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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Album Review: Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

By Ryan Martin (@RyanMartin182)

No one really expected Big Fish Theory by Vince StaplesStaples has been on the radar of many for many years but has never fully cemented the potential shown on his earlier releases. With last year’s Prima Donna, some felt that the Long Beach rapper was going downhill and losing his passion behind his music: on Vince’s latest, he hasn’t just set those doubts to rest, he’s gave the critics the nytol himself.

Crabs in a Bucket begins the album like a breath of fresh air with scattered production from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. It’s a perfect intro that Vince flows over with ease and showcases what the next 36 minutes will feel like – house influenced banging beats with a modern electronic touch. Big Fish follows and stands out immensely. Juicy J’s infectious hook matches Vince’s sharp-tongued bars and a skeletal beat for one of the best rap singles of this year.

Big Fish Theory flows throughout without one noticeable filler track. Alyssa Interlude may be the closest thing to a filler but shows Staples at his most confessional and depressed throughout the project. As rapid drum tapping is paired with an old monologue of Amy Winehouse talking about past experiences with love, a beautifully sad picture is painted with compliments from Vince’s chilling verse and a sample from The Temptations. It sounds like a lonely stormy cloud.

Love Can Be… features Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur fame, Ray J, and one of the many Kilo Kish features on the album. Albarn adds a small amount of vocals on the hook, as does Ray J, but both really let Vince steal the show, as many of the features on Big Fish Theory do. Kilo Kish pops up a total of three times throughout the album and leaves gorgeous subtle verses whenever she does. She never overstays her welcome and adds a bit of flair to every track she’s on.

Slow burners like 745 and Rain Come Down add a darker vibe to the album that healthily compliment the futuristic club bangers that make up the project. 745 was made to be played loud in your car. Vince sounds at his coolest on this track as he is backed by a huge bass track and an infectious synth. Rain Come Down plays its part perfectly as a catchy outro but doesn’t go much farther than that. The beat is almost too subtle as Vince calmly raps out the project with a catchy hook from Ty Dolla $ign.

Towards the back end of the album sits the most energizing tracks we’ve heard from the up and coming rapper since Hell Can WaitKendrick Lamar is one of the very few features that makes an impact with their spot and goes toe to toe with Vince rather than acting as a background character. Lamar’s verse fits the mood of the track very well and sees him flowing over an odd but banging beat. The vocals from Kučka add a nice transition into Kendrick’s verse as well. Homage is one of the best standouts from the album and sees the 23-year-old rapper at his most ferocious, spouting bars interpolating the hook of Rick Ross’s “Hold Me Back” with the aggressiveness of a boxer.

Samo is another insane banger off the album, featuring hype-man lyrics from A$AP Rocky and bars like:

If I wrote your ass a love song, could I make it bang? / If I pull up with my gun drawn, run, I make it bang / Homie, tell me where you come from, tell me what you bang / Ain’t a damn thing funny, but we laughin’ to the bank / Never blow it on a chain, rather blow my fuckin’ brain

It’s one of the hardest hitting tracks on the album and again demonstrates Vince’s wild confidence. Throughout Big Fish TheoryVince brings a dark undertone to the infectious house beats that make up most of the tracks on the album, like the adrenaline-rushing first single BagBak that is fuelled by rage directed at the American government:

Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the government to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now

Staples’s sophomore album sees him at his most confident he has ever been with impressive features but no need for help stealing the show, Vince isn’t once outshined by his featured co-stars on Big Fish Theory. Capturing the attention span of the listener throughout the entire album. With the sound hip-hop has been embracing lately, Big Fish Theory comes as a refreshing, fun listen that can be dove deep into or enjoyed on the surface either way. It’s the young rapper’s best work thus far and brings a wild amount of excitement for his next move.

8.5/10


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ALBUM REVIEW: DRUNK by THUNDERCAT

By Dominic V. Cassidy  (@lyre_of_apollo)

Stephen Bruner, who performs under the moniker Thundercat, has just released his third full-length studio album, DrunkBurner is an already established bassist, playing for legendary L.A. punk outfit Suicidal Tendencies, and recently featuring on tracks for other artists, including Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly. After the rough reception of his previous studio album Apocalypse, this album can be seen as a rise in quality on an arguably lackluster discography.

Drunk as far as albums go, is very odd. One of the saving graces of the album is the jazz tones and influences running through almost every track, the smooth sway is very easy listening. The album also seems to be bleeding neon and the full-colour spectrum with the album feeling almost like an auditory kaleidoscope at times, especially through the fifth track on the album A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II). While it does offer the immediate wackiness and almost the intentional neurosis found normally in Woody Allen movies; of singing of wanting to be a cat, and the peppering’s of background meow’s the track – sadly like many on the record – wear out their welcome within a few listens.

