2014 has been an interesting year in music and as the Lamb frolics through to the 2nd part of the year, one thing is for sure, a mix of genres have perked the ears of many an alternative music listener. Musical genres such as RnB, Electronica and Deep House have comfortably taken centre stage.Like the early 90s when bands like Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack made Trip Hop vital to the developing music world, this year we can help notice a somewhat revisit of equivalent genres, the New Borns we deliver this week prove the point. The Acid deliver an album of deep dark obscurity that deserves a careful listen to appreciate it’s beauty. Keeping things electronically focused is the release of The Ramona Flowers new album Dismantle and Rebuild and challenges our thinking on how important consistency is in an album. Remember La Roux? The London girl with the most outstanding quiff? Well, after many years keeping things quiet, we take a listen to her much anticipated new born. Worth the wait? Finally, the danish duo continue to prove their relevance with the release of their 7th studio album. Over to you.
Artist_ The Acid
Album Title_ Liminal
Label_ Infectious Music
Genre_ Ambient, Downtempo, Electronica, Experimental
Moments Of_ Chet Faker, SBTRKT, SOHN
Stand Out_ Fame, Creeper
It’s been growing throughout 2013 – 2014; Chet Faker, SBTRKT and James Blake made it big. Now smaller rising stars like SOHN are cementing it – the evolution of the indie deep house, the ambient spawn of electronica and alternative chill, a hint of RnB, a backlash to the uplifting folk that has been drenching our ears for the last few years. It’s sometimes sinister, sometimes euphoric, and very, very listenable. This release – Liminal – by The Acid (Steve Nalepa, Ry X and Adam Freeland) rises fully formed and stylistically representative of the culmination of this growth of a new genre.
Scuffling, fuzzy, background noises. Then a beat, then a trembling clear voice – so choreographed I feel like I’m watching a film with my eyes closed. Animal is a heady mixture of deep reverberating beats and pure vocals – a welcoming mix. As the song builds slowly more and more odd sounds are introduced; electronic dips, wavers, mechanical flutters, layered harmonies – yet nothing is out of place. An excellent start. And for those who enjoy out of mind experiences, the coinciding clip is for you. Heck, the only substance in my body was a cup of tea and I was tripping out. Lazily beautiful, I think all I was watching was coloured liquid and bubbles being slightly moved across surfaces, but it felt like the origins of the universe.
From there it only got better – The Acid moves into more upbeat territory, while still managing to retain their ephemeral ambience. Veda is almost a dance track, building and building to a level that makes your bones want to jump out of your skin, yet still remaining subtle and silky. Weird. This is a feeling that suffuses the whole album – a constant feeling of suppression, at times I find myself holding my breath waiting for a beat drop that never comes – a strangely masochistic experience for my ears, I like it.
Creeper, however, is a standout for its callous beats, its haunting lyrics and general squeamishness – the title doesn’t lie, this is an ominous track, a soundtrack for stalkers? Don’t try it. It’s brilliant though, in its atmospheric ability to make your skin crawl.
There is something to say for each track, gentleness in one, coldness in another; a uniqueness in each song that separates and lifts this album above its counterparts. A DJ album generally would become tiresome after a few songs – a few brief celebrity vocals, never-ending beats and loops that give out like a sad old car when the last track ends. But though consistently moody and haunting, Liminal fuses together the mix of elecro-folk, RnB, deep house in such a way that gives us something new and subtly fresh each time.
The Acid have set the bar in this new genre for others to strive for. If you’re waiting for the drop after the build, you’ll be waiting a long time, and remember to breathe.
Artist_ The Raveonettes
Album Title_ Pe’ahi
Label_ LTD Records
Genre_ Dream Pop, Indie Rock, Psychedelic
Moments Of_ The Kills, Haunted Hearts, My Bloody Valentine
Stand Out_ Sisters, Killer In The Streets, Z Boys
Danish duo The Raveonettes surprised the world with their latest release Pe’ahi, their seventh LP since 2003. With little to no promotion for the album, Pe’ahi is still able to stand alone on it’s own merits. The Raveonettes continue to be an important group in the psychedelic, neo-pop and indie scene, even after playing together for more than 10 years. With the ability to still sound fresh and relevant with the abundance of material they have to their names, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo continue to push the boundaries of two-guitars-and-a-drum-machine mould that seems to be pretty popular right now.
