[Music] Jess Glynne – I Cry When I Laugh (review)

15-JessGlynne_ICryWhenILaugh_NoText_0Available to buy on iTunes

Review: While Adele drifts in hypersleep around the outskirts of our pop galaxy, the British public’s enthusiasm for Jess Glynne’s similarly husky tones suggests that a disco-driven return for the platinum-selling singer could be particularly lucrative.

At least that’s what Glynne seems to be banking on throughout her debut album I Cry When I Laugh. The quinoa-flavoured dance-pop of “Hold My Hand”, “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself” and the Clean Bandit collaboration “Real Love” whizz by with a cheeriness that can be almost nauseating, but it’s difficult to fault their structures. Whether it’s a double-barreled chorus, rumbling choir or pirouetting piano stabs, each artifice is deployed with the utmost precision.

In an age when controversy seems to be the primary way of ushering fresh talent into the public consciousness, Glynne’s ascent has been a relatively quiet one. Yet the absence of a titanic personality is actually the album’s trump card. It’s refreshing to approach a record with no external drama to spoil or undermine a sense of relentless optimism that’s perceptible from the song titles alone.

The roller rink disco of “You Can Find Me” makes for a delightful standout. One could never describe Glynne’s delivery as fierce or even particularly charismatic, but she’s rarely less than engaging, and inside the track’s bubble of subtle synth, funky bass lines and soulful backing vocals, she casts a warm and enchanting presence. The clanking percussion and austere violin strokes of deluxe track “Home”, meanwhile, adds a much-needed variation in sound.

Glynne avoids an excess of guest stars; a wise move for an artist that’s credited as a feature artist on three out five of her number one singles. Still, the addition of a slushy Emeli Sandé duet entitled “Saddest Vanilla” shows she may be comically unaware of her own inoffensive persona.

More successful is “Take Me Home”, which excels within the narrow parameters set by the modern piano ballad.  It also seems destined to become a staple sing-a-long for those hoping to land a shag at the end of a night out – another mammoth achievement for Glynne in a career that’s been startlingly full of them.

6.5/10

[Music] Veruca Salt – Ghost Notes (review)

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Source: ladygunn.com
Available to buy on iTunes

Review: A bitchy little devil sits cross-legged on my shoulder, fanning himself while whispering banal observations in my ear: “Hey, look at those Veruca Salt chicks that gave your life meaning as a teenager. They look pretty hot for a pair of moms, no?”

I’ve always been a staunch ambassador for female dignity, but these shivers of sexism suggest that the urge to equate a woman’s worth with how youthful she appears can be irresistible – no matter how much you respect them.

Now it’s not as if singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post ever rocked out with paper bags on their heads as a “fuck you” to those who found them attractive. It just felt like a rather lame thing for my mind to note.

Ghost Notes is the first album to feature the original Veruca Salt quartet since a bust-up between the band’s frontwomen saw Gordon jump ship in 1998. It begins by spreading a smooth, girlish voice across a crunchy bed of 90’s alt-rock riffs: “I wanted to live / so I pretended to die,” Gordon sings with a wink to fervent fans.

The Gospel According to Saint Me” is a bubbly toast to the band’s reformation, but from the sprightly spark of Gordon’s voice, you wouldn’t guess that it’s been nearly two decades since the full-fat arena rock of 1997’s Eight Arms to Hold You.

There are juicy allusions to Post and Gordon’s fall-out throughout the album, but “The Gospel…” is notable for looking firmly to the future. “It’s gonna get loud / it’s gonna get heavy,” Gordon and Post reiterate in harmony, and it’s often the bristling sugar-rush of these reunified voices that makes Ghost Notes sound so vital.

The moment I heard Gordon’s youthful tone, I thought I had found a loop-hole. “Perhaps you could judge women by how young they sound…” the bitchy devil began to plot.

This was until a barrage of Post-led tracks reacquainted me with her voice, which is coarser, more aged, and eminently more versatile than it was on 2006’s IV, the second of Veruca Salt’s two Gordon-less records. Atop the melancholy grind of power ballad “The Sound of Leaving”, Post’s soft confessionals lurch into serrated yowls with a fluidity that prevents the shift in tempo from sapping the record’s momentum.

