On first glance at the track list for Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, one thing is immediately apparent; Big Boi wanted to make this album as big and extravagant as possible. With the variety and sheer volume of collaborations on display here, it would seem that Big Boi was over-compensating for something, but that’s far from the truth.
As a member of the now seemingly defunct OutKast, Big Boi was the more understated, yet undeniably talented, member of the duo. While Andre 3000 attracted more immediate attention from the press and casual onlookers, fans looked towards Big Boi to provide the more technical brilliance to the music. In a post-OutKast world, he has proved himself of this sufficiently with his brilliant solo debut ‘Sir Luscious Left Foot… the Son of Chico Dusty‘, while Andre 3000 floundered, seemingly sticking to collaborating occasionally. Now back for round two, Vicious Lies… is bigger and bolder than the former.
Big Boi has long since made his interests in the more alternative side of things apparent – from him apparently producing the new Modest Mouse record to him confessing his desire to work with the much maligned pseudo-folk band Mumford and Sons – it’s all reflected on the guest spots that appear on the new album. Female-fronted synth-pop bands Phantogram and Little Dragon assist on three tracks each, while lo-fi surf punk singer Nathan Williams, of Wavves fame, appears on one track. Big Boi really went outside of the norm with this release, with successful results for the most part.
Underneath the myriad guest spots on the list, Big Boi is the foundation on which this record was made. There’s a reason why he’s one of the most recognised and respected faces of southern hip-hop, and Vicious Lies… is a testament to that. His unique voice and great technique is the main reason to listen to the album, even if it is dressed up with maybe too many collaborative artists. ‘Apple of My Eye‘ is the only track which Big Boi tackles solo, and that fact alone makes it a highlight.
Undoubtedly, another highlight from the album is the bombastic ‘In the A‘. Sampling your own track is an odd way of crafting a new song, but Big Boi dismantles the hook from previous mega-hit ‘Shutterbugg‘ to create a TNGHT-esque, bass-heavy track that harks back to Sir Luscious Left Foot… in the best kind of way. Backed by trumpets, Big Boi joins forces with Ludacris and T.I. to provide the most undiluted experience on the album. By putting himself next to a lot of other rappers, it helps to see how good he really is at what he does. Ludicris and T.I. still have better verses on this track than they have done in quite a while, even as solo artists.
The most surprising collaboration to see on the album is no doubt with Wavves, on the track ‘Shoes For Running‘. Nathan Williams provides a hook on the track unlike most you would expect to hear on a typical hip-hop release. Whether this works in Big Boi‘s favour is kind-of up in the air. While Williams does a great job at what he does, his snotty vocals are rather divisive in general. To hear him not hiding behind a wall of fuzz and distorted production is a rare event, but his vocals seem to hold up in this unfamiliar situation, even having a slight Avey Tare quality about them. I mean, even B.o.B. doesn’t sound too bad on this song, which is quite a change from usual. The vocals towards the end seem to have a children’s choir singing along that would almost ruin it if that hook weren’t so damn addictive.
Big Boi‘s frequent pairing with Little Dragon singer Yukimi Nagano works wonders for the album, with the two artists sharing a great sense of coexistence. ‘Descending‘ is an honest, sentimental number that is unlike anything else found on the record. On the other hand, Phantogram seem to serve a similar purpose to Little Dragon on this release, but they just don’t seem to connect with Big Boi‘s style in the same way. All of the work they do on the album would be fine as Phantogram tracks, but they seem disconnected from Big Boi‘s work in a way that is hard to explain. A key example of this is ‘Lines‘; it has all the key ingredients to add up to a great song, but it all seems disjointed. Sure, A$AP Rocky‘s verse is great as usual, but his and Big Boi‘s verses just seem to sit alongside Phantogram‘s chorus instead of actually melding with it, to become one complete, flowing song.
The album represents Atlanta in a big way, with ‘In the A‘ being an ode to the city, while collaborations with other Atlanta natives are found scattered amongst the tracks. Notably, Killer Mike‘s presence on the album is especially nice to see. After several notable absences from OutKast/Big Boi releases as of late. Fresh off the hype surrounding R.A.P. Music, his latest release, Killer Mike delivers a killer (sorry)verse on ‘Thom Pettie‘, giving the track a much-needed injection of aggression.
