Monday, 23 September 2013

New Music Monday #70

The Electric Lady
by Janelle Monáe (out now)

There’s ambition and then there’s Janelle Monáe. Many artists develop alter-egos and other personalities before, during and after the recording process. David Bowie glammed it up as Ziggy Stardust, Eminem was Slim Shady (the real Slim Shady), Beyoncé unleashed Sasha Fierce and Mariah Carey emancipated Mimi for a while there. Forget that last one. Janelle Monáe has spent the past seven years building the world of the Alpha Platinum android 57821 aka Cindi Mayweather and that world just keeps on getting better and better. On the sophomore LP, The Electric Lady, we’re given a crash course in music history, as told through the eyes of a futuristic robot fugitive. It sounds crazy, it is crazy, but this is the kinda crazy you won’t ever want to stop.

Broken into Suites IV and V of Mayweather’s story, there’s cinematic overtures, talkback radio interludes and, most importantly, an amazing collection of tracks that will get you dancing and have you coming back for more and more. Monáe ushers in Suite IV with, “I am sharper than a razor, eyes made of lasers, bolder than the truth,” amongst the funkiest of funk guitar lines on ‘Givin Em What They Love’, a track that sees her completely kill it with a rock and roll vocal breakdown that’ll leave you swooning like you’ve never swooned before. The sexual ambiguity that’s become a staple of Monaé’s work is challenged by the arrival of Prince who’s never been one to shy away from bringing the ‘sex’ into his music. In what will become a running theme throughout the remainder of The Electric Lady, Monáe utilises her esteemed collaborator incredibly well. She eternally remains the focal point of the track, never overshadowed by the legend performing alongside her.

‘Q.U.E.E.N’ combines psychedelic soul, funk and the most memorable rap of 2013 as Monáe teams up with another icon and influence on her sound, Erykah Badu. When you think of a song that ‘has it all’, you should think of ‘Q.U.E.E.N’. An empowering anthem encased in a booty-shaking monster of a track, you won’t be able to resist it and why would you want to? Badu’s smouldering reminder that, “the booty don’t lie,” leads into the multi-tasking Monáe taking a stand, raising a call to arms and spitting out some defiant rhymes. “Yeah, keep singing and I’mma keep writing songs, I’m tired of Marvin asking me what’s going on, march to the streets ‘cause I’m willing and I’m able, categorise me, I defy every label.” Suite IV thunders on with smooth R&B tunes like ‘The Electric Lady’ with Solange and the slow-jam ‘Primetime’ that shows off the vocal powerhouse within Monáe in the ultimate love-off with flavour of the month, Miguel. The album liner notes (which are a lot of fun too) show that inspiration for ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ was drawn from ‘Michael Jackson’s glistening jheri curl in ‘Thriller’ and Bo Diddley’s tremolo guitar’ and this ‘keep on dancing ‘til the world ends’ hit doesn’t take long to win you over completely. Monáe’s ability to adapt to any vocal challenge is presented front and centre as Suite IV closes out with ‘Look Into My Eyes’. Think old Hollywood meets Egyptian glam meets the incomparable Janelle Monáe.

The Electric Lady changes directions in Suite V, with the second half of the album packing itself full of gorgeous R&B tunes, slowing down the tempo on ‘It’s Code’, ‘Victory’ and the unforgettable ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’. “Take me, take my letters, take my photos, take the sun, you can take my heart, ‘cause I ain’t gonna need it on the run.” Cindi Mayweather, android fugitive and inspiration for these overwhelming fantasies that Monáe puts into song. I need to get me an alter-ego. A gospel-ish stunner, ‘Sally Ride’, is a celebration of sorts, dedicated to the first woman in space, Sally Kristen Ride. Suite V won’t likely receive the widespread adoration of Suite IV, but there’s so much to love about it. And there’s still a whole lot of energy thrown into tracks like ‘Ghetto Woman’ that feels like disco on a psychedelic trip through space, viewed through the lens of a Blaxploitation film director. It’s literally as amazing as that sentence suggests.

Arriving at the aptly titled ‘What an Experience’, flipping unexpectedly from soulful reservation to reggae beats, The Electric Lady rides off into the sunset and leaves you feeling very, very satisfied. Janelle Monáe confidently draws on a huge range of influences and reinvents them for a modern audience. It’s awesome. It’s pure musical awesomeness that promotes genuine talent and creativity instead of shock and awe. It’s positive and uniquely sexy in a way that doesn’t throw its message in your face (Born This Way) or skank it up (Miley Cyrus). The Electric Lady is a modern classic, epic beyond what we would consider to be normal human imagination. Which makes sense, because the stories come from a 25th-century robot named Cindi Mayweather. Everyone can enjoy Janelle Monáe; you, your mum and dad, your too cool hipster friends, your tiny, tiny children. This is an artist the world should be supporting, so jump on board and celebrate the ambition of Janelle Monáe. She’s like no other.            