So, if Ghost Notes confirms anything, it’s that getting older can be an absolute blast. In addition to the ensuing years putting a fresh spin Post and Gordon’s vocal synchronicity, the band’s songwriting has never been stronger. “Laughing in the Sugar Bowl” and “Eyes On You” are joyous celebrations of the rekindled friendship between Veruca Salt’s leading ladies, but it’s “Black and Blonde” that gives a sharp insight into their reparations.

Once an unflattering tribute to the formerly black-haired Post, this off-cut from Gordon’s solo debut has been rewritten to address the dude-feud that brought the band to a halt.

Gordon dispenses the read-between-the-lines gossip with indifference (“No one ever really has to know / ‘Cause he was just some bloody so-and-so”) before repackaging her and Post’s trauma as a bonding experience; first on an utter slugfest of a chorus (“You beat me black and blonde […] You break me down / and I’ll take you on”), then on a beautifully harmonised middle-eight (“Sleep, little child / I forgive you / and for the pain I caused, I’m sorry, too”).

Brad Wood, producer of the band’s debut American Thighs in 1994, wisely gives these harmonies pride of place among the expected storms of jagged guitar, Jim Shapiro’s whiplash drumming and Steve Lack’s prowling bass, with even the panting stampede of “Laughing in the Sugar Bowl” indebted to the pair’s vocal interplay and zany countdowns – solfeggio syllables erupting into an impatient “LA-LA-LA-LA!”, for instance – more than anything else.

Veruca Salt have never been known for their profound songwriting skills, and while the apologetic highlight “I’m Telling You Now” stacks cliché upon lyrical cliché, the band knows how to blow them away with an infectious confetti-canon finale. As they whoop and cheer beneath a spotlight that once probed every messy detail of their lives, you realise just how special this record is.

Beneath it’s bratty veneer, Ghost Notes is a fourteen-track paean to the virtue of forgiveness. Not only can it reignite a once glowing friendship; it can pave the way for the best record of your career.

9.0/10

[Music] Ben Khan – 1000 EP (review)

ben-khan-1000-track-itAvailable to buy on iTunes

Review: On the artwork for his latest EP, the monochrome shadows that further dramatise the square jaw of electro-R&B prodigy Ben Khan are upstaged by a florescent floral border and hot pink tears. This contrast serves as a statement of sorts; he may have perfected an intriguing if humourless pose with the release of last year’s 1992 EP, but Khan still sees the value in flamboyant embellishments.

Khan’s earlier output could often feel alien and self-contained. The warm, prancing synth of the acclaimed “Youth” was frequently pierced by cocked guns and human wails, and it scanned as the work of a sojourning extra-terrestrial tasked with condensing both the excitement and humbling helplessness of the human experience into a three-minute romp.

Meanwhile, the 1000 EP is fronted by a title track that pitches an unambiguous chorus (“But I don’t need much / Just a touch / ‘Cause you’re just a crush”) over the same jingling drum machine as that of the 2003 Kelis and Andre 3000 collaboration “Millionaire”. Propelled by a rush of bubbly funktronica and references to “cocaine eyes” that will have complicit students smirking in their dorms, “1000” is easily Khan’s most polished and broadly appealing song to date.

The EP’s additional cuts are more faithful to the DIY charm that has so far defined Khan’s sound. On the ponderous “Red”, squiggles of guitar are filtered through the same gauze as the burbling synths that drift patiently towards the track’s unfocused romanticism, with only Khan’s thick and smoky tone managing to scythe through the uniform haze. The basement disco of “Zenith” is imminently more engaging, with rubbery 80’s keyboards and buttered guitar licks quickly establishing a neon-lit groove.

With not a single track on the 1000 EP surpassing the three-minute mark, it remains to be seen how effectively Khan’s graceful and contemplative style could be expanded into a full-length album. But on “Zodiac 2022”, a glorified outro at barely two minutes in length, he at least seems to be asking the right questions: “Where do we go to satisfy my love?”

If there is one thing this release proves, it is that Khan’s love is in music, and no matter where that love continues to take him, the plaudits are sure to follow.

7.5/10

[Music] Shamir – Ratchet (review)

shamir1

Available to buy on iTunes

Review: From the mood board experimentalism of last year’s Northtown EP to the streetwise techno-house of his debut album Ratchet, the sheer consistency of Shamir Bailey’s output has launched the metaphorical ball squarely into the court of the public. Throw the twenty year old North Las Vegas native’s utopian persona and vibrant aesthetic into the equation and it becomes clear that the level of success Shamir achieves this era will be less dependent on the quality of his work than the willingness of the world at large to embrace a post-gender popstar.

