Future Islands 90 min • Vicar Street, Dublin • November 2nd, 2014 Andrew Darley reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
On their first of two nights in Dublin’s Vicar Street, there’s an electricity in the air before Future Islands take to the stage. A certain furore pervades the night as the Baltimore trio are now fighting with bigger weapons than the last time they played in Ireland. Brought on by early television promotion of their newest work, Singles, a commotion stirred around lead singer Samuel T. Herring’s distinctive performance style as their Late Show with David Letterman went viral. A spotlight finally shone on a band who have been grafting it for years. When they reach the stage, Herring is quick to recount the journey the band has been on to get to where they are today; listing the litany of venues they’ve played in Ireland – from the small clubs to seizing their current two night residency in the sizeable surroundings of Vicar Street. Whilst their sound has amassed over time, so too, has their following.
The band appear unfazed by the significant attention thrust upon them. From their opening ‘Back In The Tall Grass’, they deliver a mesmerising and engaged set with songs spanning their three recent records. Their synths are brought up loud, as their guitars and bass writhe with urgency. Although Herring’s early dance moves are merited with breakouts of applause, the zealous crowd soon settles in and the focus is strictly on the music.
What becomes clear from their live show is that they passionately embody the songs. From the get-go, the formidable frontman exists as a juggernaut; tearing across the stage, pulling at himself and berating his chest to his audience. He introduces several songs with their meanings, many of which are caring words for the broken-hearted. He urges “Don’t let anyone fuck with your heart” before bursting through the likes of ‘Long Flight’ and ‘Light House’. Their lyrics are of men firmly standing in the light, yet fully aware of the shadows that lie behind them. When Herring sings “I asked myself for peace”, it’s profound and captivating from a man giving everything he has to the crowd. His stamina and vocal backflips cuts through the plethora of indie bands who fail to grasp the concept of performance and showmanship.
They close out their performance with a four-song encore including the climaxes of 2009’s In The Evening Air with the feverish ‘Vireo’s Eye’ and the majestic throb of ‘Inch of Dust’. They are a ball of energy catapulted into an audience who were more than happy to reciprocate. They came in with determination and steely muscle that has been taught and trained by several years of hard work. As they send the Dublin crowd off into the night with the lullaby of ‘Little Dreamer’, it echoes the sentiment of their Twitter biography: “Too noisy for new wave, Too pussy for punk”. Future Islands are certainly walking a path quite distinctly their own.
Azealia Banks 60:19 min • Prospect Park • November 6, 2014 John Preston reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
At the very least the dramatic and unexpected release of Azealia Banks’ debut album is a relief. Her one bona fide hit, the filthy and fantastic ‘212’, was released in 2011 and talk of her first album, mainly by Banks herself, has been on, off and on again pretty much consistently since then. Some 3 years later and Beyoncéd onto iTunes at 7.00pm on a cold Thursday in early November Broke With Expensive Taste finally saw the light of day. We can all now move on; Banks, the naysayers, the many she was horrified with brattish abuse via her volatile twitter account – let’s go and fix our glare on the new kid. Maybe the surprise then is that there is a lot more to Azealia Banks than being a big dirty mouthed one-hit wonder. The breadth and rush of the consistently surprising, eccentric but accessible tracks here is absolute proof that she knew what she was doing all along.
One of the most interesting and revealing aspects of Azealia Banks first full length release is all of the things that it is not. There is no EDM although this is most definitely a dance record, no dubstep, no grand-standing features and no sign of the kind of producers that eclipse the artist themselves and are usually called in for last minute emergencies. In fact the one track that was produced by and featured the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams (the lacklustre and generic ‘ATM Jam’) has wisely been left off. The Williams collaboration was forced upon Banks by her then record company (she has since left Interscope, to call it a rocky relationship would appear an understatement) to bag an easy hit as is often the case and by all accounts represents the reasons why Broke With Expensive Taste has suffered such a long and bumpy ride to release. Banks is not an artist who is not willing to comprise or curtail her artistic impulses and this is made abundantly clear here.