That’s not to say this album doesn’t have a few false starts. ‘Higher Res‘ features a collaboration with burgeoning R’n’B star Jai Paul, whose vocals have a submerged quality to them. At only 2:24 long, it doesn’t really have enough time to develop as a song, before ending with a feeling that this was a blatant missed opportunity. It feels like it was a demo that was, for some reason, left on the album.
Secondly, the record seems to have less decidedly less enthusiasm than his previous release. From the offset, Big Boi starts the album with the expected amount of energy, but it seems to fluctuate throughout. The more solemn, self-reflective moments on the album (‘She Hates Me, ‘Descending’) provide a side to Big Boi we rarely see, but slow down things somewhat. Finally, because of all of the guest spots throughout the tracks, Big Boi’s true potential seems diluted. While that would have seemed impossible, it somehow has happened at points during Vicious Lies…
Overall, Vicious Lies… is certainly a very different album from his first solo record. It’s quite hard to give a definitive answer as to whether all of the risks and experimentation on display paid off in the end. There are aspects here that worked wonderfully, while some moments on the album weren’t executed quite so successfully. Those of you hoping for a carbon copy of Sir Luscious Left Foot… will no doubt be disappointed, but with as much variation as there is on the album, there’s more than enough for anyone to enjoy. It’s a very ambitious and ultimately flawed, but kinda excellent, record.
I’m calling it, THIS will be the album that critics are buzzing about come the end of the year. I don’t normally devote whole blog posts just to a stream of an album, but I really feel this NEEDs your attention. It’s a ninety minute slab of meticulously put together synth-pop that’s as smooth as anything and as dark as Hades’ lair. Ruth Radalet’s alluring vocals will hypnotise your unassuming mind, while you ride along a sea of smooth New Order-esque synths. The amount of time and attention to detail that this album has gone through – created over five years in seven different cities across the globe – is quite hard to comprehend.
Johnny Jewel, multi-instrumentalist and producer for the band, provides a thoughtful list of just what went into creating this behemoth, with no less than thirty-six instruments used and a fair share of blood, sweat and tears. I think I’ve gushed over it enough, just do yourself a favour and click play. It’ll be the best thing you do with your day, or week in fact. I’ll write a full review of it when I can get round to it, it’s quite a task for such an album. The whole things available on iTunes, as they launched it as a surprise attack on Monday. If you enjoy any of these things: Late Nights, Drive, New Order, M83 (It feels like I compare every band to M83 in some way, these days), Pioneering Synth Pop, etc. then you’re bound to LOVE this album. Click the play button below to listen to the album in it’s entirety. I’m never usually this enthusiastic about anything. I think I might be ill. ENJOY, YEAH?
Brooklyn duo Tanlines started out as a means for Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm to remix tracks by artists like Glasser and Au Revoir Simone, but it wasn’t until their 2010 EP Settings that they garnered attention from all corners of the blogosphere. As soon as the band started creating original tracks filled with sun-drenched synth-pop and world music-influenced 80’s dancehall, the world started listening. While the two people that comprise the project have experience in very different backgrounds musically, they come together succinctly as Tanlines using their combined skills to make lovely little pop gems.
Two years since their first EP and a few singles later, Tanlines have released their long-in-the-making debut full-length, Mixed Emotions. The album channels inspiration from countless areas of music, but all the tracks seem to meld together to create something very much their own. African rhythm influences can be heard throughout the album, but more so on ’Yes Way’ than anywhere else. Dancehall obviously had a big impact on the recording process, with ‘Not The Same‘ having a distinct dance beat and pulsing synths backing it.
Taking cues from bands such as M83, Hot Chip and Friendly Fires, Tanlines manage to blur the line between indie band and dance act. There’s a certain juxtaposition between the up-beat melodies of the songs on the album and the rather sullen, melancholic lyrics of said tracks. Almost all the songs have the innate ability to make you dance, and given the right scenario you wouldn’t even notice the lyrics. But if you dig a little deeper, there’s a sense of loneliness and longing in the tracks. Take ‘Real Life’, for example. Emm sings “For a minute I was lost / I looked away / My destination was alone.” this sense of solitude exudes from all of the tracks, and if it weren’t for the way they delivered the music, this album would be a lot colder and darker than it makes out to be.
