St. Vincent – Masseduction Review

St. Vincent needn’t have bothered making another album after her self-titled fourth record. It was labelled as “colossal” amongst other things and the mark “of the greatest guitarist since the turn of the century” said another. In a sea of floundering and repetitive guitar music, she struck out on her own with a harsh, brazen yet at times delicate sound with creative production and lyrics that struck home through its own air of eccentricity. Her new album Masseduction and intrigue proceeding it the last three years has only been matched it’s exubtrent promotion. Is it possible for her to better herself? What direction can she go in now? 

With her first single ‘New York’ there are no traces of her guitar work for it is largely a dymanic piano ballad. It is a purely emotive affair, which is something that was beat out of us in the maze of Annie’s observations and racing thoughts three years ago. The piano chords are enthused by bracing strings and a oscillating drum machine beat. Once Annie’s half falsetto joins the fray, it makes for a track of graceful progressions. This earnest and vulnerable version of St. Vincent flies in the face of her bold, swaggering experiments of 2014. ‘Los Ageless’ is the stylistic antithesis of the first single. Punching beats, lazily warped guitars fill the space around the coolly hushed vocals of the verses. These fall in to walls of washed out guitars and electronica of the chorus that are spread thinly to form an airy, but driven sound. The arrangement here called for a capable delivery to squeeze the lyrics into the shifting space of the chorus and Annie delivered with her confident warble. As the song goes on, blocky synth chords, the strains of wiry licks and the hint of Dance-Pop beats are topped with a grand staging finish with echoed soundscapes. St. Vincent has always been bold, but now she’s taken on a colour and an aloofness that she never had before and the evidence here is that it’s working. A flurry of lines describing the various ‘Pills’ you can take form the rather simple basis for what is a complex song. Surging effects and a punching percussion are met with Annie Clark’s slick and unbroken accented vocal and this is torn up for the constant waves of a chorus with jingling and shimmering strings and electronica. This is broken up again for an early instrumental that incorporates her trademark heavily distorted guitar solo that bends a new turn of the song towards a constant repeat of the chorus with a gradually rising instrumentation. By the close of the song, it has shifted again an Abbey Road style slow strung riff and here she takes on her wistful tones with towering guitars and saxophones behind her. A song about the culture of escapism through ‘pills’ that grabs your attention and takes it to very different places. 

“Sugarboy” is a frantic and unrelenting track of flashing and pulsating, buoyant electronica from which Clark exhibits her high falsettos to bend and shape themselves freely from the rapid beats behind her. These are contrasted by the pitch shifted and distorted guitars of the chorus that are mirrored by her flat and gruff vocals. These are instcepted by choir vocals jabs of “boys” and “girls” that adds to the urgency and frantic ambition of the track. The song hurls intself into different arrangements as it goes from areas with a dominating rolling bass and oscillating rhythms to sparse areas that leave her vocals to echo into themselves. It is a remarkable track that is unlike anything she has done previously. It is so many genres at the same time and fires itself off in so many directions so quickly that it is almost hard to imagine it could be tamed into one song; here it is. ‘Young Lover’ opens with a muffled dance beat that forms the canvas for Clark to throw crashing guitars from all angles with a crashing percussion that pitches the chorus as a theatrical event. This continues into several more bursts that again shows St. Vincent channeling their raw emoticon into the music and not just their lyrics. ‘Savior’ takes a different tone, with slack riffs and steady beat to replicate a cool and dingy music tone. From here the lyrics evoke sexual imagery before breaking into a lighter arrangment with vocals akin to religious proclamation. The title track is similar in its lyrical tone, but more bold with its chosen style with constant bursts of guitar and pitch shifted interjections of her vocals. ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ is a warmer piano ballad that offers nostalgic music for nostalgic lyrical content. It becomes slightly tragic as the track goes on and this demonstrates the power Annie can generate with various styles and tones of music. Likewise ‘Smoking Section’ shows Clark cutting deep with what is initially a piano laden track interspersed with sparse, but prominent snare drums and imagery of self harm and violent revenge. This intimate arrangment is shattered by a bridge of heavy guitars and electronica. This turns into a sweeping and defiant finish to the album with the piano continuing with drawn out and wispy guitars and chords dispersing around her. 

This album is a step above St. Vincent’s last to a level unnamed. Perhaps many thought she’d never abandon the icy and distantly bold style that worked so well for her before, but here she couldn’t take you any closer to her emotions and personal events. Those songs are masterful in the way they’re written to shock and lull you into a false sense of security with musical transitions to accentuate these features. That’s not to say the bold styles are overlooked here, for they are the product of wild experimentation that takes guitar music to places lightyears away from most. It does this to the extent that it is genreless too. The only thing we can be sure of is that St. Vincent has transcended herself. What on earth will she do next?

