Album Review: Blondes – Warmth

By Will Sexton (@willshesleeps)

Not so much an album but a vivid experience, Blondes’ Warmth feels more like a futuristic journey than it does just a set of songs. All of the metallic sounds mould together to create a landscape and paints an image in your head.

This album isn’t exactly light listening. To some, it may be but it’s sharp, it’s attacking with its high-end taps and hi-hats that almost wake you up from a slumber and not the other way around. The consistent theme through the album is the metallic noise and the interesting percussion, which is a contradiction of the title of the album – the sounds are frosty and chilling, leaving your ears in a hypodermic state. The additional layer of what can only be described as machinery gives off the feeling of a record being a tapestry of overpowering and claustrophobic blips and bops that have been submerged in sub zero temperatures.

The atmosphere is very important to an album like this and Blondes definitely deliver -lots of reverb and effects have been applied, making the listener feel as if they’re drifting through the galaxies. The song Trust starts small and builds and synth-pads make you feel like you’re floating, a harsh lead synth that sounds like an alarm accompanies it and brings you right back down to earth. Quality of Life has aspects of old-school video game soundtracks, down to the 8-bit effects on the synths and the distortion applied: you’ll swear someone had shrunk you and chucked you inside an NES cartridge. 

The jarring sounds at the beginning of Clipse shows the electronic-duo in a slightly different light, at least to start with. The calming repetitive pattern on the bells at the start is a harsh contrast to the manufactured noise of some of the other tracks, especially the intensity of the song Cleo. Like many other songs on the album, Clipse grows and grows up into something larger than itself, with new rhythms and sounds appearing every 8-bars almost like an unstoppale planet eating star. The moments of less intensity on the album are still a great listen. Songs like Tens where the song again, builds up to reach a climax but the climax isn’t as intense nor is it as harsh.

This is where the ‘warmth‘ comes from, the songs following a certain theme but never being too much or too little, never verging into style over substance.  For people who don’t listen to techno all the time, sometimes you can get bored of the repetitive beats and repeated patterns, but the constant morphing sound of Warmth keeps you interested.

The song lengths are a continuation of that. With music like this generally you’re going to be getting long songs, and this album doesn’t shy away from that at all. The 10-track album comes in at just over an hour with the shortest song being nearly 6 minutes long so it’s understandable how you can get lost in the world that this album creates, no doubt being the duo’s intention with their hypnotic abilities being ever present.

Warmth is a very interesting release, even for someone who isn’t heavily into techno/electro music, and something that does show off Blondes’ power for experimenting and showing what they can do. Warmth is an album that is further showing the capabilities of electronic music and art itself with the use of technology and further showing that it’s something to embrace and not shy away from.

8/10

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Track Review: The Vegan Leather – Eyes

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

During their set at this year’s baby-faced TRNSMT (spoiler: it was pretty good), Paisley art-pop outfit The Vegan Leather displayed an abundance of variety throughout their performance: there was Shake It, a single dropped earlier this year which was the catalyst for simultaneously singing, dancing and throwing drinks up into the air. Then they had This House, a track which does very much the same but in a whole other fashion – whereas the first example has brief moments of calm, This House keeps its energy throughout its running time and culminates in an outrageous bang of guitars, drums and toe-tapping synths.

With their new single Eyes, it’s apparent that The Vegan Leather haven’t lost their knack of crafting a dancy tune but they’re focused on doing so in a different way: front-man Gianluca Bernacchi’s comments have confirmed this, saying to Tenement TV that they wanted to go for something ‘very bright and dreamy’ with the accompanying video. Marie Collins is on prime singing duty this time round, we always got a taste of them with the band’s previous singles but this is the first to have her in spotlight, and boy are they a treat – gorgeous and alluring, they set the song up to be TVL’s take on a “slow” song but never judge a book by its cover, eh?

The song slowly but surely builds its way up to a beautiful climax: think Carrie with its an hour and a half wait for the big moment, except instead of pig’s blood it’s glitter, confetti and an all round eruptious finale. Eyes does a lot of what makes the group such a lovable group to begin with – the delicious rhythms and synths are candy for the ears. It’s what the track does differently that makes it a real standout, taking a different approach songwriting wise and ending up all the better for taking a risk with their formula. Another hit to add to their record so far: at this rate, their  eventual debut LP is gonna be audible ecstasy. 

