Review: Tomorrow’s World – ‘Tomorrow’s World’

Originally published for The 405.

It was always to be expected that, coming from popular electronic acts, Jean-Benoit Dunckel, of French band Air, and Lou Hayter, former vocalist from New Young Pony Club, would produce an experimental album. What started off as a plan to work on a few tracks soon turned in to an album’s worth of material and so Tomorrow’s World was born. Named after the BBC’s popular science and technology show, which was cancelled in 2003, Tomorrow’s World resemble a cross between a 60s girl group and an 80s synth-pop act – kind of like The Shangri-Las meets Depeche Mode. Their self-titled debut is cinematic, grand and very dramatic.

Sometimes albums can be so elaborate, you have to imagine them in context to be able to understand them and not get distracted by all the grandeur. With Tomorrow’s World’s debut, I found it fitting to imagine it sound tracking an independent French film: one about passion and romance but with dark, sinister undertones – something a bit like The Dreamers, but without the whole creepy sibling threesome storyline.

Opening track ‘A Heart That Beats For Me’ introduces the story with a cheesy Shangri-Las-esque monologue: “He took her hand and then they flew / Beyond the impossible / In to the future.” Then, as the song progresses, there is likely to be a ‘day in the life’ montage following the female lead’s dreary, mundane routine – perhaps using time-lapse photography – with the drone on the track emphasising the monotony of the character’s life.

Then we are introduced to the character’s love interest, while ‘Think of Me’ plays – he is probably a tormented poet or artist, it is a French film after all. It is likely the two characters have yet to meet or speak and so the endless reciting of “Think of me” suggests that there is a bit of unrequited love going on here. However, the characters soon meet, with ‘Pleurer Et Chanter’ sound tracking the moment when the relationship is built and the two embark on their fiery, intense romance.

Then we reach the big twist – probably the result of some misunderstood situation which leads to a huge argument between the two lovers. ‘Don’t Let Them Bring You Down’ would accompany this scene, where everything seems to be going wrong in the protagonist’s life, so they go for a long walk in the rain and gawp at all the happy people around them before running home and crying – you know, like everyone else does.

The protagonist then goes on a bit of a bender, probably experiments with drugs, has a few random one night stands and even contemplates taking her own life (I said it would have dark undertones, remember). This would all be mashed up in to a seedy montage, accompanied by ‘Catch Me’, which contains some menacing talking bits, sultry sighs and the resounding chorus of “Dark angel / Take me away.”

But what’s a good romance without a happy ending? There is the big reconciliation moment before the film draws to an end with the lyrics on ‘Inside’ proving that this romance really is the real deal: “I love you on the inside.”

Rating: 6.5/10

Review: The Growlers – ‘Hung at Heart’

Originally published for The 405.

With Hung at Heart set to be The Growlers‘ breakthrough album, rumours were afloat of the band participating in recording sessions with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. However, it was quickly decided that things weren’t working out and the band went back to basics, recording it alone in Costa Mesa, California. The official statement from the label stated that Auerbach “tried his hand in the kitchen but when the dish ended up overcooked, the Growlers brought it back to the home kitchen, drank the juice and started over.” It is unlikely that the album would have the same compelling effect had Auerbach produced it, as I expect it would have ended up sounding too stadium-ready for the band, who clearly do not produce music on the same sort of scale.

Hung at Heart combines a number of genres which the band have become associated with on their previous efforts, namely psychedelic, garage and surf rock, but also draws influence from country and pop, highlighting the developments in their song writing. Lead single ‘Someday’ is not exactly telling of what to expect from the rest of the album but is an infectious pop song, telling a story of better days to come. It’s one of those songs that could make the gloomiest of days seem a bit brighter, with its surf-y melody and lyrics like “Well things ain’t so cool right now / Well, I promise they’ll get better.”

On the other hand, tracks like ‘Naked Kids’ and ‘Salt on a Slug’ show more of the straight psych-rock elements of the band and fall perfectly in to what I like to refer to as ‘sounds of the Mojave’ (i.e. my imaginary playlist of songs for my ever-pending American road trip). They are a showcase in what the perfect psych-rock song should contain: wistful guitar riffs, heavy organs, distorted vocals and plenty of reverb. The band continue their psych-rock experimentation with the use of Eastern instrumentation on ‘Burden of the Captain’, which has a brief but fantastic sitar solo.

