Soundtrack to a Twenty20: Every song played at a county cricket match

I spent a drizzly evening on Shazam so you don’t have to

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Thursday’s report from the Telegraph on the topic of a city-based Twenty20 league coming as soon as 2018 confirmed the inevitable: a tournament to ape the flashy leagues of almost every other test-playing nation, particularly India and Australia, is incoming whether the existing county community likes it or not. How such a tournament would magically revive the fortunes of the domestic game remains to be seen, but its impending arrival is sure to fuel the growth of ‘cricketainment,’ that ugliest of portmanteaus.

For stubborn purists, there’s a fair bit of a professional Twenty20 experience to despise, yet perhaps the most consistently irritating, regardless of location, is the soundtrack. On any given evening, county grounds are filled with a jumbled mix of records picked, presumably by an ECB-guided hand, to inject energy into crowds, celebrate rare moments of cricketing magic like boundaries being hit and overs ending, and usually just annoy people who’ve actually turned out to watch some cricket.

To illustrate the absurdity of the situation, I travelled to the 1st Central County Ground in Hove last night to see Sussex host Glamorgan in the final NatWest T20 Blast game of the season. Though the match, which was meant to begin at 6:30, ended up overrun by rain, the four hours of music that accompanied it may have been the most frustrating element of it all. Continue reading “Soundtrack to a Twenty20: Every song played at a county cricket match”

Katy B – Honey review

An evident passion project that chuckles sultrily at the mould of a pop songstress’ third album, Honey’s variety and underground spirit gets lost in its own intentions as Katy B embraces, and is embraced by, the ideas that brought her to this point.

This review originally published in for The Edge

When Geeneus, the founder of Rinse FM, wanted to celebrate the graduation of his station from a pirate aerial protruding from his flat window to an actual Ofcom licensee around the turn of the decade, he looked to Katy B to voice a production showreel of their underground producer and MC cohort. Instead, he handled the bulk of the production and picked up a scatter of writing credits on On A Mission and Little Red, records which bore the inflexions of their rave scene amidst angsty pop.

Those successes – Little Red topped the album chart in 2014 and 7 singles have struck the UK top 20 – have attracted a higher profile of guest for Honey, a subsequently supercharged incarnation of that original concept, and it is only Geeneus who can manage to squeeze in a second production nod courtesy of a bit of outro work. Each track is marketed as Katy B x [INSERT PRODUCER] with the exception of a new, Tinie Tempah-less rendition of KDA’s bubbly chart-topper ‘Turn The Music Louder (Rumble)’ upon which Katy featured last autumn, and over 20 collaborators are credited over its 53 minute runtime, including a scatter of UK rappers, Rinse-affiliated producers, and enough genre-hopping to exhaust the hive.

Frontloading the album are its two biggest international coups, including a sultry title track from Canadian phenom Kaytranada at the outset. “Something ‘bout your vibe/I know I can trust you now,” Katy’s first syrupy drool over the former’s sultry title track, is a hopeful opening, but little else arises beyond its first 10 seconds as any charisma slowly falls away. Directly afterwards, lead single ‘Who Am I’ underwhelms the most. With Diplo’s dancehall bonanza Major Lazer – you know, the ones behind the most streamed track of all time in ‘Lean On’ with DJ Snake and MØ – and suave comeback maestro Craig David sharing the billing, expecting something even vaguely interesting is fair. Instead, with nary a sign of Jillionaire, Walshy Fire, or even Diplo’s own sense of creativity, it wobbles nervously. Its opening line, “I’ve got this pain and I don’t know what to do it,” is perhaps as much about the jingling lethargy of the instrumental as her lovestruck duet with David, who is as smooth as ever even without energy in support.

Fortunately, smaller names do pick up the mantle and the apparent ethos of the project more readily later on. Chris Lorenzo, a converted ghost-producer specialising in a bassy house sound, and a former client in Hannah Wants bear highlights with ‘I Wanna Be’ and ‘Dreamers’ respectively, which offer Katy similarly minimal platforms to have vocals in focus before kicking in at appropriate moments. Early teaser ‘Calm Down,’ co-produced by Four Tet and Floating Points, takes a moment to settle through close string parts and peculiar elastic production into a refreshing standout, and Geeneus’ own pair of acknowledgements come on tracks that are at times eye-rollingly introspective yet pleasantly reminiscent of Skrillex’s mellower output.

