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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 30th September 2011 at 12:00 pm
The 2011 festival season may be behind us, but that doesn’t mean the dancing should stop. The Whip, with their second album ‘Wired Together’, looks primed to be at the forefront of dance party shenanigans this autumn. Some of the songs have already been examined in my In the Post in June (read it here) so I’ll only be touching on songs not previously written about in this album review.
The album begins with ‘Keep or Delete’, a song rather apropros for the current digital generation and a good way to start the party. (You can get this song for free in this earlier MP3 of the Day post.) ‘Shake’ is the kind of song most dance music artists wish they could write; it sounds like a neverending explosion of sound and colours, arms waving the entire time. Unlike ‘Secret Weapon’ and ‘Movement’, which were good but less in-your-face affairs, you cannot escape ‘Shake’. “The only thing left to do is shake” – yes, please! For that reason, I think it’s the best track on the whole album. This track alone makes it better than Tom Vek’s ‘Leisure Seizure’ (my review here). That’s saying quite a lot.
‘Metal Law’, while lesser than ‘Shake’, is a worthy follower. ‘Best Friend’ will make your heart race, with a robotic Gary Numan-esque vocal, a carefully-placed minor chord progression in the chorus and relentless beats. ‘Intensity’, just like the name sounds, is a musical jackhammer, trying to beat itself into your brain. The first couple listens, it’s rather annoying. I think with headphones it’s probably made doubly annoying (especially since I usually turn the bass up) and when you’re in the club, this is a non-issue, so I’ll let this one slide. Altogether though, this is one fine set of tunes that you should be cranking up and dancing to. Not that you should have ever doubted the Whip. You see, this is how Manchester makes dance music look effortless.
‘Wired Together’, the sophomore effort from the Whip, is available now from Southern Fried Records. Stream all the songs below and if you like them, buy them.
By Luke Morton
on Tuesday, 27th September 2011 at 2:00 pm
Since her debut LP release in 2009, Zola Jesus has been carving herself a niche in the electro-indie populous. Mixing an often bass-heavy electro-synth beat with soaring operatic vocals, Zola Jesus (aka Nikita Danilova) manages to stun and entrance you with her mesmerising vocal range. Having received opera training from the age of 7, Zola Jesus’ voice soars and can reach levels that teenage X-Factor wannabes can only dream of.
Her latest release, ‘Conatus’, starts from the point we were left stranded last year, waiting for another release. Opening on the Aphex Twin-styled ‘Swords’, you’re taken to a world of clicks and bleeps and deep bass stabs whilst Zola Jesus’ voice echoes majestically in the background. As the album flows into ‘Avalanche’, her ominous voice proves just how powerful it can be with a sound so big it could fill arenas – and yet it comes from such a small person.
‘Ixode’ should be considered for an upcoming single release as it is one of the best tracks on the 40 minute album. It’s infectious and the sound swells and builds into something dream-like and beautiful that is pushed ever onward by the electro-indie melody behind it. Despite it not having a ‘get up and dance’ feel, the atmosphere this song creates is sensational. ‘Seekir’ is in fact the first single from ‘Conatus’ and rightly so as it seems to have been wrenched through a wormhole from the ’80s. With its synth-pop beat and strangely haunting vocals, there’s something entertaining and also intriguing about Zola Jesus’ one notable attempt at a ‘pop’ song.
As the album progresses toward its climax, the emotion and passion with which Zola Jesus sings is astounding. During ‘Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake’, her voice is fantastic without comparison. The range she reaches and the raw power you can feel roaring over the music transforms electronic melodies into something much deeper and impressive. As the song continues it transforms into a mixture of different vocal layers which intertwine into a personal vocal harmony that sucks you into Zola Jesus’ fantasy world.
Unfortunately, ‘Conatus’ isn’t the 11-track odyssey it appears to be, once the end is in sight. ‘Skin’ is a slow emotional piano-led opus that focuses on the sombre and softer side of Zola Jesus’ repertoire, which would be a slightly underwhelming but just closer to the LP. However, the actual final song is a blend of big-sounding ’90s trance synth and heavenly warbling which has an interesting and unique sound but leaves you with a sense of disappointment that the big finish never came. Perhaps that’s the fourth album?
‘Conatus’ is available now from Sacred Bones Records.