St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION = 10/10

Owen Riddle 

Single Review – St. Vincent – New York

‘New York’ is the new single from Annie Clark’s St. Vincent. It looks set to tigger the steady stream of new material from Annie towards a fifth album off the back of an eponymous fourth album that was genre mixing and experimental. It was a bold and defining album for 2014 and one of the few fresh guitar featured albums. With her new single however, there are no traces of her guitar work for it is largely a dymanic piano ballad. It is a purely emotive affair, which is something that was beat out of us in the maze of Annie’s observations and racing thoughts red years ago. The piano chords are enthused by bracing strings and a oscillating drum machine beat. Once Annie’s half falsetto joins the fray, it makes for a track of graceful progressions. This earnest and vulnerable version of St. Vincent flies in the face of her bold, swaggering experiments of 2014. Though I doubt this sound will feature throughout a new album, this is a style St. Vincent delivers beautifully. 

Owen Riddle

Sunday Suggestion – St Vincent – Marrow

St Vincent (Annie Clark) has received huge critical acclaim with her most recent effort and rightly so as far as I’m concerned. Her self titled fourth album was sublime, showcasing a hugely talented artist at work. The progression from her debut album Marry Me from 2007 and to St. Vincent this year is clear and her style was really honed and refined with songs such as Marrow from her second album Actor from 2009. The eerie lyrical twists and turns of the track are surrounded by a very sparse set up with distantly wailing vocals along with a pulse-like drum beat and gently scratching guitars. This sets the song up perfectly for the shot of Clark’s heavily reverberating and fuzzy guitar as she urgently spells out for help. These swift switches of sound are carried off with such an effortlessness. She also controls her vocals as opposed to screaming over the noise and places them just ahead of the raging guitars. Not only does this maintain the songs surreal feel, but it also accentuates the fuzzy guitar bursts. A profound and well formed track and she’d go on to do even more.

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Future Islands – Ran

Future Islands have announced the release of their fifth studio album The Far Field for an April 7th date. They made a lasting impression back in 2014 with their last album Singles which was aptly named for an album bursting with infectious and catchy songs. This included some energetic performances. With their new single ‘Ran’ they pursue the same approach with punchy beats, rolling bass line and a whirring synth behind it. This build up to a greater peak in the chorus is echoed by Samuel Herring’s deeper vocal snarl which ramps up the energy of the track further. It is still a infectious track, but you get the feeling that they could produce the same results with a different method if they tried. 

Owen Riddle

Sunday Suggestion – Zola Jesus – Dangerous Days

The first single from Zola Jesus’ 2014 album Taiga was ‘Dangerous Days’ which opens with a small whirr before the beat and flashing synths take over as her bold and wholesome vocal easily make it’s mark and sets itself as the focal point beyond doubt. The opening lines are succeeded by an increased tempo from the synths and a chant-like slide from her before bursting into echoing space and light as the synth washes over, the heavyweight vocals soar and the beats harden to keep the song on track. The effect of this is played out in the second verse with a sharper and more prominent beat and tempo as she soars into the chorus again. The stripped back sections see her show her vocal prowess even more with the dulled beat and wailing backing vocals in the background. This is then shuffled back into the order as the beat resumes it’s normal service and the vocals soar yet again. It’s a pop song of class and effortlessness.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Really Good Remixes – Maximo Park – Leave This Island (Mogwai Remix)

Maximo Park and their sorrowful single ‘Leave This Island’ from their 2014 album Too Much Information is often viewed as an appeal to Scotland during it’s growing desire for Independence from the Northumbrian band, to consider the region in the debate. It seems only apt that this song was remixed by Glaswegian band Mogwai who do a brilliant job of giving the song even darker and more sorrowful depths musically, but interestingly remove the lyrics and by extension the message of the song. Nevertheless the sonic charge they give the song works wonders in achieving their aims whilst not changing the musical emphasis of the it.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Single Review – Beck – Dreams

Beck has made a fairly rapid return from his Grammy Award Winning exploits of his graceful and sweeping album Morning Phase from last year. It saw him combine everything from Classical to Neo-Psychedelic and was an album closest to a one-man effort than you can get in the 21st Century, with Beck even scoring and conducting the orchestral pieces of his last album. But now with his so far untitled thirteenth album and the first single from it titled ‘Dreams’; Beck has decided to turn lasts year’s methods on their head. ‘Dreams’ is a typically infectious pop tune with it’s snappy beat, sing-a-long vocals and falsettos. It still retains that acoustic instrumentation that Beck is so synonymous with, but there’s nothing thought provoking or contemplative about this track. Though it’s pretty random, it’s delivered with absolute ease and Beck has no problem being a pop-star in this track. The funk and rhythms fade into a warped interlude before sliding back into pop formation again. It’s been suggested that this song serves the purpose of an upbeat track for Beck to play at his shows, but who knows where his next album will land on the musical scale. Just expected the unexpected.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Young Fathers – White Men are Black Men Too Review

