Single Review – The Orwells – Double Feature

The Chicago quintet The Orwells are to release their third studio album Terrible Human Beings on February 17th and though there will be a lot of hipster hype in their exclusive press circles, especially at this time of year when new releases dry up, it’s safe to assume they won’t deliver on that hype. It would be worth giving them a shot, but if the current single releases have taught us anything, it’s that they’re still a band of impersonators or an American Catfish and the Bottlemen. ‘Double Feature’ echoes this still with their current sound featuring Kings of Leon and The Strokes with some Grunge dressing. Not only this, but the transition between these familiar parts is awkward to boot. The lyrics offer us more ‘hot chicks’, fast cars and high school drama that is tiresome and may only find appeal amongst teenagers from Bath wanting to escape their British middle class nightmare and escape into this all American parody. 

Owen Riddle

Noname – Telefone Review 


It seems like the phrase “Chicago born rapper” is quickly becoming a mute term simply because of the sheer number of interesting artists coming out of the city. Noname now adds her name to the list alongside the likes of Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins (who she has collaborated with on their respective albums) and Saba. In these collaborations Noname didn’t quite standout as an obvious “next big thing” on the Chicago rap scene and this was probably down to her very understated, relaxed and down to earth delivery. Never in your face or trying outdo anyone, noname comes across in a very relatable fashion and now that she has room to breathe in her first solo effort we can really get a feel for who noname is.

 Her personality is unsurprisingly reflected even more so in her intimate lyrics and production style. These two elements contrast on certain tracks like “Casket Pretty”, “Bye Bye Baby” and “Shadow Man” where the super sweet production style is matched with deep emotional topics. In the former she raps about the racial violence in Chicago. Scared to even pick up the phone, she hopes her “casket pretty” friends will make it home alive. “Shadow Man” too touches on some of these aspects as noname, Saba and Smino take turns in describing their own funerals. “Bye Bye Baby” is the closest noname gets to a ballad as piano chords accompany her as she talks us through her feelings after having an abortion saying she can’t wait for a “play date up in heaven soon/ Soon I will see the King/ He reminds me/ Some give presents before they’re even ready”. 

 Noname doesn’t always take herself so seriously though and tracks like the aptly named “Sunny Duet” is both warm, sweet and catchy with its acapella-like riff and lyrics about a former crush of hers. Noname keeps it light hearted on the follow up track “Diddy Bop”, in which she takes us down her childhood memory lane when her “whole neighbourhood did the diddy bop”. Musically smooth, laid back and uplifting it encapsulates the album perfectly.

  However, comparisons between Noname and Chance will inevitably be drawn considering their stylistic similarities and in some ways she could improve by having a more engaging rapping style like Chance. Although her understated style is part of her charm, she could perhaps be a little more engaging without losing out on that element. The only other fault on “Telefone”, despite it’s extremely good production value is its small rare losses in sharpness although this can be excused on a debut mixtape. Yet, this is just nit-picking and it is hard to criticise the mixtape since it’s so full of her infectious happiness and personality.  

