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Album_Miguel

Album Of The Week: Miguel – ‘WildHeart’

Miguel

When Miguel released his breakthrough sophomore record Kaleidoscope Dream in 2012 it took a little while for the momentum to build. It was immediately clear to critics that the album was great but while the mainstream tastes were shifting further to RnB it took a little while for Miguel to be completely accepted. His 2013 Grammys performance of Adorn was a big moment for him in his rise. It announced to everybody who didn’t already know that the world had a supreme male RnB vocalist, the likes of which had not been seen since, perhaps, D’Angelo.

So what does Miguel do now that the genre he rode to fame with has flooded the mainstream to the point where Selena Gomez is even doing it? He takes a left turn. Miguel’s third LP WildHeart is closer to soulful rock n’ roll than it is RnB, as synths are traded for howling guitars and reverb is introduced. You won’t find the smooth sheen of Adorn on this record and maybe that’s the record’s greatest strength – it allows you to discover a different element to Miguel.

That’s not to say WildHeart is a total departure from the RnB genre. It’s still sensual, smooth and at times beat-driven, but from its opener a beautiful exit, it’s immediately clear that it’s a far more organic, rough listen. “We’re going to die young,” he sings a beautiful exit, echoing a long-established rock n’ roll sentiment of freedom. That idea of being free, whether it be sexually or mentally is something that binds each song on the album.

Kaleidoscope Dream was a sexually-charged record and WildHeart is really no different in that sense. “Confess your sins to me while you masturbate,” he sings on The Valley over dirty, grinding synths. It’s the most explicit track on the album and the instrumental suggests that. Similar themes re-emerge on other songs on the album but never to that degree. On Waves he wants to “ride that wave,” as he sings on the funky, playful track. It’s times like these that you actually have to read the lyrics to realise the lyrical content. He’s so damn smooth he sings everything with careful tenderness.

First single Coffee is the most successful bedroom track. It’s an under-the-sheets, lyrical masterclass that oozes intimacy. While Miguel holds nothing back when it comes to singing about sex, it’s done with love, never sounding like a cheap, one-sided romp. The singer has been with his girlfriend for a decade, which probably explains that. “I wish I could paint our love,” he sings, surely melting girls hearts around the world.

Away from the sex, WildHeart paints Miguel as an outsider. Most of the music has this Harley-into-the-sunset toughness about it that’s both freeing and lonely. It’s the howling guitars and grungy production that do it but it’s also his autobiographical lyrics. “Too proper for the black kids, too black for the Mexicans,” he sings on the most introspective track What’s Normal Anyway? It’s a rare, intimate look into the makings of an on-the-surface suave Miguel. “I never feel like I belong,” he adds alongside a sonic-backing that’s happy to be contained.

The next song Hollywood Dreams sees Miguel let loose musically piling on the guitars and booming beats to help the track take flight. From this point on the rock guitars become his greatest weapon. He uses them to expand the soundscape which in turn allows him to let loose vocally. Even Cashmere Cat’s contribution …goingtohell rumbles with distorted instruments – a far cry from Cashy’s flashy remix of Do You…

California is the geographical heart of the album and it’s the best possible place to explore the idea of freedom. Miguel called it a “beautiful and hopeless place” in Rolling Stone and that’s exactly how it’s portrayed here. “Sweet California, bitter California,” he acknowledges on leaves backed by zero percussion, just hopeful and mournful guitars. Miguel surely knows all too well how it feels to be both jaded and inspired by the city.

Album closers leaves and face the sun are the two that really make you feel something for WildHeart. They have these big uplifting melodies that sweep from beneath and elevate the record into the clouds. In terms of imagery it’s as if he’s at the point on the motorcycle where he’s slowly becoming one with the horizon. Face The Sun is his love letter to his girlfriend and it’s the perfect closer in the sense that WildHeart paints an uncertain Miguel at many points but here he’s sure of one thing – “I belong with you.” A simple, perhaps cliché, statement but one that really resonates in a flurry muscular guitars and heart-stomping percussion.

Lyrically intimate yet sonically expansive and stadium-ready – that’s the heart of WildHeart.

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Album Of The Week: Everything Everything – ‘Get To Heaven’

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Oddball alt-rock isn’t exactly an in-demand genre anymore. When British four-piece Everything Everything arrived on the scene with their debut Man Alive in 2010 they were surrounded by plenty of others delivering weird but accessible hipster music – Noah and The Whale, Wild Beasts, Friendly Fires, Klaxons. While Wild Beasts have continued their career-trajectory the others have faded into oblivion.

