Two days shy of a full seven years after their last release, which was widely viewed as more of a solo effort from Robert Del Naja due to Grant Marshall's absence, Massive Attack have finally returned. A gap of that size, long even for the trip-hop spearheading collective (who have released only five albums in nearly twenty years), can make comparing new with old somewhat difficult; a lot can happen in seven years, and most of the fans who so eagerly picked up 100th Window back in 2003 are scarcely the same people today. This is why despite the broader sound and more dynamically used intensity, it takes a good number of listens before one can decide whether Heligoland, their latest, is better than 100th Window. And the slow growing quality, paired with the fact that Portishead put out such a stellar record a few years ago, has already resulted in the album not getting quite as much credit as it deserves; before its formal release, no less. Hopefully the trend will change soon enough, because while Heligoland certainly doesn't top the best in Massive Attack's catalogue, it's still easily good enough to stand next to them.

The return of Marshall, or Daddy G, doesn't take long to become apparent; the psychedelic gloom that dominated 100th Window is largely gone, relegated to a moderation which leaves Heligoland sounding far more upbeat and slightly brighter; though make no mistake, there is still a great deal of dark, menacing presence here, and its more modest portions make it all the more powerful. The album is already being compared to Mezzanine, but its sound is much more soulful, and sounds more akin to Protection. Another big difference is that much of Heligoland is more reliant on simple melodies, which renders the tracks as deceptively simple. The atmospherics are still there, but they sneak up on the listener; more often than not they creep in just as the initial hook is hitting its stride.

The list of guest vocalists is remarkable, and they are all unsurprisingly suitably chosen. While it may seem gimmicky having hipster band vocalists Tunde Adebimpe and Guy Garvey (of TV on the Radio and Elbow, respectively) on board, their songs don't sound like anybody else should have sung on them. Opener Pray for Rain serves as a great, morphing backdrop for Adebimpe's doomed sermon-like delivery, while Flat of the Blade finds Garvey expressing disorienting dread very well with an understated but highly affecting vocal. Damon Albarn has a contribution as well, Saturday Come Slow, with a great, 13 era Blur sound, though he sounds strangely Thom Yorke-like in the chorus. Mainstay Horace Andy, who has appeared on all five Massive Attack LPs, sings on Splitting the Atom and Girl I Love You, the latter of which preceded Heligoland by about four months in EP format. Girl is driven by great percussion and a killer bassline, which admittedly sounds slightly like a sped up version of Angel's, but still works to great effect. Also well used are the horn samples, which are relatively abundant throughout the album.

Naturally, there are also the female vocalists which Massive Attack has become known for as well; Martina Topley-Bird, better known for her work with Tricky, appears on two tracks; it's Hope Sandoval though, and her turn on Paradise Circus, that really stands out. The song is more or less bare, led by a basic piano and handclap, but her sultry vocals fill in any empty spaces with ease, and she keeps the composition sounding luxuriant until the production kicks in a little over halfway through; it makes one wonder why she wasn't picked to sing for them before now. The songs without collaborators, Rush Minute and closer Atlas Air, still have a bit of 100th Window's heaviness to them, but the livelier beats give them a much more compelling kick, which particularly helps the keep latter's meandering somewhat grounded.

Upon first listen, Heligoland is disappointingly underwhelming in places; where as everything they've put out before had beauty with the immediacy of a sledgehammer, there's a bit more subtlety present here. It doesn't take long to reveal itself, however, and while the unrelenting atmosphere of 100th Window had its positive points, it's refreshing to see them shifting it around some. It's pretty clear that their innovating days are over, but just because they're no longer pioneers doesn't mean that they've become derivative or unimaginative. They still have an outstanding sound to boast, and it's impressive that after twenty years they are keeping up not only with their few contemporaries, but the modern electronic scene they helped create as well. Heligoland may not be a masterpiece, but it's far from a letdown.

Hot Chip has always had a sharp tunefulness to them, so much in fact that despite the busy sound (some would argue clutter) on their last album, Made in the Dark, it still yielded such catchy melodies and fun rhythms. This time around, the group embraces a tighter and more unified sound, though not so much to handicap the adventurous quality to the songs. While their latest, One Life Stand, is a bit more simplified, it's just enough to let the harmonies breathe, and it truly pays off. "It's the most warm and soulful sounding record we've made," vocalist Alexis Taylor has said of his band's fourth release, and repeated listening makes it more and more difficult to disagree.

