Headphone Icon
Album Review: Lady GaGa - ARTPOP

                  Thought that I would be alone forever, but I won’t be tonight
           I’m a man without a home, but I think with you I could spend my life
                                  And you’ll be my little gypsy princess
                            P
ack your bags and we can chase the sunset
            Bust the rear view and fire up the jets cause it’s you and me, baby
                                                            For life

image

Oh, hello.

I’ll admit I’ve had a lot of trouble trying to figure out what angle to come at this album from over the last week. Not only how to review it, but how to just deal with it in general. Do I like it? Do I hate it? Do I feel indifferent to it? I remember thinking around the release of “Applause” that all I wanted was the album to come out and provide context to everything around it as it normally does with Lady GaGa, but instead ARTPOP sits outside of all of the imagery and postulating of its parent artist. What we have is Lady GaGa’s poppiest, most straightforward effort in years… Yet the title and everything around it would suggest it’s supposed to be more than that. So what do we do with that? Let’s just start by taking it at face value and see where we end up, shall we?

Read More

Justin Timberlake - TKO

This isn’t dynamic enough. If the entire song is about using a boxing match as a metaphor, then the production should be dodging, ducking, swooping, lunging and most importantly, throwing a few deadly hooks. The beat is okay, but I was hoping it would break through the ceiling for the chorus to at least make it a bit more of an event. It’s basically “Tunnel Vision” with less heat and an added donk.

Don’t even get me started on the now-typical and unnecessary switch up five minutes in where the song essentially ends but decides to spin its wheels for another two minutes. Every Justin Timberlake song this year has basically been that friend that can’t take your subtle hints that the night is over, you have work in the morning, and instead of going to the fridge and cracking open another beer, they need to get the fuck out your house.

Katy B - 5AM

Well, after a luke-warm offering earlier this year, Katy B strikes back with the best song of the year.

Like I said when I covered the first single from this album, Katy excels at expressing those smaller, in-between emotions. Grand gestures like “What Love Is Made Of” just fall flat; she doesn’t have the voice or the style for them. Here, we see her return to what she does best: encapsulating those tricky feelings that take you over in the dead of night.

The loneliness, anxiety, and restlessness rolls off “5AM” in waves. Geeneus once again delivers an outstanding instrumental that goes toe-to-toe with Katy, meeting and matching her at every emotion she traverses across the song. I love the vulnerability in her voice during the verses, and the way she desperately rhymes off all these pleas in the middle-eight that makes it feel like a pent up confession. If anything, my one complaint with the song is that the middle-eight should repeat at the very end underneath one more go of the chorus, but that’s a silly thing to want when everything else is single of the year material.

The Killers - Shot At The Night

Overall: 7.5/10

Synth squiggle in the chorus: 10/10

Typical mental M83 drums in the last chorus: 100000/10

Azealia Banks - Count Contessa

This is the first single from Azealia’s second mixtape, which comes out next summer while her debut album comes out before that but is too tied up in label drama to actually get out to us so Azealia’s just starting the next album campaign instead since she actually has power of that on account of it all being free. So basically, this is the first single from one of the two albums we haven’t heard yet.

Jesus.

Anyway, this is brilliant. I have to wonder if Azealia’s just better off this way. I mean, I know she doesn’t make any money from the mixtapes, but an artist operating on her scale was never going to make much money from album sales anyway and she seems absolutely miserable with the process she’s currently going through. Plus, how fun is this track? I feel like things have been so utterly joyless in the Banks universe that this is just an amazing breath of fresh air. It makes me like her again! It makes me happy! Hooray!

Katy Perry - Dark Horse (Feat. Juicy J)

I’m unsure how I feel about this.

I mean, the vocals are top notch, it’s deftly produced, and the “chorus” is downright fantastic, but I’m just not sure if all these amazing things come together as one amazing thing. I applaud Katy for the rather dramatic change in sound as well, but I don’t feel her enough in this. Juicy J’s verse, while quite good, goes on for forever and I really think a middle-eight being included would have helped tip the balance in her favour more.

The production though, seriously. The bit underneath the second half of Juicy J’s verse is gold.

Britney Spears - Work Bitch
69 plays

Britney Spears - Work Bitch

It’s nice to see that Britney, in a showing of solidarity, joins her contemporaries in underwhelming lead single hell.

