[Music] Markus Feehily – Love Is A Drug (review)

marky mark

Available to buy on iTunes 

For those feeling cheated by British singer Sam Smith’s reluctance to exhume the soulful magnetism that once allowed Disclosure’s “Latch” to reach its zenith of house-garage nirvana from whatever crypt the success of his frumpy debut In The Lonely Hour consigned it to, Markus Feehily may have found the perfect remedy with “Love Is A Drug”.

For his first solo release, the former Westlife stalwart eschews the flavourless pap that remains de rigueur for ex-boyband members – be they Irish balladeers or neutered one-time hit-makers – for a brooding slice of breakbeat-pop. With Feehily’s smooth tenor gliding through swathes of swollen strings from the track’s opening moments, Massive Attack’s trip-hop classic “Unfinished Sympathy” appears to be the obvious exemplar for the track.

The drawing of parallels between love and drugs may be one of the most burnt out lyrical tropes in pop music, but Feehily’s delivery sets an almost overwhelmingly raw and personal tone. Meanwhile, a recurring motif of “looking up at the stars” helps ground the song’s lyrical and aural histrionics – a foreboding choir emerges during the final lap to plump up an already anthemic chorus – in a recognisably dissonant romantic situation.

9.5/10

[Excursions] Funk’d @ The Aberystwyth Boat Club (review)

puss puss© Eddie Whitehead Photography 

What: A music event with performances from Roughian, Sgilti Ysgafn Droed, Endeser and Cloaka // When: March 13th, next event slated for May 26th // Where: Aberystwyth Boat Club 

Review: In an age in which Spotify are obligated to offer users the option to hide their guilty pleasures from public view and a BBC Radio One presenter can expect a standing ovation for admitting to liking a Taylor Swift song, one wonders if music listeners have ever been so self-conscious. A song such as Mark Ronson’s impeccably-produced pastiche “Uptown Funk” arguably reaches the masses by deftly dousing inherently cool funk tropes – spangly horn sections, raspy James Brown posturing courtesy of Bruno Mars – in 2014 hedonism. The track’s reluctance to attempt anything truly innovative was apparently of great comfort to consumers on a worldwide scale, and as inescapable hits go, there was still much to enjoy about Ronson’s irony-tinged emulation of a brand of music that is more perceptibly credible by mere virtue of its age.

But it is a notable lack of irony and inhibition that marks out Aberystwyth’s Funk’d as a distinctly joyous music event. The musical jamboree – which has been organised by local musician Gwion Llyr for almost two years – emblazoned the Aberystwyth Boat Club with an eclectic eruption of disco, IDM, techno, and house. The choice cuts of both resident and touring DJs represented a multitude of decades, with the titular genre only sprinkled occasionally throughout.

This is a night in which recently canonised dancefloor staples – from the giddy, neon-drenched EDM of the Avicii and Sebastien Drums collaboration “My Feelings For You” to the irresistible deep bass pulsations of Jauz’s “Feel The Volume” – shamelessly rub shoulders with juicy remixes of earthy classics such as Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” and Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road”. The effect is an intoxicating sense of spontaneity and airborne excitement, and these are excerpts from just one set; that of Aberystwyth’s own electronic music duo Roughian, comprised of Llyr and Steffan Woodruff. Sgilti Ysgafn Droed, Endeser and Cloaka, the evening’s much-buzzed-about headliner, all turned in stellar showings.

Although unassuming in both size and reputation, students and local residents alike should find the Boat Club to be a welcome deviation from the town’s leading nighttime venues, Why Not and Pier Pressure. It has the slightly rickety maritime charm of the latter, coupled with the former’s USP. Yes, you heard right: one may drink on the dancefloor. The venue’s bar-club duality is easy to navigate thanks to a spacious smoking deck, and while it may be comparatively isolated in terms of its location – there is an admittedly galling lack of nearby cash machines, so do bring cash! – it also provides patrons with respite from the often claustrophobic nature of the town’s nightlife.

With Funk’d continuing to grow and experiment – the Boat Club is set to be taken over again on May 26th – the music lovers of Aberystwyth have been afforded the rare chance to immerse themselves in an endlessly ambitious event in its embryonic stages.

[Music] MNEK – Small Talk EP (review)

mnek

Available to buy on iTunes

Review: There is a common thrust to the most lucrative tier of singer-producer MNEK’s output. From the guest turn on Gorgon City’s “Ready For Your Love” early last year that marked his chart debut, to his soulful groans on Madonna’s recent single “Living For Love”, to his latest release “The Rhythm” – which enters the UK Top 40 this week at #38, becoming his most successful solo cut to date – the notion that stints as a reliable prop for diluted, radio-friendly house tracks conjured up in a record label boardroom are MNEK’s (née Uzo Emenike) bread-and-butter is a difficult one to resist.