The one thing that sets the album apart from your typical psych-rock record, however, is the sadness of some of the lyrical content. The country-tinged ‘Living in a Memor'” has some of the most poignant lyrics, with lead singer Brooks Nielsen baring his soul about an ex he is struggling to get over: “Help me forget her / Eclipse my heart from yours / Help me remember that life’s worth living for.” Melancholy may not be a theme typically associated with psych-rock but the inclusion of these songs give the album a bit more balance and show a different side to the band, which we haven’t seen much of previously.

It’s a little-known fact that most garage bands are heavily influenced by girl groups and the band make their influences pretty clear on ‘Pet Shop Eyes’, of which the melody is almost identical to that of The Donays’ hit ‘Devil in His Heart’ – you may be more aware of The Beatles’ version ‘Devil In Her Heart’. The similarity also comes as a result of the authenticity of the production on the track, making it sound like it could easily have been released in the 60s. It proves just how much the band have moved on in the production stakes from their previous albums, which was at times a bit rough around the edges.

With psych-rock revivalist bands cropping up on both sides of the Atlantic, The Growlers are just one of many having to prove their worth as ones to watch. They have managed to evolve their brand of psych-rock over the past few years and have produced a much fuller, more diverse sounding record in the process. It seems going back to basics worked out pretty well for The Growlers.

Rating: 7/10

Introducing: Vanessa Elisha

Originally published for The 405.

You may not have heard about Vanessa Elisha yet but you’re likely to be hearing a whole lot more about her this year. The 21-year-old songstress hails from Queensland, Australia and her debut single ‘Blur’ has been causing a massive stir across numerous music blogs recently. The combination of her smooth, alluring R&B vocals and Jrdn Gxnius’ production make the track sound reminiscent of the female R&B icons of the 90s and early 00s.

With her debut EP scheduled for release in February, big things are expected for Vanessa Elisha this year. We caught up with her to discuss the hype from the blogs, the music scene in Australia, her music career so far and her plans for the rest of the year.

Your debut single ‘Blur’ has generated a lot of excitement amongst the bloggers, who predict that you’re going to be massive this year. Can you tell us a little bit about how your music career has unfolded so far – has it been quite gradual or pretty quick?

The blog support so far has been crazy and totally unexpected! I’ve wanted to do this for as long as I can remember and have been writing for years. I think it’s all happened because I’m finally at a place where I feel like I’m ready for everything that comes your way after releasing your music, whether it’s the praise or the criticism. I wouldn’t say it’s been a fast road to get here, I think everything I’ve done has led up to this and I think 2013 is my year.

Your vocals along with the production on the track reminded me a lot of the R&B slow jams from the 90s. How much did you think about what you wanted to sound like – did it just work out that way or did you make an effort to sort of revive that classic R&B sound?

I’ve never really “thought” about my sound. I think it’s important to be organic. I’ll listen to a beat or I’ll hear a melody in my head and I’ll go with it. It’s never really planned out. But I also think that the 90s sound has influenced me heaps; Monica, SWV, Jon B, Jagged Edge, Lauryn Hill, these are the people that taught me how to sing.

Who would you say are your main musical influences and have they developed or changed much over the years?

Right now, I’ve gotta say Drake, 40, Jhene Aiko & the Weeknd are the artists that I’m crazy about. I love their sound and I think I’ve finally found a place where my music fits in. I’ve always loved simplicity in melodies and beats and these guys are bringing that back to life.

‘Blur’ was produced by Jrdn Gxnius, who’s mainly known for his Hip-Hop production. How did that collaboration come about?

Haha ohh Gxnius. Well, we were introduced to Gxnius by a friend, he came over to the house said hi, sat down at the keyboard and started playing… He’s basically lived with us ever since, can’t get rid of him! But in all honesty, he’s an amazing talent, that’s where the name ‘Gxnius’ came from, we were shocked when we met him – he’s something else.

Why did you make the decision to sign with Down With the In Crowd? And were you concerned at all about being an R&B artist and signing with a management team mainly associated with electronic acts?

Wow, you really did your research! My manager, Matt, has known me since I was a kid. He might manage a lot of electro artists but his heart has always been in R&B and Hip-Hop. It was kind of a natural progression, we have a little team; Me, Matt, Gxnius and Cviro – we all sort of just assumed that Matt would manage us. He used to always say to me when I was younger, I hope you’re ready to be famous! I would just laugh it off and call him an idiot, but I feel like I’m in good hands on his team.

We don’t often hear about many Australian R&B artists. What is the music scene like there and is there much of a market for R&B acts like yourself?

