[Music] Shamir – Ratchet (review)

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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] 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 (#10 – #1)

Tracks #20 – #11 Recap 

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10. Ben Khan – Youth, 1992 E.P.

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Available to buy on iTunes

On his debut E.P., London-born musician Ben Khan melds spirited guitar licks with soft, sugary synths and his own smoky tones. Standout track “Youth” adds gun clicks and spectral wails, providing an adventurous soundscape that offsets the cautionary lyrics. One to watch.

See also:Savage”, “Drive, Pt. 1

9. Coldplay – “Magic”, Ghost Stories

Available to buy on iTunes

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Gone are the homogenised chunks of Sky Sports advert-friendly pop-rock that Coldplay been both praised and reviled for over the years – “Magic” is a tasteful (and possibly unrequited) love letter recounted over bristling bass plucks, soft piano and ghostly atmospherics from producer Paul Epworth (Florence and the Machine, Adele).

With his voice front and centre throughout, Chris Martin’s pained falsetto splinters at all the right moments, but it’s the emotional sucker punch of a one-sided conversation come the finale that makes the band’s chart resilience something to cherish.

See also: Midnight

8. Veruca Salt – “The Museum of Broken Relationships”, TBA

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Available to buy from iTunes 

A reunion of Veruca Salt’s original line-up was so inconceivable for fans of the Chicago alt-pop-rock foursome that to see high-profile publications such as Pitchfork and Rolling Stone – who gave the group’s final record together a damning one and a half stars back in 1997 – come out to praise their latest track “The Museum of Broken Relationships” was merely icing on the cake.

It was only fitting, then, that this uncoiling bundle of frothy garage rock drips with Generation X apathy. “He loves me again” frontwomen Nina Gordon and Louise Post sing before clarifying their own stance on the matter: “I. DON’T. CARE!” The track breaks down into a storm of dark, jagged guitar and elated whoops, celebrating the re-arrival of a group who’ve transcended the need for industry approval.

See also:Seether“, “Volcano Girls

7. Ella Henderson – Ghost, Chapter One

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Available to buy on iTunes

Under normal circumstances, a two year wait between a X Factor contestant’s elimination and the release of their debut single is never a good sign. With a new roster of starry-eyed singers cropping up every year, it’s all too easy to slip through the cracks of the public’s consciousness. But the emergence of Gabriella ‘Ella’ Henderson this year is a rare case of a talent being nurtured, not just juiced for a quick buck.

Paired with One Republic frontman and don of the noughties power-ballad Ryan Tedder, Henderson concocted the gospel-tinged “Ghost”; a fusion of dry, testy verses and a tsunami-sized chorus, with an enraptured performance from Henderson that will make you a believer.

See also: “Believe” (Cher cover)

6. Cher Lloyd – Bind Your Love, Sorry I’m Late

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Available to buy on iTunes 

A self-proclaimed “brat” during her time on X Factor UK, Cher Lloyd was ill-served by the faux-urban EDM of “Swagger Jagger”, her first and only No. 1 single. Lloyd’s real strengths lie in either sweet’n’sour bubblegum pop (“Want U Back”) or graceful, rock-tinged torch songs (her cover of Shakespeare’s Sister’s “Stay”), with this cut from her latest album being a glossy combination of both.

See also:Sirens“, “I Wish” [feat. T.I.]

5. Beyoncé – Drunk In Love [feat. Jay Z], Beyoncé

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Available to buy on iTunes

On the closest thing Beyoncé’s guerilla album campaign had to a lead single, Mr. and Mrs. Carter update their marital status from “Crazy” to “Drunk” – and the shift is palpable.

In 2003, Bey was love’s bewildered victim. The symptoms were wild and incapacitating, but relatively innocent. Fast forward a decade and she’s a motor-mouthed potty-mouth with an obvious addiction. As endlessly quotable as they are, Bey’s punky, twisted verses also reveal a strong character at home with not only her sexuality, but her very being. To think millions of listeners have been exposed to a revered female saying she has no complaints with her body is a wonderful thing.

Jay’s Anna Mae faux-pas robs the song of a crack at full-on brilliance, which is a crying shame considering he otherwise adapts quite well to the track’s kinky irreverence, a tone kick-started by a sumptuously reverberating bass, finger-clicks and a Hatsune Miku-alike warble that may be very well be the best call to the dance floor since Britney famously declared her arrival. Bitch.

See also: Partition”, “Haunted”, “***Flawless

4. Katy B – Crying For No Reason, Little Red

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Available to buy on iTunes // Read our review of Little Red

There was a time in early 2014 where Brixton-born singer Katy B looked set to join the likes of Diana Vickers, Little Boots and Alexandra Burke in the Hall of Spurned British Females, pop stars who fell prey to the British music industry’s fickle nature. Tastemakers championed Katy as the Next Big Thing back in 2011, but last year saw the singles preceding her sophomore record struggle to go Top 10. As anyone who’s ever had a teary jive to “5 AM” will tell you, quality wasn’t an issue. So what was one of pop’s most lovable ingénues to do?

“Crying For No Reason” once again proves that every record label should have access to a big red button with the name “GUY CHAMBERS” on it. As a producer, Chambers is no stranger to commercial resurrections – even mid-campaign, as the success of Robbie William’s career-saving hit “Angels” will attest too – and his collaboration with Katy is a sprawling ballad, with spacey synths running parallel with an earnest piano riff before the song suddenly shifts towards breakstep territory.

