Katy Perry – Witness Review

As one of the world’s biggest pop superstars and almost a decade into her career, Katy Perry’s ‘Witness’ should and could have been a Pop triumph and a fine addition into her impressive pop discography. Except, it isn’t.

Perry shot to fame after debut release ‘I Kissed A Girl‘ and subsequently released the ever-brilliant ‘One of The Boys’, a quirky pop-rock album which took a singer-songwriter approach. The follow up, ‘Teenage Dream’ witnessed her transition into bubblegum pop to become a global superstar and it’s this album that remains her best. ‘Prism’, the follow up, aimed for the same but demonstrated more maturity. It was a well-intentioned follow up and had its moments but failed to be endearing as ‘Teenage Dream’.

On ‘Witness’, as opposed to taking an innovative approach, Perry merely demonstrates that she has lost her identity. Gone is the bubblegum pop and in is a perplexing cacophony of dark and electropop. The opening title track is sturdy enough with its twinkly piano riffs and effervescent synthesizers but fails to make an impression similar to that of ‘Roar‘, ‘Teenage Dream‘, or ‘One of The Boys‘. From here, the album barely improves. It’s an album dependent on repeated Pop hooks over dissonant electropop but fails to make much of an impression and is instantly forgettable.

The album depends heavily on contemporary production: huge drops, autotune-drenched vocals and distant synthesizers yet it doesn’t pay off. It’s a chaotic mesh of commotion which lacks personality and any memorable tracks. It’s simply a rehash of the singles chart from the last six months. It’s no wonder that Perry has had to rely on wielding Taylor Swift slurs and that droll therapy session broadcasted all over the world.

Bizarrely, the album’s best moments are the mediocre singles. ‘Bon Appetit‘ is the closest to any of the effervescent, naughty pop featured on ‘Teenage Dream’ whilst ‘Chained To The Rhythm‘ remains the album’s highlight. The same cannot be said for the diabolical ‘Swish Swish‘, however which has all the cringe of a mum attempting to be ‘down-with-the-kidz’. Musically, it could have been a fine EDM track but is let down by its unwarranted Taylor Swift-berating lyrics.

The only other times that the album attempts to redeem itself is at the very end, first on the penultimate track ‘Pendulum‘, then on finale ‘Into Me You See‘. On the triumphant, gospel-tinged ‘Pendulum‘, Perry’s vocals glisten over irresistible piano riffs and a symphony of gospel vocals whilst ‘Into You See Me‘ is a delicate piano ballad in a similar vein to Teenage Dream’s ‘Not Like The Movies‘. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.

It’s unlikely that the Katy Perry known and loved by many has vanished forever but certainly indefinitely. Perhaps she should take note from Miley and return in two years with a fresh attitude and a belter of a single.

Rating: 2/5
Highlights: Chained To The Rhythm, Pendulum, Into Me You See

 

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Take That – Wonderland Album Review

After the arguably unexpected success of first album as a trio ‘III’ and three years later, Europe’s favourite boy man-band have returned with an intriguing and some-what confused new album.

‘Wonderland’ is exactly what is says on the tin – it’s a flamboyant, dizzying album full of up-tempo Pop. But whereas ‘III’ was an amalgamation of Take That’s sound (the Pop-Rock of Beautiful World and The Circus, fused with the electropop of Progress and a fresh Pop sound) ‘Wonderland’ attempts a more brash, disco-pop/indie-pop sound. It’s more successful on some tracks more than others.

The album’s title track, which opens the album is arguably the best song present. Its oriental, simmering introduction evolves into a funky 1980’s themed track. Musically, its captures the spirit of material by The 1975, though its lyrical content makes it stop short. On similar levels of camp abundance, ‘Lucky Stars‘ is effortless pop perfection with its squeaky synthesizers whilst ‘And The Band Plays‘ relies on bizarre co-ordination between electronic instruments and a brass band. It’s all undoubtedly a lot of fun, though it does scream ‘Mid Life Crisis’.

Singles ‘Giants‘ and ‘New Day‘ are classic Take That and are sturdy tracks with soaring choruses. In fact, the album’s best moments are when the band relies on their well-known and well-loved sound. ‘Hope‘ is a stunning ballad in a similar vein to the band’s best ballads ‘Said It All‘ and ‘The Circus‘. ‘The Last Poet‘ lyrically returns the Take That boys back to the top of the game with the beautifully simple ‘For you I can’t find words’ whilst musically it matches the triumph of ‘The Circus’ and ‘III’ albums. Then there’s the electronic brilliance of ‘Every Revolution‘ which serves as ‘Affirmation‘ Part II. Donald’s vocals shine as always whilst dizzy synthesises soar in the background. It’s a lovely track, though one bound to be lost in the fun of the rest of the album.

The fact is, for any other band or artist, ‘Wonderland’ would be a triumph. But after years of solid pop albums, for a Take That album, it just stops short of being another classic. It’s a little too brash – a little too carefully plotted for arenas to stand on its own as a successful album. Then there’s the lyrics. Much of the album documents getting over unmentioned issues which is nice enough but it also feels a little half-arsed at times. ‘Every morning it is a brand new day’ is a nice enough lyric, though by the end of ‘New Day‘, one feels like telling Barlow ‘Tell me something I don’t know’. At times, the album feels over-brash, over-thought and over-produced. On many of the ballads, Barlow stands too close for comfort to the microphone, presumably to capture a raw sound, though it just sounds like he needs to take a step back.

