From the deep obscurities and resurgence of Trip Hop, the dynamic and intriguing FKA Twigs finally comes clean with her debut LP, aptly name LP1 and if you haven’t heard her yet, well no matter what genre tweaks your ears it is a testament to the fact that in a world of abundant music, albums like this are worth fighting through the noise. This is an album that may well not top everyone’s best of 2014 but seems destined to be a classic in its own right. We are not sure we can say the same about The Gaslight Anthem, who return yet again with another powerful album but doesnt really rock our boat a whole lot, its just our opinion of course! We match our New Zealand writer with Kimbra, by no coincidence, this was an album of eager anticipation for review and you know, it dont disappoint. An album that is progressive, considered and necessary, we think it got damn close to be a GOLDEN RAM for 2014. Lastly, we hear the 5th and final album from alt-pop lo-fi (made that one up) band The Pharmacy, perhaps a little too late to join a fan base but worthy of a back catalogue afternoon. Over to you…..
Artist_ FKA Twigs
Album Title_ LP 1
Label_ Young Turks
Genre_ Trip Hop, experimental PBR&B
Moments Of_ Bjork, Ailijah, Portishead, James Blake
Stand Out_ Two Weeks, Pendulum, Hours
It’s amazing what a bit of Internet hype can do for an artist’s career these days. An appearance on an influential critic’s Tumblr page, a “tweet” by a high profile celeb and one can find themselves in the midst of famed company such as celebrity Vine contributors and Buzzfeed “listicle” authors. In this depressingly neurotic generation of musicians, it’s either that or having a crack at X Factor. Although Tahliah Barnett, better known as FKA twigs, does fit the Internet celeb archetype in some ways, her identity is something that is unique and difficult to decipher. Moreover, her newly released LP1 is at the very least a refreshing and beguiling contribution to an otherwise commonly predictable genre. Whatever you may think of her music, FKA twigs has brought an intriguing and wholly unique sound to the trip hop and experimental PBR&B sphere.
There is one particularly sad truism of our ‘selfie’-taking, social media generation – the blogosphere is becoming an essential building block in the career of a musician. The more this seems to be the case, the more I seem to hate that it’s like this. Although I regrettably admit getting caught up in some Internet phenomenons – the aforementioned “listicles” of Buzzfeed fame being one of many – I’m glad I stumbled upon FKA twigs and her debut EP 1 last year on the Interwebs. What I think makes her contribution to music as an art form special is that what she creates isn’t something we have heard before. If anything, there is something surreal and post-humanist about FKA twigs that borders on the transcendent. FKA twigs explores the nature of love and identity unabashedly and explicitly. The opening track “Lights On” sets the precedent for the album thematically and musically, an intimate and raw take on the power ballad.
“Lights On” and LP1 as a whole introduces the listener to something that was already clear to those who know FKA twigs and her music – it’s almost hypnotic surrealism. There is something deeply engaging about the thinness and fragility of her voice, an intriguing counterpoint to the brooding and almost menacing accompanying trip hop beats. “Two Weeks”, the first single and arguably one of the more melodic and straightforward tunes on LP1, draws the listener in through the sensual and beguiling falsetto vocals of twigs amongst the haze of haunting instrumentals. The lyrics themselves on “Two Weeks” are intimate and evocative, FKA twigs unabashedly imploring “motherfucker get your mouth open you know you’re mine/I can fuck you better than her.”
Identity and the changeability of identity are key themes on LP1. Indeed, the surreal album cover portrait itself for LP1 looks like her but also doesn’t. twigs plays on the idea of being indecipherable and not necessarily recognisable either. If anything, this has exacerbated the degree of curiosity and intrigue in the music blogosphere about this mysterious FKA twigs. However, it’s quite possible that this is more about the experiences of Tahliah Barnett and her own struggle for identity. “Pendulum” is the epicentre of the underlying sense of heartbreak that pervades the album, resigned to being so “lonely trying to be yours.”
FKA twigs does explore the notion of identity and its changeable nature on LP1, but she does not dwell too far away from her own experiences. Having entered the industry as a backup dancer in music videos, she recognises that kind of strange almost-fame being the ‘girl from the video’. twigs unashamedly explores this experience in “Video Girl”, “Is she the girl that’s from the video?/You lie you lie you lie.”
There is something tragically beautiful about the narrative that FKA twigs takes us on throughout LP1. She laments on the nature of her own existence accompanied by unforgiving synth stabs and other cold and mechanical instrumentals. While twigs explores the nature of her very identity – dwelling on “Video Girl” that I can’t even recognise me – her startlingly intimate and beautiful album LP1 has charmed me and the rest of the music industry at large.
Album Title_ The Golden Echo
Genre_ Psychedelic, Experimental, Synthpop, Hip – Hop
Moments Of_ Prince, Mew, Michael Jackson, Grizzly Bear, Bjork
Stand Out_ As You Are, Miracle, Teen Heat
Kiwi prog – pop pixie Kimbra has released her sophomore album, aptly entitled The Golden Echo. The follow up from a stellar debut in the form of Vows, released 2011, Echo is a venture into the extraordinary, the zany and at times the just plain weird. The album is offset by collaborative efforts from the likes of Thundercat, Matt Bellamy, John Legend just to name-drop a few. This week I had an op to examine the goods.
