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

Mura Masa – Mura Masa Review 

Alex Crossan is a 20 year old producer from Guernsey and goes by the name of Mura Masa. His self titled debut studio album has been a few years coming and in that time he’s went far from the typical tales of bedroom recordings. His suggested talent is matched by the calibre his collaborators for his debut album that include Damon Albarn, A$AP Rocky and Christine and the Queens to name just a few. He has a lot of backing already and a lot of time to promote his sound with singles and EP’s that included collaborations with Charli XCX. With that in mind, the expectation is high. The key for an artist like Alex is of course finding the right artists to complement his sound and he’s effectively giving parts of his album away and entrusting it to someone else. That should be taken into account too before passing too much judgement. 

‘Second 2 None’ features Christine and the Queens. Christine or Heloise Letissier when she’s off stage, had shown last year how adaptable and slick her work was in a variety of musical environments and Alex provides another with this track. This track features faux kettle drums, trap drops and distorted beats. This is fused with a broken string sample and from there Christine shines. The heavy, and at times simple arrangement allows her to take command of the song with her imposing accented vocal which fits into the intricate harmonies Alex’s production creates. He even uses her vocals as an added layer of instrumentation in the form of vocal sample. The track is subdued and restrained, yet still retains prominent hooks and a Pop infectiousness. The album concludes with ‘Blu’ featuring Damon Albarn. Alex’s distorted and auto-tuned vocals whirr and twitch as Albarn’s equally warped vocals join in harmony. Damon’s vocals gradually lose their electronic effects as the verse goes on however. The two constantly shifting vocals are manipulated to compliment each other at all times and the soft churning electronica nudges the song along. ‘1 Night’ is the minimalist dance track that features Charli XCX and again he utilises her vocals as an instrumental tool on top of typical Pop beats that sit well with Charli’s bold Pop vocals. What is impressive about this song is the lack of parts to it and an attention to small details and changes that most Pop songs do not have. 

There is more to this album than just well produced Pop music though; ‘Nothing Else!’ featuring soul singer Jamie Lidell is a slick and rhythmic affair with which he manipulates bass lines and guitars to generate a late Eighties style with prominent modern features. ‘Helpline’ features Tom Tripp and his lyrics are fitted around a driving and unrelenting rhythm driven by bass lines and percussion. The percussion is gradually muffled at the end of each verse to signal the synth driven chorus. This track shows the versatility of Alex in that his tracks are more than moody and well produced affairs. ‘Firefly’ features vocals from the talented NAO and here he created an AlunaGeorge type track in how it openly embraces its Dance features. Meanwhile ‘Love$ick’ featuring A$AP Rocky is a cool yet inctricate track that tailors its soundscapes for Rap sections and it again shows his versatility with different artists and genres. No matter who it is, he seems to generate hooks out of them one way or another. His method could be seen as a little repetive at times as those faux kettle drums get rolled out once or twice too often, but for a debut album sound that can be forgiven. It is a solid start and from here, he can only go on to refine and redefine his sound and if he does this right, he could be our next great producer. 

Mura Masa – Mura Masa = 8/10

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Mura Masa – Second To None feat. Christine and the Queens

Alex Crossan is a 20 year old producer from Guernsey and goes by the name of Mura Masa. His self titled debut studio album is out on July 14th. His suggested talent is matched by the calibre his collaborators for his latest album that include Damon Albarn, A$AP Rocky and for his latest track ‘Second To None’ with Christine and the Queens. Christine or Heloise Letissier when she’s off stage, had shown last year how adaptable and slick her work was in a variety of musical environments and Alex provides another with this track. This track features faux kettle drums, trap drops and distorted beats. This is fused with a broken string sample and from there Christine shines. The heavy, and at times simple arrangement allows her to take command of the song with her imposing accented vocal which fits into the intricate harmonies Alex’s production creates. He even uses her vocals as an added layer of instrumentation in the form of vocal sample. The track is subdued and restrained, yet still retains prominent hooks and a Pop infectiousness. All eyes on his debut album.

Owen Riddle

Musicandotherthingz Best Album of 2016

Our final and biggest category had a wide spread of votes for all the albums featured on it and this is testament to the closely matched level of excellence from all of our nominees on the long list. This meant a lot of them came close to reaching the top of the voting pile with Childish Gambino’s late addition, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead, Blood Orange Paul Simon and Frank Ocean all getting close, but not as close as our top three who feature in descending order. 

