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

Priests @ The Hug & Pint, Glasgow, 22 May

priests

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★★

Don’t be fooled by frontwoman Katie Alice Greer’s cutesy pastel pink raincoat, her freshly manicured nails or her bleach blonde pleats because as soon as Priests’ first song starts, you’ll quickly realise that looks can be very deceiving. There could not have been a more perfect venue than the dark basement of Glasgow’s Hug & Pint for tonight’s gig. This is the kind of punk rock show most people can only dream of and Priests are the perfect band to be at the centre of it.

Playing tracks from their new album Nothing Feels Natural, as well as some “deep cuts”, as Greer refers to them, her voice takes a serious beating throughout the show, as does drummer Daniele Daniele’s drum kit. The band seem to be fond of upping the pace and the noise for their live performances. Staring menacingly at the crowd Greer leans into them, stretching her hands out as though attempting to grab them, she really does have everyone in the room eating out of the palm of her hand; and they’re close enough to manage to.

Punk rock lesson number one: play your instruments so hard that your band are forced to do some DIY work mid-show to keep them in place. Punk rock lesson number two: impersonate and misquote American presidents to the mass confusion of the audience. Punk rock lesson number three: play every song like it’s the last one you’ll ever play. Priests are punk rock, deal with it.

 

The Japanese House @ The Liquid Room, Edinburgh, 10 May

the japanese house

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★

Amber Bain, aka The Japanese House, takes to the stage at Edinburgh’s Liquid Room looking like the fourth member of Hanson, with her denim on denim attire and wispy blonde hair covering her face, announcing that she’s ill but will “try not to cough.”

Luckily Bain’s vocoder masks any sign of illness in her vocal, as she plays through songs from her three EPs with almost no interruption. In fact, the only between-song chat we get from Bain is to introduce the next song. What Bain lacks in charisma, however, she makes up for in songwriting ability: particular highlights include Teeth, Saw You in a Dream and Clean. The performance of the latter is sadly ruined though by the distracting and unnecessary strobe lights, but the band seem to think it’s cool and headbang along to the track’s clichéd dubstep-esque break.

The difficulty with Bain’s music is that, at its core, it is bedroom music. It’s minimal, ambient and best listened to alone with headphones in; live, it just doesn’t quite have the same effect. But this doesn’t stop her droves of teenage fans, many of whom will be aware of her music from the 13 Reasons Why soundtrack and from her ties with The 1975, gazing up at her admiringly and singing along to every word.

There is something undoubtedly captivating about The Japanese House but if Bain intends to move on to playing headline shows in bigger venues then she’s going to have to come up with something more exciting than a few strobe lights.

Albums of 2016 (#4): Anderson .Paak – Malibu

anderson-paak

Originally published for The Skinny December 2016 issue.

Malibu well and truly plunged Anderson .Paak into the consciousness of the music industry and music fans all over the world. He’s been riding that wave ever since

‘Smoother than a motherfucker,’ sings Anderson .Paak on Suede, released in 2015 under the guise NxWorries – a collaborative project with hip-hop producer Knxwledge. He’s describing a car, but he may as well be describing himself. .Paak’s music, just like his persona, is inherently smooth: an eclectic fusion of funk, jazz, soul, hip-hop, R’n’B, trap, disco and psychedelia that sounds like the past and the future combined.

Suede was a turning point for .Paak (formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy). The track grabbed the attention of Dr. Dre and .Paak’s six-track contribution to Dre’s 2015 comeback album Compton brought him in to the public sphere, as well as allowing him the opportunity to meet and work with a range of producers and artists who would go on to help form the sound of his second album Malibu.

Released back in January, Malibu is a powerfully honest insight into .Paak’s journey through life so far, and that journey has been anything but easy. By the time he was 17, .Paak’s father, mother and step-father had all been sent to prison and he had witnessed his family being torn apart by drug addiction, gambling addiction and domestic violence. On the album’s opening track The Bird, he wastes no time in getting down to the gritty details, singing about his turbulent upbringing and family issues: ‘My sister used to sing to Whitney / My mama caught the gambling bug / We came up in a lonely castle / My papa was behind them bars.’

On the album’s lead single The Season / Carry Me, he continues to delve into his past, again alluding to his upbringing but also discussing his own money problems. Struggling to succeed with his music, .Paak spent a period of time homeless before he got a job on a marijuana farm in Santa Barbara: ‘I was sleeping on the floor, new born baby boy / Tryna get my money pot so wifey wouldn’t get deported / Cursing the heavens, falling out of orbit.’ The track stands out as the most personal on the album, with Paak addressing how his personal struggles left him conflicted with his faith, as he forced himself to stay motivated.

Malibu is just as much a confessional tale as it is a masterclass in musicianship. Along with his band The Free Nationals, .Paak has developed a signature sound that is as equally intimate as it is commercial. The flow of tracks is brilliantly crafted, encapsulating all of .Paak’s influences, from the disco-infused Put Me Thru, and Am I Wrong, to the intimate R&B slow jams Lite Weight and Room in Here to the funk/rap tinged Your Prime and Come Down.

The album credits read like a who’s who of hip-hop, with production from 9th Wonder, Kaytranada and Madlib and appearances from ScHoolboy Q, The Game and Talib Kweli highlighting just how wide .Paak’s circle of friends has grown. .Paak has returned the favour to many of his collaborators and continued to expand his circle throughout the year, jumping on tracks with ScHoolboy, Kaytranada, Mac Miller and Odd Future’s Domo Genesis.  And to top it all off he didn’t let the year end without finally dropping the NxWorries album that fans have eagerly been waiting for. If 2016 has been anyone’s year, it’s been Anderson .Paak’s.

Review: Sameena Zehra – Homicidal Pacifist

sameena zehra

Originally published for The Skinny.

Describing herself as a pacifist trying to suppress her homicidal side, Sameena Zehra returns to the Fringe this year with a show based around her desire to cull most of the human race. She suggests that we come up with a questionnaire that everyone must take to decide who should be culled or not. She encourages us to share our opinions on who should have to take the test, with contributions including UKIP, journalists and people who stop in the middle of the street.

There is a very clear political slant in much of Zehra’s comedy, as she discusses the state of world politics and tries to convince a member of the audience to change her view on Scottish independence. There are times where you feel like you are just watching a woman rant about everything she hates in the world, but Zehra’s articulation of her undying hatred of all these things is incredibly funny and you often find yourself relating to every word she is saying. Zehra is undoubtedly an incredibly intelligent woman and is able to voice her opinions on modern society in a very interesting and funny way.

Towards the end of the show, Zehra announces that half of the money made from each ticket will be donated to MAP – Military Aid for Palestinians – and flyers telling you a bit more about the organisation are laid out for you to pick up as you leave. This is a very thought-provoking, intellectual hour of comedy.