Tag: New Music

The A List: 3rd April

logomakr_0q2tab

The A List is where we round up our ten favourite songs right now. It’s been on hold for a couple of weeks, but its back with a bang. Here they are for your listening pleasure:

1. Drones Club – Hurricane (New Entry)

Straddling the fence between dance and indie, the electronic chorus soars into the sky. Every listen feels familiar – it’s rooted in an early 90s baggy feel – and yet it feels absolutely fresh.

2. Gorillaz, Vince Staples  – Ascension (New Entry)

Ascension ends up sounding like a space age gospel infused pop track; it’s a little bonkers but that’s the fun of it.

3. Billie Eilish – Bellyache (New Entry)

The outrageously young Billie Eilish has delivered a stunning piece of electro pop that seems to be about, well… murder. From the stunning production to the simple yet oh-so-effective vocals (a la Lorde) Bellyache is just a joy from start to finish.

4. Daniel Trakell – Paradise (New Entry)

The song is both speaking of a paradise that is tangible and truly beautiful in the present, but also of a place that has yet to come in the afterlife.

5. Nightdubbing – Frontline

With perhaps the funkiest bass part of 2017 driving this track along, Frontline meanders between elements of house and disco to create what would be the perfect soundtrack to a day out in the sun.

6. Todd Terje – Jungelknugen (Four Tet Remix) (New Entry)
As with Four Tet’s Opus remix, Jungelknugen refuses to go where you expect it to, but continues to delight throughout. Building synths, layer upon layer of electronic waves and some out and out hands-in-the-air moments; stonkingly good.

7. Sun Lil Moon – Bergen to Trondheim (New Entry)

This is a song that skirts ever so close to being beyond the pale. Maybe I’ve listened to far too much Father John Misty, but to my ears this is one of the darkest, sarcastic and satirical songs I’ve heard in a very long time.

8. HVOB – Deus (New Entry)

Deus starts slowly, repetitive vocals coiled around intimidating synths; then the beat drops. It conjures up feelings of space travel and loneliness; danger and claustrophobia. I like this more with every listen.

9. Father John Misty – Total Entertainment Forever (New Entry)

Total Entertainment Forever is a catchy pop song with a familiarity that comes from a sound that has produced countless hits before; it’s sure to leave foots tapping. Yet then there’s the lyrics, and the biting take down of modern life.

10. Kendrick Lamar – The Heart Part 4 (New Entry)

The Heart Part 4 chops and changes in style, and certainly suffers from the braggadocious spirit that blights a lot of hip hop, yet spending a few minutes with the lyrics of this track is hugely rewarding.

This Week Playlist

logomakr_76k0fb

After a few weeks off, here is the latest This Week Playlist, ten songs that are tickling our ears right now and are primed and ready for you to enjoy:

1. Kendrick Lamar – The Heart Part 4

So I confess that I don’t share the adoration for Kendrick’s work that seems obligatory for music fans in 2017. I’ve liked plenty of his work, but his status as – in his own words – the greatest rapper alive has eluded me so far. However when friend-in-exile Miceal (who I think may have given up his Catholic faith to follow the religion of Kendrick instead) messaged last Friday to say that The Heart Part 4 had dropped, I was excited to hear it. It chops and changes in style, and certainly suffers from the braggadocious spirit that blights a lot of hip hop, yet spending a few minutes with the lyrics of this track is hugely rewarding.

The whole world goin’ mad

Bodies is adding up, market’s about to crash

Niggas is fake rich, bitches is fake bad

Blacks that act white, whites that do the dab

Donald Trump is a chump, know how we feel, punk

Tell ’em that God comin’

And Russia need a replay button, y’all up to somethin’

 

2. Gorillaz, Vince Staples  – Ascension

If you’re not a fan of the Gorillaz then it might be best you skip this blog for a few months. They’re one of those bands for me: an act that can go in any new direction and make it seem like it was the perfect choice. They combine hip hop, pop and indie in a way few other bands have ever managed, and with a new album on the way, it promises to be a big few months for them. On Ascension they’ve recruited one of the most exciting men in music Vince Staples for vocal duties. The result ends up sounding like a space age gospel infused pop track; it’s a little bonkers but that’s the fun of it.

