Monthly Archives: April 2009

Bat for Lashes ‘Daniel’ on Jools

On first listen this first single from Bat for Lashes’ excellent Two Suns does sound like a token 80s throwback that seems so in vogue recently; everyone’s been doing the synthpop sound for quite a while now, and it’ll only get more unbearable as 2009 goes on and it reaches its inevitable critical mass.

This however, in typical Bat for Lashes fashion, is pretty fresh and inventive sounding. In a way she’s always been drawing influences from the 80s, her first album was very Kate Bush, so perhaps that explains why she sounds so assured in drawing less idiosyncratic and niche influences from that decade.

The performance itself is very accomplished. Electro of any leaning can often sound messy and dated live, let alone electro from a decade infamous for embarrassingly dated sounding records, but it sounds pretty, pretty good here.

MP3: Bat for Lashes – Daniel


Kinda Like A Big Deal – Clipse feat Kanye West


Not only was 2006’s Hell Hath no Fury pretty much superior to every other Hip Hop album released that year, it also sounded more like the future than any other album released that year. Using the most minimal and off-kilter of Netpunes’ beats which featured the glitchy, disembodied repetition of harps and accordions – instruments not exactly famous for their use in Hip Hop composition – combined with dark, paranoia drenched synths, crisp snare and tight bass drums; Hell Hath no Fury sounded like 22nd century Hip Hop, let alone something from this, still young, century.

That context makes this Kanye collaboration all the more suprising, and pleasing. The Netpunes production with Clipse was always crowded, layered and busy, but it always maintained that Neptunes’ trademark futuristic spaciousness; Here, the DJ Khalid production is driven by a fuzzed out guitar riff taken straight out of a psychedelic spy thriller, complete with a Beach Boys style surf guitar slide at the end of each verse, all of which is underpinned with a low, dusty and expansive bass with skittering bongos layered on top which fills the the song with an analogue warmth that is peculiar, but works just as ably as a platform to perform over and is just as peerless, even if it is the past that is being delved into rather than the near future.

Lyrically, it’s the same brazen, materialistic braggadocio juxtaposed with a darker more maniacal edge as they fire off warning shots to competition. ‘They whisperin’ about us/I know you haters doubt us/ How you count our money? We ain’t even finished counting/ Pardon me, I must say, we’re kinda like a big deal’ Even Kanye puts in a surprisingly competent verse.

It’s very 20th century, very different, but very, very good.

MP3: Clipse ft Kanye West – Kinda Like A Big Deal

Bloc Party do a(nother) Radiohead


Much of my review of the frustratingly middling Intimacy was based around the observation that the band had a precocious desire to expand their sound that wasn’t matched by their ability, that they were an underachiever’s Radiohead grasping for a Kid A, but coming up Kid B (fnar fnar -that was an awful pun).

Anyway, in their apparent desire to follow in the footsteps of Radiohead sonically, they’ve also been following their business models. First, we had the surprise download only release; now we have the very ‘Web 2.0’ idea of releasing ‘stems’ for every aspiring remixer to play around with their favourite Bloc Party tracks off of Intimacy, and in just this instance, it might be an area where they’ve bettered Radiohead.

The stems, obtainable from Bloc Party’s homepage, unlike Radiohead’s Reckoner remix promo, are free, and in this instance Bloc Party have made available the stems from three songs: Signs, Ares and Ion Square.

It’s not quite a completely selfless, altruistic endeavor in the interests of art, obviously, there is a commercial interest at heart; Bloc Party have a Intimacy remix album out on the 11th of May. I suppose whether that’s a good thing depends on whether you agreed or disagreed with my pessimistic review of the original album.

MP3: Bloc Party – Ares


Review: Bloc Party – Intimacy

Apples in the living room!

Loving the faux-poe faced interjections of Sean, on what appears to be his mother’s very beige bungalow sofa, juxtaposed with the decadence of P-Diddy’s(Diddy? Puff Daddy? Whatever) pad.

There’s a nice little clip from what I suppose is one of the new tracks of their forthcoming album, very poppy, summery and psychedelic.

MP3: Arctic Monkeys – Balaclava

Review: 808s and Heartbreak – Kanye West


After Kanye West’s trouncing of 50 cent in last Autumn’s album to album ‘feud’ most would imagine the outspoken Chicagoan’s next release would be unbearably triumphalist – especially from someone as normally triumphalist as Kanye West.

