[Music] JMI – Kix EP (review)

JMI_-_Kix

Review: There’s something rather quaint about JMI’s approach to product placement. On each chorus of her fizzy new A-side “Kix”, her revolving door policy for footwear magnates resembles less of a display of collar-popping narcissism than it does an earnest stab at promoting the very kind of inclusivity inherent to the most seminal dance cuts. After granting shout-outs to both Puma and Nike, the New York-based singer-producer ousts them both on the track’s final charge of adrenaline, bidding adieu to her listeners with the more neutral image of her having her “heels on” – an appropriately unpretentious note for this decidedly rough-and-ready slice of EDM to finish on.

JMI gleefully pilfers the Icona Pop formula of throwing down walls of crunchy synth, before breaking out the spray paint and putting her own underground stamp on them. “Kix” hurtles along like a rogue spaceship, complete with zippy effects and JMI’s own breathy moan coming straight in from Houston to remind us to don our dancing shoes. With more than a hint of the bratty coquettishness that powered Princess Superstar’s most compelling moments, she’s an effective Mistress of Ceremonies, although it is on the slinky B-side “Amanda” that her personality comes closer to the fore. A sparse creep-a-long built on dry percussion, yodeling BV’s and a catchy proposition (“Amanda, do you wanna?”), it’s a striking antithesis to the sugary chaos of its A-side. If the “Kix” video demonstrates anything, it’s that JMI’s shoes were almost definitely made for dancing, but on “Amanda” she proves herself a versatile talent.

7.0/10

[Music] Ariana Grande – My Everything (review)

my everything

Review: There’s a sizeable chance that when Rihanna giggled during Ariana Grande’s iHeartRadio performance this May, she did so without agenda. As Vine-friendly as the moment may have been, perhaps the chart veteran was simply struck by the similarities she shared with the pony-tailed ingénue making a serious play for the pop market before her. As Grande knocked out a rendition of her breakout hit “The Way” while wearing a black, long-sleeved jumper-dress, it seemed there was a fork in the road. The ex-Nickelodeon actress had been playing up her Lolita-like appeal since previewing an aborted cover for her debut that all but served her on a platter. If Grande was truly after a crack at superstardom, then that jumper-dress was coming off.

And off it came. Even less convincing than the Grande-does-Adele get-up was the vision of her gyrating awkwardly in a glitzy mini-dress and knee-length boots as the still-baffling excuse for a chorus of her summer smash “Problem” groaned on. From the most objective stand-point, there’s no denying that Grande lacks showmanship. But in its place she carries a sheen of stubborn professionalism, a trait previously glimpsed in a young Rihanna Fenty in 2007. Buoyed by only a barrage of hits, the faith of music execs, and a distinctive – if not exactly mammoth – talent, Rihanna was less of a Good Girl Gone Bad than a good investment returned as she gave charisma-free performances of unbelievably strong pop songs.

It’s now 2014, and Rihanna’s name has slowly come to mean something more than a signifier of a great tune. Whether or not Grande’s future output shrewdly moulds itself around a similarly compelling personal life is anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt that we are witnessing a watershed moment in the 21-year-old’s career. My Everything has dreams of cohesiveness, being bookended by an intro and the title track, both featuring featherweight piano and string arrangements that pretend the Hot 100 pandering that occurs in the interim never happened.

But even on “Problem”, Grande is most notable for setting a fluttering higher register against not only Max Martin’s razor-edged horn loops and dry thumps, but also the posturing of Iggy Azalea’s guest verse. This lack of engagement could be her downfall in the long run, but there are spikes of genuine angst on “My Everything” and “One Last Time”, which, with its tear-stained tropical synths, is a sweetly bombastic re-write of Drake’s “Take Care”.

The album’s bountiful list of collaborators should throw up red flags, but an on-form Big Sean fits the chiming R&B ballad “Best Mistake” like a glove, while The Weeknd has fun as the R. Kelly to Grande’s Lady Gaga on the “Do What U Want”-aping Italo-disco stutter of “Love Me Harder”. “Break Your Heart Right Back” mixes a sunny Diana Ross sample with trap elements to create a hit so efficient that Grande and Childish Gambino seem equally at home on it, and although Zedd churns out a disappointingly stale EDM beat on “Break Free”, he in turn does his muse a massive favour; with no bells and whistles to contend with, Grande has rarely sounded like more of a star.

