Album Review: Werkha – ‘Beacons EP’

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If you’re in the business of making eclectic, influence-crunching electronica that’s rooted in live instrumentation, being invited to tour with Bonobo is quite the seal of approval. It’s not hard to see how 22 year old Tom Leah caught the attention of his simian soundalike; there’s more than a passing resemblance in Werkha’s layered instrumentation and pattering beats, but like any decent opening act, Werkha packs more energy and dancefloor draw than the blissed out whirls of Black Sands or The Northern Borders. Elsewhere, another big name endorsement comes from Gilles Peterson, which is not overly surprising given Leah’s interests in jazz, Afrobeat and soul, amongst others.

Beacons kicks off with ‘Lapwing’, a jitter blend of jazz sax and soulful house that calls to mind the louche electro-swing of Parov Stelar’s work. If Jeeves & Wooster were on the dancefloor today, this would be entirely classy enough for their jazz-age cool.  Underpinning it all lurks a fuzzy, ambient bass, tying the track together with a delicate, crafted feel. (It also has an endearing video starring middle-aged yoga enthusiasts – bonus points).

 

‘Moving with the Nuisance’ is slightly less successful in its jazz reappropriation, as an electric guitar stirs over a dubby, distorted beat and T.E.E.D. style layers of micro percussion. The vocals are slightly too generic (“Put your hands up if you came to party”) and the jazz/house fusion a little too laboured.

The pace is soon ramped up again though, as the EP’s apex arrives with the excellent ‘Sidesteppin’’; a soulful house cut that is dominated by Bryony Jarman Pinto’s pure, unprocessed vocals. It’s a irresistibly crisp, silky track that builds into a solid groove, with a crunchy synth line and a beat that carries off the chorus’s claim – “I can feel my body rockin’ side to side!”.

From there, Beacons takes a slide down into the dark, with dubstep trumping jazz as the foremost influence on display. ‘Tempo Tempo’ brings a slinky, beat-driven open of clinking chimes and cymbals before succumbing to a dominant wonky synth pulse. Thankfully, this is on a different continent to aggressive brostep though; Leah commented recently, ““Since the bastardisation of the term dubstep, I have been keen to demonstrate that it doesn’t all have to sound like robots being sick” – mission accomplished. Smart, sexy and minimal, this is far more interesting than Skrilly and co.

One for those searching out unconventional grooves, Beacons is certainly an impressive calling card for Werkha. Skipping across genres carelessly, stitching his multiple interests, the EP heralds an undeniably original sound. There is a risk of lapsing into slightly bland, dinner party music – but if it’s good enough for Bonobo and Four Tet, that might no longer the criticism it once was. Next time around though, it would be nice to think you’d bother to interrupt someone mid-sentence to ask what was playing.

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Marshall Mathers and His Many Alter-Egos: ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ Album Review

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Content-wise, Eminem has always been problematic –the misogyny and homophobia that lurk throughout his lyrics are still there. But somehow, we collectively got over it. Funny and intelligent though he often is even at his most deplorable, his saving grace is Marshall Mathers’ infinitely fractured personality; is he genuinely advocating what he’s saying or is he in character?

It was a question that dominated The Marshall Mathers LP and one that he addressed perfectly in ‘Stan’, satirising the media frenzy about the violence his songs might inspire whilst counselling, “maybe you just need to treat her better”. He had just devoted a track to rapping about killing bitches, but the distinction was clear. What happens on record isn’t okay in real life (despite his own history). The point is that ever since he first got the outraged reaction he was looking for, Eminem has been mocking the humourless critics who take what he’s saying entirely seriously – the jokes and insults, like his true self and his alter-egos, have long been expertly blended.

