The 2 Bears – The Night Is Young

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I absolutely love The 2 Bears, they are one of my favourite names in music today.

The Bears are Joe Goddard, of Hot Chip, and Raf (Raf Daddy) Rundell. It was originally supposed to be The 3 Bears, but Joe Mount (of Metronomy) never joined. The pair met through the party scene while DJing together, which is characteristic of the duo, who essentially seek the perfect party track through their efforts. Rundell started out singing over the top of Goddard’s beats, expecting to be relieved of vocal duties down the line. However his unique voice became one of the defining features of the group, so he stuck at it, a decision I am very fond of. His voice is impossible to ignore, and is a significant factor in making the duo what it is today. The Bears, almost immediately after first entering the studio, received an incredible amount of respect and attention from DJ’s, musicians and Radio Presenters across the board, including the likes of Pete Tong and Annie Mac, right through to Elton John and Paul McCartney. This describes them better than any words can, the fact that their style is so thoroughly encompassing of such a ridiculous range of influences creates such a unique sound, one which people from almost all genres can relate to. It’s house music, but it’s more than that. It goes beyond one simple classification.

It’s been two years since 2012’s Be Strong, and I am more than ready to hear some new material.

Even the very first track on the album displays the quality the duo possesses. Get Out almost sets the scene for the album in general. It opens with the voice of Raf Daddy, the flawless, relaxing, iconic voice. This is over the top of Goddard’s similarly infallible production. All of a sudden, halfway through the track, it changes completely. It’s like a bomb is dropped on it, and the song becomes much harder, turning into the kind of song which would set a club on fire. It’s like a statement, a perfect start to the album.

This is immediately followed by another massive highlight in the form of Angel (Touch Me). It is essentially an incredible piece of music, I can’t fault it. That’s all there is really to say, it’s amazing. In contrast (in terms of genre) we have Money Man which follows immediately after. This is a reggae track, and like many great reggae songs it has a strong political message about corruption and the leaders in our society and how ‘the Money Man wants to break your back’. It goes one step deeper on Stylo G’s verse, with driving bass and lyrics meant to inspire action and revolution. The contrast even within the track, let alone between tracks, is impressive, showing that The Bears can essentially turn their hands to any genre and succeed. It also brings to the fore the heavy Jamaican influence upon both artists’ love of music.

Probably my favourite track on the album comes next, in the form of Not This Time. It is exactly the kind of track someone can simply lose them self to, a song to become completely absorbed in. It has piano, heavy bass guitar and yet more sensational vocals from Raf Daddy. This song in itself can show exactly why I’m such a fan of this group. The theme of the track, one of self empowerment, is very similar to the next track, See You. Not This Time feels like someone breaking out of a relationship in which they are feeling mistreated, breaking out of the cycle, and See You is about not letting someone hold you down, for example with lyrics like ‘if someone tries to slow you down, just say see you.’ Lyricism is a crucial part of The Bears’ sound, something which is perhaps given less attention than it deserves.

For Mary Mary and Run Run Run the album slows down significantly and becomes quite intense and deep, less like a party anthem record. However half way through Run Run Run, in much the same way as the first track on the album, the song completely changes. It becomes almost a tribal-trance style song. It has a very deep feeling and leads me to picture a dark room with flashing lights, and people becoming entirely immersed within the music. I personally prefer the second half of the track to the first.

The anthems return with My Queen. The style is extremely similar, at least in terms of vocals, to Bear Hug. It is yet another track which totally consumes the attention of the listener, and yet another perfect song from this album.

To close out the album, we have the 13 minute title track. It opens with a very cheerful feeling, and a vast, expansive setting. I picture the desert at dusk in this moment, I can’t explain why. It is thoroughly relaxing in this moment and does definitely transport the listener, it is impossible not to become fully invested in the mood of this song. The song stops about halfway through, for a while, then like several other tracks on the album transforms into something quite different. It is still slow and enthralling, with Raf Daddy’s voice becoming almost a lullaby. The production is also quite simplistic, making the track yet more calming. Such a soothing way to finish.

It is essentially track after track of incredible music. At the start of the album every single song is an anthem in its own right. There is so much to say about this album, but at the same time it is impossible really to put into words how good I think it is. This is another genuine classic from two of the most talented people in music.