One Life Stand's melodies are not just more direct this time around, but they're perhaps the most attractive Hot Chips has produced yet. The gorgeous opener Thieves in the Night quickly demonstrates just how immediate they are; in fact, most of the first half of the album feels very trance influenced, with the simple beats being layered over with lovely synths. The lead single title track's hooks are expertly stacked atop each other, with clever transitions into the stand-alone chorus. I Feel Better, another early highlight, joins the ranks of the few songs able to make autotune sound charming, thanks mostly to its catchy vocal pattern and how well it plays against the gentle retro-dance backdrop. The later We Have Love is another addicting dance cut, coming across as a blend of glitch and worldbeat, with a stomping palpitation contrasted with smooth melodies and vocals.

Lyrically, One Life Stand continues the more romantic tone of its predecessor, and sees Taylor and Joe Goddard continue to grow as a writer. A lot of obscurity has been shed, and Taylor sings perhaps his most tender lines. The aforementioned I Feel Better, for example, is about how in the midst of the negative state of the world, one can always find solace in the arms of their lover. Alley Cats, the earliest song debuted, seems to simultaneously cherish living relationships while pining for lost ones. At some points it does threaten to get a bit overly maudlin, mostly in the disc's middle with the philia-love obsessed Brothers and Slush, whose background vocal humana humana scales are startlingly effective, but it never goes over the top.

Keep Quiet and Take It In close out One Life Stand on a somber note, with the latter exhibiting a bit of Made in the Dark's heavy texture and opposing it to a very delicate chorus. Lyrically, it's a very sweet song, and the sentiment is just so convincingly expressed. After all, it's not terribly common to hear a line like "My heart has flown to you just like a dove... please take my heart and keep it close to you" with a pleasantly mellow musical backing and simply think, "what a crock of shit."

Okay, well maybe. But those kinds of people probably wouldn't care much for this album anyway.

On their latest opus, Hot Chip continue to develop and have, at least in this reviewer's opinion, put together their finest set of songs yet. Not only is the warm emotion most welcome, but all the elements really come together here. The abundance of creative ideas shown with their last album is still in tact, but One Life Stand shows that they've developed the focus to channel them.

Posted
AuthorDagan
CategoriesElectronica

Hadouken!(don't you DARE forget that exclamation point, dammit) was a prominent part of the so-called New Rave movement, an absolute delight of a name for which we have ever insightful NME to thank. Their 2008 debut, Music for an Accelerated Culture, propelled by the unabashedly energetic single That Boy That Girl, was a frenetic, absurd amalgum of dance-punk, trance, house, and I'm sure a number of others I'm forgetting; it was a loud, in your face, and ultimately fun listen, much like Mindless Self Indulgence's earlier releases. Also like MSI, however, Hadouken! seems to receive critiques for what are essentially the wrong things. Surely, these critics don't think that Hadouken!'s fans are swooning at the philosophical musings behind vocalist James Smith's lines, like "How he dresses I care zero, as long as he don't spill my drink," or "I should have put this flame out years ago, but you burnt my house down." There's nothing groundbreaking or poignant here, and there was never meant to be; it's little more than mindless fun, and to judge it on any grounds other than that seems to miss the point. Where Mindless is clearly more tongue-in-cheek than Hadouken!, the latter has a bit more variety to offer musically.

Having said that, For the Masses is a loud, bouncy good time. Hadouken! has traded in a bit of the boisterous energy from their debut for more groove, but the aggression still comes across loud and clear. Though none of the ten in this set are particularly short, the added melody helps the songs breeze by much more quickly than they feel they should. First track Rebirth shows right away that synth player Alice Spooner has gotten somewhat sharper with her lines and layering, and her chemistry with guitarist Daniel "Pilau" Rice has grown noticeably as well.

There's also a stark difference between their previous singles (That Boy That Girl, Liquid Lives) and those on For the Masses, Turn the Lights out and M.A.D., which was released on an EP back in September. The newer ones are a lot less reliant on aggression, and feel more confident in their melodies, but are still as fun as the older ones. The house sound that dominates a lot of the tracks, most prominently Evil and Mic Check, is well conceived in that despite the obviously heavy electronic presence, the bass, guitar, and drums still give it a genuinely organic feel. Hadouken! also hits a similarly industrial sound on Play the Night, a bruising number with a great KMFDM-esque riff.

