Category Archives: Music Reviews

CHARLI XCX – NUMBER 1 ANGEL (MIXTAPE REVIEW)

Since her mainstream breakthrough in 2013 Charli XCX has quickly become one of the most interesting British pop stars of the decade. The last 12 months have been a new era for XCX her infamous Vroom Vroom EP resulted in her stealing the title of PC Music’s poster girl from Hannah Diamond.

But unlike Diamond Charli XCX is no angel regardless of what this mixtape’s title might suggest. Despite the list of Producers working on this project including Life Sim, Danny L Harle, Easyfun, SOPHIE and A.G Cook, Number 1 Angel doesn’t sound like a typical PC Music project. In fact this record takes a lot more from the quirky style of Trap that artists like Lil Yachty have been splitting critics with. Charli’s voice is sugar coated in glossy autotune on tracks like Blame it On You and Drugs, which compliments her singing style as she sounds like she may have been listening to Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert whilst recording this project. It’s no surprise that the most interesting instrumentals here are provided by SOPHIE, the track Roll With Me contains one of the most infectious dance beats he’s ever produced whilst Charli’s vocal cuts through the high pitch synths resulting in electro pop perfection. This song is held together by a powerful 808 bass and is sprinkled with SOPHIE’s trade mark squeaking and screeching noises which could prevent this song from having any chart success.

The closer Lipgloss is also a highlight with a vocal hook that only the most conservative music fans wouldn’t want to sing along to and Cupcake’s adds some hilarious verses with sexual innuendos about Whinie The Pooh and Flavor Flav. On the track Emotional Charli sounds at her most vulnerable delivering a Bjork esc chorus. The track ILY2 is a much needed 2000s throwback track with Charli bringing a vocal hook that could have come from Avril Levine at the peak of her popularity, but this kind of melody on top of a Danny L Harle Production is a genius move. Even though she shows her softer side Number 1 Angel is still dominated by Charli’s powerful and boastful lyrical themes and delivery the opening line of the record being “I’m a Dreamer step step out the Beemer”. Maybe on this record she is not as ferocious as she was on the Vroom Vroom EP, but her more down to earth persona here is a much welcome change for Charli. Moments like Babygirl and 3am wouldn’t sound out of place on a Carly Rae Jepsen record which is possibly the biggest compliment you could give in a pop review.

The truth is you’re probably not going to hear a better pop album this year it’s a perfect blend of fun and obscurity and it’s the best thing XCX has released thus far.

(Written by Aimee Armstrong)

 

[ALBUM REVIEW] ED SHEERAN – ÷

Following a year long break from social media, Ed Sheeran is back with a bang. Releasing two singles on one day in February – Castle On The Hill and Shape Of You – it’s clear to see that his sound is better than ever. On March 3rd he released third studio album, ÷. Here’s what we thought.

Track opener Eraser bursts into life with a staccato-sounding acoustic guitar. The quick stroke strums are sharp, stinging, stabbing, and layered on top of the pounding drumbeat it sounds harsh. Harsh, but not messy. Layered, but seamless. It’s an assault of the senses in the best way. It’s the perfect introduction for the record.

Singles, Castle On The Hill and Shape Of You, are so overplayed you feel like you’ve known them for years; but you won’t get sick of them. Both tracks are upbeat, with defined rhythm, but Shape Of You takes a more exotic form. It wouldn’t be out of place if it were played on a marimba, and mixed with the plucky tones of guitar, the song takes on a three-dimensional form. Castle On The Hill, on the other hand, is just as punchy – but it’s softer, more like a pop song. The highlight of the song is Sheeran’s voice: he’s more confident than ever, and it’s laced with roughness like it’s never been before. His striking falsetto only serves to emphasise his talent.

 

 

Slower tracks like Perfect and How Would You Feel (Paean) fall flat in the middle of the album. Despite their chart popularity, Sheeran’s soft love songs don’t quite hit the mark like the upbeat album – they fall on the wrong side of cliché and sound just a bit like every other ballad out there. The only good things about these tracks are Sheeran’s vocals. They may be unimaginative songs, but at the very least, he sings it like he means it.

