Women in Music Pt. III // HAIM

Reviewed: 05/07/20

Rating: 7 // 10

Genres: Pop-Rock, Indie-Rock

Released: 26/06/2020, Columbia

HAIM returns with their signature sound of polished pop-flavoured Indie-Rock, offering a solid track listing without reinventing themselves or the genre.

Sister trio HAIM have added to their strong back catalogue of albums with Women in Music Pt. III, their longest project yet.

Whilst this project didn’t quite blow me away, it certainly is a pleasant experience that doesn’t drag on too long – even though it does end up nearing that territory.

The opening leg of the project is definitely the strongest, with the opener Los Angeles featuring a bouncy kick-drum that the carefree track is built upon.

Here at the beginning are the poppier cuts, including the single The Steps. Upbeat yet about a serious topic manner, a relationship where a partner has pretty much given up, it is fairly simple, but features some neat production choices such as the very slight manipulation of the vocals at times.

I Know Alone diverts the album towards a song featuring an ever so slightly drum & bass-esque backing track, yet keeps acoustic elements. Perhaps I’m not doing the best job of describing it, but the more apparent voice manipulation and electronic elements really separates it from everything else on here.

It’s the subtle sound effects and production techniques that add up overall, keeping rather stripped-back indie interesting with more computerised sounds. Up From a Dream returns to a far more “traditional” sound, but during the break down we enter some washed out, sci-fi styled whooshes that really add to the experience.

That is appreciated because this is a very repetitive song thanks to an overused chorus.

My favourite moment is probably the chorus of Gasoline, a gorgeous song that has an emotive bassline tucked in behind the pianos and keys. The drums to me constantly feel detached from the melodies, but not in an obtrusive way – they’re repetitive and reliable, constantly there without much change up.

This also features my favourite harmonies and vocal performances.

We again divert from strict indie-rock as we drift towards the R&B influenced 3AM, which is another personal highlight.

Don’t Wanna, the last released single, is arguably the plainest out of the six songs previewed before the album’s release.

Following from that track is the far more unique Another Try, with a far more creative mix of instruments and sound effects. More disco and dance driven than any other track, especially during the verses, it does stand out on the tracklisting.

More indie and even folk sounds are woven into Leaning On You, a sign of the final few song on here.

They’re all solid songs that don’t break the mould, but definitely leaning more towards filler. All That Ever Mattered has a more spacious and softer-pop feel to it, but apart from that the final tracks are fairly straight-played.

Right at the end is the bizarre addition of the three singles from 2019 added in as bonus tracks. It isn’t a startling change – they fit the theme of the album, but it isn’t possible to listen to the album without them on streaming services.

I haven’t got a huge list of complaints for this record – whilst it comes across as safe in parts it never screams boring to me at all, and never was it anything less than a pleasant listen. However, in terms of progression from their previous albums, there isn’t the clearest of improvements or reinvention.

Track Listing

  • Los Angeles (B+)
  • The Steps (B+)
  • I Know Alone (A-)
  • Up From A Dream (B+)
  • Gasoline (A+)
  • 3AM (A)
  • Don’t Wanna (B)
  • Another Try (B+)
  • Leaning On You (B)
  • I’ve Been Down (B)
  • Man from the Magazine (B)
  • All That Ever Mattered (B)
  • FUBT (B-)
  • Now I’m In It (B)
  • Hallelujah (B-)
  • Summer Girl (B)

Run The Jewels 4 // Run The Jewels

Reviewed: 15/06/2020

Rating: 8.5 // 10

Genres: Experimental Hip-Hop, Hardcore Hip-Hop

Released: 03/06/2020, Jewel Runners

Run The Jewels took the longest time yet between albums, crafting a statement – musically and politically, landing at a time where the world needs to listen more than ever.

Context is everything. When the wheels started turning for this project, neither Killer Mike or El-P could have predicted the landscape of the world this album would be birthed into. Does the recent calls against injustice that led to worldwide riots make this album’s message stronger, make this a better album?

Perhaps, but in the reality we live in this is the only version of events that we can consume this album within. World context is impossible to separate from music – it influences the lyrics, mood, so many variables both consciously and unconsciously.

It is impossible to listen to this album and not think about the world around it. Maybe if it came out at another time, my – and others’ – feelings would be different.

What truly saddens me is that these words applied before the flashpoint of George Floyd, and seemingly will apply further into an increasingly dystopian looking future.

Even if this album came out before the mass protesting, its lyrics and message would remain the same.

It is heartbreaking to think that when Killer Mike states the timely phrase “I can’t breathe” on walking in the snow, seemingly in reference to Floyd, it was actually recorded six months prior, inspired by the similar murder of Eric Garner, showing how common an occurrence this is.

The track that follows walking in the snow, JU$T, also scarily predicts the murder of Floyd, again referring to Garner’s killing with El-P‘s line:

Where murderous chokehold cops still earnin’ a livin’
Funny how some say money don’t matter
That’s rich now, isn’t it? Get it? Comedy

Try to sell a pack of smokes to get food
Get killed and it’s not an anomaly

Whilst this album is direct with its political content, it also isn’t beating a dead horse, analysing many parts of a broken system. It narrows in on the impact of money and capitalist systems, the role of the media in perpetuating racism, as well as discussing enviomental issues.

This is almost a manifesto in terms of the wide range of topics chosen to vent about, and whilst this album flashes past you in an instant, with just 39 minutes, it leaves a lasting impression.

