De La Soul & J Dilla – Smell The Da.I.S.Y

De La Soul & J Dilla - Smell The Da.I.S.Y

I’ll start by talking about De La Soul. These three individuals are essentially hip hop royalty, following their debut album, 3 Feet High And Rising, which was recognised as a masterpiece almost immediately, due to the iconic and groundbreaking style of the group. Since then the group have gone on to achieve a lot together, appearing all over the place, such as Feel Good Inc. By the Gorillaz, as well as Superfast Jellyfish on their latest album, and a remix of Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip’s Thou Shalt Always Kill. The group have influenced countless artists in their time, including the likes of The Black Eyed Peas and Mos Def. They are truly one of the most iconic groups of our time.

Then there’s J Dilla. He was one of the greatest and most influential hip hop artists to ever grace the scene. His legacy is difficult to avoid, with even the likes of Disclosure citing him as one of their very biggest influences when starting to create their own music. Unfortunately, in 2006, he died of a blood disease aged 32, and therefore this mixtape is a tribute to the artist. It is formed of De La Soul rapping over J Dilla’s production, tracks he formed before his premature death. The result is simply breathtaking.

I honestly fail to see how this could be much better. The tape manages to find the perfect balance between two of the biggest names in music, to be blunt. The mixtape finds the perfect equilibrium point between the two, and the result is staggering. It was always going to be fantastic but, in my opinion, this is a classic, a real tribute to J Dilla.

Let The King Ascend opens slowly. It tells the listener exactly what is to come, with incredible production and the iconic voices of De La Soul, flowing flawlessly into Who, which also features the Wu Tang legend Redman. The bass is strong, with the De La flow adding the flavour of the track. You really need very good headphones for this track, as the subtlety could be very easily missed. Dilla Plugged In is a bit lighter in mood, a little happier. The feeling here is much more relaxed, and the flow is once again impeccable. Classic De La Soul. Goes With The Word has the most perfect hip hop beat, which soulful and almost mystical undercurrents flowing throughout. It is the kind of track you can afford to simply lose yourself in. The bass at the start of Vocabulary Spills really grabs the attention of the listener. J Dilla really goes all out on this track, matching the sheer talent of each individual member of De La Soul. Honestly, compare something like this to the kind of things released by the rap groups of today, like Travis Porter. I know which I prefer. Again bass has the first word in The Pitch. The beat is a little slower here, another song to simply disappear into, this mixtape forms a world of its own. Taking The Train is simply another track which tells us exactly why the artists involved in this project are outliers in their field. The beat does actually resemble the movements of a train. Leave Your Cares Behind is, as the name suggest, very careless and light. It is the kind of song which demands a music video featuring lots of people enjoying themselves on a beach or at a festival, with lots of sun, in a place far nicer than England. O’ Shut Up features a nod back to Oodles Of O’s, much as Who features many nods back to Ooh. Once again, the track is essentially flawless. No More No Less has a far more experimental production. The result is that the track is far more trippy and unusual, which is no bad thing. The final track, Marvin Jaye, features the incredible voice of the man himself, Marvin Gaye. The drum beat is a loud and noisy, which separates the track from the usual sex-orientated tracks which involve essentially very slow and slimy production, in the likes of Usher, giving the track a greater character, in my opinion. (Don’t get me wrong, some sex-songs are great, but most aren’t). The track is a solid conclusion to a very nearly perfect mixtape.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Put simply, this is one of the finest films I have seen for an extremely long time.

The story is told in a book, about a conversation, about the life and times of Zero Moustafa, and, more specifically, how exactly he came to own the Grand Budapest hotel.