For all its flaws, ‘Wonderland’ is not a bad album. Far from it, in fact. There’s plenty of substantial material here and is a fun listen. It just happens that it isn’t Take That’s best work.

Rating: 3/5
Highlights: Wonderland, Giants, Hope, The Last Poet, Every Revolution.

 

 

Harry Styles – Harry Styles Album Review

Heartthrob, the ever-elusive, ex-boyband member and full-time indie kid Harry Styles has delivered a solid album of Beatle-esque Rock n Roll. From the gentle psychedelia of album book-ends ‘Meet Me in the Hallway‘ and ‘From The Dining Room Table‘ to the energetic and chaotic rock of ‘Carolina‘ and ‘Kiwi‘, it’s an album which avoids isolating Directioners but one which enables Styles to win a new legion of fans.

Strictly speaking, it’s not entirely an original album. ‘Carolina‘ is essentially Stuck in the Middle with You‘, the stunning ballad ‘Two Ghosts‘ (reportedly about Taylor Swift) comes dangerously close to ripping off The Allman Brothers’ ‘Melissa‘, the acoustic ‘Sweet Creature‘ is The Beatles’ ‘Blackbirdand massive ballad ‘Sign of The Times‘ is basically Bowie. It’s evident that Styles has used his iTunes collection as a stimulus but this is hardly a criticism; it’s refreshing to hear him breathe his interests and passion into his own music.

Vocally, Styles has never sounded better. From the growls of ‘She’s a good girl’ on ‘Carolina‘ and ‘She’s having your baby’ on ‘Kiwi‘ to the reverb-drenched vocals on ‘Sign of the Times‘ and ‘Woman‘, there’s no auto-tune in sight. His vocals are tender when required and more fierce on the heavier material. Similarly organic, the album generally avoids over-production and instead relies on quality songwriting, clear guitar strums, luscious layered vocals and rich string arrangements.

When things get a little too comfortable, the album is punctuated by a deceptive ethereal introduction to ‘Only Angel‘ which evolves into a hand-clapping, foot-stopping rock smash and the hip-hop inspired ‘Woman‘ – perhaps the album’s most intriguing moment.

It’s a solid album and at just ten tracks long, wisely adopts the quality over quantity approach.

Rating: 5/5
Highlights: ‘Carolina’, ‘Two Ghosts’, ‘Ever Since New York’, ‘Woman’.

 

2016 in Music

It’s become an annual tradition… let’s take a look at the best music of 2016!

SONG OF THE YEAR:

Shura – What’s It Gonna Be

Whilst perhaps not the most famous of Pop songs released this year, this perfect Pop track was undoubtedly one of the musical highlights of the year. It’s a fizzy, endearing ’80’s-influenced Pop track about high school crushes full of essential repetition and a dizzying chorus. Shura’s almost whispered vocals are not dissimilar from Janet Jackson’s and it’s just a brilliant, brilliant record. Check out the incredible video too.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.

A lost rested on this highly anticipated second album from The 1975. After months of being promised brilliant things from Radio 1 & NME alike, in addition to Matt Healy boasting ‘the world needs this album’, the album finally arrived back in March and it was no disappointment. A beast of an album at 17 tracks and over an hour of music, it genre-hops frequently but it doesn’t disrupt the flow or brilliance of the album. There’s something for everybody – there’s the 80’s-influenced Pop-rock moments the public are familiar with from radio airplay, acoustic tracks, instrumental tracks, hell – even a huge D’Angelo-influenced gospel track!

There is not one dud moment on this album and it’s particularly brilliant during it’s ‘dream sequence’ section in which Healy documents losing his mind through a brilliant assortment of songs – beginning with ‘If I Believe You’ and finishing with the stunning ‘Somebody Else’. A brilliant, brilliant album.

TOP 10 SINGLE RELEASES OF THE YEAR

Shura – What’s It Gonna be?

See above for why we’ve chosen this track!

The 1975 – The Sound

To be honest, we could include any single from the band’s ‘I like it when you sleep…’ album – ‘A Change of Heart’, ‘Somebody Else’ etc – they are all just as brilliant as each other but we’ve chosen this, the biggest hit from the album. It’s everything Pop music should be – memorable, catchy, a little bit naughty lyrically and an absolute feel-good classic.

Christine & The Queens – Tilted

100% the most endearing song of this year. Less is often more and this repetitive but effortlessly catchy and funky Pop track is so endearing, it still sounds brilliant after being played EVERYWHERE. We need more Popstars like Christine – talented individuals who write their own music, have artistic vision and stay loyal to it.

Zayn – Pillowtalk

It’s been played to death but this track made a huge, bold statement upon its release at the beginning of 2016. Zayn’s entire ‘Mind of Mine’ album is a work of art, utilising frolicking synthesizers and alternative R&B miles removed from the sound of One Direction. There’s better songs on the album but it’s foolish to leave this huge hit from our list.

DNCE – Cake By The Ocean

Yeah, yeah, it’s been played to death but this funk-pop track with its metaphors and Joe Jonas’ smooth falsetto vocals is undoubtedly one of the catchiest, best pop songs of 2016.