The energy is high throughout, beginning with the lead single and opening track yankee and the brave (ep.4). Killer Mike gets us underway with his lyrical miracle boom-bap style laced with aggression and passion, and to his credit, El-P matches that energy and skill, creating a back and forth energy that really sets the tone.

ooh la la hosts a repetitive chorus that adds to the monotony of the beat, creating a perfect base for the duo and guests Greg Nice and DJ Premier to have fun on.

Over the project the multiple features only add to the experience, and never dominate a song. 2 Chainz joins on out of sight, another light-hearted beat that boasts hard hitting bars.

holy calamafuck features a very prominent beat switch halfway through, with the pair at their most braggadocious. Both sections of the song have a reduced, more measured feel to them, but the aggression behind the delivery is still there.

In terms of personal favourites, goonies vs. E.T. is certainly up there, with a dark and brooding atmosphere from the get go thanks to the pitched down vocals and ominous synth bassline.

There are no bad songs on this project, with other other highlights including the aforementioned walking in the snow and JU$T.

Technically, the quality of production is brilliant from El-P, who also seems to have improved vastly in terms of his flow and delivery. Killer Mike, well, kills it, but I would say his lyricism is a lot more pointed and effective than before.

The sound and feel of this is consistent with the three albums that came before it, and to suggest that this is a vast improvement would be harsh on the first three albums. Make no mistake – this is their best work together yet, but it isn’t millions of miles away from their debut.

Yes, they might not have innovated or evolved much, but have instead focused on polishing, refining their combined sound, all of which comes to a point on this record.

Truly a must-listen no matter your music tastes.

As always, Black Lives Matter. This website relies on the work, passion and artistry of Black people to create music, and whilst gratitude isn’t sufficient, we must speak up on their behalf if they are being silenced. Please check this link out for further information and resources: https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/

Track Listing

  • yankee and the brave (ep.4) (B)
  • ooh la la (B+)
  • out of sight (A-)
  • holy calamafuck (A-)
  • goonies vs. E.T. (A-)
  • walking in the snow (A*)
  • JU$T (A+)
  • never look back (B+)
  • the ground below (A-)
  • pulling the pin (B+)
  • a few words for the firing squad (radiation) (A)

Sideways to New Italy // Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Reviewed: 28/06/2020

Rating: 0.6 // 10

Genres: Indie-Rock

Released: 05/06/2020, Sub Pop

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever return with their sophomore effort, a somewhat middling entry into their discography of plain and simple indie-rock that scratches the itch but offers nothing new.

Australian Indie-Rock outfit Rolling Blackouts C.F. hark back to a sound and scene that came way before them with their stereotypical sound, but to turn your nose up at the band’s efforts would be snide considering it certainly isn’t bad.

In fact, if you were, or still are, a big fan of that sound, you certainly won’t regret checking out this project. It is 39 minutes of fun, simple indie-rock that whilst it doesn’t leave the biggest of impressions, is an overall pleasant experience.

The opening track The Second of the First starts with acoustic and electric guitars fighting for the spotlight, bolstering a high-energy start to the record.

With three singer-guitarists in the band there is plenty of opportunities for harmonisation, with a clear example on the second track, Falling Thunder.

The opening few tracks of the album have that indie-rock enthusiasm reminiscent of the UK scene in the 00s, but that soon mellows out on the track Beautiful Steven. It has an almost washed out quality to the sound, and a far slower energy and feel to both the instruments and the delivery.

Into the middle section of the album, where some new instruments are brought into the mix, starting with the harmonica on the track The Only One. On the following track, Cars In Space, the faster pacing is matched with some uptempo horns that really plays into the summer feel of the album.

Towards the end of the track listing the songs start to wind down into a more soft and laidback sound, with the more standout Sunglasses at the Wedding, but in the process creating largely unforgettable tracks in the form of Not Tonight and The Cool Change.

Overall this comes across as music for the summer that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and whilst there is nothing wrong with that approach, it lacks any substance to make it noteworthy beyond its genre.

Compared to their previous efforts there isn’t really any innovation in terms of sound or approaching new ideas and sounds with anything more than a half-hearted glance.

Yes, whilst it does slightly pale in comparison to their earlier work, to go as far as to say it is bad or a waste would be disingenuous.

Hopefully the band learns from this and can evolve their sound properly in their next offering.

Track Listing

  • The Second of the First (B)
  • Falling Thunder (B-)
  • She’s There (C)
  • Beautiful Steven (C+)
  • The Only One (B-)
  • Cars In Space (B)
  • Cameo (C)
  • Not Tonight (C-)
  • Sunglasses at the Wedding (C+)
  • The Cool Change (C-)

Punisher // Phoebe Bridgers

Reviewed: 21/06/2020

Rating: 8.5 // 10

Genres: Indie-folk / Singer-Songwriter

Released: 18/06/20, Deep Oceans

Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore album highlights a singer-songwriter coming into her own, detailing the influences and questions that impact her music the most.

Despite only being 25 and on her second album, Phoebe Bridgers has worked on two other projects inbetween her two studio albums, boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Centre.

On top of that she also lent her vocals to a few songs on The 1975’s latest project, including the single Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America.

And whilst the band projects she has worked on, including her solo work, are based in indie-rock sounds, the way she moulds herself around collaborators is a real strength of hers.

Punisher is more than a sum of its parts – at times showing a minamilist, stripped back, vulnerable side, others a total outpouring of emotions via overwhelming instrumentals.

It’s no surprise to me that the artist tributed by the titular track, Punisher, is Elliott Smith – the king of emo indie-folk brought to life  with little fanfare or instrumentals. His combination of raw musical and emotions is an apparent influence on the project as a whole. 

