2016-12-06T13:04:29+00:002016-12-06 13:04:07 +0000Closer to a souvenir of something amazing than something amazing in and of itself In 2014, back when we were still allowed to have nice things, Kate Bush did something that made her album releases look regular and expected by announcing Before the Dawn her second ever set of live dates, some three-and-half decades after the last lot. It was fucking amazing, so it was, and if you’re a fan I hope you already know that: it was tough to get tickets, but not Led Zeppelin-at-the-O2 tough, and hopefully there were enough dates and enough tickets that diehards all go in. If you didn’t, I’m struggling to imagine what you’ll think is going on at points in this unexpurgated 3CD set that presents the whole show but none of the visuals. Surely particularly baffling are the ‘sketches’ from writer David Mitchell , ’The Astronomer’s Call’ and ‘Watching Them Without Me’. The latter, in particular, makes almost zero sense without being able to see the set: a bobbing, full-sized living room in which Bush silently haunts her husband and son (played by actual son Bertie) as they banter slightly smugly about toad-in-the-hole. There is a lot of stuff like this, and to listen to Before the Dawn if you saw Before the Dawn is to be pleasantly reminded of the bits of the show unrepresented here. But there’s a nagging feeling that in its current form Before the Dawn isn't realising its full potential, perhaps closer to a souvenir of something amazing than something amazing in and of itself. Probably I am overthinking it: it's still a really bloody good live album. width="540" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_256xd9N27o" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> And it is fascinating to revisit the concert slightly more dispassionately and less blinded by the spectacle and occasion. The first CD is the closest the show comes to a ‘conventional’ gig. What really stands out is the strength of Bush’s voice and the muscular driving rhythm of the band: given Bush famously neglected to play any music at all off her first four albums, it certainly feels incredibly bold to start with the not-especially-loved The Red Shoes album track ‘Lily’. It’s even bolder to intermingle three out of the only four hits played that night (‘Hounds of Love’, ‘Running Up that Hill’ and ‘King of the Mountain’; ‘Cloudbusting’ came in the encore) with a further two semi-obscurities (‘Top of the City’ and ‘Joanni’). But it all works: ‘Lily’ is about as close as Bush gets to an actual rock song, and its grinding riff and her astonishingly strong vocal feel like they prove something more about her group’s live prowess – I should say this album is technically attributed to The K Foundation, ie the band – than simply dropping a hit would have done. Interestingly the disc includes ‘Moments of Pleasure’ off The Sensual World, which was never actually performed at the concerts – the fact it fits in so seamlessly here is surely insight into the rigorous levels of rehearsal that led up to this. Clearly Before the Dawn was a project Bush took as seriously as any of her albums. A hard, imperious ‘Running Up that Hill’ and wild, expansive ‘King of the Mountain’ draw the line on part one and usher in part two, a complete performance of The Ninth Wave suite off Hounds of Love. This was the most theatrical part, and at the risk of being a dick about it all again it’s difficult to imagine what this has over the album recording without all the theatre. The skits… just nah. The main performance… pretty good, but very close to the album, really, certainly not revelatory without the video and the house and the fish people (with the exception of the closing ‘The Morning Fog’ in a gorgeous, accordion-led arrangement that’s oddly reminiscent of Arcade Fire). It’s the rendition of Aerial’s An Endless Sky of Honey that feels like it’s had the most musical thought put into it: Bush’s rapturous “ding dong, ding dong, ding dong” at the end of ‘Prelude’ gives the song-[...]