Thirteen years later, and the master of self-referential mythologizing is back on top form. With The Marshall Mathers LP 2, the connection to its iconic prequel is explicit. As well as revisiting the sounds of his earlier album with rock-rap production and furiously fast flow, he further complicates and enriches his web of self-obsession by scattering call-backs throughout the album (the “Hi!” from ‘My Name Is’, a snippet of the hook from ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and more). Even better, many lines are careful echoes of the past, pseudo-homonyms that both subvert his old lyrics and beautifully mess with our expectations. On ‘Asshole’, it’s the altered line “Soul’s escaping through this asshole that is gaping, whilst ‘So Far’ has him again “spittin’ on your onion rings” and the ‘Rap God’s dizzying flow conceals references to ‘Kill You’ and ‘My Dad’s Gone Crazy’. When he raps “It’s just you and the music now, Slim, I hope you hear it; we’re in the car right now – wait, hear comes my favourite lyric!” during ‘Bad Guy’, he knows exactly what he’s doing – this is meticulous manipulation of the millions who have his words seared into their minds and it’s grin-enducingly glorious.

The Inceptionesque complexities of his inter-alter-ego references at the heart of MMLP2 are most overtly laid bare in its opening and closing tracks. ‘Bad Guy’ tackles Marshall Mathers’ biggest legacy head on, kicking things off with an astonishing, seven minute follow-up to ‘Stan’. Initially, with the simplistic flow, he takes the voice of Matthew (“that’s my little brother man, he’s only six years old”…), taking revenge for his long-dead older brother: this time around, it’s Eminem screaming in the trunk. It’s a chance, confusingly, for Eminem to take a shot at himself, as Matthew mimics him “I’m the bad guy who makes fun of people that die / And hey, here’s a sequel to my Mathers LP just to try and get people to buy” – he’s always been a fantastic mimic of his critics. Deeper self-analysis comes, as “Matthew” raps “I’m the bullies you hate that you became with every faggot your slaughtered / Coming back on you every woman you insulted with the double-standards you have when it comes to your daughters” – he’s well aware of his own contradictions and it’s irresistible listening.

Closer ‘Evil Twin’ is just as satisfying complex, another piece in the jigsaw as the album continues to seesaw wildly between justifying, apologising for, and glorying in his own character creations. Here, it’s all swagger, he’s the “borderline genius who’s bored of his lines”. Singing sweetly, he proclaims “That ain’t me […] he’s just a friend who pops up now and again, so don’t blame me – blame him” – but it’s never that easy. Next, he spits “Then again, who wants a plain Eminem […] look at that evil grin, evil twin, please come in!” before proclaiming “Still Shady inside, hair every bit as dyed as it used to be when I first introduced y’all to my skittish side and blamed it all on him when they criticised – cus we are the same, bitch” – Jesse Pinkman, eat your heart out. Immature insults, self-obsessed analysis, and deadly flow – Eminem is back, the same old hot mess he’s always been.

Aside from the occasional freestyle, Em hasn’t stretched himself like this in a long time. It’s an album that’s jam packed with ideas; constantly upping the ante with each verse and unstoppably gaining momentum with every track. It’s incredibly energetic and bursting with evident enjoyment despite the anger that’s being chronicled; for a man who’s just turned forty, he hasn’t sounded this young since 2002. Slinking ‘Rhyme or Reason’ packs the jokes in as he further explores his thoughts about his father, ‘Headlights’ contains an astonishing apology to his mother (“I love you Debbie Mathers, oh what a tangled web we have”), and ‘Rap God’ is the fastest, most technically complex song  Eminem has ever recorded. The excellent ‘Love Game’ will be a genuine passing of the baton if this really is Em’s last album. Kendrick Lamar’s verse is exemplary, but it’s irrelevant whether or not you consider him to have “outshone” Eminem. Despite the earlier “why be a king when you can be a god” putdown, this is still the Eminem show, and adding Lamar’s skills to the mix is a generous move – he isn’t close to being threatened by Kendrick.

Imagine a world where Dr Dre had never uncovered Detroit’s greatest export, that this was somehow your first time hearing Eminem, and there’s no way that MMLP2 would not be as seismically important and game-changing as its prequel. This is Eminem’s best record in a decade – and one of the most impressive, entertaining and addictive hip-hop albums of the year.

