Of all the musical genres, rap has never been one to flirt with experimentation too often. During the gangsta rap phase that blighted much of its recent history, you were lucky to hear a change of tempo let alone an interesting musical idea. More recently, rappers such as 50 Cent, Akon, Nelly and Ja Rule have stuck to a well-trodden path, using female singers to recite a (usually heavily sampled) chorus making it catchy enough for radio and benign enough for them to rap about nothing. Timbaland has tried his best to heave the genre into a new dawn and rappers such as Q-Tip, Common and Lupe Fiasco at least have interesting things to say.
Added to that list of both interesting rappers and exciting producers is Kanye West, a man who, despite his ego (or maybe because of it) has had a hand in some of the best rap singles of recent years. Perhaps aware of the shortcomings of his own success- he too has a habit of relying too heavily on a big sample- his forthcoming fourth album 808s & Heartbreak is shaping up to be a pretty huge departure for him and a fairly brave one at that. By now you've probably heard first single 'Love Lockdown', a song that relies solely on a simple piano motif and some frantic drumming. There's no rapping, just West's weedy voice heavily treated through an auto-tuner. Reaction so far has been mixed, with the single hitting the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic, but with large numbers of rap fans ranting at West's mission to change things up.
The second single is mooted to be 'Heartless', another rap-free, auto-tuned ditty with a beat that sounds like it was created using a £25 Casio from Argos.
Another track that's leaked deals with the death of West's mother earlier this year. 'Coldest Winter' samples Tears For Fears (huh?) and is really rather lovely. For once West's singing voice sounds engaging and the minimal drums and ghostly synth lines help create a genuine atmosphere.
Strangest of all the new songs is 'Robocop'. Over exploding beats and robot sound effects (what else) a heavily-treated West talks of not wanting a robocop. Who does he know that's like robocop in the first place? Of all the new songs this is the only one that West claims is not finished, with Herbie Hancock (?) apparently working on it as we speak. Things just got very bizarre indeed...
In Musick's continuing quest to find out the movers and shakers from across the globe, let's travel down to New Zealand to find out what native sounds are keeping those Antipodeans up all night.
Here's this weeks singles chart:
1. 'Whatever You Like' by T.I. (Big Hip Hop star from America, about to do time for some gun crime...that rhymes!) 2. 'Everything' by P-money Feat. Vince Harder (Have no idea I'm afraid. They're from New Zealand though. Vince Harder sounds like a porn star however) 3. 'All Summer Long' by Kid Rock (Proof that no-one is safe from Mr Rock and his lame summer singalong) 4. 'Sex On Fire' by Kings Of Leon (Ubiquitous American rock band, used to have facial hair but are now far too serious for all that) 5. 'Miss Independent' by Ne-yo (R&B superstar and feminist thinker) 6. 'So What' by Pink (She's like, totally over him already, like, oh my god) 7. 'Live Your Life' by T.I. Feat. Rihanna (He's back and he's brought a friend) 8. 'Poker Face' by Lady Gaga (Nice. Lady Gaga will be HUGE, trust me) 9. 'Just Dance' by Lady Gaga Feat. Colby O'Donis (This song's the better of the two, and that's before I tell you she's partly responsible for New Kids On The Block coming back...hey, wait!) 10. 'One Step At A Time' by Jordin Sparks (Former American Idol winner, this is her third single and is probably quite dull)
So what have we learnt? New Zealanders love American music even more then us Brits do, with 90% of the chart this week made by someone from the US of A. What can we deduce from this? Is it some kind of political statement? Are we headed for some New Zealand/ America alliance? Is it the start of one of the greatest super powers of all time? Or, more prosaically, is it a sign that most radio stations in New Zealand are as narrow-minded as the ones over here?
I will say two things however.
1). Lady Gaga looks and sounds like this:
Like Gwen Stefani before all the yodelling.
