Category Archives: Music

Single Review: Signals – Sleep Talk

Female fronted four-piece Signals are back with a new single release, ‘Sleep Talk’, Dom Kureen gives his thoughts on the emerging quartet’s latest offering.

Ellie Price of Signals
Ellie Price

The past twelve months have witnessed an impressive, if not yet meteoric, rise in popularity for Ellie Price and her Signals cohorts, with a UK tour and several festival appearances affording the talented group plenty of exposure.

To suggest that the marked upsurge in admirers is merely due to a commercially viable, aesthetically appealing package would be doing the band a major disservice, indeed their inaugural LP, Square Wheels and follow up Facial Furniture, were each creatively rewarding and emphatically raw.

IOW Festival 2014 Signals
Mikey Webber

Their latest cut, Sleep Talk, a single with an official UK release looming on Sunday, is another step in the desired direction for the Platform One graduates, embellishing their auditory concepts for the first time with a shiny music video.

The new track plunges straight into comfortingly quintessential Math-Pop, with Price’s distinctive vocals glueing together a complex composition with a captivating chorus.

Blending seamlessly with the front-woman, the duel backing harmonies of bassist Alex Vanblaere and guitarist Mikey Webber add gravitas to proceedings and establish the blueprint for an unpredictable junket.

A generous dose of piano scaling garnishes some solid percussion from the highly talented Ryan Beachy, who would be the brooding, intense one if Louis Walsh got his expressionless chops involved.

Admittedly, the sporadic nature of Sleep Talk might not appeal to everyone’s ears, bustling along with a dozen separate visions seemingly colliding as it advances towards a conclusive crescendo.

This is chaotic, unceasing music that may benefit from the occasional bridge over turbulent waters.

Even with that petty admonition, this is another triumph for Signals, who are rapidly threatening to de-seat The Bees as the Isle of Wight’s premier musical export of the Millennium.

Sleep Talk is another gratifying addition to an already impressive body of work constructed by four ultra talented musicians who will only continue to refine their act as their experience level increases – get to a live show if you can, you won’t regret it.

Another noteworthy release from the Signals crew, Sleep Talk reveals a maturing interpretation of the math-pop genre.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Album Review: Black Keys – Turn Blue

A spate of high-profile album releases has seen the UK chart summit change hands with frequency this month, one of those to sit atop the pile briefly was The Black Keys‘ ‘Turn Blue.’ Dom Kureen investigates…

Black Keys 3

For their latest album, Midwestern dyad, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, A.K.A ‘The Black Keys’, enlisted the assistance of production guru Danger Mouse, widely acknowledged as the driving force behind the blues-rockers’ seminal LP ‘El Camino’ in 2011.

With that in mind, it was perhaps inevitable that the seven-time Grammy award winning Keys’ eighth studio album would carry expectations of further unremitting expansion – a fact not lost in the shuffle of construction, with heavy doses of hitherto scarce psychedelic punctuation serving as a thread from whence to bind the eleven-track composite.

The turbulent spirit of inaugural ditty ‘Weight of Love’ serves as a mouth-watering aperitif, with intricate guitar looming atop a sorbet of unpredictable percussion.

Continuing that alluring trend, the initial decadence of ‘In Time’ soon transforms into a breakneck voyage through unlikely dimensions, carrying a whiff of early ‘White Stripes’ towards its denouement.

Other stand-out morsels arrive in the shape of raw title track ‘Turn Blue’ and the album’s most elegant gift, ’10 Lovers,’ the former of which struggled to make an impact on the French and American singles billboards earlier this year.

Full of serenades to happier times, this latest slice of idiosyncratic inventiveness from Ohio’s finest export since Halle Berry gratifyingly vanquishes any pre-issue apprehension devotees may have harboured.

Already a contender for album of the year gongs en mass, ‘Turn Blue’ remains faithful to the Black Keys’ previous creations, whilst garnishing it with a welcome prescription of hallucinogen straight from the heaving bosom of Mother Ayahuasca.


Despite fears to the contrary, the irrepressible Black Keys have struck gold once again with a release that continues their uninterrupted rise. 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Album Review: Coldplay – Ghost Stories

Coldplay’s ‘Ghost Stories’ went straight to the summit of the UK album charts, Dom Kureen shares his opinion of the latest offering from Parlophone’s premier cash cow.

Coldplay 2

 

“I think of you, I haven’t slept. I think I do, but I don’t forget.”

