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.

Sunken Monkey – Party Scars

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Party Scars is the second album for Lancashire band Sunken Monkey. The band formed in the early noughties, and whilst the band has changed its line-up a few times over the years it would appear that they have found a formula that works for them. The group draws influence from a range of different punk bands, from NOFX to Rise Against to Four Year Strong, but unlike most bands claiming this, their output is far closer to the punk side of things than the ‘pop-punk’. This is not to say that their music isn’t primarily beer-fuelled fun, but I would argue it is less cheesy than most modern punk bands. They also claim not to concern themselves with ‘worrying about our image’, something many pop-punk bands are guilty of. This is not intended to have a dig at pop-punk, more trying to give an idea of the character of Sunken Monkey.

Party Scars is basically a very fun album. It is based primarily on ‘anecdotes from the band’s personal lives’, with ‘short, catchy tunes’ to back it up. This is a promise the album lives up to completely. I would say the album sounds a lot like a less Celtic version of The Dropkick Murphys, with energy and grit and honest lyrics and shouty vocals. The pace remains fairly constant throughout. My personal favourites are the first two tracks, This Town’s Too Big… and That’s What She Said (‘fuck you too..’), and the track Pissing In The Wind, a song which lends quite a lot to the style of the likes of A Day To Remember through its incorporation of metal into the mix. I also think ‘Til Death Do Us Party is the perfect way to end the album. It uses acoustic guitar very much in the style of Frank Turner, sending the album off in an almost reminiscent farewell, just like the end of a party. In fact, the album is almost sculpted into the form of a party throughout: It starts hard, fast and optimistic, throughout the middle there is a blur of messy energy, and ends in a fashion fit for the end of a brilliant night.

In all, I would describe the album as a party anthem. The energy, honesty and messiness all form the ingredients for a great party-punk record. I would argue that even the faults improve the album, after all punk was never created to be perfect. The individual tracks are also incredibly catchy, with true artistic talent behind every single second of music, not just distortion and guitar so fast that you can’t hear the music. I conclude that the album is driven by the spirit of true punk, the talent of the individuals in the band and, of course, alcohol.

Jungle – Jungle

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Jungle are one of those projects which incorporates so much more character, more than simply music into their existence. Very little is known about the group, only that it comprises of two individuals, T and J who grew up together as neighbours in West London, and who initially met through Pokémon cards. This level of mystery adds a certain level of depth to their appeal, harking back to the likes of Daft Punk and the early days of the Gorillaz. A large amount of the attention given to the band can be credited to their incredible music videos, featuring various different styles of dancing. The video for The Heat features two incredibly in-sync and perfectly timed roller-skaters, Platoon features 6 year old B-girl Terra break-dancing and Busy Earnin’ features the dancing of an entire crew. The quirky nature of both their videos and their music, in addition to their secretive and cryptic nature, seems almost destined to bring the group fame, who achieved the prestigious BBC Sound of 2014 alongside the likes of Sam Smith and Ella Eyre at the end of 2013. They may have succeeded to date, however I’m not sure how they’ll be able to keep in the shadows after their debut release, as it will doubtless only attract more attention to the act.

I love the feel-good attitude of this album. The one track which is anything but thoroughly uplifting is Drops. Despite having 12 songs on the album, it amasses to only 39 minutes in length, with the tracks seeming to merge into one another. It is an album in its truest form, designed to be listened to as an album. If you are willing to give it your attention, listen to it in full in one sitting, it is so much the better this way. The groove of the album can transform any mood to fit the music, regardless of time or location, however I think that July is the perfect time for the album, and it reminds me of walking in the summer dusk.

There are a few outliers however, drawing my attention to them yet more that the rest of the release. Busy Earnin’ and The Heat are my personal favourites, however Lemonade Lake with its sweet and indulgent atmosphere almost feels like how I imagine walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory would be like, or a candy-cane filled bubblegum dream. When the album does slow down a little in Drops, it does so extremely well, with a very catchy chorus and enthralling, drowsy music. Despite this, as I said above, there is very little fault with the album, as it merges into a single body of continuous, cheerful music. It manages to stay diverse and varied without changing mood too frequently or even changing style.

This album is definitely worth your time, listen to it in full and appreciate it. In my opinion it is a rare great, one which I hope will stand the test of time. The style of the music is completely original, and I genuinely hop it receives the kind of commercial success it deserves.

Will And The People – Interview

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Will Rendle is the creative engine, lead singer and main songwriter behind the group Will and the People. I am privileged to say I have had the opportunity to interview him.

The group was founded in 2007 and since then have released two albums, Will and the People and Friends, the group are also currently working on a third album which is set for release in September 2014. The feel-good attitude of much of the band’s output has brought widespread attention since the release of their first album. Will is very much, as the name suggests, the driving force behind the band, writing the majority of the band’s output and leading the group despite regular changes to the band line-up in the early years, before finding consistency in 2009. The band have performed across the globe, achieving international fame, particularly in the Netherlands, and have performed before the likes of Jamie Cullum, The Vaccines and Green Day, amongst many others. The third album, Whistleblower, comes out in Autumn and will be one well worth keeping an eye out for.

How are you doing?
Recovering! I’m sat on a large pillow in the shape of a flower that ended up in our tour-bus after Glastonbury… I lost one of Jamies’ Dr Martins there so I think it was meant to be an apology tool… The things we do when we are out of it. . poor pillow owner. I’ll give it back if you ask me to!!

Have you been busy so far this summer?
It depends what you mean by busy… but by our standards we are about to enter a rather hectic period of constant travelling and playing shows and doing radio stuff and blah bloo blah…. I think they just call it going on tour… but it really is so much more than that!

