[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] 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.

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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

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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

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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] Veruca Salt – IV (review)

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Review: The lack of imagination behind the titling of Veruca Salt’s fourth studio album is reflected in its overall sound. Upon its release in 2006 – twelve years on from the band’s debut – there remained only two constants in the VS camp: the relentless pursuit of the fuzzy 90’s alt-rock aesthetic that had long been their bread and butter, and the presence of singer/guitarist Louise Post. The implosion of the group’s original line-up – completed by singer/guitarist Nina Gordon, drummer Jim Shapiro and bassist Steve Lack – was followed by 2000’s Resolver, a deeply vitriolic collection of songs that wore its vengeance-seeking credentials on its sleeve with tracks such as “Officially Dead” and “Used To Know Her”. Sonically, IV may pack as hard a punch as its predecessors, but the overarching tone is surprisingly fun and hedonistic.

The chorus of thrash-happy lead single “So Weird” – “You don’t know me / you don’t own me / you’re just passing through my life” – may sound distressingly similar to something Ashley Simpson would have recorded at the height of her success, but there’s an irreverent bent to the verses that make it a worthy spiritual successor to previous singles “Volcano Girls” and “All Hail Me”. Listeners may be more intrigued to learn what exactly “texting vegan sex again” entails than they are by the stop-start riff, but it nonetheless makes for an arresting opener. The momentum’s maintained by “Centipede”, which may very well be the most adrenaline-fuelled track any member of the band has put their name to, and the misfiring “Innocent”. The latter’s blend of cruel lyrics (“We’ve got a cutter in the bathroom / She kinda busted out of high school”) and churning guitar evoke an effectively sleazy fleapit atmosphere, but the lazy chorus disappoints. The excellent “Damage Done” tackles related themes, but with fuller production, tough, frenetic riffs and a snarly, stuck-up vocal from Post.

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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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[Music] Veruca Salt – Eight Arms to Hold You (review)

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Veruca Salt took the modest ambitions of their debut record American Thighs to new extremes with its follow-up, 1997’s Eight Arms to Hold You. Where the undemanding lyrics of its predecessor were met with understated melodies and a fun, artless spirit, this effort arrives suffocated by Metallica cohort Bob Rock’s one-trick production.

For anyone who picked up their stopgap release – the punctuation-defying, credibility-baiting Blow It Out Your Ass It’s Veruca Salt E.P. – the warning signs were clear and present. Even in the hands of the brilliant Steve Albini, the disc’s two uptempos were cluttered and moronic, the downtempos bloated and devoid of conviction. If Albini – the man behind a many a stellar Nirvana, Pixies and Joanna Newsom production, amongst others – couldn’t wring results from these young upstarts, what hope did Rock have?

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Veruca Salt crush it on debut American Thighs

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When you lead an album with a single as attention-grabbing as 90s alt-rock gem “Seether”, it’s only fair to have something to match it down the line. In reality, Veruca Salt’s debut American Thighs holds only three additional rock-outs.

Thanks to singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post, the frenetic “Seether” is packed with garage-rock grit and lyrical titillation (it was supposedly about a woman’s monthly gift). If the band’s later efforts demonstrated an attraction to heavy metal, then “All Hail Me” stands as a warning. Sonically, it’s the weightiest track on the record, full of chilling wails and galloping guitars.

Number One Blind” sounds like a crossover hit, but for a different band. Nonetheless, the slightly cheesy melody blends surprisingly well with the rest of the record. “Victrola” boasts the same raucous charm as “Seether”, but at barely two minutes in length, it’s a bit throwaway.

So that leaves us with what Rolling Stone described as “flat balladry”. The triptych of “Spiderman ‘79“, “Forsythia” and “Wolf” is an awkward one. All three drag, but only the second fails to reach a bombastic conclusion. “Forsythia” has a cute sashaying riff, but it nosedives into a faceless instrumental when its chorus deserves a poppier structure.

Celebrate You” brings stubborn teenage melodrama and contains the album’s campest lyric: “I tip my glass and toast to you; / the blood spills on the carpet / at your celebration.” Fuzzy power ballad “Twinstar” is lyrically simple (“You wanna lift me up / but you don’t know / I’m stuck in my ways”), but when singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Post belt that chorus out, it’s a lighter-in-the-air moment.

Ideally, the album should have ended here, but of course there’s an ‘epic’ to slog through. The amateurish “25” is disappointing, although the whispered kiss-off “Sleeping Where I Want To” goes some way towards making amends.

There was something admirable about Veruca Salt’s lack of ambition. What their debut lacks in meaning and experimentation it makes up for with killer hooks melded with a pleasingly hazy atmosphere. While their personal troubles ensured they would never again make quite such an innocent record, American Thighs remains an oddly bewitching relic from a simpler time.

8/10