Single Review – Father John Misty – Mr Tillman

Joshua Tillman took his ironic and astute songwriting as Father John Misty and turned it into stinging and biting observations with last year’s Pure Comedy. A year on from its release, he’s now released new material with the single ‘Mr Tillman’. In a track that peels its instrumental layers back and forth, with spaced piano chords making way for a staccato keys and guitars and Tillman’s double tracked chorus strips back to singular, echoed vocals of verses. Lyrically, its reflective of pre-2017 material which was akin to a series of monologues of Tillman’s thoughts and experiences. In that sense, it is a step back to familiarity, but to what end we don’t know? Just that it’ll still be an intriguing if not the most accomplished Father John Misty material.

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Tune Yards – ABC 123

From soon to be released album ‘I can feel you creep into my private life’ due out 19th January via 4AD, and follow up from 2014’s ‘Nikki Nack’,Tune-Yards release new single ‘ABC 123’, continuing their 80’s style production but this time turning things up a subtle notch from previous single ‘Look At Your Hands’. Lyrics are intertwined with political images and current events, giving Tune Yard’s alt-pop that additive cold alt-punk edge with lyrics like: ‘but I must be witness to everything, fan the fire or face the crowd, California’s burning down, sitting in the middle of the sixth extinction.’ Embracing the bands experimental, child-at-heart nature though, the tracks accompanying video sees front-woman Merrill Garbus’s head as, part of a stop-motion directed by Dear Mr Quistgaard, a fitting style given the track’s title, Garbus tweeted: ‘We’re hoping Sesame Street invites us to play it on their show.’

Hayley Miller

Single Review – Green Day – Back in the USA

With the release of another greatest hits – this time ironically, or perhaps not you’d have to ask the almighty – titled ‘God’s Favourite Band’ Californian trio Green Day, as is customary, have added a little extra track to their list of punk-pop classics. ‘Back In The US’ a genteel celebration of American patriotism… only joking. The track is of course fuelled by high paced chunky chords and political satire, this is Green Day after all. ‘Back In The US’ and it’s accompanying video manages to encapsulate everything that makes them hopelessly addictive to their fans, including lines like: ‘Let freedom ring with all the crazies on parade, let them eat poison and it tastes like lemonade,’ as well as a zombie president with a very dodgy yellow wig. This is an onslaught of pure joy and political resentment with Billie Joe, Tré and Mike chanting the crowd towards another long-awaited riot. Okay so maybe this isn’t American Idiot level Green Day but it’s Green Day and it’s new, so you just have to.

Hayley Miller

Beck – Colors Review 

Beck. The guy who gifted us with Loser. The guy who married sulky folk with hip hop undertones and a Beatles-like receptivity. The guy who shaped, formed and inspired so much of nineties and noughties newness. In a career spanning over 30 years, and now 13 albums under his belt, 47-year-old Beck has ridden the waves of the industry and explored many different musical avenues. So his brand new exciting album Colors is…a pop album?

Actually, it’s a very good pop album. Beck has weaved modern trends with his classic hearty, ambient core. Titular track Colors pulses with kaleidoscopic chorus vocals and gushing synths, with the highlight being the pipes that follow. The soul of the track comes still comes from the less mechanical elements, with simple percussion remaining a key role. The oldest single on the track comes in the form of Dreams, which persists as one of the strongest on the track list, journeys through chilled rock hues and skipping disco trances, though the pounding lyrics epitomise the track. Up All Night may be the most modern, with shuffling percussion and a surge of synth to signal an anthemic chorus.

Beck has also tackled some different styles. Wow’s feisty rapped lyrics are delivered over ballooning synths – it stands out from the rest of the album in its bubbly hip hop approach. Fix Me is slow and solemn, more reflective of the sombre Morning Phase, though ghostlier. It takes a step back from the prominent instrumentalism that features on the album. I’m So Free is the most rock-centric track more reminiscent of his more angsty days. The roared chorus is paired brilliantly with equally loud guitars.

So despite following conventional pop directions, Beck has put his own spin on it. It’s a predictable idea on paper, but it’s carried out in such a way that you never know what’s around the corner. It pulls so much from Beck past and future. It’s guilt-free, easy listening at its finest.

Beck – Colors: 7/10

Ellie Chivers

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 – Beck – Up All Night

Beck Hansen is someone we all know as a respected songwriter and accomplished composer and musician; this demonstrated with his first album in six years Morning Phase from 2014. It was a contemplative and graceful record with quaking melodies and beautiful arrangements charging ballads and Neo-Pyschedelic soundscapes. His upcoming tenth studio album Colors couldn’t be more different. He has been releasing singles for this album for almost two years from the first single ‘Dreams’ in 2015 to the latest release ‘Up All Night’; this album has had a marked shift in tone and everything we’ve heard so far has had a lavish Pop treatment and for Beck this signals a venture into unknown territory, but territory he seems at ease in.