Opening track ‘Brothers‘ is covered with washed out synths that evoke sounds of waves crashing against the shore, and this is a trend that carries on throughout the album. It’s a slow-burning, fairly simple track that does well in introducing Tanlines‘ brand of pop. Sunlight permeates through all of the tracks and it’s hard to escape. If the conditions are right – scorching weather, nothing to worry about, et al – then Mixed Emotions is the perfect album to listen to. It’s lively enough to put on at any party and for late nights at the beach. But if things Ain’t so peachy, the unrelenting sunny disposition of the music might be a bit of a turn-off.
Throughout the album, Tanlines seize the opportunity to take a nostalgic trip back to the heyday of 80’s synth-pop. This has become such a common source of inspiration for contemporary artists that it should feel tired and well-tread by now, but Tanlines use these elements in just the right moderation to stop them feeling unwelcome. There are moments when this works to their full advantage, and other moments when it misses the mark. ‘Lost Somewhere‘, one of the weakest moments on the album, seems to get lost in the time period and just feels like a parody of the music it’s imitating, while ‘Rain Delay’ manages to mix up the 80’s vibes enough with their own style to make it worthwhile.
Lead single ‘All Of Me‘ is bound to gain cult status on dance floors across the globe, with its irresistibly bouncy beat and hook-laden chorus. Obvious inspirations are taken from various club anthems and it’s all put together in just the right way. They employ the tried-and-tested method of building up gradually, and by the time the chorus comes around, everything’s in full motion. It’s all rounded off with sincere and heartfelt lyricisms that guarantee that, come summer, this tune will be massive. It has all the ingredients needed.
The most disappointing thing about Mixed Emotions is the hit-and-miss feeling that taints this otherwise bold and delightful debut. Don’t get me wrong – it has more than its fair share of fantastic tracks that would stand well on their own, or as part of an EP; it’s just a shame that they couldn’t quite capture the same feeling on more of the tracks. ’Abby‘ feels largely flat and forgettable, especially following on from the trio of stellar opening tracks.
By the time the record reached the end, it seems ironic that the duo picked the album title that they did. Mixed Emotions aptly describes how I feel about the album. As a debut album, it’s a great attempt that shows bucket loads of potential from the duo, but it ends up feeling all a bit uneven in quality. Select tracks from the album are bound to be a highlight of more than a few playlists this Summer but it’s the moments in between that dampen the experience.
Brighton has always had a vibrant music scene, with bands like Electralane, British Sea Power and The Maccabees all hailing from the city. It’s also the site of the Great Escape Festival, which is well-known as one of the best festivals for showcasing new talent in Europe. One of the highlights of this burgeoning scene is alternative rock band Blood Red Shoes. Now onto their third full-length, the band have toured tirelessly around the world, since 2004, and developed as musicians greatly. With In Time To Voices, they’ve created their heaviest, most polished and ambitious record to date.
The band are actually a duo made up of Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to this album. While being made up of just a drummer and guitarist, the duo show the intensity and scope of a full band. Vocal duties are handled by both members, giving a healthy duality to the music. Songs are roughly sung in a fifty-fifty split, but Ansell’s voice is a little more prominent throughout. The two voices harmonise together well and interlace in a way that really shows how well they know one another, musically. On ‘Stop Kicking’ the two voices overlap one another towards the end of the song in a style similar to Brand New . Both vocalists sing with a similar pitch, which prevents dissonance and gives it all a warm chemistry.
Blood Red Shoes don’t make any compromises by being a duo. The lack of a bassist just means that they have to turn everything up louder and playing harder to cover up the bassist-shaped void. And play hard, they do. A similar approach was taken by a little band you might have heard of called The White Stripes, and it worked out pretty well for them. Extra instrumentation is used sparingly on the record, and when it is it doesn’t alienate the sound their sound.
In Time To Voices strikes a ideal balance between heavy, punk-influenced anthems and slower, more poignant moments. A prime example of their heaviest side is one-and-a-half minute belter ‘Je Me Perds‘, in which the band embark on a raw and frenzied shout-a-thon, with lyrics like “What the fuck am I doing here / lying face down on the floor“. If the whole album was filled with songs of this nature, it would get old very quickly but this fleeting moment of madness is enough to let us see the bands’ true ferocity shine brightly. In stark contrast, the track prior to it, ‘Night Light‘ is a more laid-back, sullen affair, filled with slow-paced vocals, acoustic guitars and even some simple piano melodies. The way the band embrace these two dynamics gives the record a cohesive and varied vibe, and just makes for a more exciting listen.