From the offset it’s clear that the motivating energy source for Coldplay’s chart-topping album, ‘Ghost Stories’ lies squarely at the manicured hands of Chris Martin’s erstwhile spouse Gwyneth Paltrow.

Unashamedly melancholic, there is a raw honesty rarely glimpsed in the band’s work since they broke the proverbial glass ceiling with ‘Parachutes’ in 2000.

Few traces of the Japanese rave-pop that dominated previous LP, ‘Mylo Xyloto,’ remain, something that should appease die-hard fans who felt the band had strayed too far from what brought them to the dance.

There is certainly some worthwhile material here, first single release ‘Magic’ instantly hooks the listener with its basic percussion and uncorrupted ivory tinkling.

That gratifying simplicity is also present in opening gambit ‘Always in My Head’ and gradual grower ‘Oceans,’ both of which are painfully candid at times and expose the psychological fragility with which they were penned and recorded.

From there things drift a touch, although the thudding piano of ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ dovetails exquisitely with the reluctant interlude that supplants it.

Chris Martin: Ms Paltrow wouldn't let him eat anything yellow.
Chris Martin: Ms Paltrow wouldn’t let him eat anything yellow.

An album that ambles along provides ample ammunition for Coldplay’s detractors, who claim that their music lacks flexibility, relying too freely on gushing sentiment – on this evidence they may have a point.

A pleasant release, ‘Ghost Stories’ is unlikely to rock anyone’s world, but perhaps that was never the intention. This is a transparent extension of deep wounds gradually healing, with irregular pinches of welcome joviality to some extent compensating for the pre-eminent air of mourning.

Fittingly it resolves with the line “Don’t ever let go,” by which we can assume that the singer hasn’t completely given up on an unlikely romantic reconciliation – it is perhaps that prospect that prevents Coldplay from fully exerting the throttle, instead producing an album with whispers of sublime beauty, but frustrating repetition.

 

A sweet eulogy to lost love, ‘Ghost Stories’ promises more than it ultimately delivers.
 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Album Review: Michael Jackson – Xscape

Jacko’s back!… Well kind of. After a five year wait, Michael Jackson’s first posthumous album of original material was released earlier this month, Dom Kureen shares his thoughts.

Michael Jackson

Speculation that hundreds of his unreleased MP3 recordings were locked in a vault filtered out during the immediate aftermath of Michael Jackson’s passing on June 25, 2009.

One popular fable suggested that the ‘King of Pop’ had held back a host of his freshest cuts in order to release them after his 50-date O2 arena residence concluded in early March the following year.

Despite the conjecture, the silence was deafening.

Almost five years down the line, the recent release of the Timbaland/LA Reid produced ‘Xscape’ means that Jackson has joined the likes of Tupac Shakur, Ray Charles and Aaliyah in having posthumous commercial success.

The eight-track LP begins well enough, with the album’s plat du jour, ‘Love Never Felt So Good,’ a Justin Timberlake fuelled duet that yields a simple melody weaved around punchy instrumentals.

That early optimism is soon little more than dust in the rear view mirror, dislodged by a mass of indulgent and lazy synthesised production clichés that never hint at fulfilling the early promise.

In truth, a compilation of recordings deemed unworthy of lesser Jackson albums such as ‘Invincible’ and ‘Dangerous’ were never destined to set the world alight, particularly with half a decade of hype and rumour-mongering placing them on a quixotic pedestal.

Even with that caveat, the forced ‘Do You Know Where Your Children Are’ and monotonous ‘Loving You’ are almost entirely worthless.

Title track ‘Xscape’ is at least defiant in its message and assuredly blends a sweet harmony with provocative bursts of resentful rhetoric. In spite of these fruitful elements, the chief after taste is a stale one and symptomatic of the album’s overall malaise.

Michael Jackson tribute

Providing thinly veiled padding, the impotent ‘Chicago’ and ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ are complimented by the equally benign ‘Blue Gangsta,’ which rapidly fades into plodding tedium following a vocally dynamic opening burst.

The deluxe edition supplements eight studio embellished melodies with their original counterparts, which, in a colossal condemnation of the combined prowess of Messrs Timbaland and Reid, are far more liberated than the heavily burdened revisions.

Virtually every organic element of what could have been a half-decent eulogy has been removed, their vacancies seized by a veneer of dated, apathetic din.

As a result this is little more than a sweaty McDonald’s hamburger in music form, courtesy of a pair of cack-handed butchers with all the credibility of former S Club 7 singer Hannah Spearritt applying to headline ‘Night of The Proms.’