Usher – Crash

The best songs often emphasise that less is more. This brilliant, subtle & moody R&B track avoids using an assortment of instruments and instead relies on Usher’s gorgeous falsetto reverberating into eerie synthesizers and a gentle dance beat. Usher at his most underrated is Usher at his best.

Robbie Williams – Love My Life

I’ve seen Mr Williams and this song get a lot of stick since its release & throughout its promotional process. I understand – Robbie’s vocals aren’t as sturdy as they once were and yes, lyrically, the song is a little ‘Tumblr’. That being said, there’s no denying this is a beautiful ballad with a lovely message. Those delicate piano chords are reminiscent of those on ‘Feel’ and this song deserved to fare just as well in the charts.

All Saints – One Strike

It takes guts for a band to make not one comeback but TWO. Their previous comeback achieved a successful single but the accompanying album flopped. This time, they returned with a scorching hot album (which reached the Top 3 of the album chart) and this fierce single. This single deserved better than its #115 position but then the single charts this year hasn’t necessarily represented good music (*ahem* One Dance being number one for 15 weeks…)

Mollie King – Back To You

Another hideously overlooked song this year. Mollie King, better known as a member of The Saturdays released this stunning, sultry electropop ballad as her debut single.

Before You Exit – When I’m Gone

Another underrated Pop smash from this year. These boys (the McDonagh brothers) deserve far more recognition. On first look, they may look like a generic boyband but they write and produce their own music. The glitchy electro production on this and the boys’ powerful vocals make it perhaps the most overlooked song of this year.

SINGLE RELEASES OF THE YEAR (LONGLIST)

Here is the long list of the best single releases of this year. We have loved, and been obsessed with every single one of these songs at some point of this year. Narrowing these down to the Top 10 above was incredibly hard but we think the Top 10 are representative of this year in great Pop music. Enjoy each of the rest of these songs!

  • Alicia Keys – Blended Family (What You Do For Love)
  • Before You Exit – When I’m Gone
  • Beyonce – Sorry
  • Blossoms – Charlemagne
  • Busted – On What You’re On
  • Charlie Puth & Selena Gomez – We don’t talk anymore
  • Christine & The Queens – Tilted
  • Craig David – When the bassline drops
  • DJ Snake & Bipolar Sunshine – Middle
  • DNCE – Cake by the Ocean
  • Drake – One Dance
  • Drake & Rihanna – Too Good
  • Ellie Goulding – Army
  • Ellie Goulding – Still Falling for You
  • Emeli Sande – Breathing Underwater
  • Frances – Borrowed Time
  • Gwen Stefani – Make you like me
  • James Arthur – Say You Won’t Let Go
  • Jesse Ware – Till the end
  • John Mayer – Love on the Weekend
  • Justin Bieber – Company
  • Justin Timberlake – Can’t Stop The Feeling
  • Little Mix – Touch
  • Louis Berry – Restless
  • Lukas Graham – 7 Years
  • Mac Miller – Dang!
  • Mollie King – Back To You
  • MUNA – Loudspeaker
  • Nick Jonas & Tove Lo – Close
  • Nothing But Thieves – If I Get High
  • Raleigh Ritchie & Stormzy – Keep it simple
  • Ratboy – Move
  • Rebecca Ferguson – Bones
  • Rick Astley – Dance
  • Rihanna – Kiss it Better
  • Rihanna – Work
  • Robbie Williams – Love My Life
  • Selena Gomez – Hands to myself
  • Shura – Touch
  • Shura – What’s It Gonna Be?
  • Sons of Sonix & Melanie C – Numb
  • The 1975 – A Change of Heart
  • The 1975 – Somebody Else
  • The 1975 – The Sound
  • The Chainsmokers & Halsey – Closer
  • The Fray – Singing Low
  • The Last Shadow Puppets – Miracle Aligner
  • The Weeknd – I Feel it Coming
  • TIEKS & Dan Harkna – Sunshine
  • Tom Chaplin – Quicksand
  • Usher – Crash
  • Viola Beach – Cherry Vimto
  • Wet – Deadwater
  • Wet – Weak
  • Zayn – Pillowtalk
  • Zayn – Like I Would
  • Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

All Saints – Red Flag

This album SO deserves its Top 3 album chart position. It’s a fierce album full of well written songs, slick production and a contemporary sound. These ladies deserve all the success in the world.

Busted – Night Driver

This album has been criminally overlooked this year. Many fans have complained of it being too ‘different’ from the sound they became famous for but music evolves through time. Busted made the right decision to leave the teeny-bopped pop-punk in the early noughties and try something new. The result is this stunning, atmospheric album on which the boys borrow sounds and elements from the best music of the 80’s. A brilliant album.

Frank Ocean – Blonde

This album is certainly worthy of the hype. It’s a moody and intriguing album which, whilst many of the songs feel like rough, unfinished ideas, it works.

Raleigh Ritchie – You’re a Man now, boy

Another hideously overlooked album from this year. This album gained a warm critical reception but this was not reflected in its chart position. It’s a lengthy album but one which is engaging throughout and its sound is quirky and fresh.

