Single Review – Pale Waves – Kiss

Following their EP All The Things I Never Said, released earlier this year, Pale Waves’ new single Kiss is another shot at their 80s sound, radiating energy and shimmering with synth. The song kicks off with an excitable riff, which is reflected in the bright, euphoric chorus, made up of instrumentalism equally as ecstatic and catchy lyrics. It’s sweet liveliness and joyous innocence seeps through in every note, and the subtle flamboyance makes it the perfect summer song. I can see the Manchester quartet bouncing around to this – as well as to all their other delightful numbers – in front of crowds of people doing exactly the same.

Ellie Chivers

Single Review – Disclosure – Ultimatum

In the first release since 2016’s Moog for Love EP, Disclosure have released a sunny, mellow house track in the form of Ultimatum. Taking vocals from Fatoumata Diawara, the song shines in it minimalism, while still being just as inviting and anthemic as previous heavier offerings. The lyrics rest on top of pulsating synth and shuffling percussion, which is repeated throughout – that can get a bit repetitive. The track is later jazzed up with the vocal distortion, merging the rough synths with Diawara’s luscious vocal to create a full-blown electronica fest. The instrumentalism often builds, growing all the more intense, but the drops never really amount to too much. That being said, this – perhaps, safer – side to Disclosure’s talents is no doubt enjoyable, especially while the sun’s out.

Ellie Chivers

Single Review – Christine and the Queens – Girlfriend

Heloise Letissier as Christine and the Queens returns off the back of a masterful Pop record from 2016. It was minimalistic, energetic and intelligent. In 2018 she looks to start ‘a new chapter’ firstly by striking out most of her stage name in promotional material, leaving the name Chris from it. With regards to this she said “It’s interesting, the process of striking something out, it’s perverting something, but you don’t make it disappear.” Beyond that, her as yet unnamed second album is set to a bold affair that is more up tempo and more elaborate reference pints with a rough edge.

Her latest single ‘Girlfriend’ features Funk artist Dam Funk and certainly ditches the subtlety, heavily laden with Funk instrumentation. There’s no denying that she suits the environment as she effortlessly rolls off each lyric which are raw in their passion as opposed to the intricacies of her debut. It’s a switch also performed with ease. Though she owns the sound, it’s a well worn one and not as uniquely functional as her debut record. You’d still hope for Heloise to inject some inventiveness to marry with her new approach elsewhere in any new album.

Owen Riddle

This Weeks Music Video with Childish Gambino, Sigrid, Arctic Monkeys, Florence and the Machine, Mitski and Blossoms

Gaz Coombes – Worlds Strongest Man Review

Three years on from releasing the critically acclaimed Matador; Gaz Coombes has released his ‘Frank Ocean inspired’ third album The Worlds Strongest Man on May 4th. It is a culmination of the added hints of experimentation to his ever maturing songwriting in 2015 he was in a new submersible phase. This earned himself a Mercury prize nomination amongst other accolades. His recent comments about his third solo effort only suggest more exploration for the quietly confident singer-songwriter. So if any venture into Pop music comes from Gaz, you know it’ll be a considered and versatile affair.

‘Deep Pockets’ immediately smacks with a buzzing energy and throbbing beat. Gaz’s echoed and wiry vocals skate atop the accelerating feel of the track as it drives towards the chorus to be met with a more rooted, lower vocal to meet the expansive and growing sounds around him. His eccentric melodies and introverted lyrics deliver messages of unchecked masculinity. ‘Walk the Walk’ is no different in its narrative tone and is a steadier affair compared to his last single ‘Deep Pockets’ with meandering riff and bass line with a buzzing synth energy whirring through the track. This album looks to have a more integrated sense of scale accommodated in this instance through sections and a slicker delivery which the first two singles have served as an example of. The new album looks to be another worthy addition to his catalogue.

‘Shit (I’ve done it again)’ is a hazy track of whirring synth chords set around delicate melodies made up from strings and light electronica. The track gradually grows beyond this with prominent percussion, vocal harmonies and charged guitars and whole lot of reverb on top of that. It makes for a controlled and rewarding arrangement. ‘Wounded Egos’ bites with an opening line of ‘wounded egos, right wing psychos’, but this is set through the prism of a light arrangement of light, staccato electronica. The song then strikes an optimistic tone with pacing bass lines, percussion and a resonant synth compliment as Gaz’ piercing vocals sing of ‘chairs flying in the street’ but there being ‘another way’. It becomes of joyous track derived from that scathing opening and all done with a subtlety as worthy as any dramatic shift of tone he could have opted for. Tracks such as ‘Vanishing Act’ produce a sound that pushes a feeling of being on edge as Gaz screams of the need to ‘find my happy face’ and performing a vanishing act. The title track offers a hint of bravado to mock his themed subject around a crisp, slicked arrangement.

