Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Earl Sweatshirt has come a long, long way since 2010 when he burst onto the scene as a fresh faced 16 year old rap prodigy with Earl, a startling mixtape that captured the attention of every self respecting hip-hop fan with it's outstanding lyrics, clinical delivery and dark, often disturbing subject matter over a minimal backdrop provided by mentor and close friend Tyler, The Creator. To those already familiar with the teen's controversial rap collective Odd Future, the story is one that has taken on an almost mythical status, as Sweatshirt vanished from the scene as quickly as he had appeared, leaving fans puzzled as to his whereabouts until February of last year when it emerged that Earl had been sent to a detention camp for troubled youths in Samoa by his mother in order to clean up his act.
Upon his return, Earl set to work immediately with the announcement of Doris followed by the release of ''Chum'', a brutally honest, emotional single that detailed his feelings on his time in Samoa and issues regarding his father, growing up and increased expectations. The last part isn't so surprising, as the wave of hype that followed the teenager is one that would heavily burden even the strongest of shoulders, and repeated delays due to a lengthy production process didn't help to cool the baited breath of OFWGKTA's devoted fanbase. Sweatshirt took to Twitter weeks before the long awaited release with a blunt warning to fans who may have been expecting a record he was unwilling to provide: ''...I anticipate a loss of fans. I also anticipate gaining some... I hope you lose me as a fan if you only fuck with me because I rapped about raping girls when I was 15.''
A brave statement perhaps and one that could prove a smart move or the beginning of a backlash, but as Doris dropped yesterday it was about time that all the talking stopped, we found out for ourselves and let the music speak. Thankfully for Earl and his supporters, it does a wonderful job of silencing critics and dubious fans alike with it's raw power and majestic flow, as Earl immediately sets the record straight on ''Burgundy'', a Neptunes produced track that kickstarts the album in style as the 19 year old declares ''Don't tell me that I've made it/ Only relatively famous'' over the type of smooth beat that Pharrell has perfected over the last decade. It's a mission statement that sets us up perfectly for the 15 tracks, dispelling perceived expectations while also laying down the high standard of quality that continues throughout as fellow OF member Domo Genesis steals ''20 Wave Caps'' from the beginning, before Frank Ocean joins Earl for a softer moment on ''Sunday'' as the two recollect on past relationships and apologize to their estranged partners.
Guest features are a trend that dominate the entire album, as Earl welcomes numerous Wolf Gang friends and extensions of these while also incorporating use of bigger names in the industry- ''Hive'' see's Vince Staples pick up where he left off on ''Epar'' with a skillful verse that quite nearly steals the show from the main man, Mac Miller shows up for the wonderfully weird ''Guild'' while production for ''Molasses'' is provided by Wu Tang legend RZA, whose influence is clear on Earl's cold, dark production throughout Doris, best exemplified on the aforementioned ''Hive'' with it's sparse beats and fuzzy bass combining with Earl and Staples natural flow to create one of the highlights of the album.
Other highlights include the Tyler produced ''Whoa'' which see's Earl reverting back to his troublesome 2010 self to remind us that's he's ''still in the business of smacking up little rappers'', while experimental techniques pay off in style on tracks like ''Centurion'' and ''Hoarse'', featuring production from post modern jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD, frequent collaborators of Odd Future. The finest moment however came a full year before the album in ''Chum'', a beautiful centerpiece that is made all the more impressive by the fact that Earl created it by himself.
Which brings us to perhaps the only negative aspect of Doris- it's lack of solo Earl material. At times it takes on the appearance of a group album with the heavy amount of featured artists, although Sweatshirt deserves credit for choosing wisely. It's not that any of those featured put a foot wrong (in fact, quite the opposite) but the next logical step for Earl is a completely solo work, especially considering the production skills he displays under the humble moniker of Randomblackdude that he assigns himself in the track credits.
