We’ve been waiting for years for Frank Ocean to finally release another album, can it possibly live up to the hype? Crystal Castles release, Amnesty (I), their first release since the departure of Alice Glass. Roots Manuva re-release Bleeds as a Deluxe Edition, warranted or a cynical cash grab? Jinja Safari continue with their upbeat and rhythmic tunes while Black Foxxes try to create something authentic.
Artist: Crystal Castles
Album Title: Amnesty (I)
Label: Casablanca Records
Genre: Electro-Pop / Synth-punk
Moments Of: HEALTH / Metronomy
Stand Out: Kept
Much like amateur storm-chasers driving into danger, we have been buckled into our lit theory books while running headfirst at the title of the latest Crystal Castles release Amnesty (I). Amnesty just feels a little too ripe a word to use given departure of front and leading personality, Alice Glass and the new pairing we find on this release fails to live up to previous success.
Castles will always be the project of Ethan Kath, having assumed the name in 2003. After Glass’ well publicised and bitter departure from the group Kath brought in new vocalist Edith Francis. Far from taking advantage of new blood, Kath seems set on maintaining the consistently declining processes that have been going downhill since the late 00’s. Amnesty had the potential to see a re-invention and ultimately a revival of a once-great act but missed it’s mark by falling into old and used sounds marred by disjointed compositions.
One of the main arguments for a re-imagining of their sound would be to allow Francis to break out of the shadow cast by her predecessor, to define her own presence in the sound. Too often in this album it seems like Francis is being forced into doing an Alice Glass impersonation. Tracks like ‘Char’ demonstrate this and it’s so frustrating because it has an otherwise admirable sound and groove to it.
The opener ‘Femen’ is one of the stronger tracks for Francis though it’s subsequently marred by Kath’s insistence on blasting trap style hats over the top of her voice. Francis also closes the album strongly on ‘Their Kindness Is Charade’, one of the more approachable and better assembled tracks in the overall release
Compositionally the album suffers from a lack of overall structure and from a string of sudden end-points, cuts, and filler-material. ‘Teach Her How To Hunt’ is a two-minute drone fest that adds nothing to the overall sound, and the poppy “Ornament” is repetitive to the point of tediousness and ultimately seems out of place in an album thus far comprised of homages to 90’s industrial techno.
We’d be amiss to not acknowledge that women’s voices in music are often overly policed for ‘annoyingness’ and we’re sure it can’t be easy to live up to the standard set by such a powerful predecessor as Glass. All that being said, ‘Frail’ would be a much better track without Francis’ shrill topline. We finally get something approaching a proper harmony between Kath and Francis in ‘Kept’, a Beach-House sampling, choppy, charming track that we could do with hearing more from in the future.
For die-hard fans of Crystal Castles, and indeed for the casual listener who may not immediately notice the change in line-up: you’ll probably enjoy this album. Internal politics aside, there are ideas here that have the potential to truly shine on stage and as Francis grows into herself we’re sure Castles will see a string of strong live performances in the near future. On paper though, Amnesty is the weakest release from the group thus far and even with the shortest listening time of any previous release, it fails to attract any replay value.
Artist: Black Foxxes
Album Title: I’m Not Well
Label: Search and Destroy
Genre: Rock / Depression Pop
Moments Of: Black Peaks
Stand Outs: River / I’m Not Well
In a contemporary music scene dominated by electronica, house music and highly produced tracks, UK band Black Foxxes bring back a stripped down, raw, emotional pure rock album. Shamelessly honest and incredibly refreshing, the three-piece band have brought an expressive debut album onto the scene that will undoubtedly hoist them to notoriety as they carve out a niche in an ever growing music industry.
Off the back of making their mark on a number of the UK’s biggest music festivals such as Redding and Leeds last year, Black Foxxes are already touring their way through the UK and Europe before the embark to the US leg of the tour for their debut album ‘I’m Not Well’ in September. This three piece, Mark Holley, Tristan Jane and Ant Thornton have already developed a diverse, vibrant sound on their first album.
