Monday, 11 November 2013

New Music Monday #77

by Lady Gaga (out now)

Where to begin? Lady Gaga’s really done it all in just under six years hasn’t she? A stellar debut record, the monster follow-up (that’s bizarrely considered an EP, despite earning a nomination for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards), the insanely overhyped Born This Way and now her “third” studio release, ARTPOP, have seen Lady Gaga top charts, sell out arenas and win a boat load of awards. She’s gone from the new Princess of Pop to the biggest music star in the planet to… well, I don’t really know what she is now. There’s certainly been a lot of backlash against her in the past couple of years. She’s done everything in her power to shock, awe and, most importantly, entertain her fans. With nothing left to prove, you can hardly hold it against her for marching to the beat of her own drum and ARTPOP is one ridiculously self-indulgent album extraordinaire. Thankfully, it’s also quite good. The last time I did a Track-by-Track review was for Born This Way, so let’s try it ARTPOP style!


“I’m not a wandering slave, I am a woman of choice.” Truer words have never been spoken as Gaga recruits flavour of the month, Zedd, to produce this convoluted introduction to ARTPOP. It’s all very flashy – a Western themed opening with a Tarantino twist leads into some pretty poptacular dubstep inspired drops that sit behind lyrics that range from borderline insightful to full blown cringe inducing. The track’s as convoluted with ideas as that last sentence, but that last sentence was awesome, so I guess I won’t judge the track too harshly.
Rating: 2/5… or I will?


This is a very frustrating track. The opening segment is what you’d expect a show at the Moulin Rouge to be like if the theme was ‘tits out in space’. Welcome to the planet Venus, where all the lady aliens walk around sans clothing and sing about being the goddess of love. For those of you that haven’t taken in a naughty night at the Moulin Rouge, it’s nothing like the movie. There’s a life spoiler for you. What ‘Venus’ does have going for it is killer vocal work from Gaga and the, “when you touch me I die, just a little inside, I wonder if this could be love, this could be love,” moments that will have you involuntarily waving your hands in the air like you just don’t care. ‘Venus’ is also the first track solely produced by our leading lady, so if I was a university lecturer I would give points just for trying. It also doesn’t shy away from substituting Uranus for a derri√®re mention. Didn’t you know her ass is famous?
Rating: 2.5/5


Generic. Unintelligent. Yammering? No, not at all. It’s girl under you, silly. Don’t you wish you had a girl come up to you on the dance floor and bluntly tell you that she wants to be under you? Far out… that’s coming on a little strong, love. I WANNA BE ON YOU!! Anyway, this is the first real attention grabbing moment on ARTPOP, where Gaga just blatantly skanks it up and unleashes the pop superstar we all know and love (or loved for some people). Catchy, ready for the floor… it’s like the LGG of days gone by… those were good times.
Rating: 3/5


‘Sexxx Dreams’ is the right kind of different with just a little hint of desperation. Like Madonna’s ‘Erotica’. Gasp. It feels like I’m breaking all sorts of taboos by mentioning Gaga and Madonna in the same sentence. Or not. ARTPOP is really starting to find its voice right here. Despite the desperation dig, this is undeniably sexy. Maybe not ‘xxx’ sexy. Just singular ‘x’ sexy. “Heard your boyfriend was away this weekend, wanna meet at my place?” Lezzing it up as usual and being a home wrecker. Don’t judge her… baby, she was born this way! This is the song you want playing at a club at three in the morning when you’re willing to embarrass yourself without a care in the world.
Rating: 4/5

JEWELS N’ DRUGS (ft. T.I., Too Short and Twista)

Remember all the rumours about who would be guesting on this album? Beyoncé, Azealia Banks, Britney Spears, Elvis Presley, 2Pac, Joan of Arc. We got T.I., Too Short and Twista.
Rating: 1/5


