Tag: ROSALIA

ALBUM REVIEW: James Blake – Assume Form

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James Blake – Assume Form 

There are certain acts who always create intrigue when they release new material and James Blake is most definitely one of those artists. Whilst the falsetto vocals, electronics and intriguing beats are omnipresent in his work, his growth as an artist has seen him span genres and become as popular in the hip hop world as he is within the indie crowd that originally supported him. In a remarkably understated and underground way, he’s become an essential part of twenty-first century music.

The Penguin has been a fan since 2011, but was hugely disappointed by 2016’s The Colour In Anything, which was overly long and lacking in substance for his aquatic tastes. [Although it should be noted he wasn’t alone in 2016 in producing overly long, unimpressive albums: I’m looking at you Frank Ocean].

Last month Blake released Assume Form, and it has been on pretty steady repeat here ever since. For anyone who has listened to the album, it’s apparent that this is a very different James Blake; he is in love and – largely – a happy chappy. From the opening title track, it’s obvious he can barely believe his luck “When you touch me, I wonder what you would want with me” and the piano and soaring strings mirror his wide-eyed wonder. It’s a little soppy and slightly meandering start, but it begins our journey into Blake’s psyche.

Assume Form has a number of collaborators that help to elevate the album. Mile High, featuring Travis Scott, benefits from some superb production with the tinkering beats always teasing the ear, and the two voices mesh together nicely. Tell Them, a tale of regret about one night stands, is possibly a little overdone on the production, but Moses Sumney’s voice really shines. Barefoot in the Park with ROSALIA has been well covered on the blog is simply exquisite and continues the story of love woven throughout the album.

But it’s the collaboration with Andre 3000 – Where’s the Catch – that most rewards repeat listen and really anchors the album. With its unsettling, murky piano and deep beat, it turns the positives of the album on their head and questions if this really is too good to be true. It’s a dark moment cleverly placed within the album. And in truth it slightly saves the album, because the preceding two tracks – Can’t Believe The Way We Flow and Are You In Love? – are clearly the weakest on the album. The former is full of scatters of sound that never settle, and lyrically loses both the subtlety and quality that succeed elsewhere.  With Are You In Love?,  the vulnerability is there, but it feels meandering and slightly unnecessary.

Power On also jars slightly; it’s hard to know if we should be delighted for the person singing and appreciate their evolution into love, or whether they remain quite selfish company. Last year’s release Don’t Miss It also makes an appearance, a song with admirable emotional honesty but lacking in musical quality.

But there are other musical highlights intertwinned. Into The Red feels like it has a baroque arrangement involved and brings the strings back to centre stage. It’s an incredibly moving track in which he acknowledges a debt much greater than – but certainly not excluding – money. I’ll Come Too feels like Blake has hijacked a touring musical and appropriated its biggest number for his own. There’s a classic melodious pop song in there, but Blake gives it his own spin. And Lullaby For My Insomniac gives an almost choral ending to the album.

Assume Form is an enjoyable journey for the listener, with a central theme and some exquisite moments of musical genius. There are a few duds in there as well, but they’re generally well masked by how the album evolves around its thematic core. On that note, your tolerance for the album will largely depend on how much you can cope with Blake’s new-found happiness. The Penguin is also slightly in love with his other half after recently getting into The Good Place, so is happy to forgive, but others may struggle given how open and on-point the lyrics are at points.

At 48 minutes the album still feels a little baggy – lose two songs and we could be talking about a masterpiece – but its probably Blake’s finest album to date and shows yet more evolution. If anything, the intrigue will be even higher when his next release comes out.

7.5/10 

The A List (10th Feb) – the best 10 new songs in the world right now

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This week’s Astral Penguins A List has four new entries, but last week’s entries continue to dominate the top of the chart. The tracks by the Plastic Mermaids, Dua Lipa and Gary Clark Jr. are truly exceptional and likely to feature highly in the end of year top 50. This is the last week for the James Blake track as it reaches its three week limit. 

