A new Michael Jackson album seems a little odd we agree but then again with recent appearance at the Billboard Awards using magical trickery and reviews already suggesting that many of these rare tracks take us back to when this King of Pop ruled the world, it would be wrong not to welcome it as a New Born this week. So is it a worthy release or just a final nudge to earn a bit of cash on the side? We head over to Sweden to check out Little Dragon‘s new album that is reviewed by one of our contributors who is a massive fan but not to sure if this one is a welcome addition. The debut album from Sylvana Esso sees the unlikely sounds of folk singing with beats and what a hit it is too. Amen Dunes will make any folk crooner fan nestle into autumnal leaves and Syd Barrett and the hugely influential dark sounds of Swans return with their much anticipated new album that will keep their fans happy for a little while longer.
Artist_ Michael Jackson
Album Title_ Xscape
Label_ MJJ, Epic
Genre_ Soul, Dance, Electronica, Hip – Hop
Moments Of_ Timbaland, Quincey Jones, 80’s Michael Jackson
Stand Out_ Love Never Felt So Good
You may have heard of the guy. After all, he did grace every single adolescent bedroom wall in the 80s, influence countless musicians and dancers from Daft Punk and Fedde Le Grand to Haim and has basically set the bar so damn high its borderline absurd. Following on from Michael released in 2009 Xscape is the second of Michael Jackson’s posthumous releases, compiled of eight tracks that seemingly had been left on the cutting room floor first time round. Enter a militia of pretty much every producer who is noted in the industry today and the final product is a potentially motley result. There is some hearty nostalgia on Xscape but unfortunately we hit few bum notes too.
I heard Love Never Felt So Good on the radio a week ago and a strange sensation pulsed through me, Michael back on the radio … all is right in the world. Despite the latter part of his career being plagued with odd tales of white masks, courtrooms and blanketed infants suspended from hotel windows (along with the deftly comprised moniker of ‘Wacko Jacko’), there was never a question of his intrinsic artistic genius. A musician/entertainer that was never formally trained yet so astute in his composition process, I always held such tremendous respect for this man. Goodness knows I loved me some MJ. My best friend had a moonwalker act that she would often perform at assembly complete with hat and shimmery glove … ah that glove. But for Michael it was always about more than spectacle, he happened to be privy to a fundamental rule the separated the good from the great, which was simply that, it was always, and should always, be about escapism.
And I think posthumous works are more often than not a pretty precarious endeavor. Potentially, it can sound like trite imitation, a concerted albeit pale version of the original or if there is too much tweaking in an attempt to distance the material from similitude, the essence is sometimes lost in translation. Not to mention the obvious lacking. And Xscape teeters somewhere in between. The was project was helmed by production heavyweight LA Reid who had approached other producers to jump on and work their magic to put a contemporary spin on what was essentially discarded the first time round, names like ‘Timberland’ and ‘J – Roc’ gracing the credits section. It’s a heady amalgam.
Love Never Felt So Good is the first release off the album; also featuring Justin Timberlake and quite possibly the closest to anything Michael would have been remotely pleased with, although I have to commend the string section on this track that gets the tone just right. I supposed it also helps that Michael liked Justin Timberlake so I guess that’s something. But there are also a couple that fall dead in the water, the likes of ‘Blue Gangster’ is a busy, protracted mess while ‘Do You Know Where Your Children Are’ almost seems like a deliberately ironic title steeped in bad taste. The rest I could really take or leave truthfully, probably because I’ve always conceded posthumous releases as a glorified money – clutch. The verdict? I don’t think Michael would be wholly disenchanted with this effort, it is listenable and it was stirring to hear his voice all over again. But, I maintain that the material is usually left on the floor first time round with good reason. I guess it didn’t feel so good this time round either.