Much of the excitement comes from the production being consistently on the verge of a Robyn-style dance-the-tears-away breakthrough, but Chambers never lets the clattering percussion overwhelm his star. Katy has never had a better showcase for her pure, gently accented voice, and the dexterity with which she ramps up the drama in the final chorus is captivating. In carefully choosing which buttons to push, she demonstrates the difference with painstaking acrobatics and simply flinging oneself from an unwise height.

See also: Still“, “Everything“, “Aaliyah” [feat. Jessie Ware]

3. Shamir – “If It Wasn’t True”, Northtown E.P.

Shamir-Northtown

Available to buy on iTunes 

Las Vegas-born teenager Shamir Bailey boasts a raw, Nina Simone-alike timbre, one that effortlessly surfs the chilly house beats of his debut EP. On break-up track “If It Wasn’t True”, he summarises big emotions (“We can’t speak without a single shout”) with a knowingly dead-eyed delivery – that is until he trips what sounds like a nest of mechanised hornets, just in time for a last-minute eruption of relationship angst.

See also: I Know It’s A Good Thing“, “Sometimes A Man

2. Kelis – “Rumble”, FOOD

Kelis

Available to buy on iTunes // Read our review of FOOD

Thematically split between the joy of an estranged ex handing back their key and a last-minute appeal for them to stay, the swampy “Rumble” is almost a duet. But for every squall of “Baby, don’t go!”, there’s a dose of the iconoclastic diva we know and love (“We don’t need therapy / What I need is you to leave”), with the song’s relieved chorus suggesting a burgeoning independence.

See also:Jerk Ribs”, “Breakfast”, “Biscuits’n’Gravy

1. Clean Bandit – Rather Be [feat. Jess Glynne], New Eyes

Clean Bandit

Available to buy on iTunes 

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at XL Recordings when two executives find their argument over which direction the label cash cow Adele’s should take on her next LP interrupted by a spirited, string-laden ditty blaring from the office radio. Classy but catchy, sprightly but sagacious, and with a vocalist who has more than a few shades a certain Diamond-certified seller to her nuances, “Rather Be” is that rarest of things: a hit you can’t hate.

Dwelling on Jess Glynne’s appearance seems a little besides the point, however, considering she is merely one of a dozen singers to grace the band’s debut record. Primarily comprised of a bassist, cellist, violinist, and a drummer and keyboardist, Clean Bandit are a group who live to up their moniker with productions that are fresh, streamlined, and yes, clean, but rarely clinical.

Adding strings is a classic ploy for credibility in pop music – a crime Clean Bandit have arguably been guilty of previously – but on “Rather Be” they’re used almost exclusively to complement the accompanying piano and popping synths that signal the group’s deep house fascination.

For all the quartet’s musical finesse, however, it is Glynne who stands out as the track’s MVP. “Rather Be” may be a pleading love song, but it’s hard to recall the last time an artist made co-dependency sound quite so empowering.

See also: Extraordinary“, “Mozart’s House“, “Cologne

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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.

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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

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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

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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

[Music] Top 35 Tracks of 2013 (#20 – #6)


20. Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball, Bangerz

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No chorus this year described an artist’s arrival into the pop arena better than “Wrecking Ball”. The reinvention of the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana was one of the most blatant stab-in-the-dark attempts at relevance in recent memory, but when you consider how Disney stars of a similar pedigree have fallen to the wayside over the years, you can admire Cyrus’ smash-and-grab approach. And as tiresome as her schtick could be, this gutsy, Fleetwood Mac-esque ballad offered the twenty-one year old some redemption. The main concern when it comes to ballads in the 2010’s is that they be appropriated and rendered anonymous by the singing competition circuit, so kudos to Cyrus for providing a raw, impassioned, twerk-free performance that should by right go down as her greatest achievement to date.

19. Jon Hopkins – Open Eye Signal, Immunity

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Jon Hopkins’ astonishing collection of muscled dancefloor odysseys was one of the most acclaimed albums of 2013. Gone are the soft ambient flavours of his early work; the weighty anthems of “Immunity” crack and fizz at an often hypnotic pace, lulling the listener into a state of astral projection. Standout track “Open Eye Signal” repurposes the dancefloor as a battlefield. Razor-sharp synths gurgle and race over a 4/4 beat, with occasional detours to the cosmos, and – at its finest moments – Heaven itself.

18. Sasha Keable – Careless Over You, Black Book Mixtape

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With production from All About She – who, between their dark electro-banger “Bullet” and Top 20 hit “Higher (Free)”, have been demonstrating their range for some time now – this magnetic mid-tempo chimes along as Keable’s vocal flits from smoky to breathless. The production is dense but never overpowers – ceasing almost entirely in time for an interpolation of Rudimental’s melodramatic hit “Waiting All Night”. It’s an inclusion that could have gone either way, but Keable manages to convey all of the heartbreak without any of the histrionics.

17. The 1975 – Chocolate, The 1975

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In 2012, Madonna included a song called “Masterpiece” on her twelfth studio album. The track is pleasant enough on its own terms, but considering the a) the stature of the artist in question and b) the portentousness of its title, the listener expects – nay, deserves – more, and as a result we’ve come to regard this track with disdain. Any track named “Chocolate” runs into a similar problem. How does one commit the many sensory pleasures associated with said food item to an aural experience? Kylie Minogue mapped out a sexy little number based on the stuff, and while we know The 1975 aren’t averse to the subject , their hit single is instead a colourful tribute to the joys of smoking marijuana. Frontman Matthew Healy may have the worst rock star name in recent memory, but his nasally squall is refreshing for its blunt emoting and bold lack of pretension.

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