The Edinburgh based Hip-hop trio and current winners of the Mercury Prize, were very much shock nominees and winners of the award due to their relative obscurity next to the likes of Damon Albarn, FKA Twigs or Bombay Bicycle Club. It would be hard to deny them the prize however due to the interesting combinations on show for their debut album DEAD. That album, however, was made with little pressure or expectation. Now with their second studio LP, they will be a greater pressure to add to the success of their debut and justify their title of Mercury Prize winners. The initial promise with White Men are Black Men Too is one of a greater depth of variety and influence then that of their debut, but variety and innovative combinations don’t always work. Did the risk pay off?

‘Shame’ has an easily identifiable rhythmic purpose and directions with the collation of percussive types and samples along with the vocal ‘instrumentals’ with the backing vocals taking on the melody and are the light to the shade of bass-level, deep droning of the synths. This makes the track energetic and lively, but is produced in a slightly muffled and muted fashion that isn’t obtrusive or blocky. The earthy and slightly out of kilter vocals combine with the instrumentals to enforce the wiry and gently uplifting melody. By the close of the track, the electronica becomes more expansive and open to pick up the sound further in line with the growing vocal combinations. It’s a smart track that through less obvious means has generated a track with intelligent and creative melodies and rhythms. ‘Rain or Shine’ opens with warped and worn staccato-like organs which generates an urgency and alertness to the track. Again, this is set up behind a slightly muffled and distorted filter and this allows for the sung and spoken vocals so have freedom of movement to deliver the lyrics. The sung vocals also sit behind this distorted percussion and they act as a part of the instrumental set up in what is a minimalist track practically. The introduction of Joshua Hayward-like shredding guitars sees the song spiral and spin off to a an ever higher level of urgency as the song’s close.

’27’ has a more sweeping warped organ-like synth to open with which acts as the piece of fluidity amongst the oncoming piano chords, reverberating bass electronica and rotating percussion. These secondary elements fade in and out to often leave the organs sounds in atmospheric isolation, before the rest of the instrumentals swing back to progress the song more rapidly. ‘Nest’ is another piece of subtle, yet uplifting pop with the isolated and bold vocal production sat proudly ahead of the vocal instrumentals and the buoyant pianos and handclap percussion. The vocal combinations add an aspect of pure melody and a smooth progression to the track which is naturally fluid without the aid of too much production and with this track it was a case of what they left out which made it work. ‘Get Started’ mixes soulful vocals with experimental electronica that sits somewhere between Julian Casablancas and The Voidz and the Knife. Through this, a delicate and meandering tune extracted out of the track. The song goes on to develop a great burst of light against the early shade with the wistful backing vocals and the more expansive electronica. On the whole this album succeeded brilliantly in combining an even greater number of influences in their music and making them shine with intricate hooks and rhythmic qualities. These often un-cluttlered tracks ensure that they can advance their instrumentals methods and production solutions. It’s a fine album, deserving of many more awards for Young Fathers. A sign that British music is in good hands for the future.

Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too = 9.5/10

Musical World Tour – Denmark – Pinkunoizu – Necromancer

Death Grips – The Powers That b Review

Death Grips are perhaps the most strange and innovative act in hip-hop to date. They exploded onto the scene in 2011 with ‘Ex Military’ and with tracks like ‘Guillotine’ it’s little wonder they cultivated such attention. This track is the perhaps the best articulation of the Death Grips sound, with its characteristic crashing synths combined with the unique rapping/shouting style of vocalist Stefan Burnett and dark subject matter. They followed ‘Ex Military’ up with ‘No Love Deep Web’ before releasing ‘The Money Store’ the same year. The latter saw them master the electronic elements of their sound; they even sounded a bit like Daft Punk with ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ but my favourite has got to be ‘Cage’. The album really is a testament to just how much you can do with synthesisers and the creative curiosity of the act. They dropped the first half of ‘The Powers That B’ (of which this is the 2nd half) last June. ‘Niggas On The Moon’ is Death Grips at their most abstract and experimental; they even sampled Bjork’s voice for this album and used it throughout as an instrument. The highlight for me is probably ‘Fuck Me Out’, typically taking sex through the dark filter the band is known for. The much hyped 2nd half of the album now arrives with mountainous hype; can it live up to it?