In its diplomatic attempts to incorporate the entire gamut of London’s dance sounds, some moments do get almost hilariously grime-laden. ‘Lose Your Head,’ produced by ‘German Whip’ crew The HeavyTrackerz and opening with their whispered tag at the start, is an swampish venture through too much sambuca and On A Mission-era references with D Double E and J Hus each using their 30 second slots to act self-parodically. Novelist’s turn on ‘Honey (Outro)’ is mercifully far more ethereal and earnest (“If I can give something back to the world/I hope that I make it proud”) and sometime Disclosure and Snakehips collaborator Sasha Keable – aside from David, the only featured singer on the record – gives Jd.reid production ‘Chase Me’ a wonderful soulful slant that complements Katy’s tender R&B approach delightfully.

Given Katy’s career trajectory thus far, the very existence of Honey is a tad bizarre. Although it was tracks with Benga and the Magnetic Man dubstep supergroup right at the apex of that particular south London movement that brought us to the party, her Ms. Dynamite-fuelled pivot into more carefree pop took the momentum into something commercially viable. Five years on at Honey’s announcement, Katy spoke of her desire to have more club-oriented tracks for her shows in such venues, and when those two worlds aren’t garishly mixed – looking at you, ‘Dark Delirium’ – this record can indeed be rather sweet. Given her talents, it’s sure to make far more sense in that context, even if only because on stage she can utilise her strengths without a bevy of eager producers hijacking their four minutes of limelight.

Super Bowl 50 half-time show review

Coldplay form an all-star cast of Bruno Mars and Beyoncé for a fitting tribute to our zeitgeist and the circus of handegg encapsulating it for the fiftieth time.

The fiftieth Super Bowl, a mildly-farcical advertising hoarding won by an ageing out-of-place Budweiser-swilling sexual harasser who happens to be one of the finest quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League, fell subject to its traditional half-time excursion into the world of popular music on Sunday night in not-San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium. Contrary to the most earnest efforts and headline billing of British quartet Coldplay, the show – or, at least, cultural perception of it – was seized by a duelling Beyoncé and Bruno Mars before an estimated live television audience of, according to an industry insider, “one absolute fuckload.”

Chris Martin and his bandmates took to a temporary stage on the churned field much like any other stadium show they’d put on, surrounded by screaming fans and Pepsi logos atop a chromatic stage shaped like the centrepiece of the cover of recent record A Head Full of Dreams and travelling around it with an assured blend of timidness and arrogance. Martin began by repeating the opening lines of ‘Yellow’ to soundtrack the flooding of the field with peripheral extras, before launching into the more fitting tones of ‘Viva La Vida’ and ‘A Sky Full of Stars.’ Regardless of the context or inevitable financial incentive, to see people – Martin included – rhythmically bouncing to Coldplay as if they were in a Las Vegas superclub with Calvin Harris on deck feels somewhat incongruous yet, as Martin loosened up by removing his patchwork jacket and relieving his knees from their unique gravitational exertions, the frantic medley of the band’s more joyous pop material soon settled into a chromatic groove aided by the card panels distributed throughout the venue.

To hastily distract us from the flamboyance of the Mylo Xyloto era, despite the anthemic hooks displayed with butterfly-laden ‘Paradise,’ DJ and producer Mark Ronson was wheeled out as the first of the prominent special guests. Behind a set of turntables in what looked like a cumbersome cuboid of some functionality, he scratched merrily as an initially-jazzier rendition of his hit song ‘Uptown Funk’ was performed by a leather-clad Bruno Mars. Whether it was genuinely poorly lip-synced or merely another quirk of the television coverage transferred across the Atlantic may remain an eternal point of no consequence, and it was soon forgotten as soon as a percussive roar emerged near the endzone.

