Turtle – Human review

turtle

Originally published for The Skinny July 2017 issue.

★★★★

Album title: Human
Artist: Turtle
Label: Beatnik Creative
Release date: 30 Jun

When it comes to ambient music, the clue is in the name. It is intended to evoke emotion and atmosphere, and that is exactly what Scottish producer Turtle does on debut album Human.

Where his previous two EPs, 2014’s Who Knows and 2015’s Colourshad hints of cinematic tendencies, Human on the other hand is an epic. Following it through, it is easy to imagine it soundtracking a film, from its wistful opening to its dramatic middle and finally reaching its illuminating close.

Opening track Time is as expansive as it is minimal, reaching as far as it can go sonically without ever feeling too distant. This feeling continues throughout the rest of the album, which is layered with subtle yet vivid beats.

Lead single Blood Type, featuring fellow Scot and label mate Eliza Shaddad, almost dupes you into believing it’s a hip-hop track before Shaddad’s dreamy, Parisian-tinged vocal kicks in. Title track Human, featuring Mariam the Believer, is more Eastern-sounding, with its prayer call-esque intro leading into a repetitive, chanting chorus.

While there is obviously a great deal of influence from psychedelia in many of the album’s tracks, there are also more commercial tracks here, particularly on the latter half. Solar and Push would not sound out of place on the radio or in a club and Elephant is a full-blown minimal house banger.

Ending much like it begins, closing track Note to Memory is sparsely decorated with delicate piano chords and strings to take the album’s sonic journey full circle.

Listen to: Solar, Blood Type

https://www.facebook.com/weareturtle/

Noga Erez – Off the Radar review

noga erez

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★★

Album title: Off the Radar
Artist: Noga Erez
Label: City Slang
Release date: 2 Jun

There is a distinct air of chaos on Noga Erez’s debut album Off the Radar, stemming mainly from the experimental, industrial electronic beats. It’s an expansive sound that has drawn comparisons to Björk, M.I.A. and FKA twigs, and for good reason. Working in collaboration with her creative partner Ori Rousso, the pair have created a sonic landscape that stretches across all areas of electronic music. The intensity of the sounds allow the political undertones on the tracks to shine through in an incredibly visceral manner.

Dance While You Shoot challenges the corruption within the Israeli government, and Pity was inspired by the live-streamed gang rape of a woman outside a nightclub in Erez’s hometown of Tel Aviv. The latter sees Erez addressing what it’s like being a woman in a man’s world, using imagery of ‘a skinny cat in a dog’s lap’, over military-style drums and a pounding bassline. There are some downtempo moments though: Worth None is Erez at her most Björk-y, Global Fear merges a trip-hop beat with Erez’s woozy vocals and album closer Junior is a sprawling ambient sonic journey.

Despite being an album filtered with political statements, Off the Radar is by no means a solely political record. Erez personalises her experiences so as not to be preachy and although references are made to political situations, they are never the sole subject matter. For only being her debut, this is an incredibly accomplished record, which carves out a distinct sound that captures and captivates the listener. Noga Erez should really be on your radar.

Listen to: Toy, Global Fear

Pixx – The Age of Anxiety review

pixx

Originally published for The Skinny June 2017 issue.

★★★

Album title: The Age of Anxiety
Artist: Pixx
Label: 4AD
Release date: 2 Jun

Try to imagine for a minute what it would sound like if Nico fronted an 80s synth band; now, stop imagining because that’s exactly what Pixx’s debut album The Age of Anxiety sounds like.

It’s pretty evident that 21-year-old BRIT school graduate Pixx is a big 80s head, blending the gothic post-punk of Siouxsie Sioux with the avant-garde synth-pop of Kate Bush, but she does it all with a modern electro-pop twist.

There are straight-up pop bangers all over The Age of Anxiety, with stand outs including Grip, Romance and Waterslides. Many of these tracks are likely to make listeners nostalgic for 2007-era electro-pop, when artists like Uffie, New Young Pony Club and CSS were certified popstars but also indie icons.

