Kate Tempest – Don’t Fall In
There are fewer harder working musicians than Brockley’s very own Kate Tempest. To label her as just a ‘musician’ is doing a disservice. The poet-cum-playwright-cum-voice of the generation wowed critics with her play Brand New Ancients – proving she is one of the most exciting young artists in Britain. Her 2014 debut album, Everybody Down, was celebrated by critics and nominated for the Mercury prize – many thought she should have won it. The album, similar to urban heroes The Streets and Dizzee Rascal, looks at the disreputable characters in society; the boredom of everyday life (workaday monotony and sneering, suited office drones); the dangers and heartache arias of the streets – instilled with political anger and defiance throughout.
While Everybody Down amazed and beguiled some: others felt more anger, hardness and conviction could have gone into the music. Given the political unfolding (Brexit and the rise of the Godzilla-like Donald Trump) it is no surprising our brightest and more disaffected artists are preparing new material – Dizzee Rascal is laying down his sixth album right now. Tempest’s October-due album Let Them Eat Chaos is as dizzying and apocalyptic as its title suggests – more jagged, edgy and evocative than her debut. In interviews, she explained the concept revolves around seven people (in the early hours of the morning) uniting in the street; wrestling with their own problems but drawn together by shared space – as a rumbling storm rages overhead – their own quibbles washed away by a deluge of perspective and natural world emotional breakdown.
Don’t Fall In perfectly embodies and provides a point d’appui for Let Them Eat Chaos. Right from the opening seconds; Tempest is ready and charging. Among “rising waves” and “vapours”: an urban apocalypse is unfolding: “Hard rain falling on all the half-hearted, half-formed, fast walking/half-fury, half-boredom, hard-talking/half-dead from exhaustion” goes the chorus – spat and slammed around burbling electronics and face-smacking beats. Imploring the subjects/society not to “fall in”; one envisages approaching deluge and storm – fitting with the story arc/narrative of the album – but it seems more politically-charged and societal – perhaps the disenfranchisement and changing face of U.K. politics.
A song that never slows or retreats: bold, brave and electioneering; Tempest on the mountain singing down to the subjects – another exhilarating, fast-talking number whose lyrics are not only a form of expression but a window into something much more universal and astonishing. Kate Tempest has produced one of her most intense and encapsulating offerings so far. If Don’t Fall Down is a representation of Let Them Eat Chaos and all it holds – expect something truly wondrous. (4/5)
Chromatics – Dear Tommy
Kill for Love, the fourth album from American band Chromatics, arrived in 2012: since then; fans have been waiting and anticipating a new release; speculating when it will arrive and what it will sound like – their patience might soon be rewarded. Kill for Love impressed critics with its novel and unique approach; deep, disquieting beauty and filmic presentation – so much work and detail in an album; more like an indie flick than a mere record. After such praise and exceptional music: you can forgive people for being a little antsy and impatient – if a four-year wait results in a worthy follow-up (to Kill for Love) then that’s okay.
Dear Tommy has just been announced and will be the fifth album from the Oregon synth.-pop quartet. The seventeen-track L.P. has been announced and, on the strength of the tracklisting, looks set to blend romantic longing, after-hours drama and many of the traditional Chromatics staples – good news for fans of the band. In spite of no set release date: the album’s title track has been released as a wonderful teaser.
A seventeen-track album can either signal a lack of editing or immense confidence: Dear Tommy’s opening notes suggest the latter. Juddering electronics and a ghostly swirl soon flows into a piano-and-drum duet that fuses tense beats with romantic, elegant notes. Processed vocals talk of a central figure (Tommy) and some curiosity-making lyrics – “Just when I think that I’m alright/I see your face/And it only twists the knife”. Against the robot-like emotionless of the vocals; the disturb and vulnerability of the lyrics – the composition mutates: from suffocating and haunted to strung-out and Blues-infused. More pieces of the puzzle are revealed – “I wish I could see the world through your eyes/And though I’ve tried/You call me colour blind” – and the song grows in intensity.