1. Plastic Mermaids – Floating in a Vacuum 

My favourite track of 2019 so far. From the orchestral introduction to the playful synths, this is a track that grabs your attention. But it’s the vocals and the chorus that really gets me. There’s something deeply sad and realistic living within the simple words, well beyond the alien visuals and space vibes.

2. Dua Lipa – Swan Song 

For my money, this is the best Dua Lipa song since 2015’s Be The One. From the tribal percussion and vocal snippets, this is a song of defiance and power “this is NOT a Swan Song”.

3. Gary Clark Jr. – This Land 

This Land is venomous. You can feel the frustration and anger pour out of every single note. The video is superb. The lyrics are hard-hitting and personal. And the energy is off the chart.

4. The Cinematic Orchestra – A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life 

Featuring the unmistakable vocals of long-term collaborator Roots Manuva, A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life is an emotional journey that only gets better with every listen. “Why would you hide from yourself, Belief is here to f‌ind you” Manuva sings, over the soaring sonic landscapes underneath.

5. Sunflower Bean – Fear City [New Entry]

Fear City has an assured  swagger. It sounds timeless; it could easily have been made in the 1990s or the 1970s, and it takes the essence of Veruca Salt and Joan Jett (and many other pioneers) and simply builds on that legacy. The guitars subtly drive the track, the chorus is instantly familiar and ready to be sung by audiences everywhere, and the underlying message is of empowerment and breaking away from fear.

6. Jenny Lewis – Red Bull & Hennessy 

Jenny Lewis has returned with her first single in five years and it is giving me seriously good Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks/Lyndsey Buckingham vibes – possibly with a little dose of Kate Bush thrown in towards the end – which is just about the highest compliment I can give.

7. James Blake, ROSALIA – Barefoot In The Park [Final week]

There’s something magical about the track. It feels so enticing, but never quite real. You don’t want to move in case the spell is broken.

8. Anna Clendening – Dead End [New Entry]

Sometimes pop music can be devastating. Sometimes lyrics just jump out of a song and into you, where you feel every emotion the songwriter felt. North Carolina native Anna Clendening has penned some masterful lyrics for Dead End. Simple, effective, devastating. The sense of guilt, the shame the desire to be stronger – better – shine through in every line.

9. Lil Peep, iLoveMakonnen, Fall Out Boy – I’ve Been Waiting [New Entry]

It’s a summer song through and through, with breezy instrumentation and laid back vocals. I particularly like Patrick Stump’s vocals and the pre-chorus refrain from Lil Peep, which is just drawled vocals at their finest.

10. Tarantina – Hunter [New Entry]

An incredibly assured track where everything feels essential. The drama and intrigue only grows with every listen.

 

 

 

The A List – the best 10 new music tracks around right now (3rd February 2019)

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It’s all change on this week’s A List, with a whopping 6 new entries including a brand new top 3. We’ll be losing the Lucy Rose track this week as it has reached its three week limit, but next week’s new entries will struggle to compete against this list.

1. Plastic Mermaids – Floating in a Vacuum [New Entry]

Tuesday’s Track of the Day is my favourite of 2019 so far. From the orchestral introduction to the playful synths, this is a track that grabs your attention. But it’s the vocals and the chorus that really gets me. There’s something deeply sad and realistic living within the simple words, well beyond the alien visuals and space vibes. “the gravitational pull, only gets stronger, and every time that we fall, it hurts even longer, somewhere up in the sky, we float like a feather, but we just live out our lives, trying to hold it all together.” It’s a message of quiet stoicism. And it really, really gets me.

2. Gary Clark Jr. – This Land [New Entry]

Friday’s Track of the Day, This Land is venomous. You can feel the frustration and anger pour out of every single note. The video is superb. The lyrics are hard-hitting and personal. And the energy is off the chart.

3. Dua Lipa – Swan Song [New Entry]

For my money, this is the best Dua Lipa song since 2015’s Be The One. From the tribal percussion and vocal snippets, this is a song of defiance and power “this is NOT a Swan Song”.

4. James Blake, ROSALIA – Barefoot In The Park 

Down four places this weekend, but it still sounds enchanting. There’s something magical about the track. It feels so enticing, but never quite real. You don’t want to move in case the spell is broken.