Jessie Ware – Tough Love

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We first heard Jessie Ware’s name in association with a variety of different dance music producers. She has collaborated with the likes of Joker, SBTRKT, Julio Bashmore and Disclosure, which unsurprisingly threw her right into the pop music arena and she became one of the names associated with the pop-house movement. Then came her sensational debut, Devotion. It peaked at 5 on the UK album chart, was acclaimed across the board and received a nomination for the Mercury Prize album of the year. International tours followed, with support from Laura Mvula in the UK. Now we have a second full length, bearing in mind how relatively short her career has been so far it’s been a busy one. A number of huge names have circulated around the album in relation to production and co-writing, including the likes of Benny Blanco and Two Inch Punch as BenZel, Julio Bashmore, Ed Sheeran, Miguel, and Dev Hynes, showing exactly how much talent is going into the creation of this album. The album was finally released on the 13th of October (2014) in the UK. She has also stated in interviews that this album is not exactly ‘autobiographical’, as she has only just become married, it is more influenced by past relationships.

As the name, Tough Love, suggests the album’s central theme is affection and heartbreak, there are various tracks describing the vast array of different stages of a relationship. For example we have Say You Love Me, an infectiously passionate track, co-written with Ed Sheeran, which draws the listener into the folds of Ware’s incredible voice and her apparent sorrow at the imminent collapse of her relationship. In contrast we have tracks like Champagne Kisses with its electronic production and general feeling, with Jessie’s cheerful voice singing a grand chorus and intoxicating lyrics about the peak of emotion involved in falling in love with someone. In addition to this we have You & I (Forever) which has the kind of stability you would expect of the earlier moments of a relationship. Therefore the variation of different emotions discussed on the album is significant.

The album is essentially stripped bare, in terms of production, in order for the focus to lie almost exclusively on Ware’s voice. She dictates the mood, the message and the power in every single track simply with her voice. For example, on probably my favourite track Kind Of… Sometimes… Maybe the mood is slow and enthralling, leaving me completely relaxed and invested in the track. The very next track on the album, Want Your Feeling, in contrast, is very catchy and poppy, focussing on the high pitched chorus. Further contrast follows, with Pieces, which is an absolutely massive track in stature and presence, and shares very little with the tracks before. The diversity Jessie manages to create, primarily through the use of her voice, is without a doubt one of the most impressive factors about the album.

Keep On Lying is an extremely interesting song. It is produced by Julio Bashmore but is quite different to what you might expect. The track has a distinct ethereal character, it sounds very much like a choir singing a hymn with a down-tempo gospel-like fervour. The track is thoroughly warming and again left me very relaxed. It is a perfect example of how Ware can turn her hand to almost any style of singing and succeed in creating a great piece of music.

The minimalism of the album does a lot to highlight Jessie Ware’s incredible talent. The production is incredible but it is very much stripped down, to the state of a skeleton upon which Ware creates the body through her passion, lyricism and enthralling voice. This is one of the greatest pop music albums I’ve listened to. I definitely recommend listening to it multiple times.

Despite my high opinions of it, I doubt it will break ground like the first album, almost because it’s become what we expect from Ware, whereas the first was a shock. This is because, basically, it was much more soulful and much less dance music orientated that we anticipated based on her collaboration record. She set our expectations very high with that album, and for me she has more than met them with this release. It is a refreshing and honestly impressive album, one which I hope receives the attention it deserves and one which I hope I will revisit in the future.

Gorgon City – Sirens

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Gorgon City is a collaboration between two producers from North London. Foamo and RackNRuin first started producing together in 2012, creating The Crypt EP. This was followed by the Real EP, the main single from which featured the British singer Yasmin, and lead to Intentions, a collaboration between the duo and Clean Bandit. Since then Gorgon City have been regulars in the chart, especially with the release of the monster single Ready For Your Love, featuring MNEK, which pretty much  forced house down the throat of the mainstream and made it to number 4 in the UK singles chart. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gorgon City have a hugely distinctive sound, one of impeccably clean and deep bass, with a featured vocalist singing over the top. Not to suggest they are formulaic in their writing, but every single song on the album features a guest singer, including some impressive names. For example alongside MNEK and Yasmin we have Maverick Sabre, Katy B and Jennifer Hudson to name just a few. I have a burning love for Maverick Sabre, so I am obviously biased towards the songs on which he features, but the Jennifer Hudson track, Go All Night, which was co-written with Kiesza, is a clear highlight for me. Her voice has a real power here, but Gorgon City do more than match it with of that classic thump of bass.

Imagination (co-written with Emilie Sandé) is another huge highlight for me. Katy Menditta is has an incredible voice, and the production is really impressive, it’s the kind of track that is simply a pleasure to listen to, in my opinion. Almost exactly the same can be said for 6AM, except Tish Hyman takes it a step further and raps for a moment, which works incredibly well with the song and frankly I wish she’d do it for longer.