Noname – Telefone = 8.5/10

Callum Christie

Chance The Rapper – Colouring Book Review

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Chicago born rapper Chancellor Bennett, better known by his pseudonym Chance The Rapper, announced his entrance into the music industry with his 2012 mixtape 10 Days and his LP from 2013, Acid Rap. Filled with vibrant rhymes and high energy, jazz inspired beats as well as his powerful personality, clever witticisms and his unique high pitched delivery, Chance quickly became the favourite of many on the rap scene. So much so that since then he has contributed to many established artists such as Kanye West, Action Bronson and BJ the Chicago Kid as well as on Justin Bieber’s Journal LP. AcidRap showed Chance’s creativity on tracks like Everbody’s Somebody’s Everything and Cocoa Butter Kisses but it also showed some less than imaginative hooks on tracks like NaNaNa. Overall, it was an immensely impressive debut album on all levels. Can his follow-up, Colouring Book, improve on his already strong discography.
Chance continues with this high-energy soul style on this LP but strengthens the gospel elements, which is perhaps no surprise given his collaborations with Donny Trumpet & The Social Experiment on their LP Surf. Angels is symbolic of all these different elements as Chance delivers his catchiest song so far. Like on AcidRap, Chance shows his vulnerable side when he admits being the “blueprint to a real man” before bigging himself up some.
The gospel feel reappears on How Great, which opens with a gospel choir singing “how great is our god”. Whilst the auto tune in the background pulls from the track a little bit we do eventually get two impressive verses. In the first Chance drops some Harry Potter references when he raps about electrifying ‘the enemy like Hedwig till he petrified/ Any petty Peter Petigrew could get the pesticide” but it’s Jay Electronica’s verse which is the stronger with a more consistent narrative. Jay raps about how religion was there for him when he was “lost in the jungle” and “prayed and prayed and left message but never got no hear back/ or so it seemed” before saying that “Jay Elect would’ve never made it” without it.
Chance shows his singing chops on Same Drugs where he uses drugs as a way of talking about how two childhood friends went in different directions later in life. Heartfelt, vulnerable and creative, this track shows Chance at his best. Chance stretches himself on the LP too, his collaboration with Knox Fortune, All Night, is perhaps his most dance inspired tune yet. We do also get some of the eccentric production style that was so dominant on Acid Rap and No Problem is perhaps the best representation of this. Chance’s trademark witticisms are evident throughout the LP but especially on Blessings where Chance comments on the state of the music industry where music is more readily available for free than ever before (“I don’t make songs for free, I make ‘em for freedom/ Don’t believe in kings, believe in the Kingdom”).
However, it is the quality of production which lets Chance down repeatedly on this LP. The opening track, All We Got, starts well as Chance raps over booming drums. Unfortunately, the song is soon ruined by what can only be described as a choir of auto tuned Kanye’s. This tendency for poor auto tune again weakens the song Summer Friends whose decent beat is almost ruined by Francis & the Lights abrasive high pitched auto tune. Again, on Smoke Break Chance uses it on his own voice which is rather strange given how well he has proven he can sing on his earlier tracks. Another problem is the huge inconsistency in the contribution of the other artists on the LP. As well as the two above, Young Thug and Lil Wayne prove to be relatively disappointing.
A little more of Chance, who’s powerful, entertaining personality, intelligence and eccentricities made his first album so good would have gone a longer way to improving this LP. Colouring Book, as it is, remains a strong but flawed album from one of raps most exciting artists.

Chance The Rapper – Colouring Book = 7.5/10

Callum Christie

Wilco – Star Wars Review

Chicago’s established Alternative rockers sprung a surprise for their fans earlier this month by releasing their ninth studio album Star Wars out of nowhere in a Bowie-like fashion and doing so for free for a limited amount of time. Bowie received very favourable reviews due to the shock effect he produced and just the fact he was producing something. It is unlikely Wilco have produced the same effect and there will be a greater focus on the music rather than the publicity in this case, which is only a positive.

‘Random Name Generator’ is a track packed full of bulky and heavily distorted guitars with warping fringes, but these are held together in the production and in doing so keeps the song tight and direct. This is accentuated by Jeff Tweedy’s rough edged, isolated vocal adding to this effect and highlighting a meandering and prominent melody to the track. It makes the track sound fresh and dynamic without entirely being so musically. ‘You Satellite’ opens in a slightly off-beat manner as the grinding guitars pick up in volume alongside Jeff’s wondering vocal which is almost independent of the music in a Nick Cave type fashion and the slightly washed out guitars are a good setting for such a vocal performance, but eventually as the vocal picks up, it come into line somewhat with the music as the guitars mimic the vocal peaks. Nevertheless, this otherwise contemplative track was given a slight twist and injected with a bit of life.

‘Pickled Ginger’ has a distortion beyond that of the pervious tracks and the isolated rumbling that this generates is paired with Jeff’s slightly zany vocals. from this minimalistic pairing the song gradually picks up it’s tone and chiming electronica and sharp percussion is soon bolted on the track and eventually the riffs pick up in audibility to kick up the song to it’s peak as it abruptly ends. A multitude of great production methods here that bridge the gap from minimalism to full on layered instrumentation as well as taking a song from peak to peak and the impact that generates. ‘Magnetized’ begins with blocky synth chimes and gradually becomes a ballad with the swooning backing vocals, extravagant percussion and well placed guitar solos. It’s done brilliantly here to the point where it becomes an eccentric Billy Joel or Elton John track. ‘The Joke Explained’ has a similar impact to the main single whilst ‘King of You’ maintains a slick and direct production and instrumentation with a clear groove and laid back rhythm. The album on the whole is a positive event where Wilco take conventional styles and methods and inject them with a bit of life though some well delivered and imaginative production. This by no means makes the album innovative or explorative, but it makes it sounds fresh and fun through some excellent musical deliveries in addition to the stylistic twists. A pleasant surprise for Wilco fans for sure.

