This week we’re getting into some experimental ground with Lets Eat Grandma, Metronomy and Roisin Murphy’s unique take on the pop genre. Nobody is holding back here. To finish it off we have the arguably feminist soul music from the ever shifting, Blood Orange. Is his latest release Freetown Sound a cynical co-optation of the female struggle for personal profit or a legitimate support from a talented and genuine ally? Lets find out!
Artist Let’s Eat Grandma
Album Title I, Gemini
Label Transgressive Records
Genre Experimental Pop
Moments Of Kate Bush, Coco Rosie, Bjork, Purity Ring
Stand Out Sax in the City
The pair behind Let’s Eat Grandma – Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth – started young. Hailing from Norwich, UK, they’ve been making music together since they were 13 and performing live since they were 15. Now, at the ripe old age of 17 they have released their debut album I, Gemini.
Following up a trio of singles that have been drip fed out over the last few months, this full-length builds on these releases, proving the duo are not afraid to experiment with different sounds and styles. Released through Transgressive Records, the album certainly isn’t consistent, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think Coco-Rosie meets Kate Bush, with a spattering of Bjork and Purity Ring for good measure – the influences are strong in this one.
A track that was released at the start of 2016, ‘Deep Six Textbook’, kicks off the album with a slow melodic drum beat before the ethereal vocals chime in. It’s pretty minimal and is a brave choice to begin an album with, but it works. It’s building up to something and you want to hear the next song. ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms’ is not an ode to middle-class food consumption, but is apparently inspired by some local graffiti. It begins with a slightly cliched xylophone solo, before entering into something completely different, electronic and upbeat. The song then turns to spoken-word – it rhymes, but it doesn’t make much sense. Think off-brand Kate Tempest. Luckily it’s the only the only dive down that alley on the album.
‘Sax in the City’ steers things back in the right direction, it blends together every instrument in the box from saxophone, to synth, to accordion. It’s bold, a bit weird and possibly the best track on the album. This leads into ’Chocolate Sludge Cake’ and ‘Chimpanzees in Canopies’ which are by far the most experimental. The layered vocals, coupled with frenetic plucking and strumming on ‘Chimpanzees’ sounds great, but it builds and builds, without ever really going anywhere.
‘Welcome To The Treehouse Part 1’ has an essence of Ibiza chillout to it, but the vocals take onto a different level. The song segues into ‘Welcome To The Treehouse Part 2’ which contrasts the previous track with tribal drums and a vocal line that would make Kate Bush proud.
The album ends with ‘Deep 6 Textbook’, a sweet and simple track with a ukulele, xylophone and vocals providing an unfiltered acoustic finisher. Whilst it provides a good bookend for the album, it could have been left out.
Overall the pair made brave choices with this record. Most songs on I, Gemini approached 7 minutes and demonstrate they’re not afraid to take on an eclectic mix of influences and instruments and try and make them work. Throughout, I had to keep reminding myself they are 17 – this is a polished album and is much more than ’finding-their-feet’ record. It will be interesting to see what direction, or more likely directions, they take in the future.
Metronomy have carved a distinctive mould of their own take on indietronica/nu-disco. Each record offers oddball production, Joseph Mount’s nonchalant vocals and distinctive old school bass lines. Mount sticks to the formula in Summer 08. Luckily for an album that is so steeped in nostalgia – for simpler times, simpler summers – it never feels laboured or uninteresting. Instead, it’s perhaps his most interesting work yet; the dazzling, pulsing punk disco straying into moody moments on ‘Miami Logic’ or getting woozy on ‘Love’s Not an Obstacle’.
With none of the usual line up behind him, Mount endeavours to be everywhere at once. He fractures melodies and delivers songs in different parts as on ‘Beat’ and the tongue-in-cheek call and response between himself on first track ‘Back Together’ (‘Hey girl/Who me?’ he sings, playing the parts of a grad school girl and her suitor). On the ethereal, Jamie XX meets Bowie sounding track ‘Mick Slow’, Mount’s vocals soar up to where a female part would be. Often the lyrics swing past like a revolving door, going nowhere in particular and instead becoming another layer of the production. It’s inevitable that ‘Hang Me Out To Dry’ is an instant high point, as Mount has enlisted the female touch of vocals from Swedish soprano Robyn. It’s a classic conversational love song, made more believable by Robyn’s captivating voice confirming Mount’s tales of first dates and late night drives.
Mount’s cold depiction of a glamorous highlife continues on ‘Old Skool’, the lyrics painting a picture of raucous party people from some dystopic London. The brooding production stays uncluttered, driven by a pulsing bass line, until the deliciously retro break down comes in complete with hip-hop scratches and a couple of samples. ‘My House’ has a disconcerting feel and sounds like an older and wiser version of ‘The Look,’ from The English Riviera. In the last third of the album ‘Night Owl’ emerges as the long awaited highlight. It starts sparse and slow, admittedly a lot like ‘Love Letters’, with a drone that paves the way for a big, epic bassline and Mount’s soft, slacker-croon. The melancholy makes way for a dazzling groove embellished with tambourine, shimmery synth chords and that gentle personal touch Mount allows in his lyrics.