Some of my absolute favourite parts of the album are where they really slow the pace down, namely on the tracks Hard On Me (featuring Maverick Sabre, as mentioned above) and on FTPA which features Erik Hassle.  Maverick Sabre is perfect for the closing track of the album (he’s also on the opening track), really sealing the album and taking it to a very natural close. It is a beautiful way to see out the debut, slowly and genuinely soothingly. FTPA is a little more upbeat but has a very similar feel, if with a little more bass. Erik Hassle is perfect for the track as well, with his voice adding almost tangible emotion to this passion-filled track. These two tracks in themselves prove that there is no formula here, just talent.

This album is an incredibly easy album to listen to, a really pleasant collection of songs which are all individually impressive. I concede that some tracks are a little too similar, sure, but there are also tracks which are genuinely original in their sound, and anyway who doesn’t love that bass-heavy production? This release slides right in next to Disclosure’s debut for me, as another great pop/house music album. ‘EDM’ is definitely not killing the  LP.

Hudson Mohawke – Chimes EP

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Hudson Mohawke is a DJ, Producer and recording artist from Glasgow, Scotland. As an artist he is signed to Warp Records, a label boasting a huge list of past and present artists including Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus and Brian Eno, among plenty of others. However HudMo is also signed to Kanye West’s label GOOD Music (alongside Mos Def, Q-Tip and John Legend to name just three) as a producer, the highlight of which so far has been the album Cruel Summer, on which Mohawke featured regularly as a producer. Probably the project which gained the artist the most recognition, however, was probably under the name of TNGHT. The project also featured Canadian artist Lunice, and produced the track Higher Ground the song which, some would say, introduced the mainstream to trap music. HudMo has been out of the spotlight for a while now, but with Chimes taking this summer by storm, I’m sure his name will be right back where it belongs before too long.

Chimes is essentially an education in anthemic trap. The track is almost a statement of power. The brass instrument-like sound gives the track a presence impossible to achieve with any other instrument, and equally impossible to ignore. If you don’t recognise this track you must have tried very hard to actively avoid it, as it has appeared in almost every DJ set of this summer. It is almost as if HudMo is screaming at us all to look at him, to remind us that he is well and truly back. Chimes opens the EP and is, unsurprisingly the focal point of it.

Brainwave is jittery and high pitched, in fact it does almost sounds like an over-excited human’s thought pattern. However nothing really happens in the song, it’s like it fades in, almost climaxes, then fades out again, leaving me very little to write about it, apart from the fact that it annoys me a little.

King Kong Beaver on the other hand, while retaining a little of the high pitched jitteriness to some extent, is quite different. It is almost as if Brainwave is there only to set it up, like an introduction. It has an almost retro feel to it, a re-energising of a soundtrack to a game you used to play as a kid if you will. The bass has quite a kick, and the pace is fairly slow and collected. There are a few similarities between King Kong Beaver and Brainwave, however both contrast strongly with Chimes, leaving the title track of the EP feeling almost out of place, as if it were part of another project.

The fourth track of the EP (or at least the version I’m listening to) features a Gammer Re-edit of Chimes. From the start of the track it feels like the track will be only drum and bass, however D&B only enters into the song on the second drop, the first is basically a re-hashed trap version of the original. It’s okay, but not a huge amount of fresh material is actually brought to the table, definitely a re-edit as opposed to a remix.

The EP is quite unusual in my opinion. As I said above it almost feels like Chimes is out of place because of similarities between the second and third tracks. This feeling may be as a result of my surprise, however, as I expected the whole EP to feature brass and be basically trap, because of the EP being named after Chimes, and this definitely isn’t the case. In all, the release is good, not great, in my opinion. I do absolutely love the cover of the album though.

SBTRKT – Wonder Where We Land

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One of the greatest attractions to SBTRKT, at least in the earlier stages of his career, was the element of mystery surrounding him. For example, the use of a mask in order to remove the idea of a single person being associated with the project added significantly to this. However the talent of the individual has somewhat surpassed this original idea, in the clamour for people to find out exactly who this self-taught producer is. His name is Aaron Jerome, if you wondering, but his name doesn’t matter nearly as much as the identity of the artist. In his own words: ‘[I’d] rather not talk about myself as a person, and let the music speak for itself. The name SBTRKT is me taking myself away from that whole process.’ With that said, I’ll stop talking about the man and start talking about the music.