Thank the pop gods… ‘MANiCURE’ is more like it! Forget what I said before about ‘finding a voice’ or whatever. This is just good old fashioned pop fun. And considering how far Gaga has been willing to move away from that radio friendly sound, this is like a breath of fresh air followed by a whiff of perfume you know is going to lead your vision to a scantily clad lady of the night. “Lookin’ serial killer, man is a goner, touch me in the dark, put your hands all over my body parts.” Something about ‘serial killer’ and touching ‘body parts’ should set alarm bells ringing, but just go with it, for we finally have something to really sing WITH Gaga.
Rating: 4/5

DO WHAT U WANT (ft. R Kelly)

We’re on a roll now, so celebrate good times (come on!) and believe that you can fly with Lady Gaga and R Kelly. ‘Do What U Want’ is everything the previous ARTPOP collaboration wasn’t and then some. “I feel good, I walk alone, but then I trip over myself and I fall, I stand up and then I’m ok, but then you print some shit that makes me want to scream.” It’s nothing new for Gaga to address media rumours, but bringing in R Kelly’s silky smooth vocal tones certainly mixes it up. Sure, Gaga’s are sad (eg. she has a schlong) and Kelly’s are more ‘trapped in the closet’ creepy, but that’s neither here nor there. And he was never convicted, right? ‘Do What U Want’ is pop perfection, an album standout and you just try not to sing-along with Kelly as he defiantly lets loose with, “yeah we takin’ these haters and we roughin’ them up, and we layin’ the club like we don’t give a fuuuuuck.” I don’t even want to know what ‘layin’ the club’ would involve. At the very least, this should make people temporarily forget about what R Kelly’s sheets smell like.
Rating: 5/5


Here we go… the big title track. The explanation of all that is this ARTPOP we’ve heard so much about and not quite understood. Surprise! ARTPOP could mean ANYTHING apparently. Well played, Gaga. ‘Artpop’ the song is like my experiences with most art pieces. I don’t get it, but it’s nice enough. A little paint-by-numbers in terms of the music itself and I can’t stop myself from singing Selena Gomez’s ‘Love You Like A Love Song’ at the start. Not that I know what that song is. Haha. Urgh. A final admission from Gaga that, “I am really laughing, because I just love the music not the bling, music not the bling, free my mind artpop, you make my heart pop,” is both sweet and sad. Is she in on the joke?
Rating: 2/5


I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I imagine ‘Swine’ and its squeal piggy themes would be a huge hit with lovers of the book. S&M clubs the world over are adding it to their filthy in-house playlists as we speak. Some of our kinkier readers are sitting at home, using one of their slaves as a footrest while reading this review and shaking their heads at how wrong my concept of what goes on inside the dungeons of an S&M club is. “Talk about the song, bitch!” you scream at me in an authoritative tone. “I have no master, you latex wearing goon!” I shout back. The song’s average.
Rating: 2.5/5


And we’re back to almost pop perfection. ‘Donatella’ is right in Lady Gaga’s wheelhouse as it’s all about living for the fame, the good life and swigging champagne. It’s the anti-‘Royals’, but what would you expect from a song paying tribute to the iconic Donatella Versace? Snappy lines are thrown right at you, accents are applied and you’re loving every second of it. Again, this is the Lady Gaga that at one time was the undisputed pop champion of the world.
Rating: 3.5/5


I had a little… off… feeling about this song. When I think of a song called ‘Fashion’, I think of that weapon of mass destruction that Heidi Montag (who?) released as she poorly attempted to transition into music. Listening to Gaga’s ‘Fashion’ I was getting bad vibes. There just wasn’t something right about it. Who produced it? David Guetta and I blamed for Britney’s problems. I’m comfortable blaming him for Gaga’s. Let’s all just enjoy that the song wasn’t called #fashion.
Rating: 2/5


The constant electro assault has worn me down at this point. I need a breather…
Rating: 2.5/5