Given the rate of extinction for alt-rock bands of the late 2000s, Everything Everything, to their credit, sound remarkably relevant. On Get To Heaven they borrow experimental electronica elements of today and blend it in with their brand of alt-rock, which has always sat just slightly out of the box anyhow.

Their 2013 LP Arc was a breakthrough for the band. It pleased critics and also saw them shoot up festival bills as they refined their oddities to deliver singalongs like Cough Cough. Get To Heaven is not an overly different listen but there’s another dimension to it. There’s far more electronic moments and as such, it’s a bassier, more colourful record.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. Distant Past nails the balance and is their most personable record to date – a boisterous lead single. Other times they turn that odd-metre just a little too far like on Spring /Sun / Winter / Dread where frontman Jonathan Higgs manages a Limp Bizkit-esque rap.

Get To Heaven may be aesthetically colourful but its subject matter isn’t. It’s a record that explores people’s many beliefs and the violent state of the world. Speaking to NME frontman Higgs reflected on a violent 2014, in particular on US teen Elliot Rodger who killed six people in California. He explained why they named the LP Get To Heaven saying, “You go through all this horror, and as this ‘fuck you’ to the perpetrators, why not give it a really nice title? I wanted to try and rise above it and defeat that horrible shit with hope.”

As such, there’s two key emotions to the album – anger and hope. On Get To Heaven, Higgs sings “As the tanks roll by / Under a blood black sky / I’m thinking “where in the blazes did I park my car”,” with a kind of sarcastic frustration. On Zero Pharaoh the anger turns to violence (“Why don’t you smash him all up / Give me the gun…”). We’re relieved of that pent up emotion on the last track Warm Healer where he sings, “Just take a look outside the walls / And try to tell me something that’s good man.”

The latter ends with a beautifully uplifting synth of sweeps that bring the album to a mighty finish. If you’re going to present such weighty ideas, it’s always a relief to feel the light flickering through the clouds at the end.

In terms of the instrumentals, they’re not half as dark. Spring / Summer / Winter / Dread is pushed along by a tropical guitar-line and a killer hook. Blast Doors also has a playful guitar-line that recalls the early youthfulness of Blast Doors. In saying that, there are also songs like Fortune 500, which sound as if they were tailored for the Game Of Thrones soundtrack complete with dense, war-like horns.

While there’s plenty of fun to be had on Get To Heaven, it’s the sprawling moments of beauty that really stand out. The opener To The Blade is rooted by a gentle synth that elevates the melody and gives it a morning glow of sorts. The minimalistic moments on the album are the one’s where their songwriting is magnified and Higgs’ voice is showcased in the best light. Album highlight No Reptiles is an example of this. Built upon bubbling bass, Higgs’ wanders through with his soft falsetto, singing lines like “Just give me this one night, just one night to feel like I might be on the right path.” As the flickering synth comes in at the end, it feels both personal and triumphant without overwhelming with rock n’ roll guitars.

For an albums that deals with so many dark notions Get To Heaven is actually a thoroughly enjoyable listen. There are moments that really grab at the heart and there’s also songs that will cater will to sweaty, dance-ready festival crowds. There aren’t enough songs that stand on their own as well as some of Arc’s standouts did, but it’s an album that adds to the band’s capabilities without straying too far from their trademark sound.

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Album Of The Week: Hudson Mohawke – Lantern

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Scotland’s Hudson Mohawke has finally delivered Lantern, a euphoric, anthemic spectacle, where the highs are high, and the lows, though few and far between, are low.

In the six years since his debut album, Hudson Mohawke has gone from a smelly unwashed tramp making music in his parent’s basement to being a member of the genre defining TNGHT, a producer for Kanye West’s label, and a highly regarded member of the electronic music scene.

The material on Lantern is diverse as his career, with some tracks being sample based, some featuring vocalists, and some reminiscent of his earlier solo work, and some of his more rap oriented work with Lunice.

The brooding title track builds slowly into the accessible first single Very First Breath. Ryderz, a standout, follows, and is built around an old soul sample that eventually explodes into a frenzy of 808s and the sugary synths. ‘Scud Books’ features similar synths combined with massive horns.  We’re eased into Scud Books with prelude, Kettels, a surprisingly delicate composition that wouldn’t be out of place scoring a ballet.

