Shuffle Everything – Vol. 3

We’re three weeks in, and so far we’ve sung the praises of Stereophonics, fallen back in love with Grizzly Bear and had an excellent selection of B’s. This time M.I.A. gets distilled into 30 seconds and we get into the dilemma of who makes the creepiest song – Arca or Rid Of Me-era PJ Harvey.

Banana Skit – M.I.A.

The very introduction to M.I.A. in album format, but it actually manages to pack a sum-up of M.I.A. into the 30 seconds we get. It’s amazing how M.I.A. was talking about refugee education back in 2005, but it’s only now big news. This wasn’t a one off, M.I.A. would repeatedly talk about issues before they became high profile like when she spoke out about WikiLeaks and freedom of information. The instrumentation is uniquely M.I.A., full of syncopated beats that have an acoustic sound mixed with a more synthetic side. It’s the fusing of the old and the new, the Sri Lankan side and the London side. Arular is pretty amazing, it’s the first album I’d recommend to anyone who doesn’t know where to start with M.I.A. Or maybe Kala, if you want your fix of ‘Paper Planes’.

The Gentle Art Of Choking – My Vitriol

Now here’s a band I don’t know enough about. I know they’re a bit of a cult band, releasing only one album back in 2001 and are currently trying to release another one. It’s definitely a sound of the era, back in the days of the Strokes and the Vines, except there’s more of a noise-rock/shoegaze flavour to it. Points for the hyper-emo title and lyrics: ‘Don’t look at me that way / I know what you’re gonna say / It’s on your face’, but I like the sound of it. They’ve got the bonus of sounding like a blend of every indie rock band from the 1980s onwards, but maybe that’s a bit of a nail in the coffin of making an original bunch of noise. They’re kind of mysterious in a Sunny Day Real Estate kind of way, they’ve even got the one-album-then-silence deal going on.

Else – Arca

Genuinely scary electronic music from Arca, this album in particular makes my skin crawl in a good way. Though ‘Else’ doesn’t rank anywhere near some of the creepier stuff, it has eerie piano keys plonking away and occasionally splashes of noise. This falls into the beautiful category of Arca, but there’s always an uneasy alliance between what is beautiful and what is stupidly scary with Arca, and he loves to play between the two. The lack of recognisable vocals and the use of silence makes songs like ‘Else’ something a bit inhuman, and maybe that’s why I’ve never got into Arca as much as I’d like to.

Rid Of Me – PJ Harvey

Last week we hit the jackpot with Beyoncé on ‘Sweet Dreams’, this week we’ve got the mother of all bubbling tension with PJ Harvey’s ‘Rid Of Me’. This album especially has a kind of restrained fury that’s inexplicably more terrifying than if Harvey goes apocalyptic. Which she does, on the chorus of ‘Rid Of Me’. Ever made the same mistake I did when you first heard the song and it was so quiet that you had to turn it up, and then when the guitars and drums kick in it bursts your ear drums? ‘Lick my legs / I’m on fire / Lick my legs of desire’ and ‘Don’t you wish you never never met her’. The way it bubbles up, you end up begging for it to explode, because you know it’s coming. You aren’t rid of it.

Deny – The Clash

I’ve got a problem with the Clash that I can’t get past. They’ve becoming such a flagbearer of original British punk that they’ve become a bit of a parody. However, saying that, they do have an incredible amount of variation in their music compared to the Pistols (But then again, were the Pistols around long enough to write anything other than snotty punk?). Joe Strummer has a knack for a pop song, singing about the in-fighting within the relatively small punk community. I think the guitarwork on songs like ‘Deny’ sets them apart from just a power chord thrash, even though they do employ that tactic. There’s a section at roughly 30 seconds in where you can hear where the Libertines came from.

Best Of The Week?

‘Rid Of Me’. The song leaves a deep impression, one that might not have been as powerful if not for the muted guitars that build up to the unrelenting chorus. Hopefully we get a less scary week next time.

Album Review – The Hope Six Demolition Project / PJ Harvey

905f75d3968cf2f03488996bd3bf836d.620x620x1Who wouldn’t like to be called a ‘controversial’ musician? That’s the tag PJ Harvey’s getting now that she received a backlash from her second single from The Hope Six Demolition Project, ‘The Community Of Hope’. To sum up, a bunch of people who disagreed with PJ Harvey’s portrait of Ward 7 in Washington D.C. Even without the lyrics, it’s one of the most immediate and buoyant songs Harvey has released in years. Harvey’s latest album is the logical extension of Let England Shake, solidifying Harvey’s place as a war commentator, though this time on a global scale. Perhaps it’s the widening of Harvey’s vision and the ambition of the project, but it fails to live up to her last album. It tries desperately to convey its message, so much so that it often forgets to have a soul in between the serious condemnations of governments letting down the people. That part it does fine, and Harvey is quickly becoming the go-to artist for level-headed criticism of the figures of power. She can deliver a stark state-of-the-nation reminder of the everyday murder that we watch every day on ‘A Line In The Sand’, but it’s a cold statement that has no warmth behind it. Sure, it doesn’t have to have an optimistic side to a brutally plain negative, but Harvey trots it out and walks away without batting an eyelid.