3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (11.11% of the vote)

As Q-Tip suggested, this will be the groups final album and was only recorded because of their anger and dismay at the world around them. Their sixth album was started in secret just after the Paris attacks and completed in November this year at the peak of this dismay. With a long list of collaborations and excellent, diverse production, they were able to produce an album as relevant as ever and a defiant shout of unity amongst a nation and a world that’s tearing itself apart. If that is their final album, it’s an album that will be rated as one of their best. 

2. Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine (18.00%)

Since she’s featured so highly in almost every category she was placed in, you are probably very familiar with all the superlatives attributed to her. She is a magnificent performer, lyricist, vocalist and producer and throughout her debut album, there are no points of weakness. Each song is its own beacon to a particular set of thoughts, set to slick and ambitiously minimalist music or gracefully arranged pieces. The album is bursting with emotion and eccentricity in equal measure and this is perhaps key, for these two traits are often so divorced from each other, yet she winds them together with style and confidence. 

1. David Bowie – Blackstar (22.22%) 

Bowie left a terrifying and wondrous parting gift to the world with Blackstar. It was an album made up of complex fusions, melodies and rhythms as if the creation of a mad scientist of which Bowie must serve as the closest musical equivalent. What’s more intriguing about the album, and this is something not widely picked up on, but it’s his most personal album. Amidst the great characters and stylistic personas of that thread through Bowie’s career, his final album showed him to be just as vulnerable, scared and curious as the rest of us. Amongst all of the seemingly invincible and otherworldly alter-egos, Bowie playing the role of a mere human is perhaps the most powerful character of all. 

Owen Riddle 

Musicandotherthingz Best Single of 2016

There’s been a almost too many rhythmic and hook-laden tracks in 2016 and they cover quite a wide range of genres from the Joyous Electro-Pop of Röyksopp to the reinvigorated, late era Punk Rockers Green Day. The classsic Eighties Pop thrills and undeniably infectious vocals from Tegan and Sara were a popular choice amongst voters as was dark Pop of The Weeknd with Daft Punk. They just missed out on getting into our top three however, which features very familiar and new acts below. 

3. Chance The Rapper – Angels (11.63% of the vote)

This year has been a strong year for Rap and Hip Hop music and nowhere is this more evident than with the success of Chance The Rapper. ‘Angels’ is a song bursting with joy and optimism about his home of Chicago. It is full of soaring brass, steady beats and enthused lyrics with a cool and easy contribution from Saba. 

2. Kanye West feat. Kendrick Lamar – No More Parties in L.A (21.00%) 

What made this single so popular was hearing someone as egocentric as Kanye getting fed up of the general excess of the party scene around him in Los Angeles which is mighty refreshing, but also a little comedic when his own personal excess is never far from mention. Kendrick Lamar adds context to Kanye’s message as he raps about the culture shock of coming from nothing and being thrusted into a distant and excessive high class society. There is slick use of sampling throughout and this ties the heavy verses together seamlessly.

1. Christine and the Queens – Tilted (30.23%)

‘Tilted’ is about not finding balance in your life, feeling out of place or feeling uneasy with yourself, even dealing with depression. It hardly seems like the appropriate lyrics for a Pop song, but sits this uncomfortable subject matter comfortably into this stylish and refined Pop song. As you’ll find with Christine, she can make so much from so little and she does that again here, with only nudging synths and gentle beats. Not only did she make a great Pop song with these lyrics and small amounts of music, but she made an oddly rhythmic song that has become of one the most popular dance tracks of the year and undoubtedly the most unique. 

Owen Riddle

Musicandotherthingz Best Act of 2016

This year we’ve added a popular vote to determine your best act of the year. The list of nominees was compiled from the popular reaction each act received from articles they’ve been featured on. We had a great response from you all so thank you for getting involved! 

David Bowie’s legendary impact both in his death, but also with a wonderfully evocative album in Blackstar. Beyoncé would have featured more widely across the other categories had she made her music more widely available. She had a landmark year with a bold album in Lemonade and bold performances. Christine and the Queens swept on to the scene on the back of huge commercial and critical success in France with thought provoking lyrics and functional music. With well performing singles and a large fan base, The Weeknd fared well in the vote, seeking greater depth in his sound. 

Owen Riddle 

Musicandotherthingz Best Songwriting of 2016

There’s been a lot of content for songwriters to ponder over this year and amongst shocking deaths of icons, social exclusion, war and political upheaval, they’re pretty much all covered by the songwriters in our long list. Mitski and Christine and the Queens delved deep into gender issues and identity whilst Pinegrove offered up an almost quaint and close personal narrative. All came close, but did not crack our top three. 