While the album is not all sunshine and daisies, it is not without standout tracks: Lava Lamp especially gets the balance perfectly between the jazz, funk, pop, and electro elements, all with Bruner’s voice over it, where it seems like he’s looking for range that is maybe missing in other tracks on the album, which come across as bland in places. Another track that gives respite from the droning near-melancholy of the rest of the album is Tokyo, which has a constant funk buzz, and at the end of two and a half minute runtime you wish had gone on a little longer, with some genuinely funny lyrics, including the chuckle-worthy: “I’d probably hide in the suicide forest (shit!)”; and the whole track kind of speaks volumes about a hinted at weeaboo past for Bruner.

Tracks like Lava Lamp, Tokyo, and Friend Zone are probably the three best tracks on the album, and while it is lovely to see what the Thundercat project can do when hitting the creative marks, it feels somewhat bittersweet that the final delivery was not closer to these tracks. Even stylistically, as the tone of the more sombre songs on the album do work lyrically, it could be argued that the drab tone with a smooth jazz background feels somewhat incongruous. One thing should be said for the featuring artists on the album, including the previously mentioned Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, and Pharrell, is that when they do make an appearance they exist purely to increase the quality of the music, especially Kendrick’s featured track Walk On By which does seem to sample Tears for Fears’ Mad World, is a fantastically listenable song, especially Kendrick’s actual rap in the song.

Image result for thundercat musician 2017

Overall Drunk is an album that upon first listen, was very interesting, the lyrics were funny, not so much to the level of comedy that bands like The Lonely Island are known for, but definitely elicited more of a chuckle than some of the more serious music that is very much in vogue of the last five years, like Adele. However, once the veneer, which sadly for the majority of the album is paper thin, has worn away, the album becomes almost a chore to listen to, hard to place which track you are on sometimes, with the bass which Bruner is known for, features across the whole album with the very relaxed classically jazzy piano the music drifts into itself.

If it was not for the tracks on the album which are very listenable, the album would be deeply flawed; however with the few gems that are on the album, and the production which is often maybe not up to the level of an artist who is himself a seasoned producer, the album does seem like a few very studio high-grade songs, randomly inter-spliced with something more akin to bedroom recordings. While the album does have a handful of standout tracks and genuinely clever lyrics scattered through the album, this is not enough to offset the abject blandness of the album, and the way it wears out its welcome before it’s over.

4/10


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Moderat – Reminder EP REVIEW

German electronic act Moderat managed to overcome the ever fatal second album syndrome that infects any band who release a critically acclaimed debut, a triumph in itself. However, when your track record now features two well received LPs, how on earth do you pull it off again?

In Moderat’s case they’ve done more of the same and who can really blame them: they perfect their own dance-floor sound on II so why fix what isn’t broken.Already drawing comparisons to Radiohead for its vocal delivery that echoes Thom Yorke very heavily, there’s the undeniably catchy techno hook that you’re just as likely to hear at an underground rave as you are on Match Of The Day.

moderatreminder

Admittedly, my relationship with Moderat is limited to only their second LP which caught me off guard in 2013 when I first started reviewing music. With 3 years of experience under my belt, it seems like the act haven’t evolved, rather they’ve just tweaked a few elements and kept that slick production value that will be an easy draw in for any new listeners.

8/10

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Crystal Castles – Deicide track review

Best of July #5

Just like a building made out of such a fragile material, Crystal Castles stood strong together for years. Whereas other synth-pop acts like CHVRCHES had a more cheerful take on the genre, this Canadian duo turned the genre on its head by infecting it with apocalyptic tales of despair and sadness. Sadly this might have had something to do with what happened behind closed doors as singer Alice Glass left in late 2014 for personal reasons, recently putting blame on Kath for manipulation.

Whether or not these claims are true is yet to be seen and I wouldn’t want to criticise a track on allegations alone. As sad as I was whenever I heard Glass had left the duo, I knew deep down that what made Crystal Castles what they are was their sound, crafted by the wickedly talented Ethan Kath.

Thankfully the disputes between Kath and his former band mate hasn’t affected his sound. In fact new track Deicide might be one of the best tracks that Kath has ever came out with. The band’s earlier stuff was known for it’s rave influences and these can be felt from the get go. The haunting sounds that come about on this track shouldn’t feel so easy to dance to yet you can’t help but nod your head along and tap your feet.

As lovely as Alice Glass was as a singer, I can’t say I’m outraged that Kath has replaced her with a mysterious female singer. Whoever they might be, they manage to capture that distant, soft spoken delivery Glass had perfected over three albums. The sound and singing both blend into what can only be described as an “absolute tune”.

This latest track isn’t a huge departure from what we’ve heard before but this is an only a glimpse of what is yet to come. Crystal Castles managed to shake it up majorly on III, I have more than enough faith that Kath can do so on his inevitable new album.

Listen to the track here!

Liam Menzies
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