As the 44 minutes of Doris breezes to a close with Earl addressing his father, critics and haters in a triumphant finale on ''Knight'' (well assisted once again by Domo), that controversial Twitter announcement may seem a tad dramatic post listen- to describe it as an experimental album would be reaching to say the least, however to many of the Odd Future die hard's it will be tough to swallow the fact that Earl is no longer trying to shock his audience into submission. Much like Tyler's Wolf in April, Doris will indeed be a breaking point for the rap collective's teen following, however the process of a changing fanbase should come as quite the opposite of a loss for the young rapper as a broader audience respond to Earl and OF's desire to develop their skills rather than regurgitate them. In another landmark year for the rapidly developing rap group, Doris has set the bar for solo work alongside Wolf and Frank Ocean's 2012 R&B masterpiece Channel Orange, confirming the band's unmatched ability to produce a challenging, unique brand of hip-hop that stands out in today's modern music scene.
In conclusion, while it shouldn't be a factor, in reality the massive hype revolving around Earl since last February won't have helped Doris- those expecting a classic in the vein of good kid may be slightly underwhelmed, but that would be an unfair way to analyse Earl's first full length release; this flawless 44 minutes of raw, old school rap is just the first demonstration of Sweatshirt's incredibly natural talent, and crucially, it seems inevitable that he will only get better. For now, Doris is more than enough material to satisfy, but the most important thing to take from these 15 tracks is that at 19 years old, Earl Sweatshirt's potential is limitless. Watch this space.
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As we approach the years biggest and best Irish festival, let's take a look at the acts you should be sure to catch at EP13.
Arctic Monkeys may be an obvious choice, but it's for a reason- the Yorkshiremen are known for their energetic live shows and with the upcoming release of their 5th studio album AM, the British foursome are as experienced a touring outfit as any international act. Expect plenty of classics from the likes of Favourite Worst Nightmare and Whatever People I Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, still the fastest selling debut album in British history and already a classic record.
Swedish electronic masters The Knife will be performing for the first time at EP this year following the release of their 4th studio album this year, Shaking The Habitual. While the sibling duo are known to shy away from touring and general media coverage, their live shows have gained a strong reputation, and following a 7 year hiatus before the release of STH, this is set to be a truly special set.
My Bloody Valentine
Pick of the weekend for many and with extremely good reason, My Bloody Valentine returned in January with the highly anticipated mbv, just their third album, and it didn't disappoint. The shoegaze legends, founded in Dublin in the early 80's, have consistently amazed audiences with their incomparable unique wall of sound style that translates much the same way in concert as ethereal beauty of last year's headliners Sigur Ros- an almost alien sound that cannot be recreated by a single other act on the planet. Fans will be eager to witness the return of a band that created one of the finest albums of it's generation in Loveless, and if Shields and co. are on form, as surely they will be, this will be the true highlight of the weekend.
Having made the successful transition from rock legend to solo folk act, Robert Plant brings his new project, The Sensational Space Shifters, to Stradbally. The Brit has consistently been voted the greatest frontman/lead singer of all time for his role in creating the iconic Led Zeppelin, and for many the chance to hear the likes of ''Black Dog'' and ''Whole Lotta Love'' will be irresistible, but don't dismiss Plant's solo ventures either- since the end of Zep, Plant's solo work and side projects have received considerable acclaim and this should be a wonderful show on it's own merit.
Wu Tang Clan
Arguably the greatest hip-hop collective of all time, Wu Tang Clan come to Stradbally at full strength, boasting the likes of The RZA, The GZA, Method Man, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon,each of whom hold their own place in rap music history. The 9 man strong outfit are set to bring the house down at Picnic with their blend of classic old school rap and raw beats, so if you're in the mood for some outrageously fine hip-hop on the weekend, look no further than the Wu.