This film has a grandeur and, put bluntly, an obscurity, lost in modern film-making. The colours, plot and sheer acting ability of all involved help this film to become a sheer work of art. Ralph Fiennes is simply amazing as Monsieur Gustave H., the legendary concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Surrounding him is one of the most fantastic casts ever to grace a film, jam packed with some of the biggest names in cinema, including Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson, and so the list goes on. However I would certainly argue that Mr. Fiennes out-performs every single one of them. Adrien Brody features as the main villain in the film, another outstanding actor, who gives offers the perfect depiction of a melodramatic anti-hero, cast all in black and so on. The film also introduces Tony Revolori, born the same year as myself (1996) who seems to fit the role perfectly, especially as the film is so quirky.

The plot is hilarious, of course, the kind of artistic comedy which does not rely on cheap one liners and never has a moment the viewer may even begin to anticipate. This brand of comedy appears to me to have been lost in the years gone by, however this film incorporates moments of subtle slapstick alongside yet more subtle farce, while retaining class and avoiding being overtly, or even openly, either of the above genres. Even this helps to add to the sheer complexity, and class, this film possesses.

The cinematics are iconic, with extravagant colouring, yet simply (even at on point paper cut out) special effects. The film is not afraid to break the mould, be sure of that. These factors are simply imperative in the success of the film, creating an alternative world to which the viewer can escape. What further adds to this is that the setting is pre-Second World War Eastern Europe, an area more readily associated with grey than bright pink.

In all, this film is, in my opinion, a huge success, a classic. A film which manages to retain class and hilarity, while consistently flirting with pure absurdity is one which deserves the attention of any, especially when the product is the Grand Budapest Hotel. A fantastic film, in every respect. Wes Anderson has managed to incorporate every factor of his writing, producing and directing ability, as well as an endless stream of contacts, to tie together a true masterpiece.

The Skints – Short Change EP

The Skints - Short Change EP

The Skints are essentially an incredible London-based new-school ska/reggae band with a sound which plays on the very best of the talent each individual artist possesses. For example, the only musician in the band not providing vocals is the bassist Jon Doyle, and Marcia Richards appears to be able to turn her hand to just about any instrument she wants, as well as possessing a truly beautiful voice. Having released two previous albums (Part & Parcel and Live, Breathe, Build, Believe) in 2009 and 2010 respectively, the band have toured with the likes of You Me @ 6, Gym Class Heroes, The King Blues and Less Than Jake. They are a very impressive band, who definitely deserve your attention.

This EP, despite being far too short, is a refreshing update of the band, one which has been long awaited in my opinion. A return of The Skints, ladies and gentlemen, at least for the moment.

The title of The Cost Of Living Is Killing Me even screams politics. The soulful reggae beat and bass, accompanied with Marcia Richards’ voice of pure and honest beauty, with the additional factor of a political message, the kind of message being shouted about by Miliband, all come together to form essentially a very nice ska/reggae track. The only criticism I do have is that Josh Rudge is trying too hard to be a rapper, but this can be overlooked. Break Me Down is another beautiful track, with clean, sun filled, vocals and beat. This brand of reggae is being mastered by The Skints on this EP, covering all bases. Broken Hearted is based more heavily in deeper bass-sounds, at least initially. Once again Marcia’s voice takes the spotlight here. The subtle use of guitar adds levels to the track, incorporating an immeasurable number of different individual sounds. Despite the sound being a little deeper and darker, it does not lose the cleanliness. The final track on this incredibly short EP is the dub version of the opening track. This helps to pick apart the individual sounds used, all of which are used perfectly to flow together and create a solid track, essentially.

Itch – The Deep End

Itch - The Deep End

Jonny ‘Itch’ Fox started his music career with The King Blues, as a two-man ska/punk/folk band with Jamie Jazz. In Hang The Landlord, by the band, Itch describes his time living in a squat as a teenager. However the band split in 2012, as they felt they could not take the project any further and wished not to ‘go through the motions’. As a band, the group achieved a huge amount, including 5 releases and breaking a record, of most musical performances in 24 hours, at 7. One of my favourite things they did as a band, however, was to stage a gig, and instead of tickets to enter, fans needed only to buy a Big Issue magazine. As a solo artist, Itch has proceeded, releasing a number of solo EP’s and singles, however this is his first full length album, something with which he will seek to gain recognition as an independent artist.