My Everything is unlikely to set the kind of trends that Rihanna’s ripening may have, but that voice – the range of which is best showcased on the Ryan Tedder ballad “Why Try”; with cotton-wrapped coos framing cloud-piercing trills – is reason enough to pay attention. This should only be the beginning; if this really is Grande’s “everything”, then it’s time she broadened her horizons.

6.0/10

Continue reading

[Music] The Statue of David – The Statue of David EP (review)

The Statue of David

Available to buy from iTunes 

Review: Christening your music project with the name of a universally renowned work of art may seem like textbook blog-baiting, but we are in an age where the Louvre happily flog flip-flops emblazoned with the face of the Mona Lisa in their gift shop, so we’re hardly in a position to clutch pearls.

If Lady Gaga’s convoluted Artpop manifesto hemorrhaged potential supporters by constantly looking forward to a future determined not by her audience but a bourgeois collective of artists including Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic et al, then New York-based musicians Paul Alfonso & Cristopher Rodriguez’s appropriation of Michelangelo’s iconic, and arguably entry-level, masterwork offers the duo a certain degree of approachability – and that’s before you’ve heard even a note of their self-titled EP.

The Original Renaissance Man actually works as an unexpectedly credible statement of intent. The Statue of David produce music that is clean, toned and occasionally non-descript in its sentiments. They usurp another classic on their opening number, repackaging “House of the Rising Sun” as a fuzz-laden sprint through dystopia’s nightlife. Although driven by synths, cyber-punk flourishes and a 4/4 beat, the band retain the standard’s bluesy quality through the inclusion of real instruments and guest vocalist Anna Aversing’s cloudy delivery. Her howl is occasionally distorted into a blunt drone, sitting atop the mix like oil on water.

The rest of this three-tracker puts a breezier spin on their grungy dance-rock aesthetic. “Hawaiian Girls” mashes Beach Boys-style whimsy with the glittering testosterone of a Soulwax record. Riding waves of chintzy keyboard strokes, swirling electronica and a winking vocal performance from Alfonso, the band’s full time vocalist, it’s a blast from start to finish, with snapping drums grounding what could have been a fun but throwaway cut.

There’s a doe-eyed innocence to the drunken shout-along “Daddy’s Little Girl” that negates the slightly queasy implications of a lyric such as “I go to work while she’s at school / and we’ve got everybody fooled / It doesn’t matter what they say”. Bring out the pitchforks if you must. In allowing crass expressions of lust to stand as starkly naked as their namesake, The Statue of David are taking the necessary steps towards proving themselves worthy of it.

8.0/10

Continue reading

[Music] All About She – Go Slow EP (review)

AAS_GO SLOW_HT_Opt02

Available as a free download from All About She’s Official Bandcamp

Review: We’re sure there’s a debate to be had over the validity of criticisms levelled at work an artist has chosen to give away for free. Those who believe music to be still worth paying for do so because they’ve come to equate a certain price tag with a certain standard of quality – take the fiscal aspect away, and who are we to expect a knockout product?

It’s a minefield we’re not compelled to enter here, as a quick listen to this buzz release from All About She sees the London neo-garage-house trio emerge practically unscathed. The title proves to be indicative of the six-track collection; Go Slow comes to life at a leisurely pace, as if waking up hung-over in a dew-drenched field. Neither “Remedy” or “I Can’t Wait” aim to replicate the high-octane thrill of their late 2013 hit “Higher (Free)”, driven instead by padded basslines and singer Vanya Taylor’s soft, inviting tone.

The latter breezes by with an appearance from Jacob Banks and lashings of a music box-styled xylophone, but it’s only on the thumping “All Night” that the party truly starts. It’s followed by “Happiness”, a dark, bare-bones bop in which in which Taylor emotes for the Gods, complete with a “No, no, no!” refrain that’s almost impossible not to waggle your index finger to.