2). The T.I. song with Rihanna genuinely features a sample of 'Dragostea din tei' by those musical polymaths O-Zone
At first this image for the cover of Razorlight's third album looks fairly innocuous. A simple premise of splitting the cover into four parts, a band member in each, and having the text run across the middle. Nice. Very clean and very simple. But look closer dear reader, for musical genius Johnny Borrell is trying to tell us all something. We all know by now that he's got the music thing sewn up, but did any of us really know what a brilliant aesthetic mind this man has? Firstly, he's the only one in white, because the rest of the band aren't beautiful angels like he is so they must spend their lives (or however long Razorlight are around for, or which ever ends first) in complete darkness, thus allowing Borrell to shine brighter. Also, just look at the way Borrell's shirt flaunts suggestively with his naval, the merest hint of nipple either side of those lovely pearls. Many would claim the pearls to be "a bit much", but Borrell is a brilliantly unique and carefree individual who panders not to any limitations of gender or typical rock star posturing. He's an artist and if this cover doesn't let you know that then you're not concentrating enough. I'm also a big fan of the hair being skillfully swept to one side to reveal an earring that finishes the pirate look with subtle aplomb. Perhaps undermining the whole tableau is the fact that the bass player (he has no name, but is situated top right) is looking over at Borrell and though he makes no face nor utters any words you know he's thinking "what a fucking cunt this man is". So much can be said in a simple photo. Art like this makes me proud to be alive.
Lily Allen has been posting new songs on her myspace page for the past couple of months, whilst simultaneously using it's blog facility to tackle everything from knife crime to female body image. She's also hit back at the numerous newspaper and magazine articles that appear everyday, usually showing her falling in or out of some swanky bar or award show (she claims it's what most young people would be doing, I tend to agree, so I side with Lily. In your face Murdoch!). It's worth noting that until recently even her myspace page was more about Lily Allen the celebrity then it was about Lily Allen the pop star so it's worth re-adjusting the focus back onto the music.
'Everyone's At It' is the first single to be taken from Allen's second album, It's Not Me, It's You, which is out in February of next year. Musically things are a little different, with less ska affectations and more icey electronics. (EDIT: The first single will now be 'The Fear' and will be out in January. It contains a lyrics about blow-jobs). In fact, parts of 'Everyone's At It' recall The Killers' early singles, with rushes of synths and odd 'whoosh' noises. It also takes a few more listens until the chorus sticks in your head, but it will, don't worry.
Lyrically, it's less cockney swagger and more depressed celebrity, with the focus shifted to the drug habits of famous people, politicians and everybody else basically. The sentiments are laudable, especially the bits about people being honest about their own drug habits before vilifying and crucifying others, but it's also all a bit preachy and a tad dull. It's not easy to listen to a famous person moaning, especially one that's not yet 25 years old, and here's hoping the rest of the album shifts the focus away from how it's crap being a celebrity.
This is another new song, which may or may not make the new album. It's called 'I Don't Know' and is about how crap it is being a celebrity...oh.
Grace Jones has been everywhere of late, promoting her new album Hurricane, and she's quite clearly a little bit mental. But mental equals good in the world of pop, and as with all good pop stars there's something undeniably otherworldly about her. The new stuff doesn't really interest me, however, so I decided to get Island Life, which has got all the 'hits' on.
I was once in an art collective. I was 6 years old and me and some friends would go round to each others houses and make some pretty crazy stuff with fuzzy felts. We'd also daub some pretty out there shit on the walls, real aggressive stuff about Blue Peter or the latest episode of Grange Hill. Usually in a haiku. Brooklyn's Gang Gang Dance are also part of an art collective and make music as part of their art. This sounds incredibly wanky and yet their songs are really rather good. They are signed to Warp in the UK thus making their pretensions somehow more worthwhile and satisfying.
Here's a picture:
And some aural delight:
Now, I don't know much about art, but I know what I like.