Album Review: Cage The Elephant – ‘Melophobia’

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What do ‘Losing My Religion’, ‘Twist and Shout’, ‘Mr Brightside’, and a million others have in common? Undeniable, irresistible choruses – a great chorus is the essence of great pop. Catchy doesn’t guarantee quality (see: ‘Moves Like Jagger’) and there’s no need for perfect songs to be chorus-led or even hummable (see also: Kid A). But we can all agree that a sky-high chorus, enclosing a hook big enough for all the gods to hang their coats on, works wonders.

Cage The Elephant don’t think so. Melophobia means ‘fear of music’ – but it might as well have been called chorusophobia. Stepping away from their grungy, alt-blues sound into wider experimentation, their third album is crippled by incredibly generic choruses and forgettable riffs.

 Gone is the grunge-glitch of Thankyou Happy Birthday and the Southern swagger of their debut, with many tracks sporting gentler instrumentation and Matthew Schultz reigning in most of his trademark howls. And in this pop-rock incarnation, Cage The Elephant could use the kind of choruses that ‘Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked’ and ‘In One Ear’ did so well. Single ‘Come A Little Closer’ is a fair representation of Melophobia’s flaws –a Babyshambles-style bassline and hushed vocals potter along pleasantly enough, but soon a chord-step kicks in and a basic “anthemic” chorus hamstrings it entirely. A by-the-numbers knockoff, it might get some airplay, but no-one is ever going to lose their voice screaming it. Similarly, ‘Halo’ starts like an American ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, but thanks to a simplistic, banal chorus quickly descends to a depressingly Fratellis/Pigeon Detectives standard.

‘Teeth’, easily the record’s best track, brings a hurricane of feedback, thrash, and distorted vocals. Here, at last, they are recognisably the band who crowdsurfed clear out a Reading tent. Cocksure, Schultz demands “Are you into the beat?!” as Black Lips-worthy guitars churn. A stuttered, bum-note outro and “Aw, shut up and dance”; more like this, and I might have done.

A further nail in the coffin is Melophobia’s terminal struggle for depth; in Schultz’s words, “super inner-reflective songs”. This striving for profundity too often results in immature, faux-meaningful lyrics, typified on ‘Telescope’ – “Time is like a leaf in the wind / Either it’s time well-spent or time I’ve wasted / Don’t waste it” – if ‘Adam’s Song’ moved you to tears, you’ll love this. Alison Mosshart clocks in for the stripped backed White Stripes fuzz-n-thump on ‘It’s Just Forever’, as does a rare hook (yippee!). It’s stolen from the Strokes’ ‘Juicebox’ though, so does it still count? Mosshart’s vocals chime well with Schultz’s, but again the lyrics are dismal (“Maybe we can die together, laying side by side / Even in the afterlife, girl you’ll still be mine”).

It’s a confused effort, with the songwriting faults, misguided lyrics, and the foolish sidelining of their greatest weapon (Schultz’s voice) assassinating the vast majority of tracks. Next time, scrap the cod-philosophy and concentrate on the tunes.

Album Review: Paul Haig – ‘Kube’

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Thirty years ago, he was the founder, songwriter and frontman of cult post-punks Josef K. Today, he’s releasing an album that veers from extra-terrestrial glitch to instrumental hip-hop and electroswing. Paul Haig has never been a conformist, so it’s unsurprising that he continues to stretch himself whilst his contemporaries dwell on former glories. Kube, his eleventh solo LP, amply showcases his extreme versatility, covering everything from plastic funk to minimal techno with the kind of unashamed chameleoning worthy of Bowie.

Thematically, regardless of specific genres and influences, Kube is dominated by the sounds of space, and above all, of aliens. On the excellent ‘Cool Pig’, incomprehensible robotic vocals unite a ringing piano intro, an old school hip-hop beat, and a rising synth chorus that has more than a touch of happy hardcore lurking in its DNA. All this, backed by the kind of sound effects that 1990s plastic spaceships used to emit. Ridiculous as it sounds, it works. Equally bizarre are the echoing, liquid beats of ‘Dialog’ – a chaotic soundscape with vocals that seem to sample Ian McKellen reading The Prisoner scripts from within a Martian sandstorm.

