Monday, 14 October 2013

''Old'' Danny Brown - A Review

''I made XXX with the aim of getting great reviews. And when I started making Old, I was trying to think of artists that came back from getting great reviews and made an album that was just as good– or better! The only group I could really come up with was Radiohead. So if XXX was my OK Computer, then I’d have to make my Kid A next.''

That's quite a statement, and it's telling of Danny Brown; apart from the hilarious comedic personality that comes across throughout interviews with the Detroit rapper, there's another aspect of his character buried underneath, namely his hunger for success. Brown is as ambitious as he is talented, two characteristics you may fail to notice if you're not overly familiar with the rising star due to his eccentric nature and open attitude towards drug abuse. Many heads were turned with the release of XXX back in 2011, a surprising, original and entirely unique hip hop fusion album that found it's way towards the top end of many critics best of lists come the end of the year. A follow up was always going to be risky business, but the above quote will assure you of Brown's fearlessness if nothing else.

Old is the result of half a year spent in studio before an overly long production process that frustrated Brown to the point of him threatening to release the demo version for free ahead of his label Fool's Gold. The casual 2013 hip hop fan may have more likely been found in circles patiently waiting for Yeezus, Magna Carta Holy Grail or Nothing Was The Same but if you'd kept your ear to the ground this year, alongside Earl Sweatshirt's Doris, Danny Brown's third release has been in high demand and the wave of expectation that came hand in hand with it eventually died down this month when fans were actually given the chance to finally press play and listen.

You may be misled into thinking that Old represents the 31 year old's contradictory age in the modern rap game, however it's actually referring to the style Danny used previous to XXX, which he made several large hints about returning to during the recording process, and this is made instantly clear on the opening two tracks with the title track and ''The Return'' dealing with the resurrection of the ''old Danny Brown'' (presumably what the working title of ODB stood for, apart from invoking the image of a frequent Danny comparison in the form of the Wu Tang legend).

Further on, a long awaited collaboration between Danny and Purity Ring takes place with wonderous results on ''25 Bucks'', as the unexpectedly suited pairing work to their individual strengths with Corin Roddick's soft electro beats, Megan Jones beautiful vocal and Brown's rap combining to perfection. The highest praise I could give is that 2 and a half minutes was simply not enough; perhaps only a full Postal Service style album of these three individuals would have sufficed, but Brown presses on in style, reigniting his outrageous XXX self for the first time on ''Wonderbread'', a whole four tracks in. It's the first sound of that special vocal delivery that captured an audience so vividly just two years ago, and not the only time the rapper returns to the party persona he hinted would be obsolete this time around, with the most notable examples arriving in the form of ''Red 2 Go'', ''Dip'' (featuring an excellent interpolation of Watch The Throne's smash hit ''Niggas In Paris''), ''Dope Song'' and ''Dope Fiend Rental''.

For the most part however, these type of club anthems are overrun by the prevalent darkness of the album, as songs like ''Torture'', ''Lonely'' and ''Gremlins'' showcase heavy electronic beats steeped in bleak imagery, deep contemplation and hard hitting lyrics with Danny recalling the second half of Old's predecessor but travelling further into the void. Brown is honest to the point of brutality, confronting his inner demons, issues with family and friends, depression and, most importantly, his drug habit. Throughout these 19 tracks the listener finds Brown in direct confrontation with his party image and grown up self, most effectively exemplified through the contrast between opposites such as ''Smokin & Drinkin'' and ''Clean Up'' or ''Lonely''.

It's not exactly unheard territory for an artist to place the spotlight on themselves for such trouble, but the crucial difference here is the perceived reality of it all; Brown sounds as though he is genuinely conflicted, ruthlessly examining his own identity, and struggling to figure himself out over the course of 56 minutes, with the experimental, trippy production (courtesy of DB cohorts SKYWLKR and Paul White) seemingly representing the fragilty of the rapper's mind and his bipolar nature.

As the album draws to a close, two of the biggest song highlights in  ''Kush Coma'', a previously released single that sounds great within the context of the album and features an excellent cameo from associate A$AP Rocky, before ''Float On'' ends the record with Charli's XCX's ghost-like, charming vocals whispered over Danny's ryhmes in a content, peaceful beat that stands in direct contrast to XXX closer ''30'', then the sum of all the frustration and anger that Brown had dealt with to that point.

Ultimately, Old is a daring, exceptional album that outdoes XXX for it's focus, energy, honesty, bravery and direction. Brown has ignored fans who would have been happy just to hear the funny man again and built on the talent he exposed to the public intially while drawing from the tormented soul that came before fame and fortune. The perception of Danny Brown as an outsider or wild card should now be over; he's the real deal, leading the field alongside rising modern rap stars like Kendrick, Tyler and co., and most cruically doing something in modern rap than few can match and absolutely none can emulate, making him undoubtedly one of the most exciting talents in the rap game, and music world, at this moment in time.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

''The Bones Of What You Believe'' Chvrches - A Review

Synthpop isn't something you would typically associate with Glasgow, Scotland. The city has thrived on a series of straightforward, no nonsense indie rock bands in the recent past that somewhat act as a representation of it's rough personality, including but not limited to Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream and The Fratelli's. Yet here we are in the back end of 2013 and the fresh-faced, original sound of Chvrches (that's a Roman v, not a misspelling) is captivating not only their hometown but many others around the world.

Comprised of Lauren Mayberry (lead vocals, synths and samples), Iain Cook (synths, guitar, bass, additional vocals) and Martin Doherty (synths, samples, additional vocals), the band came together in 2011 following years of individual work around their local music scene that failed to gain serious recognition. After 8 months spent working together in basement studio, the trio formed Chvrches, spelled so simply because they ''thought it sounded cool''. It all sounds rather low key, but upon your first listen to The Bones Of What You Believe, you may be taken aback by the sound these three can make with Mayberry's charming vocal over an unholy amount of synthesizers.