Album opener ‘Idle Delilah’ has clattering pots and pans percussion, a fuzz-box island guitar riff and a chorus, if it can indeed be called that, that consists only of a chopped-to-utter-smithereens Brandy sample from her hit ‘I Wanna Be Down’ which is rendered utterly unrecognisable here. This is to support Banks warbling but radiant rap and vocal lines laid out over a building house beat. ‘Desperado’ and ‘Gimme a Chance’ go down different roads entirely. The former has Banks speeding sulkily over an old and moody MJ Cole 2-step track ‘Bandelero Desperado’ with muted trumpet and an unmistakeable British identity whilst ‘Gimme A Chance’ references early hip hop scratching and a Ze Records ‘Off the Coast of Me’ dead – eyed and sung chorus. This all comes before the second half of the track which explodes into Latin American horns with Banks both singing and rapping in Spanish. ‘JFK’ is a snooker balls-cracking house track with vocal inflections mimicking an almost operatic narrative of the vogue balls and creative rivalry and’ Wallace’ has dark cavernous drums, a blink and you’ll miss it Missy Elliot reference and might be about a dog. At this point it is hard to accept that the album has not even reached its half-way point, such is the diversity and ambition that is alluded to.
The album’s middle section is its most conventional and traditionally urban, all of the tracks are rapped. ‘Ice Princess’ in particular, which is a variation on Morgan Page’s ‘In The Air’ hit, proves that Banks can more than hold her own in commercial rap; her rhymes are effortless and engaging, often surreal, with a flow that is sharp but soothing. ‘Soda’ is a popping, taut house track that sounds like little else coming out of the urban genre or any other stable at the moment and is completely sung in Banks highly distinctive swooping – and occasionally flat – baritone. It introduces the last act of the album and at this point some of the admittedly unexpected flow of the first half does suffer, due mainly to ‘Nude Beach a Go-Go’. Produced by Ariel Pink with an intense love or loathe quality, it sounds like a Beach Boys carol about the joys of nude beaches (‘Do you jingle when you dingle-dangle? Everybody does the bingle-bangle’) as imagined by the B 52s who already have a song called ‘Theme for A Nude Beach’. It is quite a lot to take in and is probably brilliant but is jarringly sandwiched between the album’s deepest house tracks, the alluring triptych of ‘Luxury’, ‘Miss Camaraderie’ and ‘Miss Amour’.
The decision to include older tracks here, including ones already featured in Banks 2012 Fantasia mixtape (and yes, ‘212’ is also here), is the only misstep that hinders Broke With Expensive Taste’s’ irresistible freshness. Not only are they the weaker tracks in the majority but they overload the track listing to 16 and subsequently dilute the potential power of the lesser heard and superior material. The real surprise here though is that Azealia Banks could not get this album released in the first place, this is the stuff that classic debut albums are made and is massive indictment of the state of the music industry in 2014. An unreserved success still, with Broke With Expensive Taste Azealia Banks has ably demonstrated that the fight was most definitely worth it and has emerged out of the other side as an important, original and necessary artist.
My Brightest Diamond 60 min • Workman’s Club, Dublin • October 31st, 2014 Andrew Darley reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
On Halloween night in Dublin, Shara Worden arrived on stage in costume referencing her own act. The cuttings of colourful fabric which draped down her body and headpiece, she explained, symbolized the prismatic effect of shining a light through a diamond. Being the last night gig of the European tour for her recently released This Is My Hand and a night when it’s socially acceptable for adults to dress up in public, her set is charged with excitement and a certain giddiness.
For her latest album, Shara Worden stood back from her own music to reflect on how people historically communicated through sound before there was language. After her collaboration with Matthew Barney and Jonathan Belper on a cine-opera, River of Fundament, a scene in which a marching band with a tribal-like energy dawned an impetus in how she could approach her new work. This Is My Hand marries her signature concoction of quirky pop rock with bold drum sections and splashes of brass that lift up the songs.
It makes perfect sense that ‘Pressure’ opens the performance. Her only bandmate for tonight (dressed in an equally fetching gold sequinned magician’s cape) thundered in with rapid drum rolls, brimming with urgency, as Shara bewitched the audience with expressive hand gestures and synthesizers. Impressively, the playoff between the two was that of a sound of a full embellishment of musicians. The songs selected from her diverse back catalogue merited Shara switching between guitar and synths, giving some older some new arrangements. The pair shifted from the grungy jangle of ‘I Am Not The Bad Guy’, an amped-up version of Bring Me The Workhorse’s ‘Freak Out’ to more quieter moments like electronic twinkle of ‘Apparition’.