Ask and ‘ye shall receive. We finally get a song that showcases how talented the Lady is. Hallelujah! With so few distractions, we can actually enjoy the beautiful melodies, Gaga’s spectacular voice and heartbreaking ability as a storyteller. ‘Dope’ introduces a bit of theatrical flair, adopts an NYC hobo accent and puts the focus on Gaga’s voice and the piano, with some unnecessary ‘lectro clunks in the background. Lyrically, ‘Dope’ is so-so. One minute it’s all simple and powerful, “my heart would break without you, might not awake without you, been hurting low from living high for so long,” and then you arrive at the actual crux of the song and she sings, “I’ll keep on searching for an answer ‘cause I need you more than dope.” And they say romance is dead. The performance is incredible and ‘Dope’ stands out on ARTPOP as the only ballad. The only thing holding it back is the lyrics. 
Rating: 4/5


If, like me, you enjoyed Lady Gaga’s debut of ‘Gypsy’ in Berlin last month (which was a piano/vocal masterpiece), you might be a bit put off by the disco dance album version. Then you’ll get over it and fall in love with Lady Gaga and RedOne letting their powers combine once more. Theirs is a partnership you want to continue forever and ever because it’s just hit after hit. ‘Gypsy’ is definitely the strongest lyrical moment on ARTPOP and comes close to being the best song on the album. Top 3 for sure. You will want to dance. You will want to adopt the nature of a gypsy and roam and pillage and go on British reality television. “Would you go with me, for life, see the world with me.” I would!
Rating: 4.5/5


“I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong, to crash the critic saying is it right or is it wrong.” When ‘Applause’ was first released, I found myself slightly underwhelmed. But in the months since its release, the song has grown on me. A lot. ARTPOP ends on an exciting high note with ‘Applause’, which is right up there with Gaga’s best singles. An admission to loving the fame and not a hint of the wanky Born This Way message that has run rampant through the pop landscape.
Rating: 4/5

Whereas Born This Way was Lady Gaga’s most consistent effort, ARTPOP as an album is all over the place. You’ve got a handful of bonafide dance floor anthems, a stellar ballad, an unwise attempt at hip-hopping it up and then a collection of serviceable, but ultimately unforgettable, bangers (not bangerz) that you know you’ll tire of quickly. Trapped behind an endless onslaught of electronic noises are some complex melodies that you almost have to fight to listen to. The lyrics jump from insightful to laugh out loud ridiculous at breakneck speed. But when ARTPOP is good (see ‘Do What U Want’, ‘Sexxx Dreams’ and the final three tracks) it’s very good. Lady Gaga set the bar pretty high with her previous releases and ARTPOP sadly can’t compete. ARTPOP is good, but it’s not great.

Matt Bond gives ARTPOP three Lady Gaga heads out of five…

by M.I.A. (out now)

“My words are my armour and you’re about to meet your karma.”

At this point, you’re either a huge fan of the creative force that is M.I.A or you’re not. The only middle ground is reserved for seventeen year old stoners that think ‘Paper Planes’ is their jam and, quite frankly, they don’t count. For anything. This reviewer falls into the ‘huge fan’ category. Perhaps it’s our shared Sri Lankan-ness (it’s not). Maybe it’s her refusal to conform to what is expected of a female rap/hip-hop act or to any expectations in general (getting warmer). More likely, I am an M.I.A fan because her music is stellar; unusual in all the right ways as it slips in inspiration from the most unlikely of sources (bingo!). Yes, there are also the likely sources – electronic beats mixed into bhangra influenced sounds in such a casually cool way – but it wouldn’t be an M.I.A record without them. And so, after a wait that really was too long, we now have the fourth studio recording from Maya Arulpragasm, Matangi, and though it’s not without fault, it is another entertaining rollercoaster ride from our favourite beacon of self-created controversy.