From what I’ve written so far, you might not think that Haig is a man who believes that less is more. The Martian beats are intense. But there’s another, completely different, side to Kube that’s less space-techno, more space-jazz! This is intergalactic music, still spacey, but with “world music” influences replacing the electronic beats. ‘Four Dark Traps’ brings tribal tom-toms and didgeridoos, while ‘It’s In’ is all waves of keys and jazz cymbals with little stabs of funk bass and intercuts of taking off planes. The unfamiliar end result is hypnotic, a weird marmite-and-cheese mixture that shouldn’t work but somehow does. Strangest of all is ‘All of the Time’, a weird combination of the album’s internal weird combinations. Lounge music, almost Richard Cheese-like vocals ooze over minimal glitch and a robotic choir. The whole ludicrous affair is topped off with some funky slap bass. It sounds like something that the Star Wars Cantina band would play.

To close, Haig offers us two lengthy instrumental pieces that once again manage to both contrast with, and yet entirely compliment, everything that has come before them. The slow, dubby ‘Torn’ is like a lunar take on ‘The Pills Can’t Help You Now’, while ‘Pack’ collects yawing, seasick synths and micro-percussion to forge interstellar trip-hop.

Find your Air Jordans, kick back, and trip out to these odd and utterly original space jams.

Album Review: Holy Ghost – ‘Dynamics’

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When indie-disco duo Holy Ghost released their debut LP in 2011, they were widely dismissed as late-comers to the party. James Murphy had just called time on LCD Soundsystem and the glory days of DFA’s dance-punk reign were over. Holy Ghost! was well-received, but it was clear that whatever their talents, they weren’t going to revive the scene alone.

Two years on, Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel have sorted out their timing. Riding the highs and lows of the ever-churning oceans of nostalgia and influence trends is no mean feat, but what goes around tends to come back around – slick 80s disco influences are once again dominating. Murphy himself is back, an unmistakable presence on Arcade Fire’s new Reflektor output. The exposure that Drive brought Chromatics and College lingered long, bringing a synth-pop resurgence and then, thanks of some French guys in robot costumes, disco-influences were again everywhere in the summer of 2013. And if you liked all of those guys, you’ll probably like this.

Dynamics doesn’t pretend to be the result of a searing insight; Holy Ghost are happy to wear their influences on their sleeves (indeed, the album art is unashamedly 80s). They remain as good as they ever were with a hook, and there’s no denying that this is an album that’s fun and supremely danceable – well, what else would you expect from DFA? The excellently named ‘Dumb Disco Ideas’ serves as their manifesto, a sprawling 8 minute jam laden with Soulwax liquid bass and a cowbell bridge; regardless of contemporary trends, it’s a single that would make a statue tap its toes. Elsewhere, opener ‘Okay’ brings a synthpop riff worthy of early MGMT, though it’s employed in far more understated surroundings; the walking pace verse “I’m not falling over, but I’m not quite sober / I’m not gonna take this, when I get home” – like mouth-to-mouth and ‘Stayin’ Alive’ – is just the right tempo and entirely catchy enough to determinedly mutter to yourself as you concentrate on the tricky task of getting your key into the lock at 7am. If you still haven’t sorted it out, the relentless spinning waltzer of ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ will console you on the doorstep with its italo-house splurge, it might even help patch the LCD hole in your heart.

But not everything on Dynamics is built straight on the foundations of Holy Ghost’s past releases. ‘It Must Be The Weather’ is the best of the different approaches, bringing spacious, paranoid pop that owes as much to Prince as it does Kavinsky and his ilk. The grim, addiction-detailing lyrics are an album-high too; “I call my guys and say ‘Have you got the news?’/He says ‘Yeah dude, the rumour’s true’/I fall back down the stairs into my favourite place” – suitably Less Than Zero. Equally dark is ‘Don’t Look Down’ – a skittish throb that updates the stalker’s tale within ‘Every Breath You Take’.