What Shara may not have realised was that the ensemble she made specially for the performance, mirrored the colourful and beaming joy that she exuded as she delivered her songs. She danced without a care around the humble stage of The Workman’s Club and gave the audience a note-perfect rendition of ‘Feeling Good’ as she shredded up and down her guitar. Her voice stretched across the entire room from outlandish howls to sweeter notes. It was simply impossible not to help but smile at the spirited and engaged energy she gives her songs live.
Kidkanevil 46:43 min • Flau Records/Project Mooncircle • May 9th, 2014 Andrew Darley reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
It’s often said that an album sounds like the time that was spent recording it. Gerard Roberts, better known as Kidkanevil, took the opportunity to make his latest work whilst immersing himself in Japanese culture. The musician and producer, originally from Leeds, made a move in 2010 to London where he met a Japanese beat-maker Daisuke Tanabe. The two instantly clicked and paired up for a collaborative album Kidsuke, an inspiring experiment combining Daisuke’s beats and Gerard fascination with toy instruments. Roberts notes a life-long desire to visit the homeland of his musical partner from a very young age, given his love of manga and anime art. When it came to promoting the album, the pair went on tour which included performances in the land of the rising sun. Once he felt inspired to work on new solo material, he relocated to Japan for six weeks in which he collaborated with other artists and producers, before putting his finishing touches on it back in London.
The vitality Roberts evidently felt during his stay in Japan unquestionably shines through on the album that emerged: My Little Ghost. The cover art, created by Kotaro Chiba, is a lead into the music within; detailed, bright and imaginative. Although the record is predominately instrumental, Kidkanevil structured these songs based on a story of “the ghost of a young soul, wandering about and curiously studying the surrounding, forever looking for answers”. The cover depicts a scene in which the album is set, in which the ghost finds herself “stranded on a lonely island in the midst of a chaotic metropolis”.
The opening song, aptly titled ‘All Is Lost’, paints the dreary landscape as the song’s synths slip in and out, like light reflecting from a rotating mirror. Its effect is enveloping and the emotion of the fragmented piano notes directs the emotion of its character in the foreign terrain. Given the protagonist is young girl, many of the songs and melodies on the record have a pure, almost innocent, perspective. His strong use of microbeats and xylophone, on the likes of ‘Tomie’ and ‘Oyasumi’, lend the album its soothing texture, and almost lullaby quality.
Yet, the album never comes to feeling like sleepy or dreamlike; it’s very much awake. ‘Dimension Bomb’ arrives early on with pulverising electronics; gradually ticking away as it bursts with bombastic noise. Elsewhere, ‘Shunkanido’ is based on this catchy piano line as he wraps, glitchy and springy noises, whilst, ‘Butterfly/Satellite’ rises with digital noises and hip hop beat, with the charismatic sample of a dog barking amid label-mate’s Cuushe endearing vocals. It’s moment like these that make you smile and can envision and feel the world that he aimed to create.
Kidkanevil’s compositions bubble and pop with a clear vision and innocent wonder. By the close of the album, My Little Ghost has come full-circle. Ending with the antithesis of the opening song, ‘All Is Not Lost’ brims with hope and a renewed opulence. This album radiates both with a sense of musicianship and the joy that Roberts felt making it. It is an often gentle listen, connecting his experimental idiosyncrasies and melodic talent, which will keep its listeners amused throughout.
She Keeps Bees 32:42 min • BB*Island • Sep 29, 2014 Andrew Darley reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
Jessica Larrabee and Andy LaBrant began making music together soon after Larrabee made a move from Philadelphia to Brooklyn. Their early rehearsals together were rough and ready; testing song ideas on makeshift instruments, including a garbage lid on top of a stepladder for percussion. Jessica believes now that their initial spontaneous approach to music helped them grow “like a tree. It felt powerful with him behind me. Nothing really clicked until I met Andy”. Since the birth of She Keeps Bees they have self-recorded and released three studio albums and have now created their most vindicated work yet.