Wilco – Star Wars = 8/10

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Single Review – Foo Fighters – The Feast and The Famine

Foo Fighters

The Foo Fighters make a quick-fire follow up of their initial single from their upcoming album Sonic Highways with ‘The Feast and The Famine’. This track focuses upon the musical legacy and identity of Washington D.C as opposed to Chicago with last week’s single ‘Something From Nothing’ and opens up another, more familiar version of the band. The previous single offered up the band’s full repertoire of scale, volume and aggression on a gradual and enticing gradient; from the lapping riffs to the shredding guitars. ‘The Feast and The Famine’ is more directly evocative of their 1997 album The Colour and The Shape with it’s ringing riffs which are soon turned into churning and raging cacophony that fixates upon the rest of the track. Grohl delivers his classic scream and rapid lyrical out put. A dramatic and theatrical vocal unison pulls the song away from the intensity, before throwing itself back in there like only the Foo Fighters do. Not as skilful as the previous single, but certainly with the same level as enjoyment if not intricacy. The accompanying documentary airs for the first time in the U.K tonight at 10pm on BBC4.

Single Review – Foo Fighters – Something From Nothing

Foo Fighters
Rock heavyweights, the Foo Fighters have released the first single to arrive from their upcoming eighth studio album Sonic Highways and they as they pay homage to the cornerstones of American music identity, they start off with Chicago in ‘Something From Nothing’. The tracks opens with a lapping and slightly distorted riff and Grohl’s slightly muted and broken up vocal. It then sets about a step by step build up in sound with the clear and crisp vocals, the whining lead riffs, percussion and bolder, scathing rhythms. At the same time, the song’s rhythms starts to accelerate before being ushered in by Dave’s trademark furious scream into a pit of raging and flashing rhythms, bass lines and lead parts along with a now pounding percussion. It’s a great tribute to the scale of the Foo Fighters, brought to bear in one track. Not a huge divergence, but the story to the track and whole album is indelible and it’s the Foo Fighters at their best; setting you up slowly and hitting you with a musical sucker punch. Their HBO series that’s running alongside the album is underway in the states and will start on BBC Four on October 26th

VIDEO – SIDEWALK CHALK, “DRUNK IN LOVE/PERTH” LIVE MASH UP

Here is a video of Chicago hip hop band Sidewalk Chalk completing a live mash up of Beyoncé’s ‘Drunk In Love’ and Bon Iver’s ‘Perth’. It was recorded and filmed at Studio Delux in Chicago and see’s them clashing several genre’s of soul, hip hop and jazz with a live band behind them. Take a look!

City States – Geography Review

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City States are a Chicago art rock band consisting of Joel Ebner, Mike Burmester and Steve Lund. Despite forming in 2008, this is their official debut album. In that time Joel has had a few set backs and side tracks, but in that time has also released a 2011 EP titled Resolution including several singles and covers along with supporting acts like Au Revoir Simone. Another defining factor of Geography and it’s coming to fruition was the sudden death of his father half way through his recording of the LP and therefore many of the lyrical themes of the album deal with the associated themes of loss, grief and acceptance. The album was mixed by John McEntire of Tortoise and the album itself has drawn comparisons to Arcade Fire’s debut and Wild Beasts as well as being inspired by them, Brian Eno, The Antlers. Not a bad list and a lot to live up to.

‘False Start’ cautiously nudges and rotates synth chords and a delicate drum rhythm. This is intertwined with strikes of the piano, that fade back into the carefully crafted collages of electronic sounds. Joel’s fleecy and calm vocal rounds of the edges of the track even more than the instrumentals had done and makes it wonderfully obtrusive and immersive as you become lost up in the flashing and whirring sounds of an easily forlorn and distant track. ‘Uncharted Waters’ has a similar set up with the washed out beat and brushing percussion that a broken up with strikes of the piano. Wiry synths carry the song’s progression through to the instrumentals as the electronic percussion transforms seamlessly to more traditional forms. The flow of the vocals allow them to blend in with the instrumentals well too. ‘Endless Sunlight’ whirrs into action with the droning synths pulling the song to a start and emerging as it’s hook. These droning sounds are given urgency with the snappy percussion and are offset by more siren-like electronica, high wired guitar solo’s with Joel’s slightly distorted and distant vocal acting as the middle ground.