This album has saw Gaz tackle issues of masculinity a little more abruptly than he’s directed his solo songwriting before, but he has masterfully utilised his arrangements to manipulate and radiate the messages in his tracks. Sure, it isn’t the most exciting record of the year, but it is an immersive experience that plays off each subtle change in tone that makes this album. Coupled with that overarching sense of vulnerability and you have another strong chapter in Gaz Coombes solo catalogue.

Gaz Coombes – World’s Strongest Man = 8.5/10

Owen Riddle

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

What we’ve come to expect from the Arctic Monkeys is to expect the unexpected. Five years ago saw the release of AM, which showcased a more suave, more mature side to the Sheffield quartet, dominated by thumping basslines and effortless funk; a bit of a diversion from the punkier, festival-ready hits of days gone by. Although, with everything that’s happened between then and now, five years ago may seem more like five-0 years ago, and in that time, Alex Turner was at the piano, cooped up in LA, writing Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino. And remember, kids, expect the unexpected.

The sixth album is both Turner’s most direct and also most metaphorical track list to date. Tranquillity Base is the name of the spot in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969. And this isn’t where the sci-fi theming terminates. Every song is mutedly futuristic, dystopian almost. None of the tracks meet the electricity of, say, Old Yellow Bricks and the like, which may bore some long-time fans, and many of the choruses are practically non-existent, let alone shoutable at festivals. It almost feels like a cold, crashing reality. Gone are the days of perhaps a more care-free, instrumentally-audacious Arctic Monkeys; we are now confronted with an offering that is quietly political, more aware and outwardly gloomy. Some of their older material is reflected in this album – such as the reverbing bass and lyrics that sometimes have seemingly been drunkenly strung together – but the way the band have translated these elements for their new music just adds to the underlying tragedy Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino puts forward. Turner and Co are now just waffling, intoxicated people stuck in a blue new setting.

The album is immensely immersive; not one to necessarily just have in the background. Star Treatment starts the album with a Bowie-like presence, slow and swaying, with the opening lyrics “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes” putting the pessimistic and straight-to-the-point feel of the album in motion. The Bowie-ness is also cyclical, with album closer The Ultracheese sounding like it could be an Alex Turner cover of a never-before-heard Bowie song. Arctic Monkeys are more themselves on Four Out Of Five, with a riff that could have been plucked from AM, and while all the newness of Tranquillity Base is exciting and pretty good, Four Out Of Five is an asset to the album, probably because it does feel like the most close-to-home and comfortable.

The uneasiness of the rest of the album is potentially what makes it so oddly fascinating. Batphone’s slightly-off riffs and the creepy organ-fx-snyths that underscore the titular track…it kind of make it feel like a movie score, and perhaps that’s why it sets the imagination ablaze. If you close your eyes listening this album, you could genuinely be at this new hotel, and I imagine it to be dark and mysterious, and everyone there is wearing a fedora. The subtlety of each track – especially considering the band’s past songs – just makes it all feel a bit odd, but not unattractive.

Golden Trunks shimmers with reverberation but is darkened by political fear. American Sports is one of the albums’ most instrumentally-strong pieces, perhaps on par with Science Fiction, which includes a simply gorgeous blend of textures. And if you’ve been thinking “no this album isn’t for me at all”, wait for the abrasive crescendo and cheeky (yet somewhat depressing) lyrics of She Looks Like Fun, you might just change your mind.

While this new direction is indeed wildly different, even for the kings of unpredictability, it is no less entertaining than their past work, especially after giving it a really good couple of listens. However, it does beat its predecessors in its intrinsic themes, lyrics and inventive ideas. Whether its “Artic Monkeys” enough is up to you.

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino: 8/10

Ellie Chivers

Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer Review

It wasn’t long ago that I saw Janelle Monae on countless red carpets in sometimes-outrageous outfits and people going crazy for her. And I had no idea who she was. Then she goes and drops singles like Make Me Feel, Django Jane and I Like That – which is when I realised that her red carpet looks aren’t her biggest statements.