It’s a crying shame that Jackson’s former mentor, Quincy Jones, didn’t fancy stepping up to the plate,  although his abstention was retrospectively a wise one.

A commercially successful hatchet job, ‘Xscape’ will line a lot of already deep pockets, but leave fans feeling numb. 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Album Review – Pharrell Williams: Girl

Pharrell Williams is set to take his place on the jury of the ‘The Voice’ in America. It caps a whirlwind 18 months for the 41 year-old singer/producer. Dom Kureen pays homage by sharing his opinion of the white-hot maestro’s latest solo album, ‘Girl.’

Pharrell Williams 2

For Pharrell Williams 2013 was something of an annus mirabilis. Collaborating with the likes of Daft Punk, Robin Thicke and Azealia Banks ensured that the former Neptunes and N.E.R.D front man rarely drifted from the spotlight.

Eight years after hitting the solo scene with the widely panned ‘In My Mind,’ the ageless star launched his follow-up LP having morphed into a bonafide A-lister during the interim, with ‘Girl’ reaching the summit of the album charts in no fewer than eleven countries.

Striding into earshot with the typically addictive strains of ‘Marilyn Monroe’, a recent single release, it’s clear from the outset that fans are in for an annoyingly catchy stroll along melody lane. The casting of Kelly Osborne for background vocals provides an unexpectedly inspired addition to the track.

The steamy silhouette spawned by ‘Gush’ leaves little to the imagination, with dirty beats and suggestive lyrics that only cease during a synthesised string-dominated bridge that temporarily alleviates the steaminess.

‘Happy’, part of the ‘Despicable Me 2′ soundtrack, has been a staple of radio waves and YouTube videos during the past couple of months, yet remains the album’s inspirative calling card, temporarily transforming Williams’ sweet counter-tenor into a decadent slice of Cee Lo Green.

Also noteworthy is the tightly hooked ‘Gust of Wind,’ a composition boosted by the unmistakable accent of French electro duo Daft Punk. Recounting a self-effacing tale of romance, this surely warrants a single release.

Amongst the easily absorbed harmonies are inevitably a couple of self-indulgent miscues.

‘Lost Queen’ is an absurdly dull love letter that rarely advances beyond glorified artist ejaculation and is little more than the gristle on the pork chop.

‘Brand New’ is a notch or two superior, although the inclusion of Justin Timberlake serves only to accentuate the shortcomings in Williams’ falsetto by placing him alongside a more sophisticated practitioner.

A-lister: Pharrell has made huge strides since N*E*R*D.
A-lister: Pharrell Williams has made huge strides since N*E*R*D.

Even with those two unnecessary additions, there’s enough variety dispersed over the eleven tracks to make ‘Girl’ a worthwhile purchase.

If you’re not a fan of this tweak of direction, there are hints of Pharrell’s former life as a Neptune in ‘Hunter’, a song which flagrantly borrows its baseline from Diana Ross and contains an almost identically laid out rap interlude to Debbie Harrie’s ‘Rapture’ confabulate.

An album most notable for threaded sexual undertones and elaborate orchestration (credit for the latter goes to master composer Hans Zimmer,) ‘Girl’ delivers a decent, if not superlative, addition to the singer’s ever expanding body of work.

  Pharrell’s bandwagon continues apace, with another worthwhile release.

 

 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Album Review: Lily Allen – Sheezus

Five years after ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ hit the shelves, Lily Allen has returned with her third studio LP, ‘Sheezus.’ Dom Kureen takes a gander at what all the fuss is about.

Lily Allen

“Somebody remind me where I am, Miami or Timbuktu? Did I ever tell you my uncle’s monkey ran away from the zoo?”

The elementary opening burst of Sheezus’ most captivating harmony, ‘Air Balloon’ extends an apt metaphor for an album of succinct simplicity and unmistakeably transparent intentions.

With its throbbing, carefree waves, the Shellback/Allen collaboration provides a snapshot of Lily’s blissful existence since her real world evolution from Ms Allen to Mrs Cooper.

Where ‘Air Balloon’, ‘Our Time’, Take My Place’ and the lively ‘As Long As I Got You’ sparkle is their brazenly innate authenticity, rising above tacky insults or staged malevolence.

In stark contrast, the dismally maudlin and horribly titled ‘L8 CMMR’ serves as a misguided attempt to recapture the naïve, indignant spirit of the artist’s inaugural LP, ‘Alright, Still.’

Rude Girl: Lily often plays up her wild child tag.
Rude Girl: Lily often plays up her wild child tag.