Artist: Little Dragon
Album Title: Nabuma Rubberband
Genre: Electronic Pop, Synth Pop, Dream Pop
Moments Of: SBTRKT, Lykke Li, Janet Jackson
Little Dragon is a Swedish foursome from Gothenburg, led by the cool and groovy Japanese-Swedish singer Yukimi Nagano. Mixed with effortless, soulful vocals and distinct rhythmic beats, their sound is instantly recognisable, however difficult to categorise into one specific genre. Although quintessentially a pop band there is an undeniable dreamy feel within their tracks. Nabuma Rubberband is their latest album release on Republic Records and brings a distinct R&B and soul influence that lines the crust of this album.
From the power of a large, well-known record label, I think this could be Little Dragon’s biggest album release yet since their first release of self-titled album in 2006. If you are new to the sounds of Little Dragon take this as an official introduction you with four brilliant albums of back catalogue to get listening to. Nabuma Rubberband may not be my absolute favourite but it is a solid addition to their discography.
This album goes down a slightly different path with what sounds like an influence from 90s pop princess, Janet Jackson. The album offers a sound that could have you kick off a dance party (Klapp Klapp), or even as a the background soundtrack to accompany a chilled house gathering (Cat Rider, Pink Cloud). The track Only One even sends the listener from chill-out room, to an electronic, industrial rave party; starting with paced, futuristic synth notes, to heavy, grungy, chaotic beats. The album quickly falls back to the evident pop influences with Pretty Girls and has a similar sound to With Every Heartbeat by Robyn.
As a long-standing fan of Little Dragon, I cannot help but compare their new stuff to their old stuff. I have listened to Nabuma Rubberband continuously since its release and unfortunately for me the majority of songs fail to leave a lasting impression. Comparing their debut self-titled album that was completely fresh and unique, from the first track to last, I just didnt feel this with this new release.
One thing that Nabuma Rubberband does do is demonstrate the bands ability to combine down-tempo beats and dance music. I am excited to add this album to my Little Dragon collection, although because I feel this album lack’s a little originality and funkiness, unfortunately it won’t be my new ‘go to’ from their discography. I am more excited for the music lovers out there discovering Little Dragon for the first time through this latest album release. Enjoy the musical journey the band has to offer starting from their first self-titled Little Dragons, then Machine Dreams,then Ritual Union, and then to Nabuma Rubberband. You won’t be disappointed!
Artist_ Sylvan Esso
Album Title_ Sylvan Esso
Label_ Partisan Records
Genre_ Ambient, Electro, Dream Pop, Indie Pop, Synthpop
Moments Of_ Karen O,Alt – J
Stand Out_ Coffee
Sylvan Esso release their debut album Sylvan Esso, a moniker as dreamy and enigmatic as the music they make. Amelia Meath (Mountain Man) and Nick Sanborn (Megafaun), have come together to make something pretty different from their respective previous projects, a catchy mix of electro-indie-folk-synth-pop that balances subtlety and originality.
It’s not often you can find a band that can combine vocals and music so well they complement each other perfectly. Usually you will find that either a female songstress will overpower the music to merely a backbeat to her vocals – take Lykke Li or Robyn’s collaborations with Royksopp. And rightly so – how could man-made music compare to such amazing lungs? Or you find songs that use vocals as a catchy chorus or strange samples, such as Avicci – to fill in time until the drop. These are all great artists, but Sylvan Esso do something different, they seem to get the perfect balance between vocals and beats, and it works really well.
Hey Miami is a good opener, a familiar single to hook us in. Meath’s vocals complement the music, swooping in and out of the electro beats with enough melody and harmonies to give Sylvan Esso something deeper than merely synth and electro. She really is as good as any Lykke Li, Sanborn’s mastery of electronica is almost just as good, managing to complement her without drowning her out.
Wolf is one of my favourites, dark and sinister without being angsty – a pretty excellent effort since it’s about a warewolfy, predatory ladies’ man. After Twilight, Teen Wolf and all those tween trends, what have we learned, if not that being a supernatural hairy being makes one a little self-involved and melancholy? Sylvan Esso manage to stay aloof of all that emotion yet still deliver a song that sends shivers up my spine, definitely up there with Eels masterpiece Hombre Lobo.