Tuesday, 20 August 2013
It's been a long time since Regina Spektor began her career in New York, playing her eccentric brand of classical piano and pop fusion to small crowds in the city's underground jazz bars. Listening back to the earliest recordings from Spektor you can vividly picture the smoke in the air, hushed whispers across the room and hipsters clicking their fingers in tune with the beat, yet the last time the American visited Ireland she played to a near maximum capacity 02 crowd, confirming her very mainstream status these days. The release of What We Saw From The Cheap Seats last year (her sixth studio album) continued in this vein, employing a full band and use of a mostly chart friendly approach with the regular touches of charm and wit that the NY native sprinkles throughout her discography.
Those who arrived with a slightly hesitant attitude toward Regina's growing ambitions will have found themselves reassured quickly as things kicked off with an acappella rendition of ''Ain't No Cover'', to the delight of the audience who welcomed her with rapturous applause and then deadly silence, much to the joy of the eternally innocent Spektor, who seemed genuinely humbled by her reception. Switching between newer and older tunes, fans seemed pleased with the likes of favourites ''On The Radio'' and ''Ode To Divorce'' (a rare moment of just Regina's voice and piano) while ''All The Rowboats'' confirmed fans were still paying attention to more recent material.
The striking thing about Spektor from the get go, and the reason she is such an acclaimed live act is her exceptional vocal talent, a feature which stands out even more so in a live, intimate setting than on record, an increasing rareity these days among live bands and singers. Adding to the stunning falsetto and pitch perfect delivery are the trademark sounds which Spektor loves to add throughout her work as everything from burping to beat boxing is employed much to the amusement of fans and Regina herself, whose thrilled reaction between each song is probably best conveyed by her joyful declaration that she wanted to ''eat the whole theatre'' halfway through the set.
Continuing on, the show is broken up at the halfway point for a duet with support act Only Son while crowd favourites such as ''Dance Anthem Of The 80's'', ''Ne Me Quitte Pas'' and ''Better'' get the audience in full flow. Going back to her roots, Spektor performs a traditional Russian song in her native language entitled ''The Prayer'' before ''Sailor Song'', taken from arguabley her finest effort Soviet Kitcsh is brought out for the entire building to sing.
The exit of Spektor and band from the stage brings the desired reaction from the enthusiastic crowd and she is welcomed back on for a final set of tracks that end the set perfectly, as classics ''Us'', ''Fidelity'', ''Hotel Song'' and finally ''Samson'' bring the night to an end. The faithful vocals of the audience for every word of Regina's last 4 songs confirm her special connection with the audience, as she declares ''you're gonna make me cry'' midway through an especially delicate rendition of ''Samson'' at the close. Best of all, the very last song see's the band exit stage, leaving just Spektor, the piano and her audience, just the way it should be, and it really doesn't feel fake when she tells us how difficult it will be to leave Ireland afterwards.
While some fans may question recent albums in contrast to more niche work such as 11:11 and Songs, tonight in the Olympia has proven that one thing has remained true: Regina Spektor is a damn fine live performer, and her home, just as it was in the beginning, remains on the stage.
Ain't No Cover
Small Town Moon
On The Radio
Ode To Divorce
All The Rowboats
Call Them Brothers (feat. Only Son)
You've Got Time (New)
Dance Anthem Of The 80's
Ne Me Quitte Pas
Ballad Of A PoliticanThe Prayer
Sunday, 18 August 2013
The second of two summer dates in Slane arrived yesterday as 80,000 fans travelled to the Castle with high expectations for a day filled with high quality hip-hop acts. Following a controversial cancellation in 2005, Slim Shady was back in front of an Irish audience for his Slane debut on the back of a well received Oxegen headline slot in 2011, accompanied by the likes of Plan B, Tyler The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt.
The immediately noticeable feature of this year's event for fans was the massive security operation undertaken by Gardai due to the numerous tragedies at last years event headlined by Swedish House Mafia. Several checkpoints were passed on entry to the gig with metal detectors employed and careful searches taking place, to the credit of the organisers who deserve a special mention for their efforts.