 

3. Drones Club – Hurricane

Drones Club produced two of my favourite songs of 2016 and have delivered yet another stunning record. Straddling the fence between dance and indie, the electronic chorus soars into the sky. Every listen feels familiar – it’s rooted in an early 90s baggy feel – and yet it feels absolutely fresh. I cannot wait for them to deliver an album.

 

4. HVOB – Deus

I only discovered Austrian dance duo HVOB (Her Voice Over Boys) recently but I’ve been impressed with that I’ve heard. Deus starts slowly, repetitive vocals coiled around intimidating synths; then the beat drops. I love dance music that is simple yet oh so effective, and Deus is absolutely from that mold. It conjures up feelings of space travel and loneliness; danger and claustrophobia. I like this more with every listen.

 

5. IDLES – Exeter

I blogged only this morning about seeing IDLES recently and Exeter was a massive highlight of their set. It’s full of anger and contempt; the frustration of growing up and living in a place where ‘nothing ever happens’. It somehow combines the sort of lyrical topic The Streets reveled in, matched by a raw punk aggression and elevated by a chorus that seems to satirize Britpop.

 

6. Honey Tower – Couture

Couture is the sort of industrial electro that would have been at home in the soundtracks of either the Matrix or – for those who remember it – Hackers. It’s a pretty bad ass track; rumbling, robotic and firmly underground in its sensibilities. This is my first exposure to Honey Tower, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for the German’s future works.

 

7. Sun Lil Moon – Bergen to Trondheim

This is a song that skirts ever so close to being beyond the pale. Maybe I’ve listened to far too much Father John Misty, but to my ears this is one of the darkest, sarcastic and satirical songs I’ve heard in a very long time. It seems ever so much like Sun Lil Moon has had enough of celebrities and Twitter culture and their immediate – obvious, and poorly-considered – reactions to sad events as they globe-trot around the world. Complete with canned cheering and a refrain of “Me, we, me, we, me, we, me, we” I’m still struggling to come to terms with the boldness.

 

8. Father John Misty – Total Entertainment Forever

The joy of FJM is the numerous layers through which you can appreciate his work. There is the melody; Total Entertainment Forever is a catchy pop song with a familiarity that comes from a sound that has produced countless hits before; it’s sure to leave foots tapping. Yet then there’s the lyrics, and the biting take down of modern life. Then there’s the motivation, and the questions over where observation ends and sarcasm, satire and provocation begins. He is, for my money, one of the most important song-writers around at the moment and – with his new album out next week – we should all be excited.

 

9. Billie Eilish – Bellyache

I’ve been wanting to post this for a few weeks. The outrageously young Billie Eilish has delivered a stunning piece of electro pop that seems to be about, well… murder. From the stunning production to the simple yet oh-so-effective vocals (a la Lorde) Bellyache is just a joy from start to finish.

 

10. HalfNoise – French Class

HalfNoise is Zac Farro, formerly the drummer in Paramore. French Class is from his recent The Velvet Face EP and combines indie sensibilities with a sunny uplifting – slightly disco-y – sound.

 

The A List: Our 10 hottest songs right now

logomakr_0q2tab

Every Sunday the Astral Penguins Blog takes stock of the 10 biggest – and best – songs around right now.

There’s four new entries on this week’s list and three of this week’s top 10 have stuck around for four weeks, which is the maximum songs can stay on the A List.

Here are the best 10 songs around:

1. Jamiroquai – Automaton (Non-mover; 4th week)

Fourth and final week – and a fourth week at number 1. Automaton is an electro pop masterclass with euphoria, menace, and a playful 90’s pop-meets-hip hop breakdown. Come December, this is destined to be high in the top 50 of 2017 list.

2. Brutus – Drive 3/4s (New Entry)

A new entry from Belgiun post-hardcore trio Brutus. They’re led by Stefanie Mannaerts, who acts as both vocalist and drummer, and their debut album came out this week. Drive 3/4s is a stunningly good rock track; its impressive in its ambition alone, but the delivery of intricate melodies, shifts in style and epic chorus makes this track an absolute monster.