H.S.K.T is an odd one; snatches of children’s chants and rhymes are woven into a catchy repetition, the result being a song that marches through my psyche – ever seen the ‘Elephants on Parade’ scene in Dumbo? That’s what’s going on in my head right now, but instead of freaky pink elephants, it’s the cast of Game of Thrones, because I just watched it and it has been wigging me out – now it’s wigging me out even more.
I always feel the need to place importance on the last song as to whether it is an appropriate album closer, and Come Down is a good example of an excellent finish. Soft, melancholy, and dreamy enough to fit in with the rest of the album, yet just minimalist and sincere enough to stand out as something different to finish on – a genuine goodbye.
This is a brilliant start for the duo – there are a few dull moments in the album, but not many, mostly each song has trod the fine line between synth-pop and indie – catchy enough to enjoy but not enough to be annoying. I think it all comes down to the perfect match of Meath and Sanborn. Things can only get better, and I can’t wait to see what they bring into the next album. But meanwhile, I’ll be thoroughly enjoying this one.
Album Title_ To Be Kind
Label_ Young God Records
Genre_ Art Rock, Experimental, Prog Rock
Moments Of_ Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, My Bloody Valentine, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Originally formed in 1982, New York natives Swans are a band that are very hard to pinpoint. Evolving out the 80’s no-wave movement that included figureheads such as Lydia Lunch, Mars and DNA (Sonic Youth also made their debut as part of a late 70’s no-wave festival, but aren’t necessarily typecast as ‘no-wave’), they have since then been quite prolific. Releasing 10 albums, a disbandment in 1997, reformation in 2010 and another 2 albums following this new release, a triple album with a running time of 111 minutes, entitled To Be Kind.
Fronted by singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira, the only constant member of the band since the beginning, time has done little to dampen the powerful nature of his music. If you are unfamiliar to the work of Mr Gira, let me introduce it to you in a slightly different way. Imagine that this is more of an art form than an album, playing in the background of a dark minimalist room in a trendy contemporary art gallery in Berlin, or at a warehouse party full of abstract personalities on far too many hallucinogens. Or maybe like the novel you had to read in high school; at times it dragged, at times it was exciting, but all in all you didn’t really understand it all. Everyone told you that you would understand it more when you were older.
If you are a fan of Swans, you may be more likely to identify with some of the user-generated ‘tags’ on music sharing website last.fm, to describe this latest release. Examples such as ‘triple fucking album’, ‘music that punches you in the face repeatedly’, ‘satanic gospel music’ or my personal favourite ‘aliens 25 million light years away are head-banging to this shit’ are only some of the ways that this album can be described. The longest song goes for 34:06, of which Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Overerture is an example of the extreme variations in the style, tempo, volume, atmosphere, well, everything really. Ranging from atmospheric drone to face-melting noise-rock, at times you will really forget what you are listening too. However there is also more traditional prog as the promotional track A Little God In My Hands or the post-rock loops of Oxygen, where you are forced to sit up and take note.
Primarily a guitar based band, the structure and composition throughout about half of the albums’ running time is recognisable enough to keep you walking through the album. The rest of the time, sparse and ethereal twinklings are all you get for 10-plus minutes at a time. Gira’s voice too is a strange creature in itself. A soothing lullaby on closer To Be Kind in contrast to contorted and sadistic groans in She Loves Us! It is all too easy to feel lost in the unpredictable nature of what is next. But at the same time this feeling is like a weird drug, that just keeps your ears wanting for more.
Heralded by critics as a masterpiece, Pitchfork.com gave it a 9.2 ,where Clash magazine and Spin both gave it a 9/10.
If you don’t quite understand Swans, take this album as more of a lesson in appreciation. I’m sure this album will very much conjure a divided opinion. Fans of the band will love every epic second, and those who have never heard of them before will probably be on the phone to their shrink at even the thought of such a thing. This is apocalyptic, orgasmic, terrifying and absurd in the least of terms.