For the Masses is clearly cut from the same cloth as Accelerated, but there's a more eclectic feel here. House Is Falling exhibits more facets than the entirety of their last album (which true, doesn't exactly make it a prism of a song), and for all of Ugly's ridiculous sentiments of "fucking your face up", it plays with its groove very well. Yes, James Smith yells "FUCK YOUR FACE UP," and somehow, the threat in his English accent fails to intimidate.

There's a bit more on For the Masses than the typical "more of the same" syndrome; the synths and guitars go better together, there's a bit more restraint to their attack, and James Smith is still armed with some poetry that will make you WEEP. Hadouken! is admittedly polarized however, and if a manic and fast paced blend of aggressive electronic dance styles sounds good to you, you will probably love this. If you were a fan of the band before, you'll probably love this. Anything else, however, and chances are it will irritate you; though I imagine that is the whole point.

It's funny to think that a seasoned hardcore vocalist, eager to make new music on his own but unable to play guitar, would turn to synths and produce something that sounds like this, but that's precisely what Wesley Eisold has done here. Along with Caralee McElroy (Xiu Xiu) and Dominic Fernow (Prurient), he's made Cold Cave's full length debut, Love Comes Close, an impressively well textured, cold, and robotic sounding effort.While he might be somewhat out of his element, you'd never be able to tell listening to this. Gloomy hooks are abound, and the whole affair reeks of eighties, but surprisingly enough Eisold manages to avoid sounding derivative and predictable. Hell, one track in particular sounds more or less like New Order covering Q Lazzarus' Goodbye Horses (made famous by that HOT scene from Silence of the Lambs); if that can come across as genuine, then you know you've got something worthwhile on your hands. Aw fuck, I'll never put this eyeliner on right

From the very beginning, the name Cold Cave is proven to be quite appropriate. The incredibly icy and detached aura is immediate, even before the distorted vocals and dark, fuzzy synths really come into play. Slightly abstract opener Cebe and Me is littered with frosty bleeps, hissing feedback, and a continued steady hi-hat until a sudden ending. Abruptly following is the previously referenced title track, which is the spitting image of early New Order but with its own, distinct flavor. Its slightly upbeat yet cold, mechanical sound prevails for most of the album, but does relent just enough to keep from being overbearingly melancholic.

A trio of strangely danceable numbers (maybe zombie-looking-kid-from-the-Peanuts type dancing, but still) are tastefully scattered throughout, providing attractive decoration that doesn't detract from the overall mood. Life Magazine is dominated with blasting yet insulated sounding feedback and very catchy hooks with echo heavy vocals reminiscent of Crystal Castles. Sitting smack dab in the middle of Love Comes Close is Heaven Was Full, an almost gratingly goth sounding slab of synth pop, but with a psychedelic flair (and enough going on overall) to keep it sounding fresh, and uncharacteristically... well, lively. Right before the debut ends is Youth and Lust, a strong number with the Ian Curtis sounding vocals being buried under the heavy synths and steady beat and trading off with McElroy's spoken spots. The musical chorus is very representative of Cold Cave's sound; mnemonic of the eighties while sounding far too futuristic to actually fit in with anything from the era itself. I.C.D.K. closes things out very well, picking right up where Youth leaves off with its chopped up vocals and electronic twang.

Of course, there are stumbles here and there, but nothing outright bad. The Laurels of Erotomania is repetitive, but more importantly significantly weaker with hooks than the other songs. It's layered well enough to stay interesting, but the high pitched synth lines over the never ending and incredibly simplistic backing synth sound too video gamey to sound well produced, but not video gamey enough to give itself much character. The Trees Grew Emotions and Died suffers from the same problem, too much repetition and not enough character, and it feels longer than its four minute length. Again, neither is really a bad song, but they really can't compare with all the compelling material being offered elsewhere on the album.

I wonder if he put the moves on her between takes or something... she looks pissed

Love Comes Close isn't a perfect album (or even debut for that matter), but it demands more than a simple glossing over. There is plenty to be enjoyed here, and plenty to be found upon the second and third listening. Even more than the largely clever songwriting is how well the overall sound is handled; not once does Cold Cave come across as trying to cash in on the eighties revival trend, or even give off a more than passing similarity to their contemporaries in the genre. It ain't gold, but it's still a great listen that will stay with you for a while.