8/10

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TRACK REVIEW: You’re In Love With A Psycho by Kasabian

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Back again for a sixth bite of the cherry, Kasabian are back with You’re In Love With a Psycho, the first single from their upcoming studio album, For Crying Out Loud, hoping to further cement themselves as Britrock royalty and the heirs to Oasis’ parka-draped throne.

The cover for the Leicester lads’ new album is a bit odd, for which they’ve got a black and white photo of yer da pulling the same face he does whenever Jeremy Corbyn appears on the telly & stuck some teardrop emojis on it. Lovely stuff. Same goes for the cover for You’re In Love With a Psycho, yer da, this time from the back. Good to see he’s keeping busy.

After the radical-ish electro synth departure that was the inventively titled 48:13 three years ago, the Leicester quintet signaled that their next offering would be a more guitar-centric album, and YINWAP (which, acronymised, sounds like a shit knockoff of WinZip), ratifies that statement, as there are guitars on this track.

The track has a light, bouncy and airy feel to it, following a more familiar Kasabian blueprint than the 48:13 era. The guitar is gentle but gets your foot tapping along with the drum beat, the shared vocal duties between Meighan and Pizzorno are Klassic Kasabian, and quite well performed. It’s not a bad song by any stretch, it’s just a bit… you know… meh, a bit vanilla, a bit ‘mmmyeahalright’. Fingers should be crossed that this is one of the more weaker tracks off the album, and will form part of a well-rounded album.

Lyrical highlights include “I’m like the taste of macaroni on a seafood stick”, which, to be honest, sounds fucking delightful and “you’ve got me switched on baby like electric eels” which is pretty cool. The lyrics are jolly and clever in parts, with the chorus no doubt becoming an all-hands-on-deck singalong when performed live.

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Yer da, showing off his new tattoo.

When all is said and sung, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this song, it’s actually quite forgettable. It’ll fit nicely into your workout playlist, good for the pre-drink Spotify queue, but you’ll have forgotten the song by the time it’s finished. Is it a bad song? Not at all, it’s a decent track, if not a little weak, but you have to listen to it a good few times in a row before it starts to sink in.

As part of their return to the public consciousness, Kasabian, in their own Kasabianny way promised that they were going to bring guitar music back from “the abyss”. Alrighty then. First off, do they mean a) Professional wrestler Abyss? b) James Cameron’s 1989 film, ‘The Abyss’ or c) the actual abyss where guitar music hasn’t gone and can’t be found. Guitar music’s perfectly fine, lads, in fact, it would be fair to say that it’s healthier than ever, with new and exciting acts seemingly sprouting from the ground every day!

However boys, if you truly are going to save guitar music, you’d better hope the rest of the album packs a stronger punch, for crying out loud!

4/10


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TRACK REVIEW: Drugs by Charli XCX (feat. ABRA)

By Fraser McGovern (@FraserMcGovern)

Singer/songwriter Charli XCX serves as living proof that sugary pop music doesn’t have to be total cack. Though their lyrics aren’t anything to write home about, singles from her 2014 LP Sucker boasted some of the catchiest hooks of that year in tracks like Boom Clap, Break the Rules, and my personal darling Famous. Make no mistake about it, these songs were written to be hits and not even the fact that they were successful managed to diminish my love for them.

Though these songs sported some #edgy lyrical content, (“Going to the discotheque / Getting high and getting wrecked”) the instrumentation never seems to reflect this in any serious way. You could easily get away with playing Sucker at a Primary school disco. With this cut from her new mixtape Number 1 Angel, though, Charli seems to be going in a direction more at home within the musical landscape of 2017.

Moody synths? Check. Trap-inspired beat? Check. Heavy-handed drug metaphors? Check. Actually, did I say metaphors? What I meant to say is that the song is explicitly about drugs. “Baby, you the love of my life/ Selling all the drugs that I like/ Baby, you got it/ You know I want it”. I’d say that’s pretty clear. I don’t think she’s singing about popping off to Boots to get some paracetamol. The rest of the lyrics follow on from this theme and aren’t anything amazingly creative, but I suppose drug addicts aren’t usually known for being wordsmiths.

