Porter Ray – Watercolor Review

porter ray

Originally published for The Skinny March 2017 issue.

★★★★

Album title: Watercolor
Artist: Porter Ray
Label: Sub Pop
Release date: 10 Mar

It’s easy to dismiss the notion of rapping as a form of poetry when ‘rappers’ like French Montana exist, but Porter Ray is making hip-hop great again with his debut album Watercolor.

Great rapping is quite simply just great storytelling, and what a great storyteller Porter Ray is. Just a quick listen to his tone and it’s clear to see how Ray caught the ear of Shabazz Palaces founder Ishmael Butler. There’s a vulnerability to his voice that’s so alluring, allowing his emotion to filter through every word he says, while at the same time owning every beat he jumps on.

Laying his bars over a mixture of trippy, experimental beats and old school hip-hop beats, Watercolor has as much style as it does substance. Much of the lyrical content surrounds Ray’s experiences growing up in Seattle, dealing with many personal matters such as the death of his father, the birth of his son and the incarceration of his son’s mother. ‘I can’t front, shit fucked me up mentally / Sometimes I wish your bullet had been meant for me,’ he raps on The Mirror Between Us, which details the shooting of his younger brother Aaron in 2009.

There’s a certain depth and outright honesty in Ray’s lyrics that sets him apart from many of his peers and shows that he’s not afraid to bare his soul in his music. That openness makes for incredibly powerful listening.

Listen to: East Seattle, My Mother’s Words

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The Pigeon Detectives @ Electric Circus, Edinburgh, 4 Mar

pigeon detectives

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★

For many 20-somethings, The Pigeon Detectives will bring back fond memories of a golden age of indie, the ups and downs of which are still very visible today.

In a packed-out Electric Circus, the indie vibes are strong. It’s small, it’s sweaty, it’s laddy and it’s likely you’ll be leaving covered in beer. The band open the show with Enemy Lines, a track taken from their new album Broken Glances. It’s much more mellow than their older material but that doesn’t stop the lads in the crowd thrusting forward in a surge to get closer to their indie gods – suspicions arise that frontman Matthew Bowman sees himself along those lines when he stands on the drum set, imitating a crucifixion.

The laddy antics continue during the band’s performance of I Found Out, from their 2007 album Wait for Me. Bowman goes full Coyote Ugly, crawling on the bar and taking a shot before proceeding to spit beer into the crowd. It’s all very rock’n’roll, or at least the frontman seems to think so, and indeed he whips his crowd of loyal followers into a frenzy, hanging from the light fixtures as he tries to get as close as possible to them.

If there’s anything to be said for the Leeds quintet, it’s that they know how to work their crowd. It may be a bizarre sight to behold for many, but The Pigeon Detectives’ devotees are certainly putty in their hands.

sir Was – Digging a Tunnel Review

sir-was

Originally published for The Skinny March 2017 issue.

★★★

Album title: Digging A Tunnel
Artist: sir Was
Label: City Slang
Release date: 10 Mar

Previously a professional jazz saxophonist, sir Was has travelled the world performing in several ensembles, picking up a range of musical influences as he went along; all of which have helped to form the sonic landscape of his debut album Digging A Tunnel.

Once upon a time, many would have filed sir Was’ music under the category ‘chillwave’, but to call it that would be to do it a disservice. Incorporating different themes, sounds and textures from a variety of genres and playing almost every instrument you hear on the album, Was’ debut shows an artist with an ear for making the seemingly inaccessible accessible.

Opening with lead single In the Midst, you are thrown straight into Was’ world of funky, soulful electronica, merging its pop chorus and melody seamlessly with its rap verses and unique instrumentation. From then on, intriguing sounds from far and wide appear all over the album, including bagpipes on A Minor Life and a harmonica on Bomping – both taken from recordings on Was’ iPhone. The bagpipes might not make much sense, but the harmonica is a welcome addition to Bomping’s bluesy rhythms, giving it an extra gritty, Southern feel.

Despite the obvious Tame Impala similarities, sir Was manages to carve out his own brand of psychedelic pop on Digging A Tunnel, leaning more towards funk, soul and hip-hop than classic psych-rock. Plus, you’ve got to hand it to him for trying to make bagpipes happen.