Well, there are a few Australian R&b artists, but they tend to be more pop than R&B. It’s tough, because there’s a strong local music scene, but it’s dominated by electronic and rock acts. There’s no real R&B radio format here – it’s just pop and alternative. For better or worse, I think R&B music doesn’t really fit in either. There’s a few successful artists, but their music tends to be more of that “hands in the air” electro music, which is really the sound of pop music right now. And it’s definitely not me!

Are there any Australian artists you love that you think more people should know about?

One word – CVIRO. I think everyone’s going to recognise the name soon enough. His EP should drop in the next couple of months. He’s a new artist but I think he’ll find a name quite quickly for himself. Between writing my EP, I’ve co written every track on his project. I guess that makes me a little biased, but the music speaks for itself! I’m obsessed with every song!

Your EP is scheduled to be released in late February. Has it been completed yet and how is it sounding?

It’s not 100% completed yet. We have a million things going on at the moment and we really want to perfect the sound. I think more than anything though it’s about having a consistent feel throughout the EP. It might have been done unintentionally, but if you listen closely the lyrics are a story.

Have you made any plans for the year yet in terms of touring and promoting your music worldwide or are you just taking things one step at a time?

I think the plan is to take it one step at a time. I’m just focusing on getting my music out there, seeing what people think and hopefully pick up some fans along the way! As long as people are discovering and enjoying my music, I feel like I’m on the right path. If all goes well, a trip to the U.S. is looking good for the future.

You can visit Vanessa Elisha by heading to vanessaelisha.com

Deap Vally interview

Originally published for The 405.

“We met at a crochet class” is not something you would expect to hear from this brash LA duo. Bonding over their love of threading and classic rock, Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards formed Deap Vally. With their own brand of blues-rock taking the music world by storm, Deap Vally have proved with their recent singles, ‘Gonna Make My Own Money’ and ‘End of the World’, and their incredible live performances, that girls can rock just as hard as guys.

The pair recently completed a string of massive gigs supporting Muse in Europe. When we caught up with Lindsey from the band, they had just arrived in Latvia, having played to around 7000 people in Estonia the night before:

“The shows have been fucking awesome. Muse are such nice guys and it’s been an honour opening for them. They’ve been so hospitable and really good to us.”

Prior to this, they had just come off a UK tour supporting The Vaccines, alongside DIIV, where they said the crowds were “equally awesome” but not exactly what they were used to: “It was a bit of a different audience with The Vaccines. They were a lot younger – lots of really excited teenage girls. We haven’t really played to that kind of crowd, except maybe in our home town.” Playing such huge shows so early in their career may seem quite daunting but the band have taken it in their stride and have continued to impress audiences with their heavy, feisty performances: “The first show I was a little nervous but it went well and last night I wasn’t so nervous. It’s funny – you do it once then the nerves are gone.”

Troy and Edwards both share a mutual love of classic rock bands, such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath – the influence of which can be heard particularly in the fierce riffs. Much has been made about the noise generated between the two of them on stage and it’s safe to say that they are not your average girl band. “I guess we kinda shattered the image of a stereotypical girl band. We just love playing rock and roll. I mean we write the music we want to hear, which is rock and roll.”

While their lyrics may sometimes allude to female independence, with ‘Gonna Make My Own Money’ being a prime example, the elements of influence from classic rock bands have generated a pretty big male following. “We have a female following but more on the male side. It’s great though cause the younger girls really responded to it, especially at The Vaccines shows. They were so sweet. They would come up to us and say “You’re so inspiring, we want to start a band now.”

However, the band was not initially intended to be a two-piece. In fact, the original plan was to be a three-piece, “like three girls playing rock and roll” as Lindsey said, but the bass player they had been rehearsing with also played in another band and it didn’t work out in the end: “We did a session with a bass player and our first jam was called ‘God’s Country’. But she was busy touring with another band and the dynamic between the two of us just seemed to work best so we thought fuck it, let’s just be a two-piece.”

With the ever-increasing hype surrounding the band, we eagerly await the release of their debut album, which they intend to finish when they get back to the States will hopefully be released this spring. Lindsey told us about their main plans for next year: “Just finishing the record and a lot of touring. The tour actually kicks off in India – we’re playing a festival there with Anthrax and Motorhead and loads more. We’re really excited cause we’ve never been there before. Then we’ll be playing lots of other festivals and we’re playing with The Cribs in London as well.”