The first thing you hear when listening to Neon Indian's full length debut, Psychic Chasms, is a blend of lo-fi drums, distorted synths, and what sound like an eighties commercial recorded on a mangled cassette. This, the opening track (AM), appears to be a snippet from a longer song, and ends as abruptly as it began, before leading into Deadbeat Summer, which, while more structured, essentially offers the same sound, though with Alan Palomo's soft vocals. My initial impression of Neon Indian was that it was nothing more than a poor quality recording of Cut Copy mimicry with some extra samples thrown on, then washed out, and then turned in as a completed album. So why couldn't I stop listening to it?

Oh, a sailboat.

The fact is, Psychic Chasms is just so fascinating. Among the first of the so-called chillwave genre to release a proper full length (along with Memory Tapes), a large part of the joy of this album is just that it's so unrelentingly WEIRD. Over the span of just under half an hour, Neon Indian's debut approaches electronic pop with a highly experimental, extremely warped sound with scarce limits, and the result is an inexplicably warm, pleasant sound that is strangely reminiscent of summer.

Psychic Chasms is best when ingested as a whole, but the individual tracks are outstanding on their own as well, seeing as there are so many standouts. Laughing Gas should come across as unnerving and creepy, with keyboards that sound like they were run through a washing machine over a sample of giggly children, but the melody is so bright and alluring you can't help but warm up to it; the song actually feels like the aural equivalent to the moment laughing gas takes over the nervous system. (If I Knew, I'd Tell You) has far more ideas rolled up into its forty six seconds than one would expect, and the pair of 6669 (I Don't Know If You Know) and Should Have Taken Acid with You carry the best traits of Cut Copy without sounding distractingly like them. On both, particularly the latter, Palomo's gentle voice serves as a perfect compliment to the faded yet bold and busy melody, and the former's bears a charming resemblance to a left field, reggae inflected remix of a Police song.

Also there is the astonishingly soulful Mind, Drips, which is such thanks in large part to its half video game bleep, half Boards of Canada sounding intro and the random sample that takes over the chorus. Ephemeral Artery boasts an aggressive. offbeat sound collage resembling a more retro flavored Justice, right before 6669's counterpart 7000 (Reprise) closes things out with a ska ridden guitar and light synth harking back to the original song.

I'VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS

As weird as Psychic Chasms can get, there is always genuine personality backing the songs, and everything flows wonderfully. Alan Palomo does a fantastic job of melding all his influences without sounding formulaic, and he manages to make eighties revival music in general sound fresh again, which is getting harder and harder to do as time goes on. In short: listen to this twacked out shit; chances are you will love it.

If you're rolling. The condition "if you're rolling" should probably be in that title. For those who aren't, it's still got some fantastic moments, but it's a bit uneven, and if you already know that you're not a fan of house music, this won't really change your mind.

With the glaring exception of Daft Punk, mainstream success has widely eluded house, and for obvious reasons - the average music fan doesn't care for listening to a DJ toying around with the same beat for ten minutes. Truly, if ever there was a genre predisposed to mind numbingly overdone repetition and anticlimactic peaks, it's house. What made Daft Punk stand out was how they toyed with the beats; their ingenious use of samples, the complex structures, and of course the insanely catchy hooks. After the breakout success of I Remember, Deadmau5's sublime trance-inflected collaboration with Kaskade, he seemed poised for such a fate himself. It's still too soon to tell, but For Lack of a Better Name, a mix album of original compositions, does more to support this prediction than debunk it.

Yo I'm a muthafuckin mouse bitch

For Lack of a Better Name starts out with the dynamic FML, alternately aggressive and moody, before Deadmau5 (born Joel Zimmerman) settles into a solid groove, signaled by an organ at the beginning of Moar Ghosts 'n Stuff (which sounds slightly gimmicky, though only for a quick moment) before the beat blasts in. Its quickly following companion track, Ghosts 'n Stuff, sees Pendulum's Rob Swires on vocal duties, fronting an intense while intricate beat that proves to be the most galvanizing piece in the bunch. Following is the likewise fist-pumping Hi Friend!, which carries on the tremendous momentum effortlessly, though things start to slow down with the somewhat self indulgent pair of Bot and Word Problems. While it's obvious that the former in particular is present to mix things up, it plainly fails to offer anything intriguing beyond exploring three different facets to the song. The latter falls prey to a classic house blunder: it just goes on for way too long. By the time we reach the track's peak, about half of what's been heard did little to build it up (even the pseudo-peak in the middle failed to rouse) and afterwards, the song continues for nearly two more minutes. Had in the very least, those two minutes been shed, Word Problems would have been so much more satisfying.