Really only Beyoncé inhabits the zeitgeist sufficiently to release a track out of nowhere and, without even an album (yet) to promote, announce a world tour and perform it on such a grand platform within the same weekend. ‘Formation,’ backed by a meticulous equilateral triangle of dancers, was of course performed flawlessly without any apparent need for staging, though the song itself is still yet to settle and feels, at this stage to these ears, mildly discordant and a rough extension of the hip-hop sound she has been prioritising since the birth of the Sasha Fierce persona. Regardless, it kept the energetic notion in action ahead of her strut to join the rest on centre stage.

Neither of the two main features in this spectacle are strangers to such an arena, having each anchored their own half-time extravaganzas earlier in the last five years, but the combination of three such varied musical phenomena as they began to collude for further snippets of ‘Uptown Funk’ and Coldplay records began to bewilder. A moment of tension that looked poised to erupt into a dance-off or, better still, a rap battle was extinguished by the melancholy of ‘Fix You,’ prefaced by ‘Clocks,’ as the display hit its obligatory emotional montage segment.

Recalling half-time shows of Super Bowls past, highlighting the ilk of the Springsteens and Perrys and fully-clothed Jacksons, was hardly a surprise given the commemoratory nature of this year’s Big Game™. However, doing so in such a mournful way, with Martin crooning spoilers from the choruses of Bono and Prince over that same tearjerking melody, seemed an attempt at fabricating the most tedious televisual music obituary since the remnants of One Direction performed ‘History’ on last year’s The X Factor. This one, of course, has zero chance of permanence barring some immense Will Smith-induced assassination of the league’s public and corporate perception.

Martin, Mars, and Beyoncé strolled backwards and forwards as the stage flooded for the grand finale, closer ‘Up&Up’ from A Head Full of Dreams, and a message encouraging us to “believe in love” emerged in the backdrop. Martin, flanked by more fashionable celebrities to either side, became subject of mockeries that ignored Coldplay’s vast success and painted them as the awkward kid in the corner that nobody really wanted to turn up to the party. Their segments, however, largely provided a consistency and spark to the performance that the guests and flashbacks did not entirely reinforce. Consequently come next year, memories will be thin and, by the time we reach Super Bowl 💯, it may be lucky to figure in even the most expansive holographic hallucinations. Yet, as we retreat to discard American football from our consciences until our next excuse to congregate and demolish delicious heart conditions, our memories of this interlude are sufficiently fulfilling to cherish.

Jamie xx – In Colour review

I’ve always wished for some kind of innate musical talent. Being able to pick up an instrument and make a pleasant noise or convey some form of legible tune would be marvellous. Pointless and only enhancing my laziness, but marvellous nevertheless.

Jamie Smith, better known as the production third of The xx and a producer in his own right, brought me closest to such an experience during the German exchange in year 9. Within seconds of spotting a steel drum, I was merrily reciting his recent release ‘Far Nearer’, which has maintained its spot as my song for the sun bursting through into summer ever since.

Such, well, straightforward radiance is reflected in the chromatic cover of debut long-release In Colour, though the LP is unfortunately not as prevailingly joyous as this implies.

Things begin on a dodgy step, with lead track ‘Gosh’. As with much of the album, ‘Gosh’ relies on samples of conversation and spoken interjections – in this case from an unaired radio show by DJ Ron and MC Strings – in order to convey some form of narrative. It doesn’t work.

The instrumental itself more closely reflects ‘Far Nearer’’s B-side ‘Beat For’, with its grungy percussive introduction climaxing in a piercing wail that strikes a contrast perhaps too extreme with its sugary melody. This side to Smith’s production comes as no surprise, but it feels a bit of an awkward way to commence the album.

‘Sleep Sound’, which, along with ‘Girl’, first saw release last summer, follows, and is a splendid waft that would be more suited as a closer, while the obnoxiously-named ‘Obvs’ fills the steel drum void in a more club-friendly fashion. After a minute and a half of quietly escalating harmonies, a glockenspiel comes in for a pleasant drop though, coming 15 minutes into the run-time, it proves underwhelming for those yearning a ‘harder’ tribute.