5. Bonobo – Ibrik [New Entry]

Ibrik is the first track from the forthcoming ‘Fabric Presents Bonobo’ record, due for release on the 22nd February. As you’d expect from Bonobo, it’s full of intricate beats and an excellent melody, but there are so many layers and snippets throughout to tantalise your ears.

6. Lucy Rose – Conversation [Final week]

Conversation is full of atmosphere with some beautiful strings. Simple and yet hard-hitting, there’s an air of strength and finality surrounding the delicate vocals.

7. The Cinematic Orchestra – A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life [New Entry]

Featuring the unmistakable vocals of long-term collaborator Roots Manuva, A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life is an emotional journey that only gets better with every listen. “Why would you hide from yourself, Belief is here to f‌ind you” Manuva sings, over the soaring sonic landscapes underneath.

8. Jenny Lewis – Red Bull & Hennessy [New Entry]

Jenny Lewis has returned with her first single in five years and it is giving me seriously good Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks/Lyndsey Buckingham vibes – possibly with a little dose of Kate Bush thrown in towards the end – which is just about the highest compliment I can give.

9. Florence + The Machine – Moderation [New Entry]

“Want me to love you in moderation, Do I look moderate to you?”  Florence returns with a cracking single encompassing superb lyrics, a bluesy-pop vibe and her usual stunning vocals.

10. Me & My Toothbrush – Just Release Me 

A supremely catchy dance track that builds and dips, the guitars keep it bopping along and the vocals sound properly old school.

 

 

 

The A List – the best 10 new music tracks around right now (January 27th 2019)

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Four excellent new entries on this week’s A List, including a third number one in three weeks. This week also features the final appearance from four strong tracks, as they’ve reached the three week limit. 2019 has blessed us with plenty of excellent new music so far, but you should really be prioritising these tracks…

1. James Blake, ROSALIA – Barefoot In The Park [New Entry]

There’s something magical about the track. It feels so enticing, but never quite real. You don’t want to move in case the spell is broken. Emotionally it first feels joyous, but there’s a lurking edge of darkness that creeps into the corner of your eye.

2. Lana Del Rey – hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it [Final week]

A profoundly moving five minutes; from self-doubt to abuse to isolation, any song that has Sylvia Plath at its core will undoubtedly veer from weirdness to unimaginable suffering.

3. Me & My Toothbrush – Just Release Me [New Entry]

A supremely catchy dance track that builds and dips, the guitars keep it bopping along and the vocals sound properly old school.

4. Billie Eilish – WHEN I WAS OLDER [Final week]

Full of eery distorted vocals and minimalistic electronic production that combine to create a haunting tone that is really hard to shake off.

5. Lucy Rose – Conversation 

Conversation is full of atmosphere with some beautiful strings. Simple and yet hard-hitting, there’s an air of strength and finality surrounding the delicate vocals.

6. Goldie, James Davidson, Subjective – Rift Valley [Final week]

A track that is best played in the dark. It’s like you’re dreaming after smoking pot. Everything feels captivating yet entirely elusive. The album also became available on streaming platforms this week.

7. Fat White Family – Feet [New Entry]

Fat White Family have returned with their first single since 2016. Feet is dark, danceable and downright impressive. With it’s haunting melody, orchestral flourishes and driving percussion, it brings to mind  a marriage of Woodkid and the True Detective theme song.

8. Sam Smith, Normani – Dancing With A Stranger [Final week]

A devastatingly simple pop track full of regrets. Sam Smith does heartbreaks better than almost anyone, and the simple production on Dancing with a Stranger leaves the listener to drown in the guilt and misplaced anger of a rebound one night stand.

9. Mindchatter – Trippy [New Entry]

Trippy is probably the most apt song title of the year so far. This track has some wonderful production throughout, taking modern hip hop and r’n’b production, inverting it and giving it a low key vibe.

10. Hot Flash Heat Wave – Sky So Blue 

Sky So Blue is a lazy summer afternoon in a park, drifting off into reverie through the sheer fatigue of doing nothing at all. It’s a cocktail of synths, psychedelia and sunshine. Lots of sunshine.