Initially, Black Foxxes’ sound almost comes across as a punk hybrid due to the way Holley’s voice shifts from his spoken British accent to an Americanised twang commonplace among punk influenced vocalists. There are certainly punk undertones to Black Foxxes’ sound yet across the album the atmosphere transforms into the self-proclaimed genre ‘depression-pop’. This range throughout the album makes it accessible to those from a non-punk or rock background.
In fact the entire album is not difficult to connect with, whether it be through the music or the albums themes of anxiety and self-doubt there is so much variation in this collection of tracks that allows a range of people to discover and become immersed in Black Foxxes’ sound.
The reason to this is the way in which the band writes their music. Holley said in a 2015 interview regarding their song writing process “We’ll write something in one hour or two hours, we don’t like spending too long on it or it will lose that natural vibe of the song”. At the core of this album is an overwhelming sense of freedom and autonomy in terms of musical direction. Despite being newly signed to a record label the band seems to have retained their control over sound and production styles. Once again revealing the band to be turning away from the finely tuned production that is so popular currently in the music industry.
The way Black Foxxes has embraced and accepted natural progression and organic development in the way their music has transpired filters into their live performances saying, “Sometimes it’s good to suck a little bit, then it’s raw and honest” This is what makes Black Foxxes such an interesting and exciting band to listen to. In a world over saturated with perceptions of perfection and incredible amounts of behind the scenes action to make everything look effortless, this bands acceptance and championing of the natural way music is produced is refreshing and exhilarating.
Overall ‘I’m Not Well’ is a spectacular debut album. With a dynamic musical range, Black Foxxes is undoubtedly on the rise and a band to keep your eye on going into 2017.
Artist: Roots Manuva
Album: Bleeds (Delux Version)
Label: Big Dada
Genre: Hip-Hop / Trip Hop / Grime
Moments Of: Wiley / Kate Tempest
Stand Outs: Hard Bastards / Crying / Body Hot
Where some musicians choose to flaunt their materialistic mumbles, Roots Manuva, aka Rodney Smith removes the need for egocentricity in rap in favour of message driven storytelling. Bleeds (Deluxe Version) is an egoless saunter through a cultural setting motivated by selfishness and an incessant inequality that breeds in Britain and beyond.
Roots Manuva is at his best when his beats employ a rhythmically dark tone. Pushing reggae and roots to the side on Bleeds, each void opened up by its drones and wails, give Smiths lyricism an opportunity to cut through unhindered. With Four Tet and Adrian Sharwood aiding with production, there is a consistent dark varnish on each song. ‘Hard Bastards’ is a strong opener and holds title as one of the best starts to an album from 2015, and this year again for the deluxe version. “Most broke cunts are all true bastards, and most rich cunts are even more bastards” he sings, discarding lyrical prowess in favour of being direct.
This is strongly followed by ‘Crying’, ‘Facety 2:11’ and ‘Don’t Breathe Out’. Don’t Breathe Out features the voice of Sylas, who has an uncanny sonic resemblance to James Blake or Justin Vernon, making this flutter with gospel the biggest reprieve from the albums themes of social-scrutiny.
The first half of Bleeds (Delux Version) is excellent. Although, these are all songs from the 2015 release, a fully formed album forthright in its purpose. Does a deluxe version add to that? For Bleeds (Delux Version) the answer is….sort of.
Some of the songs would fit seamlessly into the original album. ‘On A high’, ‘Body Hot’ and ‘Knee-Jerk’ all slightly move away from the minimalist approach that makes the original songs of Bleeds so good, but would still hold their own in the LP’s configuration.
It’s when we hit the remixes that we start to see a few air swings. The original ‘Crying’ for example has one of the most unsettling bits of audio used by a globally recognised artist in recent memory. Although a little disturbing, the distressed sound of a child fits the tone (especially following Hard Bastards), it’s there for a reason, contributing to the paranoid aesthetic that lingers throughout. Kode9’s remix of ‘Crying’ discards it for a skitter and whine of the same old beats, which diminishes it completely. The other remixes seem to follow the same flavour. Apart from the rLr remix of ‘Fighting For’ which deconstructs the key driven ballad and replaces it with slow, methodical bass thumps, that give the source material an adequate nod.