The album opens with title track ‘In Time To Voices‘ which highlights Carter’s vocal prowess. It’s a slow-building piece that builds up gradually to a triumphant finish complete with an impressive distortion-filled guitar solo. Lead single ‘Cold‘ is introduced by an intricate drum pattern and a fuzz-filled riff. Carter‘s vocals are at their most bold on this track, and they really carry the intro in an interesting direction, before Ansell‘s harsher tones take hold of the chorus. The track is both dense and complex while being catchy at the same time, and it really draws attention to how good the band strike that balance I keep going on about. ‘The Silence And The Drones‘ has a heroic vibe to it, with violin swoops that accentuate Ansell’s haunting sentiments (“Let me please forget“). It’s a definite highlight of the album and, again, illustrates the expanded vision of the band; these record feels bigger than any of their previous work and they know it. Almost-five-minute album closer ‘7 Years‘ has a Death Cab For Cutie-like sense of sincerity, before it fades away into the distance.
If Blood Red Shoes’ previous records didn’t quite get their hooks in you, this one definitely should. In Time To Voices is a more mature and diverse piece of work and seems like what the band have been working towards all this time. In an interview prior to the album’s release, Carter said “With this album we totally threw out the rulebook of how we write and record. We decided we wanted to make a really ambitious record.” Well, they certainly did that.
It’s been around five years since The Shins last put out an album, with 2007’s Wincing the Night Away. Since then there’s been little output from the band, besides frontman James Mercer‘s foray with producer Danger Mouse for the 2010 album and EP as Broken Bells. With the announcement of Port of Morrow, fans finally had their prayers answered. With so much time passing, and a complete changeup of the band’s members, would The Shins live up to their past legacy? The answer: more or less, yeah.
Although they perform as a band, The Shins is pretty much just James Mercer‘s brainchild. There’s been so many changes to who’s who in the band that it’s hard to keep track. One thing remains constant: Mercer is in full command. If there were no Mercer, there would be no Shins. Even with some fresh recruits in the band, the instrumentation stays as strong as ever; from the flurry of lighter-than-air synths, to the jolly keyboard notes and the breezy guitar strums. The band play well together as it stands, and the changes don’t seem to have any detrimental effects on the way the band operates.
Now, as far as American up-beat indie-pop music goes, The Shins have been put upon a pretty big pedestal over the years, next to all the other contemporary greats. With this reputation in mind, after only a relatively small discography of three LP’s, it was always going to be tough to live up to the rather unfair expectations of the general public. And for all intents and purposes, they made quite an admirable effort with Port of Morrow.
The band have a very distinct sound to them due mainly to Mercer’s love-it-or-hate-it vocal style. I know some people who find his octaves a little too sugary-sweet to handle in large quantities but to my ear they sound almost heavenly. I’ve developed a theory that it’s almost impossible to not have a massive grin on your face when listening to Mercer’s tones, and that is still very much the case on their latest offering. Even when the album takes a turn towards more morose territory, Mercer’s delivery gives it all a warm glow that stops things from ever getting too dark.
Another one of Mercer’s many talents is his ability to conjure up illustrious imagery by putting words and phrases together in simple yet effective ways. The album sticks to well-trodden territory, thematically; love, trust, redemption, all that jazz. What defines The Shins are all the clever little lines and phrases that are bound to clog up many a peoples’ Twitter and Facebook feeds. Take, for example, lead single ‘Simple Song’; lines like “My life in an upturned boat, marooned on a cliff” and “you feel like an ocean warmed up by the sun” evoke such vivid imagery that it’s hard not to be drawn in by it all. Mercer explores a smorgasbord of attitudes and emotions throughout Port of Morrow, from triumphant (‘Simple Song‘), reflective (‘It’s Only Life’), thankful and understanding (‘September‘), nostalgic (‘Fall of ’82’) just to name a few.
Production on the album is overseen by Greg Kurstin, who has expertise mainly in pop music, with production credits on albums by Lily Allen and Britney Spears just to name a few. His assistance has helped give the album a very pristine and meticulously album. There are so many things going on musically that at times it feels a little overwhelming. It veers dangerously close to feeling too overproduced. I can see some of the tracks on here getting plays on daytime radio given the opportunity, and that’s probably due in part to Kurstin. Although the music does have quite a wide appeal, it hasn’t taken too much of a departure from their past material; it’s not like The Shins were ever a particularly hard band to get into.