This album is definitely much edgier than his debut, self-titled, album. That is the first thing I noticed about it upon listening to it, and upon seeing the cover and preview video for it. The bouncy semi-dubstep element is well and truly gone now, replaced by grit and feedback, by bass guitar and high pitched, almost otherworldly sounds. The black background of the first album cover, with playfully coloured masks has also been dropped for a violent red, an intriguing, iridescent hand and a truly enigmatic black creature, which actually does a huge amount to set the scene for the entire album.

One feature SBTRKT has brought through from his first album is regular collaboration with Sampha, something I am very glad about. The title track for the album, and the second track of the whole thing is probably my favourite of these, however Temporary View is definitely still impressive. The production behind Look Away is probably my favourite on the album. Caroline Polachek has an incredible voice, but I do really crave rap over the top of this beat. For me, someone like Mos Def rapping over this would be almost perfection in a track. As it is, the song has an almost hypnotic quality, in the form of the intense and obscenely catchy chorus. It is a real testament to the quality behind the mask.

However one song which has been overrated, in my opinion, is NEW DORP. NEW YORK. To be fair, I love the use of bass guitar, in the style of funk, and much of SBTRKT’s work on the track in general. The thing which puts me off the track is basically the lyricism. It feels obscure almost for the sake of being obscure and void of any real meaning. Although I don’t really like Ezra Koenig in the first place, so this may be an unfair judgement because of that fact.

The first of the two collaborations which catch my attention most is the use of A$AP Ferg (and Warpaint) on the last track. Ferg is an artist who seems to continually impress me, to an increasing extent too. His recent collaborations have done nothing but show an incredibly versatile artist emerging, almost evolving, from a rap group who, despite being fresh, interesting and incredibly talented, are not exactly groundbreaking. And this follows one of my favourite rap albums of last year. For example My Song 5 by Haim shows Ferg go rock and roll in a very real sense of the phrase. Again here Ferg moves in a very different direction to what we might expect from an artist of his ‘type’, creating a very interesting track to end the album with.

My favourite album from the track, however, is also the second collaboration to catch my eye. Higher features an artist called Raury, an individual making incredibly large waves for an 18 year old. The track is very different from his solo work, begging the question of why he doesn’t make this style of music his ‘speciality’. The flow is absolutely flawless, breathless even. I cannot explain to you how good this track is without you listening to it. The production, the energy, the flow, the lyricism, all of it. Honestly, this track is incredible.

Another favourite track from this album, for very different reasons, is The Light featuring the voice of the spectacular Denai Moore. It’s catchy, interesting and so smooth. I feel like this track could have been a follow up to Wildfire in terms of chart success, but instead NEW DORP. NEW YORK was selected, not that it was an unsuccessful choice at all. The track is comforting, and is one of my favourite overall SBTRKT songs to date.

As I said at the start, the album is definitely much darker, more interesting artistically I suppose. However it does almost feel like boundaries are being pushed for the sake of pushing in some places, and the vibrancy of certain parts of the album does almost feel uncomfortable. Watch the video below, you might feel the same. However in all I do really like this album, and it will definitely be one to enter my album collection for re-visiting again and again. It is a solid second full-length, and an impressive release in general.

Professor Green – Growing Up In Public

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The artist we know as Professor Green fell ‘accidentally’ into rapping, following a party at which a number of his friends were freestyle rapping. He decided to join in, and after discovering his natural talent for this particular form of music, the Professor began entering and winning a ridiculous number of freestyle battles, primarily the competition known as JumpOff. This, unsurprisingly drew the attention of a number of industry types, namely Mike Skinner of The Streets and his label The Beats, a venture which ended prematurely due to the label folding in 2008, leading to Green signing to Virgin two years later. Since then he has been in the public eye, drawing mainstream attention with his debut album Alive Till I’m Dead. The artist seems a magnet for controversy, however it would seem that since the rapper’s marriage to Made In Chelsea’s Millie Mackintosh he has become slightly more grounded. This may be a limiting factor in terms of content for the artist, but on hearing some of his none-album material I doubt this will be the case.