If Summer 08 was a painting in a modern art gallery, one might stare only to say ‘I don’t get it.’ But in its throwback grooves and layers of woozy, artful production it has an irresistible feel. In the Summer of 08 lovers are forgettable and parties are a bore. The record carries an undercurrent of solitude, a poignant touch to add to alternative disco. It’s an album designed for a time and a place, let it take you there.
Artist Róisín Murphy
Album Title Take Her Up To Monto
Label Play It Again Sam
Genre Experimental Pop, Electronic
Moments Of Grimes, Bjork, Grace Jones
Stand Out Ten Miles High
The two-decade long career of Róisín Murphy presents the strongest argument to date for the existence of a benevolent creator. Recorded in the same sessions as her 2015 album Hairless Toys, her latest release Take Her Up To Monto is an uncompromising, enthralling and at times uncomfortable trip down the rabbit hole that ultimately suffers from existing in the shadow of its more mature and developed predecessor.
We at TWL are convinced that Murphy exists in an alternate universe where all the members of Rush were killed in a series of unfortunate accidents and progressive rock was instead developed by Annie Lennox locked inside the Moog Sound Lab. Opening track ‘Mastermind’ is certainly a window into that world, a sprawling seven-minute long issue that heaps unlikely chord progressions with classic 80’s sounding drums, constantly shifting synth lines and lyrics that could be romantic if not for their uncomfortably obsessive undertones.
Murphy has an uncanny ability to transcend genre convenience and Monto is no exception. While ‘Pretty Gardens’ reads as a jazzy-cabaret ode to pubic hair, it contains some of the warmest synth textures in her work to date. ‘Whatever’ is a very traditional-leaning ballad flecked with Murphy’s unmistakable electronics. Stripping her voice from ‘Thought’s Wasted’ leaves you with a sound not unlike that of Philip Glass with cascading and repetitive lines giving way to minimalist piano, however, it also showcases some of the strongest lyric writing of Murphy’s career and her voice runs from melodic and textural to spoken word while sitting comfortably in the overall sound.
Easily the most accessible track for a new-comer to Murphy’s at times difficult sound is track highlight and leading single from the album ‘Ten Miles High’. The track effortlessly moves from lush synthwave to a driving house rhythm that’s reminiscent of her early work with Moloko and Matthew Herbert. It immediately catches you with its punchy bass-line that gives way to a synth rise that wouldn’t sound out of place in an 80’s sci-fi.
Ultimately, Monto lacks cohesion. Murphy is clearly intelligent and gifted at what she does, but it can take even a trained ear several runs to pick up much of the nuance. While this might speak to the positive point of high replay value the reward doesn’t match the effort in what comes off almost as a B-side collection of tracks, separate to the greater whole of Hairless Toys. While Monto may seem intimidating it is nonetheless fun and enjoyable. We look forward to others taking cues from one of pop’s greatest rule breakers.
Artist: Blood Orange
Album Title: Freetown Sound
Label: Domino Records
Moments Of: Micheal Jackson, Prince
Stand Outs: Hadron Collider, Best To You, Hands Up
Freetown Sound is Dev Hynes third album as Blood Orange. It’s a collection of cathartic slow-jams that are filled with soul grooves and passion. More importantly though, it’s an album that is aware and purposefully perplexed by inequality. Inequality, whether it be racial, sexual, gender or other has become the catalyst for music that is engaging, thought-provoking and damn good, this is especially the case for Freetown Sound.
This has been the best year of music in recent memory. An early assumption seeing as we’re only in July, but with albums like Anohni’s Hopelessness, Beyonce’s Lemonade, White Lung’s Paradise and more we are privy to great music of influence, that influences. Freetown Sound is no exception, again adjusting the magnifying glass on modern culture through the use of music.
This album features an impressive selection of artists. Hynes employs a host of well-known women to help out, who are simply excellent. The combination of Hynes and artists such as Nelly Furtado, Empress Of and Deborah Harry (Blondie) result in the best songs on the album. Hynes explains his preference for women singers, as both a sonic choice and as an empathetic voice for inequality, “I use women singers because there’s a lot of emotions that I want that I can’t get to. The woman’s voice, and not necessarily just her singing voice, is powerful and needs to be heard.” What’s more is that every one of these songs are egoless, each woman featured speaks for that track, adding to the credibility of its message. Hynes often takes a back-seat, understanding that these women can better communicate the meaning he wants to send.
This isn’t to suggest that Hynes can’t provide some beautiful vocals. Extracting likenesses to Michael Jackson and Prince whilst maintaining message over flamboyancy. ‘Hands Up’ is debatably Hynes at his best, a song that communicates internal assumptions he has about his own race and how it affects others. Unmistakable in the line “Keep your hood of when they’re walking cause they (Hands up, get up, hands up, get up). In reference to a situation where a black man walks down the street behind a white woman and tries not to scare her, it’s a disquieting truth. The standout though is Nelly Furtado’s chilling resonance on ‘Hadron Collider’, combining with Hynes to provide a harmonious sound that makes it the albums emotional dictator.
Freetown Sound has the potential to be a timeless album. Hopefully that future relevance is based on Freetown Sound being a stimulus for action and change rather than a perpetuating reference to existing inequality in our lifetime. To put that in terms of album quality, Freetown Sound is right up there with Kendricks To Pimp A Butterfly as a tool for modern expression against the social and political marginalisation of groups of people.