Enticing the ear with it’s jazz drums and easy guitar arpeggios, album opener Endless Sleeper is a step in a pit of quicksand. Your lowered in slowly, but if you try to get out, you realise you’re stuck. And then the adrenaline hits, and your know you’re not getting out of this trap. Huge stadium drum beats and then a wall of noise. Distortion and fuzz go hand in hand in the world of The Raveonettes. As do too the sweet and luring vocal harmonies of Wagner and Foo, something that you have come to know them for over their previous six albums. Their pop hooks are akin to quicksand, where you are gripped to your headphones like your feet in the quagmire.
Originally playing as a two piece with a drum machine, their live ensemble now includes additional bass and minimalistic drums. Foo for a long period was seen to play bass live, but now with the extended band is with Wagner also playing guitar. This is of note because Pe’ahi, despite it’s rich intricacies, feels very much like a studio production. The slick bass lines, trademark guitar fuzz and definite electronic drum sound are an evolution from their earlier albums. This is the sound of a band who knows what they are doing in the studio, and know exactly how they want it to sound. As a comparison to the earlier incarnations of the band’s sound, there is a definite move away from the carefree and basic composition of earlier favourites such as the tracks Love In A Trashcan (2005) and Dead Sound (2008). The themes of the lyrics almost seem more serious, not unlike their attitude towards producing a highly polished and accomplished sounding release. On Sisters, the duo lament a mothers destructive relationships, as she sing to her daughter, “don’t mourn the loss of cheating men, they walk alone in heaven, dead.” It’s quite an epic sounding piece, with banging hip-hop back beat and almost intimidating wall of guitar noise. Harps add an almost surreal touch, making this the ultimate bliss.
“I’ve sand in my shoes, the death of my mind” is the first lyric heard on Pe’ahi. For the perplexed, Pe’ahi is a Hawaiian town on the north shore of the island of Maui. Given that both Wagner and Foo now both reside in Southern California, there is a definite influence from this element. Given that Denmark can be covered in snow for one-third of the year, it’s no doubt that their sound is a product of their now sunny lifestyle. Following the alcohol induced death of Wagner’s father on Christmas Eve last year, yet another factor influencing the shift in the vibe of the album, most prominent given his own personal reflection and sense of mortality. Also working twelve hours a day for four months in a row on one project would surely turn any man into a delirious authority.
Artist_ La Roux
Album Title_ Trouble In Paradise
Genre_ Electro Pop
Moments Of_ Ladyhawke
Stand Out_ Sexotheque and Let Me Down Gently
La Roux AKA Elly Jackson, had her first album release self titled La Roux in 2009. This chart topping, grammy winning album had two hit singles that I’m sure you are familiar with, Bulletproof and In For The Kill. Since then however, we have heard nothing from La Roux, not one thing. Five years later and Jackson has her second album Trouble In Paradise released July 18th.
Imagine winning a grammy award for your first album. Now imagine trying to release a second album years later. There is a lot of pressure and expectation for you to produce sweet sweet tunes , no?
Trouble In Paradise has had surprisingly favourable reviews since it’s release. I say surprisingly favourable because I must be missing something. This album is definitely not one of my favourites for 2014..or ever. It certainly wasn’t torturous to listen to or anything, but I just can’t see myself adding many of of these tracks into my playlists. Well anyway all of that being said, La Roux have gone through some changes since 2009, with Ben Langmaid (former other half of La Roux) leaving the band in 2012. With the co-writer and producer Langmaid leaving La Roux, this hindered Jackson heavily. Trouble In Paradise could be an accidentally (or not) perfectly titled release..
As I was sitting down listening through the album for the first time, I felt as though I had already heard these tracks, even though I clearly hadn’t. Each song has those offbeat funky familiar vibes about them, which can work for and against La Roux. In the case of Trouble In Paradise it has seemingly worked in Jacksons favour, as reviews and feedback have been generally favourable. Personally, I was hoping for something more. I guess that I am comparing this album to her hit songs Bulletproof, Quicksand and In For The Kill, which is probably not the best thing to do. That being said though, in comparison to those tracks, I really don’t think that Trouble In Paradise features any huge moneymaking or triumphant tracks, unlike her 2009 album produced.
The album opens to Uptight Downtown which is an upbeat 70s vibing disco track, featuring funky rhythms and familiar Jackson vocals. This track sounds like it would be the perfect fit for a sing along karaoke night featuring leg warmers and cocktails. However, other than the catchy chorus and admittedly sensational vocals in this track, I was not captured or that excited for the rest of the album, was definitely underwhelmed.