It’s as the album rushes towards its finale that Smith’s superb production actually results in enjoyable music. The aforementioned ‘Girl’ is joyously smooth and spreadable – like Nutella – whilst ‘Hold Tight’ is reminiscent of an adventurous mix of deadmau5’s 2012 track ‘Fn Pig’ in terms of its escalation and simplicity.

Though my major criticism of the album comes with the spoken vocal snippets, it is through sampling that the two strongest tracks on the album are fabricated. Both ‘Loud Places’ and ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ rely on excerpts from old soul tracks to provide reinforcement to choruses and featured vocalists to great effect.

‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ is in much the same vein as ‘Far Nearer’, as steel drums provide a vibrant and summery aesthetic, though the structure is far more conducive to a wider audience. Featuring the vocal presence of Young Thug and Popcaan,    the track promises to serve as a timeless signifier of the sun emerging over a lovely park. Admittedly this would be a proverbial park in which nobody could quite hear clearly, as Thugga Thugga (as he refers to himself) raps largely illegible lyrics that are perhaps too explicit for these pages. I genuinely don’t know. 99% of his noises are just that, but at least the package functions pleasantly.

Then there’s ‘Loud Places’, one of three collaborations with his xx bandmates Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim. This time around, it’s Romy’s duty to take the vocals, and her delivery is sublime. The song, which was recently featured in a BBC advertisement, brings a unifying singalong quality that is sure to delight summer assemblies, overlooking its melancholic lyricism.

In an effort to pay homage to the UK’s rich dance music culture, Smith tends to get bogged down in percussive breaks and spoken bridges, encouraging the listener to persist. ‘All Under One Roof Raving’, the ultimate example of this, does not feature on the album, though its yet paler imitations do.

It has been said that the next xx record will take hints from this sojourn by Jamie, and I wholeheartedly hope this to be the case. The benefit of outside influences shows. Four of the album’s finest half feature friends on vocal duties, lending the music a cohesive and genuinely enjoyable feel. That is surely the best form of flattery.

Madeon – Adventure review

Hugo Leclercq makes you wonder what went wrong in your own life. Aged just 20, the Nantais musician is releasing his first album, Adventure, on Columbia Records. That in itself isn’t particularly bewildering, though considering his burst into the spotlight almost four years ago courtesy of a remix contest triumph (Pendulum’s ‘The Island’) and his incredible ‘Pop Culture’ live mashup of 29 songs, you begin to get a better picture of his perhaps prodigal aptitude.

Since, he’s seemed to be rather silent. After the charting singles ‘Icarus’, ‘Finale’ and ‘The City’ in 2011 and 2012, ‘Technicolor’ snuck out in mid-2013 to a limited online release, before he vanished from the radio. Of course that time was being put to good use, as he picked up production credits for the likes of Muse, Lady Gaga, Two Door Cinema Club, Ellie Goulding, and Coldplay. The climax of this period comes in the form of Adventure.

As the very existence of the ‘Pop Culture’ mashup may suggest, Leclercq is not afraid of embracing the glorious nature of pop music. ‘Isometric’ is the greatest sonic hype-man effort to kick off an album since ‘Give Life Back To Music’ from Daft Punk’s latest album Random Access Memories. Swiftly following are a barrage of euphoric Radio 1-friendly singles, including the Passion Pit collaboration ‘Pay No Mind’ and soulful leader ‘You’re On’, anchored by Cambridge’s Kyan.

Adventure isn’t all enthusiastic pop-house, though. Lead single ‘Imperium’, which debuted in FIFA 15, is an assertive display of Leclercq’s abilities. With gritty percussion and raucous energy, it signals a meander through the second half of the album that doesn’t match the sugary vibrancy of the opening stanzas. That’s no bad thing, though. Whilst ‘Zephyr’ certainly takes more cues from the opening vocal tracks, ‘Nonsense’ follows the lead of ‘Imperium’ with a throbbing persistence and somewhat of a cockiness, especially in the vocal delivery from Foster The People’s title character Mark Foster.