I think this album was always somewhat destined to be exactly what it is. What I mean by that is that even when you listen to Vows, you hear inklings of what is to come, certainly a foreboding that is especially true if you own a deluxe volume, which saw the addition of extra songs, the likes of Come Into My Head heralding the beginnings of that transition. Whereas Vows kind of hinted at pockets of prog – pop and genre – crossing, Echo is an all out furor into the weird and wacky. Which you semi should have expected, it is Kimbra, after all.
The Golden Echo is for all intents and purposes, a pop album and one that employs various forms of device. Certain parts feel cinematic, as if its possessed of a transformative quality that ebbs and flows throughout but then other points seem to radiate a deliberate discord, a to and froing that straddles a fine line of controlled madness. For the unacquainted, it could potentially feel a bit busy. However, I think Kimbra hits her stride on here and with sufficient gusto.
First track proffered is Teen Heat, an initially sedate cum psychedelic ballad betwixt teen urgency and potential consequences. It employs a form popularized by the Pixies where a use of muted verses barrel toward a cacophonous chorus line. Its heady, melodically pleasing and almost fittingly juvenile in the vocal … well play ma’am, well played.
Goldmine has a decidedly BANKS feel, albeit not as dark but the brooding sparseness and minor glimpse into trip – hop wallows in amidst good company. Miracle on the other hand is testament to pure elation, sheer joy personified and quite possibly a front-runner for my fave on this here. The video premiered this week as well, replete with pantomimes and dancing delivery men (together, finally). If you were a 90’s child like I, you could be forgiven for thinking that Jamiroquai was back on the radio, its disco as hell and in the best way possible. The first release from the album finds incarnation in the form of 90’s Music, a jarring plethora of muted percussion, lyrical musings that border in Iggy Azalea territory and a roll call of 90’s musicians that looks like a the 1998 Grammy’s attendance list. When I first heard this song, it had me scratching my head a little. But one thing I will say about Kimbra, is that no matter how prog you feel she is going with something, its usually weighted by an impressively redeeming hook. It’s a handy affectation, by all means and it seems to have served her well.
Waltz Me To The Grave is early Erykah Badu and Grizzly Bear engaging in light flirtation amidst digit exchange whilst Madhouse is the most deliberate in terms of homage to 80’s greats Prince and Michael Jackson, a contemporary take on Thriller, synth orchestra in tow and that unmistakable bass line courtesy of the irrepressible Thundercat. Speaking of bass, Nobody But You co written by the impossibly dapper John Legend features acidified bass lines that would make even the Bee Gees gleam from ear to ear. Undoubtedly though my favourite was As You Are, a cinematic glimpse of true love in all its uncertainty, desire, and vulnerability and harmonies within the chorus that would make The Carpenters beam with pure joy. Just spectacular. The Van Dyke Parks influence here is unmistakable.
My verdict? It was progressive, thought – provoking, and thoroughly pop sensitive. A spirited sophomore effort with all the trimmings, I was thoroughly enchanted. Sensory provoking, joyous and heart breaking at once. A stellar effort here from Kimbra, The Golden Echo certainly resounded with me. Its hipster as heck but you too will love it. So much so that you’ll have it on repeat at yours for weeks to come.
Artist_ The Gaslight Anthem
Album Title_ Get Hurt
Label_ Island Records
Genre_ Americana, Indie Rock
Moments Of_ Bruce Springsteen, The National, Foo Fighters, Hot Water Music
Stand Out_ Rollin’ and Tumblin’
‘Exploring other influences’ can result in a huge spectrum of outcomes for a band, whether it be skyrocketing into the limelight or being brushed aside for disappointing their fans and alienating the critics. New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem have taken a dive into such experimentation on album number five, Get Hurt. Whether or not this has really worked for them is the debate we meet ourselves with here; are they casting out for new (or more?) fans or just bored and tired of their craft? Whatever they are doing, it’s an very strange move.
It really can be tough times for fans when a favourite band of your’s disappoints. Kings of Leon did it to me back in 2008; sure I was not overly impressed with 2007’s Because Of The Times but 2008’s Only By The Night was the tipping point. With the release of massive hit Sex on Fire, a triple j number one on the Hottest 100 and some seriously overdone radio play worldwide – that just killed them for me. Like the opinion Vince Noir from the English TV show The Mighty Boosh, Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004) was a true desert-island record. Blinding, in fact!
That’s how fans of The Gaslight Anthem are ultimately feeling right now. Undeniably, their most well received album, 2008’s The ’59 Sound was an entirely different beast. Favourites such as the title track, Great Expectations and Old White Lincoln were massive in the worlds of every American punk loving kid of the noughties. Even their progression into newer sounds on 2012’s Handwriiten was still widely appreciated, if hit single ’45’ and it’s over six million plays on Spotify is anything to go by. Today, to even call them a punk band is a stretch.