2016-12-05T13:04:50+00:002016-12-05 13:04:50 +0000A festival where the focus is on the future, not the past In a city that’s fighting what often feels like a losing battle for musical prominence on two fronts, Liverpool Music Week can sometimes seem like less of a celebration and more of an outright necessity. After all, this is a town that sometimes looks as if it might never get out from under the slowly suffocating legacy of The Beatles in terms of its musical legacy; just taking a walk through the city centre, the Fab Four feel like a permanent presence in a manner that none of the Manchester bands seem to have managed just along the River Mersey, from the Hard Day’s Night hotel to the statues of Eleanor Rigby and John Lennon - not to mention the museum down at the Albert Dock, or the fact that the city’s Cavern Quarter is named after the club at which they made their name. Plus, in terms of the present-day live scene, it’s hard to shake the sense that Liverpool is living in the shadow of Manchester; with the two towns so close, it was always inevitable that one of the two would have greater pulling power for bands and promoters and so it’s proved, with the latter’s raft of venues and huge student population helping make it arguable the musical capital of Britain outside of London. By the time Liverpool Music Week swings around each October, the opportunity is obvious for Scouse gig-goers to not only enjoy a schedule to rival their north-west neighbours, but to place down a marker of their own in the process. Little wonder, then, that the festival is now in its eleventh year. The 2016 edition saw a raft of changes, too, with a move away from being based at Camp and Furnace making the shows more accessible for visitors from out of town. In accordance with the break from tradition, proceedings kicked off with the opening party within The Dome at the city’s Grand Central Hall, a room seldom used for live events. OPENING PARTY - WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 26th A particularly pleasing aspect of this year’s lineup was the presence of a raft of emerging Liverpudlian bands, and local three-piece All We Are officially open the festival with the first set of the evening - one that leans heavily on last year’s critically-acclaimed self-titled debut album. Since officially wrapping touring for that effort, they haven’t played a ton of live dates of late, but this isn’t a performance with any shortage of polish; tight when it needs to be, and languid elsewhere. They’re a stylistically diverse outfit, from the soulful strut of ‘Utmost Good’ to ‘Honey’s Wild Beasts-referencing funk, and it’s a testament to the Liverpool music scene that it’s taken a group this diverse - both musically and geographically, with the individual members hailing from Brazil, Norway and Ireland - to its collective heart so quickly. On headline duty, meanwhile, are Warpaint, making only their third appearance in Liverpool and their first since February of 2014. They’re back in town behind their third full-length, Heads Up, and with a setlist that runs the gamut from debut EP Exquisite Corpse right through to their latest cuts. In terms of the new material, the tracks hit both ends of the spectrum, from the sparse likes of the title track and ‘The Stall’ to some of the most dance-friendly music they’ve made to date - ‘New Song’ and ‘Whiteout’, especially. The LA quartet do a fine job of making the set feel cohesive, though, and that’s down primarily to two major factors. First, they have the uncanny ability to drench their songs in palpable atmosphere - something that tonight’s ornate surroundings do little to negate - and second, the rhythm section, comprising Jenny Lee Lindberg on bass and Stella Mozgawa behind the kit, are without compare within the world of indie rock. Both play in an off-kilter style that seems to dovetail perfectly; they lock into each other’s grooves uncannily, and in a manner you can’t imagine that either would if they were playing with anybody else. Closing the main set on an out[...]
2016-12-05T10:41:35+00:002016-12-05 10:41:35 +0000The duo talk perfectionism, not giving up, and the pressures of starting their own label Sometimes the best things in life come straight out the leftfield. One day you’re just going about your day as usual – pursuing a Rhodes Scholarship in Alexis Krauss’ case – and the next thing you know you’re fronting a multi-genre beast in the form of Sleigh Bells. Yep, life can take a weird turn when you least expect it but, as Krauss points out, it’s the things we don’t plan than often reveal themselves as the best decisions we’ve ever made. In other words... just take a punt. “I don’t know, it was just like a gut feeling that you get when you have to make a decision or if you’re at a crossroads,” she says of first crossing paths with musical partner and ex-Poison The Well guitarist Derek Miller, in 2008. “Your life can really go either way at times like that. I could have just kept doing what I was doing and things would have turned out so differently for me. I mean, I ended up leaving a career I was pursuing as an educator to start a band! It sounds almost funny when you say it out loud, but it’s the best decision I made. It certainly did not make any financial sense and it was not at all a part of my plan. If you don’t take chances, though, life can be pretty boring. Some of the most interesting things in life are not really a part of your plan. They are the things that you just felt really inspired to do instead of rationalising it.” For Krauss, it was the teaser tracks with which Miller presented her that sealed the deal to the semi-interested future frontwoman of Sleigh Bells. But it wasn’t just that – it was