Ultimately there shouldn’t be many complaints from me or any other fan of Roots Manuva. Extra songs are bonus songs. After waiting four years for Bleeds, it’s just exciting to see that the British musical figurehead is still going for it. Bleeds was a genre-defying success for Smith, and the deluxe version just shows that the wheels continue to turn creatively for him.
Album Title: Callus
Genre: Industrial beats / Experimental
Moments Of: Flying Lotus/ Nosaj
Stand Out: Vinaigrette / Your Maker
Gonjasufi’s 4th studio album, aptly titled Callus, is extremely abrasive and confrontational. He combines undertones of hip hop that’s been layered with heavy synthesisers and distorted howling vocals. Gonjasufi is very adept at creating beats and it’s no surprised he’s collaborated with Flying Lotus and Jay-Z. He explains this album details his “pain and suffering” continuing to say that “America needs to hear the fucking record”.
Callus deals with themes such as racism, materialism and overly powerful corporations. relevant to most of us, not just Americans. It has to be said that the album was more cathartic and beneficial for Gonjasufi to create, rather than it is for the listener. The 19 tracks of this doom-metal emotion begins to feel overwhelming, the overuse of synthesisers and distorted vocals almost creates a numbing effect where the listener isn’t able to provide adequate attention
The album opens with fierce drumming on the track ‘Your Maker’. The abrasive guitar then follows, with Gonjasufi proceeding to ask rhetorically “Is anybody private? is anybody sacred?”. This sets the tone for the whole record as Gonjasufi is frustrated and angered by society’s current state. He’s particularly bitter about the way modern technology deteriorates the quality of our social interactions.’Shakin Parasites’ starts with a doomy opening, as slow and depressing guitar notes are strummed. With his voice full of despair he cries “I was never meant to be this fucked up”. He considers his words to be so poignant that the instrumentation rests to give his voice the attention it needs.
‘Vinaigrette’ starts with blinking electronic notes, creating a very danceable track. Then enters Pearl Thompson, co- founder of The Cure on guitar. His presence adds to the dark and gothic theme of the album. This track features much softer vocals that are no where near as brash and painful. Gonjasufi moans about a previous relationship, perhaps one where he wasn’t getting the love he deserved as he describes his partner as a ‘silhouette’.
‘Last Nightmare’ is the final track on the album. It features more synth and fair use of an oscillating bass. Gonjasufi continues with his distorted voice which is followed by backing vocals that are just too deformed, it’s incomprehensible. The bridge consists of high scrawling synths that are contrasted by the deepest of bass notes. Wails of ‘Oh my God’ are heard then coupled with strings and an organ like sound. This creates a climatic feel for the last track of the album. This leaves the listener believing that the album they just heard had an element of importance to it.
Artist: Jinja Safari
Album Title: Crescent Sun
Label: Cooperative Music Australia
Genre: Tropical Folk Pop
Moments Of: Ball Park Music / Loon lake / Little Red
Stand Out: Kilimanjaro / Find My Way / Primary Colours
The vast musical palette that is Jinja Safari are back with their third full-length album Crescent Sun. The two-part studio album will sadly be the last for the band, who announced their breakup in January. The second part of the album will be released 24th of August amply titled Crescent Moon, giving their fans their biggest Jinja Safari fix yet.
You wouldn’t dare brand Jinja Safari’s sound as minimal. Every song has a lot going on, whether its horn’s, pianos, bass, drums or the signature Sitar we have all come to know and love over the last six years. Album opener ‘Slingshot’ encompasses these very things with frontman Marcus Azon’s vocals as charming as ever. The track mixes warm acoustic guitar with flute and strings that build from the song’s intro of swirling vocal harmonies. The ultimate escapism track ‘Kilimanjaro’ sees the multi-instrumentalists jump from glockenspiel to strings as Azon sings “I was stuck in the shadows of Kilimanjaro.”
