Category Archives: Album

Quakers // ‘Quakers’

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When one-time Dilla favourite Guilty Simpson spits, “a lot of MCs got one style. Me? I got numerous” on ‘Fitta Happier’, he could easily have been talking about Geoff Barrow. Since resurrecting Portishead for the excellent Third in 2008 after more than a decade out of the game, Barrow has hit a rich vein of form. He co-produced The Horrors’ sophomore record Primary Colours, formed Beak>, and now, with the help of Invada co-founder Ashley Anderson and Portishead engineer Stuart Matthews, produced a hip-hop album fronted by 35 rappers over 41 tracks. Lyrically, all the boxes are ticked: sex, race, politics, money. Whether it’s attacking Obama’s shortcomings on Emilio Rojas’ venomous ‘Belly Of The Beast’ or Booty Brown of The Pharcyde lamenting the vicious circle of ghetto life on ‘TV Dreaming’, the rhymes hit hard.

Barrow is no stranger to the art of sampling, having used it to help define trip-hop in the early 1990s. That pedigree is palpable in the brass stabs of ‘Rock My Soul’, the punch drunk lurch of instrumentals like ‘You’re Gonna Be Sorry’, and the dialogue and sound effects littered liberally throughout. It all feels a bit too familiar, though. Criticising Quakers’ production for being too hip-hoppy may be the equivalent of complaining that Black Sabbath are too loud, or that Kraftwerk could use more guitars, but there’s simply not enough of Barrow’s own personality on show. Rather than mining the creative well that made his oppressive, nocturnal spin on hip-hop production so intriguing with Portishead, the beats sit heavy on the shoulders of the hip hop giants name-checked throughout. Even the format — 41 short tracks — recalls that of J Dilla’s Donuts or Madlib’s Beat Kondukta series.

Forget all the wordy bullshit, though; as one dialogue sample here articulates: “it sounds good and it makes me want to dance.” Quakers’ production may not push the envelope in ways a Portishead fan might hope for, but who really cares when the likes of ‘War Drums’ and ‘Jobless’ are so banging? As Frank Nitty insists on ‘Dark City Lights’: Turn it up.

Jack Steadman

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Bruce Springsteen // ‘Wrecking Ball’

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As soon as you drop the proverbial needle, or if you’re so inclined, literally drop the needle, you know it’s Bruce. And yes this familiarity is somewhat like a pair of well worn slippers, but more rock ‘n’ roll, a rock ‘n’ roll pair of slippers, Iggy Pop’s slippers. This album is Iggy Pop’s slippers.

Metaphors aside, Wrecking Ball is full of the rousing gutsy numbers that Bruce has built his career on. With the distinctive sound of his past few albums, it feels like a natural progression from Working on a Dream, Magic and all the way back to The Rising.

The album has a deep Celtic, gospel undertone flowing throughout, most obvious on tracks such as ‘Shackled and Drawn’, a song about the social inequalities caused by the financial crisis.

“Gambling man rolls the dice,

Workingman pays the bill

It’s still fat and easy up on bankers hill

Up on bankers hill, the party’s going strong

Down here below we’re shackled and drawn”

Such banker bashing continues throughout, with ‘Death to My Hometown’ and title track and all out ball buster ‘Wrecking Ball,’ smashing the message home. This is not as subtle as Bruce’s political messages have been in the past, but it’s not supposed to be. This is another wing of the Occupy movement, Bruce is shouting from the roof tops, he’s Occupying stereos and iPods, spreading the word of the injustices of the modern world.

A word must be said about the late great Clarence Clemons who tragically died during the making of the album. Since “the big man joined the band” through to his death Clarence provided the heart of soul of the E-Street band and will be sadly missed and impossible to replace. He only features on two of album’s tracks, ‘Wrecking Ball’ and the re-recorded ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’, a great song that’s been floating around for years but never landed on an album before now.

In true Bruce style, this album makes you want to jump up, join a union, start a protest and “send the robber barons straight to hell” (Death to My Hometown). The rousing “ooohs” and heavy drums throughout give you the goose bumps, you can’t help but clench your fist and start to boil inside*.