The day kicked off with Chicago bred newcomer Chance The Rapper whose mixtape Acid Rain was released earlier this year to considerable acclaim, followed by hip-hop supergroup of sorts Slaughterhouse, and Shady Records artist Yelawolf, each of whom received little to no response from the dull Irish crowd who seemed only to be here for the headline act. The same problem followed as Earlwolf took to the stage around the half 5 mark, with the majority of the crowd seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were watching two of the biggest upcoming names in rap music at present in Tyler The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, members of controversial rap collective Odd Future.
Notorious for their high octane, extreme live shows, Tyler and Earl (accompanied by their faithful OF associates Jasper and Taco) did their very best to liven up the crowd with an easy going, comical stage presence throughout mixed with energetic performances that was all but lost on 90 percent of those present. The band seemed to enjoy playing on such a massive scale if, although it did prevent them from acting out their usual stage dive antics which in turn led to a far quieter atmosphere than they usually experience at home and all around Europe. All in all, a good performance that deserved a better reaction on a wasted crowd.
Things began to improve with the introduction of Plan B at half 7, an easier act for the audience to connect with as chart hits like ''She Said'', ''Stay Too Long'' and the Chase & Status backed ''End Credits'' were received warmly as the evening began to kick off. Following the Brit's set, excitement began to kick in as the grounds filled up and a party atmosphere descended on concert goers who waited impatiently for the man they'd all come to see, Marshall Mathers. The view of a sea of music lovers under the sunset was the only true moment of the day that Slane could be appreciated in it's full glory, as a massive Irish event that would overwhelm even the most experienced of international acts.
The stage was well and truly set as Eminem arrived just after 9pm, who kicked off with brand new single ''Survival'' before continuing with work taken from recent albums Relapse (2009) and Recovery (2010) for the opening group of songs. The more memorable work came relatively early on however with the likes of ''Kill You'', ''Mosh'' and ''White America'' making appearances to the delight of the crowd, who were in full voice by now and responded word for word with every single lyric the rapper delivered, which mostly masked the majorly disappointing fact that a background vocal track was being used throughout the performance, a shameful feature for any genuine recording artist to employ in concert.
That wasn't the least underwhelming factor of the night however, as Eminem consistently and relentlessly cut songs in half, refusing to play a full version of the classic songs that the Irish audience were longing to hear, among them no less than (and not limited to) ''The Real Slim Shady'', ''Stan'', ''The Way I Am'', ''My Name Is'', ''Sing For The Moment'', ''Without Me'',and ''Cleaning Out My Closet'' which were subject to editing in just the first verse and chorus before Em moved swiftly on in favor of less popular work such as ''Airplanes Pt. 2'' and ''Lighters''. If any of this sounds familiar, that may be due to the fact that those in attendance at Oxegen 2011 will have witnessed an identical setlist, rendering their experience a mostly pointless one unless they came for a repeat performance. Following the completion of the gig with 8 Mile favourite ''Lose Yourself'' after just 90 minutes, you may be left to ponder the fact that if each song had been performed in full we would have experienced a more acceptable set length of over 2 hours, although maybe that's too much to ask of Mathers these days.
While the performance may have been questionable, the audience were in great spirits throughout and it was clear to see that the majority in Slane had greatly enjoyed their night, although the disgracefully lengthy process of leaving the venue left many in bad spirits on the way home. Combined with the fact that there was a noticeable amount of crowd trouble in spite of Gardai's best efforts, it is difficult to see the continuing attraction of Slane Castle as a concert venue. Legendary reputation aside, the poorly executed crowd organisation and travel arrangements make for an experience that is absolutely bettered by the likes of Croke Park, Aviva Stadium and The O2.
For this reviewer if none else, I can safely say that my first time in Slane will be my last. 80 Euro? Next time catch the DVD, you'll have a better view.