Listen to: Falcon, Interconnected

Big Sean interview: I Decided. and Twenty88

big-sean

Originally published for The Skinny.

Big Sean tells us about collaborating with Migos, how Twenty88 feels like a Marvel comic book, and embracing spirituality on his new album I Decided.

The Skinny: The new album I Decided. feels like a real turning point for you and you’ve talked a lot about how you feel like it’s a big moment in your career. Was there a moment where you felt like it was really going the way you wanted?

Big Sean: It was a tough road for this album. There were times where it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go but then it just all fell into place. That’s the fun part of it all sometimes, just figuring it out and learning from the whole process. That was definitely something that we experienced while making it. It was fun though, altogether. I’m looking forward to just taking everything I learned and applying it to my next one. It was a turning point though, for sure, in my life.

Was there any particular reason for that? 

Well, I feel like the album before this – Dark Sky Paradise – was a monumental point in my life as well. This one was definitely an expansion on that album, it was a progression. I just felt good about the music I was making – what I learned from Dark Sky Paradise was just to do what you feel and follow your heart and not give a fuck about what people say as long as you get your vision out. That’s kind of what we did here so it was great.

I’m glad I took my time with it and I’m not slowing down at all. I’m ready to keep going… I just feel like I’m growing as a person and I guess that also affects my art because it’s what I do.

There are a lot of spiritual elements to the album, especially in the lyrics. Have you always been quite a spiritual person?

I have been a spiritual person for a long time. On my last album, I had songs like Blessings; I guess I’ve just been rapping about it more and embracing it more publically. But I meditate every day, or at least I try to. There’s no way that there’s any other reason that all these blessings keep happening to me, except for God and that’s why I got kind of into it. I try to live as righteous as possible because I believe in all that spiritual stuff. I believe in God and I feel like God gives me the inspiration to make music and gives me ideas.

You recently released the video for Halfway Off the Balcony – is there a link between the video and the album cover?

Yeah, there is. The vibe of the album cover and the concept of the older self guiding me and being a part of me, talking to myself and all of these different ideas and tones; we decided to put in that video. That was definitely something we thought about. Andy Hines, the director, executed it pretty well.

The videos from the new album seem to incorporate a lot of technicolour elements – was that intentional?

It’s something that we sit down and actively think about. Every album we try and put our creative minds to the test. Sometimes all the videos will be a certain way and sometimes they won’t but we always put an effort into it. I have a creative team and we sit down and go over everything – how to make the best possible music and videos and live shows and performances we can with what we have.

What were the kind of themes you were going for with this album?

Well, the storyline of the album is that you’re going through life and you’re failing at everything, then you get a second chance and start going through it again. At the beginning of the album, you’re dealing with realising your inner strength and all you need is what’s inside you and you Bounce Back from all the fucking losses you’re putting in, you’re charged up, you don’t need No Favours.

Then you go into the second part of the album, where you’re going after your one true love and you Jump Out The Window, you’re having fun and then all of a sudden it’s not going the way you planned. Then you go into the part of the album that’s a little darker, kind of like a depressive state of mind, you’re not really answering calls from your family or your mom. But then your family and God is eventually going to lift you up out of that rut and you finish off the album, realising it’s Bigger Than Me.

Those are all the underlying stories of the album but I did that just so people could walk away with some type of inspiration. I really feel like that’s needed today in music. There are a lot of inspiring artists and people; I just wanted to feel like I added to that. For 2017, I wanted to give something to people that they could hold on to, or feel like they could be the best versions of themselves, get them motivated a little. Even with the merchandise, really making the merch fit with the music, so certain lines like, ‘The underdog just turned into the wolf’… I know what it’s like to be the underdog and feel your full potential not being executed so I wanted to make sure we got that across too.

You collaborated with [Georgia hip-hop trio] Migos on the album’s stand-out track Sacrifices – how did that come about?

I met up with them a while ago before that, just to kick it, and they told me how much they respect me. I remember Quavo was like, “Man, you’re one of the people we look up to in this rap game. We fuck with you.” I thought that was really cool and obviously I’ve got crazy respect for them too. It was a natural thing. I was in the studio with Metro [Boomin; producer/DJ from St Louis] working and I was like, “Man, I think the Migos would be hard on this song,” so we sent it to them the next day and they sent it back a day or two later and that was it.