A solitary “ohm” introduces the listener to both Matangi and ‘Karmageddon’ as a sign of M.I.A’s musical resistance. The track itself is a blink-and-you’ll miss it intro, but a couple of snappy lines and some dangerous beats are all our hostess needs to propel you headfirst into her world. ‘Matangi’ and ‘Only 1 U’ are footstomping booty-shakers for sure, but the former loses points in the originality stakes and the latter treads dangerously close to ‘sweet merciful Zeus I’mma gonna skip this’ territory. Get through it and you’re rewarded with ‘Warriors’ which succeeds in its mission statement that it’s, “puttin’ them in a trance.” It makes me want to tribal dance like Beyonce, even though I know better than to do that to anyone that has functioning vision. ‘Come Walk With Me’ is the joke that M.I.A’s in on. A very ‘pop’ sounding track with lyrics that are so anti-pop (“You ain’t gotta shake it just be with me, you ain’t gotta throw your hands in the air, ‘cos tonight we ain’t acting like we don’t care.”), which evolves into a spectacular M.I.A sensory assault, which does and doesn’t carry through to the beat reliant ‘atention’.

The Weeknd is the lone featured collaborator, teaming up with M.I.A for a reworking of sorts of the guest’s own ‘Lonely Star’. This is a standout moment, a fantasy ride through Zaire and the Red Sea that will leave you breathless and wanting more… but you’ll probably wait until after the ridiculously amazing ‘Bad Girls’. Over a year and half since being unleashed on the world, ‘Bad Girls’ still has that ability to send shocks from your head to your toes that make you want to release the Bollywood star within. “Chain hits my chest when I’m bangin’ on the dashboard, my chain hits my chest when I’m banging.” Dance like nobody’s watching or something. Catch your breath with the ‘Boom (Skit)’ before falling for the aromatic blend of trap and reggae that is ‘Double Bubble Trouble.’ You know where this song would fit in? On one of those Dance Dance Revolution games. Left foot, right foot, up foot (?), down foot (??), left and up feet (???). Are you picking up what I’m putting down? Probably not, so let’s move on…

‘Y.A.L.A’ is a welcome slap in Drake’s face, turning one of the most annoying things in ever (y.o.l.o, for those better at avoiding lame terms than I) with the message that you always live again. Which is probably more wankery than you only live once, but it’s coming from M.I.A and not Drake… so I’m digging it. And she manages to name drop Julianne Moore and that’s just… surprisingly wonderful. You go, Julianne Moore! The second half run of applaud worthy tracks continues with ‘Bring The Noize’, as the ohm is replaced by the adhan and a call to prayer. Look, if there was a church that played ‘Bring The Noize’ over and over again (and featured crazy dancing) I’d answer that call to prayer. This is a real assault to the senses, with quick-witted rhymes just pouring from M.I.A’s mouth as the music replicates the sounds of an automatic machine gun. Fading out to the lines, “freedom’s just another word, choose, nothing left to lose,” is just the icing on the cake that’s probably been blown sky high at this point.

All good things come to an end and ‘Lights’ slows the pace down and just stumbles along before the undeniably average ‘Know It Ain’t Right’ begins to play. After hearing songs that seem so incomparable, these two are so-so, a little too hip-hop standard to compete with what’s come before. Matangi ends with another head-scratcher in ‘Sexodus’ featuring The Weeknd, which is just ‘Exodus’ if ‘Exodus’ wasn’t good. It’s like the B-grade version of ‘Exodus’, a little different, but not enough to stand on its own as a track that makes you take notice. I actually went back to ‘Exodus’ about halfway through ‘Sexodus’ because it’s better. You have a really fancy steak in front of you with nice sauce and a drink you really like and then there’s this slab of meat from the cow’s butt and a glass of Mountain Dew… which one are you going to choose? That’s ‘Exodus’ and ‘Sexodus’ and it’s also me being a bit of a jerk, but why would you put the same song on an album twice?