Tuesday, 6 August 2013
The bad weather and good spirits kept up at Oxegen on Sunday with another set of excellent performances from a variety of world renowned artists.
Kicking off things during the afternoon, there was plenty to be found in the Red Bull Electric Ballroom as the likes of former FM104 house DJ Al Gibbs got campers back into party mode before fans made their way to the Main Stage for Pitbull, who provided a set full of cheesy europop tunes that got everyone in Punchestown moving. Drawing a surprisingly large crowd onsidering the relatively early timeslot of 18.40, the American was delighted with the enthusiasm shown by the Irish audience and set up a rapport with fans that lasted throughout the hour long show as he executed a range of covers (including some Guns’N’Roses) before delving into more familiar material such as ‘’Give Me Everything’’ and ‘’I Know You Want Me’’ to the finish line.
Next up was sure to be an interesting experience if nothing else as the recently ‘reincarnated’ Snoop Lion took to the stage. Following a lengthy introduction which included classic songs like ‘’California Love’’ and ‘’Still D.R.E’’, we finally caught a glimpse of the rap icon who made it clear early on that fans had nothing to worry about as he stuck firmly to vintage material which pleased the expectant crowd no end as they rapped along to the likes of ‘’Gin And Juice’’, ‘’Tha Shiznit’’ and many others.
A short section of reggae taken from the new album served to quieten the buzz which Snoop responded to well by returning to the classics such as ‘’Drop It Like It’s Hot’’ late on and ending the show with a wonderful rendition of ‘’Young Wild & Free’’ at sunset that captured the atmosphere of the weekend in a perfect manner. As he exited the stage to the sounds of Bob Marley’s ‘’Jammin’’, it was plain to see that for many this was the most enjoyable experience of the weekend, due in large part to Snoop’s excellent interaction skills with the adoring crowd, in spite of his failure to grasp the fact that he was not in Dublin as he repeatedly stated. We’ll forgive him though.
As the night began, drum and bass specialists Chase & Status came onstage with the lashing rain in full flow, although nobody was to be put off, in fact it seemed as though the rain was driving them further on, creating a special atmosphere that was severely enhanced by a collection of hardcore electro tunes such as ‘’Let You Go’’, ‘’Blind Faith’’ and ‘’Time’’. Collaborating with an onscreen Plan B worked a charm on festival goers aswell, especially as signature hit ‘’End Credits’’ was delivered in what was surely one of the finest performances of the weekend. Despite the reputation of acts such as this for possible crowd trouble or violence (with Swedish House Mafia acting as a terrible example last summer) there was not a hint of hassle in sight with the crowd joining in communal dance and actively enjoying each other’s company. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of all was the live band setup that Chase & Status employ, marking an impressive change of pace from the button pushing techniques that dominated the weekend.
Last but not least was the main attraction in the form of French superstar DJ David Guetta who took the same no nonsense approach as Calvin Harris the night before with an onslaught of chart hits that set the crowd alight, the likes of ‘’Love Don’t Let Me Go’’, ‘’Memories’’ and ‘’Titanium’’ making notable appearances throughout a set which included covers of Avicii and even Harris himself to the pleasure of many in attendance. While maybe not as impressive as the two acts that went before him, there was no doubt that the crowd were loving the reliable set of songs that Guetta provided, and it made for a fitting end to a weekend filled with dance hits.
In conclusion, while many have stayed away from Oxegen this year due to it’s changing appearance, you can be sure that those who went will have had an excellent experience and speculation that this might be MCD’s last outing with the festival now looks doubtful. After a successful weekend by all accounts, it now seems quite possible for Oxegen to continue in its changed format.
