Tag Archives: Music

Album Review: God First (2017) by Mr Jukes

It’s been a couple of years now since beloved indie rock band Bombay Bicycle Club was put on hiatus. In January, we found out what bassist Ed Nash had been up to with the release of The Pace Of Passing, the debut album from his new project Toothless (which I wasn’t particularly a fan of), and now with God First we know what frontman Jack Steadman has been working on.

It’s tempting to call Mr. Jukes Steadman’s ‘solo project’ though that’s only true in the same sense that Gorillaz is a Damon Albarn solo project. God First is basically one big collaboration album, featuring appearances from musicians such as Charles Bradley, BJ The Chicago Kid and De La Soul (just to drive home that Gorillaz comparison a little bit more). In some ways, it feels like a natural progression from Bombay Bicycle Club’s last album, So Long, See You Tomorrow, with there being a heavy focus on sampling and a large amount of influence from Eastern music. And, in other ways, it’s very different from Bombay Bicycle Club – having a much heavier jazz and soul focus than Steadman’s other work.

Lead single ‘Angels/ Your Love’ probably shows this best. The first half of the funky track – easily one of the album’s best moments – is propelled forward by a chorus of trumpets and chanting gospel vocals, while the second half features a fantastic feature from BJ The Chicago Kid. The song’s lyrics aren’t anything particularly original, but BJ gives the hook enough enthusiasm that it’s easy to overlook this: ‘Would you be my love?’ The song is just full of energy; it’s infectiously fun.

Just about every track has something noteworthy or interesting going on in it, though some moments are definitely better than others. Opener ‘Typhoon’ does a great job of building up anticipation with its ominous vocals, ‘Grant Green’ features a pretty passionate performance from Charles Bradley and ‘Leap Of Faith’ features some great interplay between De La Soul and Horace Andy. ‘When Your Light Goes Out’ might be my favourite song on God First though, featuring some gorgeously sweet vocals from Lianne La Havas and Steadman (one of the few times he actually takes on lead vocal duties on the record). It feels like the perfect climactic moment for the album.

There are only a few places where the instrumentation doesn’t really work for me on God First, such as on ‘Somebody New’; the synths that come in after the chorus really don’t mesh well with the track’s gentle strings, just feeling a bit awkward. However, the album’s main weak point for me is its lyrics. Given that Jack Steadman is behind them – who wrote some truly great lyrics for Bombay Bicycle Club – there are some pretty bad clichés on here, like on ‘Somebody New’ when we’re told that ‘life ain’t like no box of chocolates’. In other places, the lyrics just feel kinda lazy, like the refrain on ‘Magic’: ‘Stop your madness, stop your sadness’. Of course, there are some decent lyrics here and there but nothing up to the standard of Steadman’s previous work.

I’d also say the album has a bit of an issue in terms of flow (reminding me again of the last Gorillaz album). Because the lead vocalist changes from track to track, it sometimes felt like I was listening to a playlist instead of an album. As a result, the album works best for me in individual moments rather than as a complete album, featuring a handful of really strong tracks. If you’re just looking for ‘more Bombay Bicycle Club’ though, you will be disappointed. Mr Jukes is something completely different and that’s not a bad thing.

Best Tracks: ‘Angels/ Your Love’, ‘Magic’, ‘When Your Light Goes Out’

Album Review: Moonshine Freeze (2017) by This Is The Kit

This Is The Kit’s 2015 album Bashed Out in many ways felt like a breakthrough for the band. Not only did it expand their fanbase pretty dramatically, but it also felt like the band’s most consistent and moving release yet. Featuring great tracks like ‘Silver John’ and ‘Bashed Out’, it had a gorgeous melancholy feel to it. Kate Stables’ gentle vocals paired with some dark and cryptic lyrics really made the album a stand out of that year for me.

Fast-forward a couple years and Stables’ is back with This Is The Kit’s fourth full-length release: Moonshine Freeze. The lead singles for the album had me really excited for its release (‘Moonshine Freeze’ showcasing the band’s more playful side, while ‘Bullet Proof’ its darker one) and luckily it doesn’t disappoint.