As their fourth record, Eight Houses is executed with a definite, embracive tension. Its ten winding songs are distinguished by an air of comprised chaos, which ruptures in anguish from moments of silence. In describing the roots of the songs, they explain how they became fascinated by the injustices of the past in writing the record. The album parallels personal battles and historical events such as the forced assimilation of Native Americans in way that explores the sense of self and the emotions we feel we its threatened.
Opening on the smooth ‘Feather Lighter’, things start off quiet until Larrabee describes a growing tension (“gnashing at my teeth”) over a rickety piano line. Moving into the howling ‘Breeze’ the album gradually rouses its ominous air as she rages “they keep you like a ghost, waiting for the breeze”. Their sparse yet loaded compositions call to mind the momentum that Cat Power conjured on early albums, such as Myra Lee. Similar to that album, there’s an off-the-cuff quality to these songs, in which the duo create a maximum affect with minimal elements.
‘Greasy Grass’, which refers to controversial war hero status General George Armstrong Custer earned during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, moves on an earthy and powerful groove, as it stomps along in a nightmarish frenzy, urging to “take the red road back”. Whilst ‘Wasichu’ may be the song that captures the atmosphere of the album most succinctly. As Larrabee lists a litany of heinous acts (“Made you cut your hair, Cover your body, Sit like a dog”), its subdued texture of muffled horns and sleepy guitar translates the sensation of silencing ourselves under cruelty, with a burgeoning will to survive. Acknowledging the turmoil and bloodshed of the record, it closes out in an unexpected way. ‘Is What It Is’ resolves the unrest with the life-affirming message “I am worthy, You are worthy”, with feature vocals from Sharon Van Etten. It’s a sweetness after the storm.
She Keeps Bees’ fourth album is a refined, meditative record that unfurls in front of you. Its sprawling and sometimes unsettling themes of both individual and universal emotions invoke an honest reflection on the human condition. The focus of this album is its poeticism and the blues that carries them. Eight Houses is an exploration of the injustices in history and personal pain and uncertainty. Their airtight and soulful approach is a clear statement of who they are sonically and the strength of their songwriting.
Lindsey Stirling 47:07 min • Lindseystomp Music • 21 July, 2014 Little Bastard reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
When I reviewed ‘dubstep violinist’ Lindsey Stirling’s self-titled debut album, which I quite liked, I found it didn’t totally work for me in terms of marrying the classical with the modern. I issued a challenge of sorts – for her to come back with a second album that felt less like dinner party music for the Waitrose set – and less like they were trying to make classical music “cool” and “accessible”. Since then, with acts like Clean Bandit, the whole dance/classical crossover has become more popular, so maybe now Lindsey’s debut wouldn’t seem so twee, but regardless, with second album Shatter Me she seems to have upped her game … and I couldn’t be happier.
Opening track, and first single ‘Beyond The Veil’, is a big fat monster of a track, with stunning strings and a drop to rival any dubstep banger. And this seems to be the blueprint for the rest of the album, because overall it really does succeed where her debut fell flat. Everything seems to have been upped a notch, and while the videos for her first album and EPs were engaging and sweet, the video for ‘Beyond The Veil’ is a full on MTV baiting, thunder-and-lightning dramatic piece of film. And it rocks as hard as the song does. The main genius of Shatter Me is its collaborations, something that the first album didn’t have – this really transports it past the dinner party and straight into the club. Making Lindsey’s violin ever so slightly less prominent, a more immediately dance orientated sound is forced to shine through. In fact, a couple of the vocal dance tracks made me forget whose album I was listening to. The title track, ‘Shatter Me’, with its massive dubstep weight and vocal by Lzzy Hale from rock band Halestorm, who are also amazing, is immense, and it’s hardly surprising this was a huge YouTube hit, reaching over 1.3 million views in 24 hours. Elsewhere, the storming ‘We Are Giants’ has a very similar effect. With vocals from Dia Frampton from the first season of The Voice in the USA, it’s a real stomper of a track, and could be a huge, euphoric club smash.