Some of the tracks with vocals work really well, namely Indian Steps with Antony, and Deepspace with Miguel, because they feel like collaborations, rather than the singer just going in over a beat. Warriors, however, is a misstep with some cringeworthy lyrics.  The Jhene Aiko starring Resistence has moments of brilliance but overall, it is crippled under the burden of high expectations.  Wedged between these is Shadows, which is reminiscent some of the seizure-like tracks on Hudmo’s Satin Panthers EP, and Lil Djembe, which would have slotted in nicely on a TNGHT release.

The album finishes strongly with three huge, largely instrumental songs. Portrait of Luci is the closest thing on the album to Fuse from his debut, and System is, put simply, a rave banger.  He closes the album with Brand New World, a stadium rock ape-ing track with muted guitars, twinkling keys and chipmunked refrains.

Lantern is a tight, highly polished record of big beats and shimmering synths with more exciting moments than most.  While the commercial sheen of some tracks may alienate some of his original fans, Hudson Mohawke still retains his eclectic spark on ‘Lantern’, whilst being accessible to new fans.

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Album Of The Week: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – ‘Surf’

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On paper, The Social Experiment‘s Surf is one big wank-fest with a bunch of high-profile guests coming together for a somewhat challenging jazz-hip-hop fusion record, but in practice its intentions are pure and its output is joyous, thoughtful and finessed.

It’s an understatement to say that this whole The Social Experiment project has been a little confusing. While everybody was waiting for Chance The Rapper to capitalise on his hype with a huge solo record, he decided rather to take the back seat and hand the spotlight to trumpet player Donnie Trumpet and include himself within The Social Experiment group. Then, Chance said the album would drop in a week – that was almost a month ago. And now, it’s finally dropped on iTunes as a free release.

The tactic of releasing it for free on iTunes feels far removed from U2’s strategy. Surf has not been forced upon anybody, but it probably should be because it’s one of the year’s most effortlessly positive, feel-good records. The music is obviously the main reason for that but it’s the communal, unpretentious vibe of it that makes it so easy to sink into and enjoy.

Surf features credits of almost 100 musicians from Eryka Badu to Jeremih, from B.O.B. to Big Sean but never does it feel like their names have been used to further the project’s commercial appeal. iTunes lists none of the guests on the site’s tracklist and even when they do appear, it’s not immediately recognisable. Janelle Monáe’s feature consists of a few vocal coos that add to the track but don’t make her the star. If there is a star of this record it’s Donnie Trumpet, but for the most it’s a team effort.

It’s important to note this before talking about the music because the communal efforts of The Social Experiment’s friends and heroes is a huge part of the record’s disposition. Nearly every song on the record sounds like it’s been recorded in a room full of like-minded people. On Slip Slide, Busta Rhymes’ flow is the most natural it’s been in a long time as he reels off a jovial verse over howling trumpets. Beyoncé’s new favourite rapper, D.R.A.M. appears on Caretaker but instead of using his big break to play the frontman, he lulls into a hazy melody.

Chance The Rapper plays narrator for most of the record, delivering verses that are part-narration, part-rap, part-poetry. He helps make the juxtaposition between jazz and hip-hop seamless as he retains his Chicago flow but also adopts a jazz-fused delicateness. He goes from being the main event to a subtle contributor. He delivers a stunning, train-of-thought verse on Rememory, so great that the instruments need not contribute to the melody as Chance directs it without assistance. In stark contrast, on Windows he simply scats in the background.

He does a great job of being a prevalent voice without taking over as the main event. “I don’t wanna be cool, I just wanna be me,” he sing-raps on Wanna Be Cool – a feel-good rebellion track complete with ‘80s drums. It’s the truest lyric of the record. Surf is not a trendy record. It may feature on-trend rapper like Quavos, BJ the Chicago Kid, Kid Louie but they’re not there rapping over Hit-Boy or Mike Will Made It beats, headed straight to urban radio, they’re rapping over sparse, delicate instrumentals that are at times bare-boned.

That’s not to say the record is a lone-wolf among the spectrum of releases this year. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was full of jazz infusions and saxophonist Kasami Washington’s The Epic has people of all musical tastes salivating. Surf, perhaps, sits in between those two records.

It would be remiss to review the record and not mention the brass-work. Donnie Trumpet, known to his mother as Nico Segal, does an expert job over the whole LP of creating an atmosphere where the trumpet is the climax. It’s the thread that ties together all the genre-skipping. On Go it’s sexy over a Nile Rodgers-esque instrumental and on Sunday Candy it orchestrates the marching band feel. The trumpet’s voice is as memorable as Chance’s and is the thing that continuously brings a big fat smile to the listener.