Matt Bond gives The Electric Lady five Kanye heads out of five...

Days Are Gone
by Haim (27 September, 2013)

Winning the BBC 'Sound Of' poll isn't everything it's cracked up to be. In fact, with many of the acts, it sets them up with a huge heaping of hype and raised expectations that can be very hard to live up to. Just ask Mika and The Bravery. There are a select group of 'Sound Of' champions that do manage to live up to the title though *cough* Adele and 50 Cent *cough*. So what of the 'Sound Of 2013' winners, Haim? In five years time will we be lumping the sisters Haim (Este, Danielle and Alana) in team Mika or team Adele? Debut album, Days Are Gone, doesn't definitively answer that question, but it is admirable and at times spectacular.

"I hurl into the moment like I'm standing at the edge, that no one's gonna turn me 'round." Launching into 'Falling' in all its reinvented 80s pastiche glory, its only too easy to find yourself swept away by Danielle's vocal charm and the dreamy sibling harmonies. That distinct Californian flavour emerges in 'Forever', but its truly realised in album standout 'The Wire'. Like the best Cristine McVie-led Fleetwood Mac tunes there's killer hooks, guitar lines to die for and choruses to singalong to with friends at festivals, in the car, in your backyard, at the shops, at this year's Christmas parties. The 'Sound Of' 2013 indeed. 'The Wire' lets the three sisters shine with three-part harmonies, and offers Danielle the opportunity to let loose a bit more on the lead guitar.

The much loved 'Don't Save Me' goes a long way in saving Days Are Gone from falling into a lull. An indie-rock anthem that has won the band fans throughout the world and really got the excitement in the Haim brand developing when it was released last year. It's easy to like artists that challenge themselves by tackling different genres and channeling various periods of music's history while adding a modern touch, but some of the tracks do suffer from feeling a little... dated. I found this most on another 70s-ish track, 'Honey and I' and the R&B-tastic title track, 'Days Are Gone'. But that doesn't mean they can't pull off songs you'd think would be out of the norm for three gals (and a boy drummer, I haven't forgotten about you Dash Hutton) from Cali.

'My Song 5', with its make-you-wanna-dance beats, owes more to hip hop and rock than it does sunny-pop and right here you can understand why Jay-Z wanted Haim on the Roc Nation roster. Totally different, but just as fantastic, is the following 'Go Slow'. Verging on ballad territory, it's one of the "quieter" moments on Days Are Gone, which makes it all the more memorable. It's almost the opposite narrative to 'The Wire' with the tables turned and our singers are now watching someone they love walk away from them. "Go slow, so that I can hear everything you're saying. Now I know you're going, you just threw this away."

Another slight misstep emerges in 'Let Me Go', which floats dangerously into 'wanting to be Florence Welch' territory as the percussion becomes more prominent. By the time we've rolled around to the final track, 'Running If You Call My Name', it's like we've gone full circle and back to the 80s inspired sound of 'Falling'. Take the spirit of a Springsteen jam and take some inspiration from Jessie J's backing beats and you've got 'Running If You Call My Name', which is even better when you factor in those Haim-onies. Get it? Because it's like Haim combined with harmonies? You're just jealous because you wish you had come up with that one!  

There's a lot to love about Days Are Gone and if you've enjoyed the Haim singles released thus far, you should definitely pick this one up. For the most part it's a hugely enjoyable listen that you'll play over and over throughout the Australian summer. As for whether or not Haim will be a Mika or an Adele, I think it's important to remember that Adele's 19 was good, but couldn't match the greatness of the follow-up, 21. I think by the next time we hear Haim, they'll be ready to capture the entire world's attention.

Matt Bond gives Days Are Gone three and half Ellie Goulding heads out of five... 

Tales of Us
by Goldfrapp (out now)

Three years after their last full-length studio album Headfirst, the English duo Goldfrapp bring us a new masterpiece, Tales Of Us. Ditching the 80s dance inspired tunes of the last album, this time revisiting the cinematic and folk inspired sounds that formed the framework of Felt Mountain and Seventh Tree.
Tales Of Us as its title suggests tells a series of personal, heartbreakingly beautiful and sometimes challenging tales, of sexuality, death, love and identity; each song named after the subject of the story. 'Drew', the first taste from the album (released only as a teaser) was revealed as a stunningly provocative Lisa Gunning-directed video, which tells a story of love “once upon a time” seemingly between three lovers, frolicking in, and around the yards of a dreamy mansion.