2013 looks set to be a good year for the girls, with bands like Deap Vally, Haim and Savages leading the new ‘girl power’ resurgence and what makes it even better is the diversity of them all.

J Dilla Profile

Originally published for The 405.

He is a favourite of Pharrell Williams’, he worked with Prince and his production credits range from A Tribe Called Quest to Erykah Badu; but how did such a talented and hugely respected producer and solo artist manage to spend most of his career widely unknown?

This Sunday marks seven years since J Dilla‘s death, after a life-long battle with a rare blood disease, Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. His influence in the hip-hop and R&B community has spanned over the past decade and looks nowhere near diminishing. His status as an “underground” producer has also not stopped his influence extending outside of the hip-hop world, with bands such as The Horrors and The xx also citing Dilla as an influence in their work. Such is his global influence that there is even a small street named after him in Montpellier, France (Allée Jay Dee). As a friend of mine said: “If you know anything about hip-hop, you’ll know that J Dilla is one of the finest, most original producers there’s ever been.”

James Dewitt Yancey, otherwise known as J Dilla or Jay Dee, was born in to a musical family: his mother was an opera singer and his father a bassist and vocalist. From a young age, music was instilled in Dilla’s life, with his mother claiming “he wouldn’t go to sleep unless he heard jazz”. First, he began playing the piano and cello, where he learnt to read music, before extending his knowledge to drums, flute and guitar. However, it wasn’t until Dilla reached high school that he began to network with fellow Detroit musicians and really begin to showcase his talent.

Dilla’s recording career began in the early 90s as part of hip-hop trio Slum Village, which he founded along with two of his childhood friends, rappers Baatin and T3. Together they released two studio albums, Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1 and Fantastic Vol. 2. It was through his work with Slum Village that Dilla was introduced to Q-Tip, who Dilla had worked with as part of The Ummah production team on his last two studio albums with A Tribe Called Quest. Q-Tip’s adoration of Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1 led the group to achieve a record deal with what was then A&M records and with that came introductions to many of hip-hop’s biggest stars at the time, resulting in the likes of Busta Rhymes and Jazzy Jeff featuring on Fantastic Vol. 2.

In his years as part of Slum Village, Dilla continued to work on other projects with The Ummah where he contributed to the production on tracks for Busta Rhymes, De La Soul and many more. However, these credits often did not name him specifically, leading to him missing out on a Grammy for his production on Janet Jackson’s ‘Got ’til It’s Gone’. It wasn’t until Dilla collaborated with The Roots’ drummer Questlove, Common, D’Angelo and James Poyser that his big break really arrived, when they collectively founded the Soulquarians. As more members, including Erykah Badu, Talib Kwali and Mos Def, joined the collective, the greater their success expanded. In 2001, Dilla decided that it was time to say goodbye to Slum Village and focus more on his solo career, but still continued to produce the group’s next two albums.

A small playlist of J Dilla tracks we love

Dilla’s production on Common’s Like Water for Chocolate and Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun brought him two Grammy nominations in 2001: Best Solo Rap Performance for Common’s ‘The Light’ and R&B Song of the Year for Erykah Badu’s ‘Didn’t Cha Know’. Within a year of this, he achieved a major label record deal with MCA records, released his first solo album Welcome 2 Detroit and officially rebranded himself from Jay Dee to J Dilla. However, internal issues at MCA records meant that the follow-up to Welcome 2 Detroit was put on hold so Dilla took matters in to his own hands and self-released his Ruff Draft EP, with a little help from German label Groove Attack who assisted in the distribution of it. It was during the touring of this record that Dilla’s declining health became apparent when he suffered from exhaustion and malnourishment. Despite concerns over his health, Dilla continued to create and produce music, going on to collaborate with Madlib, whom he greatly respected, and they created and began working together as Jaylib.

Dilla’s most celebrated work, Donuts, was also his last completed work, released just three days before his death. Just last month, Stones Throw released a reissue of Donuts as a box set of 7″ singles. Nate Patrin of Pitchfork said of the record:

“As an album, it just gets deeper the longer you live with it, front-to-back listens revealing emotions and moods that get pulled in every direction: mournful nostalgia, absurd comedy, raucous joy, sinister intensity.”

With more reissues of Dilla’s work set for release this year, including some previously unheard tracks, it is clear that his influence continues to exist. Whether or not the mid 90s to early 00s hip-hop scene would have been the same without J Dilla is uncertain but what is inarguable is that it probably would not have been the golden era it was without him.