Jenny Death’s first single ‘Inanimate Sensation’ was the first indication of what we could expect from this instalment. It’s probably one of the most blood pumping songs I’ve heard for a long time beginning with the slow revving up of synths before bringing in brilliantly head banging drums. Clearly this track indicated taking the electronic element of ‘The Money Store’ in a more punky aggressive direction; the drumming for instance feeling notably more live than sampled gives it an even more aggressive edge. Lyrically also, Death Grips show even more prowess than previously with imaginative terms, like the line ‘As it unravels like enigmatic onion/ Layers of interdimensional dominion’. The latter in particular compliments the strange space like sound of the track. The opening track of Jenny Death, ‘I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States’ (great title by the way) is the embodiment of this strange cyber punk sound they’ve stumbled upon. It really is chaotic in the best possible manor. Starting with the atmospheric electronic nature of Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy soundtrack lasts no longer than twenty seconds before being met with the smashing of drums which along with Burnett repeatedly shouting the title of this track make for a really exhausting and exhilarating track even though it’s around two and a half minutes long.

As great as the punky energy of Death Grips is  on this LP (and it is great!), I’ve always thought them at their best when they slow down just a tad, enabling me to listen to their lyrics and appreciate the often mind bending elements of their music. Thankfully, ‘Pss Pss’ does just that. Opening with synths that sound as though someone is pushing up and down on some kind of synth whammy bar is met with Burnett’s shouting emphasising the last syllable of each line in a similar fashion to ‘Inanimate Sensation’. The drumming makes a tremendous difference though; it is noticeably more subdued making the track oddly more at home on the dance floor rather than in the midst of mosh pit. The chorus too is damn catchy, with an almost creepy whispering voice again repeating the last word of each line. Unlike in the first single, his voice is not so overpowering and we are allowed to flow with this kind of warped synth sound. ‘Turned Off’ is an interesting track for Death Grips. It is in many ways more traditional than we would expect from them. This track does exemplify the new elements they’ve brought in, namely the punky guitars and drums. Obviously the electronic elements are still there but the distorted guitar and yet more chaotic beating of drums are as in your face as possible. The song is pretty much pure distortion and it sounds great. The penultimate track ‘On GP’ also shows off the addition of guitars, but this time with a much hard rock influence (increasingly Led Zep esque as the song goes on). ‘On GP’ fluctuates between a messy punk attitude and moments of dark reflection about suicide, the end of the first verse is particularly hard hitting but lyrically very clever.

‘Last night, 3:30 in the morning, Death on my front porch/ Can feel him itching to take me with him, hail death, fuck you waiting for/ Like a question no one mention, he turns around, hands me his weapon/ He slurs, “Use at your discretion, it’s been a pleasure, Stefan’ The album closes with ‘Death Grips 2.0’. This instrumental track is the only real disappointing track on the album. That said, it’s probably meant more as a message to fans rather than a musical message. The question marks over if the act will continue to make music is still there but I would suspect that this track means that thankfully we will see more of Death Grips. Jenny Death is a great album. In short (If anything they’ve ever done can be described as such), Death Grips have not only attacked this new album with renewed punk energy but have also incorporated elements of punk without compromising what made ‘Money Store’ so great. The drumming is perhaps the most notable change, particularly on the first two tracks ‘Inanimate Sensation’ and ‘I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States’ set the tone for what is an impressive, adrenaline fuelled punk album for the electronic age.

The very last thing to note is that although Death Grips have packaged ‘The Powers That B’ as two halves (composed of both ‘Niggas on the Moon’ and ‘Jenny Death’) the two are vastly different. Like I said in the beginning of this review (which now feels like a world ago I’m sure you’ll agree) NOTM is much more abstract. The two are centred on two fundamentally different things, NOTM around the innovative sampling of Bjorks voice and JD around the more raw punk energy that Death Grips are unsurpassed at. The problem that I found with NOTM was that it is so abstract and impenetrable to all but seasoned Death Grips fans. That conceded the use of Bjork’s voice particularly on tracks like ‘Have A Sad Cum’, ‘Viola’ and ‘Billy Not Really’ comes off to great effect. The repetitive use of Bjork’s voice does get a little annoying at times and to listen through in one sitting may require a certain level of perseverance for perspective Death Grips converts.  It’s pretty close to a perfect score but tracks like 7 (Beyond Alive) and 8 (Centuries of Damn) are bit repetitive of the guitar sound on previous tracks in the album and ‘Death Grips 2.0’ isn’t quite the perfect finish that ‘On GP’ would have been.

Jenny Death =  9/10.

NOTM = 9/10

The Powers That B =  9/10

Callum Christie