Wednesday, 30 March 2011

House of Balloons // The Weeknd // (Self-Released)

"bring the drugs baby, i can bring the pain"

The Weeknd has made a meteoric impact on the indie scene, perhaps the greatest any RnB artist has made in 'proper' music circles (rather than say, pop). Half of interest is of course causd by the fact that it is interesting people who would normally shy away from RnB, and soon enough any music that gets caught up in this whirlpool of hype is devoid of any criticism of the actual sounds. So sure, with any paradoxically popular artist like The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye), there are going to be accusations of bloggers and listeners following the crowd, unthinkingly obsessing over whatever Pitchfork doth proclaim Best New Music. A half-assed listen of House of Balloons and you may be able to write it off as nothing dissimilar to anything hitting the top 40 (that is to say: vacuous, unorignal), but there is a load more here, enough to inspire the hype in the first place.

House of Balloons isn't exactly without precedent, last years How to Dress Well croonings are probably the closest in terms of style. Certainly there is a trend for more RnB influences in underground music, but these a generally aesthitical touches from disparate sources, nothing has been so unapolagetically RnB indebted and yet so deftly produced whilst not intended for the club. Where typical Club music espouses simple, often facile lyricisms about sex and alcahol, petty platitudes to be half-ignored on drunken dancefloors, House of Balloons flips this on its' head. As well as these overusd themes, club music also attempts to glamourise the act of clubbing itself, as we see most clearly in the music videos of pristine club floors, sexy people and tonnes of dollar bills. Abel constructs an almost noire element to his lyrics, taking the illusions portrayed as fact in the RnB aesthetic, a kind of new pan-atlantic aspirational dream, and exposes the cavernous dark other side. This is why the album works so well, as typical RnB is taken as a starting point, but is torn apart in a heart-wrenching anti-parody. That is, instead of taking the vacuous lyircs and lampooning them, he tighten them and injects them with his own club jaded emotions and experiences, to create something that sounds so similar, but so scarily different from its forebears.

Moving on from the lyrical themes, the album has an sparse and minimalist musical backdrop to carry the lyrics. The beats are slow and heavy, creating a gigantic swagger that the vocals sound uneasily confident riding upon. There are also a tonne of samples and clever synth licks, that satelite the singing, which of course takes center stage. Abels voice sounds slightly anonymous and generically RnB in some verses, but this serves to highlight the irony of his words, and he can throw his voice around with agile ease. Title track House of Balloons / Glass Tables best emphasises the vast void between the two modes he intertwines on this record, the first half being crooning, plantive, before diving into a bassy, sparse, even slightly angry groove, propelled by a simple beat and eerie, twisted synth that could almost come from dubstep.

The album is very difficult to get a grip on entirely, the intrumentation and his voice are both sleek and slippery. The record both shows distain of cliche RnB whilst absolutely celebrates some of the aesthetics of the genre. It stands on its own as a chilling, heartbroken record, inhabiting and exposing the dark regions of a hedonism and clubbing, never entirely commiting to one particular overall feeling, Abel rightly cannot entirely come to terms with the music that has so infected his (as well as our) conciousness.

Free download:

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

I // Corinthian //

Recently, the UK underground music scene has exploded into the general music conciousness, and many acts have attempted to incorperate the sounds of UK Bass with more typically mainstream sounds. Unfortunately, Hybrid artists never spawn perfectly between the two musical camps by some immaculate conception, instead they branch across from either the "rock" side or the "electronic" side, perhaps utilising all the techniques of the other side, but inevitably always end up lumped in with the scene they orginated from, no matter how much they attempt to hide their ancestry. James Blake will always be part of the Bass scene no matter how much he tinkers with his piano, and it is the same for Mount Kimbie and a heap of otherwise pioneering acts. But with Corinthian, while still bearing the marks of a typical rock band, have merged with the dark, moody, bassy atmosphere of the post-Burial music scene, but without the dreadful po-faced seriousness and pretension that often comes part of the package.

Instead of buzzing bass lines that hit at despair and seclusion, the first track of I has a playful synthline riding above it, a guitar line that sounds like the riff from Hunting for Witches and an emotionally distant (cool) vocal line. The track is quite short, but parts are constantly being swapped out, so it never quite settles in. However, the atmosphere created is fun and slightly dancey despite the cavernous bass, the parts all contrast and work off each other to create a very entertaining track and a mood that is hard to pin down.

The other tracks off of the EP are similarly contructed, mixing funky rock bass lines and intesnse drumming and bass stabs. Instead of trying to mix the constituent parts together to create blandness, the different parts, dance hi-hats and agressive guitars, are distinctly seperated and jammed together in a way that feels very organic, albeit hyperactive and restless. Overall, the three tracks showcase an absolute tonne of ideas and provide a very clear vision of their style, suggesting the band could make something very big.