The album hasn’t done much to sooth my fears about him settling into a quieter kind of lifestyle. I Need Church, the opening track of the album, does include some fairly contentious lyricism, however still not on the same level as previous material. Name In Lights is also pretty good for classic Green comedy, but Jordan from Rizzle Kicks’ verse is by far the best part of the track. The main problem is that when Green says certain things, I don’t believe him anymore. For example, in Fast Life when he talks about waking up ‘next to a chick that I don’t know’ I can be fairly sure he isn’t being honest because, firstly the media would have been all over it had he actually slept with another woman since his marriage, and secondly I don’t think he wouldn’t admit cheating on his wife. I know it’s ridiculous to suggest musicians, especially those like Professor Green, are even slightly honest in their content, but a large part of his appeal was due to the fact that he came across as ‘rap’s George Best’, at least for a time, and tracks like Read All About It are so open and honest that it gives the impression that all of his songs are more honest than perhaps they are. Another criticism is that Lullaby feels almost like a copy of Read All About It, his most successful song to date. The worst part of feeling like this is not that he’s almost sticking to a formula, it’s that the topics discussed in these songs is so open and honest that it is almost doing them an injustice by appearing to be cashing in on them. This is not suggest that he is using his father’s suicide and other family issues simply as a way of making money, it’s just how it feels to me. This does nothing to reduce my respect for him for opening up on such topics as depression, both his and his father’s, in such a public way in order to try and help others, but it feels a little like it lacks imagination to a certain extent.

But then there are tracks like I’m Not Your Man. This is the kind of track that completely reassures faith in an artist. I like almost everything about this track. Thabo provides impossibly smooth vocals for the chorus, with real emotion and passion shining through. He is then followed by Felix Joseph taking the centre stage with some really impressive production, as Professor Green reminding me exactly why I started listening to him in the first place. As usual, the lyrics flow like silk, with wit and genuine hilarity, while staying deep and personal. The man has a talent for somehow combining being a comedian and a rapper, while still having the ability to hold the attention of a whole room while he discusses topics of true darkness. The comedy again definitely comes through in the title track of the album, Growing Up In Public. The track even has an immaturity to it, which is actually impressive, and the lyrics are nothing shy of absolutely brilliant.

This album is, unfortunately, my least favourite by this artist. This is not to say it is a bad album, but I think the main problem is that it is simply too close to pop, and was created by a man who is now very successful, having come from a very unpleasant place. He is married, rich and famous. Despite being great in general, this is the death of passion. However there are definitely tracks on this album which are exactly what we’ve grown to love about Professor Green, tracks which almost redeem the album in my mind, but it’s still no At Your Inconvenience. I do think that leaving Hugs And Kisses for the Deluxe version was a mistake, too.

Royal Blood – Royal Blood

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I have been waiting for this album since first hearing Out Of The Black almost a year ago, a track which catapulted the band directly onto the airwaves of almost every radio station with immediate effect. It became impossible to miss the juggernaut of sound that is Royal Blood, with the band drawing the attention of a ridiculous number of music ‘experts’, with the likes of Planet Rock lining right up next to Radio One and Zane Lowe to sing their praises. The level of attention led to the band landing a spot on the BBC Sound Of 2014, and different festival slots across the country and the world, including the likes of Glastonbury, Download, Reading, as well as many others. The band has somehow managed to find a sound that appeals not only to die-hard rock fans but also even the mainstream to a certain extent, crossing many boundaries and drawing fans from right across the musical spectrum. One of my favourite features of the band itself is the fact that two people manage to create so much sound, without losing any melody, with so much depth and significance to it.

This promises to be one of my favourite albums of the year.

The deep, bluesy wall of sound that characterises Royal Blood’s style takes centre stage throughout this album. In fact the album explores a vast variety of different genres, however the style seems to remain constant. Moments like the opening to Figure It Out hark back to the likes of ZZ Top, for example, with the flawless merging of rock and blues into a new genre, whereas Out Of The Black opens the album in a hard, almost punk fashion. The pace of the album also varies to a large extent, with tracks like Blood Hands frequently changing speed, without losing any of the raw power this band seems to specialises in. My personal favourite from the album is the single Little Monster. The track has such a significant thump, starting so early into the track, which almost knocks you out of your seat. That chorus, too, is absolutely anthemic (I’ve got love on my fingers, lust on my tongue…) and is almost impossible to avoid singing. This beast of a track has to be one of my favourite ever rock songs. This is followed by another fantastic track called Loose Change, a song with grit, edge and passion coming together to form a masterpiece, much like the entire album to be blunt. The sheer art involved in Ten Tonne Skeleton makes it another highlight. There is not a single part of the album that I even remotely dislike, and the fact that it is a debut makes it all the more impressive.

There is not much I can say for the album, frankly it speaks for itself. It is rare that a genre which has been as thoroughly explored as rock/blues produces such a refreshing album, and the album is worth buying even just for that reason. It is such a good album, from such a good band, and is something I cannot praise enough. For me, this album will become a classic, something I hope to show future generations to prove that not everything released in our time was like Justin Bieber and One Direction, and that rock music is very much still alive and kicking.