I'm not wearing my mask!! DON'T LOOK AT ME

The following Soma is one of those pieces best described as more interesting than actually good. As a genuine soundscape (or sonic landscape or whatever the hell term I'm supposed to use) it's endlessly fascinating; the first third almost sounds like bossa nova expressed with bleeps and a thumping beat, until it's expertly meshed into a soft, gentle piano piece, then the two repeat before being cleverly twisted into the trance drenched title track. Great song? Without question. But it sticks out like a sore thumb, and just about kills the impetus of the record. The title track doesn't help much either, as it displays the same faults as Word Problems; too much repetition with too few ideas. The 16th Hour is able to pick up the slack, and melts right into the closing Strobe, a near perfect, textbook comedown track.

Zimmerman shows great diversity, and while a mix album shouldn't necessarily be held accountable for its cohesiveness, a bit more solidarity among the tracks would have been nice, especially for the otherwise excellent ones that were rendered as lackluster because they simply didn't fit in with the atmosphere. Flawed as it may be, as far as stopgap dance releases go, For Lack of a Better Name mostly delivers the goods.

There are few curses that are worse for bands than having your first full length widely recognized as a masterpiece. The list of artists who have been able to maintain their level of quality after such a feat is very, very short, and sadly Air doesn't exactly top it. Ever since the 1998 modern classic Moon Safari (and even the masterful soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides), Air, while never releasing an outright bad record, have seemingly struggled to measure up. With the way so many point out how Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel produced the new album themselves this time around (a first) , one would think that perhaps Love 2 would outshine its predecessors; this is not the case. While Love 2 certainly shows glimmers of their abilities, with the exception of a handful of tracks, the record overall shows little value more than simply being Air's latest. Intense.

Do the Joy is a remarkable opening track, featuring a dark, almost dingy sounding distorted guitar quickly contrasted with the bright synths, piano, and echo-plastered vocals Air has become known for. Mostly, it's the ingenious layering of sounds that keeps the song an interesting slab of downtempo. However, after a poor transition into the lacking Love, it becomes evident that Air's self production has not contributed to anything better than what we've seen of them throughout the decade. Right away we are treated to unflattering repetition (namely in hearing the word "love" about eight thousand times), characterless interweaving of bland hooks, and perhaps worst of all, an overabundance of the kitsch that Air was once so impeccable at showing in plentitude while never wearing out its welcome.

This trend continues until we hit Love 2's nadir with Tropical Disease, which starts out with an intriguing piano and saxophone, but quickly gives way to an uncompelling upbeat mixture of a flute accompanying the rolling piano, a random xylophone, and a few other random sounds until about three and a half minutes in and the song breaks with a sleazy, awkward changeup. It almost feels like the break in an early nineties new jack swing song; if you replace "woman" with "girl," it would be unmistakable. The music suddenly takes a pit stop, and the vocalist takes over in a smooth voice: "Girl....girl... make ME FEEL. WARM INSIDE." The heightening piano only makes the second half of the song border even more on nauseating.

However, the next track is Heaven's Light, which is Love 2's saving grace. This is an effortlessly beautiful song; the piano flows almost magically, and for maybe the first time on this record, the vocals do not give the notion of being forced. Everything smooths along with such arresting ingenuity that it wouldn't be out of place on Moon Safari. After this, unfortunately, Love 2 delves back into boring, muzak territory.

What makes Air's 2009 effort so frustrating is that such talent is still shown, just inconsistently. One can't help but think: This is just plain background music! Air is capable of far better than this! And then sets in the very unsettling thought... maybe it's just that they were capable of better.

In 2007, Simian Mobile Disco was in a class of new and exciting electronic dance music along with Digitalism, Justice, and a few others, but stood out because of their poppy approach, attributed to their past as an electronic indie rock group. What made the poppiness so striking was their ability to weave intricate sonic layers as support for the main synth lines and beats, to keep the songs balanced with danceablity as well as an elaborate framework. Unfortunately, their follow-up embraces few of these characteristics, and Simian Mobile Disco have produced a somewhat disappointing sophomore slump. Yeah, this album isn't as good as our first... but check out this kick-ass bubble I blew!