However, to pretend that this album is like-for-like, or directly lifted from Smith’s playbook would be disingenuous towards both artists. From the opening interlude track, DVD Music, filled with poetic violins, there is a high – and polished – standard of production. 

With Smith’s self-titled project in mind, part of the charm of that album was the loose and amateur feel to it – but there is a decent budget here, utilised to full effect.

Some of the little details are similar – quite often you can hear the scraping of fingers on the guitar neck that populated Smith’s work, subtle and discreet enough to be charming and genuine, rather than shoddy playing. 

After the almost sinister yet sombre atmosphere generated with the opening instrumental, the first track Garden Song is far more upbeat in nature.

There’s a warmth to the sound, but it also retains the spacious and hollow feeling of the interlude.

The duet during the chorus is so lovely – the deeper male voice, provided by Bridger’s tour manager, offers a lovely contrast and sounds brilliant. The male voice is almost a shadow of Bridgers’ lighter vocals.

Bridgers’ singing on this just seems effortless the entire way through this project – with just enough force behind it when she wants and needs it.

The following track, Kyoto, continues the upbeat trend, with uptempo horns that start of subtle, before slowly becoming more attention grabbing further into the track. Here Bridgers is utilising her voice with different levels of impact, creating an emotional vocal track.

The voice manipulation at the start of Punisher creates an impersonal view, fitting for a track about a person Bridgers never met. Here Bridgers is talking about Elliott Smith, admitting that due to her idolisation of the man, she is a superfan who would talk his ear off if they ever had met.

It’s such an interesting concept to come from someone who is famous themselves – a celebrity who is adored but also adores other celebrities.

Halloween features those minimalist guitars – sounding like just enough pressure and force is being applied to produce the notes needed. There’s some really interesting intstruments chosen here – either a wind-inspired synth or a wind-instrument manipulated in a certain way, which I can’t quite place.

The best I can describe this song is by labelling it as soft yet purposeful.

Chinese Satellite sees Bridgers pine for something to believe in, which to me is such a powerful and interesting topic. Tension builds thanks to the drums, and it feels like we’re going to have a loud burst of sound and energy. However, it is instead translated into some mournful violins, which die down to give way for the percussion once more.

Moon Song eschews traditional song formatting for a very linear take, a straight take on story telling. Here we hear those screeches of the guitar most apparently, with the gentle cymbals in the background. As the song progresses, you can hear the emotion in Bridgers’ voice build.

A simple base of guitars is built upon for Savior Complex, with an array of different instruments operating in the background, softly supplementing the song. For large portions of this project the focus is on Bridger’s vocals and lyrics, and it really is allowed to shine throughout.

The teetering, almost teasing drums and percussion at the start of I See You foreshadows the eventual burst of energy near the end of the song.

Banjo doesn’t always mean a song is country, but the string-fulled atmosphere of Graceland Too draws from the genre. Again there are some subtle production choices, such as the organ synths hidden behind the guitars and violins that really garnish the track as a whole.

The slight manipulation at the start of I Know The End reoccurs throughout as the song whirs to life, a ballad that eventually builds into a semi-orchestral ending for the LP.

You can feel the power building as more instruments are brought in, with horns, heavier percussion and strings really bringing a sense of grandiosity to a fairly minimal project.

It ends in a cacophony of sound and chants, before descending into screams and the raspy, hoarse sounds of a voice that can scream no longer.

Overall Bridgers proves that she can fly solo when needed, work well as a team, use very little to do a lot, or use a lot to make a masterpiece. Truly one of 2020’s best albums so far, and well worth a listen.

Track Listing

  • DVD Menu (B+)
  • Garden Song (A-)
  • Kyoto (A-)
  • Punisher (A)
  • Halloween (B)
  • Chinese Satellite (A)
  • Moon Song (A)
  • Savior Complex (A)
  • I See You (A)
  • Graceland Too (B+)
  • I Know The End (A-)

The Godfather 3 // Wiley

Reviewed: 19/06/2020

Rating: 0.7 // 10

Genres: Grime

Released: 05/06/20, Wiley Records

Wiley returns for yet another victory lap, but this time takes the time to champion his fellow veterans, and to shine a light to those waiting in the wings for his crown.

Wiley is a Grime pioneer – it can’t be questioned. Whilst Dizzee Rascal launched his career from the genre (thanks to Wiley), and arguably gave it the first meaningful bit of attention from the media, he quickly moved into more commercial sounds.

Wiley, alongside GiggsGhetts and others, stuck to their genre, and carved out the faces on the Mount Rushmore of Grime in the process. 

And whilst we’re arguably approaching a third and fourth wave of grime artists, the old heads still remain very relevant in the game.

After dropping arguably his biggest hit ever, Boasty, a features-loaded dancehall inspired track, Wiley proved that he can cater to a mainstream audience – when he wants to.

Despite the rise of grime stars and the genre as a whole, Wiley is still concerned about the longevity of the genre.

Whilst it is true that the jungle-inspired beats are being slowly replaced with more American influences, and many artists are moving towards the new genre of Afroswing and its Dancehall roots, the scene still feels relatively strong.

There are some notable big names missing if this was meant to be the Allstars of Grime, but after Wiley seemingly fighting every fellow star at the end of last year, that isn’t surprising. 

But there are 30 artists on here – ranging from both of the Newham GeneralsFootsie and D Double E, fellow fathers of the genre, to new blood such as AJ Tracey’s cousin Big Zuu.