Just as Shamir eschews the partitions that define gender and sexuality, Ratchet regularly blurs the line between consistency and repetitiveness. Over the course of ten tracks, Shamir and sensei Nick Sylvester, founder of New York-based label GODMODE, draw a fizzy bath of punchy but putty-like synth, recurring splashes of rattling cow bell and the singer’s own raw and androgynous timbre.

Cartoonish first single “On the Regular” marches steadfastly to the beat of its kick drum, even as an acidic storm of klaxons descends to offset the cuddly nuances of Shamir’s enjoyably cocky verse-spitting. The sauntering bassline of album highlight “In For the Kill” is accompanied by a whistling saxophone to hit a heady sweet spot, while “Make a Scene” spruces up the blasts of abrasive bleeps and nonchalant speak-singing of Northtown cut “If It Wasn’t True” to craft a laudable mission statement: “We’ve given up on all our dreams / So why not go out and make a scene?”

Only a fool would have bet against the presence of such playlist-friendly delicacies on Shamir’s debut LP, but Ratchet also flows disarmingly well as a cohesive aural narrative. Both the slow-cook opener “Vegas” and compassionate electro-ballad “Demon” peel layers off a character prone to confused and occasionally detrimental infatuations, be it with a hometown (“If you’re living in the city, are you already in hell?”), or a caustically codependent romance (“If I’m a demon, baby you’re the beast that made me / Falling from grace / but falling oh-so-gracefully”).

A video for second single “Call It Off” produced for the YouTube Music Awards introduced Shamir to a wider audience as a puppet avatar, a visual artifice typically favoured by pop’s less charismatic ciphers. It comes as a relief, then, that Ratchet’s apparent raison d’être is to communicate the opposite principle. Shamir is not merely the Tumblr-ordained poster boy for pansexuality, but the fully-formed protagonist of his own rainbow-hued movie. Whether or not the general public will join him on in his adventures should be of no concern for now. Shamir represents the future of pop music, and perhaps our responsibility as a society is simply to catch up with him.

10/10

[Music] Craving Soup at a Warhol Exhibit: Britney Spears’ “Pretty Girls” VS PC Music

britney-spears-iggy-azalea-pretty-girls-2015-billboard-650-promoPretty Girls” has been born into what may prove to be an ideal climate. This is not merely in reference to Britney Spears’ apparent appeal for a summer hit; although the presence of Iggy Azalea and a sticky, “Fancy”-mimicking beat are perhaps enough to account for whatever vitriol may be levelled by detractors of the single, the first to be lifted from Spear’s upcoming album.

Instead, one may take interest in the fact that Spears’ return coincides with A.G. Cook’s ambitions to proliferate both the sound and philosophy of his London-based label PC Music. This month sees the UK releases of what could be viewed as two integral pillars in Cook’s musical colosseum: PC Music Vol. 1, the label’s first official compilation, and the single “Hey QT”, an electro-europop earworm that works as both a parody and celebration of the often shallow nature of mainstream music.

Cook and his collaborators and protégées are receiving praise for applying a thick gloss of irony to pop music’s inherent immediacy. At the core of “Hey QT” is an infectious Aqua-esque melody, one that could have easily been tamed into a legitimate, chart-ready anthem. But the focus is instead on the individual cogs that keep the engine of an effective tune chugging along. As a result, “Hey QT” boasts few layers; the drizzles of crisp synth evaporate on impact, while the decidedly artificial treatment of QT’s (AKA Quinn Thomas, as portrayed by performance artist Hayden Dunham) vocal is a clear nod to artists of Spears’ questionably talented ilk.

These are hallmarks of PC Music’s output, however, and the QT project is certainly witty in its promotion of the titular star as both a pop music siren and a refreshing energy elixir – two essential ingredients for a transcendent dancefloor experience. But it is also rather galling that Spears’ “Pretty Girls” seems destined to be criticised for being built on the same foundations that “Hey QT” coldly sifts through to rapturous applause.

“Pretty Girls” mocks the male gaze (“Is it true all these men are from Mars? / Is that why they be acting bizarre?”) and salutes female vanity in the vaguest possible terms; lyrically, at least, the track never backs its headliners into a corner of self-objectification, and this novel air of innocence is somewhat striking.