That was the last song we made for the album too. It was the last week of the album and I felt like there was something missing but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then I went to the studio late night – it was funny because I hit up Metro and he was in the same city as me; he was leaving in the morning and it was like 2am but I was like, “Fuck it, I’ve got to just come through.” So we ended up working until he left for his trip the next day. That’s how Sacrifices came about, it’s one of my favourites.

You’ve said that you plan to release another Twenty88 [Sean’s side project with girlfriend Jhené Aiko] album at some point – have you started working on that yet?

Yeah, it’s getting worked on for sure. It should be ready soon, hopefully. Jhene’s working on her album too though.

You’ve collaborated together a lot in the past but why did you decide at that point to do a full project together?

It was just a ‘why not’ type of thing. We were making music and the chemistry was undeniable. We had so many songs we did that I wouldn’t use for my album and she probably wouldn’t necessarily use them all for her album. It was like, we’re not just going to hold on to this, so we figured out a way to give it to the fans and create a whole other world in our universe, aside from me and aside from her, so we decided to make a group.

It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. It’s one of the coolest experiences to be in a group, especially with somebody you care about. It reminds me of Marvel comic books, like Iron Man, Captain America movies and stuff like that. I think it’s cool to create all these different worlds in your own universe. I was really excited that she wanted to do it too.

Do you have any plans to tour the new album in the UK?

We’ve been talking about that. I love the UK. I plan on making it over there, so I’m sure we’ll announce it soon. I had a great time there last year when I was touring with Rihanna and doing all those festivals. It was a great experience. I plan on it, it’s going to be something crazy.


I Decided. is out now via GOOD/Def Jam

S U R V I V E @ The Art School, 20 Feb

survive-live

S U R V I V E live at The Deaf Institute, Manchester by Latisha Vasianna

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★★

If live music is to be an experience, then S U R V I V E pull off exactly that at Glasgow’s Art School. Without a microphone in sight, it quickly becomes apparent that there will be no crowd interaction from the band tonight. Instead they focus on the music, taking us on a loud and cosmic journey through their synth and bass back catalogue.

Playing tracks from their most recent album RR7349, the music takes on a whole new life live; mainly because of the stunning light show that accompanies it. Seamlessly syncing with the music, lights alter between shades of blue and purple, fading into darkness and then abruptly flashing on cue: at times unsettling, but for the most part entirely fitting.

In the live setting, the tracks don’t feel as dark and eerie as they do on record. There are even moments where the music sounds euphoric and, quite frankly, danceable. Think more hands in the air, finger pointing than nonchalant head bobbing.

The band’s back to basics approach to performing live, where crowd and inter-band interaction is scarce, may not exactly be everyone’s cup of tea. However, their ability to put on a captivating live show which relies solely on their compositions is a true testament to their musicianship and shows that sometimes, music really can speak for itself.

https://survive.bandcamp.com/

Ibibio Sound Machine’s Eno Williams on Uyai

ism

Originally published for The Skinny March 2017 issue.

With the release of West African highlife powerhouse Ibibio Sound Machine’s new album Uyai due this month, we speak to the band’s dynamic frontwoman Eno Williams about her diverse creative influences

The Skinny: Where in the world are you just now?

Eno Williams: We’re in Pattaya, Thailand. There’s an odd vibe, lots of dodgy old man tourists but we’ve come out of town and it’s lovely. I’m sitting on a beach and it seems more like the proper Thailand. We were doing a festival called Wonderfruit. It’s very well run, I think Wilderness Festival has something to do with running it. It’s just been going a short time.

Your new album is out this month – can you tell us about it?

The album is called Uyai, which means beauty in my mother tongue, Ibibio. It’s not the obvious Western idea of beauty so much as referring to the beauty and strength of women in general. It extrapolates further to encompass the beauty of nature: the moon, the sea, even the process of making music. Lyrically, there are themes around this idea and particularly freedom and empowerment of women, and people in general. Musically, we delved further into electronic territory, which is what seemed to capture people’s imagination on our first album.

You’ve said it was a difficult journey completing the album. Why was that?