Overall, this project is 22 tracks long. To its credit, this feels like an important moment in the history of grime – not just a passing of the torch, but a snapshot of everything that brought the genre to this point.

The opening five tracks fly-by but quickly establish what this project’s mission statement is.

In the opening song aptly named Intro, where Wiley goes solo, he quips:

I’ll be the father, bro, you can be the son of it

It’s always been me and mine runnin’ it”

On the second track, Come Home, where he is joined by Blay Vision and Realz, he adds: 

Gotta see the next generation grow

Wanna see the next gen go make dough

This is clearly a passion project for the 41 year-old, who has genuine concerns about the future of a genre built partly off his work.

The Game follows, and is somehow another solo song despite the heavy feature list – and again Wiley highlights his standing in the genre, pointing out that he came before even fellow legends Ghetts and Kano.

If there was any doubt about the intentions of this project, the title of Protect the Empire banishes them.

This track masterfully combines the concept of being on top of the genre, whilst encouraging the next generation once more to step-up.

Fellow oldheads Jammer and K9 back up the sentiment on a very well rounded track.

Yes, at times, the project feels very bloated. The pacing is fantastic – no track overstays its welcome, an no track is longer than four minutes. Whilst cramming 30 features in sometimes becomes detrimental, it produces my favourite moment of the album.

The star-studded Eskimo Dance is only three minutes and half long, the classic length of a single, but there are twelve MCs spitting bars over beats made by thirteen producers.

This is where the preservation of old-grime tradition comes in – rarely seen any more, but this format of MCs having the mic for just eight bars before handing it over to the next was once a frequent fixture of the scene.

Referred to as an “8-bar rally”, the energy on this infectious and never stops.

Delusion, K9, Capo Lee, Flowdan, Jammer, Ten Dixon, Ears, Jammz, Breeze, Big Swingz and Tempa T (in that order) feature, and with the beat switching up for each artist, there is a uniqueness and personality to each MC.

The result is one of my favourite tracks of the year so far.

Alla Dem sees Wiley joined by Riko Dan for just the chorus and the repetition of one line, but this is Wiley bragging about himself. 

There’s a fine line between pointing out that the genre was built by Wiley and his contemporaries, and boasting of your own accomplishments and talents.

This is the latter, with Wiley showing off his flow.

One half of the Newham Generals, features on Bars, one of the more forgettable tracks on the album. It is not a bad song per se, but it is a lot more subdued, with simple flows over a very dark and brooding beat that sounds more from the early noughties. 

Perhaps for fear of missing out, D Double E’s partner in crime Footsie joins in on the next track, alongside Goldie1 and Flirta D.

Family brings back a bit of energy, with a subtle jungle flavour to the synths and bass, coupling with the four MCs to create a threatening sound.

Wiley switches up the flow completely on This Is It, a more personal self-reflection. Nowhere near as braggadocious or concerned with the state of grime, this is Wiley discussing his fears and thoughts.

Bruce Wayne returns to the more familiar theme of being the creator of a genre, in a far more defensive tone, with links back to the beef he shared with Stormzy and Nolay.

K9 and Jammer return, joined by GHSTLY XXVII for Starring, another track analysing the MCs stature in the scene.

Amsterdam sees Wiley sample his old song, Morgue, which was very much an old-school, more electronic vibe grime track.

Overall the song is decent, but if I was trimming the project down, it would probably end up on the cutting room floor.

The next few tracks sees Wiley discuss those closest to him – firstly his partner, himself, and then his son. Again, Balance doesn’t totally fit the track listing, but is a passable song with a lovely featured chorus from Aisa. 

Free Spirit is another self-reflection, a slower track, that once more is by no means a bad song, but it does lean more towards filler.

Whilst we’ve seen family members share stages, tracks and fame in the grime scene, we’re yet to see a father and his son in the game – and that’s exactly what Wiley envisages his son picking up the mic too, on Light Work.

South London and West London, unsurprisingly, feature MCs from the respective areas of the UK’s capital. Definitely designed to showcase the younger MCs on this track, they do their job well.

Big Zuu, Direman, GHSTLY XXVII & K9 come first, on West London, before the South Londoners come through – Blessed UK, Crafty 893, Faultsz, Jon E Clayface & Ten Dixon all feature.

Overall, I really like the idea, and the execution. Not quite a rally, but everything flows well over interesting beats.

The final track, Press Record, is just Wiley spitting over the instrumental of Khalid’s Right Back.

Once more Wiley turns inwards, talking about his struggles and experiences throughout his career. It really feels like this, along with the other more sentimental tracks, could have been saved for a more cohesive record, but if this is the last project we hear from the veteran, it makes sense to release it before he retires.

Overall this project will go down in the history of grime. A classic not because of its quality, of which there is plenty, but mainly for the statement it makes and the bookmark it places in the current story of the genre.

If this really is Wiley’s last album, then it is a fitting reflection of a true UK music legend.

Track Listing

  • Intro – B+
  • Come Home – B
  • The Game – B+
  • Da Vibe is Back – B
  • Protect the Empire – A+
  • Eskimo Dance – A*
  • Alla Dem – B
  • Bars – B+
  • Family – A-
  • This is It – B-
  • Bruce Wayne – B-
  • Double Dragon – B
  • Starring – B+
  • Amsterdam – B-
  • Balance – C+
  • Free Spirit – C+
  • Light Work – B
  • Rinse – C
  • Image Ting – C
  • West London – B+
  • South London – B+
  • Press Record – C

Deep Down Happy // Sports Team

Reviewed: 16/06/2020

Rating: 7.5 // 10

Genres: Indie-Rock

Released: Date, Record Label

Sports Team are a perfect representation of England in 2020 – Middle Englanders trying to pretend they’re something they’re not. However, their talent shines through their faux-working class lyricism.