Each of the aforementioned tracks are immensely enjoyable on their own terms, and had the Small Talk EP arrived bereft of its most eccentric, laterally-thinking moments, MNEK’s flair for sprightly melodies and pinning down potentially saccharine turns of phrase with puppy-eyed sincerity would still ensure his addition to the British music scene to be a more than welcome one.

But for those accustomed to hearing Uzo’s rich baritone over splashes of cotton-padded synth and a 4/4 beat, the nü-electroclash crush of opening track “Every Little Word” will scan as a startlingly left-field curio. Somewhere amidst a clunky fever dream of pounding drum machines, wobbly synth and gooey basslines lies an unshakably cute love song, and although not the most graceful example of MNEK’s pop prowess, the track contains a far more tangible sense of personality than “The Rhythm”. As serviceable as that finger-clicking single is, an over-reliance on the deep bass burble of its garage-flavoured breakdown in lieu of an actual chorus backs its headliner into the undesirable role of a slightly anonymous guest vocalist.

It should therefore come as no surprise that this EP’s sharpest moments begin to crystallise when his own idiosyncrasies converge with cut-glass songwriting. The criminally underrated 2014 single “Wrote a Song About You” is a disarmingly sweet highlight, retaining its emotionally-charged thump even when the tempo shifts up a gear and Uzo goes full-on diva for the final chorus. “In Your Clouds” brews its luxurious electro-R&B groove into a fluffy gust of pitched-up chants (“Take me to that place / Aaa-aah…”) and a whistling wind instrument, while “More Than A Miracle” sidesteps the generically clean dance leanings implied by its preamble in favour of a fractured bubblegum chorus melody relayed over a grime-echoing beat.

One certainly can’t fault the efficiency of this six-tracker. As the final notes of the sole ballad “Suddenly” are scaled to cap off this breathless overview of MNEK’s potential, the listener has a healthy knowledge of what exactly makes him special as an artist, and, perhaps just as importantly, how he could possibly blend into the mainstream should the duty call.

9.5/10

Blind Dating With Sylvia Plath (Application to Love)

imageedit_5_2276968847

Love me or loathe me,
you do the math:
it’s time for blind-dating
with Sylvia Plath!

Romance lies
behind one of three doors.
Our contestant is Agnes.
She’s just been divorced.

She’s sixty and sexy.
She won’t be repressed,
commodified like cattle…
but it seems I’ve digressed.

Escaping her marriage
and its perilous jaws,
I present you with Agnes.
I demand your applause.

[A glittery Agnes
ascends to the stage.
The make-up does wonders
for masking her age.]

Welcome, my darling,
and do take a seat.
I’ve got three living Ken dolls
for your libido to meet.

[Poor Agnes starts wincing
under the spotlight.
Poised on a stool,
her dress looks quite tight.]

Our sort of people
are men without flaw,
false teeth and glass eyes –
should this not be the law?

[With the uproarious crowd
in a state of unrest,
the first door creaks open
like a treasure chest…

A young man emerges
tanned from head to toe,
wearing pink branded briefs
spelling out the name “Joe”.]

Come out of the closet.
Close enough to touch.
He comes with a six-pack,
and an all-too real crotch.

He’s a prime piece of beef.
I can tell by the cheers.
He has us all salivating –
so what’s with the tears?

[Agnes whispers to Plath.
Her response seems to stun.]
But who cares if this hunk’s
the same age as your son?

Don’t you for a second
think that you’re a perve!
A young shatterproof man
is what you deserve.

You’re choosing this man.
I’m ending the game.
Do you not think your ex
would do exactly the same?

[Music] Madonna – Rebel Heart (review)

Madonna_-_PR_Hando_2250210a

Available to buy on iTunes

Review: Despite exploiting both the public’s desire and distaste for sexual provocation throughout a career spanning more than thirty years, Madonna’s thirteenth studio album Rebel Heart sees the Queen of Pop release a song entitled “S.E.X” for the very first time. One of the most potent examples of Madonna’s flair for media manipulation would involve her using titillation and its inherent shock value as a means of establishing discourses on power, control, and AIDS anxiety on 1992’s Erotica. With song titles such as “Deeper and Deeper”, “Why’s It So Hard” and “Bad Girl” winking at you from its tracklisting, the album may as well have been sold with a pack of pearls for listeners unwilling to explore its thematic depths to clutch. “Deeper and Deeper” almost drowns in own its doe-eyed reverence for love, “Why’s It So Hard” is a plea for world peace, and “Bad Girl” wraps up its exploration of destructive vices in a poultice of self-loathing.