What Do I Know? sounds soft and innocent, kind of like an audio version of the blanket you loved when you were a kid. It’s unassuming, harmless, with the right amount of complexity. It’s neither dull nor eccentric – it just is. The guitar riff provides the perfect gentle backdrop, and the harmonies in the chorus are subtle but they make the song. The lyrics reflect this, too: “You know, the future’s in the hands of you and me/so let’s all get together, we can all be free/spread love and understanding, positivity” This song sounds like sitting in the park with your friends. It sounds like warm sunshine on your face, your sun-bleached hair in August, the scratchy blades of grass against your bare legs.

The standout tracks on ÷ are easily Galway Girl and Nancy Mulligan. Both songs are heavily influenced by traditional Irish music – and combing this with pop music shouldn’t work but it’s honestly brilliant. Galway Girl’s lyrics tell a story: about a boy meeting a girl in a bar (“I met her on Grafton street/right outside of the bar”), the pair having a drink (with so many references to whiskey) and just enjoying a night together. The narrative is great, the imagery is better, and Sheeran’s song writing skills shine.

 

 

Nancy Mulligan on the other hand, is a true story – it details Sheeran’s grandparents’ sixty-year long love story. This song has the heaviest Irish influence, and it makes the song all that more authentic. With seamless violins and punchy clapping, you can almost see the river dancers in front of your eyes. “I don’t think enough people use [Irish music] in pop music,” Sheeran said. “For some reason it’s considered twee and old, but it’s such exciting, youthful music, it should be at the forefront of pop culture.” And from listening to these two tracks, I’m inclined to agree.

But Nancy Mulligan isn’t the only song that Sheeran referenced his grandmother for. The delicate tones of Supermarket Flowers detail the loss of the singer’s beloved Nan who passed during the recording of ÷. The song’s nothing less than a tribute, and a fitting one at that. The track opens with the delicate plucking of a piano, and Sheeran lowers his voice to a gentle croon. It’s the lyrics that really hit home, though: phrases like “I’m in pieces, it’s tearing me up but I know/A heard that’s broke is a heart that’s been loved” show the honest side of losing a loved one. It’s a song about trying to find comfort in the hard times, and the emotion in Sheeran’s voice is clearly not faked.

Album closer, Save Myself, is possibly the best of Sheeran’s acoustic collection – it’s seamless, gentle and raw, with more use of a piano. The vocals are flawless, with the perfect inflections to match the music and a tone of angst that fits the lyrics perfectly. It’s the best way to end an album – it winds you down nicely, prepares you for the inevitable end and leaves you the exact opposite of disappointed.

Even though the album has ended, though, I bet it won’t be long until you’re pressing replay. It’s clear that Ed Sheeran has matured – but instead of becoming boring, he’s more experimental than ever. There’s no bad tracks on ÷ – some of the love songs are dull, sure, rehashed, maybe, but the upbeat songs more than make up for it. It’s easy to see where Sheeran excels – and hopefully, the next album will be entirely made up of lyrical imagery and Irish influences. After all, it is where his roots lie.

 

 

Words by Lucy Wenham

[ALBUM REVIEW] VANT – DUMB BLOOD

Opening tracks from debut albums are usually where bands go big, from I Wanna Be Adored to Smells Like Teen Spirit, it’s an opportunity to really lay the gauntlet. Vant’s debut opens with The Answer and tackles the topic of the Afghanistan war with the grace of Vinnie Jones.

Now if I didn’t have to review this album for my uni mark, I’d have backed out at the point vocalist Matty Vant so poetically articulates the relationship between the US and UK by singing “You’re from England well, “Hello there my brother” Keep sucking my dick, while my friend fucks your mother”. Dumb Blood has a forty-minute cringe-inducing shot a jumping on the #woke bandwagon.

On Put Down Your Guns, Vant sings, “Middle-class fools, self centred rich. Brainwashed villains that poison the sick” it’s about as punk as that mate you have that adorns their uni walls with a Communist flag. Are We Free? bloats the entire album at a staggering seven minutes that never really builds to anything.