Temporary Pleasure starts well enough; the opening creeps in subtly, and Gruff Rhys' vocals compliment the introduction nicely. Unfortunately, it never catches fire; unlike Sleep Deprivation, Attack Decay Sustain Release's opener, the back end is painfully lacking, and the main synth line just doesn't have any bite to it. It's definitely got the potential, but it never comes across as more than a watered down ode to Neon Neon.

Audacity of Huge has a much stronger beat, and is extremely catchy, but hosts name-dropping lyrics that border on embarassing; this isn't that big of a deal though, as lyrics do not make or break a dance record, and since Yeasayer's Chris Keating sounds good while he spits them, it is completely forgivable. It's just that bragging about a grape kool-aid filled swimming pool and a mother of pearl fork, no matter how tongue in cheek, is a bit much.

The album starts to build momentum here, as 10,000 Horses Can't Be Wrong, while sounding like a generic B-side to a better single, it's good enough to keep things lively. As is the case with Cruel Intentions, featuring impressive and understated vocals from The Gossip's Beth Ditto; enough to keep things interesting, but nothing that really grabs you. In fact, the album's entire middle is in the highest tier of mediocrity, as is, now that I think of it, most of the album. The hooks are mild, with a minimal musical backdrop, and possess barely any of the bounce that propelled the best songs on the debut.

Bad Blood is able to spring out of this slump, however slightly. The problem here is similar to that with the opener Cream Dream; it sounds like a diluted version of a song by the guest vocalist's band (in this case, Hot Chip). Even still, Bad Blood has got slightly more going on than most else on the album, and it deserves credit for that. Turn Up the Dial, featuring the Young Fathers, is all well and good unless you remember that Neon Neon did this neo-electro/hip-hop mashup much better on Sweat Shop and Luxury Pool, and with that in mind it feels a bit forced and postured here.

Ambulance, which is perhaps the most fully realized track on the record, is very intricate while still having a healthy warmth to it. It's not great, but it's interesting; it has the clean feel of an early Daft Punk track, while maintaining a poppy element to keep it easily memorable.

The problem with Temporary Pleasure is that it's not particularly bad and it's not particularly good, which is disheartening, knowing that SMD is capable of the poppy yet progressive house shown on ADSR. It feels like they had the basic idea of where to go with their follow-up, and rather than build on it, they decided it was good enough and released it as is. For background music with a solid beat, or for a dance club dj in need of a few good mid-tempo tracks for the early evening, Temporary Pleasure fits the bill splendidly. If you're looking for anything resembling their sensational debut though, you'll be sorely disappointed.

The Big Beat scene of the mid to late Nineties seems to have collapsed entirely; The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim have apparently lost their respective muses, Moby has gone ambient, Daft Punk is nowhere to be found, and The Prodigy's latest is... well, debatable (I loved it, but sadly my opinion isn't shared by many). That more or less leaves Basement Jaxx, who definitely do not disappoint with their latest, Scars.
After the Owl and the Pussycat broke up, the Owl experienced a bit of a personality crisis.

The first thing you might notice about their latest opus is the abundance of guest appearances; twelve out of thirteen tracks have at least one. The only thing more remarkable than the array of musicians assembled, however, is how well they are integrated into the album. Each track is masterfully manipulated by producer extraordinaires Felix Burton and Simon Ratcliffe to suit the guest; Santigold's Saga comes with a healthy dose of the dance hall inflected alternative she has become popular for, all the while maintaining their own house-y vibe, and with a great, upbeat chorus. Scars, the opening track, begins with an automated voice, not too dissimilar to the one in Daft Punk's Robot Rock, and quickly morphs into a hip-hop informed beat that Timbaland himself would kill for. Kelis, Meleka, and  rapper Chipmunk sound completely comfortable in the setting, and at no point does it sound like anything but Basement Jaxx. Eli "Paperboy" Reed's collaboration, She's No Good, sounds like Jailhouse Rock through an ecstasy addled Paula Abdul prism, while the lovely A Possibility, with prolific singer/songwriter Amp Fiddler, comes across as a soulful, yet dance-pop smart reworking of Santo & Johnny's Sleep Walk. The real strength of Scars is that such sheer eclecticism, enhanced by the diverse cast of supporting players, sounds so effortlessly cohesive.
The real winner here though is the brilliant Raindrops, the first single released back in June. Burton and Ratcliffe masterfully blend psychedelia, house, and disco, all with  a touch of eastern flair and a soaring, almost giddy chorus. The second single, Feelings Gone, is at no loss for energy either; granted, it can sound a bit generic Abercrombie & Fitch playlist at times, but Sam Sparro's magnificent vocals contribute quite a punch, not to mention that the song is just so damn catchy.
The guest appearances are not all payoffs, however - while Yoko Ono's track Day of the Sunflowers (We March On) is certainly not at a loss for a steady beat and a few decent hooks, she was a bizarre choice for a guest vocalist, and whoever's idea it was for her orgasmic turn throughout the second half...
WHY.
Also worthy of note are Lightspeed Champion's My Turn and newcomer Paloma Faith's What's a Girl to Do? The former's wonderful blend of melancholy and danceability produces a sublime tune, the occasional crack in the vocals withstanding. The latter, in its inspired horn-led melody, showcases everything that's right about this album; fun, catchy, and sure to keep the dancefloor going.
Overall, the album's flaws are rather minor; a mistep here and there in the songwriting, and a somewhat underwhelming flow (a big drawback that tends to accompany a set this versatile), but that only prevents Scars from being a masterpiece. It's no Rooty, Remedy, or Kish Kash, but as a solid dance album, Scars unquestionably hits the mark.