3. Parcels – Allaround (down 1; 4th week)

With beautiful vocals that sound like they’ve been borrowed from Kings of Convenience, layering them onto a track that plays with disco and funk – a la Jungle – and delivering some stunning musicianship along the way, this is a superb piece of music.

4.  Vince Staples – Bagbak (down 1; 3rd week)

Hip hop is rediscovering it’s political voice and Bagbak is Vince Staples’s contribution on racial identity and politics. Staples is undoubtedly one of the most exciting men in music right now.

5. Allan Rayman – 13 (down 1; 3rd week)

13 is an r’n’b inflected track that could easily have felt at home in Prince’s mid-80’s era work. The standout element of the track is Rayman’s smoky soul voice is rich, pure, fragile and honest – often all in the same note. In 13 his rasping delivery of the opening verse is formidable but it’s the quieter moments that leave you breathless; in 13 he drops his voice and almost whispers some of his hoarse, sorrowful judgements.

6. Code Walk, Smerz – Guess What (New Entry)

This track is a collaboration between two Scandinavian duos, Norwegian pair Code Walk  and Copenhagen couple Smerz. Guess What revolves around shimmering techno beats and top line percussion. Everything about this track is ice cold. Simple and yet highly effective.

7. Sub Focus – Lingua (New Entry)

Slower and more minimalist than a lot of his other works, Lingua sees Sub Focus straying closer to dancehall and hip hop than his usual drum and bass, but it’s a banger all the same.

8. Priests – Jj (down 3; 4th week)

There’s great fun nestled within this track; it’s like being trapped in the getaway car from a bank robbery in the wild west: country-twinged, all action, energy and attitude.

 

9. Ibeyi – Lost In My Mind (down 2; 2nd week)

A sparse, beautiful and affecting track that speaks of loneliness and isolation. It’s a track that lingers with you. It ends with a more positive – or is it pleading? – feel, but throughout you feel there’s a deep sadness that inspired it.

10. Blood Youth – Reasons to Stay (New Entry)

Melodic hardcore trio Blood Youth have produced a real balls-to-the-wall track in Reasons to Stay. A tale of a relationship ending in a complicated way, this will be an absolute monster live.

This Week Extended…

logomakr_76k0fb

Blogging has been frustratingly light this week (from me at least, George and Antonia delivered awesome columns) but work somewhat overtook my life and I never got the chance to post the four tracks that were intended to be our Tracks of the Day. This is particularly annoying as they’re pretty damn good this week.

By way of apology, please find them here:

Pumarosa – Dragonfly 

Pumarosa have generated a wave of hype in the past twelve months and – to be honest – it’s not hard to work out why. Creating etherial music with elements of pop, indie and dance, there’s a mystique to their work that few acts achieve. Dragonfly was released on the same day the band announced their debut album – The Witch – will be out in May. I’ve seen them live a few times now and highly recommend you catch them now; these guys – and gals – are unlikely to be playing smaller shows for much longer.

Code Walk, Smerz – Guess What 

This track is a collaboration between two Scandinavian duos, Norwegian pair Code Walk  and Copenhagen couple Smerz. Its a track that revolves around shimmering techno beats and top line percussion. Everything about this track is ice cold. Simple and yet highly effective.

Brutus – Drive 3/4s 

Belgiun post-hardcore trio Brutus started life as a Refused tribute act, before starting to write their own material. They’re led by Stefanie Mannaerts, who acts as both vocalist and drummer. Drive 3/4s is a stunningly good rock track; its impressive in its ambition alone, but the delivery of intricate melodies, shifts in style and epic chorus makes this track an absolute monster. Easily my favourite track of the week.

Vnusamr – Runnin 

A debut single from Miami-based Vnusamr, and she’s immediately grasped my attention with a track rooted in modern r’n’b, but brave enough to incorporate touches of rock and pop. The sensual vocals are great, it’s superbly produced and I love her teasing melodies throughout. More like this please.

 

 

It’s Album Time: Max Richter – Three Worlds

It’s Album Time: Max Richter – Three Worlds

Every now and then, there comes an artist who defines a generation in their chosen field. When it comes to modern classical music, many would assume that person to be Ludovico Einaudi. Yes, you’ve heard his music on every advert/TV show/movie going, but for me there is another worth considering – Max Richter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bona fide Einaudi superfan. It’s just that, as far as I’m concerned, Richter has pushed the sound in directions that sound new and fresh, and always excite me, whichever medium the music is applied to.