Sunday, 4 August 2013
The clouds darkened ominously over Naas on Saturday morning and sure enough festival goers were greeted by torrential downpours of rain throughout the first day of Oxegen 2013, but that didn’t stand in the way of thousands of Irish music lovers who were determined to make the most of the shortened weekend event.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first of all: Oxegen is a completely different show this year to the kind we experienced annually 2004-2011, with the organizers opting for a strictly dance/chart line up this time around, to the outrage of many music fans throughout the country, but the vibe from the crowd upon entering the arena was very much the same as recent years with a welcome party atmosphere that extended through the evening and was much appreciated by the artists, who were quick to comment on the spirit and passion of the audience at Punchestown Racecourse.
Of the early acts of the day, British garage/R&B producer Naughty Boy livened up the proceedings during a 40 minute set which included a refreshing take on Daft Punk’s megahit ‘’Get Lucky’’, before finishing with his own UK Number 1 ‘’La La La’’. Rita Ora was another standout act on her first time in Ireland, kickstarting the evening with her brand of electro R&B as the festival began to take shape at the Main Stage, delivering signature hits such as ‘’Hot Right Now’’, ‘’Shine Your Light’’ and ‘’Roc The Life’’, before playing a strange medley of Notorious BIG tunes that confused some and delighted others. As she closed the show with ‘’Over’’, it seemed as though Ora was having just as much fun as those in the crowd, and her heartfelt thank you to the audience was accepted by satisfied fans.
Following a strong set by Labrinth, including a cover of NWA’s ‘’Express Yourself’’ as well as ‘’Let The Sun Shine’’ and ‘’Earthquake’’, the sun began to set and the stage was truly set for the headliners. Example was in a show stealing mood, beginning with his original single ‘’Kickstarts’’ before launching into an energetic display to which the crowd responded extremely well, making the loudest noise they had all day, with ‘’Stay Awake’’ provoking a particularly big reaction. An impressive lightshow and stunning visuals were a excellent accompaniment to the set, and as the show ended with ‘’Changed The Way You Kissed Me’’ a firework display was the perfect compliment to the already glorious climax.
As Example made his exit, attention quickly turned to Calvin Harris with the crowd growing impatient for the Scotsman’s arrival at midnight. Greeted by delighted Irish fans, Harris kicks things off with his Florence inspired track ‘’Say My Name’’, before a series of instantly recognisable tunes get the desired reaction. ‘’Flashback’’, ‘’Bounce’’ and ‘’We Found Love’’ are all brought into play as well as a number of remixes ranging from Swedish House Mafia’s ‘’Save The World’’ to ‘’We Are Your Friends’’ by Justice, and even a little Basement Jaxx in the form of ‘’Where’s Your Head At?’’. Smoke and laser machines were in full use throughout the 90 minute set which peaked with ‘’Feel So Close’’ around the one o clock mark, causing the thousands gathered at the main stage to unite in a communal singalong.
A frequent complaint about DJ sets such as this is often that the man behind the deck seems to be doing little to no live work and it certainly applies in this case with Harris doing little else but standing around and observing the crowd, who he seems reluctant to engage in any form of conversation, but this no nonsense approach doesn’t seem to bother the audience, who after all here for one thing and one thing only; the music. Overall it’s been moderately successful first day for a very different looking Oxegen, bring on Snoop, Chase & Status and co. tomorrow.
Thursday, 1 August 2013
Support for legendary rap star Eminem’s fast approaching August date at Slane Castle has been announced, with EarlWolf (Odd Future rappers Tyler The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt), Shady Records artist Yelawolf, English hip-hop musician Plan B and Chicago newcomer Chance The Rapper set to join Marshall Mathers on the big stage at the annual Irish event.
The highly anticipated gig, announced back in December last year, marks the Detroit rappers return to an Irish stage following a headline performance at Oxegen 2011. Previously Mathers was the subject of controversy after cancelling a scheduled concert at Slane in 2005, due to ‘’exhaustion’’, later going on to enter drug rehabilitation and taking a lengthy break from the music scene.
Eminem is the second artist to play Slane in 2013 following Bon Jovi’s appearance in June alongside The Coronas, Ham Sandwich and Bressie.
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