Monthly Archives: February 2016

Ritual Spirit – Massive Attack

English trip-hop act Massive Attack seem to have faded themselves away in recent years, turning to activism and various promises of reunions and releases. Finally following up on those promises, Massive Attack have released their first EP in roughly five years, the stunning ‘Ritual Spirit’. The new EP comprises four tracks with each featuring a different guest appearance, including the long anticipated reunion with trip-hop artist Tricky. At 17 minutes, ‘Ritual Spirit’ is an EP-experience that passes by far too quickly, but is also one that firmly ingrains itself into one’s head with each listen.

Massive Attack’s latest EP release seems to have instantly reminded us all of the sheer power and grandiosity of their particular branch of trip-hop music. ‘Ritual Spirit’ slowly pushes along, using stronger elements of traditional hip-hop music to brilliant effect. At times, it feels sinister and macabre, creating images of dark London high streets and underground passages (perfectly expressed in the music video for ‘Voodoo In My Blood’). This is one of those few releases that manages to utilize guest appearances, with each collaborator cementing their position on the release by extenuating the particular tracks they appear on, rather than simply being an extra name for the credits. It’s arguable that ‘Ritual Spirit’ isn’t as chilled out as some of Massive Attack’s earliest releases, but it is one that’s hard to ignore the power of. There’s something almost hypnotic about what’s being presented here, suggesting a great new movement for the act to delve into on future releases.

This might be the sign of great things to come, or it might just be the result of years of trying and trying. At the very least, there’s a lot to be excited about for what ‘Ritual Spirit’ offers us, regardless of what is yet to come, if anything. Each track on the EP offers something a little new, and perhaps a little familiar from Massive Attack, all coming across as some of their absolute best tracks in their whole discography. This is a release one might find themselves constantly returning too, allowing oneself to delve deep into that head-space only Massive Attack’s music can provide.

Album Rating:

  • ★★★★★ 5/5

Selected Songs:

  • Dead Editors feat. Roots Manuva
  • Ritual Spirit feat. Azekel
  • Voodoo In My Blood feat. Young Fathers
  • Take It There feat. Tricky

Massive Attack’s latest release ‘Ritual Spirit EP’ is out now.

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Hymns – Bloc Party

Following the release of their fourth studio album weirdly titled ‘Four’ for some reason, Bloc Party front-man Kele Okereke embarked on a remarkably memorable solo endeavor that we all might struggle to remember. This seem to signal the end of Bloc Party, which seemed a shame at the time, but didn’t really seem to have any lasting negative impact and was thus forgotten. Lucky for us all, Bloc Party have returned, or most of Bloc Party, as we now have a new line up consisting of Kele Okereke, Russel Lissack, Justin Harris & Louise Bartle. So does this mean more of that punchy kick-ass indie-rock sentiment we know and love Bloc Party for? Sadly not.

‘Hymns’ is Bloc Party’s return to music, seeing the new line-up attempt to redesign themselves as a band for these modern times, where indie-rock is no longer acceptable and where everyone everywhere likes more synthetic elements. It can work at times, and even ‘Hymns’ has its moments with its few enjoyable tracks. Okereke’s vocal talents are certainly on top once again, with the falsetto being his sure-fire way to bring something to the music. There’s even some nice moments featuring Lissack’s guitar work which is… good?

It seems that Bloc Party have failed to effectively re-work themselves into a new band. Their pale attempt at concocting modern tunes with falsetto vocals and wub-wub synthetic elements come across as a poor imitation of better music. There’s nothing wrong with reinvention, and perhaps some people will enjoy this new branch of Bloc Party, but it just seems to be horribly cliched and trite to be effective and enjoyable. Everything struggles to move along, with nothing ever seeming to stand out in any way or form. Most tracks seem to sound down-tempo and dull, with Okereke being the only one who is allowed to stand out, despite failing to do so.