It is a joy like few others when an artist rediscovers himself after a long series of missteps. Many display remarkable creativity and spark, taking even the most pedestrian of sounds and making them brilliant.. until the muse inexplicably disappears. Then, just when you're about to give up hope that their genius will ever emerge again, it does. No, I'm not describing Moby's latest effort, but it would be unfair to say that it's not reasonably close.

Oh, alright. You cute little guy, you.

Probably the most disheartening thing about every recent Moby album is his egregious lack of adventure. Let's be honest; he wasn't merely treading water with 18, it was a copy of Play, and Hotel was a copy of the copy.  Then there was his "dance album" Last Night, which was about as danceable as the last Portishead record. Surely the man who produced Drop a Beat (a piece of acid house so blistering it makes Bodyrock look like a song from a commercia... oh wait) knows how to fill the dancefloor better than with bland songs donning misleading titles like I Love to Move In Here. It just didn't seem as though he was into it, and consequently the music suffered. Hell, even 18 had strong enough songs to make you not care that he was repeating himself. Regarding Wait for Me, he stated that "in making this record I wanted to focus on making something that I loved," and it does show; while it's not the downtempo masterpiece his hardcore fans have branded it as, there are definitely some outstanding moments.

The opening tracks suffer from the facelessness that often plague ambient albums; a person with just a passing knowledge of electronica wouldn't be outrageous in assuming Pale Horses was the new Zero 7 single. Thankfully, when the dirty intro of Shot In the Back of the Head becomes an undercurrent for the waves of warm synths and guitars that wash over, we know Moby's at the helm. Study War, however, is recognizable to a fault: blues sample looping over a piano and steady beat, with synths gradually layering until the female vocalist takes over... this would not at all be out of place on 18.

The first real reminder of Moby's brilliance as a producer comes with the permeating and throbbingly sorrowful Mistake, his lone vocal track. A Seated Night is a standout as well; it starts out with a somber choir sample and builds up in a fashion that recalls Everloving from Play in sound but more importantly in quality as well. Despite these truly amazing songs (including the beautiful longing of Hope Is Gone) , Wait for Me is clouded with good-but-forgettable ambient music.

This is not a bad album, far from it. At its worst, it's standard Chill-Out compilation fare, at its best it's achingly melancholic and gorgeous. As just another ambient album though, it's fantastic; and since Moby's made it clear that that's the kind of record he wants to create, he obviously hasn't lost it just yet.

Chansons-Cover

The VX-323 is one of those artists that are on the next level. Why? Because the VX-323 isn’t even considered human. As I sit here with the lovely bio on the artist, it’s refreshing to see them take the idea of a robot with soul so seriously. I may seem sarcastic here, but I’m not.

I feel a little bit like I did when I first heard Radiohead’s Paranoid Android for the first time, as this album’s vocals are entirely made up of speech synth. I also like the claim of differentiation of who this album is for; a claim of “funk music for robots, but slick techno pop for humans”. I feel like people (or robots) don’t really take this sort of chance to enjoy the idea BEHIND the music.

For instance, I thought the days of Andre 3000 talking about black rights in space, or Deltron talking about what life will be like in the year 3030 were long gone. But alas, we have another tale from the dark future of mankind through this speech synth robot.