The only track that I can’t quite get down with is ‘V-Pop’, purely because its vocal melody is taken straight from dance hit ‘Rapture’ by iio, and I hold that song far too close to my heart to settle for an almost plagiaristic imitation. Even the ‘hoe-down’-esque ‘Round Table Revival’ doesn’t fall into the twee category that you fear it will at the start, due to the immense Vanessa Mae on acid production and violin distortion. The excellent ‘Night Vision’ is a fantastic mix of heavy distorted dance music and dramatic neo-classical, which is exhilarating to listen to. ‘Take Flight’ and ‘Ascendance’ also deserve mention for their brilliant use of frenetic dance meeting furious strings. It all works for me on some level, and has had me throwing myself around many a tube platform as it blasts through my headphones, complete with strange looks from fellow passengers.
The main thing people forget about classical music is that, once upon a time, it was pop music. So the fusion of the two should never be as difficult as they seem to be. Luckily for Stirling, she seems to have found a way to do it, and although not perfect, this album does go hard in all areas. I’ve always loved this style of music – from Vanessa Mae to Cirque du Soleil, I’ve had a penchant for modern, theatrical takes on classical music, so this album really is perfect for me. It successfully takes classical music out of the concert hall and into the rave, so much so that it could shoot the ever evolving neo classical world to a whole other level. Maybe the classical clubs will start playing dubstep and hard dance like this, which would please me immensely. For now, this is trailblazing enough for me, and I will look forward to the day that I hear Lindsey Stirling in a club and go crazy.
Stokeley 24:02 min • Self Released • August 15, 2014 Little Bastard reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
I haven’t written anything for a while. Whilst I’ve loved some of the music that has been released in the last few months, nothing has really inspired me to put pen to paper (or in this case, finger to keyboard). Then one of my favourite electronic EP’s from last year got a follow up and, after taking a few weeks to digest it, I realised I’d stumbled upon something quite brilliant, something that compelled me to write again.
Last year, Swansea based artist Stokeley released his first EP, entitled Pictures From The Sky, and I tipped him as being one to watch. At the beginning of this year, when I interviewed Stokeley, he hinted that his next release, due out this year, would be more personal and conceptual than its predecessor. In the interim we had a short concept EP, an unofficial score to a film of 1950s housewives on acid called Acid Housewife (a lovely, moody slice of electronica that is also available on his bandcamp) and now we have his 2nd full length EP, Father, which picks up where the ambientronica of Pictures left off, and gives us lush soundscapes studded with youthful melancholy.
Opener ‘In Their Eyes’ can be summed up by the line,
This is for the people who’ve died, With that word ringing in their ears –
and this sticks with you long after listening to the EP. It’s certainly the perfect opener for an EP, and where the instrumentation lusciously builds and bubbles, only to drop and expose that lyric, it’s obvious the emphasis Stokeley wants to attribute to it. It’s a song that exudes immense loneliness, despite its sentiment of solidarity and oneness with people that have died as a result of bigotry. This is followed by ‘Blood Work’, a sombre and melancholy account of having an STD test, something that is a necessary evil of modern life, but is ultimately a stressful and depressing experience for anyone romantic enough to get caught up in a moment but then self deprecating enough to think that one moment will change your entire life – and not in a good way. Having sat in GUM clinic waiting rooms, an experience I always dread and put off as long as possible, the sombre feeling created by this song emulates exactly how this experience has always made me feel. The regret, the loneliness, the uncertainty. It’s beautifully executed, and gave me goosebumps on first listen.
The floating chill of ‘Despondent’, with its solitary, disembodied vocal – repeating
I never know what you want me to do –
– takes the listener of a journey of their own making. Rather than this being about Stokeley and his story, the genius of leaving it completely instrumental bar that one sentence is that the listener experiences their own emotion, the only emotional hint given to you via the disembodied, almost heart breaking vocal. Whilst the rest of the EP is his story, his commentary, ‘Despondent’ feels almost interactive in the way it invites your own story and commentary. And it’s both uncomfortable and relaxing to experience my own story in music form. My own isolation, my despondency, my depression, and how it affects the rest of my life… I could have written my entire review about my experience of listening to this one song, the emotions it took me through and the memories it dragged kicking and screaming out of me, but the rest of the EP is so damned good that wouldn’t be fair.