Maybe I should start with a brief introduction to the composer and his works, for those of you that are encountering him for the first time. With his debut album, and personal favourite, Memoryhouse, Richter announced himself as the future of the scene. Poetry, opera and electronica all collided with traditional classical, along with themes that challenged the listener – in particular the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict.

I first encountered the German-born Brit through the use of his music in the excellent 2010 BBC drama, Dive. Images of wind farms off the bleak North East coast seemed a perfect fit for excerpts from his 2004 masterpiece, The Blue Notebooks. After my first proper listen, it had changed the way I listened to and appreciated classical music, and it was rightly described by Pitchfork as “one of the most affecting and universal contemporary classical records in recent memory”.

Songs From Before, 24 Postcards In Full Colour and Infra further solidified his standing in neo-classical, along with his score for Oscar-nominated, Lebanese war animation, Waltz With Bashir. A re-working of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons followed, before Richter wrote and released an eight and a half hour long composition entitled Sleep. Unsurprisingly, the album was designed to be listened to while sleeping, and was accompanied by several overnight concerts, complete with beds for the listener – unfortunately I missed out on tickets for his performance in London in May.

Most recently, Richter’s score for HBO’s The Leftovers has made up for the fact that at times the show is a confusing, albeit enjoyable, mess. It’s a tour de force that plays with your emotions, and strikes all the right notes alongside the show’s most triumphant moments.

Now, the composer is back with a three-part composition to accompany the new Wayne McGregor ballet, Woolf Works, at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

70419-three-worlds-music-from-woolf-works

As the name suggests, Woolf Works is based on three of Virginia Woolf‘s landmark novels: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. Woven around the themes from the books are inspirations taken from Woolf’s essays, letters and diaries. Given the multitude of influences from the subject’s life, it seems fitting that Richter brings a variety of sounds and methods to the table.

Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations, naturally. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today – that they are stored with other meanings, with other memories, and they have contracted so many famous marriages in the past”

Following an original voice recording of Woolf herself, “In The Garden” blends multiple orchestral sections in trademark Richter style, as we are introduced to the first of Woolf’s novels to be covered, Mrs Dalloway. The violin and cello float around the piano, and the piece reveals itself almost like one continuous flow, not stopping for a moment. “War Anthem” hits a more sombre note. Multi-layered strings evoke images of the First World War, and perfectly illustrate the post-war trauma suffered by one of the novel’s characters. The track is anguished, and yet somehow beautiful at the same time.

“Meeting Again” rounds off the first part of this triptych, seemingly continuing the same sound from the previous two compositions. The piano in particular recalls many of The Blue Notebooks’ finer moments, and truly sounds like vintage Richter.

The next ten tracks all tackle Woolf’s 1928 novel, Orlando. The composer introduces a more current sound, staccato strings accompanying atmospheric electronica throughout. “Modular Astronomy” gallops along at a steady pace, and is reminiscent of some of Hans Zimmer’s incredible score for Interstellar, as well as Richter’s recurring melody used throughout Memoryhouse. “Transformation” continues along the same epic path, only for “The Tyranny Of Symmetry” to change things up with a discordant and overbearing tone. Waves of synth swim around on “Persistance Of Images” as the electronic influence is ramped up, and “Genesis Of Poetry” continues in the same vein, sounding somewhat futuristic. Interspersed between these tracks are atmospheric interludes, that lend the second portion of the release a necessary structure and pace.

The third and final part of the collection opens with Gillian Anderson reciting the suicide note left by Woolf for her husband Leonard. The words are haunting, and the accompanying soundtrack of waves crashing against a shore are surely a nod to the writer’s choice of ending her life by filling her coat pockets with stones and walking into a nearby river. By covering this last novel, The Waves, in one track of almost 22 minutes, Richter allows an elaborate exploration of only a few melodies, including the introduction of a vocal from British soprano Grace Davidson. It’s a rewarding, and fitting finale, and I can only imagine how moving the conclusion of the ballet must have been.