Perhaps the nostalgia of Bloc Party’s earlier efforts have worn off, and the band are sadly no longer that great indie-rock band you enjoyed all those years ago. ‘Hymns’ comes across as a very poor work from a band who have produced better, with it being arguably worse than their last studio album. Bloc Party seem to have just lost themselves and their way, and don’t really know how to achieve the standard they themselves set all those years ago. You can make reinventing your band work, but at this point there’s barely anything here making ‘Hymns’ an album worth listening too. Maybe loyal fans will attach themselves to ‘Hymns’, but deep down they all probably know it’s not really as good as it all could be.

Album Rating:

  • ★★☆☆☆  2/5

Selected Songs:

  • The Love Within
  • The Good News
  • Living Lux

Bloc Party’s fifth studio album ‘Hymns’ is out now.

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This Is Acting – Sia

Australian song-writer and performer Sia offers the follow-up to the breakthrough album ‘1000 Forms of Fear’. The new album ‘This Is Acting’ follows on from a lot of what Sia’s previous effort entailed, whilst offering some new ideas lyrically and conceptually. ‘This Is Acting’ comes from the result of Sia performing her own songs written for other performers, though turned down for whatever reason. As a result, we’re given an insight into Sia’s dream of being a song-writer first, showcasing material that perhaps shouldn’t be performed this way, but are undeniably pop hits that shouldn’t have been declined in the first place.

On ‘This Is Acting’, we see Sia once again using common and popular forms of music and music production to surprisingly great affect. Sia’s own song-writing gives most of the tracks a bit of an edge when compared to other artists in the same caliber as Sia. There’s something more intriguing about what Sia is performing about, rather than the everyday dull topics of current chart music. As well as all that is the surprisingly strong instrumentation in each of the tracks, which offer a nice range of different ideas here and there, resulting in a somewhat diverse and rather rich album experience.

‘This Is Acting’ is certainly a strong follow-up to ‘1000 Forms Of Fear’ in many ways, though with this being an album with a strong gimmick behind it, we’ve perhaps lost the more personal element that made Sia so wonderful and interesting to listen too in the first place. Even preceding her major hits of ‘Chandalier’ and ‘Elastic Heart’ were a whole treasure trove of personal tracks touching on many issues from Sia herself. With Sia writing for others, we’re instead offered tracks that don’t speak for Sia, and instead just feel a little distant at times, with no strong or clear message being portrayed.

This is perhaps the point of the album, touched upon even by the name of the album itself. Although there is a loss of that personal edge, we’re being shown more range from Sia as well, who shows she can rise up to nearly any challenge, and show that she can write from other places as well. When performers like Michael Stipe did this very thing so many times, then why not Sia? This does of course mean that ‘This Is Acting’ fails on some level to live up to the same level as her previous album, though it is a satisfactory follow up in many ways.

Album Rating:

  • ★★★★☆ 4/5

Selected Songs:

  • Bird Set Free
  • Alive
  • One Million Bullets
  • House On Fire

Sia’s seventh studio album ‘This Is Acting’ is out now.

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Blackstar – David Bowie

It’s been well over a month since David Bowie released his twenty-fifth studio album ‘Blackstar’ (or ‘★”), and even less time since he departed. As someone who grew up not just listening to the Bowie my father played, but also discovering his other music for myself, it became a weird, unusual and emotional week for myself and those I knew. ‘Blackstar’ has remained one of the most intriguing albums I’ve heard since starting this site, and although it’s difficult trying to put into words what ideas one gets from this epitaph, it would feel odd doing nothing at all. ‘Blackstar’ has become one of those albums that has completely ingrained itself upon listening, and one featuring some of the most powerful songs in Bowie’s long and respectable discography.

‘Blackstar’ doesn’t just follow on from Bowie’s 2013 effort of ‘The Next Day’, it completely opens up an entirely new chapter of Bowie’s music. It is now common knowledge that ‘Blackstar’ was intended by Bowie to be his own personal swan song following his death. A fan for his great many fans who know and love his work. Such a daring act adds a whole new element to the album itself, giving it a shape and form that few albums before have even dared to touch. We can off course enjoy and compliment the wonderful rock elements of the album, the gorgeously artful creations that build up tracks beautifully and with immense power. There’s simply so much happening on ‘Blackstar’ that it’s rather difficult to condense it all.