When Vant ditch the pseudo-punk flag it drawers some pretty decent results, highlight of the album ,Parking Lot, is a has-blinder of a bridge and sees them really showing their teeth with regards to guitar work. Do You Know Me? isn’t musically worlds apart from Parking Lot, but does just enough thanks to a nice solo to stand in it’s own right has a standout track.

On the whole, Dumb Blood excels musically and can at times be pretty engaging, however lyrically it’s like a car crash. Vant quite admirably seem more than happy to stand proud about what the believe in but it does feel like these sentiments could be left at the beer garden they belong in.

Words by Jack Winstanley

[TRACK REVIEW] ALL TIME LOW – DIRTY LAUNDRY

After a brief hiatus, All Time Low have returned. Following a week-long media campaign where they teased fresh tunes on their social media, they’re bigger and better than ever: announcing that they’ve signed to the pop punk giant label Fueled By Ramen and releasing new track, Dirty Laundry.

Far from the sugary sweet style of their back catalogue, the Baltimore quartet’s new single opens with an ethereal synth beat. It sounds dark, like ribbons curling through your chest and mind until you can’t forget, squeezing tight. Frontman Alex Gaskarth’s voice layers the track perfectly with dulcet, astral tones. At some points, it sounds like his velvety crooning is melding with the song.

From a first listen, you’d think that Dirty Laundry is you’re average dull heartbreak song. But lyrics such as “I don’t care what you did/I only care what we do” and “Nobody’s perfect I confess/But she’s perfect enough”, it’s clear to see that this is a love song – and it’s a love song like no other. All Time Low are acknowledging that actually, nobody is perfect – and no relationship will ever be perfect – and that’s what makes this song stand out against the rest.

It looks like Fueled By Ramen suits the band perfectly.

Words by Lucy Wenham

[ALBUM REVIEW] SLEAFORD MODS – ENGLISH TAPAS

Regardless of your political stance it’s indisputable that we are living in dark and dangerous times. With rise of the alt-right, England leaving the EU and of course the election of Donald Trump you could be forgiven for wanting a good cry. With the seismic shift of the political tectonic plates however there comes emergences in the form of musical brilliance and Sleaford Mods are the mother of all volcanoes. Since 2013 vocalist Jason Williamson and producer/pint holder Andrew Fearn have produced molten hot electro-punk hits.

2017 sees the release of their fourth album English Tapas and if you thought there was a chance they might have mellowed you’d be very, very wrong. Opener Army Nights it’s very much Mods by numbers but it has it’s gems “They call me Dyson I fucking clean up”. Over a drum machine and a thudding bass line, it’s not a particularly dangerous start but it’s an assured one.

The bitter wit follows on Just Like We Do, it opens with Williams mocking pretentious music fans and mumbling about music recorded in the “black forests of Germany”. As Sleaford Mods first post-Brexit record it’d be rude for them to not acknowledge it and they do “Scratching my head as the people burn for what they wanted” sings Williams on Snout.

Nobody is safe from Williams laser sharp deconstruction of them, on Dull he takes aim at NME “Try scrolling down a website, the NME, without laughing, I’ll give you ten quid if you can keep a straight face, Honestly, just fucking try it, mate”. On BHS Williams kicks it up a gear and this time his eyes are fixed on the company’s owner Philip Green. “We’re goin down like BHS while the able bodied vultures monitor and pick at us” sings Williams.

Musically English Tapas can be a bit of a labour of love, Sleaford Mods are sadly victims of their own success and the simplicity that makes them so brilliant also leaves them a bit stuck. It does feel like the Mods are running out of ideas on this album but if you can see past that and appreciate the lyrics that are as brutal as ever then you can take something from this record. There’s no shortage of twats in the world and whilst they exist the Mods will call them out on it like nobody else can.

(Written by Jack Winstanley)

[TRACK REVIEW] HMLTD – TO THE DOOR

No band has baffled and excited in equal measure in recent years, maybe ever, but HMLTD prove with their latest single that the hype is more than justified. An uneasy bricolage of glam, bright electro-pop and Western themes, their latest single To The Door is an obnoxiously loud number, that splices so many things together at once.