also Miller’s enthusiasm and his vision for the band overall that helped Krauss make up her mind so quickly and easily. Kissing a ‘normal’ career path goodbye and embracing a life on the road and between studios, Krauss recalls there was an undeniable glint in Miller’s eye. “I was so inspired by him and the way he felt about the music! He showed me all the materials he had been working on and what he was offering for me to be a part of. I just felt like it was something really worth pursuing, I could see he was so excited about and it that made me excited about it and the whole thing just came together so easily. I think something is really worth pursuing if you encounter it and it truly speaks to you and you can completely relate. That’s how I felt at the time. I heard the music and I just knew I wanted so badly to be a part of it. The whole thing just continued to grow and grow, and Derek and I have grown so much in our friendship too. We trust and encourage one another so much, we’re more close now than ever before because we spend so much time together. It’s like this creative encounter that came from meeting so randomly.” If fourth album [Jessica Rabbit] is anything to go by, Krauss and Miller couldn’t possibly be more in sync at this point in their lives – both creatively and personally. It’s the reason why their first album in three years sounds like organised chaos (in a good way, of course), and it’s why Krauss so easily ‘got’ the idea behind Miller’s decision to give the record a seemingly-random title. Well, random-seeming to the outsider, anyway. src="https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify:album:3AgkcecD3fx4iq9KQjGbqE" width="300" height="380" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true"> “If you just look at it as a title it could sound pretty delusional!” Krauss laughs. “Who is [Jessica Rabbit]? She’s this character that doesn’t exit, really. Jessica Rabbit is a cartoon character that Derek had a crush on when he was little, but how do you have a crush on something that isn’t real? That’s basically what it’s about – wanting something that you can’t have. And it’s kind of like: ‘Well, yeah okay, maybe I can’t have it, it’s not going to happen, but it doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop wanting it!’ So it’s that whole thing of not giving [...]
2016-12-05T08:06:18+00:002016-12-05 08:06:13 +0000
But deadmau5 has done it. He’s been doing it for years, and to great success. W:/2016ALBUM is a throwaway series of club-dance-house nothings that carve migraines out of industrial electronics. ‘2448’ has the most gleefully offensive hammer to the head synth line since Robbie Williams’ ‘Rock DJ’, with that pounding, stiflingly offensive, one-note drone of trapped celebrity wind.
So let deadmau5’s listeners eat Cake and suffer the elongated hell they deserve. ‘2448’ goes nowhere, does nothing and there is, literally, some kind of wind or creak sound at the end of it. The following faux funk of ‘Cat Thruster’ gives way to the ‘Billie Jean’ drum shuffle, which is a welcome moment of musicality, before old NES soundtracks start blipping out over basslines that Shobaleader were thrumming out in the embryo, before their mass or fine motor skills were developed.
Nothing goes anywhere, and yet every song is so long. It’s painful. What is he doing and why? Does ‘Cat Thruster’ really need to be five-and-a-half minutes? It’s followed by ‘Deus Ex Machina’ which, unlike its namesake phrase, is not a force of unexpected salvation but instead a mid-Nineties Warp Records aping piece of electro-clicking that phases in and out of a pointless, disjointed, ambient segment over the course of six-and-a-half minutes.
In some ways the mau5 deserves admiration – this musical equivalent of a Golden Razzies nominated film will probably keep Joel Zimmerman in multi-million-dollar comfort for the next year or so and the album’s highlight comes in ‘Glish’, which is a highlight purely because A) it’s a merciful two minutes and B:) it sounds precariously close to Aphex Twin’s ‘Windowlicker’.
There’s a population out there that loves deadmau5, and will gain hours of enjoyment from hearing these bloated, meandering electro doodles. People who love sound squiggles that writhe like an electronic drill placed on the brow and ineptly plunged into the brain are welcome to them, but its symptomatic of a rapidly dying art. Lonely Island captured everything that’s wrong with superstar DJs with their ‘When Will The Bass Drop?’ parody. But at least they had the courtesy to stick a tune in it.
2016-12-05T08:00:51+00:002016-12-05 07:59:08 +0000
On a not-entirely unrelated note, the original soundtrack to Tom Tykwer’s 1998 thriller Lola Rennt (released as Run Lola Run in English-speaking countries but I studied this as part of a German degree and I’m damn well sticking with the original) has been re-released on vinyl this month. Unfortunately DiS has not been sent the sexy, sleek cherry red – in honour of Franka Potente’s hair in the film, natch – pressing, so we have no idea how it sounds. Don’t worry though, this is less of a problem than it might be.
Tykwer’s film, for those who haven’t seen it (why not?), is one of the outstanding pieces of Nineties cinema. True, it is largely style over substance but that’s kind of the point. It’s a film that deals with the themes of chance, coincidence, fate, plurality and choice through unconventional directing and cinematography – most notably when it switches to animation. It’s also a reflection of Berlin, where the film was set and filmed, as a city of pop art. Its techno score doesn’t just dovetail perfectly with this, it is essential to the pacing too; in short, the film would not work without it.
