB machine The Dream on Shut it Down and the fact that he does not shy away from his inner most emotions.

It is on this note that Drake has revamped Hip – Hop/R and B. While his contemporaries churn out songs about their ability to ‘hold an erection for aaagggess’ Drake anchors his material in emotion. He's not out  for ‘Making Love in a Club’, he’s up for the true kind. Fireworks tells of the short exhilarating relationship he had with some girl called Rihanna.  The Resistance shows a man in fear of losing his character as a result of the limelight ‘what am I afraid of/this is supposed to be what dreams are made of’  he laments in the first person. In Over he begins in a stream of consiousness format giving you chance surf the mind of Drizzy. In hip hop men want to retain their hood-like image yet he’s not afraid to say he's vulnerable.When you open the album you are entering the psychology of the man; the man of the moment and the man vulnerable and searching for love.

With Alicia Key’s honeyed vocals on the first track, you know you’re in store for some more big hitters. With the likes of Jay Z and TI featuring, Drake plays the name game successfully. Up all Night features his Young Money acquaintance Nicki Minaj. The lone female rapper (who’s Trina, really?) on top of the game she has managed to steal all the Young Money songs she’s featured in accept for this. He couples with Young Jeezy on the Aaliyah sampled Unforgettable and again Drakes floetic prowess is shown outshining Jeezy’s signature wheezy vocals. But these strong collaborations are somewhat marred by  Drake’s hip – hop Santa Clause Lil Wayne’s feature on Miss Me. Drake as strong as ever, starts the song well and leaves Weezy to ruin it showing how two dimensional his rhymes are; call me a prude but I don’t really appreciate lyrics like “man I swear my bitches do it  til they suck the brown off” to which he continues ‘urgh/ that’s nasty”. Nasty it is, but more importantly it shows that Weezy’s game lies firmly in songs that do not expose his lyrical inferiority. The album shows that if Weezy’s reign as the Nu School’s Head of State is up, Drake is bound for the torch.

Drake was the hype and though hype only ever lasts 15 minutes max, his debut shows that the furore over the Canadian saviour was justified. Far from his days as a wheelchair bound Degrassi character, Drake is making the steps to certified success. Kanye aside, he’s making mainstream hip hop art again. He’s asking those who thought they could ride off the success of the Dirty South the questions. Drake is here to stay and long may his tenure as Hip – Hop’s MVP continue.

Listen to: Fireworks, The Resistance, Over, Shut it Down, Unforgettable, Light Up, Show Me a Good Time

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Drums - The Drums

I never believe hype. To believe hype is to strip music of subjectivity and submit to media whirl wind. These four men from Brooklyn have had a fair share of it and with their growing fan base of fashion conscious indie kids on the back of the promising Summertime EP, the eyes of music journalists and fans alike were peeled. But did they create those teenage anthems that Summertime promised? Are the songs on the album reminiscent of the cute jangled guitars that were ever-present on the EP? Is the hype justified? The answer is yes, but not overwhelmingly so.

The album’s opener ‘Best Friend’ is a remarkable start and perhaps one of the best indie pop songs released this year. Jonathan Pierce does an A star performance of the whiney teenage voice we’re so used to hearing in 1980s American dramas. But his voice is weaved into the music creating a retro feel that meanders throughout the album. The simplicity of the instruments adds to the endearing character of the song.

And that is the word to describe this debut: simplicity. It’s not the difficult listen that so often mars the efforts of bands that are under pressure to impress. They stick to what they know, and what they know is the eighties. The decade of overstated drum machines as shown in ‘Me and the Moon’; the decade of the Molly Ringwald in a poofy prom dresses and the slow dance; Down by the Water should have been in ‘Pretty in Pink’. As I stated in a previous post, the Drums are an unashamed revival band. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is anything remotely modern on this album. So often, this is a criticism, but this adds to the charm. At a gig you’ll see Ian Curtis, when you key in close to the vocals, you’’ll here Moz, when you listen to the musical patterns you’ll here the Shangri-Las. Despite not creating anything fresh, they bring joy to anyone who has wondered what a mash-up of all these artists would sound like.

What is commendable to the band alone, is their ability to juxtapose their hyperactive music against SOME OF THE MOST DEPRESSING LYRICS YOU’LL EVER HEAR. For a band that appears all for show, the introspective lyrics often get lost in the joyous pop. Without lyrics at hand you miss ‘it’s another night with me and the moon/ it’s another night with that look in your eyes’ or ‘I don’t believe you when you lie/ because your eyes are always saying goodbye’. It’s hard to dislike the calls of ‘ooo ee oo’ and bouncy nature of ‘Skippin Town’, but it’s easy to sympathise with the victim in the song “I know you’re trying to kill me / Cuz you’re chasing me around town” The lyrics are generally as good what some of the great lyricists would write. The ability to key into teenage emotion yet maintain sincerity is something that is theirs.