The album simply feels like it lacks a home, a direction and a past. The artist fails to really display his genuine ability here, with the end result feeling like the product of those around him. It feels so formulaic, sticking almost exactly to the pop format, with meat either side of a very catchy chorus, preferably provided by a guest vocalist. I am disappointed, given Itch’s musical past, but I hope he moves forward from here, building on it.

The album opens with piano, then the iconic vocals of Itch Fox, over the sound of a tension building guitar. The chorus allows brief relief from the tension, with huge bass into the anthemic voice John Feldmann. The album has started. Itch seems, on this track, cautious not to lose both the serious nature of The King Blues, but desiring to move in a very different direction, something I expect to evolve throughout the album. In Sun Goes down the production is a world away from where we may expect to find Itch’s voice, with dark electronic production, more frequently found in an old school dubstep rave, I mean good dubstep by the way. Once again the mood is shattered by the chorus vocals, which I feel takes away from the fairly deep nature of the rest of the track. Homeless Romantic is a shout back to the artist’s past, when he was himself homeless. The story is very impressive, and the nature of the track echoes the style of The King Blues. Adam Lazzara’s (Taking Back Sunday frontman) vocal again makes the song more pop-heavy, with a more rock based undercurrent through fairly heavy guitar. Laugh is a sunny-pop track, with a repetitive set of cheerful chords and whistling. Matisyahu’s input, into the chorus, again, makes the track feel closer to Bruno Mars and Travis McCoy than the very serious looking man I know Itch to be. It is the kind of track which is difficult to dislike, despite how weak it is. Like I’m Drugs is where he begins to open up in terms of his vocal talent. The production is an angry, almost trance like, beat, accompanied with the kind of wobble found in (sorry) very poor dubstep. The lyrics in the chorus are again weak (‘take me, like I’m drugs’). Itch is the saviour of the track, his rapping talent emerges, something he has failed to really show off so far on the album. Another Man feels like an Eliza Doolittle track, it comes across as more Megan Joy’s than Itch’s, unfortunately. Bottom Of A Glass has impressive lyricism from Itch, as always, and a weak chorus which takes away layers from the track, as always. The use of a fiddle is more interesting here, though. Not My Revolution features the bass heavy production, but the mood is much slower and deeper. The message is, again, valid and he makes solid political statements throughout the track, however I wish he would stop throwing in needless choruses. The opening to The Deep End promises a more interesting track. Again the bass is heavy, but slower. The chorus is not from a guest vocalist, finally, simple and features gritty guitar work. Towards the end of the track the production of the track even touches on the likes of M.I.A., very definitely an album highlight. Even when the chorus does come in Children Of The Revolution, it suits the track. It is more toned down, and is provided by Itch himself. Overall the album seems to improve in the closing moments of the album. Best Shot has very good production, unfortunately the chorus feels forced again, but the rest of the track is very solid, with decent production and angry lyrics and vocals from Itch. Ricochet opens as one of the very best tracks on the album, with solid raps from Itch and a reggae beat, but the chorus is disgustingly cheesy and sweet. This is then followed by some of the ultra aggressive dubstep which came to characterise the dying days of the genre. Excluding these two, fairly major, parts of the track, it is decent.