But with such an unnerving distinction between Spears’ digital detachment and Azalea’s comparable lucidity, their collaboration is almost a parody in itself. As the designated driver tasked with bringing Spears’ drunken cyber-chipmunk home safely, Azalea emerges as the track’s MVP by default. Her brief but confident verse even harks back to Spears’ own heyday with a tip of the hat to “… Baby One More Time”. While the reference does serve to commemorate the singer’s seventeen-year long career, it also highlights her regression as an imposing presence on her own work; with every yelp of “We’re just so prett-EH!”, Spears’ once inimitably nasal purr is stretched and smooshed into the mix in order to emulate the brassy Brit snarl of Azalea’s “Fancy” co-conspirator Charli XCX.

While one can appreciate the respective merits of “Hey QT” and “Pretty Girls”, we feel compelled to honour the track most purposefully built to entertain. In addition to possessing a smattering of hooks and beefy production from The Invisible Men, the components of Spears’ new single can be delineated and fitted around PC Music’s pseudo-cynical agenda. Like a soup kitchen adjacent to a Warhol exhibit, “Pretty Girls” feeds both the very human needs to observe and participate. RG

[Music] Ciara – Jackie (review)

ciara-jackie-music

Available to buy on iTunes

Review: In a move that would typically represent an artist’s desire to evoke an aura of maturity, the sixth studio album from R&B stalwart Ciara arrives christened with the name of her mother. But yet, in a move that would typically represent an artist’s appreciation for the plot of Freaky Friday, Jackie plays like the gum-chewing, Jell-O shot-sinking successor to 2013’s Ciara – a short, sweet and surprisingly ‘street’ ten-tracker that held the key to Cici’s hipster-R&B kudos in one hand (“Body Party”) and tasty forays into sparkling dance-pop in the other.

That record held off its Top 40-tempting behemoths (“Overdose”, “Livin’ It Up”) until the final stretch, almost as a reward for the casual fans who joined her on Ciara’s sleek, sensual narrative. Jackie, however, is content to put everything on the table. When Pitbull’s exasperated drawl treads the icy synths of “That’s How I’m Feelin’”, it’s the aural equivalent of waving a white flag from Credibility Castle. The track’s topline is regrettably Ester Dean-by-numbers, and does not even come close to matching the songwriter’s previous triumphs (“Super Bass”, “Rude Boy” et al), which is a shame considering Missy Elliott finally capitalises on the Super Bowl-induced nostalgia now synonymous with her name with a giddy contribution.

“Give Me Love” is an astoundingly generic appropriation of the Robin S. classic “Show Me Love” – although a disheartening portion of listeners are destined to recognise any similarities as analogous to Jason DeRulo’s “Don’t Wanna Go Home”. “Stuck On You”, meanwhile, with its pounding drums and speakerphone-assisted hooks (“Ain’t nothing like rolling with a Georgia peach”), is an admirable exercise in ratchet charm.

Ciara’s modest but plush soprano is given a good workout on the maternal ballad “I Got You”, and “I Bet”, an acoustic guitar-backed mid-tempo that addresses the singer’s fallout with ex-husband and collaborator Future in occasionally heartbreaking detail. But it’s the 80’s-inspired warmth of “Dance Like We’re Making Love” and “Kiss & Tell” that serve as Jackie’s most symbiotic marriages of voice and production: “Dance Like…” finds the singer breaking the word “love” down into seven syllables on a breathy staccato chorus, while the disco-lite embrace of “Kiss & Tell” captures butterflies-in-tummy anxiety over a shimmery but subtle groove. Cici goes hard on the title track, a maniacal expression of braggadocio that flits from trap to drum-and-bass nuances to arrogant twangs of electric guitar, accompanied by lyrics that are undoubtedly coming to an Instagram feed near you: “If you’d been through what I been through / Man, you’d be popping this shit, too!”

The largely jubilant nature of Jackie will most likely serve as an enjoyable change of pace for longtime fans, but it is disappointing that Ciara’s most pop-orientated record possesses such a restricted view of what pop music can be. The militant girl-power of bonus track “One Woman Army” suggests the potential for a slightly more imaginative approach to her art. Whether Ciara’s output continues to mature in reverse – or if her grandmother may want to consider a name change to spare her from future embarrassment – remains to be seen.

7/10

 

[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