By your third album, in most cases, you’re up and rolling. You’re past the difficult second album and you’ve found yourself. In most cases of course, by that point, you’re in your late twenties, if not thirties. Laura Marling is not most cases. With her first album released the same week as her eighteenth birthday, then going on to receive a Mercury nomination, and 3 years down the line winning a Brit award for Best Female, Marling has proved her exceptional credentials repeatedly.
So ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’, her third full LP, doesn’t need to take any risks then, does it? That’s convenient really, because Marling’s breed of folk with mainstream appeal isn’t really the kind of genre that experiments, breaks out or really takes huge risks. Lyrically, Marling has always been the kind of writer that writes in first person, yet you never really think that the person in question is actually her. Stories about the devil (or ‘The Beast’ as he appears to be named here, unless she’s talking about Marcus Mumford, but even by my reckoning, that’s a little harsh) and families seem lost in the fictitious world of Laura Marling. For this reason, it seems increasingly difficult to relate to her music.
The songs are good, there’s no doubt that this is a third album packed with brilliant tracks that will no doubt attract her more radio play, more listeners and more accolades, but from my perspective, I just don’t find her believable anymore, and that’s a real shame. ‘Salinas’ is the nearest you come to actually feeling something for Marling as John Steinbeck’s novels come alive in parts, but aside from the very last two tracks ‘Sophia’ single review here) and ‘All My Rage’, you feel like the twenty-one year old is still keeping her cards very much to her chest. For this reason, ‘Sophia’ is a standout track that swirls around with complete beauty whilst ‘All My Rage’ is a fitting closer: catchy, enjoyable and a kind of relief that an album both so bold and timid at the same time can end with a happy story.
Laura Marling’s ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ is available now from Virgin.
Kasabian‘s ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ was an album of simply epic proportions. One which critics (myself included) ate up, one which the ravenous for hook public adored and one which cemented them thoroughly at the centre of British mainstream rock ‘n’ roll. The next album ‘Velociraptor!’ then was always going to be a challenge, a challenge which by the evidence I have heard they have taken up beaten and then just for good measure beaten again.
This album though is a thoroughly different beast to ‘West Ryder…’ in the fact that in musical sound, it is much more similar to their earlier work. The album manages to plunge from the dizzying heights and silliness of title track ‘Velociraptor!’ to the solemn lyrics of ‘Goodbye Kiss’ a song which lead singer Tom Meighan has already singled out as a number people are going to fall in love to, get married to, etc. Bless.
The first single to hit the airwaves is in my opinion the strongest track on the album; dripping with the trademark production of Serge Pizzorno, it came out as a warning sign of what to come, as this song is huge, so the album…well, you my drift. The pumping beats and brilliant synth rotation in ‘Switchblade Smile’ (video here) will be enough to get your attention, but the lyrics of “can you feel it coming / can you feel it coming” just add to the songs pure adrenalin rush.
‘Days Are Forgotten’ is slinky, sexy and unashamedly cool (watch the video below). You may already be familiar with it from just about every advertising campaign around. But who can blame people for wanting this track on their product? It’s trademark Kasabian: a track with a chorus so simple, yet one which is layered with undulating guitars and the thumping bass which you become accustomed to on a Kasabian record.
As a record ‘Velociraptor!’ listens perfectly. It has changes of pace, it has excitement, and it has romance and a swagger which only Kasabian can really get away with. May they long continue to get away with it, as albums this good can only come about when you are truly confident in your abilities as musicians. And when you listen to this you won’t find it hard to gauge how good these Midlands boys know they are.
‘Velociraptor!’, the new album from Kasabian, will be released on 19 September (next Monday) on Columbia. The band will be touring the UK this winter; all the details are here.
There must be something in the water in New York. Most, if not all, of the dramas set in that widescreen, moviescape city are either stories of love, or dramas of destruction. Or both, which is what Jonathan Pierce and the Drums have unveiled with Portamento. Plainly recorded, with an almost toy-like approach to instrumentation – drums are tinnily programmed, guitars are clean and muted – the themes are anything but childlike. Kicking straight into existential philosophy, ‘Book of Revelation’ spares no time in setting the tone for the rest of the album. Apparently with little time for creationism, despite its religious references, Pierce is quite clear on his point of view: statements such as ”when we die, we die”, or ”there’s no heaven, and no hell” indicative of the nihilistic stance of the album.