On the other hand, there are also some tracks on the darker end of the spectrum, where drone-y, distorted guitars play a bigger role, particularly on the menacing Toes and the Bauhaus-esque, gothic wonder Your Delight.

There are certainly some great tracks on the album but as a whole, it does seem slightly confused. It can be quite difficult to follow at times, as tracks jump from upbeat electro-pop to lo-fi indie to gloomy gothic rock with no real consistency.

With more thematic clarity and less of a throw in everything and the kitchen sink attitude, The Age of Anxiety could have been a phenomenal debut for Pixx. Despite the high quality of many of the tracks, however, there’s just a bit too much going on for it to all make sense.

Listen to: Romance, Toes, The Girls

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/6CFP5J38IuNjqXhgmzupdh

PWR BTTM – Pageant review

PWR BTTM pageant

Originally published for The Skinny May 2017 issue.

★★★★

Album title: Pageant
Artist: PWR BTTM
Label: Big Scary Monsters / Polyvinyl
Release date: 12 May

Any PWR BTTM fans hoping for more of the same fun, upbeat pop-punk anthems as heard on their debut Ugly Cherries will be surprised by what they hear on Pageant, but fortunately it’s a good surprise.

In a recent interview with The Skinny, PWR BTTM’s Liv Bruce told us, “(Pageant) reflects the difference in who Ben (Hopkins) and I are since we made (Ugly Cherries).” That difference is that they’re a whole lot more grown up and they’ve got the music to prove it.

All the album’s tracks remain under three minutes in true PWR BTTM style, sticking to their punk-rock roots, but there’s more of a sense of self-reflection on Pageant. Where Ugly Cherries felt spontaneous and carefree, Pageant feels more mature and considered.

There are still the thrashing guitar riffs, like on the epic glam-rock opener Silly, and the classically humorous lyrics: “I sweat out seven pounds in water weight / Just asking for your number”, sings Bruce on Answer My Text; but there are more moments of melancholy on Pageant.

Tracks like LOL and Now, Now show a more self-deprecating side to the band, telling tales of identity struggles and battling your inner demons, while Oh, Boy and Wash reminisce about past loves. On the other hand, Sissy and Big Beautiful Day are modern-day queer anthems and two massive fingers up to the haters, showing that the duo are still as feisty as ever.

If Ugly Cherries was PWR BTTM’s fun-loving, footloose and fancy-free effort than Pageant is their moment to be recognised as serious musicians, who have much more to talk about than just wanting a boy to keep the bed warm during numerous different situations. That’s all part of their charm, of course, but second albums are about progression and on Pageant, progress they certainly have.

Listen to: LOL, Sissy

 

K.Flay – Every Where Is Some Where review

k.flay

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★

Album title: Every Where Is Some Where
Artist: K. Flay
Label: Night Street / Interscope Records
Release date: 7 Apr

Just a few seconds into the opening track on K. Flay’s second album Every Where Is Some Where and you’ll know whether you want to continue listening or swiftly turn it off.

Hailing from San Francisco, alt-pop singer K. Flay has been heralded as ‘the next big thing’ by many, but it’s difficult to see why. If there’s anything to be said for the singer, it’s that she has catchy pop choruses down, but her lyrical abilities are seriously lacking.

There are several failed attempts at political commentary on Every Where Is Some Where and a lot of clichéd references to not needing drink or drugs to feel high. To top it off, all of this is sung in a squeaky, baby-voice that makes Lorde sound listenable.

There are some tolerable tracks, however. Black Wave is a noisy, grungy piece of electro-pop reminiscent of early Crystal Castles and It’s Just A Lot is a solid dark-pop tune, with some interesting harmonies and instrumentation. You Felt Right is almost good, with its cutesy dream-pop chorus but is sadly ruined by the poorly attempted rap verses, something which seems to be a recurring theme on the album.

K. Flay is definitely a Marmite artist and her alternative take on electro-pop/rock is likely to appeal to a lot of people, but unfortunately for some it will be quite difficult to stomach.

Listen to: Black Wave, It’s Just A Lot

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

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