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 – Maggie Rogers – Split Stones

With touches of electronics and R&B, Maggie Rogers new single ‘Split Stones’ wraps her melodic vocal around some pretty expansive samples. Which makes sense since many of the tracks interesting sounds were collected while Rogers was backpacking across Oregon during the summer of 2013. Combining technology and the natural environment, the track feels as invigorating as standing in the rain in a forest clearing. Though unfortunately for fans this track came with a note suggesting that while you can enjoy the new song it might be awhile until Rogers releases a follow-up; ‘This is me saying goodbye for a little while. Here’s to the end of the beginning and the start of everything else.’ With a chorus that’s the kind of uplifting that never seems forced, or in anyway conceited, but subtly empowering this is a hiatus track that is sure to keep fans longer for more; ‘If you could say all things you wanted to, if you couldn’t lie, if you would only move like you had something to lose.’

Hayley Miller

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream Review 


The New York based LCD Soundsystem exploded onto the scene in the mid-late 2000s with what was an otherwise near-perfect string of albums with their self-titled effort, Sound of Silver and This is Happening before disbanding after a sell-out show in Madison Square Garden in 2011. Personally, I’d largely missed the buzz around LCD Soundsystem when they were at their hype; being only ten years old when their debut album was released. However, the influence the band have made on broader music is unmistakeable. Lead singer James Murphy’s direct influence in producing Arcade Fire’s most commercially successful and widest known album, Reflektor as well as working with the Gorillaz on the insanely catchy DoYaThing and Pulp’s After You alone is impressive enough. The band’s insatiable energy, creative funk and technical prowess on tracks like Daft Punk is Playing at my House, Dance Yrself Clean and I Can Change cemented their place as indie giants; two Grammy nominated albums and a nominated single wasn’t too shabby either.

​Soundsystem’s recent reformation has been mired in controversy however, with critics accusing the band of reforming not because they had more to give artistically, but more to gain monetarily. On American Dream, the band come at the LP with self-consciously less to say, less energy and less enthusiasm than they had on their previous three albums; James Murphy’s highly energetic delivery barely makes an appearance in the ten tracks. On ‘change yr mind’, Murphy refers to this in almost meta fashion when he sings drearily “I’ve just got nothing left to say/ I’m in no place to get it right / And I’m not dangerous now / The way I used to be once / I’m just too old for it now / At least that seems to be true”. If the band are trying to address these criticisms head on, they could have done it better than with an ultimately forgettable track with random crashing guitars on top of generic drum beat found on any basic synthesiser. Even on the up-beat ‘tonite’ and ‘call the police’ Murphy’s voice sounds as if he’s missing some of the eccentricity and passion which made his voice so interesting previously.

With the exception of ‘tonite’, ‘other voices’ and ‘american dream’, the albums instrumentals generally feel like the first draft of a jamming session. Perhaps most obvious on ‘emotional haircut’ and painfully so on ‘black screen’ where the usual sampled drum beat is played underneath a wandering guitar solo which never really finds its way anywhere; as if in the studio they just said play the first thing which comes to mind. Yet, on ‘other voices’ the band scrape at the lively creativity that they achieved on their records in the 2000s with a spunky bassline and eccentric sampling which is only periodically weakened by Murphy’s groaning voice in the bridge.

Generally, American Dream soars highest on its ballads. The albums namesake, ‘american dream’ depicts a man waking up after a one-night stand only to ask himself if this is as good as the American dream gets. Whilst in no way a unique topic (for instance, Father John Misty’s Bored in the USA), Murphy’s wrapping of it in the search for true love and the melancholy of random hook-ups as well as his own ageing (an element repeated throughout the album) gives it a more niche point of view. Instrumentally, these sorrowful lyrics are well complimented by huge, booming, walk-down synthesiser beats. Similarly, the melancholic lyrics of ‘I used to’ where Murphy refers to himself as ‘still trying to wake up’ has some catchy refrains and a gratifyingly powerful guitar solo towards the end.

However, this type of progression during the track is generally absent throughout the LP where the initial beat is played over and over to the point of boredom without any change up. The album opener, ‘oh baby’ perhaps best illustrates the catchy beginning of many of the songs before it becomes stale with its lack of dynamism. If LCD Soundsystem were trying to persuade fans that they’re less than a decade break-up and reunion was for more than the money, they could have put more effort into the tracks on their latest album. The band never reach the creativity, energy or eccentricity which propelled them to fame in the 2000s and the more up-beat songs generally feel insincere, as though they have been thrown in so the album isn’t too much of a downer. They are some high-points too though, ‘american dream’ and ‘I used to’ being some of the few. Honestly, you’re better off spending your time listening once again to Dance Yrself Clean; it’s fucking incredible.

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream = 6.5/10 

Callum Christie 

You can see my best of 2017 playlist here –

 
 

Single Review – St. Vincent – Los Ageless

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 is out on October 5th and the intrigue of the last three years has only been matched in the exubtrent promotion of the last few days.

Her latest single ‘Los Ageless’ is the stylistic antithesis of the first single ‘New York’. 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. 