With Dynamics, Holy Ghost have struck a careful balance between revisiting their mid-00s origins and playing with new ideas within a similar arena. As they insist on ‘Okay’, “It isn’t over!”.

Album Review: Scanners – ‘Love Is Symmetry’

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Frantic, clattering twee and brooding, minimal rock? Soaring folk to dance-inducing synths? Camden five-piece Scanners aren’t ones to limit themselves to one niche genre, and on album number three, Love is Symmetry, they have covered most of the mainstream genres – rock, pop, folk and  dance are all here, albeit conforming to a consistently indie blueprint. Self-produced and recorded, this is the sound of a band full of ideas and successfully realising all of them.

As you could probably guess from their soundtrack credits (which include Skins, Shameless and One Tree Hill), Scanners specialise in somewhat brooding, kooky indie, and despite the success of their multi-genre experimentation, they can certainly still smash these out with the all the aplomb of Win Butler or Karen O.

‘When They Put Me Back Together They Forgot to Turn Me On’ has the delicate piano and gothic choirs of a Danny Elfman score (think Edward Scissorhands rather than The Simpsons), before a frenetic chorus scrambles in; a Long Blondes-esque monotone clashing wonderfully with frantic yelps over a broken, scatter-fire rhythm. Elsewhere, on the equally mammothly titled ‘Today Is The Tomorrow That They Promised Yesterday’, it’s rather more minimal as cool guitars cut through sci-fi whirls and bleeps, backing dubby bass and a sharp, anti-consumerism rant (“How about a new TV / what not to wear, what not to be … That’s all, did you think that there was more?”). Similarly, opener ‘Love Is Symmetry’ begins with finger-picking, mirroring the calm precision of the xx further with Daly’s enunciated whispers. But then the chorus blazes in, and sunburst synths herald the song’s core; desert indie, sultry vocals worthy of Debbie Harry, and shimmering waves of echoing cymbals. It’s euphoric and unashamedly big.

Repping Scanners’ electro-pop inclinations is ‘Control’, dominated by insistent, bubbling synths and vibrant, irrepressible energy. In terms of the calmer, folkier turns, single ‘Mexico’ only further showcases Scanners’ vocal versatility, as Daly switches into sunny Americana, in contrast to ‘Love Is Symmetry’’s silky menace or the upbeat bounce on the dancey ‘Control’. Like a combination of Karen O’s Where The Wild Things Are work and Surburbs era Arcade Fire, it’s gorgeous, all soaring harmonies and jitter acoustics.

There’s one more genre leap left in Love Is Symmetry though, and finally Scanners throw themselves wholeheartedly into some indie tinged post-punk. ‘My Streets Are Always in the Shade’ sees Siouxsie styled vocals over a gothic, Cure referencing riff; all sexy, noir rock. Better still are the clattering drums and grinding, buzzing drone synths of ‘I Couldn’t Help Myself’, which again seems to owe a debt of inspiration to Blondie.

Given the sheer range of Scanners’ inspirations and experiments, it’s all the more impressive that they manage to jam everything into a short, sweet 45 minutes. There’s not a missed target. Undoubtedly, it’s their best album so far – more urgent, and more challenging, both for the band and the listener. United by strong melodies, kinetic percussion and Sarah Daly’s stunning, versatile voice, Love Is Symmetry is an astonishingly varied album that manages to avoid any hint of confusion or incoherency despite its ever-changing sounds.

Album Review: Justin Timberlake – ‘The 20/20 Experience’

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The punalicious Justified, and its colossal singles, has stood the test of time amazingly well, and follow-up FutureSex/LoveSounds’ sexy disco-funk had an impact on the pop scene that resonated long after 2006.