The album, entitled Chansons, has a feel that you expect from a robot. Almost 80’s sounding beats, but then there’s a moment where the lyrics and subject matter make it something else entirely. For instance, the first track Billion Dollar Condo, the robot makes fun of its owner who has it all. He even gives us that “sophisticated” British accent to boot, to remind us of how media portrays that accent as the pompous one.

The third track, Factory Blues tells us about VX-323 being put on standby, armor removed, to then be decommissioned. I had a feeling of something like another industrial revolution. We even have the words of hope by the robo-wife: “Don’t give up, you’re my only robot”.

The fifth track, Laptop, was a rather endearing track. To put simply, it’s a poem about a laptop that loves its owner (I’m sure you mac fiends can relate). I actually started laughing out loud at my desk listening to the laptop tell me about how it wants me to charge it up, and how much it wants me to drag my finger about its track pad, but then again, I guess it’s not the first time I’ve had that request.

The ninth and final track, When You’re Gone, reminds me of something out of I, Robot. The premise is about just that, when all humans are on the planet, what the robots will do. Not that it’s close or anything, but I feel like it’s a legitimate question to ask, if not at least an entertaining one. But to be honest, I hope it’s more like the creations of the upcoming movie 9, than of the piss poor I, Robot.

To sum it up, this is more than just an album; it’s an experience... one that most people are too afraid to make in this day and age. Just because it doesn’t make radio play, doesn’t make someone an amateur at their craft. The man behind the machine VX-323 is actually a seasoned lyricist who’s worked with 80’s New Wave band Things Fall Apart.

VX-323, you may just be on to something here, and I’d run my finger across your laptop pad any day of the week. *pause* Yeah I just said that.

Until next time my friends,

~Flak

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AuthorFlak
CategoriesElectronica

kasabian wrpla

Over the past few months, I’ve discovered that my car actually has a sunroof that, until now, I’ve never really used. But there’s something to be said about driving down the PCH with the windows down and sunroof back. And naturally that got me thinking…there’s something to be heard as well.

This brings me to the third studio album by the British Electronica band, Kasabian. The efforts’ is entitled West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum (named after the famed first British Looney Bin for the poor), and continues the trend of catchy-ass tunes for the action commercial scenes in your life. You most likely remember them from their 2004 hit, Club Foot, from their self titled debut album.

Whilst creating their second album, Empire, there was much drama and general hootenanny, which I believe contributed to its less than stellar composition (and don’t even bother commenting with the chart numbers, you know who you are) than its first album, albeit still amazing. It’s just that I personally feel like the fights between band mates seep into the music at times, and this was one of them…it just didn’t rub me right. But now Kasabian has delivered me a summer gift for my piss-poor car stereo with their latest work.

Kasabian

WRPLA as I will now refer to it is the quintessential PCH driving music. To my surprise, Dan the Automator (the genius behind Del the Funky Homosapien’s Deltron 3030) As soon as I heard the intro track, Underdog, it made me smile while I was switching lanes and looking good (as I always do) while doing it. I can’t really explain it, but once this song hits the minute song, the composure changes into something beautiful, and later when the band chimes in the background with their smooth howling.

The one-two punch was heard on this album, with the second track, Where Did All the Love Go? It’s just a classy track for a sunny day with your Stunna Shades on. This is one of the songs that make me appreciate British accents, as it adds to the flavor of everyone trying to sound monotonous.

From the racing instrumental Swarfiga, to the Quentin Tarantino-friendly power of Fast Fuse, to the Middle Eastern upbeat Take Aim, to the Western trotting-along guitar strumming of Thick as Thieves, to the Saharan West Ryder Silver Bullet (especially from 2:20 onwards), hell and right down to the park-your-car-and-watch-the-sunset last track, Happiness, the album was amazing start to finish.

But at the end of the day, I would say that as many times as I’ve listened to the album since its release on June 5th, I always love to start from the first track. It just gives me the true feeling of summer. Hell, if you guys are lucky, I might even make a summer album compilation for you to salivate over, because, well, I have good taste.

As I said, the album is great for listeners new and old, especially for you guys and gals driving down to Zuma five times a week. Hell if nothing else, you girl can take solace in the fact that even Mr. Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe was seen leaving the Ivy in London clutching a copy.

Don’t be surprised when you see this on my top ten albums of the year list!

Until next time my friends,

~Flak