In many ways, the album feels like a solid progression from Bashed Out, both instrumentally and lyrically. Instrumentally, it explores ideas that the band toyed around with on their last EP Rusty and Got Dusty, featuring a lot of brass and synthesisers. The brass instruments in particular feel like a perfect fit for This Is The Kit’s world, adding a gorgeous extra layer to some of the songs. Particularly fantastic is the beautifully jazzy saxophone solo on the outro to ‘Hotter Colder’. Synths at first might seem like an old choice given Stables’ folky style, but the band more than justify bringing them in. On tracks like ‘Moonshine Freeze’, the synths add an almost alien texture that blends into the band’s off-beat sound well. The title track has a pretty staggering number of instruments featured on it (guitar, synth, drum machine, xylophone, trumpets, among others…) but it still somehow manages to avoid feeling cluttered.

Lyrically, the album feels like a step forward for the band as well. Bashed Out felt a lot darker and more personal than the band’s earlier efforts and Stables continues down this path on Moonshine Freeze. I mean, you just have to look at some of the song titles: ‘Empty No Teeth’, ‘Riddled with Ticks’… There are still some playful-sounding tracks on this release (‘Moonshine Freeze’ and ‘By My Demon Eye’ almost feel like children’s rhymes) but most of the album’s highlights are definitely its darker moments. On ‘Two Pence Piece’, Stables sings cryptically about the aftermath of a violent incident – ‘Blood in my mouth tasting of coin’ – while ‘Show Me So’ seems to reflect on the illness of someone close to her: ‘The taking in of toxins, the vomiting’.

The album’s opener, ‘Bullet Proof’, is another easy highlight. It shows the band at its most stripped back, starting off with a drumbeat, a guitar and Stables’ voice. It might seem gutsy to open the album with such a quiet and tender moment (especially when there are quite a few energetic songs on here, like ‘Moonshine Freeze’) but it does a great job of distilling This Is The Kit’s appeal down to the basics. Like a lot of the songs on Moonshine Freeze, Stables avoids being explicit about what she’s singing about though the references to herself definitely give it a personal feel: ‘There are things to learn here, Kate’.

Moonshine Freeze is a great album and one that I’m sure I’ll return to many times this year. I still slightly prefer the band’s last album (which I feel flowed a bit better) but you still shouldn’t miss out on this one. If you haven’t listened to This Is The Kit before, this album is a really great place to start.

Best Tracks: ‘Bullet Proof’, ‘Moonshine Freeze’, ‘Two Pence Piece’

Album Review: The Age of Anxiety (2017) by Pixx

In my book, weird is always good when it comes to music. I can appreciate a bad album that at least tries to do something different more than one that plays it safe. Pixx’s debut, The Age of Anxiety, however, is a great album that tries to do something different – boasting a unique voice and style that’s really easy to love.

Hannah Rogers – or Pixx – has a sound that calls up some of my favourite female artists, such as St Vincent and Björk. Her vocals have an undeniable strangeness to them, frequently sounding androgynous and intentionally stilted. On the track ‘Waterslides’ in particular, her voice almost reminds me of a text to speech program – I promise I mean this in a positive way – moving along at a speedy and almost robotic pace. Her unusual vocal style provides her songs with a certain uniqueness, even if she does bust out a more traditional singing style on other tracks like ‘Mood Ring Eyes’ (which is also fantastic).

Opener, ‘I Bow Down’, sets up Pixx’s sound incredibly well, creating an unnerving yet compelling mood. The track starts off with a repeated piano riff, building slowly, before eventually introducing Hannah Rogers’ almost chanting vocal performance. Through Rogers layering her vocals on top of themselves several times, the track almost conjures an image of a strange cult of clones, chanting the song’s lyrics: ‘I salute your kindness / I bow down to your good will’. This layering happens a lot on the album and it works most of the time. Listening to ‘Toes’, you can hear her singing at least four or five different things at the same time on the chorus. On other tracks, like the really fantastic ‘Grip’, she uses her voice almost like an instrument, adding strange textures to her songs.