Rihanna – Anti

For an album that seemed to carry so much expectation then waves of anti-climax, reaction to this record was unfair. Sure, it’s not Rihanna at her commercial best but that’s why it’s so engaging and brilliant. Up ’till this album, Rihanna was the life of the party. On this album, she’s the life of the after party. It’s a moody, brooding and dark album but one which works perfectly.

Shura – Nothing’s Real

This is a stunning Pop record from start to finish, borrowing elements from Janet Jackson, Blood Orange and Madonna amongst others. Shura writes, produces and performs her own material and she’s hugely talented.

The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

This mammoth, genre-hopping, bold and brilliant album has won countless awards throughout the year and deservedly so. Every song is incredible, well-written and fantastically produced.

Tom Chaplin – The Wave

Tom Chaplin is better known as the frontman of Keane. Upon their hiatus, he relapsed into drug addiction, the recovery process of which became the inspiration for this gorgeous album. It’s a hopeful album full of inspiring Pop music with the odd trickle of electronic production.

Wet – Don’t You

This indie-pop album is subtle and low-key but gorgeous throughout.

Zayn – Mind of Mine

Expectations were high for Zayn’s debut solo album and he did not disappoint. It’s a world away from the cheesy-pop of One Direction and instead turns to sultry alternative-R&B. It’s engaging and triumphant.

ALBUM RELEASES OF THE YEAR 

Here’s the longlist of the best albums of 2016!

EP’S OF THE YEAR

Before You Exit – All The Lights

Brilliant electropop album written, produced and performed by the McDonagh brothers. Think One Direction but with more talent.

Liss – First

Quirky Pop EP which borrows lots of electronic elements and 80’s pop-influenced production. Definitely a band to watch.

MUNA – Loudspeaker EP

This American band are going to be huge next year. The Loudspeaker EP is full of soaring and confident electropop with great lyrics and fantastic guitar-work.

The Japanese House – Swim Against The Tide

The 1975’s label mate Amber Bain, better known as The Japanese House delivered another great EP this year. This is arguably the best of her 3 EPs, with more engaging and uptempo material.

ALBUM TRACKS OF THE YEAR

Here’s a list of album tracks – songs that have missed out on true exposure as they haven’t been released as commercial singles – from albums released this year.

  • Alicia Keys – The Gospel, She Don’t Really Care_1 Luv
  • All Saints – One Woman Man, Who Hurt Who, Fear, Red Flag
  • Allie X – Never Enough
  • Barry Gibb – Grand Illusion, Star Crossed Lovers, Cross to Bear,
  • Birdy – Keeping Your Head Up
  • Bruno Mars – Perm, Versace on the Floor, Straight Up and Down, Too Good to say Goodbye
  • Busted – Night Driver, New York, Thinking of You, Without It, I Will Break Your Heart, Easy, Out of Our Minds, Those Days are Gone
  • Christine & The Queens – It, Science Fiction, Half Ladies, Night 52,
  • Craig David – Louder than Words, What If, No Holding Back
  • Drake – U With Me?, Feel No Ways, Summer’s Over Interlude,
  • Emeli Sande – Right Now, I’d Rather Not, Lonely
  • Frank Ocean – Nikes, Be Yourself, Solo, Self Control, Close To You, Seigfried, Godspeed
  • Gwen Stefani – You’re my favourite, Where Would I Be?, Truth,
  • Jack Garratt – Breathe Life, The Love You’re Given,
  • James Arthur – Safe Inside, Can I Be him, Sober, Let me love the lonely, Sermon, Phoenix
  • Kanye West – Waves, Ultralight Beam, Father Stretch My Hands Part 1, Real Friends, Frank’s Track, No More Parties in LA, Fade
  • Lady Gaga – A-YO, Joanne,
  • Liss – Sorry, Good Enough,
  • Little Mix – Nobody Like You, Nothing Else Matters
  • Melanie C – Dear Life, Anymore, Room for Love,
  • Michael Buble – I Believe In You
  • Nathan Sykes – Freedom, Twist,
  • Nick Jonas – Bacon
  • Olly Murs – Predictable, Deeper, 24hrs, Read My Mind, Better than Me,
  • Raleigh Ritchie – Werld is Mine, Never Better, Cowards, A Moor, Young & Stupid, The Last Romance
  • Rebecca Ferguson – Hold Me, The Way You’re Looking at her, Pay For It
  • Rick Astley – Let it be tonight, This old house,
  • Rihanna – Same ‘Ol Mistakes, Desperado, Close to You
  • Robbie Williams – Sensitive, David’s Song, Hotel Crazy
  • Ryan O’Shaughnessy – The News, Entertainment & Warmth, Hold Me Now, No Need to worry, Supermodel, Got this feeling, Waste another day
  • Shawn Mendes – Ruin, Patience
  • Shura – Kidz ‘N’ Stuff, What Happened To Us
  • The 1975 –She’s American, If I Believe You, Please Be Naked, Lostmyhead, I like it when you sleep…, This Must Be My Dream, Loving Someone, Paris, Nana
  • Tom Chaplin – The River, I Remember You, Hold Onto our Love, Solid Gold, See it so clear
  • Tom Odell – Here I am
  • Usher – Missin’ U, FWM, Need U
  • Wet – It’s all in vain, Don’t wanna be your girl, Island, All The Ways, Move Me
  • Zayn – It’s You, She, Drunk, Intermission: Flower, Truth

 

MUNA – The Loudspeaker EP Review

muna-loudspeaker

If the Pop world is clear on just one thing right now, it’s that nostalgia is 100% in. Old Pop hits have been recycled and re-worked into bouncy house tracks, Rick Astley has just flown into Number 1 in the UK album chart and a massive 80’s revival is underway in which contemporary artists attempt to mimic the magic and production of ’80’s hits. Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, HAIM and The 1975 are just some of the artists to take the world by storm with catchy hooks which belong on the soundtracks of John Hughes movies. MUNA are the latest addition to this list.

