Sunday, 28 September 2014

Recommended music: 'Shaker Notes' by Paul White

"I try not to think in genres at all, I think music is music!" - Paul White, 2014

Following on from a spell producing hip-hop records for the likes of Danny Brown and Homeboy Sandman, White's third album (the first for R and S Records) is a very different proposition. Putting the samples to one side, he plays pretty much all of the music on here himself, and sings as well. There are guest appearances from friends and even family (his uncle plays the violin on 'Sitting In Circles') but really this is White opening himself up for all to see.

In keeping with the quote at the top of the page there's an array of styles on display here, from the more hip-hop flavoured tracks like 'All We Know', to the Balearic house stylings of 'Where You Gonna Go?' and on to the swampy electro-blues of 'Honey Cats' (and that's just the first three tracks!). Elsewhere there's a hint of Thom Yorke on 'Wait & See', a drums and sax pairing on 'Fighting To Dance' and a dub feel on 'Is It Up To Us?'. 'Sitting In Circles' sounds like a lost 60s film theme, while 'Numbers of Change' is the most electronic thing on here and in part conjures up the ghost of John Carpenter. Closer 'Shaker Notes' is a suitably eclectic and slightly melancholic way to end the record, which wraps up the musical themes that have been explored before it.

Something about this record feels really intimate and personal, it's almost like in ditching the samples and picking up instruments he's managed to communicate a message from his soul. You can stream the whole album below, and after you've listened to it I urge you to buy it for yourself (you can get it direct from his Bandcamp page here). I'm really looking forward to my red vinyl copy arriving in the post but in the meantime I'll be shaking along to the download!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Recommended music: 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes' by Thom Yorke

Another day, another new way of releasing an album...

It's hard not to dwell on the delivery method of this record, when Yorke made such a big thing of it. Dropping it on us all by surprise just over 24 hours ago, he decided to release it via a new version on BitTorrent, which features a pay gate on the front end so that you can charge for files instead of giving them away for free. One of the stated aims of Yorke's experiment was to see if people could get on with the technology - well, at the time of writing 119,000 people have downloaded it, so it seems OK so far (also, at $6 a download, it also means that York is approximately £440k better off than he was this time yesterday).

So the question is - is he coming up with all of these new ideas to distribute his music to hide the fact that there's nothing new in the tunes themselves? Well one of the most noticeable things about this record is that, despite spending a couple of years on the road with his 'Atoms For Peace' band, this is his most electronic album yet. Apart from a (heavily treated) piano you'd be hard pressed to spot any 'real' instruments. Taking 2006's 'The Eraser' as its starting point it develops the musical ideas even further, and becomes more experimental as it progresses. If it wasn't for Yorke's distinctive vocals you'd be hard pushed to know that this was one of his records rather than one of the many electronic artists that he loves. 'A Brain In A Bottle' opens the album sounding very much like Pink Floyd's 'On The Run' when it starts, but once it gets going it could have been on his last album, as could 'Guess Again!'. 'Interference' sounds like Radiohead on downers (yes, it's that happy), but when we get to 'The Mother Lode' things start to get interesting. 6 minutes of skittery beats and looped melodies over which Yorke sings quietly of 'hollow men' who 'can't see their way out of this'.

Side 2 (as it will be on the rather over-priced £30 vinyl copy) starts with the slow-paced 'Truth Ray' - simple and hypnotic, it's the most emotional piece on the record and provides some humanity amongst the electronic heartbeats. 'There Is No Ice (For My Drink)' (which may or may not be a comment on global warming) is a heavily repetitive, mostly instrumental track with just some backward-spun spoken words and a few warbles in the background. It leads into 'Pink Section', all warbled tape loops and distorted piano and the most unsettling thing on the record, which takes us on to 'Nose Grows Some', which could probably have been on 'Amnesiac'.

Overall then, it's a development on from 'The Eraser', rather than a complete reinvention. With Radiohead back in the studio this week, maybe this has got the electronic leaning out of Thom's system and they'll return with an album of Bends-era guitar belters. We'll have to wait and see...

Friday, 26 September 2014

Recommended music: 'Grey Skies 3' by Genesis the Greykid

"Can you hear me, I'm thinking out loud
Painting pictures with the sounds tryin' to help you see clearly"

If Genesis the Greykid is a new name to you (as it was to me until Giles Peterson's radio show last weekend) you should know he was born in Tennessee, he's a poet inspired by TS Eliot, a rapper who's now released three 'Grey Skies' mixtapes, and his real name is the same as mine (Russell).

The mixtape is loosely themed around Christopher Nolan's 2006 film 'The Prestige', lifting dialogue from the movie and stretching its ambitions as high as the magicians in the film.

This is a really atmospheric album, which flows together as one feally good listen. Never resoring to the lowest common denominator rap of bitches'n'hos or guns'n'drive-bys, there's intellectual though on display here, together with some genuine emotional moments, stuff about growing up and goofing around mixed with deep stuff about life and death. Take a track like 'Lab Rats'; slow paced - "I'm sorry you can't dance to this, but just listen" he say's at the end - it's a downbeat tale of a break-up and how that can lead to an uncertain happiness if you can move on. And the first time I heard 'Miles Miles Miles' it genuinely made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up - he might not be the first rapper to sample Bon Iver but he uses it so well here, backing the story of his young mom and what she went through before she had him.