But amongst the praise that this debut deserves, a factor that will always play against a band with explicit attachments to their influences is whether their releases will tell the test of time. It’s hard to listen to the album and not think ‘The Smiths could have done this better’, particularly as they would have been in competition with them if we were in the 80s. 
There’s a problem with longevity. How do they expand on a release that is as time oriented as this, without coming out with something completely different and losing the support of the media, those who influence the consumer? MGMT’s Congratulations is an example of this.
And there’s that problem with hype. The hype that will follow you and judge you as long as your band survives. But these are questions for the future.

This album is a commendable listen. It may not have that instant kick for some, but as you take a few more listens you come to appreciate the simplistically engaging nature of it. Take a peak at the lyrics and you’ll value the innocence and introspection. But don’t forget, they came in a time machine from the 80’s and they aren’t willing to change to fit the quo.

7.5 / 10 

Listen to: Best Friend, Skippin Town, Forever and Ever Amen, I Need Fun in My Life, The Future

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Beach Fossils - Beach Fossils

The band’s name gives you a clue of what they’ll sound like: As a listener you are the archaeologist discovering the fossilised remnants of The Beach Boys that have been weathered overtime by 1970’s American lo-Fi resulting in catchy guitar rhythm and drone tone vocals.

This band is fighting against time. Producing an album fitting for probably any decade prior to the present, they manage to create a listen that does not exhaust their influences but transmits the cool and retro. It’s a great introduction to anyone interested in music been and gone.

Like many present bands, Beach Fossils employ the jangled guitars and neat drums producing a compact sound. But this sound is accompanied by a thick layer of ambience throughout the album which effectively reduces the album from a train made up of eleven carriages to one long single carriage diverting every two to four minutes. It feels like a never ending ride that comes to an abrupt end all too soon, “And the seconds to slow but the moment’s all too fast”

Having said this, range would be nice. Listening to it for the first time you feel as though it’s magic, but once it’s over you wonder what you spent thirty odd minutes listening to. The second time and you wait for the magic you heard the last time and aside from a few sprinkles of gold dust, ‘Daydream’, ‘Youth’ and ‘Wide Awake’ are my particular favourites, the rest is just dark matter: it’s there but not quite there, hidden for the next album perhaps.

Beach Fossils make fine pop music suited for your washed-up ex stoner father to your hipster friend. This is only their first album and, as any good debut should, it leaves you wanting more.

Listen to: Youth, Daydream, Golden Age, Wide Awake


The Drums: Forever and Ever, Amen Video

"Baby, It's Forever..."

Friday, 28 May 2010

Bombay Bicycle Club - Motel Blues (B-Side)

People should know about this song! If there ever was a song that engages with your sensitive side this is it.

Reflecting sexual desire and club love,  the lyrics are beautiful in an tongue in cheek manner. On the surface they appear to celebrate the life of the band, but they don’t. They explore the feeling of being ‘up-rooted’ when travelling the world, “I don't wanna make no late night, New York calls, I don't wanna stare at them ugly grass-mat walls” sings Steadman whose shaky vocals add to the sensitivity of the song.

Band life often sparks images of wild parties and loose groupies but the song's underlying meaning tells the other side: missing life before the interviews,  fans and tours.
As a teen I often feel trapped, but from this song, it appears that seeing the world can’t replace a home, a love, and roots. 

Found on: "Magnet" single (2009)

Monday, 24 May 2010

Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This

There are two of them, just two. Yet they are able to produce the noise of dozen men. Imagine a group of rowdy teens on a Friday night wielding guitars and drums and exercising hoarse vocal cords. Never has this noise sounded so good.

The Album title is fitting; as the album progresses the heat radiates. Its confrontational music, bound to flare up the synthetic anger of a mosh pit. The lead single “Light It Up” has a steady introduction preparing you for the riotous chorus. Prickly guitars, lawless drums, rebellious vocals all meshed to form something like a modern day punk song. The song is a convincing call to arms; Laura Mary Carter’s screaming of the track title conjures up your inner pyromaniac.