What now remains, in the ashes of a raw, powerful and emotive punk band that we had come to know, is a polished, radio-and-mum-friendly band who reckon that guy sounds a bit like Bruce Springsteen (sorry, it had to be done). That guy, vocalist/guitarist Brian Fallon, with band mates Alex Levine (bass), Alex Rosamilla (guitar) and Benny Horowitz (drums), are open to the fact that they don’t sound like they used to. Sure, this progression can work in the favour of many artists (despite the fact that this is very hard, unless you are David Bowie or Björk), but it is a struggle to keep those original fans without the fear of ‘selling out’.
Replacing the uplifting, hyperactive and dynamic songs of their previous work, is a mix of ideas that tend to only just tread water. Album opener Stay Vicious is a slice of pure dad-rock, Triple M sludge. Where did that guitar tone come from? Since when did Fallon start to sound like Eddie Vedder? Juxtaposed against the ‘la la la la’ of the bridge, it’s a confusing way to reintroduce themselves. Second single Rollin’ and Tumblin’ shows some promise, with some original, yet watered down version of The ’59 Sound but somehow it still seems forced. Title track Get Hurt a sappy ballad of widely accessible but extremely dry ideas. Even Letterman seemed bored.
They say that change is as good as a holiday. And sure, you can’t expect a band to keep churning out the same album with slight variations every couple of years (hey, even the Ramones’ sound evolved – slightly), but this holiday keeps getting us lost. So without much speculation, the debate over the intended direction for Get Hurt is out there and for the fans to decide – whether they are new or old fans, only the world’s ear will decide.
Artist_ The Pharmacy
Album Title_ Spells
Label_ Don’t Stop Believin Records
Genre_ Pop Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Alternative Rock
Moments Of_ The Kinks, King Tuff, The Fresh and Onlys, The Unicorns
Stand Out_ Dead Friend, Coat Tales, All My Reminders of When, Masten Lake Lagoon
Champions of garag-ey pop, pyschad-freakin-delic rock Seattle-based The Pharmacy have recently announced that they will be breaking up after a nearly 5 year run. They’ve released four albums previously and truly paved their way through their own unique world of blended genres within alternative rock – not to mention most of their tracks are the kind that would make your nan jam out. They bring us their fifth and final album ‘Spells’ as almost goodbye present and it’s an almost a demented mix of their previous works with a bit more experimentation thrown in just hitting all the right marks. In other words, why now God/ Flying Spaghetti Monster/ Sheezus/ Non-Denominational Music Gods?
One of the best elements about ‘Spells’ is that it both a wink at music past and music present/ future without ever alienating either one. Were some of of The Pharmacy’s previous work was heavily influenced by bands like the Beatles and the Unicorns they seem to be also playing to a new generation of psych rock listeners – post psych rock as it were. The Pharmacy have smoothed out their sound for this album without entirely losing too many main characteristics of the genre like old reverberation on the guitar and howling vocals, Unfortunately, many of the tracks are hit and miss or suffer ‘they sound like the same track’ syndrome – a pit which a lot of bands fall into this genre. The tracks that do fight for your attention, though, do oh such a good job of it. Masten Lake Lagoon, in fact, battles to keep your attention. The track is jammed full of catchy hooks and is predicated by that Velvet Underground-like ripping up of the bass throughout the track proving the band’s ability to stare experimentation in the face and then shake hands with it.
Spells has a somewhat fizzling out effect though as the listener instantly perks up on the first track thinking ‘ah, here’s the classic Pharmacy I know and love’ with its beautiful combination of droll vocals and upbeat pop melody in a purely Beatlesque fashion. The listener is instantly greeted by ‘Dead Friend’ a smooth rock track with a catchy melody and hooks. The album takes a progressive turn downwards with tracks like ‘Cool and Calm’ as the tracks begin to sound samey. The Pharmacy have certainly returned to the roots of their initial influences though by using special effect sounds like coughing and cooing which is a strong feature in the work of their childhood heroes The Unicorns. .
Although, the boys are no longer ‘Stoned and Alone’ (although they could be who really knows) they’re still not shying away from those relatively bleak subjects which work so well with their style. ‘Dead Friend’ tells us the story of, as you might have guessed, friendship lost – more metaphorically than literally. ‘Anna Bella’ One of the arguably catchiest tracks on the album ‘Peeling Back’’ still has a dark edge to it with lyrics like “make believe we’re all the same, go away.”
The experimental nature and conglomeration of styles on ‘Spell’s is one of the reasons that as a whole, it is a very successful album. Whether you’re after basic indie pop or slightly more sophisticated alternative rock, they’re something tucked away in there just for you. The Pharmacy really demonstrate their ability to progress and develop as a band without losing what makes them quintessentially them. Even though the boys won’t be taking this one on the road, I’m sure they should be thoroughly proud of this final contribution to the music world.