Labelling fellow British debutants HMLTD as “the worst band ever” for simply going to a lesser university than their precious Cambridge should tell you all you need to know about Sports Team.

Whilst the band isn’t afraid to poke fun at themselves and the Middle England that formed them, they also aren’t afraid to punch down on those perceived lower than them.

Overall it sounds like the exact type of person Pulp sang about in Common People – whilst also mimicking the delivery of lead singer Jarvis Cocker throughout this project.

However, whilst the paradox of the band’s image and entitlement still stands, this is a solid debut that proves English indie-rock still has legs to it.

The instant energy of Lander gives us a taste of what it is come, and so does the constant change in delivery from Alex Rice. After the frantic start the song slides into calm, before being dragged elsewhere by Rice’s almost manic, frenetic change of pace via his vocals.

Here It Comes Again plays on repetitive verses, choruses and instrumentals to replicate the monotony of Middle Class life. Going Soft is also similarly repetitive and rigidly structured, but that constant change in delivery and inflection from Rice keeps things interesting.

The pacing on this album is spot-on throughout, with no songs really dragging on past their welcome. Camel Crew sees more of the same middle-class struggles dictated, alongside a follow up dig to HMLTD, which comes across as petty and pointless.

This avant garde is still the same

Go to Goldsmiths and they dye their fringes

Just to know they’ve made it only

When they sign the rights to Sony

The song meanders between paces, which is a nice change for a largely straight-played tracklist.

Long Hot Summer is the most understated song on the album, and whilst fairly basic in structure is again a welcome switch-up from other songs on the project. Not quite moaning or making really insightful commentary on society, this is a far more personal song about a relationship, and the subdued tone of it fits nicely.

The following track Feels Like Fun picks the pace up a bit, with almost droning guitars surrounding the chorus. The song really comes in to its own right at the end, with the mayhem inspired ending. The pointed political commentary on this is a bit more vague and metaphoric, compared to the heavy, on the nose lyrics from the next track, Here’s The Thing.

Whilst I find the words on this so blindingly obvious and so tongue-in-cheek it’s ripped through the side of your face, the repetition, bounciness kinda fit in with the basic observations. Definitely fits as a the lead single, the breakdown half way through adds something to what would be a very formulaic song.

The Races paints the clearest picture of any song, detailing the insufferable types you’ll find throughout British life. Self-centred and opinionated, ironically just like the band, it is a common sight at many different events in the UK, and the story it paints is perfectly imaginable.

I’d argue after reaching the mid-point of Here’s The Thin / The Races follows a strong finish, starting with Born Sugar. Rice has a malleable voice, and whilst it can sound heavily influenced by Damon Albarn (listen to most of these songs and you’ll want to shout out Parklife in the lulls) and Jarvis Cocker, the frequency of changes to delivery keeps it entertaining throughout.

Fishing and Kutcher revert to a fusion of 00’s British indie-rock with post-punk vocals, and in the case of Fishing, probably thanks to Matty Healy, who wrote the song and promptly sold it to Sports Team.

Despite the business dealing, the two singers have engaged in light subtweets and mild beef, indicating that Alex Rice is going to be a headline generator from his mouth.

Kutcher‘s instrumentals are the most memorable on the track, and the lyrics regarding Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are funny yet oddly relatable, and again paints a clear picture.

The closing track Stations of the Cross rounds off the strong finish to an album that gives a good showing of the band. In a scene that has faded to the background in recent years, there is an opportunity to quickly rise to the top of the genre.

Sports Team aren’t quite there yet, but this debut indicates that we will be talking about them and anticipating more music sooner rather than later.

Track Listing

  • Lander (B+)
  • Here It Comes Again (B)
  • Going Soft (B)
  • Camel Crew (B+)
  • Long Hot Summer (B+)
  • Feels Like Fun (B+)
  • Here’s The Thing (A-)
  • The Races (B+)
  • Born Sugar (B)
  • Fishing (B+)
  • Kutcher (B+)
  • Stations of the Cross (B+)

No Favours // Footsie

Reviewed: 27/05/2020

Rating: 0.9 // 10

Genres: Grime, UK Drill

Released: 22/05/20, Studio 55

Footsie may have taken 16 years to release a solo debut LP, but one of the forefathers of Grime will never be forgotten with an explosive album full of highs.

One half of Grime MC Duo Newham Generals with D Double E, the pair have helped pioneer a genre that has crossed the ocean in terms of popularity.

Whilst Giggs, Skepta and Wiley remain prominent with their own solo careers, Footsie has been quietly working hard in the shadows, first with his series of instrumental albums, before making another mark on the history of Grime.

The first track, Spread Love, introduces us straight into the energy and tone of the album, with a classic grime beat inspired by jungle music.

This project is feature heavy, but never relies on the guest performer, as seen on the second track, Restless Jack. The suspenseful strings at the start continue the energy from the opener, but already Footsie has switched up his flow. CASisDEAD builds on the flow Footsie lays down, matching the tone of the track.

My personal highlight of the album is the single, Pepper Stew. JME joins Footsie on the second half of the track, an intense song with some serious, proper spitting from Footsie. Unlike CAS, JME switches up the flow and feel of the song, culminating in a serious banger.