Bruce is still well and truly the working class hero.

*If any Tories have listened to the album and are wondering why they didn’t feel such emotions, it’s because you’re a stinking filthy lizard, so not to worry.

Phil Roberts

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DVA – Pretty Ugly // Review

The term “pretty ugly”, taken literally, means describing something or someone as unseemly. Seeing as that would be a puzzling choice title for a debut album at best, it’s tempting to think DVA employs the term in a binary sense, to describe the inherent contrasts within his music. Just look at the album cover: a conscious acknowledgement that, to an outsider, DVA’s music can seem “ugly” and confused, but peel back slowly and you’ll find layers of innovation and joyfully mind-bending genre-hopping, from UK funky and grime to soul, garage, and house.

If you put so many ingredients into a blender, you can often end up with a mess. DVA tackles this head on: the album’s opening gambit, ‘Reach The Sun’, establishes motifs that are revisited throughout the album. The prettily glitched roulade; the clipped vocal line; the “la la la”; the UK funky swagger; it’s all there. For such a scatterbrained album, such a measure is necessary, acting as the thread that ties the whole together. The use of vocalists, too, give the record some much needed narrative.

The titular track  toes the line between aesthetic beauty and club-sensible dirtiness, which is perhaps some insight into the way DVA approached making an album. He’s a DJ by trade – he even had a breakfast show on rinse.fm! – so to make an album intended for home listening would be initially counter-intuitive. Coming from a grime background, DVA’s instinct is to make people dance. ‘Bare Fuzz’ is pure carnival bounce, while ‘Just Vybe’, the instrumental to which has been shaking subs for a while now, has stuttering and rolling drums, a grimy baseline, and funky tabla. With a sassy vocal from Fatima, it’s the most immediate track on show, which just goes to show that bangers are DVA’s bread and butter.

Nonetheless, DVA’s capacity to shake your booty was never in doubt; it’s the downtempo moments on Pretty Ugly that are revelatory… When they come off. ‘Eye Know feat Natalie Maddox’ is the prime example, with Maddox’s dulcet tones floating over its sonic landscape like velvet held over a wind machine. The accompanying music video captures its sexy-yet-unsettling vibe to a tee. Meanwhile, ‘Why You Do feat AL’ finds the evasive middle ground between the dance floor and the living room. There are certainly times when the experiment fails, too. The wet, wandering riffing of ‘Madness feat Vikter Duplaix’ verge towards annoying in its relentlessness, while the final track, ‘Where I Belong’ sounds like Ennio Morricone played on the ‘demo’ button of a Casio keyboard. Which is a lot less interesting than it sounds.

Nevertheless, it’s yet further proof that Hyperdub are breaking the mould with their quest to find the avant-garde in innercity electronic music. So far in 2012, Hyperdub have released Burial’s much lauded Kindred EP, and now DVA’s kaleidoscopic collision of colours and sounds. With albums from the likes of The Bug in the pipeline, Steve Goodman is showing that, eight years into Hyperdub’s life as a label and ethos, it shows no sign of slowing down. Long may it continue.

Pretty Ugly is out on March 20th through Hyperdub.

Jack Steadman

The Men / ‘Open Your Heart’

Last year Leave Home’s crude arrival  was like a sucker punch to the kidneys. Gritty, filthy, essential and unashamed of the bands musical legacy, the record encompassed everything from thrash and doom metal in it’s influences. Not  a cohesive record, but this playful  amateurism to tackle all genres gave this thing a veneer of charm on this gnarled object. Since then the band have talked about moving away from this monolithic noise structure and onto something dare I say it  ‘softer’…

With a riff that sounds identical to the Stiff Little Fingers classic ‘Suspect Device’ the sound of the new record is revealed. ‘Turn it around’ opens Open up Your Heart, and don’t tell me you weren’t surprised.  Gone are the extended intros and vile coughs from behind the mixing desk and in it’s place stands a very straightforwardly produced  track with a fairly conventional song structure and sound. Saying that, the song is propellent, the chorus is good and the guitar breakdown nearing the end is ace. ‘Animal’  hints at the looseness of Leave Home. Thudding drum patterns,  murmurs from the band and then the thing explodes into a loose punk belter, including some female vocals in the chorus and this strange hovering sound effect in the chorus that sounds like a razor rigged up to an amplifier.