I said towards the start that Matangi is an entertaining rollercoaster ride and I stand by that because not every moment of being on a rollercoaster is thrilling. There’s the anticipation at the start, you’re excited as you take off and start heading on that steep climb that takes forever and you feel a little bit bored. Then in a flash you’re off and screaming and laughing, having lots of fun going through loops and then you hit that straight patch where you catch your breath and it’s all a bit boring again for a second and then BAM! you’re going backwards and it’s all exciting again and then it’s all over. You enjoyed the momentary rush and you look at your friends and look at the enormous line to do it all again… and you choose to get back in line and do it all again. That’s Matangi. Not every second is exciting, but there are those moments where you completely lose yourself in it and it’s those moments that will have you coming back for more and more. A strange metaphor, but you’re the one that just read the whole thing, so…

Matt Bond gives Matangi three Eminem heads out of five...

Two Moon Love
by Pigeon

When I hit play on the big orange circle on soundcloud to Pigeon's 'Two Moon Love', I forgot that I had the volume turned up full. An indication of what I think of this song is that after the initial shock of noise, I didn't turn my laptop down, because the sounds from this Brisbane based five piece are delicious. They hit you in the best way possible, with a little force but a lot of awesome, they know when to pull sounds back and let the vocal take over and they know when to layer it up good and strong, the sounds are so addictive I can't quite believe this kind of electronic talent is made in my home town. There's a little bit of 80s love in there, there's a little bit of synth genius in there, there's a lot of killer beats in there. In fact, there's nothing not to love in there. I don't even know what the two moon reference is, but I love both of them, whoever or whatever they are.

Jo Michelmore gives 'Two Moon Love' four Presets heads out of five...

Love Me All Night
by Millar Jukes And The Bandits

I think I said “YEAH!” out loud in about 3 seconds after this track started. Pumping harmonica, upbeat driving drums, wailing organ and a 60s inspired guitar riff immediately got my attention and had me bouncing in my seat. I was born after the 60s, but I am a 60s child at heart.

Once the vocals hit me I knew I would be listening to this song again and again and singing along: “Baby don’t you know I love you? Baby don’t you know I care?” Yep. Baby, you know I love this kind of sound.

We are truly in the land of the 60s with images of faded denim, flowers, flares and formidable folk festivals flying before my eyes. All here is very groovy. Yes, I said groovy. I’m bringing that word back. And indeed this track by the talented Millar Jukes is attributing all that I love about the groove of 60s Americana music. It’s fresh and fun and very very listenable. There is a splash of Credence, a dash of The Eagles and a hint of Cream here. I am reminded of Dylan on his better vocal days (because for me, Dylan's vocal capacities were hit and miss).

I was surprised to hear that that Millar Jukes is not from America but Scotland - and now resides in my own town: Melbourne. Lucky me. If I get the chance, I would love to see this band live. The energy and quality of the vocals are just a pure delight. There is no miss here on the delivery. Millar hits the sound square on every time.

Although this song pumps along with an easy-to-sing-along-to chorus like so many 60s classics, it would be a mistake to assume this song is simply a cut and paste job of the era. This is music made well with sophistication and attention to detail. The strong yet smooth female backing vocals that join in throughout the song add a whole other dimension of class to this rocking anthem. I was reminded of Joe Cocker’s full sound here and his regular addition of talented backing vocalists in his music. Again, to see Millar Jukes and The Bandits play live would no doubt be a treat.

This music is rollicking good fun. With it’s feet planted firmly in alternate country rock and it’s playful whimsy flying up to the big blue skies, “Love me All Night” would be a fantastic soundtrack to any road trip that leaves the big smoke behind. I look forward to hearing more from this band.

Lou Endicott gives 'Love Me All Night' five Johnny Cash heads out of five....

by Avec Sans

I was on a road trip earlier this year with a friend of mine when, three and a half hours into the drive, Avec Sans popped up on my ipod and the sweet opening notes of 'Heartbreak Hi' poured out of my car's sound system. My friend, who doesn't always share the same musical taste as I, stopped giving me directions, turned the volume up and said to me; "Who is this?" in that urgent way one does when one hears something they can't resist. "Oh, a little duo from the UK. Avec Sans. You wouldn't have heard of them. But they're really, reeeeeeally good, aren't they?" I replied as the next track 'Hold On' began.