Unsurprisingly, the highlight of the album is ‘Simple Song’. The song glimmers with the magic that make The Shins such a revered band. The bouncy, invigorating melody and whimsical lyrics are but a few of the things that make it one of the best songs that I’ve heard recently, and among the best songs the band have ever produced. Words won’t really do it justice so I’ll just link a video to this so you can see for yourself.
The biggest downfall of Port of Morrow is that is loses steam at quite an alarming rate. The band end up sounding a bit tired way before the record is over. By the time the almost-six-minute album closer rolls around, it already feels too long. This would be okay for most albums, but this record is only ten tracks long as it is. The latter half of the album feels kind-of throwaway compared to the strong start. ‘Fall of ’82‘ and 40 Mark Strasse‘ feel largely forgettable despite some nice touches from the band (such as the trumpet solo on ‘Fall of ’82’), while ‘No Way Down’ has a frankly generic 90’s alt-rock opening, that gradually improves as the song goes on. Midpoint of the record ‘September‘ marks a noticeable shift in quality from there on out and it’s honestly a little disappointing from a band of such pedigree.
In Garden State, (you knew I had to reference it somewhere) during a scene in a hospital waiting room, Natalie Portman proclaims that listening to New Slang by the band will change Zach Braff’s life. With Port of Morrow, The Shins haven’t really replicated that notion. Instead of ‘life-changing’, the music on display here is, for the most part, simply ‘pleasant and enjoyable’. It has its moments and provides easy and addictive listening that showcase Mercer‘s ever-growing song crafting skills and upbeat pop even during the most routine areas of the album. I wanted to like this album more than I actually did in the end, but there’s still a lot of the spirit of the band you know and love here. I’m just glad they’re back.
There is nothing I would like more this year than a new LP from Grizzly Bear. I know they’re recording one. I know it. But when will it drop? I should be glad then that guitarist/vocalist of the band, Daniel Rossen, has released a lovely five track EP that will tide me over somewhat until that day arrives. In fact, even when they’re not releasing full-lengths as a band, individual members seem to be involved in an illustrious discography themselves (such as Chris Taylor‘s album with Twin Shadow as CANT, last year, and Department of Eagles‘ output). So, although it may have been three years since the superb Veckatimest, music keeps trickling out from the collective.
Silent Hour/Golden Mile is an EP filled with the kind of dense atmospherics that you would expect from Grizzly Bear, but it all tad more stripped down than the material of the full band. There are still some pretty complex dynamics on display here, but obviously they’re layered a little more thinly than when there’s a full band at work. An array of instrumentation inhabit the tracks; guitars, strings, piano. It’s all quite standard fare, but they’re all delicately arranged so well. Rossen has a natural talent for crafting lush, thought-out arrangements, and it’s in full effect on this EP.
In the age we live in, of bedroom recording and GarageBand being a primary tool to put out songs, it’s refreshing to hear a record that’s so organic. It’s very sparse in the way of electronic instrumentation, instead opting for much more traditional sound that Grizzly Bear built itself upon. The EP also shares Grizzly Bear‘s trademark for immaculate production values. It’s obvious that Rossen‘s time in the band has definitely influenced his solo work vastly, but that’s to be expected.
The five tracks all have quite distinct tones to them. Opener ‘Up On High‘ is a great introduction, filled with jangling guitar strums, soothing strings and whimsical vocals. The way Rossen sings “In this big empty room, finally feel free” indicates that the recording process was cathartic for him, and the songs feel very genuine and introspective. ‘Back On Form‘ is definitely the liveliest of the bunch, with a gorgeous midpoint of trumpets, guitars and drums all simmering together to form something quite marvellous. In contrast, the following track ‘Saint Nothing‘ is a slow-burning piano ballad, filled with moody imagery and a simple melody. The song trails off at the end with Rossen repeating “How long?” The rhetoric underlines the confused poignancy of the whole song.
With his solo EP, Rossen has showcased the talent, ambition and versatility he possesses as an individual and not just as a member of a band. Still, I can’t help but feel like the EP is one hell of a tasty appetiser for what’s to come. If Silent Hour/Golden Mile is any indication of how the next Grizzly Bear record will sound, we have quite a record on our hands.