Max Richter’s compositions have been used time and again in film and television, most notably for Shutter Island, Prometheus, Arrival, and even an episode of Black Mirror last year. There’s a reason for this: his ability to stir the emotions, and heighten the senses, is second to none. Further evidence of this comes in the form of his multiple works for opera and ballet, having worked alongside choreographer Wayne McGregor several times.

With Woolf Works, he has again delivered an astounding piece of work, leaving this listener moved to tears on more than one occasion. I only wish I’d been able to experience these emotions in their intended setting, but due to some date-bungling I managed to miss the live streaming offered by my local Odeon – on the strength of these 66 minutes, that’s a mistake I won’t be making again!

HIGHLIGHTS: “War Anthem”, “Modular Astronomy”, “Transformation”.

It’s Album Time: Migos – Culture

It’s Album Time: Migos – Culture

If you haven’t yet heard of Migos (pronounced like amigos, without the a), where have you been? Following a decent debut album in 2015, the Atlanta trap trio have taken the last couple of years by storm. Whether it’s with hit single “Bad & Bougee”, an appearance in the excellent Atlanta created by and starring Donald Glover (what do you mean you haven’t seen it yet?), or the fact that they are credited by some with creating the dab, it’s been pretty hard to avoid them. With their sophomore album, “Culture”, they’ve really hit their stride.

Firstly, I feel obliged to point out that clearly the average trap album isn’t likely to include themes that I can relate to. I’m a thirty-something accountant, living on the Essex coast. But fear not, it doesn’t detract from the huge amount of enjoyment I take from listening to this one, and it won’t for you either.

Every album should start with an intro from Snapchat hero, DJ Khaled – I’d actually quite like it if he could just walk into rooms before me and scream my arrival. I’m also a huge fan of what appears to be a xylophone loop playing underneath the vocals, and from the off the tone is set for what proves to be an incredible first five tracks.

“T-Shirt” is easily my favourite song on the album. The sample fading in and out on the production works perfectly with the vocal, and I can’t ever remember loving a tune for essentially having two choruses. The swagger and bravado you would expect from a release of this type is evident from the very first verse as Takeoff, in his trademark stacatto style, proclaims:

Lotta niggas copy, name someone can stop me

It’s Offset though, with his auto-tuned singing style, that makes it for me. This one stayed on repeat the first time I heard it, and hasn’t stopped looping in my head since.

The high standard continues with the infectious “Call Casting” – you’ll be hearing that piano for days – before we launch straight into the track Donald Glover described as “the best song ever”. I won’t bore you by describing it, or giving my insight. The best thing you can do is listen to “Bad and Boujee”, right now.

“Get Right Witcha” completes the outstanding opening to the album, with a great asian-style flute sample, and an even better drum track. It’s just a shame the track fades out at the end, because I could listen to that instrumental for weeks.

At this point, the album takes a dip in quality. That’s not to say that it’s bad, or not worthy of your time, more that it’s hard to top what has come so far. It does feel a little like listening to the same song over and over, but there are still some highlights.

“Slippery” sees Gucci Mane guesting, but it’s still Takeoff, Quavo and Offset that shine as they brag about women and cars. On “Big On Big”, I find it hardest to relate to the lyrics. I’ve never owned a Benz – in fact I don’t own a car full stop – and certainly not a mansion with a four car garage. And yet there’s still something pleasing in hearing the trio boast about their well-deserved spoils.

Short but sweet and with a killer hook, “What The Price” opens with a guitar sample that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Prince’s finest tracks, and “Brown Paper Bag” goes straight in at the deep end as Offset hits a perfect flow. “Deadz” follows with a huge brass arrangement, and a slower tempo.

Before the album reaches its conclusion, there’s time for one more killer hook. “All Ass” is the closest Migos get to a love song, professing their adoration for strippers and booty, and it probably delivers my favourite chorus:

Yeah, beat the pot, beat the pot, beat the pot, oh
Bad bitches walkin’ out with bags at the store (bad)
Stripper girl shakin’, all ass on the pole (all ass ay, all ass ay)

Things get a little weird on “Kelly Price”, with tales of drug-fuelled lovemaking sessions, and making girls “sing” like the aforementioned grammy-nominated r&b singer. Unfortunately, it’s about two minutes too long for me.