This time, however, XCX gives us the music to back up her scandalous claims. The low-energy verses present warbling autotune vocals from Charli and featured artist ABRA that create a dingy atmosphere fitting of the title. A sinister yet catchy chorus is chanted while the song builds. Synths grow more abrasive as the instrumentation heats up to boiling point, after which we arrive at an eclectic breakdown that puts a pitch-shifting end cap to the track that makes me want to dance.

One might suggest that the song is derivative, and I frankly wouldn’t argue against that. A tired yet valid criticism (that I shall now use without shame) is that any other pop star could be singing here and no one would bat an eyelid. This track isn’t dripping with unique XCX charm like some of her others, but you can’t bash the girl for trying something different. It’s just slightly ironic that when Charli XCX tries to be different, she sounds a bit more like everyone else.

But this track proves, if it needed any more proving, that Charli XCX is capable of writing and performing rock solid, well-above-average tunes of various styles. It may not be revolutionary, but Drugs goes for a vibe and achieves it without being boring. These four minutes were precision engineered by one of the best pop songwriters in the business to excite teenagers, as well as scare your gran, and will do just that.


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TRACK REVIEW: Green Light by Lorde

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

One thing that should always subtly remain with you when listening to Lorde‘s music is her age, and what she’s achieved by it. Around the age of 13/14, she was laying the groundwork for her debut album, Pure Heroine, and by the age of 16, she smashed into the face of the earth, becoming an instant success.

With Pure Heroine, it was the maturity, the depth and the approach that Lorde offered, which some would struggle to produce after years in the game. The crown of fame is heavy, but she has carried it as if she was forever meant to wear it. No tantrums, controversies or raised eyebrows, just a real-life musician who pours her heart and soul into every note.

So, with this information behind us, it’s no surprise that Green Light, the first single from her sophomore offering Melodrama, is a dancy, bouncy tune that masks the heartbreak Lorde weaved into the lyrics.

The song tells the story of the “last 2 wild, fluorescent years of [Lorde’s] life” in her own words. Starting with her doing her “makeup in somebody else’s car” & the person in question in this song being “a damn liar” over a minimalist piano beat, and how “that you said that you’ll always be in love, but you’re not in love”. 

The piano beat slowly begins to rise as she begins to hear “brand new sounds in my mind”, and that she’ll be “seeing you, wherever I go”, but that doesn’t stop the choral backing vocalists becoming more and more excited as the track produces more and more energy until “I’M WAITIN’ FOR IT, THAT GREEN LIGHT I WANT IT!”.

Image result for lorde green light

The chorus has a dancy, nineties feel as she’ll “get [her] things, but [she] can’t let go”, before segueing back into the sombre, minimalist piano beat as Lorde sometimes “wakes up in a different bed, too”, with the lyrical theme subtly, maturely and perfectly covering the protagonist’s heartbreak & the route to mending that patching up that poorly ticker. Closing out with a beautiful, yet simplistic synth-style solo with the energetic choral backing vocals weaving in between it, Green Light offers a frank and honest account of a break-up, with the partying that comes as part and parcel of setting yourself right with a maturity, depth and energy that only someone like Lorde can offer you.

Closing out with a beautiful, yet simplistic synth-style solo with the energetic choral backing vocals weaving in between it, Green Light offers a frank and honest account of a break-up, with the partying that comes as part and parcel of setting yourself right with a maturity, depth and energy that only someone like Lorde can offer you.

Whilst we may expect nothing less in terms of production, sound and lyrical theme from Lorde, this is a stellar track, and will be one of the standout tracks of 2017 until she gives us more of that sweet, sweet electro-pop.

