Lorde is all go on “Green Light”

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Feels so scary getting old…Lorde sang on her artfully blasé 2012 debut Pure Heroine. She was 16 then, but life doesn’t sound any easier on new single “Green Light”.

The titular metaphor refers to the moment one feels freed from a bad breakup. In a hushed yet haughty preamble, Lorde taunts an unfaithful ex with flat, self-indulgent barbs: “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar.

When flapping synths circle Lorde’s voice, the song finally bottles the brooding, youthful valour that made her a household name, only to pour it over a delicate house-piano riff.

Troubled thoughts stack up, even as “Green Light” flings itself into skirt-twirling euphoria. Lorde’s assiduous phrasing isn’t a natural fit for house music, but every bellow of “I wish I could get my things, and just let go” casts a long, upsetting shadow.

A last-minute surge of handclaps, scuzzy guitar, and reverb-drenched chants make this an ideal progression from Pure Heroine’s electro-chamber pop. Anyone older than Lorde knows adulthood isn’t that scary, but for now, her growing pains are our gain.

Tove Lo is still out of control on “Lady Wood” – and she’s getting better at it

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Stream on Spotify | Buy on iTunes

Lady Wood, the latest release from Swedish pop export Tove Lo, is a two-part concept album detailing the stock millennial relationship’s salacious lifespan – how they transpire, dissolve, and (possibly) reanimate.

“Fairy Dust” is the hazy soundtrack to fresh lust gussied up as a genuine connection; “Fire Fade” tries to sweep the embers of said passion into something resembling order. Yet for all of Tove’s sexual liberation, these ten new tracks are musically conservative.

Lady Wood is proficient house-pop: the beats are icy and clipped, low-end synths seep like an ominous fog, and the hooks are almost entirely vocal-driven.

For much of “Influence”, the chorus production is so stark, you can practically feel Tove’s breath on your face as she purrs, “You know I’m under the influence / so don’t trust every word I say.” She’s less a less illusive character for the title track’s beautifully sincere come-on: “I know what people say about you / they say the same about me.”

A slick instrumental drop is never too far away,  but “True Disaster” scores points for building to a heavenly fastigium, with Tove groaning “Keep playing ’em, like…” into an electrical storm, apparently on the verge of orgasm. It’s a well-arranged climax, even if you see it coming the moment the track’s rather standard digital stutter whooshes in.

“Vibes”, a trippy duet with itchy-throated singer Joe Janiak, spices things up with some acoustic guitar, but you’re more likely to remember Janiak’s processed bleating.

Inspired by Gillian Flynn’s biting Gone Girl paradigm of female perfection, “Cool Girl” is the narrative’s most ‘balanced’ segment in terms of power. “I wanna be free like you” is Tove’s invitation to no-strings fun, highlighting her own independence and throwing down the gauntlet for any potential double standards.

The “I’m a cool girl / I’m-a / I’m-a / cool girl” hook loops around a oscillating bassline in hypnotic fashion, but Lady Wood‘s tempo rarely veers from moderate. That said, “Don’t Talk About It” is an R&B curveball, offering a tantalising idea of what Destiny’s Child might sound like in 2016.

“Keep It Simple” begins as a ballad with some hip sexting references, before launching into a moving rejection of intimacy with squidgy synths and a classic house diva refrain. It’s not quite the dance floor hymn it could have been, but Tove’s desperate cries of “I ain’t ready for ya!” jabs at a culpability in her own loneliness. 

Closing track “WTF Is Love” concludes with a bark of “Awh, FUCK! I need another.” Followed by the sound of a drink pouring, this final statement neatly trickles back into the “Fairy Dust” intro, ultimately positioning Lady Wood as a ceaseless bender. Two additional chapters are due next year, but don’t expect them to sound like a guilt-ridden hangover.

Tove’s ‘drug and sex-mad everywoman’ persona isn’t revolutionary, but it is notable for its lack of naivety. Within the space of a verse, her songwriting often acknowledges the apex and nadir of a single encounter. This approach doesn’t allow for breakthroughs or shameful epiphanies. Tove Lo is out of control by choice, and she’s getting better and better at it.

8.5/10

[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] Madonna – Rebel Heart (review)

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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

The Statue of David – The Statue of David EP (review)

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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] Shamir – Northtown EP (review)

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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.

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

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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

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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