‘Up All Night’ will already be embedded firmly into many people’s heads as it featured in the FIFA 17 video game, released a year ago, though this release has been updated slightly. The track features choppy acoustic and piano rhythm sections and jingling lead elements. These are supplemented by big production pieces from pumping beats and staccato strings. The song allows Beck to demonstrate his ability to effortlessly deliver Pop harmonies and fill the limited space of the song with backing vocals to boot. Despite the lavish and rich arrangment and production, Beck retains a confident command of the song and each element that adds to the large sound. Colors is due for a October 13th release and might not be his absolute best, but it will be the most vibrant album he’s ever produced.

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Lana Del Rey – Summer Bummer feat. A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti

New Single ‘Summer Bummer’, a title that feels like the crude rhyming of a five-year-old, is absolutely everything we’ve come to expect from Lana Del Rey. Residing firmly in her unchanging pouting murmurings ‘Summer Bummer’ whispers into life, building from faint piano keys to wisps of Lana’s trade mark, if grumpy cat could sing, style. As always, Del Rey’s theme of summer is a clouded love story. Opening line; ‘It’s never too late to be who you wanna be’ quickly unfurls towards a story of drug temptation and an unhealthy pool-side relationship. Though I’m personally unsure of exactly what went wrong during the long hot summers of Lana’s past, every year she creates a new shaded offering of dead romance and jilted lovers. Things momentarily snap into a harsher life, through Del Rey’s haze of heat exhaustion, as A$AP Rocky applies his lyrical expertise to the track, attempting to define the story of hedonistic failings. Despite some pretty gloomy themes however, as always with Del Rey’s summer singles, ‘Summer Bummer’ does end up feeling like the kind of track that fits within this time of year, particularly on those uncomfortable drowsy days. 

Hayley Miller

HAIM – Something To Tell You Review 

It’s been four years since Este, Danielle and Alana, aka Haim, released their debut album ‘Days Are Gone’, almost instantly crafting a distinctly recognizable sound. Now, after relentless touring and memorable festival appearances, the trio return with their much anticipated second full-length album ‘Something To Tell You’. 

Working once again with Ariel Rechtshaid, as well as with the added input of Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and musicians Greg Leisz and Lenny Castro, the message Haim are so desperate to share is wonderfully bitter-edged. 

Returning to their love of seventies swaggering guitar lines, breezy harmonies and touches of folk-ish elements, not to mention a healthy mix of the snarled gloss lips and pointed stares of the band’s R&B idols, the message is clear – someone tried to break Haim’s heart, but these sisters are not about to let that stop them. 

Opener ‘Want You Back’ starts things off comfortably within Haim’s signature punchy multi-part harmony battleground, with all its finger-snapping catchiness. Rechtshaid’s production crafts a lush, expansive sound that feels as equally cinematic as it does crawling out of a tent in the early hours still clutching the remnants of a snakebite. 

Things continue in a polished cinematic feel through ‘Nothing’s Wrong’, which takes Haim’s retro-leaning and adds just a little more seventies soft rock – if that’s even possible. 

Where ‘Want You Back’, ‘Nothing Wrong’ and ‘Kept Me Crying’ brood Stevie Nicks style as the sisters sing through the struggles of relationships, though lyrics focus on an external suffering rather than anything too introverted, ‘Little Of Your Love’ takes the album’s heartache themes and skips along in a burst of hope fuelled, almost boastful, sunshine, like the retro intro to a much-loved Los Angeles TV show. Not too surprising as the track was originally meant for the soundtrack of Amy Schumer’s movie Trainwreck.

Though most tracks stay within the band’s comfort zone – ie luscious harmonies and soft rock licks – Haim’s sophomore album doesn’t stay exclusively within the era of denim flares and tinted sunglasses. ‘Ready For You’ and title track ‘Something To Tell You’ juts Haim’s tough-girl stance a step towards the eighties. While ‘Walking Away’ whispers with the feel of a mid-nineties R&B classic. Even the soulful ‘You Never Knew’, returning mostly to the soft sounds of warped vinyl and sepia-toned Polaroids, has the slightest hint of 1984’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’.

Not every track is instantly likable. Lovelorn, stripped back, power ballads such as closer ‘Night So Long’, see’s Danielle’s sparse vocal build, letting go of the bitterness that builds throughout ‘Something To Tell You’ before the album comes to its abrupt end, and ‘Found It In Silence’, ironically turning up the strings and pushes things forwards towards the edge of a tense crescendo, never quite hit home. 