Throughout the project, Footsie is remarkably witty, with some of my favourites on Pepper Stew:

“I am a striker, Hernán Crespo

Could’ve said Vardy but I went retro

Back in the day I had a Mini Metro

Fling in a fiver, bare petrol”

“Man will get a peppering

Put a man in a hole like Ketamine

Doing this ting for years, I’m a veteran”

Despite having multiple features, the middle leg of the album is Footsie spitting on his own, and at no point does it feel like he needs another MC to share the mic with.

The titular track No Favours has this washed out vibe, and a feeling of reminiscing. The flow, more measured yet driven fits really well over the faded siren-esque synths.

On Finesse we return to a jungle based beat, with a throbbing bass and another switched up flow. It’s this versatility that keeps the album fresh – even if the beats are familiar.

Fwd Skit is a beat we have heard before – it’s a live recording of Newham Generals playing at the FWD club. Whilst the recording isn’t crystal clear – it’s was from an era when we didn’t have pocket HD cameras – it clearly places you back into the early days of Grime, almost a historical artefact.

Pattern & Program takes that similar beat from the skit, and turns it into a proper banger. The last solo track on the album, Footsie goes in hard.

My Own Wave serves as the introduction of the other half of Newham Generals, the aforementioned D Double E. The pair’s chemistry is apparent, but we have to wait a bit as the song opens with some lovely vocals from Pepper Rose.

Lyrically, there’s a slight hint of afroswing on this, but it is a proper grime, more drill track. Music Money also features D Double E, and here it’s like the pair never stopped.

The track is straight out of the jungle scene, with the dirtiest and loudest bass on the album. The pair are bragging the most on this track, almost a triumphant victory-lap after their careers.

Hills of Zion heavily features a sample of the same name from Trinity in 1977, with added cowbells for a unique sound. Frisco and Durrty Goodz both join in on the fun, and the flow between all three is natural and sounds good.

G Set steers towards the more commercial sounds of modern grime, following a clearer radio-hit pattern and repetitive chorus. However, at no point does it feel purely fodder, and the guest appearances from President T and P Money add to the track.

J Appiah helps us round off the album on two tracks, firstly on Underwater. Appiah’s vocals add a slight R&B flavour to the heavy synths in the background, with the beat again leaning towards the more commercial trap-rap dominating the charts. However, by the time Footsie is spitting, it clearly has a grime vibe to it.

Named after the black British Heavyweight Champion, Frank Bruno is based on the idea of being exactly that – black British heavyweights in the field of grime. Triggz also features on the beat, and he understands the theme and vibe of the song.

Easy For You again features the signing voice of Appiah, which causes the song to again lean towards a poppier market. Appiah dominates the track – it takes two minutes out of the three for Footsie to start spitting, however it creates an emotional sounding track to see out the album.

Overall, this is Grime past, present, and hopefully, the future. Despite the 13 features, at not point does this feel like anyone else’s album, but they all add something to how great this project is.

A genuinely fantastic album that will definitely be near the top of my end of year charts – and has a decent chance of being my favourite grime album of the year.

Track Listing

  • Spread Love (B+)
  • Restless Jack (A-)
  • Pepper Stew (A*)
  • No Favours (A)
  • Finesse (B+)
  • Fwd Skit (A-)
  • Pattern & Program (A)
  • My Own Wave (A-)
  • Music Money (A)
  • Hills of Zion (A)
  • G Set (B+)
  • Underwater (A)
  • Frank Bruno (A)
  • Easy For You (B+)

I Love The New Sky // Tim Burgess

Reviewed: 26/05/2020

Rating: 0.6 // 10

Genres: Pop-Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Released: 22/05/2020, Bella Union

Tim Burgess combines imaginative lyrics and interesting sonic ideas before stretching them out beyond their need across an incohesive project.

After four solo LPs and 13 as frontman of The Charlatans, Tim Burgess has covered many different sounds to varying degrees of success. On I Love The New Sky he replicates this – by cramming as many ideas into songs as possible.

When it pays off, it is a delight to listen to, before it is dragged beyond its welcome. On other cuts, the clash of styles becomes too much, such as the more industrial noises on The Warhol Me.

Luckily, one of the better cuts comes right at the start. Empathy For The Devil has a poppy feel to it, bouncing along its relatively abstract lyrics. There is so many elements to this song – the synths over the breakdown, the violins added deep into the song, somehow works.

However, the upbeat track slowly loses its charm as it continues past the three minute mark. Sweetheart Mercury features a more electro vibe, with slight manipulation of the voice and other synth based elements.

The light hint of bongo in the background is a nice touch, but as Burgess hardly changes his tone of voice throughout the project, it again becomes stale and goes on too long.

Comme D’Habitude introduces us to a more jazz-based feel, in a quite laidback track. The high-pitched backing vocals on the chorus come across as childish, but the piano in general, and the added jazz elements such as the saxophone after the breakdown are more than welcome.

Sweet Old Sorry Me is a slug to get through, offering nothing really of note or anything new. By now you can hear the formula for songs – begin with an idea, play it out for two minutes or so, feature an interesting breakdown that breaks up the monotony of the track, before dragging it out even further.

On The Warhol Me Burgess draws elements of industrial music, with an obnoxious whirring that fades in and out of each ear, much to the detriment of the track. The throbbing synths over a relatively normal pop-rock piano and guitar combo is nice idea, but that high-pitched screech detracts so much from it. Lyrically Burgess is at his most enjoyable, preaching:

“I see colours you can’t see,

The Warhol me,

Burning round the city,

The Warhol me,

I’m making entries in my diary,”

The industrial noises take us out of the song, but once more we are subjected to far too much of it. Whilst I’m a fan of pieces that use ambient sounds to close out songs, the near two minutes we receive (out of five and half) is far too much. I will give credit to the flow into the next track, Lucky Creatures.