The fun and upbeat ‘Primary Colors’ revisits the band’s 2011 ‘Locked By Land’ sound, with its tropical melodies and primal rhythms filling the song with a sense of carefree urgency and energy. The flow of the album bounces along confidently and with a tracklist of 12 songs, its clear the boys aren’t short of inspiration. But unfortunately, it’s not all smooth sailing, as Crescent Sun does drag with tracks such as ‘Flux’ and ‘Head of a Stranger’, which are too bland to differentiate from the Jinja Safari sound.
There’s no doubt Jinja Safari have the ability to put you in a good mood. Latest single ‘Find my way’ does just that, with its lush melodies and energetic rhythms that seem a perfect match for Azon’s vocal range. If what the band says is true and Crescent Sun is the happy side of the two-part release, then this might just be the last feel-good single we get from a group with such a unique sound.
There are moments of supreme beauty and greatness on this record, and then some of the same old stuff that Jinja Safari have been putting out for years. Nonetheless, Crescent Sun is a masterful array of energetic feel good tunes, and that will make for a very sad goodbye.
Artist Frank Ocean
Album Title Blonde
Label Boys Don’t Cry
Genre Pop / RnB
Moments Of James Blake / Radiohead / Drake
Stand Out Solo
With just one Frank Ocean studio album preceding it, Blonde has been shrouded in mystery and born into a lifetime of subtext. Since the success of his 2011 debut Channel ORANGE, Ocean has all but disappeared from the public eye, existing more as an icon than a celebrity. Now after four years waiting, will the masses be content with an anti-pop album that is as challenging as it is breath taking? Or will the sparse and fluid record baffle fans?
The answer has to all of the above. Blonde (or blond as it’s stylised) is art at every turn. In a kind of whirlwind Frank Ocean recently revealed a visual album Endless, dropped his major record label soon after and then released the much anticipated Blonde, an intimate and understated 17 track offering. On first listen it could be mistaken for a fledgling bedroom record: made in an apartment on a laptop with nothing but a mic and a crunchy electric guitar. The beauty of it is it’s anything but. The album’s star-studded credits include contributions from James Blake, hip-hop producer Mike Dean, industry legend Rick Rubin, and Channel Orange’s own Jeff Ellis to name a few. Smattered with field recordings, interludes, strings, rap, dialogue, warped vocals and almost no drums, a sense of non-convention underpins the warm production. On Blonde retro marries contemporary, Radiohead meets RnB, and each song eventually morphs into something else entirely.
Opening track ‘Nikes’ touches on police brutality, moving from affected vocals to a harsh rap verse. ‘Solo’ soars with the most stunning chorus on the album, in between conversational verses musing on weed and baby mammas. ‘Skyline To’ is dreamy, ‘Self Control’ equally so. In the final seconds of both songs the vocals thicken with an almost gospel charge, a sound revisited on the organ driven, uplifting ‘Godspeed’. ‘Pink + White’ and ‘Nights’ pulse with beats, a rare occurrence as the rest of Blonde is so light on percussion. ‘Ivy’ is one part vocals one part guitar, a diversion from the woozy rhythms on Orange. In fact guitars rule the record: mellow and acoustic on ‘White Ferrari’, swirling old school electric on ‘Seigfried’.
The songwriting on Blonde is more cryptic than Orange. There are fewer clear-cut images of childhood, love and sexuality that stood out on the poppy tracks of Ocean’s first album. Blonde listeners won’t be spoon-fed these sentiments, instead it seems Ocean challenges fans to step outside the norm with him, sustaining us with flitting images of nights out, phone conversations and fleeting relationships. In most songs Ocean hides behind a haze of effects, reminiscent of his years shying from the spotlight. In a feat that he pulls off so effortlessly, it’s the sparseness that makes Blonde so bold.
As fate would have it, Frank Ocean rises like a phoenix from the flame of high expectation. Blonde sets things in motion for a shift in tone within the music industry, cutting no corners in an unshackled offering from one of RnB’s most important voices.