The only conceivable obstacle facing All About She (which is also includes producers James Tadgell and John Clare) could be the repetition of flourishes – chiming instrumentals, lush if overused harmonies – that run not only throughout Go Slow but also Sasha Keable’s charming Black Book EP, which the group produced last year.

But for now All About She seem more than content with their identity. When a grizzled voice states “this is me” at the end of ambient come-down joint “C’est Moi”, concerns over this free EP’s worth seem redundant. You simply can’t buy this kind of self-assurance.

8.5/10

Continue reading

[Music] Almamy – Digital Love (review)

Available to buy from iTunes

Review: Given their regal status in the industry, it takes a brave soul to even contemplate reworking the chrome-plated beats of Daft Punk. While the French duo may be best known for tracks propelled by a kind of cold vacuum-packed energy, their 2001 single “Digital Love” is unusually warm. The track excelled not only on the back of a guitar riff sampled from George Duke’s “I Love You More”, but also a rare emphasis on lyrics that amounted to more than glib party-baiting rhetoric.

Lines as bleakly sentimental as “Oh, I don’t know what to do [...] We’ll make this dream come true / Why don’t you play the game?” flew over helmet-shielded heads thanks to the emotional impotence of the robotic voice that sang them. By lending them a human avatar, New York-based ballet dancer-turned-singer Almamy unearths a few new layers of a beloved post-millennial classic.

His cover is something of a grower, beginning with a subdued squawk of a voice that we were initially tempted to compare unfavourably to Eric Cartman on helium. The presentation is extremely raw and borderline confrontational, but multi-tracked harmonies and a burbling bassline soon come to brighten up the palette. By the one minute mark, this breathy timbre makes imperfect sense among the colourful production. As Almamy fattens up the track’s hook with a series of coos, “Digital Love” hits the same sweet spot as the vocoded sections of Lipps Inc.’s disco staple “Funkytown”.

Just as the track finds its footing, however, it descends into a breakdown that clumsily apes the industrial crush integral to Daft Punk’s DNA. It’s a bemusing but ultimately satisfying U-turn that solidifies the track’s sweaty, late-night feel.

Not only is Almamy playing the game his own way, he’s doing a damn good job of it.

6.5/10

[Music] Shamir – Northtown EP (review)

shamir

Available to buy from iTunes

Review: A pseudo-harpsichord strain lands with an authoritative thud; its echoing presence still felt even when followed by successive stabs. A kick drum soon underscores a light, trembling squall: “You came without warning.”

The same cannot be said for Las Vegas-born teenager Shamir Bailey, whose sweet, affable features have been smeared across the pages of any alt music blog worth its salt since his icy house cocktail “If It Wasn’t True” gained traction this February. The sugar-coated apathy that won “True” its buzz is nowhere to be found on “I Know It’s A Good Thing”, a gospel-drenched ballad prone to lyrical regurgitation; once over a stark, church atrium-like soundscape, and again over a euphoric build powered by handclaps and a captivating vocal.

The swerve in tone is almost disorientating. The cloudy pessimism of lines such as “I would say I’m happy, but they say talk is cheap” take on a whole new significance in the celestial light Shamir recasts them in. It’s a revelatory song, one that could just as easily be synced with a bride and groom’s first dance as it could with an Apple campaign (or, indeed, a runway show at Paris Fashion Week), and engages just enough with the house music trend to feel current, but also marks out the long-term versatility of the artist behind it.

Elsewhere on the Northtown E.P., Shamir asserts his dance credentials on the still-brilliant “If It Wasn’t True” and “Sometimes A Man”, which attempts to mix its predecessor’s dispassionate throb with kitchen-sink production tricks. Sirens, growling vocal hooks, and crisp synth breakdowns all fight to make up for the track’s unflappable lack of melody, but it still carries a dark and compelling mystique.

The ballads rounding off the package – the sparse “I Will Never Be Able To Love”, a faithful cover of Lindi Ortega’s “Lived And Died Alone” – give weight to the hedonistic bent of the dance cuts. But as admirable as his abstinence from all things romance is, that final hopeful minute of “I Know It’s A Good Thing” will always beg to differ – at least until his first full-length arrives to add further dimensions to this fascinating character.