Complete with a video that combines the sexy glam rock sleaze of 72 Bowie with the haphazard blood lust of Tarantino, this single is one that should make you sit up and take note. If you’re not fully aware of who HMLTD, you are now. Go forth and spread the word.

This adds to their already stellar back catalogue, pushing their total of released songs up to a meaty, meaty 3. But despite this, because of their intense live shows, major recording contract and their collective cohesive band style, you know that HMLTD is an entity that will only get bigger by the second. By The Second.

(Written by Cal Cashin)

[TRACK REVIEW] LORDE – GREEN LIGHT

This teen comeback has been anticipated by everyone from her loyal fans to music critics across the globe. Lorde‘s debut album, Pure Heroine, set the bar high and opened the eyes of many to a teen’s raw honest description of what it’s like to be a teen in this day and age. Many believed that she wouldn’t be able to return with the sheer force that she did when her first album was released onto the world, but she may have just proved them all wrong with her triumphant return Green Light.

The lead single sees this Kiwi megastar venture into a new form of sound. Although her lyrical structure – which remains phenomenal for someone her age – stays the same on this song, this burst of happy energy through joyous piano loops creates a more uplifting burst of euphoric energy. This happy-sad heartbreak anthem was co-written with fun. guitarist and 1989 collaborator, Jack Antonoff. The pair have been working together daily for 10 months on her upcoming album.

This serves as the first glimpse we have into the world of Lorde’s upcoming album, Melodrama, due for release in June. Back in November she posted an update on what to expect from the album, saying “I wrote a record about it, all of it, so much more than what I’ve written down here, and I’m in new york getting it done. And tomorrow, I’m not a kid any more, and more and more I’m realizing that the weirdness of those Mylar balloons is going to be okay”.

Words by Connor Spilsbury-Brown

[ALBUM REVIEW] STORMZY – GANG SIGNS AND PRAYERS

Few debut grime albums are met with the excitement that has surrounded Stormzy‘s. From breaking out through a freestyle in a park that went viral to recently performing with Ed Sheeran at The Brits, the rise of of Stormzy has been astronomical.

Opener First Things First speaks for itself, Stormzy wastes no time addressing multiple issues. From addressing The LBC controversy “LBC’s tryna’ black ball me and tryna’ blame your boy for knife crime”, to speaking out about his struggles with depression, it’s a no holds barred introduction and sees several scores settled.

Ghetts and J Hus join Stormzy on Bad Boys one of the standout tracks of the album. J-Hus brings a wavy bridge to the track and Ghetts turns up as he has on several recent grime albums, his intense vocals pair up perfectly with the sinister beat.

Blinded By Your Grace Pt.1 is a complete change of pace and a total shock. Stormzy demonstrates a genuinely heartwarming ability to song as he’s coupled with a subtle gospel backing. It’s a bold risk but shows Stormzy’s capability to switch both flaws and genres with ease.

Those simply listening for big hits won’t feel short changed despite the diversity of the album, whilst the instrumental for Big For Your Boots feels a bit vacuous and lacking in well, instruments it’s still a massive track and the chorus is a total earworm. Standout track Mr Skeng also delivers on the archetypal grime track promise, balancing humour and intensity over one of the best beats of the album it’s a swaggering victory. The studio version of Shut Up also somehow manages to sound better than the video that brought Stormzy to fame.

To not take note of the closer Lay Me Bare would be a discredit to the album. “Man get low sometime so low sometimes, airplane mode on my phone sometimes” confesses Stormzy as he opens up about his fight against depression.

The cultural importance of this album cannot be stressed enough, this album is one of many spearheading the way forward for a genre on a dizzying rise. Where this album may lack in back to back bangers and floor-fillers for grime nights it makes up for with it’s unapologetic honesty and rawness. Admittedly there are some clangers like Velvet, but on the whole the tracklisting is reasonably solid.

On Gang Signs and Prayers, Michael Amori just 23 years old stands proud and speaks out loud about his love for his mum or his struggles with depression, things you’d be surprised to hear about on a grime album. Whilst musically it’s not groundbreaking as a package it’s exactly so, grime is on the rise and Stormzy is leading the charge.
Words by Jack Winstanley

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