What festivals might we be able to catch you at?
Kendall calling, Llarma tree festival, Boom Town Fair…. And a load of European ones as well! Best to just go here http://www.willandthepeople.com and find out I never have a clue what we are doing to be honest!

The date you have set for the release of your new album, Whistleblower, is September this year, how long has it taken to get to this stage?
This record has taken a year and a half to make… we went into the studio at the beginning of 2013… it was just a question of feeling like something was missing… up until now it was always about releasing something for the sake of it.. so we had something to sell at gigs… This time we have been thinking about it carrying us to the next phase of our career… wherever that may be.. to be honest there is always more one wants to do with recording music.. it can always be better.. there comes a point when you have to say enough is enough… Thriller (Michael Jackson) was recorded 12 times though! They really set the bar with that one..

Can you tell us anything about it or would you rather keep it all secret until its release?
It’s our best one yet… no doubt.

Many comment on your unique style, but how would you classify your own music?
I have absolutely no idea at this point… when I write a song I have an idea of how I want it to sound and it’s often very expressive for me… we don’t conform to one sound/style so it really is an open canvas for us…

Who would you say are your influences?
Most stuff…. Everything from Bob Marley to The Pixies…. We all really like adventurous, kooky music … like supertramp. and the doors, David Bowie.. current bands like ALT J and Whitest boy alive are also awesome… there is so much great music about nowadays… I like Hermitude and Caribou and James Blake… and have a soft-spot for uplifting trance music when driving very fast… Beakbot are awesome… very French.

What was the first gig you ever went to?
In Eastbourne – Bedouin Sound-clash supporting the ordinary boys…. I went to see Bedouin and missed my train waiting to get my hat signed by the singer… the gig blew my mind and everything went out the window… I was so fucking impressed I still remember it like it was yesterday…

Also, where do you get influence from when you write music?
It varies a lot… normally it’s something I think about which blossoms into a full fledged idea… normally I have two or three things running about at any one time… It’s just like a diary I suppose… some sort of release…

Talk to us about Baggy Trouser Music, I understand it’s your own label?
That’s right, I started it the day I was dropped by Sony BMG… It kind of seemed like the obvious thing to do. But it’s a longer roadf that’s for sure… to me that longevity is what its all about…

What would you say its mission statement is as a label?
To release music that stands the test of time, and give artists the freedom to blossom and not feel like a cog in a machine… so they can reach their full potential. And to become very successful at doing so..

How many bruises did you get filming Shakey Ground?
We all fell well when we did… somehow no one broke anything…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsNdWrinKpU

What’s the song you’ve had most fun with, in terms of writing, recording, performing, filming a video for, etc.?
Probably Trustworthy rock on our new album.. it was written on Bondi Beach in Australia when we were on tour… and then we threw an all night party (which went on a lot longer) to make the video… you can see it in our eyes we had been awake for a while… it was just pure rock and roll to be honest… moments like that are when you think… how the fuck did I end up here! Where the fuck am I? Actually I don’t care just give me another one.

Are you touring to celebrate the release of the new album in autumn? And if so, do you plan to stop off at Exeter?
I don’t know… but I should… but I don’t… I already told you that didn’t i… we actually did play in a venue called Mama Stones belonging to Joss Stone… but got banned for life for reason I wont go into… so we wont be there… but I am sure there are other places to play no!!???

Are there any questions you always wish you’d be asked?
Do I make you horny baby!? Well…. DO I…. ?? That one always gets me…

Knytro – The Griffin EP

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The name is actually an acronym, standing for Knowledge Navigated by Yesterdays, Truth, Respect and Originality. This should give some insight into the complexity of this ambitious, driven and talented individual. Born in London, as a boy Knytro moved to the home of some of the greatest rap artists of all time. Shortly after, he moved to Orlando, ‘O Town’, where he grew up and still lives today. Despite initially wishing to be an archaeologist, or scientist, Knytro’s sights have very much changed. His new goal is thoroughly uncompromising and perhaps optimistic, now wishing to be one of the greats of hip-hop. Don’t doubt his ability to achieve it though. He has worked his way up through small, intimate, sweaty venues until he finally caught the attention of MTA Records and Chase & Status. They even featured him on their latest album, Brand New Machine. He will continue to climb his way up ‘the ladder of history’, and in 5 years he hopes to be a ‘worldwide hip-hop icon’, and I wish him every success. He is appearing at festivals across the UK throughout the summer, on bills alongside The Game, Public Enemy and Snoop Dogg, so maybe his end game isn’t that far out of reach.

The Griffin ‘not only stands for the truth, he guards it’ and is intended to represent Knytro himself as a symbol, ‘Born as a Lion, Raised as an Eagle’ forming a kind of tagline for the artist. The EP also acts as a kind of representative for the artist, giving fans and potential fans a kind of taster of the talent possessed by him. Every song is commendable in its own right. Capone is aggressive, even dark, with some of the greatest lyrics I’ve heard in too long. Guinness is a personal favourite for the artist, with deep emotional meanings for him, I would also argue that it has the best production, verging on psychedelic. Ms. Cola is relaxing and soothing, a really pleasant track that I could listen to all day, wish more than a nod of acknowledgement to the world of boom-bap hip hop. My favourite is My Motive. It sums the artist up well, with a heavy drum beat and soothing production, a catchy and repetitive chorus and immaculate lyrics throughout. The flow is untouchable, the artist couldn’t hope for a better song as a sample of his ability.

The EP is basically fantastic. I can’t imagine any hip-hop purists coming forth and suggesting that this release is anything less. If you don’t know Knytro yet, you will. He’s coming.