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.

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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.

The death and resurrection of Page 3

Boobs. Could you imagine a newspaper without them? I, for one, wouldn’t dare touch any outlet of journalism, whether credible or tabloid, without making sure I can open the cover and be greeted by a charming young woman who’s forgotten her clothes. Thank Murdoch that 2.2 million readers of The Sun every day seem to agree, parting with their well-earned pennies for a trashy rag with a side dish of sexism and blatant objectification of women.

Oh wait, I like my newspapers to possess a vague comprehension of not only the culture that they are attempting to comment on but also to not eschew important news stories in order to demean half the world’s population. The fact that this country’s largest newspaper still deems it acceptable or even remotely relevant in its role as a pusher of journalism, no matter how horrendously crude, to thrust an antiquated and sexist valuation of the female of the species onto its readers that implies they’re only newsworthy when they’ve got their breasts out, regardless of what their readership may ‘say’ or how the ‘kind’ of people who kick up a stink about such degradation – “comfy shoe wearing… no bra wearing… man haters” if you ask page 3 ‘star’ turned Twitter user Rhian Sugden – is repugnant.

You could make the argument that the young women of this nation would have absolutely nothing to aspire to without the reliable career path of get boobs out, have dodge photographer capture the moment, get in paper. Like former Apprentice candidate Luisa Zissman, who pursued a baking business partnership with Lord Sugar on the show before realising that there was more money in getting your boobs out and prancing around the Big Brother house, you could argue that “the extreme feminists won” when the girls who appeared wearing underwear, though still without the dignity. For all of 3 days.

Not even half a week after the media, led by the Sun’s Murdoch-helmed upmarket (in other words, clothes-wearing and dignified) stablemate The Times, jumped on a page 3 appearance by mildly-covered model/Sun-esque joke of an actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley to claim that the red-topped rag had finally covered up after 44 years, editor David Dinsmore and company mocked them with a ‘clarifications and corrections’ section – of course adorned with the winking Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth undoubtedly catching a chill in the nip – and apologised to the journalists who’d flooded them with publicity. This feminist victory wasn’t as real as it seemed.

And, as such, the status quo is restored after what The Sun termed ‘a mammary lapse’. No, not a pair of old male rock stars getting naked to sell their ‘stripped’ acoustic album, but the newspaper that shovels enough copies to be this nation’s own (well, if you ignore the vociferous hatred they garnered from the citizens of Liverpool after the Hillsborough disaster) finding humour in their daily misogynist objectification column. It’s like a child giggling at the female anatomy every day for 44 years and, despite the objections of the rational members of society and the blatant disregard for sheer human decency, crying wolf and getting back up to flog the dead horse.

Then again, perhaps this is meant to help those of us who hadn’t already picked up the message realise that The Sun is, and always has been, an utter joke. At least I can be sure that The Broadie will never sink to such trashy, crass and degrading echelons.

Resolutions

For years, my only resolution has been to not make any resolutions. The humour’s worn off, though.

2015 should be fun for a number of reasons, and at the wise old age* of 18, I feel it’s time to stop procrastinating and generally be moderately productive for the first time. So, today, I dust off this blog (if you could even call it that) and I’m going to try and post something – an article, a podcast, a video, a magazine or just anything that I’ve made – on here every day this year.

And given that this post is going online at 23:59 on the first day, wish me luck.

*Yes, I know.

Knife Party – Abandon Ship review

Although my sarcastic and weary demeanour may tend to convey otherwise, I don’t try to intentionally dismember what I review. Perhaps I may sit down at my desk and brace myself for an onslaught of mediocrity, an instinct that usually serves well through the likes of Miley Cyrus’ magnum opus Bangerz. Knife Party trigger this radar like a machete at airport security, but each time I take a listen to their noises I find myself pleasantly surprised about how much I don’t despise them. The music is typically just as humane as the name suggests, with stabbing synths and heavy percussion, but Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen, the Australian duo who formed from the remnants of drum and bass ensemble Pendulum, have a perplexing knack of making it sound vaguely tolerable.

After a plethora of delays, debut album Abandon Ship has finally found the light of day, but alas, it’s immediately obvious that the pair shouldn’t have tried to spread out their inspiration, if you could so generously assign it that term, to a longer body of work than a 4 track EP. Though the duo were keen to avoid having dubstep on the record, they’ve not strayed too far from their traditional ‘electro house’ stylings. Any exploration into new territories feels strained and disingenuous – almost as if their major label contract has shoehorned them into boxes more befitting of spoons and cake forks.

Emotion is not a word that appears in the vocabulary of Knife Party, as the abrasive tendencies of opening tracks Reconnect, Resistance and Boss Mode, featuring dramatic voiceovers, “Crocodile” Dundee quotes and talk of interstellar incidents respectively, display with horrific aplomb. On my first listen, I promptly gave up during Micropenis, a track with chiptune breakdowns, animal squeals and raucous alarms that effectively equates to grown men giggling over the existence of the word ‘micropenis’ – which, of course, bears no connection to the instrumental whatsoever – for upwards of five and a half minutes. Returning later, though, I was startled by the presence of disco in Superstar, but even this can’t resist mocking the duo’s fans, with the soulless robotic delivery of the line “Oh my god, what the fuck is this disco shit/What happened to the dubstep?” interrupting the moderate elegance, for lack of a better word.

One of the rare breaches into melody, pleasant noises and unironically sampled vocal snippets comes in the shape of EDM Trend Machine. Following on from the Haunted House EP’s EDM Death Machine, this bizarrely listenable pastiche of house music’s more mainstream subgenres has a vocal feature from Bryn Christopher, who everyone had completely forgotten about since his attempt at a pop career in 2009, atop a, you guessed it, blend of current electronic trends including deep house drops and a few Martin Garrix-esque synths. Single Begin Again also verges on musicality, with Swire picking up the vocal duties for the only time on the album. This definitely seems more like an unfinished Pendulum track – in fact, those who listened to 2010’s Immersion will feel almost too close to home – and the album is better for it. In the same way that a stale carrot cake is better at providing a modicum of sustenance than a brick, but a tad better nevertheless.

Where Knife Party’s adventurous tendencies and destructive energy have proved highlights of previous works, Abandon Ship’s contents fall into four specific categories: dissonant electro stab-house, rejected Pendulum tracks, painfully awful attempts at humour, and piggybacking on trends in the wider electronic music community. Perhaps if Swire and McGrillen had directed their efforts on just 4 tracks once again, rather than prolonging the struggle through 56 minutes of aural abuse, something pleasantly surprising could have arisen.

At least now I know never again to doubt my instincts.

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.