And herein lies the problem: the soundtrack doesn’t really work without the film either. Perhaps I’m reviewing this at the wrong time. Perhaps I need to take a load of drugs and host a rave. But then it’s 2016 and I’m a grownup, so that’s not going to happen. "Nobody listen to techno", right?
Potente and Tykwer themselves contribute to the soundtrack, on the likes of ‘Believe’ and ‘Running Two’. As such, it is clear that it was – finely – crafted with the film in mind. Indeed they have become so synonymous with its imagery – Potente running desperately through Berlin, the Hitchcock pastiches in the bank – that without the visuals and the titular character it feels a bit abstract. ‘Casino’ and ‘Supermarket’ are decent, pulsating songs in their own right but even their titles are stark reminders that something is missing here. At the risk of turning into music criticism’s Andy Townsend, I feel like Tykwer has almost hit it too well with this one. The music is as important as anything else in the film. This is Lola Rennt Original Soundtrack, not Lola Rennt: Original Soundtrack nor Lola Rennt – Original Soundtrack; there is no separation. The film would not work without its music and its music does not work without the film. This is 50% of something. It is Marge’ solo spin-off.
2016-12-05T10:08:06+00:002016-12-02 14:45:00 +0000The Dreaming is the best demonstration of Kate Bush’s innovative spirit as a singer, writer, & producer Never for Ever, the third album by Kate Bush, is a curious beast. Bush maintains her often childlike voice, first heard in explosive fashion in 1978 on ‘Wuthering Heights’, and the pop production still abounds. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find almost progressive melodies and a storyteller continuing to develop in ever-expansive and brave new directions, drawing in influences from film, literature and classical music. ‘The Infant Kiss’, inspired by Jack Clayton’s 1961 film The Innocents, told the tale of a governess frightened over her feelings for a young boy in her charge, while ‘The Wedding List’ was influenced by Francois Truffaut’s 1968 film The Bride Wore Black. English composer Frederick Delius became the central figure of ‘Delius (Song of Summer)’, while the record’s closing one-two of ‘Army Dreamers’ and ‘Breathing’ tackled a mother’s grief over the loss of her young son killed in military manoeuvres and the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust respectively. src="https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify:album:1gRJsaJ7ExC9Q9YdB9ZMC5" width="300" height="380" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true"> Nevertheless, Never For Ever was a commercial and critical success, entering the album charts at number one. ‘Babooshka’ went top five, and remains one of Bush’s biggest hits, while both ‘Army Dreamers’ and ‘Breathing’ both made it into the top 20. The album itself was also very widely praised by the critics, despite departing sonically from her earlier two albums. It was still, in essence, quite sweet, maintaining some of the charms that peppered The Kick Inside, deviating into new realms at times, but still maintaining a comforting sense of familiarity. Nothing of that kind could be said of The Dreaming, the record that even Bush describes as her 'I’ve gone mad album.' For those who only really know Bush from her most popular singles, The Dreaming might well seem insane. Even from its pounding, deeply rhythmic opening seconds, it becomes clear that it’s no ordinary Kate Bush record. ‘Sat In Your Lap’ drags you into her most avant-garde world kicking and, quite literally, screaming. It deals with existentialism and the quest for knowledge, Bush’s voice moving from languid, contemplative wonder to frustrated yelping on a whim. The track’s pounding drums, squeaky synths, loops, and smatterings of traditional piano also hints at a much more experimental musical palette. Indeed, The Dreaming’s opening salvo is a microcosm of the record’s overall musical inventiveness; drummer Preston Heyman and Bush’s brother Paddy simulated the sound of whips by swishing bamboo canes through the air in a rhythmic manner, after all. Dive further into The Dreaming and the sheer range of sounds to be found is astonishing. Its maximalist aesthetic is heightened by the huge range of instruments employed; everything from samples and mandolins, to didgeridoos and even an answering machine are used, all set to curious time signatures. Bush also occasionally went back to her Irish roots, working with Planxty and The Chieftains across the summer of 1981. Their influence can be heard on the traditional folk elements that form ‘Night Of The Swallow’, where the traditional Irish bagpipes, known as uilleann pipes, were used. Indeed, Bush would further embrace those roots on Hounds Of Love, which is packed with the sounds of traditional Irish folk. width="540" height="304" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-4csr6pLZLg" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Perhaps the greatest joy of the record, though, comes from immersing yourself in the narratives that Bush presents, and realising how her words and the music have a symbiotic, almost dependent relationship. The Ninth Wave (her conceptual mini-record about a person [...]