However, what really grates me about this record is the majority of the instrumental passages . ‘Country Song’ is my main gripe. The sounds aren’t exactly the most exciting thing you’ll hear this year, and while it may act as a bridge to the other cuts on the record, it is a simple throwaway.  Despite this early set-back things pick up again in ‘Oscillation’, a solid guitar groover pulsing and withering around this beautiful guitar melody like traffic moving through spaghetti junction. After this extended instrumental passage vocal murmurs join in, morphing the track into this sleazy and driving guitar epic.

Now, things start to get complicated,  track ‘Open your Heart’ initally filled me with resent, something so soppy was never my idea of what this band were about. While this track fits in with the feel of the record, the slacker 90’s sounding guitar licks and passionate vocal delivery makes it dificult for me to get fully onboard.  Next track ‘Candy’ is awful. Ditching the electronic for a acoustic guitar, The Men take the sentimentality of ‘Open your Heart’ one step too far,  the track is quite simply a forgettable and boring ballad.  As you can probably tell Like Leave Home this thing is all over the place sound-wise. Scatterbrained beyond belief ‘Cube’ returns to the frantic wails of the band letting loose, reverb-laden mini guitar solos sounding like Dinosaur Jr, and the vocals like a tin can in a meat-grinder.

As the record ends I’m left feeling slightly perplexed. Of course there are good tracks on this record, but the sense of fun on their previous sound has been replaced by a seriousness that just isn’t as appealing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be spinning this thing for a while now, but with a few tweaks the record could have been so much better.

Alex Hall

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John Talabot – Fin

 

 

John Talabot is another man masked in mystery. With his face concealed in a veil  of Tin- Foil,  this Barcelona-based producer has released a continuous flow of underground house records since 2009; all of which are deep, cavernous floor-fillers that have been murdering the dance- floor with their glorious, upbeat licks.

Over his relatively short career Talabot has released on a few labels, Permanent Vacation, Young Turks and his own Hivern Discs imprint, and it’s this avenue that Talabot has decided to release his debut Fin, a mysterious, sad and pulsing house record that is not only a significant departure from previous material, but is one of the best releases of the year so far.

While this record replicates the sounds of the inner city, and the alley way ambiance of  producers like Burial, the first track ‘Depak Ine’ hints at another side of this metropolitan hustle.  Centering around this  eerie Amazonian jungle loop, Talabot plays on the similarities between urban decay and the constricting nature of the rainforest, and utilises the mystery of these sounds to create a thick collage of interlocking primal melodies which all groove gloriously around the steady clicks and shuffles of progressive house.

Despite the strangness of these sounds, this record is certainly geared toward  the 5 AM sweat pit of the dance-floor. ‘Destiny ft. Pional ‘ showcases the strong undercurrent of pop, and soulful house prevalent in his material. Pional’s lush, and layered, vocal lines perfectly compliment the angelic swoops of the synth that sound like showers of gold dust against the gruff metropolitan beat.

Throughout the record Talabot perfectly orchestrates these points into moments of striking analog beauty. As the record progresses, it is clear that Talabot is not remotely intimidated by the confines of house , and the skeletal structure of the basic 4/4 pattern.  Constantly morphing the beat around this  machine gun syncopation,  it’s mutating the confines of the basic 4/4 pattern that Talabot really uses his artistic vision to attack the senses. ‘ Oro Y Strange’ is a harrowing track that loops around desolate screams, replicating the dark sounds of the city’s underbelly. One of the many highlights of this record is the gloriously upbeat “Last Land”, a euphoric club-banger that once again showcases the producers skill in creating strong rhythmic tracks that seem eternal and ever progressive.

As you can probably tell this record is packed full of suprises at every turn, so I’ll leave the next bit up to you. All I can say is,  even if you don’t do anything else today, go and listen to this record.  Thank me later.

Alex Hall

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