In many ways, it’s the perfect pop song. It urges you to sing along defiantly with a slight smirk, belting out the nonsensical chorus in perfect unison. Then, as you’d expect from Foster – whose biggest hit ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ was so happy and joyous that he decided to write lyrics about a school shooting for it to restore the cultural equilibrium – it’s far darker and self aware lyrically than your normal fare. Centring upon the pain of love and written on Madeon’s birthday, it’s a rather splendid tune with a permeating aura of gloom. Such moods continue through the closing tracks ‘Innocence’ featuring Aquilo, ‘Pixel Empire’ and ‘Home’, a song which was made after Madeon locked himself in a room to get some music made and deals vocally with the torment that creatives suffer when they feel that their work is inadequate. Leclercq himself picks up vocal duties, sounding fragile and lending the track a personal touch that, as he himself put it, no other vocalist could adequately convey.

The tracks, as I’ve discussed, are perfectly splendid in isolation, though where Adventure cements its place as one of my favourite electronic albums (and, unlike that last Daft Punk record, I say this after 6 weeks of repeated listens in order to be certain in printing my hyperbole) is through its cohesiveness as, well, an album. The music videos released so far help to illustrate the tale of Asteria and Icarus (remember that dude?) in their attempt to escape a futuristic city and break into the desert, where a mysterious obelisk looms.

True, it’s mildly clichéd, but Leclercq has constructed a splendid multimedia experience. Even the minutiae of the artwork, which he designed himself, depicts the stages of the arduous journey of the pair through the singles by their place on the album. There’s even a website inspired by the Novation Launchpad (as demonstrated in ‘Pop Culture’) that lets users create their own mixes from the album’s tracks. The vision has been followed and realised. Adventure is an adventure. It’s not one that DJs are likely to leap upon – though the likes of Gramatik and Oliver have already begun reworking with terrific aplomb – but to dismiss it due to its sheer listenability would be foolish. This is the kind of album adventure the electronic scene must commend.

Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü review

My first encounter with Jack Ü, the pseudo-supergroup of professional noise-merchants Sonny Moore and Wesley Pentz, better known as Skrillex and Diplo, came on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Miami last March. At the Ultra Music Festival, the commercial centrepiece of the annual Winter Music Conference that draws the great and the good and the brostep to Floridian shores, the pair took to the stage for the most anticipated set of the weekend.

Within a minute, Diplo had clambered onto the desk and was commanding his sun-soaked congregation, mostly scantily clad college students squandering their spring break by flailing limbs in a sardine-like crush, to scream and clap and all sorts of things that would make the music harder to hear. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the opinion that a good DJ should neither be seen nor heard. Their job is to play pre-recorded music in a fluid and appreciable fashion, but Jack Ü took their babysitting duties very seriously and audibly.

And yet, Moore and Pentz moulded their hour on the main stage into the most thoroughly entertaining show of the weekend. Rapidly devouring Skrillex’s new album, Diplo’s dancehall-inspired Major Lazer discography, the talent of their respective labels OWSLA and Mad Decent, and even Toto’s ‘Africa’, the frantic set clicked perfectly. In parts, so does their collaborative album.

Beyoncéd onto the internet as they attempted to livestream a 24 hour set, Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü features 9 tracks, including collaborations with Canadians Kiesza and Justin Bieber, British duo AlunaGeorge, bejewelled rapper 2 Chainz, and more, elegantly merging the technical and production expertise that both Moore and Pentz are renowned for into a sonically impressive body of genre transcendence that’s unfortunately rather slow to start and, once actually going, quick to finish.

The album opens with ‘Don’t Do Drugs Just Take Some Jack Ü’, which is barely any more than a slowed recording of a drunken phone call between the pair. ‘Beats Knockin’ follows, driving the album down a New Orleans bounce path. Sadly, the whole package is far too reminiscent of Diplo’s ‘Express Yourself’, all the way down to the comments on how slickly the listener is rockin’. I feel for Fly Boi Keno on vocals, as he’d clearly not be there if Nicky Da B was still alive.