3. Paul Simon – Wristband (12.20%)

There aren’t many people better at providing a social commentary of America than Paul Simon. He’s been identifying and observing it with every last crumb of detail for over fifty years and it’s only fitting that in 2016 of all years, he was spot on again and producing some of his best work for well over two decades. Here, he takes the small event of him being locked out of his own gig, because he didn’t have a wristband as was required and equates this to American society. A society in which no one has a wristband and no one can get through the door. His words becoming more ominous given how the election played out just a few months later. It was also reassuring to have a legend like Paul Simon firing on all cylinders when so many of his contemporaries were lost. 

2. David Bowie – Lazarus (22.00%) 

There is little else to say other than ‘David Bowie – Lazarus’. It is typical of Bowie to go out in such a way as he almost flaunts and projects all of his fears and reflections of his coming death and the life that he had lived. Again, only Bowie could make death appear to be like a release from the shackles of limited time on earth. This is a strong concept in general, but made even more terrifying and astounding is that less than three days after his final album was released, he had passed. Even in death, Bowie did it in his own unique and bold fashion. 

1. Kendrick Lamar – untitled 03 | 05.28.2013 (24.39%)

It shows the measure of Kendrick’s songwriting ability to win this category for the second year in a row and not only that, but do so with an album of throwaway tracks from last years album To Pimp A Butterfly. In a way, he is almost a modern Paul Simon in that his commentary of America is so distinct if not a little more direct in his case. Untitled 03 is a prime example of this as he takes stereotypical advice from all the different peoples that make up everyday American society. In doing so he highlights the diversity, but also the hypocrisy of all of them and how they are at least the same in that sense; each motivated by selfish goals. It almost acts as a commentary of humanity itself which sounds like an ambitious task, but Kendrick just rolled out that task with ease and it still didn’t even make the cut for his album in 2015. 

Owen Riddle 

Musicandotherthingz Best Vocalist of 2016

Since Florence Welch won this category last year, there has been a superb variety of skilled vocalists over the following twelve months who have commanded their songs and their music in a familiar and creative ways. Thom Yorke with his tuneful howl, the defiant and unsettling melody of Jehnny Beth and Angel Olsen’s lax whispers to her deep bellows received a lot of praise through the voting. They all remain in the long list that follows though and the close contest that is the chosen top three is as below.

3. Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate (16.28% of the vote)

The flowing chords and melodies that open this track are perfectly aligned with Michael’s vocals; so effortlessly intermingled and a powerful instrument in their own right. He delivers a lot of disciplined power without much task. Despite the smooth and rich quality to his vocals, which are difficult not to fixate upon, there is a rough edged peak in his sound evokes an earnest and emotive quality to his vocals. Arguably the best British vocalist around at the moment. 

2. Christine and the Queens – Here (18.60%)

Heloise Letissier again demonstrates her versatility with ‘Here’. It is another track with a minimalist arrangement, but also with a relatively modest production; so it is here that her vocals lead the way and dominate the track. In general she has a highly charged energy behind her vocal performance and here she saves it for dramatic flair as she goes from a hushed tone to perfect pop melody and sullen backing vocals. Beyond this, she is also to switch from English to French as if it was perfectly natural which is quite a rarity with modern music. She’s not quite the Queen here though…

1. Solange – Don’t Touch My Hair (20.93%)

Yes, we know. She has a fairly famous sister and a strong Vocalist to boot, but Solange has used 2016 to make her own mark whilst her sister was grabbing the headlines. Her vocals flow through the subtle arrangement with this track, remaining soft edged and intricate. She doesn’t need to raise her voice at all as she channels her lyrics with ease with this delicate tone on its own. The year she maximised upon her talent.

Owen Riddle

Musicandotherthingz Best Production of 2016

We kick off our (prestigious) awards with Best Production of 2016. Now for all the categories bar the Popular Vote, a sizeable list of writers, musicians, bloggers and friends have all been busy voting on the various categories. Each individual received a first choice vote worth two points and a second choice vote worth one. From this, we’ve got our results! 

From Emmy The Great to Frank Ocean there has been a diverse range of production techniques and methods on show in 2016. With the likes of Kanye and Childish Gambino coming close in the list. They either mastered their tracks to manipulate classic sounds or featured producers who used every available sound to forge their instrumentation. The long list of nominees are followed by the short list below.

3. Bon Iver – 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⊠ ⊠ (15.00% of the vote) 

This was by far Justin Veron’s most ambitious Album to date. He looked to force baroque and folk elements into the kind of juddering and hammering electronica reserved for EDM and heavy dance tracks. Somehow this odd coupling worked when combined with his whirring vocal effects to create a beautiful sound out of this musical mutation. 