A female trio based in LA, MUNA is comprised of Katie Gavin (lead vocals/production), Naomi McPherson (production/rhythm guitar/synths/vocals), and Josette Maskin (lead guitar/vocals). Their sound is that of dark Pop, echoing the likes of Fleetwood Mac and HAIM whilst maintaining a contemporary Pop sound through slick, electronic production. The band are the epitome of self-sufficiency, writing, producing and performing their own material which has so far been recorded in bedrooms.

‘The Loudspeaker EP’ is triumphant from start to finish, utilising catchy hooks, robust vocals, funky bass lines, gated percussion and reverberating guitar riffs to mimic the classic ’80’s sound. Opening track ‘Loudspeaker‘ launches the EP spectacularly with a buoyant energy. Lyrically, it explores darker themes of rape and oppression but in a fashion which empowers those affected. It’s a bold and brilliant track with a bass line which strays dangerously close to The 1975’s ‘Heart Out’ but it’s one which deserves far greater recognition.

The rest of the EP follows suit with elements of Stevie Nicks, Prince, Cyndi Lauper and INXS scattered throughout. ‘So Special‘ chronicles the narrator’s flaws and behaviour whilst ‘Winterbreak‘ conveys an icy quality which reflects its lyrical content and title.

Grand finale ‘Promise‘ is arguably the band’s second best track on which the narrator laments how her acts of passion have in fact pushed her lover aside as opposed to being perceived as acts of love. Its tinny guitar riffs reverberate infinitely into the spacey production whilst the hook brilliantly channels Tears for Fears in their heyday.

It’s a delicious yet intoxicating debut which leaves the listener eagerly anticipating future records.

A fearless introduction into the pop world.

Rating: 5/5
Highlights: ‘Loudspeaker’, ‘Promise’.

 

 

 

All Saints – Red Flag (Album Review)

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Musical comebacks are always a tricky business. Since Take That’s immensely successful reformation in 2005, every defunct 90’s pop group imaginable has sprung back out of obscurity, aiming to cash in on a nostalgia-fuelled society; some with more success than others. For All Saints, the risk was even greater after an unsuccessful reunion in 2006 when comeback album ‘Studio 1’ barely dented the UK top 40.

Fast forward another decade, however and All Saints have delivered an explosive, fierce and brilliant pop album which has achieved the success it deserves, reaching the top 5 of the UK album chart.

‘Red Flag’ is a bold statement from start to finish which affirms the comeback of one of the UK’s best girl groups. No doubt greatly aided by Nicole Appleton’s divorce from Liam Gallagher, it’s an album which screams girl-power but one which shows greater depth and maturity than any of the band’s previous albums. ‘One Strike‘ was right to be selected as the lead single and the album’s opener. Its pulsating beats, distorted synths and reverberating melodies make it one of the band’s best works; a triumphant pop record.

The rest of the album follows suit, abundant with meticulously programmed percussion, sweeping strings, impressive harmonies and jittery synthesizers. ‘One Woman Man‘ features a memorable string riff whilst the moody ‘Make U Love Me‘ draws upon rock influences, utilising brooding guitars and rich vocals. Then there’s ‘Summer Rain‘ – a more mature take on ‘Pure Shores‘ which works well.

The ballads on the album are not to be overlooked, however. ‘Who Hurt Who‘ is a delicate and pretty piano ballad which strips back the production and programming the rest of the album is plastered with. It’s a gorgeous moment on which the girls’ voices are really showcased.  The track is later eclipsed by the eerie and ghostly ‘Fear‘, however. Opening with fragile piano chords, tribal percussion soon steers the track in a different direction, evolving into a glistening and powerful chorus. It has The Invisible Men written all over it; their reverberating elements and minimalist production forming half of the track’s endearment.

The album only falls on its face once on the shape-shifting ‘Ratchet Behaviour‘, a bizarre dancehall-reggae track which leads to nowhere and is coated mawkishly in auto-tune. Still, the remainder of the album – three tracks which utilise tribal drums, fluttering synthesizers, hazy harmonies and butterscotch melodies – is strong enough to compensate for this ‘miss’ moment.

A powerful record, bristling with maturity, fierce harmonies and polished production.

Rating: 4/5
Highlights: ‘One Strike’, ‘Make U Love Me, ‘Who Hurt Who’, ‘Fear’, ‘Red Flag’, ‘Tribal’.

‘Red Flag’ is available now on Mercury Records.