9.0/10

Continue reading

[Music] Top 20 Tracks of 2014 So Far (#10 – #1)

Tracks #20 – #11 Recap 

***

10. Ben Khan – Youth, 1992 E.P.

Available to buy on iTunes

On his debut E.P., London-born musician Ben Khan melds spirited guitar licks with soft, sugary synths and his own smoky tones. Standout track “Youth” adds gun clicks and spectral wails, providing an adventurous soundscape that offsets the cautionary lyrics. One to watch.

See also:Savage”, “Drive, Pt. 1

9. Coldplay – “Magic”, Ghost Stories

Available to buy on iTunes

Gone are the homogenised chunks of Sky Sports advert-friendly pop-rock that Coldplay been both praised and reviled for over the years – “Magic” is a tasteful (and possibly unrequited) love letter recounted over bristling bass plucks, soft piano and ghostly atmospherics from producer Paul Epworth (Florence and the Machine, Adele).

With his voice front and centre throughout, Chris Martin’s pained falsetto splinters at all the right moments, but it’s the emotional sucker punch of a one-sided conversation come the finale that makes the band’s chart resilience something to cherish.

See also: Midnight

8. Veruca Salt – “The Museum of Broken Relationships”, TBA

Available as a free download from the Veruca Salt website

A reunion of Veruca Salt’s original line-up was so inconceivable for fans of the Chicago alt-pop-rock foursome that to see high-profile publications such as Pitchfork and Rolling Stone – who gave the group’s final record together a damning one and a half stars back in 1997 – come out to praise their latest track “The Museum of Broken Relationships” was merely icing on the cake.

It was only fitting, then, that this uncoiling bundle of frothy garage rock drips with Generation X apathy. “He loves me again” frontwomen Nina Gordon and Louise Post sing before clarifying their own stance on the matter: “I. DON’T. CARE!” The track breaks down into a storm of dark, jagged guitar and elated whoops, celebrating the re-arrival of a group who’ve transcended the need for industry approval.

See also:Seether“, “Volcano Girls

7. Ella Henderson – Ghost, Chapter One

Available to buy on iTunes

Under normal circumstances, a two year wait between a X Factor contestant’s elimination and the release of their debut single is never a good sign. With a new roster of starry-eyed singers cropping up every year, it’s all too easy to slip through the cracks of the public’s consciousness. But the emergence of Gabriella ‘Ella’ Henderson this year is a rare case of a talent being nurtured, not just juiced for a quick buck.

Paired with One Republic frontman and don of the noughties power-ballad Ryan Tedder, Henderson concocted the gospel-tinged “Ghost”; a fusion of dry, testy verses and a tsunami-sized chorus, with an enraptured performance from Henderson that will make you a believer.

See also: “Believe” (Cher cover)

6. Cher Lloyd – Bind Your Love, Sorry I’m Late

Available to buy on iTunes 

A self-proclaimed “brat” during her time on X Factor UK, Cher Lloyd was ill-served by the faux-urban EDM of “Swagger Jagger”, her first and only No. 1 single. Lloyd’s real strengths lie in either sweet’n’sour bubblegum pop (“Want U Back”) or graceful, rock-tinged torch songs (her cover of Shakespeare’s Sister’s “Stay”), with this cut from her latest album being a glossy combination of both.

See also:Sirens“, “I Wish” [feat. T.I.]

5. Beyoncé – Drunk In Love [feat. Jay Z], Beyoncé

Available to buy on iTunes

On the closest thing Beyoncé’s guerilla album campaign had to a lead single, Mr. and Mrs. Carter update their marital status from “Crazy” to “Drunk” – and the shift is palpable.

In 2003, Bey was love’s bewildered victim. The symptoms were wild and incapacitating, but relatively innocent. Fast forward a decade and she’s a motor-mouthed potty-mouth with an obvious addiction. As endlessly quotable as they are, Bey’s punky, twisted verses also reveal a strong character at home with not only her sexuality, but her very being. To think millions of listeners have been exposed to a revered female saying she has no complaints with her body is a wonderful thing.

Jay’s Anna Mae faux-pas robs the song of a crack at full-on brilliance, which is a crying shame considering he otherwise adapts quite well to the track’s kinky irreverence, a tone kick-started by a sumptuously reverberating bass, finger-clicks and a Hatsune Miku-alike warble that may be very well be the best call to the dance floor since Britney famously declared her arrival. Bitch.