There are plenty of fantastic songs on The Age of Anxiety. The aforementioned ‘Grip’ is perhaps the poppiest cut, boasting an incredibly catchy chorus and some fun almost jangly instrumentals. ‘Waterslides’ is another favourite of mine, being the most high-energy track with its bubbly drum machine beat and unusual vocal performance. Though the vocals on this track’s verses are particularly (intentionally) stilted, you definitely feel the emotion and sense of anxiety in them, hiding underneath the surface: ‘Now I’m walking round and round, it’s like a maze, I can’t get out’.

And given the album’s title, it’s not surprising that anxiety is a dominant theme here. On ‘Grip’, Pixx sings about not wanting to feel the need to grab on to everything she sees, while ‘The Girls’ is about the singer wanting to ‘dance like the rest of the girls’. It’s about the desire to perceived as normal – to fit in. The album’s slower songs, like ‘The Girls’ and ‘Mood Ring Eyes’, have a more delicate and emotionally bare feel to them than the more energetic tracks, but I’d argue they’re just as strong. A couple of them do get lost in the mix a little bit like ‘Telescreen’, but that’s mainly because the rest of the album is so strong.

The Age of Anxiety is a great fantastic tightwire act, managing to both be accessible and undeniably weird. While not all the tracks are fantastic, they all have something unique about them – something to make them stand-out. This album isn’t bland or samey by any stretch and surely that alone makes it worth a listen.

Best Tracks: ‘I Bow Down’, ‘Grip’, ‘Waterslides’.

Album Review: Routines (2017) by Hoops

Routines is just one of those albums with a sound that I find impossible not to love. The music Hoops makes is the sort of stuff you just want to chill out to – to just lay back and think about things a little bit. It’s got great riffs, smooth drum machine beats, chilled out, almost psychedelic, vocals… Basically it’s right up my alley.

I’ve listened to quite few underwhelming debuts this year, and I’d say that Routines is the first one that’s really exceeded my expectations. One album in and it feels like the band have already got their sound nailed. And this is why it succeeds so well; Hoops’ debut is an album that feels very assured. The band know what sort of music they want to make and they don’t feel the need to try and act big or flashy to try and grab the audience’s attention. The whole album flows as smoothly as anything else I’ve listened to this year, with each of the songs flowing into the next effortlessly.

And yet, thankfully, each of them feels distinctive within the band’s defined ambient music-esque sound. ‘Bengals’ is a gorgeous instrumental track led by a great drum machine beat, ‘Burden’ features perhaps the catchiest hooks on the album (‘No, I don’t wanna be a burden’) and ‘Worry’ is brought to life by some very twinkling synth notes. In many ways, it reminds me of a Beach House album; when I listened to at first, all the songs bordered on same-y slightly, but repeatedly listens revealed how distinct they really are.

Another thing I loved about this album was the brevity of the tracks. Most tracks on Routines hover around the three-minute mark and, in the hands of another band, probably would’ve been stretched out longer than they needed to. ‘Rules’ is a gorgeously layered, punchy track that clocks in at just over two minutes; like many other songs on the album, it shows the band get in, say what they want to say, and then get out again. And given psychedelic music’s love for indulgence, that’s pretty refreshing.

Hoops’ debut is very much recommended. The more I’ve listened to it over the past couple of weeks, the more its grown on me. I wouldn’t say the band do anything mind-blowingly creative here, but the songs on Routines are really well put together and really enjoyable. And sometimes that’s all that good music needs to be.

Best Tracks: ‘Rules’, ‘Burden’, Worry’.

Album Review: Infinite Worlds (2017) by Vagabon

Despite its brevity, Vagabon’s debut album has a lot packed into it. Across its eight tracks, Laetitia Tamko touches on a variety of topics – from failing relationships to losing someone’s cat – and does so in a variety of musical styles. ‘Minneapolis’ has a fierce electric guitar driven indie rock sound, ‘Alive and A Well’ features no instruments other than an acoustic guitar, ‘Cold Apartment’ is a stripped back ballad with a pulsating drum beat and ‘Mal à L’aise’ is swirling and synth driven… Also it’s sung in French. There’s a lot of variety here, and yet, somehow, all of the songs feel like they fit together.