The whirring noises give way into almost a marching drum beat, serious and sinister in tone, which itself disappears into a relaxed, jazzier pop-rock track.

That quick build up of tension and release comes off really well – because in contrast to the rest of the album, it is an idea executed well and swiftly. Overall, a good song.

The Mall has an almost twinkle to it, thanks to the piano and chimes. On this track we finally get some proper variation in delivery and tone, with luscious backing vocals and violins layered over the chorus.

The vocals match the music so well, and for me, this is a standout moment on the album. The synth breakdown matches well with an electric guitar solo, and whilst on the slightly longer side, it doesn’t feel as drawn out.

This section of the album is the most cohesive, with the lounge music style seeping in. The high hat and kicks are utilised more than ever, running into Timothy.

Whilst I couldn’t really identify a running theme throughout apart from this being about Burgess (for the most part), it becomes a bit clearer on this track, as it highlights his thinking process and thoughts.

If that is the theme, I’d argue it isn’t carried out in full throughout.

Timothy itself is very much like The Mall, except not as deep in its production. Same formula, with a synth breakdown again. There are a few backing vocals on this track, and a bit of light voice manipulation, but after the highlight of The Mall, it kind of falls a bit flat. Not a bad track though.

Only Took A Year returns to a guitar based sound, but overall, it is a tad forgettable and repetitive. Again over the four minute mark, and not much to show for it.

The next track, I Got This, involves more sounds, with the shakers and organs over a subtle bassline really building into something nicely. The backing vocals are more stand out as well, thanks to being offset with Burgess’ voice. However, lyrically, it is the most basic and his delivery is one-note throughout.

The penultimate song, Underlow is a slower ballad, which again features a synth-based breakdown to break up what is a completely repetitive song.

Finally, Laurie is closest to classic pop-rock, with multiple guitars and piano joined by a synth that sort of highlights the end of a line. The breakdown hardly features much change, and as a whole, this track is a replica of that style outlined above. After a decent start and stronger middle, the ending is underwhelming.

Overall, there is enough interesting ideas on here to listen to, but its replay-ability is questionable.

Track Listing

  • Empathy For The Devil (B+)
  • Sweetheart Mercury (C)
  • Comme D’Habitude (C+)
  • Sweet Old Sorry Me (C-)
  • The Warhol Me (C)
  • Lucky Creatures (B+)
  • The Mall (A-)
  • Timothy (B-)
  • Only Took A Year (C)
  • I Got This (B+)
  • Underlow (C-)
  • Laurie (C)

WUNNA // Gunna

Reviewed: 25/05/2020

Rating: 4.5 // 10

Genres: Trap-Rap, Pop-Rap

Released: 22/05/2020

Gunna might have improved on his debut effort from last year, but his sound and style struggles to impress and stand out amongst his peers.

After spending the first four years of his career as a serial mixtape releaser, Gunna has produced the follow up to his first full length album, Drip or Drown 2.

Whilst he has marginally improved upon his first offering, most of WUNNA is a chore to listen to with very few high moments.

The opener ARGENTINA features a repetitive guitar twang and chimes that at first offer something different, but are quickly obscured by an obnoxiously loud beat and lazy flow.

In fact the opening leg of the album is a regurgitation of a sound that Gunna has stuck to for four years, with the brief adjustment here and there. The feature of GIMMICK is the bell sounds that bring the song in and out, and whilst the transition into MOTW is slick and applaudable, the songs are entirely forgettable.

Lyrically nothing stands out on either track, and beyond the small individual flairs, there isn’t much to write home about. On FEIGNING it is the strings at the beginning that breaks up the monotony of a striking similar hi-kick pattern.

Whilst the best of the first songs on the album, it is largely bland and only interesting (briefly) due to the instruments used.

DOLLARS ON MY HEAD sees Young Thug jump in for the first time on this album (he’ll be back at the end.)

The pitched up vocals at the start and around the bridge finally offer us some variety, and the beat is completely different to everything else so far. Overall, whilst not blowing me away, it is one of the better cuts on here.

In contrast, the following track features another artist – but returns to the bland, safe trap beat and vibe of the opening tracks. ADDYS features Nechie, who offers a tad more energy than Gunna’s lazy delivery.

SKYBOX begins with a spacey and nice synth lead, which is completely dropped once the beat drops and Gunna starts spitting. Returning, of course, is a low energy trap beat that meanders through its three minute run time.

The titular track WUNNA is in a similar vein – starts off with an interesting, drone-esque instrumental, before chucking a heavy reverb beat over it, and the same old Gunna flow.

Lil Baby features on BLINDFOLD, but doesn’t add much to another slow paced trap track.

ROCKSTAR BIKERS & CHAINS goes for a darker, grittier vibe, which works to its benefit. More drill than stick trap, the glitchy synths and rock guitars in the background finally produce the first interesting song.

MET GALA features a more R&B version of the classic trap beat, and Gunna sort of changes his flow up, but not by a super noticeable amount. Slows but not awful, the R&B guitars become a bit styled out near the end.

NASTY GIRL / ON CAMERA features one of the best moments of the project – the switch up half way through between songs. NASTY GIRL is yet another trap track, slightly stripped back and not overproduced.