See also: Partition”, “Haunted”, “***Flawless

4. Katy B – Crying For No Reason, Little Red

Available to buy on iTunes // Read our review of Little Red

There was a time in early 2014 where Brixton-born singer Katy B looked set to join the likes of Diana Vickers, Little Boots and Alexandra Burke in the Hall of Spurned British Females, pop stars who fell prey to the British music industry’s fickle nature. Tastemakers championed Katy as the Next Big Thing back in 2011, but last year saw the singles preceding her sophomore record struggle to go Top 10. As anyone who’s ever had a teary jive to “5 AM” will tell you, quality wasn’t an issue. So what was one of pop’s most lovable ingénues to do?

“Crying For No Reason” once again proves that every record label should have access to a big red button with the name “GUY CHAMBERS” on it. As a producer, Chambers is no stranger to commercial resurrections – even mid-campaign, as the success of Robbie William’s career-saving hit “Angels” will attest too – and his collaboration with Katy is a sprawling ballad, with spacey synths running parallel with an earnest piano riff before the song suddenly shifts towards breakstep territory.

Much of the excitement comes from the production being consistently on the verge of a Robyn-style dance-the-tears-away breakthrough, but Chambers never lets the clattering percussion overwhelm his star. Katy has never had a better showcase for her pure, gently accented voice, and the dexterity with which she ramps up the drama in the final chorus is captivating. In carefully choosing which buttons to push, she demonstrates the difference with painstaking acrobatics and simply flinging oneself from an unwise height.

See also: Still“, “Everything“, “Aaliyah” [feat. Jessie Ware]

3. Shamir – “If It Wasn’t True”, Northtown E.P.

Available to buy on iTunes 

Las Vegas-born teenager Shamir Bailey boasts a raw, Nina Simone-alike timbre, one that effortlessly surfs the chilly house beats of his debut EP. On break-up track “If It Wasn’t True”, he summarises big emotions (“We can’t speak without a single shout”) with a knowingly dead-eyed delivery – that is until he trips what sounds like a nest of mechanised hornets, just in time for a last-minute eruption of relationship angst.

See also: I Know It’s A Good Thing“, “Sometimes A Man

2. Kelis – “Rumble”, FOOD

Available to buy on iTunes // Read our review of FOOD

Thematically split between the joy of an estranged ex handing back their key and a last-minute appeal for them to stay, the swampy “Rumble” is almost a duet. But for every squall of “Baby, don’t go!”, there’s a dose of the iconoclastic diva we know and love (“We don’t need therapy / What I need is you to leave”), with the song’s relieved chorus suggesting a burgeoning independence.

See also:Jerk Ribs”, “Breakfast”, “Biscuits’n’Gravy

1. Clean Bandit – Rather Be [feat. Jess Glynne], New Eyes

Available to buy on iTunes 

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at XL Recordings when two executives find their argument over which direction the label cash cow Adele’s should take on her next LP interrupted by a spirited, string-laden ditty blaring from the office radio. Classy but catchy, sprightly but sagacious, and with a vocalist who has more than a few shades a certain Diamond-certified seller to her nuances, “Rather Be” is that rarest of things: a hit you can’t hate.

Dwelling on Jess Glynne’s appearance seems a little besides the point, however, considering she is merely one of a dozen singers to grace the band’s debut record. Primarily comprised of a bassist, cellist, violinist, and a drummer and keyboardist, Clean Bandit are a group who live to up their moniker with productions that are fresh, streamlined, and yes, clean, but rarely clinical.

Adding strings is a classic ploy for credibility in pop music – a crime Clean Bandit have arguably been guilty of previously – but on “Rather Be” they’re used almost exclusively to complement the accompanying piano and popping synths that signal the group’s deep house fascination.

For all the quartet’s musical finesse, however, it is Glynne who stands out as the track’s MVP. “Rather Be” may be a pleading love song, but it’s hard to recall the last time an artist made co-dependency sound quite so empowering.

See also: Extraordinary“, “Mozart’s House“, “Cologne

Continue reading