As ever, Justin Timberlake‘s latest record demonstrates that he has his finger firmly on the pop zeitgeist’s pulse – The 20/20 Experience, like most of 2013’s pop, wears its EDM influences proudly and, inevitably, has taken a few pointers from channel ORANGE. To be fair to JT, there’s not a single neo-house synth progression or a dubstep wob to be found, so he can hardly be accused of the same mainstream pilfering as many of his popworld compatriots. Instead, with Timbaland’s ever-effective help, Timberlake has embraced the more experimental end of electronica, with looping echoes, weird sound effects, and sub-bass all layered in with his trademarks; crooning falsetto, lush string arrangements, and the welcome return of Timbaland’s boom-click-boom percussion.

At the album’s centre lie ‘Don’t Hold The Wall’, ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’, and ‘Tunnel Vision’ – three seven-minute-plus tracks which showcase JT and co.’s latest influences. With chugging afro drums and a looped M.I.A.-esque sample of children’s vocals, ‘Don’t Hold The Wall’ is perhaps the closest to FutureSex/LoveSound – but undeniably updated for the next decade. ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ (surely the most unsubtle metaphor since ‘Little Red Corvette’?) and ‘Tunnel Vision’ employ straight up hip-hop beats, overlaid with Timberlake’s signature alternation between slick falsetto and syncopated spoken interjections; but despite their RnB ambiance, the EDM references are still clear – ‘Tunnel Vision’ in particular sounds as if it owes more than a little to TNGHT’s ‘Goooo’.

The two main anomalies amidst all this are the disappointingly unadventurous lead single ‘Suit & Tie’ (you know, the one with the horrible Jay-Z guest verse), and its polar opposite, the sprawling, ambient closer ‘Blue Ocean Floor’. Most of The 20/20 Experience’s tracks have odd, appealing little outros tagged onto them, and ‘Blue Ocean Floor’ is the album’s own bizarre sign-off, sounding more like In Rainbows-era Radiohead than Radiofriendlyunitshifter JT. Having embraced the long, slow songs, it’s a shame that there aren’t more that take this approach.

And there certainly are a lot of long songs. With only two tracks at much under 7 minutes, and three that lounge over the 8 minute mark, most tracks stretch through extended intros, main sections, and codas – allowing Timberlake space to build a vibe and a very slick, cohesive album, but unquestionably reducing their immediacy and leaving a slight sense of poor editing. Undoubtedly, one of Justin Timberlake’s main attractions as a solo artist has been the absolute dance-appeal of his songs, but on The 20/20 Experience, there’s little evidence of that. Whilst his core fanbase might be disappointed at this striving to go beyond pop and RnB, given the woozy, sound-effect laden successes of artists like the Weeknd, Miguel, and of course Frank Ocean, it looks like yet again Justin’s going to succeed in reaching out to those who might have previously dismissed him.

After last time, we were hoping for a big shift in sound – possibly a seismic, pop-landscape altering shift. Whilst it in no way compares with the leap in ambition we saw between his first two albums,The 20/20 Experience is nonetheless another interesting inter-genre move, this time into alternative RnB and neo-soul. Admittedly, it’s a little too self-indulgent – the “serious” work of a man who’s starred in an Oscar-winning film, rather than the energetic, irresistible pop of a successful boyband escapee, but there’s no doubt he’s still got it. 

Album Review: Mekon – ‘Piece of Work’

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Despite having spent the ‘80s and ‘90s pushing the boundaries of electronic music with Psychic TV and other projects, John Gosling shows no sign of letting up any time soon. Known these days as Mekon, his fourth album Piece of Work is a riotous explosion, ranging from ear-worm electro-pop to grinding industrial but always maintaining its freshness and fervour. United by a consistently industrial, urban sound, the album conjures euphoria and despair equally effectively.