2. Frank Ocean – Nikes (22.50%) 

The hazed and oscillating soundscape created here almost lulls you into a daydream. The gliding beats acoustic chords along with the sweeping electronica sifts and shifts around Frank’s almost hypnotic pitch shifted vocal. It almost sounds as if it was recorded in an echo chamber, but this was all generated by a consistently feathered production. 

1. Christine and the Queens – Narcissus Is Back (27.50%)

Heloise Letissier from Nantes is our winner for Best Production of 2016. For her stage Act of Christine, she forms minimalist and sparse arrangements, so this placed greater emphasis on her producing ability and it shines on this track and throughout the album. This track is fundamentally a set of different beats and little more, yet she is able to make each one glisten with sound and energy with the help of only a slight distortion and the perfect isolation of her vocal. She has done so much with so little here and is a deserving winner following on from last years winner Kevin Parker; who is a ‘Do it all yourself’ musician and Heloise is truly the embodiment of that philosophy. 

Owen Riddle

Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine Review

The reserved and quiet Héloïse Letissier from Nantes becomes Christine at night, in the studio and in front of thousands, even millions when you look at the view count of her videos on Youtube or her almost cult performance on The Daily Show in America in December. Before that performance, she was already a superstar in France and on the continent, but that is Christine’s domain and it is her that we shall speak of. She is being hailed as the next stage of Pop evolution with her streamlined, yet graceful arrangement and delivery along with the slickest of slick production. When you tie this to her introspective and assertive lyrics and solid Pop harmonies then you see Pop as a genre being pushed beyond it’s perceived limits. File Christine next to Grimes and FKA Twigs for acts who are pushing the boundaries of popular music. The question has to be; is she even better than her innovative contemporaries?

‘Tilted’ is the single that most people are familiar with and the track coolly announces itself with short, whirred synth chords and light, echoed overtures with a simple whispered backbeat behind it. Christine’s vocals are as clear as glass and fit around the sounds hand in glove. Her vocals swing from calm reassurance to selective bursts of fluent vocal harmony. Once the arrangement pulls back we are shown through her French rap from blocky and bold transitioning to hushed and easy tones that her range is more wider than we thought. It is a song that does so much without much effort. The sounds are minimal, yet infectious and catchy. Each hook is perfectly balanced and advanced by vocals that are masters of their surroundings. Beyond this, it is just ridiculously stylish. One of the best Pop tracks of the year. ‘iT’ is a track that opens with spaced out piano chords and vocal murmurings with Christine’s vocals isolated vocals driving the song with raspy bursts. When set against the soft nudging electronica and distorted bass samples, we see power resonating from the soft edged arrangement. The power of her self-discovering lyrics and embracing of the individual are just as potent as the vocals that deliver them. We find a contemporary, graceful ballad in ‘Saint Claude’. Between the strung out piano chords, subtle whirring synths and slightly distorted hip hop beat sample, there is yet another vocal variant in Christine’s faint falsetto alternating with her lowered tones. String sections roll in with her rising falsettos in a somewhat cheesy fashion, but it functions with the nature of the track.

Darker shifts and clasps define the rhythmic, yet mysterious track that is ‘Narcisuss Is Back’. The arrangement moves cleanly from echoed, lone vocals to rumbling electronica in the most natural fashion. Spared loud points of vibrant electronics ring out at intervals across the song. ‘No Harm Is Done’ with Tunji Ige is a piece of Hip Hop greatness with power behind each beat. It goes on to shift to a more gradual motion as the track is led by a leading bass line before easily throwing itself back into those heady beats. Christine’s vocals are complimented by Tunji’s gruff harmonies. Another example of the diversity on show. ‘Jonathan’ with Perfume Genius is a beautifully delivered, tragic swoon with Mike Hadreas’ quivering tones met with strings whilst Christine’s wistful French prose met with blocky synth chords. The song entwines electronica and string orchestras in an unheard and lifting fashion. A wonderful and dignified track. ‘Here’ is another effortless delivery of vocal variation in an imitation of the rising tones of the chords around her. Even the comparatively weaker tracks on the album feature popping beats and seamless transitions from English to French. Each track receives the respect of urgency or contemplation depending on the feel and is produced as wonderfully as Christine delivered the songs. This is quite simply Pop mastery. Pure and Simple. Remember the name, but more importantly the sound.

Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine – 9/10


Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995