'Shiver' is everything and nothing like I expected from Alice Fox and Jack St James. Alice's sweet vocal doesn't just float above the beats and synths, it drives them in the most amazing way and while I'm no musical expert, there's some sounds in there that shouldn't make sense with each other, but somehow they do (see, no musical expert). What I do know is that I thought I'd hear something a little darker from this duo and what I received was some awesome electro pop magic and I LOVE it. I know that at a minute when Alice hits those high notes I smiled and I know at two minutes I had that feeling of knowing I'd found something special and at three minutes when the sounds are stripped back I couldn't wait to hear the next forty seconds. I know that this is a song that makes me want to dance, it makes me want to jump back in my car and drive to fun and I know it's a song that's proven that sometimes, even after only knowing a few other tracks, sometimes it's worth declaring oneself a fan early on in a bands career, because sometimes the talent is obvious from the beginning.

When my friend committed to a "I like this" after he heard Avec Sans in my car that day, I knew they'd found a new fan because my friend doesn't commit to "I like this" very often and I knew I'd be happy with whatever was released next. What I didn't know was just how good they could get. 'Shiver' makes me smile in all the ways electro-pop should, just like taking a road trip does. Hopefully the wait for more Avec Sans won't be as long as the last. Hopefully my next road trip will be as good as the last too...and with a soundtrack like this, how could it not?

Jo Michelmore gives 'Shiver' four and a half Presets heads out of five...


Album: The Bones Of What You Believe (out now)

Here's a truth for you. Let's just make it clear from the beginning. I love this band. If you think you're going to read a non-biased review of this clip, you're reading the wrong blog. Here's another truth for you. I have no idea what's going on in this clip. We have a guy running, from something or to something, who's to say? We have the fabulous trio that is Chvrches, bathed in dramatic light, we have a guy on a phone at a desk, a couple sharing a meal (although technically no food is consumed) in front of a deliciously retro television set and we have someone on a couch, who looks rather unhappy, actually. Poor love. Cheer up! You're in a Chvrches clip.

It's kind of a bit spooky, almost four minutes of imagery that could mean anything, to anyone really. I assume it's some kind of alternate reality, an apocalyptic world, a world I might not like so much except for the fact it has Chvrches in it. Regardless, this clip is exactly for me what Chvrches are, beautiful and spooky and a whole lot of pop over a dark and broody undertone. They make me smile uncomfortably and that's this clip as well, I know somehow it's not really very nice but I love it. (On a side note, the director of this clip is Sing J Lee, who is clearly a very talented individual. If you click on their facebook page, they have 134 likers. Let's just remember that in the world of social media, likes don't equal talent and don't always mean so much.) Whatever, how ever many views or likes this clip receives, it's a clip I love, from a band I have fallen totally in love with this year. Lies? Nope, truth. I'm biased. I love Chvrches. Deal with that.

 Jo Michelmore gives 'Lies' four Presets heads out of five...

I Kill Giants
by The Naked And Famous
Album:  In Rolling Waves (out now)

Maybe it's the week for weird clips, because, like the Chvrches clip, I'm going say I don't really know what's going on in this one, 'I Kill Giants', the latest clip release from The Naked And Famous. It's interpretive dance, I know that, but, as much as I love all forms of art, that's never really been my thing. Regardless, it seems to be a fitting clip for an incredibly sad song with an incredibly uplifting beat. There's something powerful about such a fast and catchy beat underpinning a lyric about an incredibly sad say in the life of Alisa Xayalith, The Naked And Famous' front woman. "On the saddest of days, why couldn't we save you?" is repeated over and over, almost hypnotically, while the two performers dance their hearts out, and while I can't answer the question posed, I can be thankful for a band who is willing to let their singer face her darkest days in song and in turn produce music and clips like this.
Jo Michelmore gives 'I Kill Giants' three and half Florence Welch heads out of five...

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