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

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[Music] Almamy – Digital Love (review)

Almamy

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

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[Music] Top 20 Tracks of 2014, Part One (#20 – 11)

No musical trend in recent memory has maintained its credibility quite as strongly as the house resurgence. In it’s purest form, the sparse but meticulously built beats affiliated with the genre are putty in the hands of a capable songwriter. Repetition is a hallmark, but so is solidity; with a serviceable melody locked down, certain artists thrive in their adventures with the blank canvas, an honest musical space that leaves orthodox themes (love, sex, heartbreak, repeat) ugly and exposed. This inherent pluckiness means that even the most chart-chomping house cut can find some love from the alt-music blogosphere, if not for its emotional resonance, then for a semi-ironic admiration of it’s 90’s credentials.

The house movement has been something of a trojan horse in the UK, ushering a host of homegrown talents – MNEK, Duke Dumont, Clean Bandit – into the Top 40, as well as allowing comparably exotic acts – Kiesza, Faul & Wad Ad – to be welcomed with open arms (Take that, UKIP). Our list reflects this popularity, but also bridges the gap between radio-friendly hits and Pitchfork-approved gems. Also on our radar this year are talent show also-rans, a Cuban sex-pest and a smattering of “conscious uncouplings”.

Enjoy.

***

20. Pitbull – Timber [feat. Ke$ha], TBA

pitbull

Available to buy on iTunes

The unlikely union of country music and dance arrived last year in the form of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”, but that was a rather stony-faced foundation for what should have been an unashamedly tacky subgenre.

Enter mediocre rapper Pitbull, LOL-pop refugee Ke$ha, and a tangy, harmonica-led instrumental. “Timber” is purpose-built for dance floor domination; Mr. Worldwide’s verses are mercifully brief, serving as clumsy foreplay for the song’s infectious hook and riotous breakdown. He isn’t a complete spare part, however: that pre-chorus is what sweaty, late hour nightclub-based dreams are made of.

See also: “Wild Wild Love” [feat. GRL], “Wake Me Up” / “Hey Brother” by Avicii

19. Le Youth – Dance With Me [feat. Dominique Young Unique], TBA

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Available to buy on iTunes

On his second single, L.A.-based DJ Le Youth eschews the sumptuous ebb and flow of his Cassie-sampling breakthrough hit “C O O L”, instead turning in a relentlessly funky jam built on curt snippets from TLC’s iconic “No Scrubs”. Jubilant house piano stabs and a spongy bassline negate Dominique Young Unique’s limp rap.

See also: Le Youth’s excellent Fixtape, “Falling Scrubs” (TLC vs. Haim – Carlos Serrano Mash-Up)

18. MNEK – Every Little Word, TBA

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Available to buy on iTunes

Considering the current ubiquity of the genre, rising British star Uzoechi Osisioma Emenike (A.K.A MNEK) took a gamble in not following up his Gorgon City collaboration “Ready For Your Love” with another sleek house-inspired gem. “Every Little Word” is arguably just as sweet in its content, but frames MNEK’s soulful voice with confrontational production tricks. Drums pound, basslines wobble comically, and a randy Darth Vader asks repeatedly if we “fuck to this sh*t”.

No judgment if you do.

See also: Ready for Your Love, Baby”  by Rudimental [feat. MNEK & Sinead Harnett]

17. Faul & Wad Ad VS. Pnau – Changes, Changes E.P.

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Available to buy on iTunes

With a whirling saxophone, euphoric synths and a children’s choir (lifted from Pnau’s frankly creepy 2007 single “Baby”) all vying for your attention over the course of six minutes, it’s a miracle this debut effort from French producers Faul & Wad Ad isn’t a convoluted mess. The duo take care to ensure the separate elements all get a chance to shine, but it’s that sax-lad denouement that lends “Changes” its earthy beauty.

See also: Changes” (Bontan Remix)

16. Kiesza – Hideaway, TBA

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Available to buy on iTunes

This ridiculously assured debut from Canadian pop ingénue Kiesza hit the UK No. 1 spot in April, although punters were perhaps so entranced by the transcendent deep-house cut’s one-take, choreography-heavy video that they failed to notice a crucial lack of identity between the strong verses and understated breakdown.

As much she feels like a guest vocalist on her own track, Kiesza still has the makings of a top tier popstar.

See also: What Is Love

15. St. Vincent – Digital Witness, St. Vincent

St-Vincent

Available to buy on iTunes

Critics bemoaned the lack of Anne “St. Vincent” Clark’s signature riffing on her latest self-titled record, but the glossy, pseudo-psychedelic saunter of “Digital Witness” is all the better for it, instead leaving the heavy-lifting to a rubbery horn section and stonking bass.

A scathing treatise on social media, Clark asks “If you can’t see me / What’s the point of doing anything?” – skewering our if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest approach to what were once life’s simple pleasures.

See also: Birth In Reverse”, “Prince Johnny

14. Ariana Grande – Problem [feat. Iggy Azalea], TBA

ariana-grande-unkown-photoshoot-2014_1

Available to buy on iTunes

An underfed chorus mars this otherwise brilliant slice of summery hip-hop-pop, courtesy of perennial hit-maker Max Martin (Britney Spears, Katy Perry). Nickelodeon star Grande has been on our radars since last year’s “The Way” positioned her as the new Mariah Carey, but “Problem” ushers the twenty year old into more club-friendly territory.

Her sugary but powerful voice contrasts nicely with the track’s thumping beat and post-“Thrift Shop” saxophone breakdown, but it’s rapper Iggy Azalea who really impresses, putting tired assertions of her “swag” aside for a moment to deliver an attitude-packed verse.

See also:The Way”, “Wait (The Whisper Song)” by Ying Yang Twins, “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea [feat. Charli xcx]

13. Shift K3Y – Touch, Touch E.P.

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Available to buy on iTunes

There’s a whiff of Craig David’s early noughties forays into garage on “Touch”, thanks in part to Shift K3Y’s (nee Lewis Jankel) soft, nasally timbre. The italo disco-flavoured production is surprisingly minimalist, although the track whirls by at such a pace that mistaking it for a kitchen-sink affair would be forgivable.

See also: Make It Good, Keep Your Mouth Shut (Things That We Do)” [feat. Griminal]

12. Soft Lit – Ocean King, GODMODE: Common Interests Were Not Enough to Keep Us Together

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Available to buy from Godmode’s online store 

New York-based roommates-turned-musical duo Tyler McCauley and visual artist Tara Chacon meld R&B-friendly melodies with airy, organic production on “Ocean King”, one of the many highlights from Godmode’s excellent label showcase compilation Common Interests Were Not Enough to Keep Us Together.

McCauley contrasts almost-murmured verses with dark, fizzing synths and rattling drum machines come the chorus, with Chacon’s Kate Bush-style harmonies selling a dramatic tale of a love gone sour.

See also: Lately

11. Shakira – Empire, Shakira

shakira-can-t-remember-to-forget-you-2014-_3

Available to buy from iTunes

Blank out all memories of the underwhelming Rihanna duet “Can’t Remember to Forget You”; pop’s ultimate bohemian streamlined her baroque musical style into an Alanis Morissette-esque piano ballad-cum-rock number that only she could pull off, complete with distorted stadium-sized howls.

See also: Chasing Shadows“, “Cut Me Deep” [feat. Magic!]

Continued – Tracks #10 – #1