Raleigh Ritchie – You’re a Man Now, Boy Album Review

Raleigh_Ritchie_-_YAMNB

If you aren’t already familiar with Raleigh Ritchie (real name Jacob Anderson) in terms of music, chances are you’ll have encountered him as an actor. He has developed a name for himself starring in various high-profile roles over the last four years including Omen in the film Adulthood, Grey Worm in Game of Thrones and Dean Thomas in Broadchurch. He is now in the process of building a whole new side-career for himself as a singer-songwriter, set off to a promising start by single ‘Stronger than Ever‘ which has become something of a staple as dramatic background music on reality television in addition to receiving much airplay on the likes of Radio 1.

‘This is no p***-take’, sings Anderson on ‘Never Been Better‘. Indeed, ‘You’re a Man Now, Boy’ is a determined and well-crafted album which avoids filler album tracks, resulting in an intriguing album from start to finish. It’s an album which explores the pertinent and stimulating themes of confusion, depression and vulnerability through the on-trend genre of alternative R&B. Threaded together by sweeping strings, brass instruments, simmering synthesisers and fierce live percussion, it’s dramatic, bold and powerful, delving into elements of  R&B, Soul, electronica and hip-hop.

The likes of ‘Stronger than Ever‘, ‘Bloodsport‘ and ‘Never Been Better‘ are explosive and emotive works which showcase Anderson at his best, featuring thunderous percussion and sweeping strings not dissimilar from Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Symphony‘. They are bold and soulful, breaking out from the norm yet remaining contemporary.

Elsewhere, the album possesses a lighter tone which punctuates the album nicely. Quirky and de-tuned synthesisers skip playfully on ‘The Greatest‘ and ‘A Moor‘ whilst Anderson’s love of hip-hop is evident on ‘Cowards‘, a buoyant track abundant with frolicking samples, programmed percussion and a gorgeous neo-soul middle-eight. Likewise ‘Young & Stupid‘ addresses the naivety and recklessness of youth through lyrics such as “I’ll be a star, I’ll be the boy who lived, Taking my car and driving it off the bridge” over hip-hop piano riffs. Then there’s the catchy dance-R&B of ‘Keep It Simple‘, a breezy collaboration with grime act Stormzy which provides some much-needed light relief.

The album is closed perfectly with the tender ‘The Last Romance‘, a mellow R&B ballad which documents an ‘us against the world’ relationship over driving, barely audible percussion, soulful layered vocals and gliding keyboards.

Anderson’s vocals aren’t necessarily the most powerful, yet they are a perfect match for the rich and luscious soundscapes featured here and at times are blissfully soulful.

As the album comes to a close, it is evident that the album is worth far more than its #32 position in the UK album chart. It may not be perfect, but it’s sturdy, compelling and fantastically-written, addressing powerful themes through contemporary alternative-R&B. Most importantly, it is an album with soul and a personality – a rare feat in today’s music.

Rating: 4/5.
Highlights: Stronger than Ever, Bloodsport, Keep it Simple, Never Been Better, Cowards, The Last Romance.

‘You’re a Man Now, Boy’ is available now on Columbia Records.

Nothing But Thieves – Live Review [O2 Forum, 31/03/2016].

There was an electric atmosphere in the O2 Forum, Kentish Town yesterday evening as over 2000 fans packed into the venue to catch a glimpse of one of the UK’s current best alternative-rock bands. Since their formation in 2012, Nothing But Thieves have quickly grown in popularity, largely propelled by frequent radio airplay. The Southend-on-Sea band went on to score a UK top 10 album in October 2015* and have since been touring both in their own right and as a support act to various established bands.

Ce6RgPMWEAAfoz2Last night, the band were supported by the energetic if somewhat clamorous Black Foxxes and the great Sundara Karma. Both were fitting for the event and warmed up the audience effectively before Nothing But Thieves’ arrival at 9:30pm. ‘Itch‘ was the perfect opener with its urgent guitar riffs and its tension-building verses. ‘Painkiller‘ followed suit, the frantic percussion and driving bass lines pulsating throughout the venue and raising energy levels from the audience.

The setlist was spot on (aside from the absence of stunning ballad ‘Lover, Please Stay’) with a perfect balance of powerful rock anthems and the band’s more haunting ballads. The likes of ‘Hostage’, ‘Excuse Me’ and ‘Honey Whiskey’ translated brilliantly live and conveyed an infectious energy whilst the ballads formed magical moments of the show. The gorgeous ‘Graveyard Whistling‘, haunting ‘Tempt You‘ and eerie ‘If I Get High‘ all rippled emotively throughout the venue and were worthy of goosebumps as frontman Conor Mason captivated the audience with his intoxicating vocals.

The band performed as a unit; tight and in-sync whilst Mason’s vocals were other-worldly and at times eerily reminiscent of Jeff Buckley. His vocals are sturdy and perfectly executed, whether through the murmured lower register or his ethereal, soaring falsettos. He is in possession of one of the most remarkable and powerful male vocals in the world and it is truly phenomenal to experience them live.

Ce6QgWSW8AAzg21The evening was solely about the music, emphasised by the lack of theatrics in the show; the band were aided only by a backdrop of their eponymous début album and atmospheric lighting. Still, this was enough for the audience who were on-side throughout the entire evening. The atmosphere in the venue was electric, prompting Mason to comment on the energy in the present multiple times throughout the show. He appeared rather overwhelmed by the vast sea of faces in the venue but channelled this into a buoyant energy and was an instantly likeable front-man. At one point he responded to a emerging chant for him to remove his t-shirt with “No I’m not taking my top off, my Nan’s on the balcony!” prior to instructing the crowd to cheer for her.

