[ALBUM REVIEW] ED SHEERAN – ÷

Music Reviews

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] STORMZY – GANG SIGNS AND PRAYERS

Music Reviews

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

[ALBUM REVIEW] TORI KELLY – UNBREAKABLE SMILE

Music Reviews

Californian born singer-songwriter Tori Kelly releases her third album after working hard to get into the limelight by releasing videos of her covers and original songs on YouTube.

At the age of 16 she entered herself into the ninth series of American Idol (2010), but music mogul Simon Cowell was not impressed. “I thought your voice was almost quite annoying. I’m gonna say no. I think these three are mad but there you go,” he said. Kelly was not about to give up there.

In 2012 without support she released her first EP. After being recognised she was then signed to Capitol Records, releasing the follow up EP Foreword as her first major label debut.

Cautious not to lose herself in the music industry Kelly promises to “not forget where I came from”, trying to stay true to her vision in an industry where fame can lead artists to become egotistical and ugly.

She has the soul of Sade Adu with a voice that matches Ariana Grande; however the natural, authentic style she has given herself makes her a little restrained on the album. It lacks that diva-ish attitude and it needs more sass.

Being an acoustic artist she never gets lost in the production. Opening the album with a two-minute intro Where I Belong and just a soulful voice and her guitar, she shows fans it is ok to be yourself.

Following suit is Unbreakable Smile with a gracious beat from the acoustic piano and the energetic snare drums as she sings over with her airy voice “Maybe I could sell out shows without taking off my clothes, God made me sexy I don’t care if only I know.” Again she echoes the theme of being true to herself on her musical journey.

Nobody Love is the albums first lead single making it to position 60 in the Billboard’s Top 100 in May 2015. An optimistic pop song with an influential hip-hop undertow, it’s reminiscent of 90’s R&B divas like Aaliyah and Mariah Carey.

She changes the tone halfway through with Expensive. A more upbeat, techno, dance track featuring 18-year-old rap-singer Daye Jack who has also just hit the music industry. An unusual choice for the soulful artist, its funky melody makes me lose sight of the message as she belts over it.

First Heartbreak is your more conventional love song. Stripped down with not a lot of production to just Kelly and her guitar alongside a piano. She is on her best form, showing her vulnerability here, much different from Dear No-one and Anyway where she is more knowledgeable on what she wants from love: “Cause for the first time I get worried when I’m looking in your eyes, that one day you will leave me and it keeps me up all night. If you ever left me that would be my first heartbreak.”

This shows a more naïve, less experienced Kelly as she is experiencing her first “real” love yet trying her hardest to avoid it being her First Heartbreak. On first listen you can hear the vulnerability in her voice, every note she sings gives it that emotional ambience.

A collaboration that was bound to happen is I Was Made For Loving You featuring Ed Sheeran. You would be foolish to skip this track. A simplistic ballad where there is nothing but a couple orchestral strings, guitars and a scattered bass line to enhance their vocals yet this song captures their essence.

Two songs that worked less well are City Dove and Talk. Showing a totally different side to Kelly, one that seems untrue to what she stands for. It is almost too well produced and edited, unnecessary for someone who’s sound is so beautiful and organic.

This is quite ironic when we return to just Kelly and her guitar on Funny a track where she explores the burdens of fame and the struggles she will endure to remain the same. She gives a club atmosphere with a strong, persistent rhythm of album closer Anyway.

Kelly has an undeniably good voice with pipes that will stop anybody in their tracks however she is lacking in something that could make Unbreakable Smile the big album she needs to build her reputation. Kelly needs to stick too the stripped down songs, where it shows off her vocal abilities like soul artists Jill Scott or Erykah Badu.

Words by Shaaveh Spence-Jones