Whilst most recent “dark” electronic records rely on ferocious bass and sub-bass to create their tension and portentous atmosphere, Piece of Work whips up its doom-laden vibe with the help of older, industrial tricks. First single ‘Bin Therrre’ is a case in point, with its relentless chop-change synths building into grinding, glitchy techno. Elsewhere the aptly named ‘Disco Bloodbath’ is as Patrick Bateman-channelling as you would expect, all Hitchcockian strings and hi-hat rolls, before it plunges into disconcerting, demanding techno, reminiscent of the Fake Blood’s more cinematic tracks.

But it’s not all gloom and dancey dancey doom. Mekon keeps the record carefully balanced, as well as interestingly varied, by including bursts of outright joy, ambience, and neo-classicism alongside the darker tracks. Over the smooth electro-pop groove of opener ‘When I Was Walt Whitman’, a lazily self-assured voice sighs, “When I was Walt Whitman, boy, you should have fucking seen me”, as the backing synths ascend higher and higher. It’s insidious, smug, and one hell of a start. No less euphoric is the Balearic ‘No Business I Know’, which swoons and shimmers like a minimal version of Jacques Lu Cont’s ‘Church’ with added big-beat, Orbital-esque propulsive drops. Best of all is the Cleo Torrez featuring ‘Kicks’; blasting drums and spacey pitch-bent synths form a rousing backing as Cleo gives an M.I.A.-like turn of epic, meaningless, cool. The first line, “So raise your sunglasses with authority off the bridge of your nose, stop making a killing”, spat in her distinctive, Maxi Jazz accented vocals, says it all.

A master of the collaborative approach, Mekon’s well chosen guest vocalists only enhance his carefully crafted instrumentals. Torrez’s other guest slot, on ‘Wasted Mind’, sees her producing Kim Deal worthy wails alternated with languid rap over sleazy new wave beats, whilst Marco Pirroni (of Adam and the Ants) and Schooly D’s  contribution to ‘Hardcore’ provides retro gangsta rap and punk funk in equal measure over the grimey looping synths. It’s Rita Brown who gets the last word though, spitting in filthy perfection, “We were Franciscan nuns, we had it off with scum” on the excellent ‘Ravageable’ – a new filthy-electro playmate for Soulwax’s ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ remix.

A thirty-five minute rollercoaster ride, Piece of Work will leave you raving and craving for more. Much like his old contemporaries Orbital and their Wonky, Mekon has managed the clever trick of staying true to his ‘90s big-beat roots, whilst simultaneously sounding vital and relevant. In the mercurial ever-changing world of electro, that’s no mean feat.

All-Time Great Albums; The Libertines – ‘The Libertines’ (2004)

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Favourite albums are a deeply personal, almost private thing. It can be difficult revealing them even to close friends due to the sheer strength of feeling invoked. Somebody who really, honestly doesn’t get David Bowie, Nirvana, the Beatles – and they’ve tried and everything – is that someone who you want to be in your life? Of course, as compatible tastes don’t necessarily guarantee best friendships, neither do different opinions by default spoil them – but it’s easier to leave it unsaid. Talking about something you love and cherish with someone who thinks it’s overlong, pretentious, or not as good as the debut can be deeply stressful.

But, whatever, I refuse to believe anyone can flat-out deny the merits of my favourite album, so I’ll say it loud and proud. If I really, truly, can only choose one, then it’s The Libertines, the gorgeous tale behind the breakdown of one of the best English bands of the last decade. Of course, it was easy to fall in love with the Libertines, both album, band, and everything they stood for. Any teenager worth their scowls could crave everything they embodied; broadly, sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The gang mentality, the intoxication, the clothes, the endless quotable interviews. And they could back it up, with killer live shows, the famed guerrilla gigs, and two stand-out albums.

The Libertines was a triumph. Recorded with Mick Jones’ live, scuzzy aesthetic, it dripped sincerity, wit, desperation, and love. Sonically, it was the accumulation of everything the band had worked on, and the driving, tight rhythm section provided a base for the duelling frontmen, their guitars, and their exchanges of accusations. From the fast, straight-up punk of ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ and the careening, out of control ‘Campaign of Hate’ to the acoustic beauty of ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’, it was relentlessly catchy and beautifully crafted.