They have been written off as rebels without a cause constantly complaining about their angst ridden lives. This album does nothing to appease the critics and neither should it. They stay true to their roots and by changing their style they wouldn’t be the same Blood Red Shoes. What BRS fans want to hear is battle; every note has to be a fight, every word a hint of conflict. The proclaiming of ‘I can’t stand it, everybody out of hear’ on “It Is Happening” keeps to the BRS formula. “When We Wake” leads you into a false sense of security with the morose introduction but half way through the cantankerous musicianship begins.  The difference in this song is that Carter sings the lyrics rather than shouts reflecting a melancholic anger: ‘in the end is this all we can ask for’. There isn’t a song to be hated, but maybe a critique of the length of “Colour Fade” (7:08) which appears out of place on this fast-paced album.

Their influences are obvious: imagine the love child of anti-pop Nirvana and Doolittle Pixies with Brit-Pop bands as distant relatives. Yet they manage not to abuse these influences. The Pixies ‘quiet LOUD’ hybrid has been violated many times yet they are able to use this nugget of influence and create an even quieter quiet and louder loud, “One More Empty Chair” is an example of this.

The music has not changed from their debut effort Box of Secrets. Rather they have developed providing us with tighter play, more angst and in my humble opinion, better songs throughout the album. This album is an excellent listen.  The Brighton twosome have made created one of the best releases of the year so far. 

Listen to: Light It Up, When We Wake, Count Me Out, Heart Sink , Follow the Lines

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Illegal Downloaders vs. the Music Industry: Who is the Enemy?

The Digital Economy Act (April 2010): With the law firmly on the Music Industry’s side, whose should we be on?

The illegal downloader is like marmite: loved by attention seeking musicians, loathed by music industry corporations. The creation of electronic commerce has enabled the illegal downloader, spiralling anti-capitalist sentiment which claims that ‘music should be free and accessible for all’, challenging the very foundation that western economic system is built on: Capitalism. The record label, dependent on this ideology, has seen its power slowly chipping away: built by music loving entrepreneurs, nurtured by money grabbing music executives, brought down by the power of the people. Marx is smiling in his grave. Record Labels hate the amount of freedom that internet users have; freedom for the ordinary man; freedom to explore, absorb and attain through the tip, tap and click of a few buttons. The clash of the internet Marxist and the big-name label is ignited and a long tug of war ensues. Through streaming sites like Spotify and We7 the all-powerful have made viable concessions. Among giants the seemingly powerless many were winning the battle, but as of April 2010 it appears the powerful few have won the war through the Digital Rights Bill.

But whose side should we be on? Speaking as an audiophile, my allegiance naturally gravitates to people who love listening to music but don’t want to pay the price. As a soon-to-be uni student, knowing that I’ll no longer be able to fish into mummy and daddy’s pockets, would I be willing to pay the price if I can get my songs through the tip, tap, click…? If someone asked me this question two years ago the answer would be no. I was reluctant to part with money then, even on musical terms. Had I been faced with the dilemma of choosing to buy The Strokes on CD or download them for free, I would always have chosen the latter despite my fanatical obsession with them then. I could not see the sentimental or auditory value of buying a CD when I could download it for free; not least appreciate the work that Julian Casablancas and Co. put in. Luckily if not selfishly, my dad bought me “Is This It” with his own money. Limewire was not known to me then…

But that was two years ago. After building a sizable library through… erhum, non-profit downloading, it suddenly came to me as a sat with laptop on lap: ‘if this specimen of modern technology were to fail on me right here and now, my music library would vanish’. For this reason and just to be different from my friends who incessantly downloaded music, I started buying CD’s with my own money. It quickly became routine: jump off the bus from school, pop into HMV and come out with a tidy 2 for £10 CD deal. Despite the monetary incentive, I appreciated the feeling of poring over album art work, listening to albums in the order intended, enjoying the High Fidelity, but most of all, the fact that I had paid for it.

I still contend that there is nothing better than saving up your cash to spend it on something you want, whether that be music, widescreen TV, a holiday, love… ok perhaps not love. If you really appreciate the artists who create the music you love, the one way you can show this is by buying there music, or going to their concerts. Money makes the world go round and musicians are part of this capitalist world we live in.

Tight fans often use pathetic excuses to justify why illegally downloaded music is ok. I read an interview with Frank Turner where a fan told him that while he illegally downloads Frank’s music, he pays to go to his concerts cancelling out his illegal activity. One word: Stupid. Frank Turner eloquently countered his argument stating: “that’s like saying it’s ok to steal a car because you’ll pay for the petrol later”. It’s not ok, and in a society that reviles any stealing of any sort, music is no different
So as you can see my thoughts have progressed from young girl with “short arms and deep pockets” using money only when she has to, to a young woman knocking on the doors of adulthood who more readily parts with money where she feels it's appreciated. I don’t have a personal vendetta against people who illegally download music, I just feel they are missing out on the ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling of knowing that your money is going to artists who have (generally) worked hard at their craft.