The droning synths over ON CAMERA throughout are joined by voice manipulation, finally offering us something different.

Our next feature is in the form of Roddy Rich, who joins Gunna on another guitar based instrumental for COOLER THAN A BITCH. Forgettable in truths, again the instrumental is looped into the ground.

The faded intro and similarly manipulated voice on I’M ON SOME is a nice change, with all the components coming together well for a slow trap-rap track.

Arguably the king of trap-rap, Travis Scott dominates on TOP FLOOR. Autotune heavy, the trumpet loop again is overused and becomes stale quickly.

DON’T PLAY AROUND comes in with an interesting instrumental, with multiple synths, and for once, the lyrics seem focused on the theme. Pleasant enough, becomes quite repetitive quite quickly.

DO BETTER copies the theme of take an interesting instrumental (blues guitar) and loop it until it sounds awful. Gunna’s delivery is a bit more pointed and varied, and it is one of the better takes, but it is so formulaic at this point.

As mentioned prior, Young Thug returns to see this album over the line on FAR. This time its a bassline violated by overuse, with no standout performers. An average song for an average album.

Trap rap was one of the reasons hip-hop became the dominant genre in 2018, but the oversaturated market is making everything sound the same with the same features. With no major innovation from Gunna, he risks becoming irrelevant sooner rather than later.

Track Listing

  • ARGENTINA (C-)
  • GIMMICK (C-)
  • MOTW (D)
  • FEIGNING (C)
  • DOLLARS ON MY HEAD (C+)
  • ADDYS (D)
  • SKYBOX (C-)
  • WUNNA (D)
  • ROCKSTAR BIKERS & CHAINS (B-)
  • MET GALA (C-)
  • NASTY GIRL / ON CAMERA (C)
  • COOLER THAN A BITCH (D+)
  • I’M ON SOME (C-)
  • TOP FLOOR (D+)
  • DON’T PLAY AROUND (D)
  • DO BETTER (C-)
  • FAR (D)

Dedicated Side B // Carly Rae Jepsen

Reviewed: 24/05/2020

Rating: 0.8 // 10

Genres: Synthpop, Dancepop, Discopop

Released: 21/05/2020, Schoolboy Records

Carly Rae Jepsen reveals the B Side of last year’s LP Dedicated – and arguably, it is the superior album, with a more cohesive sound.

Ever since turning heavily to the world of synthpop and dancepop on her 2015 effort Emotion, Jepsen has captured the hearts and ears of popheads everywhere, with truly infectious tracks.

That continues on Dedicated B Side, which leans in even more to emotive synths and funky basslines. The quality is high, and it is a bit hard to believe that most of these tracks didn’t deserve to be on the main album.

Also starting with Emotion, Jepsen released the b-side tracks as a separate project, of which was a shorter EP.

But this fully fledged LP deserves every minute of its play time, producing some fun moments.

We’re chucked straight into the sound with the opener This Love Isn’t Crazy. Just like Dedicated, the songs are all love, relationship related, but that’s kinda Jepsen’s thing at this point.

The joy in her voice is matched with the bouncing percussion and synths, and already after one track we’re grooving, especially thanks to a chorus that sounds lifted from the dance floor.

Window relies heavily on the funkier bass that kicks off the song, and despite a more relaxed start, it still carries the same infectious energy of the opener. Jepsen displays a wide array of singing styles, including short, sharp one the beat delivery.

Onto Felt This Way dials back the bass, turning the vibe into a sensual, close energy. Stay Away is lyrically the same, both repeating the line of “I can’t stay away.” However, the synth heavy, more upbeat Stay Away makes the two completely distinct.

This Is What They Say falls firmly in the disco-electro genre, with the 80’s inspired synths and beat. Another loved up song, catchy by design, yet not quite an ear worm.

We get a departure from the core sound of the album on Heartbeat, a piano-based, slower track that feels very raw and passionate.

It contrasts greatly with the next track, Summer Love, which jumps straight back into the disco inspired, funk-driven styles of the album. Another driving bassline is layered over with slightly washed out vocals, giving us more variation within the general sound.

Fake Mona Lisa paints the clearest imagery of any song, a well written song comparing summer flings to making art. Short and simple, the funky bassline comes back yet again.

Let’s Sort This Out sounds like if you stripped the guitars from an indie-rock song, with the pianos chiming over a fast pace percussion beat. Unfortunately, the pacing of the song kind of gets a bit tedious when it approaches the end after almost four minutes.

Bleachers are the only featured artist on the album, joining Jepsen on Comeback, another synth-based, slower song. A slow burner, Bleachers provide the backing vocals over the chorus, which evolves the song into a proper ballad.

Solo is the last synthpop banger on the tracklist, coming before the more emotive and slower Now I Don’t Hate California At All. As you can probably tell by the super specific title, the lyrics are super personal. Overlayed overall tropical sounded guitar and the sounds of the tide slowly washing in and out, this is a nice, unique end to the album.

Overall I’d argue this is better than the other side it is paired with. You can tell both albums belong in the same era of Jepsen, and both share the same concepts and energy. Whilst that overlap exists, I genuinely prefer this set of songs.

Track Listing

  • This Love Isn’t Crazy (A-)
  • Window (A-)
  • Felt This Way (B+)
  • Stay Away (B+)
  • This What They Say (B)
  • Heartbeat (A-)
  • Summer Love (B+)
  • Fake Mona Lisa (B+)
  • Let’s Sort This Out (B)
  • Solo (B)
  • Now I Don’t Hate California (B+)