If there’s one recurring theme on this album, it’s feeling small. As Tamko sings about in the opening track, the wonderful ‘The Embers’, it’s feeling like a small fish in a world full of sharks. It’s about wanting to escape and wanting to have your voice heard. (I don’t normally bring politics into my reviews, but it’s an album that feels particularly relevant given that you-know-who has recently taken the presidential office in America.)

There are some incredibly powerful moments on this album that are the result of Tamko’s fantastic voice as well as her lyrics. ‘Cold Apartment’, the highlight of the album for me, offers her most powerful performance… Her voice swells with emotion on the song as she reflects on a relationship that she thought would last: ‘And we sit on my cold apartment floor / Where we thought we would stay in love.’ The lyrics are moving as it is, but the vocal delivery is what really powers this song. The instruments surrounding Tamko’s voice are fairly minimal, because it’s only her voice that’s really needed to drive the emotion of the song home.

‘The Embers’ is another song where Tamko’s voice really shines. It builds as the song progresses, tracking the grow in confidence of the protagonist. At first it’s quiet and almost hesitant (‘I feel so small’) eventually building towards an almost shouting finish where she confronts those that make her feel small (‘You’re a shark that hates everything’). Other songs like ‘Fear & Force’ and ‘Alive and A Well’ are driven by the vocals, and while the instruments are solid on most songs, it really does feel like they’re mainly in service to Tamko’s voice.

Infinite Worlds is a really promising debut from a band that still seems to be working out its sound. There’s a lot of different styles on this album and a lot of experimenting – which is definitely not a bad thing. It’ll be really interesting to see where they go next.

Essential Songs: ‘The Embers’, ‘Minneapolis’, ‘Cold Apartment’.

Album Review: Big Balloon (2017) by Dutch Uncles

Big Balloon is an odd album – but odd is what I’ve come expect from Dutch Uncles at this stage. From their self-titled debut to 2015’s O Shudder, the band have done a consistent job of putting out off-kilter yet great albums. (Their last two albums in particular have been really fantastic.)

Their fifth album though feels odd in a different way. In the same way that Wild Beasts’ seemed to aim for a more accessible sound with last year’s Boy King, it feels like Big Balloon is almost Dutch Uncles’ attempt at commercial popularity. The songs are generally more straightforward, there are more soaring guitar riffs (I’m not saying this is a bad thing) and just about every track feels like a single.

Yet as I say this, the band are still cryptically weird in the same way they were on their old albums. The title track ‘Big Balloon’ (which is great) in particular feels like a mash between these two styles. It’s got a great chorus that you want to sing along to (‘Make me swoon like a big balloon’) and the aforementioned awesome guitar riffs, but at the same time the lyrics on the verses are about as bizarre and indecipherable as anything the band has put out. ‘Freeze the ghost, be happy as fat’? ‘Leave it all for potato lands’? What?

I don’t think this is the album that will truly give Dutch Uncles the breakthrough they deserve – it’s too weird even if they’re trying to be more normal – but it’s a solid album from nonetheless. There are only a couple of weak songs on here and a lot of good ones. ‘Baskin’’ has a great nervous energy to it, ‘Oh Yeah’ is delightfully weird and super catchy and ‘Streetlight’, with its wailing vocals and buzzing synths, might be one of the best songs the band has ever put out. The two closing tracks on the album, ‘Sink’ and ‘Overton’, are also highlights for me. They definitely have an ambitious feel to them, showing the band break from the poppy feel that dominates most of the album.

Another great thing about Big Balloon is that there’s a lot of variety on it. ‘Same Plane Dream’ and ‘Achameleon’, both great tracks, in particular do a great job of representing the two different ends of the album’s musical spectrum; ‘Same Plain Dream’ being one of wildest songs Dutch Uncles have produced (vocal-wise at least) and ‘Achameleon’ one of the most restrained, being a touching, string-laden ballad.