As if David Lynch and Kraftwerk joined forces to direct a Hollywood film: it is, in parts, frightening and unsettling; mechanised and graceful. A typically overwhelming and head-spinning song from the band: it seems the long creative break has not been wasted. Dear Tommy requires several plays before it starts to truly affect: a song whose layers, notations and multiple possibilities seduce different senses at different times; too strange and powerful to truly resonate on the first spin. If the remaining sixteen tracks of Dear Tommy are up to this standard: Chromatics could have just created the best album of their career. (4/5)
Grouplove – Traumatized
There are not many groups that have quite the same sound as Los Angeles’ Grouplove. Formed back in 2009: Hannah Cooper (vocals and keys), Christian Zucconi (vocals and guitar); Daniel Gleason (bass), Andrew Wessen (guitar and vocals) and Ryan Rabin (drums) make up the intrepid quintet. They are, in essence, a group that has always divided critics: those who adore what they do and others feeling rather indifferent. Their debut album, Never Trust a Happy Song, was considered a little over-the-place and incohesive – that either won hearts or hurt heads. At the core lay a band able to craft sun-kissed anthems and a beach-ready body of work – designed for crowds to lose their senses in; get smiles fixed firmly.
Following up that 2011 debut was a somewhat mixed 2013 sophomore cut: again, an album that has definite merits but lacked focus, stiff editing and cohesiveness. Certain songs stood aside, but taken as a whole, the L.P. was over-bloated and loquacious. It seems, on their new single, the band is not Spreading Rumours – they are preparing for a Big Mess. Traumatized proves the unfortunately-titled September 9th-due album is premiered with a bang at the very least.
Traumatized is like a greyhound from the tracks and the band whip up frenzy – whilst keeping rhythm and control present. Singing about his “one true love” and a girl sleeping on a sofa (baby in her blouse): the song is a tight-chested, narrative-driven two-hander that seems to encapsulate a domestic nightmare – two people whose lives and nightmares are interworked; trying to take stock of where they find themselves. Grouplove certainly can whip up a noise: mixing early-grunge with Green Day-esque punk will get many excited and hooked. There are some great harmonies and the lyrics stray beyond the formulaic and paint a genuinely fascinating story.
Yes, there is more focus and an evolution in the band, away from the sound of their previous albums, but that has put them right in the path of another issue: losing identity altogether. Parts of Green Day, Nirvana and, strangely, Fleet Foxes can be detected in Traumatized. The song is a great, if disposable, live track but one wonders whether it has necessary depth and originality to deserve a second listen. Let’s hope Big Mess is not an ironic statement as the L.A. band has real potential. When they erase their deep-seated musical issues and discover their own voice: they could be something truly special. (2/5)
Dua Lipa – Blow Your Mind (Mwah)
Right now, there is a lot of excitement surrounding London-based singer Dua Lipa. Her much-anticipated debut album is not released until 10th February 2017 but the singles she has already brought out – New Love, Be the One; Last Dance and Hotter than Hell – show a varied and nimble talent who is among the most consistent and archetypal pop stars of the minute. Having posted YouTube covers since the age of 14 (she is 21 now) there is plenty of confidence and authority in her work. Working on her eponymous album since 2015: the singles already released show Lipa is a fine songwriter and strong voice.
Be the One is the only track (she’s released) without her name on the writing credits: few modern, young artists can claim to have that much input and control on their songs – a strange thing to say but it shows how music is changing. Dark pop with shades of soul: Lipa matches heartfelt sentiments with sauciness and sweat – an artist that is creating a lot of buzz and speculation this year. Blow Your Mind (Mwah) is her latest cut and follows off from Hotter than Hell – in terms of its themes and sense of sexiness.
Blow Your Mind (Mwah) begins with thudding, intent beats, and haunted electronics: Lipa comes in with one of her firmest and most commanding vocals yet. Combining sentiment and romance (“I know we got/something that money can’t buy”) and passion (“Loving ‘til late in the night”) it is an evocative and unabashed song that has growl, guts and womanly pride. Lipa is not a put-upon girl: she is in control and laying down the law. There are arguments and set-to between the lovers but if they “do not f*** this up” – Lipa is sure to blow the mind of her boy. Against the constantly pulsating percussion and hardcore slam: the chorus has a catchiness and addictive quality; Lipa’s voice is consistently alluring and stunning.