And underneath it all lurked the drama, the “story” of Carl and Pete, Pete and Carl. It started from ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’’s very first line, “And ending fitting for the start, you twist and tore our love apart”, and the scathing response, “You got it the wrong way round, you shut me up and blamed it on the brown”. Accusations, reasoning, pleading; the disintegration of their enviable friendship was laid bare for all to hear – and all over a track that could drive dancefloors wild.

 Beyond their usual question-answer lyrical interplay, on the Libertines only a handful of the songs were Barat/Doherty co-written, and so the two frustrated frontmen exchanged barbs song by song. For Carl’s self-deprecatingly titled ‘Last Past On The Bugle’, Pete’s cajoling ‘Don’t Be Shy’. Immediately following the revelatory, confessional ‘The Saga’ (“A problem becomes a problem/when you lie to friends / when you let down your peopleI aint got a problem, it’s you with the problem”), the desperate, Carl-penned ‘Road to Ruin’ response (“How can we make you understand / All you can be is here in your hand”).

With closer ‘What Became of the Likely Lads’, they had the ultimate last word. The flipside of the love-hate displayed in ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, it was an elegy for all they, and we, had lost. “Oh what became of the likely lads / what became of the dreams we had / what became of forever / well, we’ll never know”. 

Album Review: FLUME – ‘FLUME’

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Young Harley Streten, the 21 year old Sydneysider behind his nom-de-disque FLUME, is certainly not one to waste time. Having achieved virtual overnight success, as his Facebook page rocketed from obscurity to well over 115,000 likes in just over a year, the producer and DJ has also had opening slots for both the xx and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, and secured a place on mainstream radio playlists around the world with his cracking initial release, ‘Sleepless’. Very much making hay whilst the sun shines, he’s jumped at the chance and quickly put out his debut album, FLUME. Though it’s certainly the opportune moment commercially, there is of course the attendant amount of hype – the Aussies are excited about their young protégée and the risky, pressurising title “saviour of Australian electro” has been mentioned more than once.

It’s nothing if not ambitious. Streten covers a huge range of genres, flitting from house to chillwave to funk – although admittedly, FLUME’s core is rooted in downtempo electro and instrumental hip-hop. His warm, clean production sits well with the beat-driven electro as he impressively straddles the line between mainstream/commercial sounds and the more experimental edges. Alongside the variety of genres, further variation is introduced via a host of supporting artists, with Chet Faker, Jezzabell Doran, MC T-Shirt, Moon Holiday, and George Maple all contributing guest vocals. Thanks to this vocal variety, despite FLUME’s broad range of influences, it is his beats which form the album’s consistent backbone, allowing his signature sound to speak for itself.

Singles ‘Sleepless’ and ‘Holdin’ On’ both err on the side of synth heavy hip-hop and are effortlessly infectious, doubtless playing a big part in FLUME’s meteoric rise. Sandwiched between them is ‘Left Alone’, featuring Chet Faker, and a fluid, loud-quiet beat base which builds up into sheer euphoria. Enjoyable though the singles are, they feel just that; singles, rather than part of an LP. Elsewhere, the spacey progressive house of ‘Insane’, the excellent, shimmering bass-driven ‘Warm Thoughts’, or the liquid, de-tuned dubstep of ‘Ezra’ are far more interesting and show potential for future releases.

However, with fifteen tracks, FLUME is arguably overlong and certainly suffers from its tracklisting order. With its more commercial, Hudson Mohawke-esque singles all stacked at the beginning, it leaves a slight feeling of subsiding, or at least poor pacing, as the more ambient, immersive tracks are all ranged towards the end. It’s something of an idea overload; FLUME’s decision to try his hand at everything, whilst demonstrating his evident enthusiasm and frequent successes, comes at the price of the album’s coherency. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of potential here, and with more time and less pressure, FLUME could certainly produce better.