Owen Riddle

Single Review – LCD Soundsystem – Tonite

After their “break up” back in 2011 and seven years since their last album, LCD Soundsystem will release their fourth album The American Dream on September 1st. The James Murphy-led project have always produced strong bodies of work that are both catchy and thoughtful simultaneously and it would appear this effort is just as strong in that regard from the singles we’ve been given. Their latest ‘Tonite’ ticks both boxes. It hammers out a disco drum-machine beat and similarly aged pitch shifted backing vocal. This is set well as a background to Murphy’s clear cut vocal. Whilst the music progresses with ever jolting and squiriming beats and synth chords, the lyrics dig progressively deeper into the ideas of mortality and the regret that goes hand and hand with it. So it is typical of LCD Soundsytem that such lyrical matter is married to a disco sound. Their albums have always garnered attention and this one will be no different. 

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Sara Hartman – Dance With A Ghost

Sara Hartman’s new single ‘Dance With A Ghost’ sees’ the Berlin based, New York singer songwriter building a clear, elegantly emotive lyric into a straight forwardly percussive chorus. ‘Straight to the point, nothing to prove, give it all away, nothing to lose’. ‘Dance With A Ghost’ wears its melancholic heart on its alternative indie sleeve. A warning, of sorts, against wallowing in the past as the present can hurt you enough without the added bite of self-torture thrown in. Hartman creates an empowering yet gentle track, reciting independence and self-worth as the goal of any happy ending. Hartman asks for honesty in the tracks, I’ll be fine either way, love story. ‘Better to dance alone than dance with a ghost’. Imagine Sara Bareilles’s Love Song covered by Lorde and infused with just a little Amy Macdonald folk-pop and you’ll be millimetres away from the enchanting allure of Hartman’s track.  

Hayley Miller

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

Single Review – Cults – Offering

The New York based, Indie duo of Madeline Follin and Bryan Oblivion have released their first new material in four years; their second album Static being a more direct version of the sweetened Indie Pop of their debut. Their new single ‘Offering’ is the title track of their third studio album expected on October 6th. This track features more bombastic surges via churning electronica, overlayed with resonant and frayed chords. A strong back beat and a more anthemic, layered vocal from Madeline only adds a point to the gradual driving nature of the song. The track shows their capacity to generate a multi-faceted sound without losing the crisp appeal of a single. It is a considered and well thought out track that leaves the door open for perhaps their best album yet; should they take the opportunity.

Owen Riddle

BAIO – Man Of The World Review


Chris Baio has done a fine job of establishing himself as a solo artist after being the bassist of Vampire Weekend. His album debut The Names received a positive response for its imaginative structures, eccentric lyrics and varied sound. With it, he proved that he is a true purveyor of fine music. His new album was written and co-produced by Chris in Brixton amidst the chaos of 2016; from the death of David Bowie to the great political upheavals that developed throughout the year. This all occurred whilst he was “a nomad” as an American in London and this new album is very much his view of such events. 

‘Philosophy’ is the first single from his new album and is a rhythmic track laden with horn based hooks and loose riffs. The sound he’s created has a greater sense of ease to it and Chris’ measured vocals mirror this to form a slick piece of music. This track has a keen sense of melody and again Chris demonstrates his ability to form hooks from unusual sources. The track marries its lower and higher tones perfectly; the horns play off the jangling riffs and the vocal rounds mirror the high notes against the low. Ringing electronica and crisp percussion bridge the gap between the two and make the progress of the song seamless. ‘DANGEROUE ANAMAL’ is the polar opposite to the light faux funk of ‘Philosophy’ with drooping piano chords, echoed percussiona and an intricate set of electronica meandering in the background. This track is about wing lost and being unable to effect any change on several issues and it being ultimately “too late to change”. It is a dark and thought provoking song that shrouds itself with its music to only heighten the message of the song. ‘Out of Tune’ is a pepped up single with opaque synth chords and cheesy trumpets mirroring the vocals. The song struggles to settle and get into some sort of rhythm though once the song sticks with the chorus, the song begins to make more sense and ends with a flash of coherence.

‘Sensitive Guy’ is more akin to tracks from The Names with its sparse, echoed percussion and spiky piano chords. What sets it apart from that are the sharp riffs overlayed onto the track as well as occasional rumbling bass interludes and backing vocals that are brought to the fore of the track. A track that is familiar, but different enough from his last body of work. The title track is a swagging piece of electronica that has echoes of late Eighties Dance music with blocky, bouncing beats. These are tied with Latin acoustic riffs and heavily churning effects that distort and twist the music at its building conclusion. His spoken lyrics pull the songs focus in and keep the listener on their toes. It is a track that exemplifies his development as a solo musician. The album opens with the sea of distorted chords of ‘Vin Mariani’ which has brass and vocals layered over it. It is a creative foundation from which the rest of the song can do whatever it wants. The remaining tracks including the final two of the album are tracks that feature heavily distorted features that feature some experimentation in fusing them with Pop melodies and hooks. They work in parts and overwhelm the senses in others. These are the only pitfalls of the album; experimentation will naturally produce tracks that don’t work so well and that is the case here with a handful of tracks, but the album as a whole is varied in tone and features a lot of trial and error that had paid off. Baio clearly has an ear for alternative hooks and melodies and he puts them to good use here for what is a natural and substantial evolution to this sound. 

BAIO – Man of the World = 8/10

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