If you're looking for a comparison I think he's right up there with Oddisee for lyrical flow and intelligent discourse, while his choice of samples is equally as good.

You can get this album for free, along wuth the 2 previous mixtapes, from his Bandcamp page using the link below. Ridiculously I almost wish it wasn't free as he really deserves to be paid for something as good as this, but I guess that's how the world works these days.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Track of the Day: 'Playing With Fire' by Redinho

The lead track from Redinho's debut album is a sleazy, funky track with an insistent groove and a Zapp-esque choros. It takes the autotuned vocal to a new level by adding the vocoder effect to creat something that sounds both classic and contemporary. the album is out at the end of the month and having taken three years to come together I'm expecting big things from it.

It says a lot for this record that the two 11 year-old boys who were in the car with me when I first heard this thought the voice was 'freaky' - and therefore loved it!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

New music: 'Songs of Innocence' by U2

So what do you reckon? A stroke of marketing genius, or an invasion of privacy and Orwellian nightmare? Whichever side of the fence you're on, you have to admire the sheer audacity and force if Apple and U2 combining to drop their new album into half a billion users iTunes accounts all at the same time last night. You also have to assume that U2 have either got 1) more money than they're ever going to be able to spend or 2) some sort of massive follow up tour planned, since they're never gonna be able to sell a single track from a record they've spent 4 years working on (although they have confirmed this morning that Apple bought it from them to give to us 'as a gift', so some money has changed hands for it).

On to the record itself then - what does 4 years and 5 producers (Dangermouse, Paul Epworth, Flood, Ryan Tedder & Declan Gaffney) get you? Musically it's fairly simple and uncluttered. The Edge has toned down his guitar effects, the drums and bass are gently insistent rather than bombastic, and overall there's the feel of a band who just wanted to write some engaging, open and uplifting songs. Likewise Bono has notched down the messianic tone of his lyrics, and while there are still a few references to miracles and pilgrims, these are mostly either autobiographical words about how and where the group grew up or straightforward love songs. This does mean that at times they sound more like Coldplay or, dare I say it, The Script, than U2 songs, but maybe that's the price you pay for finally accepting that you're never really gonna change the world when you're 'just a rock'n'roll band'.

Although due to the various producers involved there's not necessarily a cohesive thread or feel throughout the whole album, this probably results in a better listen overall. It really feels more like a collection of singles than an album, and it certainly contains some of the most radio-friendly and straightforward pop songs they've ever recorded. After a few listens my favourite so far is album closer 'The Troubles', which features guest vocals from Lykke Li and is a subtle and enigmatic way to finish the record.

If you're one of the anti-Bono brigade then I doubt very much that this album and its method of delivery are going to change your mind. But if you like the band or you're prepared to give them a fresh start then you might be surprised at what you discover. Ultimately I think that they've finally decided to grow old gracefully rather than attempting to keep up with 'the kids', and as a result have started a new chapter in their career (one which apparently might continue quite quickly with another record called 'Songs of Experience'). Bono might sing on here that "I get so many things I don't deserve" but maybe a fair hearing is something he's entitled to after so many years in the game.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Recommended music: 'Mean Love' by Sinkane

On his fourth full length album (the first for DFA Records) Ahmed Gallab shows that he's finally ready for the big time. With his confidence having been boosted by a starring roles in Luaka Bop's 'Atomic Bomb: Who is William Onyeabor?' live project, he's created a classy and stylish album that's full of brilliant touches. Effortlessly switching genres, from Afrobeat to funk to soul and back again, his voice is smoother than a silk negligee sliding down Kate Moss's freshly shaven legs.

With tracks harking back to the 70s and the 60s, this is still a thoroughly contemporary record that could only exist in the melting pot of today's cultures. Take 'Galley Boys' for example.It's got African rhythms, a reggae bassline, tons of pedal steel and a chorus melody similar too Primal Scream's 'Star'' Topped off with Ahmed's brilliant voice it all sounds so easy, but you know that sounding so laid-back is a hard thing to achieve.

It's the kind of record that you can play at any time of day or night, whatever mood you're in, and emerge feeling like a better person. Basically if you're at all fed up it'll put a smile on your face, and you could as easily dance to it as make love to it (or maybe even do one followed by the other?).

I reckon this album cements him as a major talent who'll not only continue to make his own great records but can have his pick of whichever artists he wants to work with in the future.

Currently on a whistle-stop tour to promote the album, Sinkane are back in the UK later in the year for some more dates, including one at Oslo in Hackney on December 1st which promises to banish the winter blues. I'll see you there!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Track of the Day: 'Hey Mami' by Sylvan Esso

According to Soundcloud this has been around for about a year, so maybe I'm a bit late to the party. But the first time I heard it was when Mary Anne Hobbs played it this morning, and I've been hypnotised by it ever since. I love how it starts out like a simple child's rhyme, one of those things they used to teach you to sing in a round at school, and then the electronics kick and it becomes a totally different animal.

If, like me until 12 hours ago, you've not heard of them before, Sylvan Esso are comprised of Amelia Meath from Mountain Man and Nick Sanborn (Made of Oak / Megafaun). Their album came out earlier this year (I'm off to check it out when I've finished writing this) and they're on tour in Europe in September and early October before heading back to the States at the end of that month).