Skrillex – Recess

Skrillex - Recess

Forever humble, the hype around Skrillex’s new album prior to its release was negligible, with him ‘pulling a Beyoncé’ and dropping an album out of the blue. He dropped the album through an app, called Alien Ride, which he released himself. I’m all for trying new things, but there are surely some marketing issues associated with that? Love him or hate him, Skrillex is one of the indisputable masters of electronic dance music, having taken to the genre following a past in Post-Hardcore. Some may think this is a fairly substantial jump, but as dubstep evolved as a genre it seemed to become increasingly aggressive, suggesting that the two are not actually that far apart. As a dubstep artist Sonny Moore received huge commercial success, especially with the breakthrough EP from late 2010, in which you can clearly hear metal influence. Since then the artist has grown in success and recognition to become essentially a global superstar. With this success grew a pool of hatred towards the man, fuelled mainly by jealousy, and driven forward by his background. However I will go on record to say, despite generic music snob opinions towards him, Skrillex is an incredibly talented producer, whilst remaining, incredibly, one of the nicest people I have had the pleasure to meet. For a while Skrillex seemed to drop off the radar a little, having not released anything substantial for a long time, however I genuinely this album helps to restore his crown at least a little.

For a debut album this is a very interesting collection. At different points in the album, it seems to touch on every part of the artist’s production career. He deals with the past (the first track), the present (Try It Out, Coast Is Clear) and even the future in parts of the album, hinting at new directions, however we will have to wait and see the direction he takes. I did expect his first album to be a collection of his music he has previously released, however Skrillex is not the kind to simply release the same music over and over. I am pleased with the album, it pays respect to the genre which brought him to the spotlight, while displaying progression at the same time.

All Is Fair In Love And Brostep is a pretty funny title, but it does lead to the question of how the track will go. It opens a little too close to the final tracks of the dubstep genre, almost exactly mirroring Centipede by Knife Party. The track is very Skrillex, with an extremely glitchy, extremely bass heavy sound. This is a return to his original sound but does force the question of how much he has adapted to changing musical climates. The album’s title track opens with a hip hop beat, immediately t be replaced by poppy singing, leading into the kind of drop which simply swipes the previous track to the side Kill The Noise features on the track, an artist very similar to Skrillex in terms of genre, and it’s nice to see artists like this pair tweaking their sound and evolving with the music. The drop is essentially a more in depth version of Martin Garrix’s Animals. Stranger is a slower beat, with a more high pitched drop. I like the sound, it is untried, essentially, although I could get bored with too much of it. The final drop is by far the best. Try It Out (Neon Mix) features the incredibly talented Alvin Risk. Again this track is a return to his original sound, even the video very closely echoes Rock And Roll Will Take You To The Mountain. It does, also, highlight how incredible his life must be. Again the track is good, but seems too easy for the artist, I am left wanting something which challenged him. Coast Is Clear features the widely acclaimed Chance The Rapper and takes a very swift in another direction from the track before, something I was very significantly hoped for. The first time Chance used the B.I.G. lyric in the track, I appreciated it, the 300th time I heard it, it started to upset me. I am trying to avoid letting a personal dislike for the artist cloud my vision but I feel he could have done better on the track, of Skrillex could have featured a better artist, but overall I like the track. Dirty Vibe features, principally, the impossibly talented Diplo. The track is much more trap focussed is essence, the influences of two of the most talented producers on the planet shines through in equal proportion, forming probably the best track on the album. Ragga Bomb is the second track on the album to feature the Ragga Twins, and returns to the wall-of-bass style track used in the Full Flex version of Ruffneck. The hint of Reggae and dancehall influence in the track helps to give it character it may otherwise lack in, forming a reasonable track, not the best he has ever produced though. Doompy Poomp is a very unusual track, but the beat is incredible, with the same feel good vibe as Fatboy Slim’s The Journey. This track will not receive commercial success, but I like it a lot. Fuck That is a very welcome Skrillex take on the house music scene of the moment. I very much wanted to hear what he would do with a sound like this. The product, I feel, is very successful. This is a favourite of mine from the album. Ease My Mind is a rework of Niki & The Dove’s DJ Ease My Mind. The track reminds me of the Art Of Raw track that Skrillex wrote for a G Star Raw advert a while back. The bass, head-nodding sound of Skrillex’s production, strangely, fuses perfectly with the soothing, calm vocals of the original track. In a Dazed & Confused interview the artist stated that ‘it’s such a big, dramatic song, I love that vocal on it….. There’s an intense emotional connection in their music.’ Fire Away, featuring Kid Harpoon, the final track on the album, if far slower and calmer than the rest of the album, featuring even a piano section, displaying yet another side to Sonny Moore’s incredible repertoire, and proving once again simply how talented the individual is.