The evening concluded in an enthralling encore comprised of three of the band’s best tracks; ‘If I Get High‘, ‘Trip Switch‘ and ‘Ban All The Music’. It was a brilliant finale to a fantastic evening and proved that Nothing But Thieves are the alt-rock band of now.

 All photos taken from the band’s official Twitter account.
*Read our review of Nothing But Thieves’ début album here

Setlist:

  1. Itch
  2. Painkiller
  3. Hostage
  4. Hanging
  5. Graveyard Whistling
  6. Excuse Me
  7. Honey Whiskey
  8. Where Is My Mind (Pixies cover)
  9. Drawing Pins
  10. Tempt You
  11. Wake Up Call
    ENCORE
  12. If I Get High
  13. Trip Switch
  14. Ban all the Music

Catch Nothing But Thieves on tour now:

Zayn – Mind of Mine Album Review

 

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The past year has been something of a roller-coaster for Zayn Malik. A year ago, he broke millions of fans’ hearts when he announced he would be leaving One Direction to pursue the life of a ‘normal 22 year old’. It later emerged that he had been secretly recording solo material and his animosity towards his boyband days was soon made crystal clear in numerous interviews in which he took multiple swipes at the band and their music.  A shock split with fiancée Perrie Edwards soon followed in addition to multiple venomous and highly publicised Twitter spats. Still, these potential career suicide-moments have been long forgotten since lead single ‘PILLOWTALK‘ rocketed in to the top of the charts of over a dozen countries.

As expected, ‘Mind of Mine’ is a world away from Malik’s One Direction days. Gone is the pop-punk and stadium-pop and in is alternative R&B, catchy dance-pop and elements of Soul. It’s slick, polished, consistent and mature with reverberating vocal samples, hip-hop beats and effect-drenched vocals scattered throughout. It’s a natural transition into R&B music similarly to Justin Timberlake’s début ‘Justified’ fourteen years ago.

‘Mind of Mine’ excels from start to finish with barely a blip. Overall, it possesses a moody and brooding tone with sexualized lyrics and a deeply-textured sound, resulting in a cohesive catalogue of material on which Malik revels in his newly-found freedom. Lead single ‘PILLOWTALK’ remains a stand-out track with its its thunderous percussion, reverberating synths, wailing guitars and Zayn’s sweeping vocals. The rest of the album follows suit with the sullen yet dreamy ‘dRuNk‘ featuring Malik’s multi-layered harmonies boasting ‘I’ve been drunk all summer’ over unsettled R&B percussion, summery synthesisers and weeping electric guitars. ‘rEaR vIeW‘ is similarly a sulky progressive R&B track with sparse production and a Timbaland-like chorus. Then there’s the beautifully haunting ‘iT’s YoU‘ – a gentle downtempo ballad on which Zayn’s stunning falsetto soars over jittering synths, a droning organ, hip-hop beats and crunching piano chords.

Just when things need shaking up a bit, the Beatle-esque piano chords of ‘fOoL fOr YoU‘ arrive. It’s a pleasant piano ballad on which Malik’s vocals really glisten and are relatively free of the over-production the rest of the album is laden with. The track mirrors The Beatles in both song-writing and production and it punctuates the album nicely.

Malik also refreshingly incorporates his cultural heritage into the album in the form of haunting interludes. The opening title-track features soaring Qawwali-influenced melodies over piano chords and clonking synthesiser arpeggios. Similarly, one of the album’s unexpected highlights is ‘fLoWer‘, a gorgeous acoustic interlude influenced by Malik’s upbringing as a British Pakistani Muslim. He executes his voice in Urdu, his father’s native language and warbles over eerie synthesisers and gentle acoustic guitars. It’s an innovative and utterly unique inclusion on an R&B album which works perfectly.

The dance-pop moments also work well, implemented best on ‘sHe‘ with its brilliantly catchy hook, slick production and buoyant production. It is miles away from the stadium pop-rock One Direction produced and is a steer in the right direction (pun not intended), reminiscent of some of Justin Bieber’s best moments on ‘Purpose’. Then there’s the soulful ‘tRuTh’, a track reminiscent of 70’s Soul with giggling synthesisers, a retro-guitar sound and distorted production. Featuring a brilliantly sunny chorus with sugary falsettos, it’s one of the album’s understated highlights.

Malik always had the advantage of having the strongest voice in One Direction and he exhibits his syrupy vocals perfectly on the album. His vocals are sturdy and powerful throughout, whilst his falsetto is his real gift, fluttering delicately over meticulously programmed instrumentals.

A bold and compelling album which validates Zayn’s transition into a credible recording artist.

Rating: 5/5.
Highlights: ‘PILLOWTALK’, ‘dRuNk’, ‘iT’s YoU’, ‘sHe’, ‘fLoWer’, ‘tRuTh’

‘Mind of Mine’ is available now on RCA Records.

The 1975 Live – Review [O2 Brixton Academy, 09/03/2016].