Look, regardless of how I feel about her as an artist, there’s no denying that new single from Britney is a massive event in the pop world. And yet here, I feel she’s been pushed out of her own music by an aggressively boring beat that drowns out her voice. I mean, surely if you’re producing a Britney Spears single, the fact that you have one of the most recognisable voices in pop should be an asset used to your advantage.

I’m struggling to find anything else to comment on really. It’s so paper thin. It’s just a beat with Britney buried in the mix. You can barely even hear what she’s saying, although that’s no great loss given the banality of the lyrics.

Also, the irony of Britney preaching a good work ethic when she half (Hell, sometimes quarter.) assed her way through the whole Femme Fatale era and most of Circus too.

In fact, while I’m on the subject of Miley

During the whole (ongoing, unbelievably) VMAs debacle, I found myself looking back on my own past and childhood as people were shrieking about role models and little girls and disgusting behaviour and blah blah blah.

I can say, hand on heart, that I don’t remember having any role models while growing up. I’m at the ancient age of 23 now, so I feel I’ve missed the boat for any to come along now. My point being, however, was that I wasn’t influenced by the behaviour of the little people who lived in my television doing stupid shit. It’s not as if I lived a sheltered existence either; my parents were rather lax when it came to my television viewing habits. Like most kids and teenagers, I spent many a night watching television. Whether it was watching comedies where half the rude jokes flew over my head because I was too young to understand them, or catching the latest Ofcom-bothering show on Channel 4, I didn’t really have boundaries. Same for the Internet when that came into my realm too. I can’t remember ever having to navigate parental locks and paedophiles on social media.

Did I occasionally come across something I shouldn’t? Probably. Again, I can’t remember. And if I can’t remember, it can’t have scarred me that badly. Now, I understand that times have changed since I was an impressionable youth, but I like to think that my parents instilled me with a strong enough sense of self so that I was equipped to deal with these things that I didn’t understand or things that could have influenced me. Am I just not as weak-minded as others? I don’t think so. All of my friends and others of my generation seem to have had similar upbringings. As an impressionable young gay, I didn’t see Britney writhing around in nothing but diamonds and go out and do the exact same thing on my street. I didn’t see Samantha from Sex & The City getting a good dicking (Always on her own terms.) and become nothing but a hole for penis. And if it had happened in my time, I certainly wouldn’t have seen Miley Cyrus gyrating against Robin Thicke at the VMAs and go out and find the closest elderly gentlemen to grind against like rent was due.

Anyway, I think I’m starting to go around in circles here. My point being? Don’t rely on Miley Cyrus to raise your damn kids, fucking do it yourself. How about instead of giving your eight year old a smartphone, you give them a good sense of identity so they can safely navigate the whole world that you’re essentially giving them a gateway to? How about instead of shaming curiosity, you frankly explain what the fuck is going down on the television you’ve had in their room since they were six? Or if you still don’t want to do that, how about you think twice about buying that iPad as a Christmas present, and take them out to get some fresh air? When I was a kid, I certainly didn’t have time to be prey for online perverts. I had treehouses to build, water fights to participate in, shit to do outside rather than sit behind a computer. I didn’t have a damn phone until I was fucking fifteen!

I’m not saying it’s not hard to be a parent in this generation where it feels like the world is a difficult thing to catch up to, but instead of yelling and screaming and raging at it to slow down, how about you give your kids the tools they’ll need to keep up with it, rather than them getting dragged along behind it?

I’ll climb off my soapbox now.

Miley Cyrus - Wrecking Ball (Video)

So this whole thing where people get outraged at Miley Cyrus doesn’t seem to be slowing down with the release of “Wrecking Ball”. I have to admit, I do love how the song lured us all into a false sense of security a few weeks ago, only for its video to be even more risqué.

I actually like the video. I feel the blatant emotion in the headshot scenes helps soften the sexuality of it all, and the image of Miley swinging about naked on a wrecking ball is surely one of the most indelible images in pop in recent times. I mean, the bit with the sledgehammer licking pushes things into ridiculous territory rather than titillating, but the rest of video around it works just fine. I actually think the nudity is done in a way that it isn’t actually meant to be sexy, but I don’t think you should trust a homosexual on how sexy a naked woman and her BANGERZ are meant to be.