Likewise, ‘URL Badman’ provides little more than tedious animus towards fans who dare to question the validity of Allen’s credentials, with some unjustly citing her famous father, Keith, as the driving force behind a prosperous entertainment career.

Additionally, the track contains an almost unfeasibly lousy instrumental section, which sounds as if the singer let her 15-month old daughter, Marnie, bash around on a sticky 1985 Casio SK-1, rather than hiring Greg Kurstin to implement his notoriously lavish production values.

‘Close Your Eyes’ is a minor improvement, but still falls deep into filler territory, with strung out sentimental mush only likely to curry favour with hubby Sam Cooper and a few diehards.

Title track ‘Sheezus’ similarly has its moments, but is too dependent upon crude pop-culture references to warrant a spot on any future ‘best of’ compilations.

Thankfully, the nostalgia sodden ‘Life For Me’ feels less affected, with an unravelling recollection of personal growth. Painting a portrait of contentment, the tune borrows much of its baseline from Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ and seems in conflict with spikier cuts elsewhere.

Having leapt straight to the summit of the UK album charts, ‘Sheezus’ is destined to provide financial and commercial dividends for Lily Allen. There’s enough decent material to warrant an £8.99 iTunes outlay, even if it all feels a fraction flat in the looming shadow of two previous knockout EPs.

If you’re intent on stumping up the bucks, do yourself a favour and dig £2 deeper for the deluxe edition, where the handful of supplementary bonus tracks offset some of the overplayed concepts elsewhere.  

 

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me. I meditate and wash daily when possible.

Cate Le Bon: ‘Sisters’ (Single review)

Our chief music man, Jonathan O’Shea, has been busy taking in the new sounds recently. This time he turns his attention to folky Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon’s latest release ‘Sisters.’

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An ever-more sleek and sinuous stage presence, Welsh troubadour-ess Cate Le Bon returned from a recent US sojourn with a new look and refined sound; evidenced on her third album, ‘Mug Museum’, where the beguiling ‘Me Oh My’ ploughed fertile folksy terrain and ‘Cyrk’ took a tender step towards a new direction. Released on the Wichita label – this was a tighter, more coherent set.

‘Sisters’ is both recognisably inventive and comfortingly strange, but Le Bon’s signature sound has certainly matured and is more satisfyingly direct here. Her renowned vocals – often erroneously likened to those of the Velvet Underground’s Nico – are as sumptuously enunciated and dexterously delivered as ever, while H. Hawkline’s frantic, insistent keys drive the track through to a thrillingly demented climax.

‘I won’t die, I’m a sister; I won’t die!’ is the immortal resolution declared throughout, as Manics collaborator Le Bon laconically unfurls lines like: ‘She will set my hands on fire/ hands on fire over again/ her to me and me to them’.

That swirly, hooky keyboard input and a punchy, pulsing drumbeat underpins four minutes of delightfully off-kilter lyricism from the pencil of an underrated songwriter.

Stepping out of the shadows: Cate Le Bon is destined for big things.
Stepping out of the shadows: Cate Le Bon is destined for big things.

All the while, it’s impossible not to consider the influence of one-time tour-mate St Vincent on this ascendant ‘alternative’ star-in-the-making, as she journeys from her early career of melancholic folk meanderings to today’s peppy psych-pop gems.

‘Ah-ooh’-ing all over the crazily kaleidoscopic outro in typical fashion, Cate Le Bon presents a fully-formed potential hit, which could raise her profile far above and beyond her sterling work with the Manics and Welsh alt-doyen Gruff Rhys. It’s an attention-grabbing paean to sisterhood, which should insinuate itself into any self-respecting indie summer playlist.

Written by Jonathan O'Shea

A keen student of sport, music and life. Can generally be found educating small people, bitterly damning Aston Villa's latest attempts at football, or writing nonsense about ephemera.

Kelis: Rumble (Single review)

Jonathan O’Shea returns with a review of the latest cut from Neo-Soul, hip-hop Diva Kelis, Rumble, the second helping from recently released album ‘Food.’ 

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Black. Keys.

Immediately, those are the two words which leap out from the speakers as the intro to this Kelis comeback slides incongruously ear-wards. Only when she hits us with the opening line does it become apparent that this tune isn’t another from the non-stop hit factory of the boys from Akron, Ohio.

Incidentally, Kelis will share the stage with the authors of ‘Next Girl’, to which ‘Rumble’s intro bears at least a passing resemblance, at the much-awaited Latitude festival this summer.