As with any album, you can find yourself perhaps not enjoying tracks as much as others. It’s in the tracks you yourself attach to and form an emotional connection to is where everything all works. This is Bowie’s gift to his fans, and it’s ultimately up to his many different fans to formulate their own opinions on how they feel about this album. Some people may call ‘Blackstar’ their new favourite Bowie album, others may still find it difficult to have it push away ‘Ziggy Stardust’ or ‘Hunky Dory’ off their top spots. Regardless though, it’s impossible to ignore the power and beauty of this album, which has made it one of Bowie’s most important statements in music.

‘Blackstar’ is perhaps one of the more difficult albums to listen to from Bowie’s extensive discography. Those who mourned the singer’s death might perhaps find it difficult opening up to those many feelings all over again, though that perhaps is where the real power of ‘Blackstar’ comes from. The fact that a performer has managed to create that emotional connection in so many of his fans is such a beautiful thing, and it makes ‘Blackstar’ all that more amazing to listen too. It might feel uncomfortable and a little unsettling at times, but it really is a beautiful album at times and one that will truly stand out amongst his work.

Album Rating:

  • ★★★★★ 5/5

Selected Songs:

  • Blackstar
  • Lazarus
  • Girl Loves Me
  • I Can’t Give Everything Away

David Bowie’s 25th studio album is out now.

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The Life Of Pablo – Kanye West

Rapping narcissist Kanye West has rolled out his seventh studio album ‘The Life Of Pablo’. Or has he? For the most part, the release of West’s new album has been as much of a confusing mess as the album itself is. At this current stage, ‘The Life Of Pablo’ is a mish-mesh of different ideas and concepts all coming together as though splattered onto the same page with the same brush, with no real concern for what the final result is. Regardless of West’s real-life persona, it’s hard to deny the talent West has when it comes to constructing music, though it seems even ‘The Life Of Pablo’ is lost on him as well.

What even is ‘The Life Of Pablo’? At the moment it feels more like a hastily put together mosaic of hip-hop ambiance. There’s some strong and enjoyable songs present on the album, showcasing the enjoyable talents West has displayed on some of his previous works. Some songs seem to have that little edge, making them as enjoyable, as well as a few little comical numbers that perhaps showcase West as an artist trying to have a laugh at his own self. Whether or not this is a sincere gesture on his part, or perhaps just another narcissistic element to his music is anybody’s guess, but they’re certainly fun little moments on the album.

‘The Life Of Pablo’ seems to work well as a whole album package. Seems being the operative word as it’s hard to discern whether or not everything is working well on ‘The Life Of Pablo’ or not. Glaring errors and problems seem to arise to the surface upon listening, showcasing this work as a bloated album experience where nothing has been refined enough, seeming far too choppy and scrappy. There’s a fair few tracks that seem to have no lasting impact upon hearing, as well as what comes across as boring instrumentals that accompany rather weak rap performances from West. There’s definitely a flow to the album, though it’s not a journey that seems to really inspire throughout.

It seems unsure of what Kanye West is trying to express on ‘The Life Of Pablo’. The makings of a strong and enjoyable album all seem to be present on what’s been released thus far (whether this is the final version of the album or not is anybody’s guess). At the moment, what we have is just a weird amalgamation of various recording sessions with no real effort made to structure it all together into something cohesive and understandable. This is perhaps one of West’s most polarizing albums, which could perhaps be the point he’s trying to make. It doesn’t change the fact that there’s a lot of weaknesses to this album that are simply too obvious to ignore.

Album Rating:

  • ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Selected Songs:

  • Ultralight Beam
  • Real Friends
  • No More Parties in LA
  • Fade

Kanye West’s seventh studio album ‘The Life of Pablo’ is out now. Or not. I don’t really know. 

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