2016-12-02T14:38:33+00:002016-12-02 14:32:09 +0000It’s difficult to pinpoint when was the last time that the Stones made a record that felt this free of conflict, this far from being compromised by a clash of ideologies Here’s an illuminating quote from Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer, plucked from an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock a couple of years back. 'It would be great to make another record, but it's almost, “why bother?” Records don't sell, and they don't do anything. There's no record companies to pay for it, so you have to pay for it out of your pocket. There's really no money per se to be made on records. We used to make a lot of money on records. Now all of our money is made on touring.' However much you might take artistic or even factual issue with what Kramer was driving at there, you can see where he’s coming from. Once you’re a legacy act, especially one capable of filling stadiums, fresh creative endeavours are not strictly necessary, especially not from a financial standpoint. A new album is not going to be the thing that pays for your seventh house, your third divorce or your stratospheric coke habit. There is nobody on the planet that this is truer of than The Rolling Stones. Absolutely everything about them and the way they’ve operated since, to be generous, the early Eighties has been more in keeping with the conduct of a multinational corporation than any kind of rock band, let alone one that cut its collective teeth on rough-and-ready blues. Their recent career retrospective at the Saatchi Gallery, Exhibitionism, dedicated almost as much square footage to the group’s image and marketing might as it did to the music; it was telling that the room based around the tongue-and-lips logo was roughly the same size as the one housing a collection of classic guitars. width="540" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lrIjMzBr-ck" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Also revealing was that, once you passed the halfway mark of the exhibition and swapped music for costumes, artwork and stage design, the input from Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts more or less ceased (Mick Taylor, in case you’re wondering, was mysteriously airbrushed from history entirely). Instead, nearly all of the commentary on the non-musical side of the group - whether printed on the walls or playing through the speakers - came from Mick Jagger. This is an important point when it comes to talking about Blue & Lonesome. The band’s first new record since 2005 challenges a very long-held perception about the nature of the relationship between Jagger and Richards; the latter’s supposed to be every inch the gnarled old bluesman, with the former being all about fame and flash, renowned for promiscuity both musically and privately. Since 2012, when the pair called an uneasy truce in order to take the band’s fiftieth birthday party on the road, Richards has consistently claimed that a) he was eager to get back into the studio and b) he was struggling to bring his bandmates around to the same way of thinking. It is for all of these stated reasons that Blue & Lonesome feels like such an upset; it’s a record entirely comprised of blues covers, and yet it feels more like Jagger’s record than it does Keef’s. These are not the sort of blues tracks that you could ever really spin as being stylish or relevant, as you might expect Jagger to. We’re in aficionado territory, going right the way back to Chicago with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon, and yet it’s difficult to pinpoint when was the last time that the Stones made a record that felt this free of conflict, this far from being compromised by a clash of ideologies. Jagger’s vocals have never sounded as well suited to undiluted blues than they do now. The funny thing is, his cords haven’t really been weathered by anything other than age. He’s been living clean for a long [...]