Pharrell Williams – G I R L

Pharrell Williams - G  I  R  L

Pharrell Williams is undoubtedly one of the most talented individuals alive today. His career spans over an incredible number of industries and media formats. His empire includes two clothing lines (Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream Clothing), a multi-media collective under the umbrella title i Am Other, an educational charity From One Hand To Another, the record label Star Trak, a production duo with school friend Chad Hugo under the name The Neptunes, the band N*E*R*D which he fronted and played the drums for and he even makes jewellery and furniture. The 40 year old has found the most success in the music industry, however not as an artist in his own right, although he has achieved significant success alone. His real success, and passion, lies in the production side of the music industry. In 2003 Pharrell and Chad Hugo, as The Neptunes, were responsible for almost 20% of all songs played on British radio that year, and 43% of all tracks played on US radio for the same year. 46%. That figure is barely even comprehendible. However once again Pharrell’s name is on everyone’s lips, following collaborations of both of the highest selling tracks of 2013, the extremely controversial Robin Thicke track Blurred Lines, also featuring T.I., and Daft Punk’s super-hit Get Lucky with Nile Rodgers, as well as having created the sound track for both Despicable Me films today, the second of which featured the lead single from G I R L, Happy. This album is only his second as a solo artist, following 2006’s In My Mind, but I expect an almost polar opposite sound, following the incredible changes he has been through since then, and the sheer quantity of music created by him since then.

The album has an air of sheer ecstasy throughout, like a child which has eaten far too many blue Smarties. While this produces a very feel good mood, and essentially forms good pop music, it is at the expense of any real meaning in the album. The sound therefore is unfortunately a little flimsy, the kind that would snap in a good breeze. While a little disappointing, the album is good for pop music, I just hoped for more from such an established album. The artist attempts to give the album meaning through the likes of the album track as a kind of backing to feminism, which feels like an overenthusiastic apology off the back of the controversy created by Blurred Lines. Overall, therefore, a bit of a disappointing release for the artist.

The album opens with the sound of viola, with generally positive overtones. A beat then gets thrown into the mix, with Pharrell’s iconic vocals talking about historically powerful women, including Marilyn Munroe, who lends her name to the title of the track, Cleopatra and Joan of Arc. It is fair to say, therefore, that the title of this album is not targeted in the way which may be assumed. Instead, at least in the opening track, the feeling of the album seems to be about female power. The chorus is catchy in the best possible way, with Pharrell’s incredibly smooth voice helping to form a pure pop track. Brand New follows, with the guest voice of Justin Timberlake. It is a risky move for a singer to feature on the same track as P, who continuously seems to out-perform every artist with which he collaborates, however here Timberlake manages to keep up, again forming a track moulded in sheer pop, with brass instruments adding to the happiness of the track. Hunter takes influence almost directly from the likes of Stevie Wonder, with funk giving the track a feeling rarely seen in modern music. The theme of the track goes back to what I believed to be implied by the album title, ‘if I can’t have you nobody can’, ‘going to hunt you’ etc. This is a stark reminder of the controversy surrounding Blurred Lines, leading to many student unions banning the track due to ‘questionable’ themes and lyricism. This is disappointing, where the rest of the album acts as an apparent apology for his involvement in that track. Gush starts off like a hip hop track, but the use of electronic guitar returns the track to the Pharrell feeling. This track is less impressive, especially following Hunter. We have all, by now, heard the infectious track Happy, from Despicable Me 2. The track verges on being irritating throughout, with apparently nonsensical lyrics, ‘clap along if you feel like a house without a roof’, and gospel style clapping throughout, however actually the overall product is fine. As mentioned above the mood is infectious, passing on the obvious feeling of the artist on writing of the track. Equally the track does work extremely well in the film, however it isn’t the best release of the artist as a standalone single. Come Get It Bae is an odd track, with an unusual chorus and title, but the production has layers including electric guitar alongside a bass heavy beat. Gust Of Wind is a little more soulful, while not leaving the theme of sheer ecstatic happiness. There is the inclusion of electronic voice editing, which gives the track a different feeling for a moment, and again the lyrics are questionable in terms of meaning and depth, for example ‘when I open the window I want to hug you, because you remind me of the air’, but again the track essentially forms a pure pop song. I feel that Lost Queen’s production, while again unusual, is more interesting. The drum beat is almost the same style as trap music, but the mood is so far separated from this genre that it is effectively neutralised, as if fearful of offending anyone. The chorus is extremely catchy again, in true Pharrell style. The track effectively breaks half way through, to be replaced with the sound of waves, which is in fact extremely relaxing. This then becomes a similar beat and style of track as Happy, except featuring string instruments and more drums. Know Who You Are has a very-nearly-reggae feeling to it. The guitar is definitely following a reggae beat, but the bass appears more free roaming. The incredibly soulful Alicia Keys joins in this track, one of the very few artists that can top Pharrell’s vocal talent. It Girl opens with some very impressive bass work, and is the first track on the album to slow, not only the pace, but the mood down. The track appears to have another layer of depth, not yet seen in the album.