“S.E.X.”, meanwhile, is about sex.

Couple this transparency with the presence of even more references to the singer’s discography than 2012’s MDNA, and there’s a certainly case to made for Rebel Heart finding Madonna in an uncharacteristically unimaginative state of mind. Although the Super Deluxe Edition’s twenty-five tracks may once again present the listener with an array of musical swatches to choose from, at least the record’s evident influences are just a little more time-honoured than those of 2006’s Hard Candy – a relic of Timbaland’s mid-noughties chart ubiquity – and the tuneless EDM of MDNA.

The glassy deep house of lead single “Living For Love” is a triumph, marrying Madonna hallmarks – gospel influences, self-empowering lyrics – to Diplo’s oh-so-current but disciplined production. “Devil Pray” never fully cashes in on the country-dance credentials presented in disillusioned verses in which Madonna appeals to a higher power for salvation, instead luring its chorus away from the barn dance and into a demonic orgy turned rave.

There are moments in which Rebel Heart feels genuinely fresh; Diplo and PC Music’s SOPHIE buff the plastic arrogance of the Nicki Minaj-featuring “Bitch I’m Madonna” with a decidedly cartoonish and auto-tuned sheen, rounding it off with confrontational blasts of what sounds like a dog being unnerved by a frantically pulled zip. “Iconic” could become Madonna’s very own “Eye Of the Tiger”, with a mouthy prologue from Mike Tyson fizzing into cascades of quasi-industrial beats, a victory lap of a chorus (“I can! / Icon! / Two letters apart”) and an appearance from Chance The Rapper. Producer Kanye West is in Yeezus mode on “Illuminati”, propping up Madonna’s intentionally dead-eyed anti-conspiratorial raps (“It’s not Isis or the Phoenix, The Pyramids of Egypt; Don’t make it into something sordid”) with heavy, sluggishly churning synths.

Critics will be quick to note the divide between these edgier cuts and the record’s more heartfelt and traditionally structured offerings. “Ghosttown”, the piano-led “HeartBreakCity”, and the largely acoustic “Joan of Arc” are easily Madonna’s finest ballads in a decade, but there are instances of the dualities implied by the record’s title intersecting. On “Body Shop”, her floaty voice woos a lover over a gossamer-light folk arrangement with a series of car-related puns, but when you hear Madonna sing “jumpstart my heart”, there is something sweet to take from them not all being exclusively sexual. On “Inside Out”, a slightly gigglesome topline of “Let me love from the inside out” doubles as both as a sexual solicitation and an unconditional acceptance of a lover’s flaws.

There’s little resembling an encompassing musical thread to Rebel Heart. Uptempo’s are something of a rarity, with many of the club-orientated tracks pacing themselves to deliver more fleshed out choruses. The self-referencing gets occasionally tiresome on “Holy Water” and “Veni Vidi Vici”; the first a deliriously camp (“Bitch, get off my pole!”) endorsement of female ejaculation with an unnecessary interpolation of “Vogue”, the second a wistful retrospective of Madonna’s life and career with lyrics made up of shout outs to her biggest hits: “I expressed myself, came like a virgin down the aisle / Exposed my naked ass, and I did it with a smile.”

So that brings us back to “S.E.X”. After so many years in the game, Madonna has probably earned the right to serve up such dimly derivative material if she should so wish. But Rebel Heart also embraces all of her strengths as an artist, from theatrical balladry (“Messiah”) to cocksure dancefloor fillers (“Unapologetic Bitch”) to exercises in sensual R&B (the bhangra-infused “Best Night”). At 56, Madonna is carving out a cultural space for older women in the music industry and beyond to further explore their sexuality and creativity. The fruits of her efforts will obviously take a few years to quantify and appreciate, but the adventurous streak running throughout much of her latest record shows why Madonna will always be a rebel at heart.

8.5 / 10

[Music] Charli XCX – Sucker (review)

Charli-XCX-Sucker-e1412841427953

Available to buy on iTunes

Review: Giving frothy, guitar-driven power pop a semi-ironic squeeze without choking the fun out of it is 22 year-old Charlotte Aitchison, AKA Charli XCX. Sucker is her second studio album – unless you count 2008’s barely self-released debut 14, but then why would you? – and the glee with which it swaps the moody electro-fuzz of 2013’s True Romance for a raucous riot grrrl flavour is worth the price of admission alone.

Bursting out of the gate with a barrage of girly whoops, infectious new wave synths and a shriek of “Fuck you, Suckerrr!”, the title track seems to be swiped straight from the soundtrack of a late 90’s Columbia TriStar teen flick. Perhaps such connotations are unavoidable considering it was in the guise of Britney Murphy’s Clueless character that Charli was introduced to the majority of listeners alongside Iggy Azalea in the video for their ubiquitous 2014 hit “Fancy”, but if Sucker aims to convey anything other than giddy, juvenile thrills, it certainly does not show.