It wasn’t until the fifth song into Trouble In Paradise, that I got excited and my interest peaked. Sexotheque pairs a fun and memorable sound with Jacksons quirky voice. “He never answers the phone, Oh I bet money, money, money I bet, He’s at the Sexotheque”. This chorus has the best hook and somewhat comical lyrics that will have you singing them out (off pitch), after the first listen. After listening to this album back to front several times whilst reviewing it, Sexotheque was without fail, the one track that I would get excited to hear again. Sometimes I would just skip through the album to get to it again so I could sing it at the top of my lungs.
Let Me Down Gently was released as Trouble In Paradises leading single and is a painful, beautiful and goosebump producing pop song.
I get it, yeah, this song is sad, but it is also pretty darn catchy and is almost impossible not to sing along to with a huge grin across your face.
I didn’t find this album to be bad (read that in a lamb baaing voice, yes that is a lamb pun and yes you can high five me later), more so predictable, monotonous and fell short of what I was expecting to be a fabulous electric pop release.
Artist_ The Ramona Flowers
Album Title_ Dismantle and Rebuild
Moments Of _ Portishead, Bastille, Architecture in Helsinki
Stand Out_ Lust And lies
Hipster five-piece posse The Ramona Flowers come to the floor with their debut album Dismantle and Rebuild. Hot on the tour circuit and swiftly garnering some major props with the likes of Hot Chip, Alt – J and Everything Everything clamoring to jump on the remix trip, the Bristol bandits seem to be making all the right moves. Their debut is ambitious, but slightly scattered in terms of direction. I took a closer look at their sonic wares.
I feel like it’s been an interesting evolution in terms of popular music. I was never a particularly avid fan of electronica growing up and I suppose coming of age in Auckland may have had something to do with that. Or maybe it was just the given time frame in remembering what graced the musical marketplace at back then … the likes of R Kelly and Boyz II Men were more likely to permeate the airwaves as opposed to Pete Heller or 666. Also the genre just never really gained an overtly vigorous exposure here.
For the longest time, NZ mainstream music namely consisted of, or more to the point was just completely saturated in R & B. And for the most part, this informed a lot of my musical predilections as a young buck. But once high school came around, the grunge movement had shifted into high gear, Kurt Cobain and the Chilli Peppers gracing every teen dreams wall accompanied by if not overwhelmed by the likes of Marilyn Manson or NIN. We were without the shades of grey you see now, things were a lot more definitive and boxy. You were a Goth, or a Mettler, or a Punk or a Homie. That was it; you couldn’t be more than one. But when I look now, indisputably things are very different. Bands are intentionally more nuanced, there is a dash of this and a splash of that, things are just a little less black and white. Example? A song that may have started out as hip – hop is revisited and reworked as something more complementary to upper middle class suburbia or just more Brunswick – friendly all round.
I suppose we may very well have to credit the colossal impact of the internet or more specifically you tube and the way we can share what we are listening to, or we can do things with and listen to music we may have otherwise never been exposed to before. Nuance just everywhere. Progressive or fickle? Hmmm… undecided. Though we really have come a long way, and when I review an album like Dismantle and Rebuild it reminds of how far we have come.
This album is eclectic and they dabble with a hell of a lot of different sound scapes on here. Me personally? I like variety, but I like in a cohesive package and I think for all the good intent of The Ramona Flowers, its just falls a bit short. First track Tokyo is blaring distorting violation of senses that pulses with undulating brooding, I wouldn’t recommend listening to this whilst driving, you’ll probably nab yourself a ticket. The titled track is a decidedly dub step broaching affair with sporadic thumps and menacing percussion, but its effervescent and whimsical in an unassuming, ethereal way. Lust and Lies is perhaps my fave, a poignant string laden opus, dreamy falsetto and a progression that emanates a restrained yet balmy joy. World Won’t Wait lays it on heavy with the strings and relies heavily on a loaded chorus and Modern World is an ode to the precarious nature of sanity or the lack thereof whilst So Many Colours is a muted flirtation in jazz but altogether very scattered without key elements of climax or resolve.
On the whole, a mish mash of sound and potentially confusing. Stand-alone, the tracks are a lot stronger and possess certain merits, but for some reason I just wasn’t 100% sold. I feel like there is room for growth here and some moments on the album really sparkle, I have to wonder if the process of dismantling and rebuilding has come at the cost of cohesiveness. I wouldn’t rush out for this one, more likely to wait until its gifted at Christmas or borrowed.