Wow, there's this really hot new band, right, and they're, like, oh my God, like, totally awesome and the singer's like a total hottie and their sound is really new and totally fresh and current. They, like, couldn't be more relevant if they tried and they really care about their fans because they're so, like, what's the word, like, prolific and shit. They'd never dream of taking one of their own fans to court for, like, daring to share some of their like totally awesome new music. The song is 'Chinese Democracy' and the band are Guns N' Roses or some shit.
People have genuinely been waiting about 17 years for this song. In that time there have been wars, terrorist attacks, Britney Spears, Harry Potter, two recessions, George W. Bush, Big Brother, Jordan, the fall of capitalism, etc, etc. The album of the same name reportedly cost over $13 million to make, which is actually pretty offensive.
This song may have a political message. If so, it's probably got something to do with Bill Clinton's re-election seeing as that was going on around the time it was written BACK IN THE MID-NINETIES!
Jay-Z has been all over the place of late. What with all that Glastonbury nonsense with musical neanderthal Noel Gallagher, marrying the bootylicious Beyonce, signing a multi-million dollar contract with Live Nation, releasing 'Swagga Like Us'- the M.I.A-sampling single that also featured Kanye, T.I and Lil' Wayne- and launching a range of beauty products called 99 Problems But Bad Skin Ain't One (OK, one of these isn't true). Jay-Z has certainly never been as talked about as he is right now. All this may change however if he doesn't stop messing with shit he shouldn't be messing with (still been watching too much of The Wire!).
Firstly, he appears on a remix version of M.I.A's 'Boyz', a single taken from her album Kala, which has just been re-released following the success of 'Paper Planes'. This new version is weak compared to the original and Jay-Z brings precisely nothing to the table except some lumpen political posturing. M.I.A's new verses aren't great either though...
Still, at least 'Boyz' is a good song and can just about handle being 'Jay-Zed'. At least it's not a limp, cliche-ridden dirge. How bad would it be if Jay-Z rocked up on one of those? This bad perhaps...
That's Coldplay featuring Jay-Z with 'Lost'. Seamless, don't you think?
The bestest thing about birthdays are the presents. I celebrated the passing of another year just a few days ago (I'm guessing your birthday messages were lost in cyberspace somewhere?), and received the rather wonderful 'O' by Tilly & The Wall as a way of dampening the existential fear as I slowly creep closer to death... Anywho, the album is their best yet, with twelve good songs rather than the normal ratio of two great songs, four good songs and five bad ones.
If you listen to Radio 1 (God help you child) then you may have heard this:
* This isn't the official video, but it is twenty three times better then the day-glo original.
My personal favourite from the album is a track called 'Pot Kettle Black', and luckily there's a video so I get to share it with you guys.
WARNING: This video contains lycra, choreography, swearing and small-town American trash.
Whilst avoiding sleep, Musick stumbled upon what looks like a finished version of the new Bjork track, 'Nattura'. We mentioned it here. Not sure where it came from or how it got online (or, more importantly, how long it will stay there), but here it is.
It's a lot more industrial sounding then anything she's done before. Like Tool or Nine Inch Nails if they were genuinely angry. On Volta she worked with two drummers- Lightening Bolt's Brian Chippendale and Chris Corsano- but their contributions were mixed with a handful of other instrumentation, whilst here it's mainly drums and the faint wail of a certain Mr Thom Yorke (especially at the 0.40 mark).
Lyrically...well...er...it's all in Icelandic so God only knows. I really like it.
You know what, Chico was wrong. It's not 'Chico Time', it's 'electro o'clock' is what it is*, and here comes another purveyor of all things electric, Little Boots.
Miss Boots is currently unsigned but has been causing the kind of buzz in the music press that usually leads to a couple of good singles, a rushed album and a footnote come the end of 2009. However, things seem different in this case, mainly because the songs on her myspace are really quite something. She's just posted a brand new track, 'Mathematics', and will be posting new songs every week for the forseebale future. Also available for your ears is 'Meddle', co-produced with one of Hot Chip, a song that sounds like Aaliyah-era Timbaland mating ferociously with Kylie. Yep, it's that good.
Little Boots also has a brilliant youtube page that includes about ten cover versions. The best of the lot is this cover of Hot Chip's 'Ready For The Floor'.
Give it a minute to get going. Really amazing. That instrument/light show is called a Tenori-on and is quite literally the greatest thing ever made. They retail at £600 so if you want to donate money so I can buy one that would be greatly appreciated. Hey, I provide a service here and I expect to get paid fool*.
* This blog entry was brought to you by someone who has watched far too much of The Wire.
EDIT: The video has been taken off youtube. I can only think it was the embarrassment of it all...
We like to set you challenges every so often. This week's challenge is to watch this 'performance' all the way through without averting your eyes or wanting to stick your fist in your mouth. Ladies and gentlemen, Scott 'the ex-blue coat' Bruton.
To be fair we could have chosen a couple of other performances from last night's musical feast, but this is bad on so many levels. He looks so uncomfortable, in that suit, with that mic, in his own skin. Please bare in mind that he survived the public vote, proving that democracy is not always such a good idea. Or that people who vote on X Factor are usually morons.
It's important to remember that Beyonce isn't a pop star anymore. No, she wants respect. She said so in a recent interview. It's also worth noting that she hasn't released anything half way decent since 'Crazy In Love', her debut solo single. Her last album B'Day was so bereft of actual tunes that her record company called in British remixers Freemasons to give the songs some life. So there's a lot riding on Beyonce's forthcoming third solo album, and to introduce it she's releasing a double a-side single 'If I Were A Boy' and 'Single Ladies' (both genders are catered for, do you see?).
'If I Were A Boy' is the least interesting. It was co-written by the man who penned 'Big Girls Don't Cry' by Fergie, a song that stayed on the British and American charts for about fifteen years. 'If I Were A Boy' is about how men are really rather selfish and mean and sometimes they don't switch their mobile phones on. Musically it's about as interesting as 'God Was One Of Us' by Joan Osborne. The singing is pretty good though.
'Single Ladies' is obviously meant to be the club banger to 'If I Were A Boy's radio-friendly balladering. It's got lots of stuff going on, which in the modern world of RnB can sometimes be the default setting. If you're worried about making it sound really NOW, then just throw stuff at it; alarms, burps, synths, splutters, handclaps, oodles of percussion. It was this that buried most of B'Day. Here it all works slightly better, the song has a great hook of "If you like it then you should have put a ring on it" and it sticks in your head. She's a pop star after all.
I love Bjork. I love Radiohead. Thom Yorke is the singer with Radiohead. Ergo a collaboration between Bjork and Thom Yorke from Radiohead is literally enough to make my bladder weaken. Reports are emanating from various internet sources that Yorke will supply backing vocals on 'Nattura', Bjork's brand new single (it doesn't appear on her last album Volta).
However, Billboard are reporting that Radiohead's 'people' have stated that Yorke has recorded no new material with Bjork, which either means the little Icelandic goddess is lying (I won't even contemplate that thought!) or the vocals are left over from the sessions they did for their first duet, 'I've Seen It All'. Either way it's bloody exciting. The single is apparently due out on the 20 October and seems to have some kind of eco-theme.
Here's 'I've Seen It All' as a little taster of what may or may not be happening on 'Nattura'.
EDIT: It's all true! It DOES feature Thom Yorke on backing vocals and it WILL be released on 20 October. Like. Oh. My. God.
As a precursor to the imminent disappointment that is X Factor, it might be worth noting the winner and the runner-up on the most recent American Idol series. Both David Cook (the 'winner') and David Archuleta (the 'loser') have recently released their respective 'break out' singles in America (i.e. ones they hope will set them up on a long and fruitful career now that the aura of the TV show has long diminished). And it's pretty much as you would expect: Turgid, stilted, dated, formulaic musical dross on both sides that is about as exciting as a musical battle between two men called David could be (Bowie is an exception by the way).
In the red corner you have David Cook who has facial hair so therefore he must sing with what sounds like a sore throat and play the guitar. In the blue corner you have David Archuleta who has barely finished puberty so it is written in stone that he must make mid-paced 'R&B' with some piano on it. Both songs are truly awful.
We give them Leona Lewis and look what they do in return. Right, I'm getting Michelle McManus out of retirement and we're coming to get you.
Robyn is a proper pop star. For one, she's short. For two, she's not exactly beautiful but she's interesting to look at, the kind of person who would stand out in a crowd. Thricely, she makes amazing pop songs, and new single 'Cobrastyle' is no exception. It may be a cover, but it's a cover of a song by a band called the Teddybears, who produced this version, so really it's less of a cover and more of a realisation by the Teddybears that their version was never going to make it big so they got Robyn to sing on it.
'Cobrastyle' is about the gazillionth single to be taken from her eponymous album that was originally released in her native Sweden back in 2005! She's made a new video for it, which you can gaze upon below. It's not exactly original in concept, but neon paint landing on a white surface (usually in slow motion) is still rather interesting to look at. Why is that? Oh, if only I could remember my degree-level Media Studies course...
But it's not all about releasing old songs to flog a (brilliant) old album. Robyn also appears on two tracks on the new Christian Falk album. 'C.C.C' is all '80s cheap beats and ascending synths whilst 'Dream On' is hands in the air rave-tastic. Bravo Robyn (and Christian, but to be honest we're not so sure who you are yet, so it's mainly Robyn).
I know that hating Scouting For Girls is really obvious, like disliking Nazis or mashed potato, but sometimes you have to give voice to the glaringly obvious and make sure people realise what's going on. Scouting For Girls are three of the most insipid human beings you're ever likely to meet (and I hope to God you don't meet them), and their music is pure depression for the ears. But in a way I feel that I should draw your attention to something these men have achieved that sets them apart from every other dog shit band; they have genuinely made one of the worst song/video combinations of all time. A round of applause please, if you will, for Scouting For Girls and their new single, 'I Wish I Was James Bond', the sixth (!) to be taken from their number 1(!!) debut album, Wow I Can't Believe So Many People Actually Buy This Lazy Old Shit:
Oh dear God. Where to start with this? I'm not sure I can bring myself to do it. The guy with the bass and his spoken interlude bit, what's that about? When he says "mixing business with girls, and thrills" I literally want to shove a pen up my nose and slam my head onto the table. The way it's been released to coincide with the new James Bond film that's out next month, like people will be that stupid as to go and watch the Quantum Of Solace, then hear this on the radio and think, man, I need that song in my life because I too wish I was James Bond. OK, so people are that stupid, but why? What next, Scouting For Girls sing 'I Wish I Was Harry Potter' or 'I Wish I Was John McClane', or 'I Wish I Was Joseph Stalin' to coincide with a documentary on Communism? How about the ending, where he lists all the names of the actors that have been James Bond, thus collapsing the admittedly fragile nature of ACTING!!! Oh, by the way, the singers name is Roy. Enough said.
Those delightful chaps over at Radiohead have decided to release the rather wonderful 'Reckoner' as the third single from their really quite splendid In Rainbows album. As with 'Nude', fans can download individual stems of the song to remix until their hearts content, creating unlistenable dirges or moments of beauty. To continue the DIY ethos (some would say sheer laziness), the band have picked an animated fan-made effort (by Clement Picon) for the official video and here it is...
'Reckoner' is Musick's favourite song from the album and it looks like it might be Gnarls Barkley's favourite too, here they are giving it a bash at a recent gig:
Musically it's spot on. Vocally, er, well, it's a good effort. No doubt he gave 110% (we've all been watching a little too much X Factor).