Cut Copy - Free Your Mind

Keeping in the vein of comebacks, here we have the title track from Cut Copy’s new album. I’ll be honest, this is not going to inspire the same lavish praise as the subject of my previous post, but it’s certainly bright and colourful and catchy in that wonderful way that Cut Copy have sort of made their trademark.

That said, I’m finding this whole concept a bit tired already and I haven’t even heard the album. With the word on the street being that this album was influenced heavily by the Summers of Love, I find myself questioning what the other two albums were influenced by if this is apparently a new inspiration for Cut Copy. I mean, let’s not mince our words here, “Free Your Mind” is basically a radio edit of “Sun God”, the closer from 2011’s Zonoscope.

Eh. I’m sure the album will be solid, if a little unremarkable. “Free Your Mind” is keeping summer going that little while longer, but I question the idea of it being at all new ground for the band.

Arcade Fire - Reflektor (Feat. FUCKING DAVID BOWIE?!?!?!)

There’s always a slight sense of trepidation when one of the best bands in the world embarks on a new album campaign. Will it be as good as previous efforts? Will this finally be when they stumble? What if it’s shit? What if—?

Well, once again Arcade Fire obliterate all those fears. Canada’s finest return with an eight minute epic that rises and uncoils as it burns through its playtime. It balances a perfectly sinister tone with the usual instrumental bombast we’ve come to expect, with the latter half of the song basically being an order to dance your face off.

Complete with backing vocals from David (FUCKING) Bowie, it’s a return so triumphant that it even has two videos. The paper mache head one above, and an extremely cool interactive one here.

How Arcade Fire get it right so repeatedly when other acts can barely do two great things in a row, I’ll never know, but I’m not complaining.

And while writing all that…

The Naked & Famous’ new album leaked.

Fucking hell.

Fuck Me, What A Week: Headphone Icon’s Album Pile Up

image

Guys. This week, guys. I think I’ve spoken a few times in various pieces this week about how the entire music industry is shit scared about releasing music outside of the fourth quarter of the year. I mean, sure, we’ve had plenty of good music throughout the year, but when five rather major albums either get released/leak in the same week, perhaps there are just too many releases getting crammed into the same time of year. And this is just this week. Next week promises to be just as mental for different reasons. We’re not fucking around anymore, friends.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on all the albums I’ve attempted to gobble up this week. I don’t feel I’d be ready for a proper write-up for any of these albums for weeks, so here my knee jerk reactions. HERE WE GO.

Natalia Kills - Trouble

image

I summed up 2011’s Pefectionist as solid if a little unspectacular, and I feel similarly towards the follow up. What bugs me the most about Trouble is the amount of potential Natalia exhibits that I hoped she would actually realise on this album. Instead, it’s another album that displays what she could do, rather than what she can do.

Trouble has three settings: Hyper-sexualised, demented man-eating anthems; melodramatic, stock imagery-laden ballads; or broken home rich girl laments that range in tempo. Each of these has songs that are either wildly compelling (The title track, “Malboro Lights”, “Saturday Night”) or tiresome and unconvincing (“Watching You”, “Devils Don’t Fly”, “Problem”).

Nothing here is outwardly bad; even the utterly detestable content of “Controversy” is salvaged by being slickly produced into something listenable if you ignore the lyrics. The problem is that I very rarely feel the album is firing on all cylinders. “Saturday Night” is the one moment of Natalia’s entire career thus far that feels like a truly perfect synergy of the elements of her artistry that she delivers with unshakeable conviction, but the rest of the album is just mostly competent pop from an artist that I know can do a lot better.

Arctic Monkeys - AM

image

Arctic Monkeys are a relatively new interest of mine, so I’ll try and keep this brief. They’re a band I’ve always loved in theory, but never got around to properly checking out until this year when the prospect of a new album loomed.

Basically, I love how lean all their albums are. Considering most albums from rock bands as old as this very rarely clock in at under an hour, it’s refreshing for the Arctics to come in and do their business in an extremely well-used forty minutes. From the thumping drums of one of the year’s best singles, “Do I Wanna Know?”, the pseudo R&B of “Why’d You Only…”, the infectious groove of “Snap Out Of It, all the way to the aching “I Wanna Be Yours”, it’s an album that manages an interesting blend of warmth, trademark Sheffield grit and sharp lyricism that have made Arctic Monkeys stand out from the crowd since they crashed onto the scene all those years ago.

Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady

The Electric Lady in the hands of an artist who I didn’t have such high standards for would be a triumphant effort, but in the hands of Janelle Monáe, I feel like a lot of things here is ground already covered, and it was far better the first time around. Whether that’s down to there being a genuine drop in quality or simply because it’s no longer new, I don’t know, but the void is definitely there.

Don’t get me wrong, the album is loaded with brilliance. The three singles released before the album are all stellar and provide soaring highs, along with the two overtures that open the “suites” of Janelle’s continuing Cindy Mayweather saga. However, the album ends up feeling frontloaded due to some awkward sequencing rather than there being a stark quality issue. Suite IV is home to every genre that Janelle attempts to straddle across the album. It’s eclectic, thrilling and most of all tightly managed and executed. Suite V has excellent songs (“Victory”, “What An Experience”), but they’re all songs that take from the same chilled R&B style, which makes that crucial second half of the album a bit of a trial. The Electric Lady seems to forget that an album should be a marathon, not a sprint. Here, it seems Janelle bolts her way through one side of the album, only to slow to a crawling pace on the other side. The result is a record that slowly morphs into a trial the closer to the end you get.

Considering how flawlessly sequenced The ArchAndroid was, and how crucial it is to the whole concept, I think it’s a fair thing to judge as something that ends up crippling the album somewhat. I think something less sprawling was required here. There’s a fantastic 12 track album in The Electric Lady that wouldn’t take seventy minutes to get through and leave you a little exhausted by the end. Perhaps Cindy Mayweather needs to be powered down for a while.

The Weeknd - Kiss Land

I was one of those people who only really started to pay attention to The Weeknd when Trilogy was compiled and unleashed late last year. I wasn’t sure of how effective it was at the time, and listening to Kiss Land actually ended up informing how I felt about The Weeknd as a whole.

The problem here is simple: One very good idea being driven into the ground over and over and over and over. Had Trilogy been condensed into one ten track album, perhaps Kiss Land wouldn’t seem as redundant and repetitive as it does. The sad fact is that even by the middle of that sprawling triumverate of discs, The Weeknd’s schtick starts to get old. The sinister instrumentals are no longer scary. The lyrics are no longer a bit sexy and dark, just tawdry and melodramatic. His voice is no longer effective, just annoying. Trilogy provides all you could ever need and so much more you don’t from that style. So why does Kiss Land not deviate from that formula after said formula was put under a 50,000 watt spotlight across, for all intents and purposes, three albums worth of material before it?

Unless a stark change in sound and style occurs, Trilogy is all you need from The Weeknd. Don’t waste your time with an album that basically turns Trilogy into a quartet. The biggest shame of this is the fact that there’s a very good artist trapped in an utterly exhausted musical style, and I’m not even sure if he wants to escape.

London Grammar - If You Wait

If You Wait has no business being as good as it does. Usually, I’m all about the entire package when it comes to music, but I have no qualms in stating that it’s all down to Hannah Reid’s outstanding vocals throughout the album that make it such a brilliant debut.

…Okay, so maybe I’m doing the rest of the package a bit of a disservice. If You Wait seems like it would a mostly “lovely” album with no thrills or edges, but there’s actually enough of that here to change things up a little and make the core sound of ethereal, classic arrangements feel fresh and gorgeous each time.

Overall, it’s an album that definitely shocked me a little. There are times where things are switched up a little bit just to keep you on your toes, and of course Hannah’s powerful voice is an authoritative presence that ties the entire thing together. There’s nothing radical, of course, but I think it’ll surprise a lot of people who think they already have the band pegged.

Katy Perry - Roar (Video)

I don’t really understand how the video for a song this big by an artist this big could end up looking so… cheap. Especially considering Katy Perry’s rather solid video history. Cheap, plastic looking sets, unconvincing special effects, and a setup that feels oddly small despite how huge the song tries to make it sound. Did all the money go into getting the elephant and the tiger? I imagine an elephant is an expensive thing.

Sub Focus - Turn It Around (Feat. Kele)

Speaking of wishing songs belonged to someone else, I would take this over the entire sorry puddle of shit that was Bloc Party’s last album. This was pretty much the sound they were heading for anyway before that. Something properly huge and expansive, not muddy and limited.