2016-12-02T14:22:10+00:002016-12-02 14:22:02 +0000Captures perfectly the mood and tone of a concert that will surely prove one of the most important in musical history New artists just starting out could do much worse than watch the DVD of The Rolling Stones’ 2016 Cuban concert, Havana Moon, to understand just what performance supremacy looks like. A veritable masterclass in how to be rock stars, The Stones – with an average age of 73 – somehow manage to exhibit more showmanship, style and skill than bands a mere quarter of their years. Following the visit of President Obama to Cuba in March – the first American president to visit Cuba in 88 years – The Rolling Stones became the first major rock band to play a free concert in Havana, bringing an estimated one million people to the Cuban capital and an estimated 1.2 million to the gig itself at Ciudad Deportiva de la Hatsana. 'It’s just got this weird, romantic aura,' Jagger says of Cuba in the opening credits. 'It was the country that stood up to the United States. And there is still this romantic attraction of people like Fidel and Ché Guevara.' The band themselves joked earlier this year that Obama was their 'warm up act', before declaring this 'a new time' for Cuba, a place that once banned the music of The Rolling Stones. 'Maybe I’ll stay here forever,' Keith muses on stage. 'Castro’s regime banned rock n roll when it came to power and they’ve never had big shows or anything like that,' Jagger tells us on the opening footage, seemingly still surprised that it’s finally happening after a lifetime of touring the world. With the news of Castro’s passing, perhaps the performance of their biggest ever concert will come to have an even greater historical significance than it already has. Falling at the end of their América Latina Olé trek, award winning film director Paul Dugdale, who has also documented several of the Stones’ tours previously, begins Havana Moon by capturing the mammoth logistical task of setting up the gig, with over 58 trucks worth of equipment, 500 tonnes of kit and 21 days spent building the set. As the crowd flock to the venue clad in t-shirts and face paint with the famous John Pasche tongue, night falls over Cuba revealing a bright Havana moon and a band just as eager to please as when they made their debut in 1962. Rather than relentless touring that characterised their concerts in the early Noughties, The Rolling Stones have taken a less-is-more approach in recent years, concentrating on showcasing their phenomenal craft rather than touring mammoth sets. They open with the lively ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, with Jagger strutting up and down the stage clad in showman sparkly jacket, stopping only for his trademark hip shake. The crowd is a mixture of people screaming, singing or those who are so completely overcome with the emotion a band of only the Stones’ stature can bring that they cry uncontrollably. Imagine having never having a chance to see a rock concert. Imagine the first one you see is then The Rolling Stones. Dugdale does well to capture the emotional crowd who, dream-like, stare in overwhelmed but joyous disbelief at the spectacle in front of them. ‘It’s Only Rock n Roll’ and ‘Tumbling Dice’ follow, as Jagger romances the crowd in his fluent Spanish. Whilst there are indeed plenty of bands and artists from the Sixties and Seventies still around, none of them seem to be able match the continuing energy, passion and skill of The Stones. They’re not just good, they’re incredibly good, and whereas many of their contemporaries voices have, unsurprisingly, failed with age, Jagger’s is still powerfully strong. Likewise, Watt’s drumming never falters, nor does the fluency of Richards and Wood’s guitars. All look to each other on stage, all work perfectly together. Dugdale does well to capture the mechanics of a band who have remain[...]
2016-12-01T17:58:37+00:002016-12-01 17:57:00 +0000Starboy is fine, it’s grand and it will do, and it really should be so much more. The difficulty with trying to be all things to all concerned is that, inevitably, cracks will appear. While the late Leonard Cohen famously observed that such surface-level flaws allow for light to creep in, there are instances where structural defects register as concerning. In the case of Abel Tesfaye and The Weeknd, his latest manoeuvre amidst the cutthroat world of mass-market pop shouldn’t surprise anyone who fucked with last summer’s Beauty Behind the Madness. His lust still wanders and the games are very much as wicked, they’re just a great deal more palatable to the casual ear. That’s no bad thing, especially when you’re still determined to register as the biggest name in pop, but you’ve heard this one before. A lot. Starboy ultimately finds its leading light adrift, but the initial launch is one for the books. The Daft Punk-assisted title track really is glorious; the kind of gorgeous waltz that trips up those who don’t understand the majesty of subtlety. ‘Starboy’ never really comes out of first gear because it simply doesn’t need to. It is an exercise in restraint, a flexing of production muscles (and money) and the kind of vocal acuity that few artists are capable of. It is one of the songs of 2016. width="540" height="304" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/34Na4j8AVgA" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> ‘Party Monster’ is similar in that you could easily dismiss it as musically one-dimensional but Tesfaye’s command is exceptional. Taking control over a horror movie arrangement as he did on ‘The Hills’, he peppers a typical empty dalliance with dark dovetails - ”I’m like, got up, thank the Lord for the day / Woke up by a girl, I don’t even know her name” before surrendering to paranoia. This is often when The Weeknd is at its most interesting; the push-pull that his satyr-like existence stirs within the cloudiest recesses of the brain. The party and the after party, if you will. This war of the self manifests itself in different ways, some of which are truly intriguing. ‘False Alarm’ has been met with near-universal derision and though that feels unfair, its marriage of styles doesn’t gel. The verses are superb, as Tesfaye feeds off kinetic bursts of energy until the chorus finds him playing a game of one-upmanship that his hand isn’t quite up to. Still, it’s a noble failure with plenty to admire. The greater conflict is considerably more problematic, however. We get an early flashpoint in ‘Reminder’, where Tesfaye glides over a winningly simple arrangement with supreme confidence as he details discomfort and resentment at finding himself winning youth-centric awards for ‘Can’t Feel My Face’, lamenting that he’s ”not a Teen Choice”. Minutes later, he’s bouncing off the walls once more on ‘Rockin’, the kind of gaudy and generic – though undeniably catchy – EDM/R’n’B collision that blares at ear-splitting volume in tragically hip clothes shops. Starboy is all about this difficult dichotomy, even when it achieves effective compartmentalisation. One only need take 12 minutes to watch the accompanying film M A N I A to get the complete picture of The Weeknd 2016, which picks up immediately following the conclusion of the ‘Starboy’ video: width="540" height="304" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/kBsycvSU6r8" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Flecked with cuts from the record, the beautiful-looking - thanks to Natasha Braier, who worked similar aesthetic wonders on Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon this year – short offers up a vivid distillation of Abel Tesfaye’s opulent excess; expensive sports cars, neon-soaked nightclubs, blood-drenched victory in violence, and dominance over a d[...]