Compared to other albums Tales Of Us is a slow burning ember relying less on “in your face” big beats, synth tricks and pop hooks, and more on the lyrics and stories held within the thick cinematic atmospheres created by the duo. Fans of Goldfrapp’s definitive disco/electro-pop might be lost on first listen and make the mistake of writing it off as background music, but given time, one can appreciate the sparse, moody orchestral arrangements on which Alison’s ethereal and haunting vocals float effortlessly and only ever dragged under with the heavy current driven by the emotional and poetically stirring lyrics.

As each subtle element is gradually dissected with every listen I find myself at a point (five listens in) where I’m lying on the floor in a darkened room sobbing as Alison lifts me to dizzying heights, intoxicates me with heady sounds then dumps me in an emotional heap back on the floor where I realize I’ve been so captivated that I’m dribbling on the carpet. Especially in songs that hit on a very personal level like 'Annabel', who’s story about a young boy who is challenged by gender ideals captivates, or dark chilling tales like 'Jo' that conjure all sorts of bloody imagery with mere suggestion.

The only moment which hints at a more electro feel is 'Thea' with it’s softly pulsing beat and manipulated vocals though it doesn’t stray from the tight concept of the album and no song on Tales Of Us feels like an after thought. 'Simone', a tale of regret, 'Stranger' tells of the fantasy of love with a stranger, 'Laurel' grasps hopelessly at relationship; each song strangely romantic regardless of theme, like remembering a life long gone with fondness in the tears. Tales Of Us is probably the most consistent album Goldfrapp have ever released feeling as though it’s all part of one heart wrenchingly beautiful movie. Tales Of Us is most definitely a five head affair and should be accompanied by a box of tissues and potentially a sedative of choice.

Nayt Housman gives Tales Of Us five Madonna heads out of five...

Turn The Night Up
by Enrique Iglesias
Album: TBA (????)

How does Enrique keep making music? How exactly does one turn the night up? Which female pop stars said no to this before it landed in Iglesias' lap? Is he still dating Anna Kournikova? What ever happened to her? There's just too many questions that will take time some time and effort to answer. One question is very, very easy to answer. Is 'Turn The Night Up' any good? No. No it is not.

Matt Bond gives 'Turn The Night Up' one head out of five... 


Loving Myself
by Hairy Soul Man 

I had a good feeling about Hairy Soul Man, even before I heard and saw his film clip for ‘Loving Myself’. I conjured up mental images of a bushy, bristled man, and about 7 seconds into the clip when I laid eyes on the bare chested Wolverine-esque Hairy Soul Man himself, my heart squeaked. That’s a good thing, in case you were wondering.

Hairy Soul Man opens with the lyric “Why should I love someone else when I’m so good at loving myself?”. That is definitely sentiment I can relate to! It may also explain my long term single status.
The film clip is all kinds of awesome, with an array of props appearing, helping to take us on the Hairy Soul Man journey. The clip begins with a sexy shower scene, complete with chest rubbing and a near naked moment when the “towel” is held just a little too low. Some might say it was just the right amount of low. Others (me) might say not low enough. Hairy Soul Man explains, “I use my roommates’ towel, ‘cause I don’t know where mine is, probably next to my bedside, covered in my… things”.

After towelling off and getting dressed, the journey continues to the tram. “Of course I bought my ticket, because I would never fair evade”, Hairy Soul Man tells us. Kudos has to be given to the props and actors in this scene for really giving the illusion of a tram ride. The tram however, proves to be little too exciting, thanks in part to a pair of tight jeans. Was he aroused? Was it the vibrations on the tram? He doesn’t know. But he does make the call to alight the tram to find a private place to continue the self-love. Towards the end of the clip the focus is on the Hairy Soul Man, sans props, however the actors do chime in for some backing vocals. My favourite of those being “he’s talkin’ ‘bout his genitals” after Hairy Soul Man questions why he should love someone else, because he knows all his good bits.

We’re left with a philosophical Hairy Soul Man who tells us “You got to learn how to love yourself before you try and love anybody else. How are you going to know the positions that’ll make you scream if you don’t go travelling in the self-love submarine? Oh, relationships, they rise and fall, but your hands will always be there to pick up the ball”.

This is the self-love anthem of 2013. Maybe even ever.

Katie Langley gives the video for 'Loving Myself' five Nick Cave heads out of five...

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