When we reach Kiesza-touting single ‘Take Ü There’, the album begins to come alive. Her solo material has lacked in energy, but the Jack Ü production makes up for it in Red Bull-infused insanity. Her vocals are soar intensely over the percussion, and only an off-key breakdown tarnishes the record.

This trend is continued through the other umlauted tracks, ‘To Ü’  with AlunaGeorge and, perhaps most bizarrely, ‘Where Are Ü Now’ with Justin Bieber. The former is a defiant future bass cut anchored by powerful vocals; the latter a humorously sultry emotion party with ‘the Biebz’ that serves as the most consistently musical music on the album. It taught me that even wailing synths can bring a tear to my eye, with their hollow anguish knocking upon the depths of my soul. Thanks, Bieber.

Sadly, the remainder is largely forgettable. 2 Chainz talks about spraying his loo with Febreze on ‘Febreze’, ‘Jungle Bae’ contrasts a squelching drop with W&W’s ‘Bigfoot’ synths and a Maximus Dan imposter, Moore assumes singing duties for the lethargic ‘Mind’, and the less said about ‘Holla Out’ the better.

Last year, I slated Skrillex’s album as its muddle of styles, attempting too often to stray from reliable paths, proved largely unlistenable, verging on abhorrence. Diplo’s maturity and skill, however, restrain these audible flailings and provide a far more polished product in this Jack Ü compendium. Unfortunately, the tracks worthy of a second listen away from a spacious Miami creche is far too few.

Skrillex – Recess review

This review was originally published in The Broadie

Since his breakout with 2010’s boisterous Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites, Los Angeles native Skrillex has become the poster boy of the EDM revolution. With copious brostep, a dubstep-based sound that Spin labelled as “lurching and aggressive” in a polite way of saying it sounds like a live cat going through a meat grinder, and a haircut to match, Sonny Moore has polarised and alienated, but created a whole new mainstream electronic scene, especially in the US. His first full length album, Recess, of course stays true to the genre that made him a superstar, while also half-heartedly dangling a toe near every pond.

Despite my preferences for music that sounds, well, less like a chainsaw in my ear, I don’t entirely despise the concept of Skrillex, though opener ‘All’s Fair In Love And Brostep’ made me instantly reconsider. Led by a joyful proclamation of “guess who’s back motherfuckers,” Skrillex shows he’s happy to be home and making exactly the same generic track he’s been cruising on for nearly half a decade. The moments on Recess that conform to his signature style are indeed painful – elements of ‘Ragga Bomb’ strike me as the closest humans have come to the elusive ‘brown noise’ – though thankfully a slew of collaborators guide him down more enjoyable paths.

The title track is my favourite on the album, bringing together Passion Pit and Fatman Scoop over a humane instrumental backdrop, while Chance The Rapper’s surprise appearance on ‘Coast Is Clear’ somehow creates a jazzy dubstep track reminiscent of Calvin Harris before he became a member of the EDM Death Machine. Diplo drags Skrillex towards the trap world with ‘Dirty Vibe,’ a painfully unoriginal cut from two highly talented producers with lyrics that struggle to evolve beyond ‘ass ass ass ass.’

One of the few tracks on which Skrillex is left to his own devices is ‘Doompy Poomp,’ which is exactly as bad as the title suggests. Goat Simulator, a game that thrives upon its intentional horribility, would not even sink to the levels of ‘Doompy Poomp’ on its gloriously dreadful soundtrack. ‘Lose My Mind,’ a remix of Niki & The Dove, opens with a panting dog before a very nice finale in the shape of ‘Fire Away,’ a chilled closer like Bangarang’s Ellie Goulding collaboration ‘Summit,’ but by this point it’s too late.

Skrillex can’t seem to decide what he wants Recess to be. Is it an attempt to churn out the same stabby tripe as before? Does he want to bring new artists under his wings and venture paths untrodden? Is ‘Doompy Poomp’ a joke? Nothing quite fits together. It’s like a jigsaw where every piece is a polygon with a different number of sides, and only Fatman Scoop provides a shining light at the end of the tunnel.