Having established his mindset, the next task is to decipher how this influences the narrator’s attitude to life and love. The answer is a singular mixture of superiority and self-flagellating regret. The former is evident in ‘Days’’ cocksure statement of intent: “days go by / and I never needed you”. Oh really? Except you had to write a song about it? A similar blame transference occurs in ‘Hard to Love’, where the backhanded compliment is king: “I would never leave you / but you’re hard to love” leaves the listener just as confused as the real-life recipient presumably was.
Suddenly, about halfway through, our protagonist is overcome with an attack of self-doubt, and the tone changes from one of blame to reflection. A detailed description of the lyrical content is unnecessary – with blunt song titles such as ‘I Don’t Know How to Love’, ‘Please Don’t Leave’, and ‘I Need a Doctor’, the bipolar nature of the album is clear from a brief perusal of its sleeve. There’s a lovely choral segue into the Tomitaesque synths of ‘Searching for Heaven’, which matches its spiritual theme beautifully, as if our narrator was despondent before St Peter, unable to accept the existence of something beyond the material, even as it is proven before his very eyes.
‘I Need A Doctor’ actually provides some light relief with its uptempo lightweight beats but continues the disturbing lyrical tone, with talk of loving someone because they’re childlike and stupid, and thus being able to refrain from killing them. ‘How It Ended’ appropriately closes the album, and is arguably the only positive, uplifting song to be found here, with its shiny, happy façade of longing for an unrequited love to return: it’s a much-needed ray of sunshine in an altogether darkly-drawn set.
Musically, this could be the sunnier, faster cousin of Joy Division, with its abstract synths and Hookian bass. Whether by design or coincidence, there’s hints of contemporaries Futureheads and the xx in there too. The sound is defined by its architectural simplicity; however there’s one too many major to relative minor shifts and use of semitone intervals to achieve the depth across twelve tracks that the band surely aspire to. This isn’t, frankly, a masterpiece, especially from a musical point of view. Perhaps the departure of guitarist Adam Kessler has affected their breadth more than the band care to admit. However, there are some astonishingly candid lyrics, especially the polarisation between externalised angst and internalised self-doubt. A cautionary tale for those still learning about matters of the heart: don’t try this at home, folks!
‘Portamento’, the sophomore album from the Drums, is available now from Moshi Moshi / Island.
‘In the Grace of Your Love’ is a bizarre album, to say the least. Call it experimentation, or a clashing of genres all you like, but in my opinion the Rapture are just a bit weird. Weird though: it’s something they pull off with relative ease.
In between their last release and this record bassist Mattie Safer left the band, but the band say it was all on peaceful terms, and nothing in the album sticks out as any feelings of resentment. No, the overlying theme to this record is loss, mainly the loss that was suffered by frontman Luke Jenner in the form of his mother taking her own life. ‘Never Die Again’ is difficult to listen to when you know this fact but it does indicate that Jenner is learning to deal with the terrible loss in a more positive way. ‘Come Back To Me’ is scarily reminiscent of early Fatboy Slim and has one of those toe-tapping beats throughout that will stick in your head. The synths are calm and build slowly to nothing like a traditional crescendo, but instead to a euphoric plateau.
Jenner’s vocals are perfect for their unique blend of psychedelic acid house, with the frantic guitars of Gabriel Andruzzi meshing subtly in the background of most tracks. The guitars subtle brilliance is at its best eccentric best in ‘Never Die Again’ where the suspense is drawn out by the continuous riffage. Luke Jenner has also spoken about how becoming a father influenced the album’s formation, so some of the darker overlays of the album are only touched on briefly.
Overall, this is a pleasing album, no two songs are the same, and the changes of pace are exciting and give the record a sense of vibrancy without making it seem frantic. While the strongest part of it may come in the middle, it’s not to say that this isn’t a solid album throughout. ‘Children’ is a wild ride dripping with the kind of dance hooks that the Rapture are known for, while ‘Can You Find a Way’s constant rhetoric lyrics are catchy. This may not be an album which the band are remembered for, but on merit it is a good effort.
‘In the Grace of Your Love’ is available now from DFA Records. You can download the Rapture’s track ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ from the DFA Web site here.