‘Willing’ and it’s broken down structure, forged by the strung out beats; has it’s space filled with rapidly fluctuating and flashing synths and these are glazed over with a more electronically charged and hazy modulated sound. This space between the strung out beats allow for Joel’s vocal to take an even clearer focus on the thoughtful and personal lyrics within the song. ‘There Was a Time’ combines a gently oscillating riff and natural percussion with wiry electronic sounds that shoot and jolt through to the heart of the track, Along  with this the vocals again act as a middle ground between the differing sounds and draw on more focus, especially when vocal harmonies are brought in. ‘To Remember’ remain simply structured with wondering electronic bursts tied down with a lapping acoustic riff. The lyrics for this track take inspiration from the eulogy Joel gave at his fathers memorial service. Other tracks such as ‘State of the Union’ retain that simplicity with regards to a modern piano ballad. The album as a whole is simple, clean cut and is evocative of a fresh and modern pop sound, yet delivered with the same sincerity of old and that is what ultimately makes it such an intimate and personally engaging album.

City States – Geography = 7/10

 

 

 

The Orwells – Disgraceland Review

Oh haven’t you heard? The Orwells are the real deal. The saviours of rock n roll. Mario Cuomo is the new Robert Plant too. His hair is the same so it must be true. The Illinois group have been getting a lot of attention. Whether it’s been from Mario humping a speaker on Jools Holland or from his enlightening war of words with Alex Turner. The band the Monkeys were taking on tour with them have labelled the Arctic Monkey’s sets sounding the same and them being a commercial band. Though Turner’s response was frustratingly on the same level as The Orwells frontman, it’s probably a good thing that the Arctic Monkeys have a degree of commercial success and not The Orwells then. Perhaps they’d disown themselves? It’s a credit to any musician that they can have a decent sound and couple that with commercial success. Perhaps The Orwells are portraying their envy a little too well. Amongst all this and other well documented controversies; then you’d be forgiven for forgetting that they have an album out.

Disgraceland has been slowly drip feeding it’s tracks for nearly a year now and one of the early ones is ‘Who Needs You’. It’s a bouncy, energetic track with an unrelenting, well oiled and sprung rhythm and short and sharp percussion with the lead riff pouring over it and a screaming and throaty vocal tearing through it all. This review could have been given in 2010, 2004 or 2001 and what does it say that while The Strokes have long buried that sound, while being very proud of it’s legacy; that new and young bands are simply copying and pasting it upon themselves? The song is delivered with great precision and with all the controlled chaos of a Garage Rock Revival band, but with this track they are at the very back of a huge, long line of successors over the last thirteen years and god knows that we don’t need another, cheaper version when the premium brand has already been consumed. ‘Dirty Sheets’ is pretty much the same deal. Those screeching lead guitars shooting across the rhythm section along with the tumbling percussion. It then leads to the oh so typical back and forth rhythm which The Black Keys have decided to throw into the back heap of dross. Having a girl strip topless in the video is perhaps a realisation that no one is going to watch their video for the music, but it doesn’t escape from the fact that this track is decidedly threadbare and no amount of clothes shedding is going to change that. An act of compensatory factor? Probably…

‘The Righteous One’ is delivered well and the vocals combine well with the instrumentals which build up and bring down their sound to accommodate the verses and the vocals within them. All this song makes me want to do, however is listen to Jack White or one of his bands… funny that isn’t it? The broken up rhythm structure just sounds painfully familiar and outdated which is fine if you are a fan of the sound. I am too. But why listen to this faithful tribute when you could listen to the real thing from Jack White himself? He delivers and engages with the sound a hell of a lot better than The Orwells. Umm ‘Let it Burn’ is mind-numbing and humdrum recapitulation of things I’ve already said. I’m under no illusions that it wouldn’t be a fanatical experience live, but even then you’d have to be drunk out of your mind to appreciate it. Other tracks such as ‘Norman’ simply apply a rough edged, American vocal to a bland, monotonous guitar drone that sounds like it’s been taken from an unsuccessful Britpop group from the late 1990’s when everyone had packed up and left British music in the hands of Travis and Coldplay… we head to ‘North Ave.’ where we see how not to emulate Pete Doherty with a Nick Valensi riff… The album tracks have none of the energy and conviction of the singles and so they become even more of a painfully bland experience. Their energy and faithful tribute to much better and profound artists is perhaps one of the only positives I can scavenge from this album. The sweet irony of this is that behind all the forced bravado and propaganda against more ‘commercial’ bands; they wouldn’t have a band without them. These bands are The Orwells and no amount of two finger gestures at them is going to alter the fact that they are ripping them off. If you want to buy into their transparent ‘truths’ then fine, but this band were well past their sell by date before they even left the shelves.

The Orwells – Disgraceland = 4/10

Image from www.nme.com / belowthefoldblog.com