You could pull apart the intricacies of this record for days. You could go deep into how the trumpet on Windows literally sounds like wind rustling in a curtain or how Quavo of Migos fame’s verse is the most hip-hop moment on the record and yet it still manages to pull him out of his comfort zone while feeling comfortable, but the small brush strokes don’t seem to matter when the big picture is so great.

Surf is a record made with friends who also brought their friends. Everyone on this record, from The Social Experiment to the guests, have put their best foot forward and still managed to blend into one tightly-bound collection.

The album has its standouts. Miracle is a poetic opener and Windows is sparse beauty but there’s no emotional benefit in picking and dropping singular tracks. The giddy feeling that comes of moving from a howling trumpet into the unapologetic joy of Sunday Candy at the end of the album just doesn’t happen if you haven’t already sat through 14 tracks.

Whether or not more hip-hop will follow in the direction of Surf is yet to be seen but regardless it’s an important record it shows how effective selflessness can be in music.

On Wanna Be Cool, Californian artist drops the line, “So why don’t you just be the you that you know you are/You know, when nobody else is there?’ And that captures the very essence of what’s happening on Surf. 

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Album Review: Oisima – Nicaragua Nights

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After dropping an EP and a few mixtapes, Oismia, a South Australian MPC mastermind with a blues/ folk background, has finally released his full length debut. Occupying the middle ground between Pete Rock’s soulful hip hop and Andres’ jazzy house, Oismia is a breath of fresh air in an Australian beat scene dominated by quantised 808 hihats and too familiar synths.

Nicaragua Nights is his debut LP, and it delivers from start to finish. Informed by repeat listenings of Bonobo’s North Borders, and artists like Lapalux and guys on Brainfeeder, Oisima skilfully manages a delicate mix of instrumental tracks and those with added vocalists to create a work which will appeal to fans of the beats scene and also to a casual listener.

His newfound approach to songwriting, as opposed to mere beat-making, shines through on Sun of Truth featuring the soulful vocals of Mei Sariswati, and on one of his earlier tracks Everything About Her featuring Anabel Weston. Anabel Weston also features on Makes me Feel Alright, a track which uses space to great effect, emphasising the atmospherics and the lofty beat. The real delights of the album come from the instrumental tracks like Grovers Lament, Summertime Shuffle and MmmHmm which showcase a lush, jazzy side, all featuring Oismia’s unique push pull.

The majority of the album features live recordings, as opposed to just samples, and this helps set this album apart from its peers’. The final track of the album Take Your Time, is a fitting closer, bringing everything to a climax in a wash of instrumentation, which features contributions from a twenty of his friends, collaborators and some Swedish backpackers.

In recent years Australian electronic music has been labelled as the ‘Australian Sound’, due to the rise of Future Classic artists such as Flume. Oisima and artists like Hiatus Kaiyote, and Jordan Rakei (and maybe Chet Faker), are putting forward a good case that a new, more soulful, phase of that sound has dawned.

Oisima’s Nicaragua Nights is out now

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Album Of The Week: Hermitude – Dark Night Sweet Light

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Hermitude have been there and done that, and that may be the biggest understatement of the year. Luke Dubber and Angus Stuart are one of the longest performing electronic duos in Australian music, originally forming Hermitude in the year 2000. Starting out with primarily hip-hop style beats, Hermitude’s sound has developed to incorporate a huge range of styles of music. It’s incredible to think that they’ve been making electronic music for well over a decade, and their latest LP Dark Night Sweet Light more than affirms their legendary status among Aussie producers.

Their fifth studio album and the long awaited follow up to their hugely successful HyperParadise came out late last week, and in Dark Night Sweet Light the boys deliver their most mature record yet. The crucial aspects that make this latest LP what it is are essentially twofold. Firstly it’s a hugely satisfying listening experience and the tracklist fits together in an incredibly listenable way to be listened in order one after another. As well as this, the diversity of samples, collaborators, and different manner in which various songs are paced on this album shows off Hermitude’s diversity and talent in its most pure form. Its big singles also have obvious potential to carry the record to success themselves.

One of the most important aspects of any LP lies in its potential to be listened to as a whole work of art. Dark Night Sweet Light ebbs and flows in a storylike way with up-tempo dance tracks placed throughout as well as several more chilled articles. It kicks off with the fast-paced and heavily synthesized Hijinx, and this is followed by the banging single featuring Young Tapz called Through The Roof. The direction of the album is then slowed down significantly through much more relaxed singles like the rumbling snare-dominated track Bermuda Bay and the mesmerising lyrics of Chloe Kaul on the spacious Crazy Love.