Listen to it here:

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Monday, 14 February 2011

Sunday, 16 January 2011

James Blake // Plan B Brixton // 14.01.11

+ support from Cloud Boat

Gigantic bass drops may be the norm in dubstep, and even in the strange stylistic fudge James Blake finds himself, but with a meandering guitar duo like Cloud Boat it is probably the furthest thing from your mind. Their intense bass walls seem little more than a novelty however, it just doesn't work with their earnest indie sprawl. Ending with a cover CMYK was also a joke that far outstays its welcome, but they certainly seem to aspire to create the dubstep fusion (an ugly term I know) that Blake does, but without any of the immediacy. Nevertheless, they are very new and act as a great warm up for the main event.

James Blake is palpably nervous when clambering on stage, and rightly so; the venue is packed and his debut album is not officially out for nearly another month and there is literally no stylistic precedent for the songs he will be playing. All he is riding on is the immense hype; a fickle beast that could collapse inexplicably at any moment. In fairness this is a bit of an over dramatisation; there is a tonne of drunken singing originating from the other side of the stage than James Blake, his drummer and his guitarist (Airhead, who collaborated with Blake on an EP), indicative of the fact that release dates mean little to people now.

The first few piano chords of opener Unluck lead into an engulfing syren's scream of noise, his voice twisted from quiet and complentative to tortured and yearning, yet drowned out by creeping thunder of the bass and the razor edge of the synth. If it sounds a little chilled on the record, here the brutallity of the lower end is maximised, deep like the Marina Trench, dark and subsonic. It exposes his dubstep roots whilst playing against his delicate voice for emotional effect. In fact, James Blake creates music to move you; both emotionally and physicaly.

Wilhelms Scream and I Never Learnt To Share tread a similar path, as they build from Blakes near-naked vocals, mixed with layers and layers of autotune and synth, culminating in a dense walls of sound, shaking the room and drowning out all the other senses, "like a waterfall in slow motion" for sure. It is such a contrast from the record, where the dubstep side seems quelled, here it has been unleashed, not better than the LP, but very different. To Care (Like You) bubbles along, a lighter backdrop stemming from the more recent housey experiments in the bass culture, but no less emotionally devestating. Here in particular the digital mixes with the analogue nearly seamlessly, and even the vague suggestion of a pedal being pushed or a switch being flicked only adds to the excitement of a style of music that is usually created in sterility coming to life. Not that the live paradigm limits them; Blakes vocals are are deftly sampled live, cut up and pitch-shifted as much as on record. The new context only adds to the rawness, especially for the obligatory Limit To Your Love, which is renewed as the sub bass physically vibrates and resonates around the small room and large crowd. He ends where he first started, with anthemic dubstep, covering Digital Mysticz Anti-War Dub, which is the lightest and most straighforward track of the night. Blake is now sounding exstatic and confident in the hypnotic simplicty, he has made the same progression from humble beginnings that his tracks make, a trend that can only continue into the future.

Blake has had immense pressure lumped on him to produce a great album. My review of that will follow, but telling from this perfomance he has the confindence and creativity to work as a slightly more mainstream performer. The short set was more like a taster for things to come, and despite the general cyncism about the blogging community for its minute attention span, here we see an artist creating something 'real', something that will stay with people for a while.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Tracks that I have been listening to lately //

The end of the year always signals tonnes of end-of-year lists, where I get a chance to go back over tunes that I may have missed. So recently I have been listening to practically no "new" music, so no proper blog posts. Nevertheless here is a list of links to the best of 2010, and before:

Little Dragon // Scribble Paper (Floating Points Remix) //

Floating Points Ensemble // Post Suite // - This guy is so versatile

Studio // West Side // - Solid Good Times - Yannis from Foals recommended this on his twitter, and it is obvious he likes it as it sounds very much like them, but with an absolutely chilled atmosphere rather than their intense energy; its dubby, lazy, danceable and absolutely immense. The album's massive too.

Kode9 // Black Sun // - The hyberdub manager has a new album out this year, named after this song but not including it, which is a bit of a shame as it Kode9 at his very best

Mala // Alicia // - Sexy Dubstep?

Titus Andronicus // A More Perfect Union // - America, Fuck Yeh

Deerhunter // Helicopter // - Wet

Liars // Mr Your on Fire Mr //

Kassem Mosse // Untitled [Laid] //

Jacques Greene // (Baby I don't Know) What You Want // - This guy has some great stuff out on Night Slugs

ESG // UFO // - Never heard these guys directly before a few days ago, but I had heard their influence in styles as diverse as hip hop and dance-punk

...And you will know us by the trail of dead // Mistakes and Regrets // - Just a gigantic riff

Oh, and I have created a twitter account for this blog: