Firstly, hello. Secondly, wow. I don’t know how your April went, but mine went by in quite the ecstatically busy blur…
To start off, the two films that I had most looked forward to seeing at the cinema this year were released within two weeks of one another and neither of them disappointed. The first was Harmony Korine‘s filthily fluorescent fable Spring Breakers, a sexploitatively arty giggle of beer-soaked debauchery charting four young American college girls’ hedonistic sojourn into the night of their vapid, candy-coloured souls via a dangerously goofy wannabe gangster played at sleazily full tilt by Hollywood-heartthrob-turned-oddball James Franco. The second was Fede Alvarez‘s Evil Dead, the much-anticipated reboot of Sam Raimi‘s iconic horror benchmark from 1982, which like Breakers promised nothing but a rowdily good time for those attuned to its twisted fancies, though this one involved severe body mutilation and dismemberment via chainsaws, nailguns and the good old-fashioned “boomstick“. I’ll see if I have the time and patience to write blog entries on each of these movies at a later date, but just for now, be sure to know they both have my honest, lager-stained seal of approval.
Then there were the three live concerts I managed to lug myself to… The first was from Gabriella Cilmi, who managed to cultivate a short, intimate set at St. Pancras Old Church near Kings Cross in London, showcasing some gritty-pretty new material that was aeons away from her previous album of shiny disco anthems (which it must be said, even if they weren’t a perfect fit for her, were still pretty fabulous in of themselves). The new single Sweeter In History is a pretty clear indicator of the more contemplative, rockier road she is traveling along with her music now, both thematically and stylistically, and whilst these new songs may not be as redolent with clever pop hooks as her previous work (one of the more gorgeous tracks was co-written with trip-hop’s tortured poster-boy Tricky, of all people), her voice sounds more rapt, emotional and vitally alive than it ever has done. By the time she had gotten around to a crowd-pleasing rendition of her breakout hit Sweet About Me for the finale, she was able to revisit the precocious pop of her earlier endeavours with a convincing edge of experience that had previously been absent, which is a neat summation of the refreshing change of pace her new sounds are offering. Here’s hoping there’s more to come…
But two days later, I was back in Kings Cross for another night of leftfield pop treats… Well, further up Pentonville Road to be exact, where in the upstairs bar of the Lexington pub, one Karin Park delivered an evocative set of goth-tinged electro-pop, the bulk of which came courtesy of her fourth album and one of last year’s most unfortunately ignored pop gems, Highwire Poetry. Opening questionably with a pig-faced figure looming large in what looked like a KKK hood and cloak attacking the speakers with a pre-recorded mix of distorted vocal tics and belches, Park herself arrived onstage with a mischievous glint in her eye, appearing to go for a look that suggested the kooky daughter of Gary Numan (whom she actually supported on his dates in the UK last year) and Sheldon Cooper in her unhealthy-Rocky-Horror-obsession phase, her modelesque 6’3″ frame looming over the audience in intimidating style. Once she got going about three songs in though, any awkwardness there might have been melted away, her brand of addictive synthpop proving to be just as head-noddingly propulsive live as it does on CD, with Park acquitting herself as well on the keytar as she did her vocals and her brother David joining her onstage for percussion duties and earning himself a few justified ovations from the audience via some exemplary solos (it also didn’t hurt that he happened to look like Thor either).
After a bit of a break to get around both the build-up and the actual weekend-long celebration that was my birthday, I was then back at Shepherd’s Bush Empire to bear witness to Phoenix‘s welcome-back performance in support of their new album Bankrupt! after three years away. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of the French indie-pop band’s set this time though, as it would consist mainly of songs from the new album, which after a few listens I can declare certainly isn’t their best, not to mention there also being a fear of fatigue, given their having literally just hopped off a transatlantic flight after giving the revelers at Coachella in L.A. something to dance and sing about the previous weekend (this being the Monday night). What trepidations I did have though were promptly told to fuck off and die as soon as they opened with the new album’s lead single Entertainment, and I was quite shamefully reminded just how bloody marvelous a live act these guys are, the precise, almost-ornate twinkling of the studio tracks given enough reckless, ebullient bombast to leave even the stoniest hearts with mile-wide grins. The highlight for me was, after breaking the drum kit on the second song (!) and have to skilfully segue into impromptu acoustic renditions of Countdown and (fabulously) Air’s underrated-classic Playground Love, the sprightly opening chords of Lisztomania‘s came bursting through the speakers, brighter than ever, prompting from me a scream of pure elation that I haven’t had at a gig yet so far. And yes, as you may have heard, the immensely crowd-friendly frontman Thomas Mars did actually climb the walls of the venue to get to the first floor balcony area like a Gallic Spiderman to party with the rest of us that weren’t in the stalls below; it was awesome.
But enough of this live commentary… I did manage to listen to quite the veritable bit of new music in between all (ALL) of this, so without further ado, courtesy of Mixcloud and Spotify, may I present:
01) Empty // Atom™ >> Electro-disco stalwart Uwe Schmidt returns to the fold with an album of rebooted, previously-abandoned material from years ago; though marred by the death of his longtime business partner during its making last year, HD still cuts a strident, anti-pop swathe through today’s techno music to deliver some highly animated moments of triumph.
02) Sweat // Major Lazer featuring Laidback Luke and Ms. Dynamite >> After releasing a trilogy of free remix EPs over the previous month, Lazer’s second album Free The Universe finally landed front-loaded with even more celebrity guest turns than its predecessor. And rather awesomely, it’s all head-swaying, rump-shaking business as usual, as if Diplo‘s batshit-crazy dancehall project never left us in the first place.
03) Numb // Cassie featuring Rick Ross >> Not including the unofficial, fan-made mixtape trilogy that surfaced online last year, Miss Ventura released her first mixtape RockaByeBaby earlier this month; inspired by early-90s crime-saga New Jack City, this free sampler of seductively imperious wares has helped get more than a few people excited for her second album, should it ever arrive obviously.
04) Dieu // The Haxan Cloak >> Back into avant-garde electronic experimentation now, courtesy of British-born one-man-production house Bobby Krlic and his second album Excavation, an LP that has inspired as much awe from bloggers and critics as it has cold sweats of intangible fear, so forboding and frightening is its sound design. Definitely one to watch for End Of Year plaudits.
05) Das Wort // DJ Koze featuring Dirk von Lowtzow >> Something a little more soothing and plaintive now, courtesy of German DJ Stefan Kozalla and his second album Amygdala; featuring a roster of guest stars that reads like a particularly starry night at his favourite local nightclub (Matthew Dear and Apparat among them), it’s what a warm, fuzzy electric blanket would sound like if it were a mix compilation.
06) White Snares // Instra:mental & dBridge >> Arriving courtesy of DJ/producer Boddika’s Nonplus record label, Think And Change is a so-hip-it-hurts compilation showcasing some of the finest sounds from the best dance music producers working today, including Four Tet and Joy Orbison. Guaranteed to keep any party going at full force, all night…
07) Jets // Bonobo >> Having quietly and diligently carved out his own niche for the past fourteen years, DJ/producer Simon Green’s fifth album The North Borders sees him make the grandest “I have arrived” statement of his career so far, a sublime mix of hip hop beats and soulful samples that is the very epitome of sun-swept, urban gorgeousness.
08) I Am Sold // James Blake >> 2011′s Posterboy For Lovelorn Misery returns with his latest album Overgrown, after having befuddled as many listeners as he did enrapture with his low-fi production wares and pained warbling on his eponymous debut. Not much has changed for the little bleater thematically really, though his arrangements have certainly grown in scope and ambition.
09) Only The Winds // Ólafur Arnalds >> Having somewhat stumbled into a career of contemporary classical music by accident, Arnalds has for the best part of a decade established himself as one of the genre’s brightest talents (his biggest professional coup so far being providing the score to TV drama behemoth Broadchurch). Fourth album, For Now I Am Winter, confirms this rather beautifully.
10) Subway // Yeah Yeah Yeahs >> If previous album It’s Blitz! represented a shinier, poppy side to Karen, Nick and Brian’s oeuvre of bracing alt-pop, fourth album Mosquito sees them in their most adventurous mood yet, aided in no small part by trusted hand Dave Sitek in the production booth. N.B. Isn’t the full-throated gospel choir ending on Sacrilege the most bewilderingly greatest??
11) Always There, In Our Hearts // The Flaming Lips >> Although The Terror is not quite as barnstormingly crazy as 2009′s Embryonic, the Lips’ first album of original material since that freaky opus came to pass still proffers a valuable clutch of leftfield, psychedelic treats in their own inimitable style… can anyone answer me though whether this Ke$ha album is really happening, though?
12) Air Bud // Kurt Vile >> And then we finish up with some tuneful Americana courtesy of Mr Vile and his fifth solo album Wakin On A Pretty Daze, trading on effortless, Dylan-esque cool and expansively robust, slow-burning arrangements to summon up the biggest critical hit of his career.
And that’s your lot, readers… Hope you’re April was as event-packed and full of good tunes as mine was. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to run into a darkened corner and listen to my Best Of Boards Of Canada playlist on repeat until June 10. It’s been eight years and I can’t. Fucking. Wait!!!!