The track that follows ‘Despondent’, ‘Idle’, is my hands-down favourite here. Given a less oppressive production, the beautiful melody and Stokeley’s subtle Welsh accent coming through on the line
These idle hands, play things for the devil –
makes this the refrain that has been stuck in my head. We all need things to occupy our idle hands… whether that be art, music, work or even love, and the itch that comes with complacency and stagnation can be almost crippling. Stokeley feels that itch, and that boredom, and it pours out of the song’s every beat.
The closer to end all closers, the Trent Reznor inspired ‘Sin’ dealing with religion and sexuality, starts as a vocal piano ballad that explodes into and industrial thump, and the way the instrumentation bubbles and fizzles before the explosion is mesmerising. It talks of a vengeful God, disobeying children, and the line
Kill for me – die for peace –
is powerfully haunting. The shift in musical style, though not wholly out of place, does feel like it comes out of nowhere, especially with how well the first 4 tracks blend, but I wouldn’t want it to have been excluded from the track listing. No one can do industrial pain like Reznor… well, except now maybe Stokeley.
Father affects me in a way that I find hard to express. In a time when young men (especially young men who are experiencing sexual confusion) have an unbelievably high suicide rate, and a time where as many countries seem to be narrowing their minds as seem to be opening them to the every changing spectrums of sexuality, this EP feels like a bolt of lightning. Well, maybe less lightning, and more the calm before the storm. Since Thom Yorke, very few male artists writing ambient music have talked about the isolation and loneliness felt by many young men, or done so in such an articulate way that it almost suffocates you. From the opening ‘In Their Eyes’ to the closing ‘Sin’, we are taken through the mind of a young man that isn’t so much living as, well…breathing. All anger is muted, there are no back street guitars and fuck you attitudes, and the near perfect production on its own stopped me in my tracks on several occasions. Listening to the EP as a whole, in one go, is a powerful experience. Rather than being the spearhead of change, this EP is the silent scream in your head that soundtracks your day to day life… especially as a gay man who doesn’t want to conform. It’s my soundtrack, in some ways, and I think it could be yours too. If Stokeley has this subtle grasp of his concept so early in his career, there’s no telling what he could do with a full album and a few years in the industry, and no telling what a full length album could do to me emotionally.
Sleep Thieves 40:27 min • Minty Fresh • June 17, 2014 Andrew Darley reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
There’s no argument that Sleep Thieves have taken their time making their debut album. Releasing their first EP back in 2009, the Irish synthpop trio experienced an intermittent interval, largely due to a personnel change in which co-founders Sorcha Brennan and Wayne Fahy recruited Keith Bryne to form the current ensemble. Releasing their Islands EP in 2011, it was blatant that the new addition to the band had brought about a new dynamic and ironed out some creases in their direction. The songs on this EP, some of which are carried over onto this album, were more driven with new blood running through them. The trio ready to make their full-length record, decided to leave the confines of a recording studio in favour of setting up their own with analogue and digital equipment.
Opening with ‘City Of Hearts’, You Want The Night slinks in on sultry synthesizers and projects their discernible new energy. It’s a song of the isolation and wistfulness of living in a city; life rushing past as we try to find our own little bit of happiness. Sorcha gazes, “I wanted not to be lonely but still alone” before the sweeping chorus kicks in. There’s a breathability that perfectly opens the album and a new page for the band. From there, they jump straight into ‘Sparks’, a song that could perfectly bounce along on a John Hughes classic soundtrack, before delivering the unsettling title song. Each song is focused and contains its own character as they explore several styles across the album.
‘Through A Sea’ is the bewitching heart of the record and may well be their most ambitious song to date. Bringing us into the middle of nowhere, ominous synths swing in and out as Sorcha sings of a love who “jumped away from me”. After around two minutes, the unexpected happens; beats start stuttering in before taking off into dance as the chants of “I submit to your control” echo in the background. It’s a chilling effect that is brilliantly executed. Elsewhere, ‘French Kiss’ has a sensual, yet shadowy, texture that is grounded by an unforgettable, lingering bass line. Their first full-length album boasts an unwavering confidence within the band. Their song structures are more experimental and playful than before, whilst Sorcha comes into her own as a front-woman. She commands a dynamic in her voice that can be both sweet and sharp.