The laid-back, tumbling brass refrain also recalls Mark Ronson’s mid-noughties output, as the ex-Mrs Nas (or Ms Rogers, or whatever she puts on her library card application form these days) departs markedly from the floor fillers of previous release ‘Flesh Tone’.

On the second release from new album, ‘Food’, Kelis grudgingly ‘welcomes’ a spurned lover back into her life: ‘I’d just got used to my space’, she laments before regretfully documenting their troubled joint history.

Naturally, she then dredges up the requisite melodrama we expect from one of pop’s most eccentric spirits, conflictingly belting out: ‘Baby, don’t go!’ in her trademark raspy soulful holler.

Kelis has never had a no.1 UK single, can 'Rumble' remedy that?
Kelis has never had a no.1 UK single, can ‘Rumble’ remedy that?

She eventually resolves: ‘I’m so glad you gave back the keys’, but it’s all a little underwhelming lyrically and lacks the innovative bite we’ve come to expect from this relative veteran of the R&B-pop scene.

It’s a long old time since Kelis so compellingly yelled “I hate you so much right now!” into the waiting abyss, so it’s natural that her style should progress, if not exactly mellow.

The reviews for ‘Food’ are predominantly positive – the strutting ‘Jerk Ribs’  is a more promising taster for what’s to come – so it’s far too early to fear that the milkshake has soured.

Those whose appetites are not satiated by this new direction should seek out the Breach remix, which more resembles her earlier output and tellingly has more YouTube hits than the original mix.

Written by Jonathan O'Shea

A keen student of sport, music and life. Can generally be found educating small people, bitterly damning Aston Villa's latest attempts at football, or writing nonsense about ephemera.

Lana Del Rey: West Coast (single review)

Jonathan O’Shea gives his verdict on sultry trip-hop singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey’s newest single, West Coast, set for UK release on May 18th.

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Worthless, tuneless scenester junk? That’s the predetermined tag many cynical pop pundits have readied for Lana Del Rey’s return to the fold. In truth, expectations are divided – some imagine the release of forthcoming album ‘Ultraviolence’ will herald a genuine and concerted push at establishing Ms Del Rey as a credible pop queen for the foreseeable future. Others confidently predict the unravelling of sumptuous style over sonic substance.

It doesn’t help to refute the naysayers when a generic-sounding song title such as ‘West Coast’ pops its head above the parapet. And, naturally, the track was written by previous collaborator Rick Nowels (whose past clients include: Stevie Nicks, Dido, Lykke Li, Belinda Carlisle, and, erm, Ronan Keating) rather than by Lana herself. So far, so what?

Yet the stir created by ‘Born To Die’s release and subsequent mega-success left open the latent possibility that the idyllic package of style and substance could be within her command. And as the first single from the imminent second album (recorded in Nashville; produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach), radio-waves have long been primed for the opening tumbling drum intro of Lana’s latest ‘joint’.

Upcoming album: Lana Del Rey's 'Ultraviolence' is set for UK release this summer
Upcoming album: Lana Del Rey’s ‘Ultraviolence’ is set for UK release this summer

There are faint echoes of both Tori Amos and Feist in the delivery of Nowels’ languid lyrics. She’s even brazenly nicked a bit of The Beatles’ masterful ‘And I Love Her’ riff. And the intermittent ‘You got the music in you’ refrain unfortunately brings to mind the New Radicals late-90s slagging of Courtney Love, Beck and Hanson.

Fortunately for the pouting princess of murk-pop, it all hangs together quite wonderfully. Typically atmospheric, with Del Rey’s trademark breathy vocals, ‘West Coast’ is capable of woozily insinuating itself with even the most jaded listener. ‘Ooh baby’s are ten-a-penny across the vast and all-encompassing tides of music history, but can still sweetly enrapture when delivered with such lushness. Mentions for west coast movies and rock ‘n’ roll groupies inevitably ensue, before curious cadence changes and swooning guitar solos bring the track to a crescendo, with Del Rey crooning devotion to her ‘boy blue’.

Derivative? Naturally. A mind-blowing musical metamorphosis? No. Still, the essence of what intrigues and entices listeners into Lana Del Rey’s harmonious honey-trap remains intact. An air of mysterious otherworldliness underpins a perfect pop sensibility, honed by years of vain endeavour as plain old Lizzie Grant. The release of ‘West Coast’ only intensifies the intrigue.

Written by Jonathan O'Shea

A keen student of sport, music and life. Can generally be found educating small people, bitterly damning Aston Villa's latest attempts at football, or writing nonsense about ephemera.