However, the death of his mother and the breakdown of his long term relationship with fiancé Alexis Phifer immediately changed expectations for West’s 4th album.

The surprise announcement of an album release this year, little more than 12 months after Graduation along with talk of a pop art aesthetic dominating the album, Kanye West’s new obsession with auto tune and his unashamed announcement of ‘mastering’ Hip Hop, only heightened feverish expectations.
When listening to 808s these expectations initially appear to be justified. ‘Say you Will’ opens the album in an extremely sombre and restrained tone; a relentless, unchanging three minute outro of a mournful choir and sparse programmed beats evocative of a heart rate machine – sets the scene, creates an atmosphere rarely seen in Hip Hop and appears to answer the critics more than any Multi-syllabic rhyme could.
Unlike other mournful Kanye West songs – such as Hey Mama and Roses – Say you Will features no bittersweet undertones or undercurrent of optimism; it’s a pretty unrelentingly hopeless song by most standards, let alone Hip Hop ones.

Things don’t always stay on theme though; the album suffers from a jarring lack of focus. If this is an eulogy to loss relationships, a shift away from superficial bragging in search for the answer to deeper questions, an attempt to create ‘art’ was it really the best idea to invite Lil’ Wayne along for a guest spot? One can only suppose that talking in such deprecating and self-pitying tones is only comfortable for so long; West has always been an egotist, his music always unapologetically about himself, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t want to dwell on the dour for too long. But it is the moments of forced celebration and boastfulness that provide the albums weakest moments.

The album’s temporary dalliance with personal, confessional lyricism does not extend far beyond the song’s first two songs. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is arguable. The aforementioned Say you Will is an exceptionally sparse song, lyrically as well as musically, allowing the listener to imprint their own experience onto the song. Whereas ‘Welcome to Heartbreak’ attempts a narrative style which, whilst more earnest and intriguing, can wander into areas of near parody. It’s hard not to smirk at maudlin couplets such as ‘My friend showed me pictures of his kids/ And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs’ when they are delivered with deadpan precision. After the initial high point of the opening track, the rest of the album meanders between clichéd and empty expressions of loss, the lowest point of which being the heartbreakingly trite ‘I’m just not there/Life’s just not fair’ at the close of Street Lights, and the similarly empty posturing of the album’s unnecessary ventures into a more cocksure style that just aren’t pulled off with the album’s minimal/synth pop tone.

When you glance across the tracklisting and see a track titled ‘Paranoid’ you don’t quite expect the – admittedly excellent – glitzy neon lighted synth pop that the track provides.

With a track like Paranoid it’s hard to be too critical, it is a break in tone but it is also one of the album’s all too few highlights, but other breaks from tone, such as the reprehensible Robocop, are less defendable.

For something that feels so obviously like a temporarily shift of attention, a side project, surely it could have been possible to withhold the inappropriate guest appearances and uplifting club bangers for sake of an album as a whole? After all, Kanye is still riding on the mammoth success of Graduation, he doesn’t need this album to succeed, if he truly wants to pursue ‘art’ (whatever that means) you would think a project like this would be a great chance to dabble in something a little deeper, but it seems Mr West can’t quite let go of his more dazzling pop sensibilities.

With rumours abound that a ‘proper’ rap release by Kanye West is coming sometime in 2009, it’s easy to see 808s as a hurried side project, lacking the love, affection and commitment needed to grow as a fully formed album. The album fails to reach any comfortable consistency in its quality throughout; as soon as you are delighted by an accomplished piece of shiny synth pop, you find yourself doubly frustrated by a clearly unfinished song undeserving of being called even a B-side.

As it is, 808s and Heartbreak comes across as an awkward mid release E.P masquerading as a justified full album release. It’s most probably West’s worse album release, an album that continues a downward trend in quality with his work, but conversely it is also oddly encouraging. It’s no astonishing piece of experimentalism that will forever change the boundaries of Pop, it’s not even a particularly competent album. But 808s and Heartbreak offers a promising change in sound and style. Whether West will have the patience and focus continue to dabble and create an album full of Say you Wills remains to be seen. I reckon he likes playing the egotistical Pop star a little too much to get truly personal.


MP3: Say You Will – Kanye West