By the end of the album, there is a sense that the band have simultaneously have grown in leaps and bounds, yet still hold the spirit of when they first emerged. You Want The Night expresses a similar lovelorn feeling and the dream of romance that features on one of their earliest singles, ‘City Lights’. The difference from when they first started is that they are able to communicate in a more direct and sophisticated way. Although they are still very much discovering their sound, they have made their debut one that counts. It features their best work to date and leaves it right open to where they could go next. As their songwriting, identity and ability to conjure moods blooms, there’s a certain magic in how they encapsulate the sprawling feeling of loneliness in such a simple way as they do on the album’s opener. Great things come to those who wait.
Jane Badler 43:49 min • Me Jane Records • September 15, 2014 Nick Smith reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
Perhaps best known for her evil turn as lizard-queen Diana in 1980s sci-fi classic V, it’s rather exciting to witness Jane Badler release her debut solo album this September. Opus sees Badler spawn an album of songs spanning a variety of musical styles with latin, cabaret, synth-pop, rock, jazz, eastern and soul all present.
Produced by Jeff Bova, whose alumni includes Blondie, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Cyndi Lauper, Meat Loaf and Billy Joel, Opus has Badler dealing with themes of loss, revenge, betrayal, spirituality and redemption in a wonderfully seductive and sultry way that almost feels like entrapment.
The album opens with the melancholy ‘Addicted’, which echoes Robbie Williams ‘Feel’, and Badler’s voice has all the sultry sass and seduction of Christina Amphlett. The title track ‘Opus’ is pure powerhouse and has a sweeping cinematic feel and perhaps storyboards the type of dangerous love affair akin to James Bond and Vesper Lynd.
You’re not who you’re supposed to be, I see right through your smokescreen. You fool the world, but you can’t fool me –
Such sentiments are echoed on the sensual and soulful, bittersweet ballad ‘Lover’ with shades of Tanita Tikaram’s ‘Twist In My Sobriety’.
One of the album’s highlights is ‘Losing You’, a beautiful, latin mid-tempo ballad exploring betrayal and redemption with a sultry cabaret feel. There is something magically ethereal about Jane’s vocal that lends something special to this track and the accompanying video is nothing short of spectacular.
There are some wonderful slices of synth-pop on Opus. Firstly, there is the acoustic marvel of ‘Volcano Boy’ and ‘Stuck On You’ is a pure ’80s, synth-pop stomper with a magnificent broken down chorus hook. The slow-synth melancholy of ‘Dead Eyes’ is beautifully reminiscent of the best of the ’80s, with nods to Yazoo.
The relentless pace of ‘Diamond Crimson Blood’ bemoans the mind games lovers can play and is perhaps a precursor to the epic ‘Return To Passion’, where Badler truly rocks out with a strong, defiant vocal. You can almost see her recording this in the studio in her leathers.
There is an astonishingly tongue-in-cheek exposé of the vapid side of the fashion world and society in ‘Fame’. This track has Badler going straight for the jugular and pulls no punches in a way Lady Gaga could only dream of,
Hermes, Chanel, Commes Des Garçons, Stitch by stitch, you come undone –
The album’s closer is a true delight. The dark, bittersweet soundscape of ‘Black Dove’ echoes Massive Attack at their finest and explores themes of spirituality and mortality beautifully.
Although the subject matter may not be new territory, Opus is lifted by Badler’s unique and passionate style and her prowess across diverse musical styles. The album is a beautiful, bittersweet and ethereal journey and a wonderful insight into this lady’s chameleon-like flair for musical genres and songwriting.
FKA Twigs 40:46 min • Young Turks • August 11, 2014 John Preston reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………
In many ways Tahliah Barnett still sounds like what many, way back in 1995, thought the future would sound. More sinuous and fragile maybe, but 26 year old FKA Twigs is much indebted to Bristol’s trip-hop takeover in the mid-nineties and in particular Adrian Thaws AKA Tricky. Along with Massive Attack and Portishead, Tricky defined the period with his doomy and sensual debut album Maxinquaye, which featured soulfully threatening vocals from his favourite muse Martina Topley-Bird – and it’s this artist who springs to mind more than any other whilst listening Barnett’s vocal abilities. Against the skipping, tapping and whirring percussion noises, sporadic booming bass, hip hop and trap time-signatures, Barnett delivers two variations – a barely there, traditional R&B fluttering falsetto and a surprisingly clear baritone; a marvellous, devastating contrast frequently exchanged during the same song.