The instrumentation will be familiar to anyone who experienced Let England Shake, however Harvey allows some of her early blues-rock side to seep into the edges. It comes across as a combination between Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (Which was also Harvey’s ‘American’ album) and Let England Shake‘s embracing of the traditional orchestration. On ‘Chain Of Keys’ it combines a To Bring You My Love blues guitar with a deep saxophone, which reappears many times throughout The Hope Six…, and Harvey’s experimentation with sound never goes wrong, showing her ability to craft new sounds with what she’s previously learned. That’s what made her piano-ballad album White Chalk so engrossing and that’s what raises The Hope Six… into a project that can still excite instrumentally even if Harvey’s lyrics and vocals can disappoint. Sometimes Harvey’s scope can be bewildering and vast and that makes it hard to connect with the storyteller at the centre of it all. Harvey travels between Washington D.C., Kosovo and Afghanistan and her observations are thought-provoking, but nothing of Harvey’s personality comes through in her clear-cut inspection. If she’s not there, you might as well read a history book.

But that’s not entirely true for all of the songs. On ‘Dollar Dollar’, Harvey brings the interaction between a beggar boy and herself into the wider context of the album. She questions whether herself commentating on war and poverty; writing songs about it; does any good. And even she herself, as someone who is writing songs about those who are affected, cannot find any words to respond to the boy through the window of her car. She sings ‘All My Words Get Swallowed’, which could easily be a double meaning – As literally she cannot find the words to respond, but it’s a question as to whether anything she says has any meaning and impact on anything that actually happens. Is it just a drop in the ocean? This is where The Hope Six Demolition Project gets interesting, but unfortunately this song is not a representation of the album as a whole.

There are moments of greatness and reflection on this album, but there is also po-faced bleakness and statistic-stating that doesn’t evoke any sympathetic or angry emotions. Despite this, there is also some gems hidden in here, like ‘The Community Of Hope’, which is a great guitar-pop song with a definitive message and is now ‘controversial’, so you just kind of have to love it. Likewise, ‘The Orange Monkey’ is an example of how instrumentally tight PJ Harvey is these days, with her traditional and modern arrangements plus a trusty band of male backing vocalists. If this album had more of ‘Dollar Dollar’ in it, it might have been a success, but it’s disappointingly soulless even with the souls that her travels have provided. Harvey is perfect when it comes to articulating large concepts, but where is the personal?

4

Funeral Recommends: The Community Of Hope / The Orange Monkey / Dollar Dollar

Track Review – The Community of Hope / PJ Harvey

In comparison to PJ Harvey’s last single, ‘The Wheel’, ‘The Community of Hope’ strides out of the gate with more confidence, less messing around, straight in. It’s arguably much better, with less squealing guitars and instead a driving drumbeat with the guitar taking a backseat and more orchestration working its way in. The lyrics, rooted in the US, have more in common with Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West than the hyper-political Let England Shake, with Harvey singing ‘Now this is just drug town, just zombies, but that’s just life’ as she criticises pretty much everything wrong with America: the fast-paced life, dead drug towns, the government, run-down schools sitting next to spotless Wal-Marts. She’s translated her cynical view of WW1 to America well, and while it might seem heavy-handed, PJ Harvey has rarely dealt in anything that isn’t upfront, often because it can be more uncomfortable than disguising it in a metaphor.

Instrumentally, the sound of The Hope Six Demolition Project is now forming more clearly – a departure from Let England Shake‘s experimental streak and more like her Mercury-winning Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, combining mid-paced rock with extra orchestration from the brass section. It’s probably going to be a good album for any PJ Harvey fans who want a ‘rock’ album, but probably not the scratchy punk of Rid Of Me. The horns work well, as do the returning backing vocals which add a choir-like protest-song-likeness to lines like ‘They’re gonna put a Walmart here’, making even that line sound ominous.

Track Review – The Wheel / PJ Harvey

Everyone liked Let England Shake, PJ Harvey’s last album, but the first taste of her new album is somewhat more traditional to her older style instrumentally, whilst the lyrical topics are still very much in keeping with the war imagery she’s been working with. The style of music Polly Jean Harvey is playing with on this new track is somewhere in the middle of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea and To Bring You My Love, mostly for the hip-shaking value that the first wordless minute brings. The song is driven by the same propulsion that tracks like ‘This Is Love’ or the snake-like drums of ‘Working For The Man’. However, PJ Harvey has never established her footing as quickly as she does on ‘The Wheel’, throwing in a guitar solo from the beginning, which wriggles underneath for the minute with a the drumbeat and handclaps making the track sound more like an aggressive irish jig than anything from Let England Shake.