Redlight – 36

Redlight - 36

This EP is an extremely interesting project, especially for an artist like Redlight. His track Lost In Your Love was the highest charting single of his, reaching number 5 in the UK, which was followed by Switch It Off in April of 2013 which was released as a free download. Since that point we have heard very little from the artist. The thing I find most interesting about him, however, is that despite having only released 5 singles prior to this EP, all of which were 2010 and later, he has been making music and performing since around 2000. The Bristol born and raised producer has grown up through the underground of dance music. This is why his sound is so iconic in this EP, displaying a level of maturity not seen before in a 5 single artist.

As mentioned above, this EP displays a real maturity. The first track is essentially pop-house, but do not let this define your opinion of the whole EP. The remaining tracks display sophistication and layers which is so rarely seen in modern dance music. This EP is a truly impressive creation. The selection of artists to feature is phenomenal, and a feature from a Wu Tang member is a true sign that you have made it as artist. This EP is one of my favourite releases from a dance artist in recent times.

The title track of this EP opens with very deep bass, and the cut-up voice of Lotti. The song opens up into a true banger, the kind of track that slots perfectly into the ultra-popular pop-house sound of the moment. I expect this track to do extremely well. The formula is exactly how it needs to be to gather a wide audience at the moment, complete with female vocals. While this is a little bit of a cynical view of the track, it is not necessarily a criticism. He simply supplies to expanding demand with real efficiency and talent, a very good opening track for his first release since April last year. The second track features an absolute legend of rap music in the form of Raekwon, of the Wu Tang Clan. The production here is far darker and much closer to trap music than house. The beat is much slower and deeper, displaying a very real underground feeling. Raekwon adds layers to this feeling, the track would be nothing like as deep without his input, making the sound far darker and serious. A very intense track, in the best possible way. Thunder introduces the vocals of the incredible Syron. The feeling here is once again quite intense, formed in the underworld of dance music, but far more soulful and smooth. It is the kind of track you can simply immerse yourself in, turn it up and close your eyes and become lost in it. The pace is even slower here, displaying the varying talents of this incredible producer. Anything follows, easing swiftly into Anything which begins with an apparent return to commercial house. However this is proven to be incorrect with a far more interesting and deep sound, with driving bass and a darker take on pop-house essentially. The darker sound plays very well in his favour, giving it a far more intriguing feeling. A successful and refreshing take on the pop-house scene.