 Bones kicks off with ''The Mother We Share'', a previously released single prior to the album which was ranked on The Huffington Post's best song list of 2012, and it's easy to see why as the attention grabbing track acts as a mission statement for the remaining 11. It's an early standout, but it's more than backed up with similiarly minded tunes such as ''Tether'', ''Lies'' and ''We Sink''. All full of charm with substance to match, the immediate comparison drawn to mind is Purity Ring, another recent electronic sensation that came to light last year with their debut Shrines. The delicate female vocals combined with a light electronic backing are a perfect match, but there are major differences too, namely the irresistable ball of energy that flows throughout the 48 minute running time of the album. Simply put, Chvrches are fun.

Things get funkier towards the end of the album with ''Night Sky'' and ''Science/Visions'' as the pace is upped, before the album is drawn to a close with another contender for best track in ''You Caught The Light'', an experimental electro beat that winds things down to perfection, recalling another synthpop predecessor in the form of The Postal Service, a band who you get the feeling this record couldn't have been made without.

Ultimately, Chvrches have taken a range of electronic influences and created something entirely accessible and instantly enjoyable to the average pop fan. It's a stunning debut and one that promises much more if the young trio can handle the expectations that come with such a well received record. Come the end of 2013, don't be surprised to find The Bones Of What You Believe featuring heavily in many critics choice cut lists.


Thursday, 3 October 2013

''AM'' Arctic Monkeys - A Review

It's long been said that the second time around is the hardest for an artist, or in fact anyone in an artistic or sporting field, to recreate something that captured the attention of an audience so vividly in the first place- you can count the number of film sequels that outdo their original on your fingers, 'second season syndrome' is a regular cause of disappointment for fans in the Premier League of many clubs, while the term 'sophomore slump' is thrown around the music world more than is ever necessary for countless acts that have arrived on the scene with a bang.

I'm not sure if I agree with the last one for several reasons- take a quick look at the biggest names and debut albums in rock since the turn of the millenium and you'll find The Strokes (Is This It?), Bloc Party (Silent Alarm) and Interpol (Turn On The Bright Lights) pretty high on any given list. Was it the case that these three aforementioned acts suffered a severe downfall on their second outings? Not whatsoever, with Room On Fire, A Weekend In The City and Antics proving that each could follow through on their outstanding earlier works.

The problem though, was following that. While you certainly aren't going to find the likes of these names in a ''Where Are They Now?'' article, the fact is that the work they're producing today is of sub standard quality to 5 or 10 years ago, and that right there is the damning evidence to suggest that the real factor that seperates a great band and a great album can be summarized in all of one word; consistency.In any case, the Arctic Monkeys arrived with an explosion in 2006 with one of the finest albums of the past decade, but in truth they've been rebelling against it, and the Oasis/Blur/Stone Roses successor image that came with it ever since.

AM is the Monkey's fifth effort and comes off the back of two albums that divided critics and polarized fans, namely Humbug (2009) and Suck It And See (2011) for their slower, classic rock inspired stoner rock approach and ditching of the British teen lad image that was prevalent before. It's a very interesting title, one that might be deemed lay by some, but as I've always seen it, there are only two reasons for a band to self title an album post debut- either they've churned out an indifferent, meaningless effort lacking in ideas and imagination and can't be bothered to name it anything else (see Interpol's latest for further details), or they've created a work of art that they feel defines them better than ever before. Fortunately for us, AM most definitely falls into the latter category, combining the styles and sounds of the Arctics previous four albums and some more in a wonderful pay off for fans of both early and later work.

Things kick off with two tracks the audience should be familiar with already due to the festival circuit, namely the slow burning hip-hop beats of ''Do I Wanna Know?'' and the Queens Of The Stone Age inspired ''R U Mine?'', acting as a one two punch introduction to the album that segues into a trio of  fusion rock style bangers as the band mix old styles and new to great effect, particularly on ''Arabella''. The mid section of the album is telling- the ironically titled ''No. 1 Party Anthem'' swoons it's way around the listeners ears in a sumptous blend of ''Only Ones Who Know'' and ''Cornerstone'', while ''Mad Sounds'' continues the smothering romantic theme that dominates the album. From here there are slight hitches as ''Snap Out Of It'' and ''Fireside'' (while enjoyable) hint at a High Flying Birds type influence that Turner is better than, but as we approach the close, ''Knee Socks'' makes for another highlight.

The best is undoubtedly saved for last however as Alex Turner delivers one of the finest, most affecting pieces of songwriting of his 27 year existence with ''I Wanna Be Yours''. Actingas an out and out song of love and devotion to an anonymous subject, the song represents a total emalgamation of AM and the band in general, taking the mundanity of daily life in Britain and transforming it into something more extraordinary and beauftiful: ''I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust/ I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust''. It's a fittingly wonderful closer to the band's best work since Favourite Worst Nightmare 6 years ago.

Ultimately, AM captures the Arctic Monkeys in a moment of totality and completeness; content with image and sound after yearws spent searching, AM is a stellar work of music that can be built on, and cruicially, feels like it surely will. Perhaps the best thing you could say about this record is that it makes me think Arctic Monkeys will improve from here, and considering their previous catalogue, that's quite a statement to make, and a truly exciting prospect.

When asked about the title pre-release, Alex Turner replied with a knowing smile, claiming he'd ripped it from the Velvet Underground's 1985 complilation VU: ''Did we cop out? Yeah, but something about it feels like this record is exactly where we should be right now. So it felt right just to initial it.''  It's an insightful comment, and while he might be laughing at the complacency of those initials himself, in reality, it couldn't have been named anything else.