Children are all over the lyrics of ‘The Wheel’, hiding behind vehicles, flying out and disappearing. As Harvey repeats in the outro, ‘And watch them fade out’, you can’t help thinking of the shadows of the dead left on the wall after the nuclear bomb hit Hiroshima and Harvey wanting to preserve the memories of the innocent people who have died as a result of someone else’s conflict, which wouldn’t be a surprising reference point with Harvey still interested in writing about war, and it’s a good job someone who is a big name is talking about war, because who else is really? The track’s instrumental can seem repetitive, especially by the time the minute intro has ended and the song being nearly six minutes long, plus the outro ends so jarringly you’d half expect the track to lead into another on the album. But another PJ Harvey album is always something to celebrate, especially if she’s planning on dragging the narrative into the 21st century and out of the WWI story of Let England Shake. 

The Most Anticipated Releases of 2016

In an effort to fill in some time when music dies down (probably something to do with Christmas), we’re going to be running through a few of the most anticipated releases of next year. Some are 2015 no-shows, some are records that have been in gestation for a long time, and some might just be random drops from more prolific artists.

Early 2016

David Bowie – Blackstar (8/1/16)

Something of a surprise after The Next Day was considered to be his swansong, Blackstar (or  if we’re being specific) continues where his last album ended, diving into experimentation once again with the jazz-prog first single, ‘Blackstar’ and the slightly less weird next taster, ‘Lazarus’. David Bowie really could release an album’s worth of cow noises and the people would eat it up, so expect it to get rave reviews. However, ‘Blackstar’ showed that Bowie could still innovate decades after creating personas like Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane that altered musical style with each release. Expect lots of smooth jazz and lyrics that surprise.

Hinds – Leave Me Alone (8/1/16)

For all of the disappointment we receive when Hinds make another version of the same song, they always bring fun and smiles to the serious face of rock music. Maybe it’s some of that Madrid sunshine bleeding through into their clunky but endearing style, which resembles more of a couple of friends learning how to play instruments together rather than a tightly-knit instrumental machine. This is definitely a band that wants to make you move, primarily, and everything else comes second.

Savages – Adore Life (22/1/16)

Even if Savages replicated the same moody post-punk of Silence Yourself, Adore Life probably would have sated the appetite of fans, but so far both singles for the album have been harsh, unforgiving and utterly gripping. The band have matured even further, with Jehnny Beth’s lyrics offering a light/dark perspective on love, Ayşe Hassan’s bass buzzing away, Gemma Thompson’s combination of soft and buzzsaw guitar and Fay Milton driving the band along on the brutal ‘The Answer’. They might just be the next greatest rock band.

DIIV – Is This Is Are (5/2/16)

We’ll be honest – Oshin did nothing for us. If you compare it to DIIV’s live sets, where they amp the pace up considerably, Oshin was sluggish, many of the tracks blurred together and Zachary Cole Smith’s vocals barely floated on the surface. That all changed with recent singles such as ‘Dopamine’ and ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’, where they’ve become more dream-pop that shoegaze, falling into the territory of a faster, more instrumental Beach House. A lot has happened since Oshin to DIIV, but SI This Is Are should hopefully set the record straight considering all of the controversy and criticism that the band have drawn.

Animal Collective – Painting With (19/2/16)

Yeah, we didn’t especially like ‘FloriDada’ too much, but you have to admit that song was weirdly catchy. An Animal Collective release is always an event, and Painting With is no exception – it’s already been played in an airport. The fans have been calling it a return to their most successful records: Merriweather Post Pavillion and Strawberry Jam, but the hype could be what kills the record. Animal Collective have always liked to go off the beaten psychedelic path, so something weird and wonderful isn’t out of the question. After Tame Impala’s all-conquering Currents, the second-best psych flag-bearers have a lot to live up to.

Spring 2016 

PJ Harvey – TBA

So far she’s only teased a thirty-second clip and some live events (plus that special recording experience), but PJ Harvey’s next album looks to be another war-based record dragged out of the muddy heroism and futility of WW1 that came with Let England Shake and into a more modern setting. So far ‘The Ministry of Social Affairs’ and ‘Chain of Keys’ have been played live, both being entirely different tracks with ‘The Ministry…’  harking back to To Bring You My Love’s backwater rock. It’s probably going to be very political, more intense and win another Mercury Prize.

