[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] MNEK – Small Talk EP (review)

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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

[Music] Ciara – I Bet (review)

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Review: The sleek and modern R&B of Ciara’s 2013 self-titled album helped re-establish the singer as more than just the photogenic face of crunk&B’s once inescapable chart success, positioning her instead as an enduring talent – she debuted her “Goodies” all the way back in 2004 – with impeccable taste. It was the Future-assisted, hipster-approved baby-making jam “Body Party” that really set the project’s wheels into motion, and although this taster from Ciara’s sixth studio album Jackie comes courtesy of producer Harmony Samuels (Ariana Grande, Ne-Yo), it’s difficult to say Future’s presence is missed considering the track seems to address the breakdown of their relationship head-on.

The emotional impact of that maelstrom of alleged infidelity – no doubt complicated by their professional engagements and, of course, the fact that they had a son last May, also named Future – bears its teeth in “I Bet”, a nigglingly catchy mid-tempo replete with warm acoustic guitar, looped skittering drum machines and Ciara’s velvety, quivering, and at times motor-mouthed soprano. “You know it hurts your pride / But you thought the grass was greener on the other side,” she sings, prioritising a tone of curt matter-of-factness over any glib attempts at sass.

As addictive as “I Bet” may be, the track’s power is primarily fuelled by its torrid backstory, and had Ciara fronted an earlier album with it (which she may as well have with 2009’s Fantasy Ride’s syrupy “Never Ever”), we would most likely have written it off as dishearteningly pedestrian. But by keeping the vision she so brilliantly executed on Ciara in mind, “I Bet” cannot help but leave us excited for the comparably sensual and eclectic record that could be in store.

8.0/10

[Music] Kelis – FOOD (review)

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Available to buy from April 21st on Ninja Tune Records.

Of all the noughties R&B divas to pre-empt every misogynist’s favourite punchline and get back in the kitchen, Kelis Rogers seemed the most unlikely. Alas, fifteen years on from her debut single “Caught Out There” becoming a neo-feminist anthem, FOOD sees Kelis don the persona of a soulful hausfrau. On “Floyd”, a shoegazer in the spirit of The Dark Side of the Moon’s more downtempo moments, we find her at her most co-dependent: “Sure I’m self-sufficient / Blah blah, independent / Truthfully I got some space I want that man fillin’.” More than a renouncement of her autonomy, Kelis’s sixth record is instead a celebration of our most carnal instincts, which she kindly boils down to fucking and dining over the course of thirteen tracks.

The record kicks off with a triptych of sunny, well-meaning mashes of soul-driven funk – including last year’s “Jerk Ribs”, which still shimmers like a lost Jackson 5 classic – but these are almost a clearing of the throat. The album’s latter half treks far more interesting terrain: “Change” mixes “White Rabbit”-esque brooding with James Bond-theme theatrics, the tidy piano riff of “Biscuits’n’Gravy” is interrupted by a rousing horn section, while “Rumble”’s one-line chorus (“I’m so glad you gave back my keys”) and balmy atmosphere demonstrates a serious progression from the senseless post-break-up rage of “Caught Out There”.

Dave Sitek’s warm, honeyed (if occasionally identikit) production fits Kelis’s voice like an oven-mitt. She’s offered far more room to experiment than on her 2010 dance album Flesh Tone, particularly on “Cobbler”, where the usually demure singer breaks into an impassioned operatic falsetto. And while the encompassing food theme does seem a bit arbitrary, big-band showstoppers “Cobbler” and “Fish Fry” both pop like hot oil.

7/10

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[Music] Veruca Salt – Resolver (review)

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Review: Fellow followers of current pop music-related events will have inevitably stumbled upon the term “shade” at least once throughout their travels in cyberspace – either through Rihanna’s Twitter page or an ill-advised visit to minimum security insane asylum ATRL – but for any neophytes out there, it essentially refers to sly insults delivered by useless people in the public eye, such as X-Factor judges or Perez Hilton. Fans of both pop music and heavily contrived drama can take pleasure in picking apart interviews with their ‘faves’, all the time believing that talk of an ex-bandmate’s handwriting and a diverted hand placement could the spell the end for a girl group (as was very much the case for this band).

Even when there is behind-the-scenes tension, it is rarely as explicit as we would like it to be, putting even more pressure on fans to read into every lyric, tweet, and hashtag until they can be certain that pretty much everyone in pop hates each other. Those tired of reading between the lines may find much to enjoy in Veruca Salt’s third record. With all but one of it’s thirteen tracks dedicated to either the fall-out between singer/guitarists Louise Post and Nina Gordon or the former’s split from Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, Resolver is positively brimming with rage and, yes, unadulterated, unexpurgated ‘shade’.

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