2016-11-30T08:32:25+00:002016-11-30 07:52:00 +0000To be delivered this trove of Fifties big band funk and perverted doo-wop, and to see it spiral out into interstellar space-jams in a stop-motion fashion is a huge thrill A compilation can only be as good as the artist(s) within it. This is incredible. By compiling all the known 45s Sun Ra released, this three-disc-set (a limited edition series of 10 45-inch reprints will also be available in 2017) gives as good a collection as is possible from which to explore the development of Sun Ra’s seemingly endless universe of music. Singles is gloriously extensive, bizarre, diverse and cerebral - these same qualities also mean the collection is directionless, of nowhere, of anywhere… of space. This vastness is the essence of Sun Ra – it’s a head fuck in the best possible way. It's intriguing to hear his more conventional compositions, which predominantly roll out across disc one and in part into disc two. Although that said disc one opens with the alien ‘I Am An Instrument’ and ‘I Am Strange’; the former, right now, feels like a musical example of the futility of history as his spoken words of “I am strange/I choose love over hate” highlights our current political backwardness. Sigh. Tracks like ‘Chicago USA’, ‘A Foggy Day’ and ‘Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie’ (in all of these Sun Ra’s Arkestra is the backing band) would be at home on a Greatest Doo Wop comp, or as (very weak) additions to Birth of the Cool. What these tracks show, as well as being historical artefacts, is that Sun Ra was a competent band leader that thrived space become the topic. In these songs the music similarly takes off, although there are squawking brass moments that clearly delighted and influenced the Residents to no end in some of the more straight-up numbers, as in ‘Super Blonde’. As the discs unfurl it really starts to become a tastier offering. A slicker, studio recorded version of ‘Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie’ dazzles in zoot suit Technicolor, and makes you wish you had both the original disc-one bedroom recording and this version. It awakens the obsessive music fanatic within, and rousing from hibernation is always a wonderful feeling. ‘October’ drapes itself across its four-and-a-half minutes like a death march. Staggered brass parts layer up a sense of doom under the lead trumpet, which struts drunkenly. This could be the sound of down-trodden America or the sound of trepidation - some last moments on earth before ignition. It’s the sound of smog be it on earth or in space. As songs like ‘Song To Earthman’ enter the listing and Ra starts ranting over big-bands of despair then the power of these compositions becomes undeniable. ‘Song To Earthman’ is a space journey delivered as sermons to overcome the frailty of the human condition: “Mike Mike Mike/Stop abusing that spike/Coz it takes away your might.” A compilation like this is a perfect because it offers a thousand plus interpretations, swings stylistically with abandon and highlights how, while Sun Ra is revered for his ephemeral ruminations in music, he really did play with the conventions of the hustling house jazz band. What’s missing… is the propulsion of his albums. There’s no fluidity here in the way Space is the Place so majestically catapults through jazz in a way even Ornette Coleman or an angry John Coltrane couldn’t. Disc three includes a version of ‘Rocket Number 9’ that plods mechanically; that’s not to say it's inferior to the Space Is The Place album version (it may well actually be funkier), but it sure as hell doesn’t enthral in the same way. An artist such as Sun Ra, whose every output was so relentless (especially in the Fifties) and rich in meaning and composition, can be overwhelming to engage with in such an in depth format. [...]