Rihanna – Anti – TBA

2015, when Rihanna did the least she’s ever done, was actually one of her biggest years. Her songs that she did release (‘Bitch Better Have My Money’, ‘American Oxygen’, ‘FourFiveSeconds’) were lightning rods for thinkpieces, worlds away from ‘Diamonds’ or ‘Rude Boy’. She partnered up with Kanye for her album and the single ‘FourFiveSeconds’ (which also featured Paul McCartney of all people) and made a $25 million deal with Samsung for Anti, which is a bit like what Jay-Z for his last album Magna Carta Holy Grail, which was swamped by Kanye’s Yeezus and doesn’t bode well for Rihanna if Kanye releases Swish next year if history does repeat itself, though Rihanna and Kanye are hardly rap enemies. Then again, if ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ says anything, Kanye might have a hard time beating out Anti.

Modest Mouse – Whatever (Rumoured) – TBA

The long-gestating Strangers To Ourselves came out in 2014 to mixed reviews, with the lead single ‘Lampshades On Fire’ aiming for ‘Float On’s pop appeal and though Isaac Brock’s delivery was as wild as ever, Modest Mouse were still lacking what they haven’t had since The Moon And Antarctica – a fear of implosion at any minute. Their next album, a companion piece apparently called Whatever, or misspelt Wbatever features Krist Novoselic, according to reports and should carry on themes that Strangers To Ourselves brought, although hopefully it’s a lot better.

TBA

Kanye West – SWISH

What’s the point of even thinking about what Kanye might do on his next album? ‘All Day’, ‘Wolves’ and ‘FourFiveSeconds’ were entirely different, unlike the crossover indie-hit of Yeezus that took inspiration from Death Grips (though Kanye would never admit that). His last two albums have been detours into autotuned pop (thus opening the door for Drake) and industrial-rap, so a return to his beloved trilogy would only be a step backwards for Ye. Nope, everything from here on out is new territory for the most polarising rapper around. No matter how much you hate him, he’s so famous your parents know him, and for any rapper that’s superstardom.

Frank Ocean

He won every award going when Channel Orange came out in 2012 and  has been teasing music ever since, but Frank Ocean is yet to follow up the success of that album. It’s a bit like position Kendrick Lamar was in after Good Kid, M.a.a.d City; overcome with success and too much hype on his shoulders. Then he released To Pimp A Butterfly and that becomes the most important rap record of the last decade. Frank Ocean is in the same position; he has the ability to top it, but until he releases it there’s the issue that it might not be received as well. We’ll just have to wait and find out.

Radiohead

Being a Radiohead fan is hard. Bathing in a sweet new picture of Jonny Greenwood eating a sandwich is considered newsworthy at this point (slight exaggeration, but the point is there) but little spills out about the follow-up to The King of Limbs, which was a little so-so (watch the live version in the Basement, it’s ten times better than the album). Thom Yorke’s recent leanings suggest another electronic-influenced album, but Radiohead have always been a democracy so even poor Phil Selway will have a say in what style they dip into next. As long as nobody suggests EDM, we’ll be fine.

The XX

It’s been way too long since the XX released anything into the world. Granted, Jamie XX had a successful 2015 with his debut album In Colour and hopefully some of that summery electronica makes its way to the dark world of the XX. Coexist, their last album in 2012, was a bit of an anticlimax after their near-perfect first record, so hopefully the XX come back better with what they do next. It might also be important to say that if the XX rehash the same dimly-lit indie that formed their first two albums again the critics might not be as eager to slap on the five-star reviews as their reverby-schtick has been hopped on by everyone and anyone in the last five years. Jamie XX’s glossy side-project influences might just be what saves them.

Alice Glass

Some people are quite excited for the new Crystal Castles record, which in no way will be a Crystal Castles record without the presence of Alice Glass. Instead Crystal Castles other-half Ethan Kath has employed another singer to fill Glass’ role, called Edith Frances. But now Alice Glass has struck out on her own, releasing the pummelling ‘Stillbirth’ which is roughly 15 times better than anything Kath has released since Glass left CC. Glass has said that there is a sister song to ‘Stillbirth’ which is more of a ‘lullaby’, so don’t expect everything that she releases to be as brutal as her first song as a solo artist.

M.I.A – Matahdatah

Matahdatah is looking a whole lot more exciting after M.I.A. dropped ‘Borders’ late in 2015. She’s back to her politically-charged best, plus her instrumental strength continues to be as modern as possible with her incorporation of world music and southern trap-rap. Behind all of the intense politics, there’s a catchy pop song behind ‘Borders’ and ‘Swords’ from her audio-visual project that emerged in the middle of 2015. Call-and-answer lines like ‘What’s up with that?’ are meant to be played big at festivals.If Kendrick Lamar soundtracked the civil rights movement in 2015, M.I.A. might just soundtrack the ongoing refugee crisis and terrorism.