“Out Yo Way” completes the release, and one lyric in particular sums up exactly how they should be feeling:

Everybody said that we would fall away
Nobody thought that we would go up
But we blew up, blew up, blew up

Migos really have delivered an outstanding piece of work. As I said, the first five tracks are truly incredible, and set a very high bar that the rest of the album only just fails to reach. It’s a real statement, and deserves all the praise it’s getting. More importantly, it lives up to all the pre-release hype.

HIGHLIGHTS: “T-Shirt”, “Bad and Boujee”, “Get Right Witcha”, “All Ass”.

It’s Album Time: Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

It’s Album Time: Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

Following a three year absence (with the exception of a collaboration with Wavves), Dylan Baldi and Cloud Nothings return with another healthy dose of lo-fi indie rock.

“I came up to the surface, released the air” seems like the most fitting of opening lines for a band that haven’t released a proper album for a while, and it heralds what feels like another reinvention, from a group that seem to define their sound differently every few years. This time around, there’s an air of early-2000 Deep Elm roster about them, in particular Last Days of April. “Up To The Surface” is a statement of caution, which seems fitting in post-Trump America.

This trepidation doesn’t last long though. “Things Are Right With You” is a blast of vintage Cloud Nothings. There’s a blend of grunge and indie rock, with guitars soaring around Baldi’s vocal, lifting the mood to one more hopeful. “Internal World” follows with a sound that the band themselves describe as akin to Yo La Tengo. The song catches the frontman in introspective mood as he admits “I’m not the one who’s always right”.

 

With a long instrumental intro, and a bit of rock ‘n’ roll piano, “Darkened Rings” brings a rockabilly sound, reminiscent of Hot Snakes at their “Audit In Progess” best (if you’ve never heard it, you really should!). Hot on the heels of this stomper, as we reach the mid-point of the album, comes undoubtedly the best track on the album, “Enter Entirely”. The song is longer, slower-paced, and feels like the band are once again breaking new ground for themselves. The lyrics again hint at a more grown-up and inward-looking approach from Baldi, as he proclaims “I thought I knew what I could be, and now I’m there”, before going on to lift the melody and mood with “we’re moving on but I still feel it, you’re a light in me now”. I dare you to not give in and scream along.

I read one review comparing “Modern Act” to The Cure, and although I can see where they’re coming from, I still hear more of the 90’s Britpop influence that I’ve always felt was present in previous Cloud Nothings releases. There’s a fine pace and tempo, with trademark percussion and high hats propelling the song forward, and another great singalong chorus. Completing a duo of energetic pieces, “Sight Unseen” opens with the strum of guitar that sets the rhythm throughout, occasionally broken up by delicate guitar picking. A piano loop enters, and the drums push the song on toward its conclusion. Again, it’s uplifting, and Baldi’s vocal is a perfect match. After your first few listens, this will be one of the tracks you’re always looking forward to.

The album draws to a close with a return to the band’s signature chaotic sound. “Strange Year” sees a cacophony of noise being unleashed, as Baldi roars and pushes his vocal chords to their limit. Exactly the kind of lo-fi fare we’ve come to expect from the Cleveland four piece. “Realize My Fate” provides a suitable end to what is overall a great listen. Opening with an almost tribal feel (I could imagine Jordan Belfort humming along and thumping his chest), the band build to a crescendo of drums, guitar and vocals, leaving you shell-shocked at the sheer variety of what you’ve just experienced in only 9 tracks and just under 38 minutes.

 

“Life Without Sound” is certainly a welcome return from one of my favourite rock bands. Short, sweet and back with a bang, it’s a real assertion from a band that have more than found their place and sound. Their usual mix of angst and hope, coupled with energy and anarchy, still leaves me excited to see just how far they can go, and there’s no doubt that with Dylan Baldi at the helm, they’re in great hands.

I’d strongly recommend you catch them live on their upcoming tour. If you’re at the London show, I’ll see you at the front – I’ll be the one with my arms in the air, screaming along to every chorus!

HIGHLIGHTS: “Things Are Right Without You”, “Enter Entirely”, “Sight Unseen”.