Big, bold and foxy bangers seem to be a staple for the young singer. Blow Your Mind (Mwah) is a huge, hungry track that mixes provocativeness, sassiness, and plenty of maturity. There are not many artists that are as exciting and entrancing as Dua Lipa. Her voice is strong but she still needs to shrug off Rhianna tones. Perhaps in an effort to fit into the mainstream more accessibly: her vocals do sound second-hand and calculated sometimes; a shame considering what a giant talent she is. A little over-produced and composition-heavy – the song is a little too forceful at various stages – Lipa’s commitment, personality, and image-provoking words compensate. She is someone who lives up the hype and has laid down another solid foundation (from her upcoming debut album). (3/5)
Glass Animals – Season 2 Episode 3
On Friday, Glass Animals release their sophomore album, How To Be a Human Being. Their debut, Zaba, was framed with minimalist beats and lyrics that spoke for themselves – that was not the whole of it. Tropical vibes and jungle percussion were placed around home-made recordings – giving the record a mix of pastoral and exotic. Most critics were impressed by Glass Animals’ bold attitude to sound and dynamic considerations: daring to be different to their peers and bringing the listener into a bold, bright and intoxicating world. Zaba suggested the Oxford band could go onto bigger, better things – their recent singles have shown that. Life Itself and Youth have received extensive radio-play and shows a bold, evolved push from the band – hinting How To Be a Human Being could be one of 2016’s most intriguing albums.
Season 2 Episode 3 is the latest track and instantly makes you smile. An American-sounding T.V. boxset-themed potential: this is the band’s third single from their second album – self-referential but a breath of fresh air against the obscure Bon Iver song titles and oddity. The track name is not entirely inconsequential with regards T.V.-binging and a life of leisure. Season 2 Episode 3’s initial computer game bleeps – something out an ‘80s platform game – are met with cool-edged, hip-hop influenced beats – all big, precise and tenacious. His feet at a funny angle and the past’s memories and issues alongside him – one becomes fascinated by the song’s origins.
Left-over “cereal for lunch”; a languorous, student-esque lifestyle unfolds – a depressive climate that is overwhelming the hero. Similar to Zaba, and consistent with the adventure of their previous two singles, Glass Animals employ that exotic-cum-electronic pairing but seem slinkier and more seductive here – elements of Justin Timberlake, Hayden Thorpe and Michael Jackson come out in the vocals. Lyrics are everyday and relatable: cookies “used as coasters“; our hero lying on the stomach of his girl. Season 2 Episode 3 trades all-out bliss and energy for something more luscious and casual – showing what How To Be a Human Being could contain. Perhaps not their most instant song: the album’s third single is a definite grower that reveals its multiple (sometimes grubby) charms and lifts your mood considerably. (4/5)
BANKS – Mind Games
The Altar arrives in September and will be the sophomore album from Californian alternative-r&b artist, BANKS. 2014’s Goddess marked BANKS’ arrival in music and was applauded by some – sadly passed over by others. The confessional lyrics, brooding and sassy moments displayed true personality and some beautiful, cutting lines. Despite some brilliant moments: a whiff of the formulaic came through. Almost consciously designed to integrate the most vogue female artists of the ’10s: you could detect Lana Del Rey, FKA twigs and Lorde in various tracks. The moody-sounding, atmospheric compositions could have been lifted from any of the aforementioned – almost a fear that too much individuality would scare critics off.
Previous singles from The Altar – F*** with Myself and Gemin Feed – were released close to one another (July 12th and August 2nd) and showed a more distinct and revitalised BANKS – fewer idols on display; much more of her own voice. Keeping the momentum for The Altar strong: Mind Games has just been dropped and is a natural bedfellow to her previous two singles. Written with Christopher Taylor and Tim Anderson (who between them co-wrote Gemini Feed and F*** with Myelf); they are joined by a raft of producers. The cat-and-mouse sexual paranoia, almost a standard bearer for BANKS’ new material, comes through as she castigates a lover who would screw her and leave her – a disloyal and disreputable waster.
The man, whoever he may be, likes mind games and seems to have it all calculated – BANKS is second-guessing and trying to figure out his twisted seduction. What one notices is the lyrical similarities to Lana Del Rey and Lorde; albeit with a slightly sharper and more explicit tongue. The composition remains too light in the early stages which leaves the vocal exposed and threadbare. Unable to marshall the angst-ridden and delirious professions – one of the song’s four producers could have figured some compositional flanking would have been prudent. BANKS carries the song with resilience, style, and flair.
Mind Games has some interesting moments and BANKS is a constantly mysterious, engaging and troubled singer. There are elements of FKA twigs and Aaliyah (an influence that came through in Goddess) and it is the vocals and lyrics that carry the song: it is let down by the reedy, undercooked composition that does not sufficiently elevate the song or add texture. Fans of BANKS will enjoy her latest crusade as it is a natural continuum; if not an evolutionary progression. An intriguing song that sounds compelling in BANKS’ assured hands: let’s hope The Altar’s remaining tracks boast finer compositions and more atmospheric production values. (3/5)