Even “London Queen” – which is easily the weakest track here, clocking in at under three minutes and yet still blighted by nauseating repetition – cannot help but raise a smile thanks to the unmitigated delight Charli displays at her newfound prosperity: “I never thought I’d be living in the USA / Doing things the American way […] Living the dream like a London Queen”. Fame and fortune are recurring themes, but this particular starlet isn’t one to sing at you from behind the velvet rope; “Gold Coins” and “Hanging Around” invite us to dream big, while “Famous”, with its shimmy-friendly guitar licks, treats fame as merely a state of mind: “One night, we’re gonna come and crash the party / Weren’t invited but we’re feeling so outrageous / Just like we’re famous”. It’s the way Charli tows the line between an awestruck sense of pride in her own achievements and the BFF-quality encouragement her lyrics offer that makes her the listener’s ever-reliable seatbelt on Sucker‘s musical rollercoaster.

The songwriting is extraordinarily hook-focused, but never cynical. “Boom Clap”, the dreamy party favour “Doing It” (featuring Rita Ora, who usually represents the kind of faceless chart fodder Charli rages against, but here gives the track some necessary zip) and the sweet 60’s girl group pastiche “Need Ur Love” offer reprieve from the catchy noise-pop, although these comparatively subtle moments probably won’t satiate those accusing Charli of selling out. She has been frank about her desire to appeal to young girls, and perhaps the thought of even a fraction of them growing up with a snarly ode to female agency like “Body Of My Own” on their iPods is all the credibility a project as unapologetically fun as Sucker could ever ask for.

9.0/10

[Movies] The Babadook (review)

The Babadook

Director & Screenwriter: Jennifer Kent // Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Barbara West, Tim Purcell. 

Review: In a horror-drama crammed with unsettling moments, The Babadook’s most nimbly wielded weapon is the fleeting but resonant savageness with which it depicts a mother struggling to love their child. It’s a concept that director Jennifer Kent arguably employs to emulsify the two genres her feature film debut works within; part kitchen sink character study, part haunted house freak show. The film’s first half is understandably earnest and dialogue-driven as Kent takes care to convey the everyday exasperation of single mother Amelia (played by the extraordinary Essie Davis), who lives an anxious life in the Australian suburbs and while in mourning for her husband seven years after a bid to rush her and their unborn child to the maternity ward resulted in a fatal car crash.

A superstitious eccentric with a skill for crafting Home Alone-style artillery, her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is a sweet but stubbornly errant loner who can rarely go a night without crawling into his mother’s bed. Deprived of sleep – with Kent fast-forwarding through the few hours she does indulge in to exacerbate the interminable nature of her day-to-day – Amelia insists on not only looking after her son’s needs, but also those of her elderly neighbour (Barbara West) and the geriatrics she tends to at a nursing home each day. Both her and Samuel look forward to reading a children’s story at the end of a long day, that is until the sudden appearance of a grisly but beautifully crafted pop-up book entitled Mister Babadook captures the darkest recesses of Samuel’s imagination.

Sketched in charcoal, the book’s eponymous character is a behatted sycophant with sharp, spindly fingers and a manic expression; his murderous behaviour relayed in playground-friendly couplets: “Take heed of what you’ve read… / Once you see what’s underneath / You’re going to wish you were dead”). As Samuel’s palpably felt obsession with the monster grows, Amelia’s professional and personal relationships begin to crumble, and it is the ensuing mental and physical self-isolation that becomes the cue for Kent to flex her flair for evoking moods of near-suffocating dread. There is an admittedly awkward shift from dramatic realism to conventional horror tropes as the impact of illogical reactions take effect, but this is small price to pay for the thought-provoking thrills stashed away in the film’s latter half.

Refusing to settle for cheap jump scares in order to rile up its audience, The Babadook is at its best when suggesting the monster’s existence in surprisingly rational ways. Think you’re safe at a police station in the day time? Kent implores you to think again. The exquisitely dull colours of Amelia’s home, bristling sound design (the scrape of the book’s pop-up appendages against paper, the creaky-floorboard growl of the Babadook itself), and a singular but magnificently unexpected burst of gore will have your skin practically ushering the film underneath it.

With the tumultuous relationship between Amelia and Samuel realised in affecting detail, The Babadook is a uniquely cerebral horror and a promising calling-card for Kent. Even if her obvious talents remain just a tad raw, as her film’s ending suggests, there is truly nothing a little nurturing cannot fix.

9.0/10