Album highlights are without a doubt its ludicrously catchy, strutting singles, ‘Right Now’ and ‘Want You Back’, which pulse with simmering aggression, exuding just the right amount of ‘frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ amongst the trio’s harmonies to draw you ever closer to recreating a Destiny’s Child dance routine on your walk to the corner shop.

Though it’s not just harmonies that are layered into each track. Haim moves towards a more surefooted inclination, seeming to dampen just a little of the eclectic song structures that fuelled their debut, there are still some interesting effects. Snippets of synths clash lightly with the squeak of special effects to create a captivating complexity to the band’s familiar sound. Overall ‘Something To Tell You’ is a collection of carefully crafted melancholic tracks that take Haim’s vintage style and hypnotic harmonies into an ever more slick production. 

HAIM – Something To Tell You = 8/10

Hayley Miller

Single Review – Liam Gallagher – Wall of Glass

It is safe to say that in the immediate aftermath of Oasis, Noel had the most immediate success and gave the impression that it was Liam who needed Oasis and needed Noel. The second and subsequently last Beady Eye album from 2013 was by no means a bad effort however and Noel hardly set the world alight with his second solo effort Chasing Yesterday. For his first solo effort, Liam has enlisted the expertise of Greg Kurstin who has worked with everyone from The Shins, Beck, Tegan & Sara, Kendrick Lamar to Adele. Though primarily a producer, Liam has also had Greg in as a co-writer for his new single ‘Wall of Glass’. To my surprise, this track sees Liam shake off the relative obscurity of the last few years and find his quality again. Greg has set Liam in a familiar setting of shredding and ringing guitars, but adds sharpness, bluesy highlights, professional backing vocalists and a driving beat that feeds a keen sense of rhythm in the song. It is punchy and is tailored to Liam’s swagger. Unlike with Beady Eye, these vocals aren’t left in isolation and so sound as rich as they’ve ever done. The lyrics aren’t anything spectacular, but again they are tailored to Liam’s vocal strengths and his attitude on show. There is even a subtle sense of depth with this track with parts falling away and building to a bold fruition. It isn’t going to be track of the year, but it’s a damn good song which for Liam, was removing the shackles of Oasis and doing what most artists do; bringing in proven success. 

Owen Riddle

Single Review – HAIM – Right Now

HAIM are an American pop rock band formed by three sisters. Danielle Haim as the lead vocalist with the other switching up depending on the song, and guitarist. Alana Haim plays the keyboard, the guitar and and Este Haim is on the bass and takes care of the harmonies. Haim means ‘Life’ in Hebrew. After performing with a few groups, the sister founded ‘HAIM’ in 2007 but they didn’t consider it a serious career yet after releasing their first EP ‘Forever’ and performing at the ‘South by Southwest’ Festival they scored a deal with Polydor Records and a management deal with Roc Nation in 2012. They released their debut album ‘Days Are Gone’ in September 2013 and they just confirmed their long awaited new album, called ‘Something To Tell You’, will be released on July 7 this year. 

HAIM debuted their new song ‘Right Now’, which will be part of the album, and it’s great. This track is different from their rockier previous songs and is a ballad a of broken promises, misplaced hope and a strong backbone. The minimalist arrangement, the drums and guitars sound absolutely huge and achieve a perfect harmony. The lyrics are right to the point and will give you goose bumps and the vocals just touch a part of you we mostly want to keep hidden deep down. The arrangement keeps hinting that it’s going to build to this huge rock song, but your expectations won’t be met, the music perfectly reflects the lyrics which are all about promises never fulfilled. A very brave choice on their part.

There also is a pinch of irony in the text. The lover had her ‘feeling foolish for ever thinking this could be the one.’ Danielle keeps singing ‘I wasn’t even in the running, already had your mind made up. You left me searching for the reason, why’d you leave, left me in the dust’. But then, in the chorus, and presumably a while later when she was starting to make a sense of what happened and getting over it this person comes back! ‘And now you’re saying that you need me babe, (Right now, right now) and now you’re saying that you love me, love me babe (Right now, right now)…’ 

She proceeds remembering how she was wronged and hurt, how she put everything on the table and how she had to leave empty-handed. ‘Gave you my love, thought I could trust you. You let me down at every turn. You had me hanging on a dream you never believed. You gave me your word’. So, even if the betraying lover is trying to come back now, she’s not having it. She’s strong, she is taking care of herself: ‘Finally on the other side now and I could see for miles…’ Basically she realises that what this person is doing is too little, too late and sings: ‘Saying that you need me, not now, not now. I know you heard me through an open window, whispers can’t read to your ear, whispers sounded so clear’.

This will be an exciting year for HAIM and they definitely are a band to keep an eye on. In the summer the band will be very busy on the Festival circuit all over the world and you can see them in the UK at Glastonbury Festival, Reading, Leads and many more. We can already hear the crowd singing ‘Right now, Right now’!

Lea Fabbrini