Well, there are more expectations with a second album. We particularly had more expectations of ourselves I suppose. Also, we had a couple of internal changes in the band which meant it was a more drawn-out process than usual, perhaps. But every album is difficult to make and is its own journey so that’s more significant.

What’s the story behind the lead single Give Me a Reason?

It’s about the Chibok girls that were abducted in northern Nigeria some years back – you may recall ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ [a series of protests prompted by the kidnapping of 276 female students by extremist group Boko Haram in 2014]. The story struck a chord and I was thinking, ‘Why can’t girls have the simple freedom to go to school?’ And on a greater level, ‘Why can’t we be free to be who we want to be?’ So I ask the question, ‘give me a reason’ – why not? It felt like a positive message, something that should be uplifting rather than melancholic.

Who did you work with on the accompanying video and what was the concept behind it?

We worked with a company called The Forest of Black from Glasgow. They were really cool; our label Merge had worked with them previously and suggested them. The director was called Ciaran Lyons and most of the visual concept was his idea. I guess the idea was to transmit the feeling of the song visually.

On the album, a lot of the songs are given their English titles and then their Ibibio translations. What were your initial reasons for wanting to sing in both Ibibio and English?

Our initial idea as a band was to try something with the Ibibio language but we also want people to understand what we’re saying. There is something we like about trying to communicate a message with words that the vast majority of people will not understand. It’s a challenge.

How would you describe traditional Ibibio music?

There is a lot of chanting, storytelling, as with most tribal languages. In later days, it had quite a highlife aspect to the sound, incorporating the popular styles of West Africa in the 20th century.

What’s your favourite Ibibio record?

My grandparents used to love dancing to a guy called Inyang Henshaw, who had a song called Kpong Me Yie Adesi. It was a funny track about being introduced to rice by Westerners. A lot of highlife tracks have topics that seem very funny or odd in the context of Western songwriting. I remember laughing about one highlife song that Alfred [Kari Bannerman], our guitarist, told me about that is from the perspective of a man asking a woman, ‘Why have you lost so much weight? You were so pretty when you were fat.’

What records or artists brought you together as a band?

We love all sorts of different stuff. A lot of 70s highlife, funk, and 80s stuff like Talking Heads and Grace Jones. We also get inspiration from people we meet in our travels and hear live: Jupiter and Okwess, The Comet is Coming, a trio we played with a while back called Peluché. It’s always a tough question as there are so many influences.

You get compared to Grace Jones quite a lot. What’s your favourite Grace Jones record?

Nightclubbing. I guess it’s just the one I connected with as a kid at a certain point. Obviously, she’s an icon and did things no one else before her had or since her has done. She opened the door for black female artists in a new way. The visual imagery was all part of her appeal, of course. I really couldn’t say I’m even a tenth of the artist she was though.

How much does fashion influence you personally and your music?

I love fashion, I try to incorporate that in what we do. I must give props to a very young designer in Berlin called Laura Lang – she designed the outfit on our album cover, she’s very talented. I tend to look about for people but we have had a couple of people asking to work with us and our music on occasion as well.

Who’s your favourite designer?

I always liked Alexander McQueen. I like the hips in his clothes; his stuff has a femininity about it. It reminds me somehow of our traditional Ibibio clothing, which emphasises the power of a woman’s middle. We have a dress called abang, which is like a hoop or cage skirt.

What’s your favourite record to dance to?

We recently did a mix for BBC 6 Music and I was enjoying Ohue by Victor Uwaifo. I was dancing to that when I was practicing for our video so I’ll say that as my current favourite.

What record always cheers you up?

African Woman by Baba Maal. I find it an empowering song that takes me back to my upbringing. I also find a lot of gospel very heartening.

What’s your favourite of your own tracks to perform live?

I like The Chant from our new album, we’ve just started doing it live. It actually features my mum doing a bit of speaking in tongues and I can’t wait to get her up to do that live.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

We’re trying to plan our first trip to the US at the moment and I’m really looking forward to playing there with the band for the first time.


Uyai is released on 3 Mar via Merge. Ibibio Sound Machine play Aberdeen Jazz Festival, 18 Mar & Band on the Wall, Manchester, 28 Mar.