The intensity is once again lifted through the back end of the LP, with the absolute climax being undoubtedly presented through the already hugely popular single The Buzz which has one of the most captivating drops going around at the moment, and followed up by some heavy tropical vibes on Metropolis. Dark Night Sweet Light concludes with the piano-heavy Searchlight Reprise which is definitely a satisfying conclusion.

It’s also the diversity of samples that Hermitude make the most of that have made them successful of the years. There are numerous and very distinctive synthetic sounds that are used in most tracks on this album in varying ways, but the boys are also masters of incorporating samples from outside the box and using them in ways that you generally wouldn’t expect.

One example of this is the fantastically tasteful use of brass in Through The Roof where trumpet and trombone samples are used in the build-up to the drop. In Hazy Love feat. Chloe Kaul they make use of audio-crackling, the type that you might have found occurring naturally on vinyl records. Searchlight Reprise feat. Yeo makes masterful use of a melody build around a piano melody, and Shift is based around a mandolin-sounding riff that is used almost throughout the whole track.

Aside from the already released Through The Roof and The Buzz, the other huge single on the album is called Searchlight and features the gorgeous vocals of Yeo. Like the other two aforementioned singles, Searchlight is built around Hermitude’s classic Trap style percussion and buzzing basslines. But although these three singles will carry Dark Night Sweet Light into the charts, to fail to appreciate the rest of the album would be ab absolute travesty. It is truly a complete work of musical art, brought to you by two guys who have done it all, and who will surely continue to captivate audiences for years.

Hermitude_outof10

Hermitude Tour Dates:

Friday, 12th June 2015
Metropolis, Fremantle
Tickets

Thursday, 18th June 2015
HQ, Adelaide
Tickets

Friday, 19th June 2015
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets

Friday, 26th June 2015
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Tickets

Saturday, 27th June 2015
The Met, Brisbane
Tickets

Hiatus_Kayote

Album Review: Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon

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THIS ALBUM IS A THING OF BEAUTY AND YOU SHOULD ALL LISTEN TO IT.

Hiatus Kaiyote is one of those prolific Australian bands that have quickly become a genre-defining piece of the national and international musical landscape. After their debut self-produced album Tawk Tomahawk gained them worldwide recognition, the outfit have gone on to play sold out shows around the world, be nominated for a Grammy, as well as getting a personal thumbs ups from high profile musicians like Erykah Badu Prince, Pharrell Williams and Questlove.

Now Hiatus Kaiyote’s world-class future-soul sound (to find some sort of genre to box this into) is explored further with this new offering. Choose Your Weapon is a wonderfully atmospheric and vibrant collection of songs – and is one of those albums you can sit in the dark with headphones on, and simply just listen to. In saying that, there is a definite overindulgence of material and ideas, with a tendency to sounding quite messy at times. Some further structural edits would not have gone astray, but ultimately, nothing is taken away by it being “too much”, and the result is still a magical cacophony of sounds from the four-piece.

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Saturated with deliciously electronic, acoustic, futuristic, and psychedelic elements, no one mood is evident, going from the soothing, soulful sounds of Fingerprint and almost lethargic Prince Minikid, to the grungy chaos of Swamp Thing and sporadic urgency which eventuates in Atari. Chaotic and complex song structures constantly tryst with Nai Palm’s warm vocal tone, in songs such as Shaolin Monk Motherfunk where lullaby like vocals are driven by a strong hip hop beat, moving between smooth and choppy, and ending in a smorgasbord of mechanical crunch and synths.

This album isn’t one of those one-off listens – it’s a collection of highly evolved songwriting and music that refuses to just be mindlessly consumed. Ongoing themes of consciousness and nature are what hold it all together, the intricacy of every song even extending to the music embodying the quality of the element being spoken about, such as the illusion of bubbles and ripples created in Breathing Underwater.

The dynamic nature of the band and its various personalities is evident in the rich tapestry of sounds which communicate a collaborative project where everything works together to create this vibrant landscape of sound. Laputa is a great example of this – an ethereal foray into a trance-like world of synths, rhythms made up of clicks and clacks, spoken word and soaring vocals.

Overall, Choose Your Weapon is a wonderfully disjointed and chaotic album with lovely moments of peace, introspective thought and warmth.

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