The weakest song on the album is easily ‘Combo Box’ which… I don’t know how describe it. It’s definitely the oddest song on the album – lyrically at least – and it doesn’t really work much at all for me. The song’s focus on food metaphors just gave me the sense that the band were trying to be weird for the sake of it. Really, the best songs on the album, like ‘Big Balloon’ are the ones where the band get weird but at the same time feel emotionally anchored.

Big Balloon is another great outing from Dutch Uncles, though I’d say it doesn’t quite reach the same heights of Out of Touch in the Wild and O Shudder. All the songs here are solid fun, but there’s nothing quite as good as say, ‘Fester’ or ‘Be Right Back’ from those releases. Though if you’re looking for a fun pop/rock album with some definite Kate Bush/Talking Heads influence to it, you can’t go wrong with this album. There’s a lot to enjoy here.

Essential Songs: ‘Big Balloon’, ‘Streetlight’, ‘Sink’.

Album Review: The Pace of Passing (2017) by Toothless

The Pace of Passing is the first album from Toothless, a project led by Bombay Bicycle Club bassist Ed Nash. And to be honest, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. With so many of Bombay Bicycle Club’s songs having killer basslines – ‘Always Like This’ is the most obvious example – it was kind of easy to have high hopes for an album put together by the band’s bassist. And while Toothless’s debut isn’t awful, some elements of it definitely work significantly better than others.

Let’s start off with The Pace of Passing’s biggest weakness: Ed Nash’s vocals. He really can’t sing that well at all. His voice is about as bland as they get, having no force or emotion to it. There are plenty of frontmen out there who can’t sing very well, but manage to get away with it by putting enough passion into their voice or by having a unique quality. Nash’s vocals just sound kind of whinny at times, and it never really feels like he cares much about what he’s singing about. Whether it’s a romantic song like ‘Palm’s Backside’ or a more sinister one like ‘You Thought I Was Your Friend’, Nash’s vocals just aren’t good enough to get across the feelings you can tell he’s trying to.

And this kind of brings me to the album’s other big weakness, the lyrics. Most of the time they’re okay – never really passing beyond serviceable – but sometimes they make me want to full-on cringe. The chorus of ‘Palm’s Backside’ is particularly bad. And even when the lyrics aren’t awful, Nash’s delivery seems to drag them down. A good example of this is at the beginning of ‘Palm’s Backside’ (back to this song again); the way Nash draws out the opening lines just comes across as forced and slightly embarrassing.

But while these two elements of the album are almost consistently meh, the instrumentation on some of these tracks manages to save them a little bit. The opener ‘Charon’ has a beautiful mood to it, with the string instruments featured really helping it feel grand. The album closer ‘Terra’ similarly has a great mood, with the instrumentation reflecting the subject of the song well. Almost all of the songs on the album deal with mythology as a subject matter – as shown by song titles like ‘Sisyphus’ – and the instruments often sound fittingly grand because of this.

Another good move than Nash made on this album was making use of guest vocalists. While almost all of them are underused, Wild Beasts’ Tom Fleming especially, they often manage to provide a certain gravitas that the lead singer can’t muster. ‘The Sirens’ works mainly because of the guest vocals from The Staves – easily being one of the best tracks on the album. There are a lot of times on The Pace of Passing that Toothless try to go for a catchy almost poppy feel, and it only really works on this song.

‘The Sun’s Midlife Crisis’ is another song that I have to give props to. Though it has a few weak lyrics in it, the song has a genuinely interesting focus, being about exactly what its title suggests it is. Like a lot of the songs on the album it has a mythological vibe, almost feeling like a fable. Not every element of the song works, but it’s got a certain uniqueness to it that I felt was worth highlighting.

Overall though, the album’s glimmers of goodness don’t really save it from its weaker aspects. Sadly it’s not one of those mixed albums that’s made up of some great songs and some bad ones… More it’s one of those mixed albums that’s made of good elements and bad elements that feature in every track. While some songs are definitely better than others, my resounding verdict on The Pace of Passing is meh.

Essential Songs: ‘Charon’, ‘The Sun’s Midlife Crisis’, ‘The Sirens’.