 

8/10


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ALBUM REVIEW: Crystal Castles -Amnesty (I)

History is written by the victors. While this may be often applied to battles and the likes, the famous quote seems to hold some relevance whenever the turmoil that was the breakup of Crystal Castles comes into play. However, there wasn’t  a victor so much as there was someone willing to carry on the name irregardless of the fact that one of the most important aspects is absent, in this case Alice Glass whose departure was due to “reasons both professional and personal“. Ethan Kath, the silent mastermind behind this electronic project, hasn’t so much attempted to reinvigorate the act by wiping Glass’ involvement, rather he’s went out on a limb by choosing another gaspy and eerie female vocalist, this time Edith Frances, to take over the reigns as front-woman.

With Amnesty, titled alongside a (I) implying that Kath has plans to start a new trilogy of records under the Crystal Castles name, we get our first taste of a band attempting to reboot themselves with mixed results. Kath’s production has always been the biggest draw when it’s came to their music and it’s a relief to see that the three year wait since the dread fuelled gloomy LP that was (III) hasn’t harmed his skills. Orchestrating waves of lo-fi splendour with great care, the gradual evolution of 8-bit nostalgia to synth melancholy to apocalyptic electro which took three albums for Crystal Castles to achieve is condensed into this one record which would be overwhelming if it weren’t for the fact that nothing really new is brought to the table.

Instead, what is delivered is very much a greatest hits rather than a new chapter in the band’s career: despite his best efforts to continue Crystal Castles without her, it’s almost fitting that Glass’ ghost can be felt haunting the tapestries of synth woven madness. In Kath’s attempt to prove that Crystal Castles has always been more of his project than anyone else’s, he unfortunately shoots himself in the foot.

Not to say that what he produces isn’t good, in fact some of the tracks on here are some of the best he’s crafted so far, but there isn’t much breathing space given to new collaborator Frances who, given the creative freedom, could win over fans who miss Glass’ ferocity and unpredictable nature. This is evidently clear on tracks like Ornament and Char where Kath tones down his bombastic sounds to a more delicate level, allowing Frances to display a more controlled and alluring vocal performance which Glass could never quite seem to perfect despite her best efforts.

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Despite their sound not being as unique as it was back in 2008, Crystal Castles still manage to feel refreshing even without Glass being present to give the act their staple edge. Unfortunately, her replacement manages to show glimmers of potential that are overshadowed by Kath’s ego fuelled attempts to show what he’s capable, something that nobody really ever questioned. Given the proper chance, it’s clear that Crystal Castles 2.0 can carry on the name in a tasteful fashion rather than being a shameless reboot.

7/10

-Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

~

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ALBUM REVIEW: Kid North – New Waters

French pop trio deliver an album dripping with synth pop greatness 

In most album reviews, the first couple of paragraphs are spent describing the act, their influences etc. before displaying even a hint of the writer’s opinion on the music in question. Fuck that though because what we have here is an album that exceeded all of my expectations and one that is sure to be on loop for days to come.

Where to begin? Kid North’s New Waters is the culmination of an act driven by their retrospective influences that they wear on their sleeves, most notably their love for all things electro and melancholy. This is all on display here beautifully, each track managing to stand out from the rest regardless of their similar traits.

The eponymously titled track New Waters features a catchy, trendy guitar hook that wouldn’t go astray on a release by Don Bronco which would be sufficient on its own but when paired up with some echoey vocals and an unfiltered groovy sound, it’s a perfect example of the masterful pop craftiness of Kid North.

What we have here is an album that exceeded all of my expectations and one that is sure to be on loop for days to come.

Anyone who listened to Porches latest LP and liked what they heard but wished it was a little more upbeat will be more than happy here. While it’s your typical bread and butter array of instruments on offer here, what Kid North manage to do here considering how long they’ve been about is impressive to say the least. Tracks like Geometrical is pin point music magnificence, full of twangy, poppy synths alongside a funky, rhythmic guitar hook. While bands like CHVRCHES who revived the genre just a few years ago have decided to take a darker route sound and lyrics wise, Kid north act as a sunshine radiating substitute and a very welcome one at that.

The few complaints I have with New Waters comes from a few tracks such as Future Ghosts and Hours standing out as a bit mediocre, being very safe and by the numbers which isn’t a sin considering the variety on show here. It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by an album, especially one that wasn’t on your radar to begin with. If you’re looking for some easy to digest, crazily catchy music with a synth heavy sound then you couldn’t do much better than this.

8/10