It may not be 1995 anymore – explicit and unimaginative sexuality has replaced mystery and ambiguity – and this is what has partly driven what seems an uncommonly insatiable appetite for this young singer, who almost constantly remains somewhat hidden in all respects. LP1 was preceded by two 4-track EPs which have served as an introduction to the singer (none of those tracks are included here) and accompanying each of these songs was a highly stylised video; no-one could tell who this person was though, so obscured by the surreal and vivid images – a slippery and repeatedly oral Chris Cunningham come Grace Jones ‘Corporate Cannibal’ body morphing aesthetic. These portraits proved irresistible and have made FKA Twigs the absolute doyenne of tumblr cool; the hype starts here indeed. Stripped then of these visuals as one is when listening to the 10 tracks here (at the time of writing only one song has visual accompaniment) the overall impact is not always as strong when relying entirely on melodic and sonic ability but a lot of the time it exceeds what has been heard to date such is the strength of the song writing.
‘Two Weeks’ is a massive and masterful song, the highlight of LP1, and its straight-out-of-the-box perfection would be an achievement for any artist, new or established. Staccato delivery and clipped annunciation surround the only explicit references to sex, and sexual competitiveness, on the album. “I can fuck you better than her…..my thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breath in,” are an example of this but it’s the reference to “pull out that incisor” and “flying like a screaming falcon” that add another altogether otherworldly layer that so befits what we know of Barnett, a darker and by far more disturbing extreme to go to. ‘Video Girl’, like ‘Two Weeks’, is another of the more typically structured and sturdier songs which will have people reeling off names like Brandy, Aaliyah and Tweet – sweet-voiced R&B artists who actively encouraged producer involvement to create music that was bleaker and more experimental than the norm expected at the time within the genre. But ‘Video Girl’ is auto-biographical; it references her time as a dancer in music videos by the likes of Jessie J and Kylie Minogue immediately before this album’s release and the subsequent change of hierarchy. “Is she the girl that’s from the video?” leering demand is met with Barnett’s subsequent denial, “I can’t recognise me”. The second chorus slows down just enough for the listener to think there may be a fault with their copy of the track, as though it’s malfunctioning; it’s a disquieting and magical little trick.
‘Hours’ creaks up slowly like a sticky corrugated shutter, produced by indie female favourite Dev Hynes, and has the best example of this soft/hard vocal dynamic where the later verses become strident demands as opposed to the earlier girly infatuations. ‘Closer’ is sublime Gregorian chamber pop ending with the devastating (I think) “all these years in isolation, isolation, isolation” and ‘Give Up’ sees the singer take the role of forceful encourager and rock. ‘Pendulum’ starts with the clack of a stick being rattled around a cotton wool lined barrel with Barnett sounding as though she may dissolve into the background due to emotional upheaval. It’s one of the songs here, and odd therefore that it’s the sole production by pop god Paul Epworth, that feels pleasant enough but inadequate – the most surprising thing you could say about Barnett certainly. But it’s misleading as eventually it becomes somewhat of a centrally placed heart to the album and its warmth burns through you. ‘Lights On’ and album closer ‘Kicks’ are at the weaker end of LP1, both tracks promise something that never fully develops or is reached and it’s here that Barnett is reminiscent of Kelela’s Cut 4 Me and the slow jams that appear on her album. Production levels are startling high and the vocals are pure R&B sweetness but there is a little either in the way or melody or mood here.
LP1 is a record that at first seems to be somewhat slight considering the heft of everything that surrounds it. I was lucky enough to have this album a good 2 weeks before it was released and can say that after initially forming an opinion that wasn’t as favourable as this one, it kept drawing me back. It was as though I hadn’t heard all of the tracks yet but had retained enough of a clatter or a buzz or a divine falsetto being slowed down to a stuttering machine that I needed to go back and finish them properly, to give the record a fair chance. It’s only through these repeated listens that some of the tracks here really show themselves, it isn’t a slight record at all, far from it in fact. FKA Twigs debut is wholly impressive and bewitching and stands up as a cohesive and single-minded debut; let it also be known that she also wrote every track here. A brilliant and wholly exciting new talent on the British black music scene, whatever that music may be.
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