The last month or so has been a dizzy concoction of success and excitement for The 1975. They performed on American TV, on both Saturday Night Live and The Jimmy Fallon Show, released their new highly-anticipated album ‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it* to critical acclaim and have seen the album rocket to the top of the charts in five countries, including the UK and the US. The atmosphere in Brixton’s O2 Academy mirrored these successes on Wednesday evening as the buzz of almost five thousand fans filled the venue.

The evening commenced with a half hour set by The Japanese House, the project of shy but endearing Londoner Amber Bain. She shares a record label with The 1975 (the doing of The 1975’s Matt Healy and George Daniel who introduced the label to her in addition to producing some of her work) and musically draws upon similar influences. Her melancholic electronica is soaked in vocal effects and scatty sound samples which makes it a compelling listen, although it cries out for slightly more variation. Nevertheless, she was met with a warm reaction from the audience, particularly for the up-tempo ‘Cool Blue‘, one of her strongest tracks. She is certainly in possession of something special and is one to watch.**

IMG_0766Over the next half an hour, Brixton academy filled to the brim, the house lights dimmed gradually and an eerie, repetitive synthesiser sound became progressively louder. Finally, at nine o’clock, the venue was plunged into darkness, the synthesiser halted and multicoloured static filled the on-stage screens before the quirky riffs of ‘Love Me‘ began. It was the perfect opener, its buoyant tone perfect for generating energy from the audience. The band proceeded to rocket through a comprehensive set-list which catered for all, ranging from material from their early EPs to their current album. Hidden treasures from old EPs such as the 90’s R&B jam-inspired ‘So Far (It’s Alright)‘, slushy ‘fallingforyou‘ and the never-before-performed ‘Anobrain‘ served as a reminder of the band’s unfaltering ability to create enthralling music whilst tracks from the band’s début album such as ‘Heart Out‘, ‘Girls‘ and ‘Menswear‘ which were met with rapturous response from fans who chanted the lyrics at the top of their lungs. Their new material worked just as well; it was impossible not to dance to the INXS-influenced ‘She’s American‘ and the Prince-esque ‘UGH!‘ whilst the vulnerable ‘Somebody Else‘ and jittery ‘Change of Heart‘ captivated the audience.

“Brixton, I think I’m going mad”, Healy declared before the choral ‘ooh’s’ intro to ‘The Ballad of me and my Brain‘ began. The song appeared to baffle many of those unfamiliar with the new album but was brilliantly executed by the band and Healy who raised his performance game in this song, stumbling around the stage and falling to his knees in reference to the breakdown the song documents. Likewise, the cleverly worded, half-rapped ‘Loving Someone‘ and syrupy sweet ‘Paris‘ translated well into a live setting as Healy strutted across the stage and encouraged the crowd to sing.

Throughout the show, Healy – renowned for being a charismatic front-man – bounded around the stage, often with a glass of wine in his hand, buzzing with energy and enthusiasm and feeding off the crowd. He flexed, pouted, pranced and glided across the stage, interacting brilliantly with the crowd and often resulting in ear-piercing squeals reminiscent of Beatle-mania. He held the audience in the palm of his hand and was unafraid of being completely at ease on-stage, frequently wandering off to light a cigarette or to change into a shirt before declaring he’d made a mistake and changing back into his black t-shirt. During the poignant ‘Me‘, he instructed a fan to put their phone away after telling the audience to experience the song in the moment without technology present.

The show was also visually spectacular; the stage was permanently illuminated in various lighting combinations, providing a cinematic experience which was a perfect reflection of the band’s eclectic range of material. At times, this was utterly breathtaking and emphasised that sometimes simplicity achieves the best results.

IMG_0764The evening culminated in an intoxicating finale; an encore of four of the band’s best works. The first, ‘If I Believe You‘, an accomplished track which questions religion over D’Angelo slow-jam instrumentation was hauntingly beautiful. A choir of six accompanied the band and their gospel harmonies were spine-tingling. The choir remained on-stage for the ever-brilliant ‘Chocolate‘ and new classic ‘The Sound‘ which engendered an electric euphoria. During the latter, Healy instructed the crowd to jump, informing them their aim was ‘to break Brixton academy’. Grand finale ‘Sex‘, another of the band’s best-known songs closed the evening perfectly and remains one of the band’s best songs.

In all three times of seeing the band in the past two years, their performance at Brixton on Wednesday evening emphasised that they are the band of the moment. Healy’s vocals had never been better whilst fellow bandmates Adam Hann, Ross Macdonald and George Daniel were perfectly tight and synchronised musically. The only thing missing was two of the band’s best songs – ‘Settle Down‘ and ‘This Must Be My Dream‘ but one can hardly complain when the band delivered such a captivating show with an extensive range of material.

The 1975 were on top of their game at Brixton and long may it continue.

* Read our review of The 1975’s new album, ‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
** Read our review of The Japanese House live at The Haunt, Brighton 

Setlist:

1. Love Me
2. UGH!
3. Heart Out
4. So Far (It’s Alright)
5. A Change of Heart
6. She’s American
7. Anobrain
8. Menswear
9. The Ballad of Me and My Brain
10. Me
11. fallingforyou
12. Somebody Else
13. Robbers
14. You
15. Loving Someone
16. Paris
17.  Girls
ENCORE
18. If I Believe You
19. Chocolate
20. The Sound
21. Sex

 

Catch The 1975 on tour now:

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