Back when Make Me Feel was released and I was reading into the lyrics, I picked up on the line: “an emotional sexual bender.” These were the first hints of her new album, Dirty Computer, being her most personal and sincere yet. These intimate themes weave throughout the track list, with many songs touching on race, sexuality – particularly poignant for an artist who recently came out as pansexual – and gender equality, with often bold instrumentalism to match.

The album opens with the eponymous song; featuring Brian Wilson, it’s a slow, reflective starter with hard-hitting lyrics, but kicks off a stream of delightful synth-filled numbers. Track number two – Crazy, Classic, Life – is a rhythmic tune with a hushed glow, deliberating liberation, with Take a Byte following in the same subtly funky vein, the euphoric bass at its epicentre.

Following that is Jane’s Dream, a snappy interlude that bridges the softer notions of the previous tracks to the more audacious, and frankly better, numbers. This is where singles’ Make Me Feel and Django Jane show their faces, with the former’s infectious tongue-clicks, squelchy bass and summery feel making it an album highlight, and the latter’s brave attempt at rap – so distinctive from the rest of the album, but also not out of place, is an exciting addition. Preceding Django Jane on the track list is Screwed; a slick, guitar-based number featuring Zoe Kravitz that celebrates sex amidst destruction. Pynk is a popping, pulsating, quietly brilliant number, with Monae’s soft vocals and luscious harmonies layered over finger-snaps before guitars explode for the chorus. Rounding off the effervescent pop of the middle section of Dirty Computer is I Got The Juice; a sizzling hot collaboration with Pharrell, this is perhaps the most radio-ready of the lot, with some of the catchiest lyrics on the album.

I Like That follows like a gentle wave that introduces the ‘come down’ section of the album. While the single is still fierce, it is a peaceful protest, with it’s confident lyrics married with a muted backing track. Don’t Judge Me is a dark horse; it may not be as instrumentally challenging as some of its predecessors, but it’s smooth use of orchestra and acoustic, together with very raw, very straight-from-the-heart lyricism makes it an asset to Dirty Computer. So Afraid comes close to its beauty but can’t quite compare. Americans – the album’s final offering – is a final push for revolution, rejuvenating the last portion of the track list with its choir-like harmonies and upbeat instrumentalism, but also alongside cheesy spoken word from a sampled speech that just doesn’t really sit right. Considering the maturity and strength of the rest of the album, this element just seems a little theatrical.

I can see why so many people are extremely excited about this album; it is brutally honest and has some astonishing tracks. They may not be completely groundbreaking, but it is a thrilling lot of unpredictable songs. The only question is: how had I not really known who Janelle Monae was sooner?

Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer – 7/10

Ellie Chivers

Single Review – Childish Gambino – This Is America

The multi-talented Donald Glover returned with the first new material since Awaken, My Love from 2016; an album which saw him tilt his style towards a more vocal based, soulful direction. With his new single ‘This is America’ this only forms a small part of a multi-faceted arrangement taking in elements of Soul, Pop, Rap and switching styles throughout. The lyrics along with the excellent video transcend many issues in a bold fashion, but treats others with subtlety. Glover’s approach ensures you have to take in the harsh truths he details whilst enjoying the music; both are entwined to the point you can’t ignore the content and the musical shifts and changes signpost this brilliantly. Whether it’s mass shootings, the worship of gun culture, the targeting of the African American communities by law enforcement or the general apocalyptic images he paints, the message is the same; This is America. It is a true example of free speech so coveted in America and a work of art beyond it. You can’t ignore it for it’s not just another form of entertainment, it’s a statement.

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Courtney Barnett – City Looks Pretty

Melbourne singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett made a name for herself with her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit from 2015. It received deserved acclaim for injecting new life into more traditional guitar music and a lot of that was to do with her dazed, down to earth delivery as opposed to being something it couldn’t. Her new album Tell Me How You Really Feel is due on May 18th and will most likely see Courtney reinforce her approach for now. Her latest single ‘City Looks Pretty’ certainly indicates such an approach with jangling riffs met with distorted lead elements. The lyrics still invoke a detailed personal narrative, but along with the arrangement, they seem smoother in their progressions and transitions making for an all round slicker song. This is shown well when the song fades into and out of a subtle organ based interlude towards its conclusion. It seems hard to see her making a more impactful album than her debut, but if anything Courtney will show that she already sounds like a well established artist.

Owen Riddle