Dream-Pop, Indie

Japanese Breakfast- “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” Review

Rising from the ashes of Philadelphia emo band Little Big League, Japanese Breakfast is the solo musical project of singer and guitarist Michelle Zauner, its sound drifting from Little Big League’s more straightforward, American Football-esque jangle into lush and pillowy soundscapes. The title of “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” is utterly appropriate, the album gently splicing together misty synths, splaying guitar lines and moments of Breeders-lite rock.

Born in Seoul, Zauner remarked that Japanese Breakfast’s name was an attempt to blend American culture and Asian exoticism, and this sense of escapism pervades the floaty eroticism of “Road Head”: “You gave road head on a turnpike exit…pump and run”. Sprawling highlight “Diving Woman” dimly evokes Swim Deep’s “Fueiho Boogie”, fittingly enough a song about the intersection of Western and Eastern culture, and the sweet ditty “Till Death” reminds of the Eels in its tinkling music-box instrumentation.

“Machinist” is probably the closest Japanese Breakfast gets to outright pop in its sugary, auto-tuned vocals and clucking funk guitar, even throwing in a saxophone solo. However, if this goes slightly overboard it is counterbalanced by the album’s tenderer moments. Opening with the “Be My Baby” beat, “Boyish” is a sweeping and romantic ballad that Japanese Breakfast pulls off surprisingly well, Zauner despairing that “All of my devotion turns violent”. It also reveals a surprising but likeable line in self-deprecating humour with the deadpan remark that “I can’t get you off my mind, I can’t get you off in general”.

However, the album more broadly struggles to distinguish itself. Zauner’s voice, while pleasant, isn’t particularly distinctive and often Japanese Breakfast sounds musically interchangeable with other dreamy, introspective bands like Beach House or Wild Nothing. Despite the talk about melding Western and Eastern sensibilities, nothing about “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” feels noticeably Asian, instead slumping into a tried-and-tested trench of American indie, from the unravelling “Undone…The Sweater Song” arpeggios of “The Body Is A Blade” to the maudlin prettiness of “This House”.

In spite of its lack of real idiosyncrasy, “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” is an attractive album, from the sleepy grandeur of “Jimmy Fallon Big!” to the gently spiralling title track. The other planet the album references in its title may not be somewhere you’d want to live, but it’s worth a visit. CO


Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIqCBKT5h-Y


Alternative, Indie

Public Service Broadcasting- “Every Valley” Review

In their thoughtful deconstruction of the very notion of “a band”, Public Service Broadcasting are an intriguing proposition. A three piece who go by pseudonyms (including the splendid “Wrigglesworth”), they play instrumental music and use snippets of old archival footage and—you guessed it—public service broadcasting to speak for them, creating a fascinating dichotomy between personal anonymity and the bold, cut-glass enunciations of the newsreaders and commentators who represent them, often collaged into a deeply political narrative.

This is especially true of “Every Valley”, the band’s third proper album, and effectively a concept record about the decline of the Welsh coal mining industry. Recorded in a hall formerly used by a workers’ institute in the defunct mining town of Ebbw Vale, the album feels steamed in smog and grime, particularly on atmospheric tracks like “All Out” and the ominous “The Pit”. Nonetheless, “Every Valley” is permeated with a deep sense of melancholy and loss, notably in the title track’s misty evocations of “the weekday pubs and Sunday chapels” that are now lost to time. On “Progress”, one of the album’s highlights, the gorgeous, wistful middle-eight is punctuated by the stony declaration that “These men look the same as they have always looked. They talk the same as they have always talked. But before your eyes, they are changing”.

Indeed, political themes and the spectre of Thatcher float a millimetre beneath the surface of “Every Valley”. The brassy “They Gave Me A Lamp” obliquely comments on the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike through the prism of a single female miner: “I’ve been in front, I have never given in… I’ll be proud to look back on it”. “All Out” simmers with resentment and betrayal in its assertion that “I thought they’d respect us… I don’t respect them now”. The remarks from the band’s primary songwriter J Willgoose, Esq. that the album serves as a microcosm for “abandoned and neglected communities across the western world” and the “malignant, cynical and calculating brand of politics” their decline has birthed will guarantee “Every Valley” divisiveness, but it can be nevertheless be appreciated as a vivid and heady time capsule, albeit one with a clear agenda of persuasion.

Moreover, it is easy to enjoy the album simply on a musical level. The jittery “People Will Always Need Coal” is warmed by a swooning string section and James Dean Bradfield roars furiously through “Turn No More”, his fame as a member of a left-leaning Welsh band in the Manic Street Preachers unlikely to be coincidental. However, a sense of powerlessness and futility pervades the album, crystallised in the massed choral voices of closing track “Take Me Home”. The choir provides a final note of noble, if doomed, solidarity but it is impossible to escape the truth that, for these men, the home they sing of no longer exists. CO


Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1ZbdGBAqZQ

Afrobeat, House, Pop

Bimbi Philips- “Lamba” Review

Bimbi Philips’ music is, to a large extent, a study in escapism. By day an IT consultant in London, he moonlights as a singer of fizzy Afrobeat, and this contrast is exemplified not just by the tropical zest of his music but by the “Lamba” music video, in which he is zapped from a grey city street to a lush forest, snowy peak and fire-lit log cabin. He is also escaping from the traditional Afrobeat of Fela Kuti in his incorporation of elements of house and modern EDM in the airy, clean production, synthesised basslines and clipped, ecomical drum machines of “Lamba”.

In this, Philips makes an effective stab at pop resonance. His music is far lighter and breezier than an Ebo Taylor or a Kuti, and the influence of modern pop is evident in his soft, slightly effeminate vocals that are vaguely reminiscent of Justin Bieber or The Weeknd. “Lamba” is carried by its nagging, insistent bassline and the unusual African inflections of Philips’ singing, although they never overpower the cheerful, blustery accessibility of the music. The sunny optimism of “Bamba” almost tips into self-parody at times—notably in the repetition of “I’m going to do everything for you ‘cos I love you”, but the lyrics are a circumstantial concern and barely scratch the potential of “Bamba” as a nascent club hit. CO


Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPvYebfizik

Electronic, Singer-songwriter

Voldo Blanka- “Go Your Way” Review

Voldo Blanka is a musical puzzlebox. A musician with experience of over a dozen instruments, interestingly it was the mechanistic washes of sound of electronica that attracted him rather than the squalling muso noodlings of modern jazz or metal. His presentation is restricted to a handful of monochrome photo shoots of him archly peering into the middle distance, and he is absent from the “Go Your Way” video, delegating visual intrigue a troupe of plain-clothes dancers and the decaying underpasses of Los Angeles. Rather than avidly marketing himself, his work is a process of withdrawal and retraction from the public eye.

This is also reflected in his music, which strikes an uneasy balance of melancholic emotion and glacial detachment, exemplified literally in the robotic vocoder vocals that underlay his own.  “Go Your Way” is a surprisingly coherent hybrid of various styles: Philip Glass-esque piano arpeggios, glints of post-rock outfits like Hammock (particularly their song “Tonight We Burn Like Stars That Never Die”) and Explosions in the Sky, clicking percussion reminiscent of Björk’s “Vulnicura” and those synthesised vocals which evoke modern hip-hop and R&B. This impersonal and clinical genre cherry-picking dryly underlays the song’s wistful positivity—“today’s the day”, “you’re on your way up”—as does the grand, shoegaze-influenced production.

If the “Go Your Way” has flaws, they are primarily derived from its anonymity. Voldo Blanka is playing one-handed, afraid to fully commit, and thus the air of stately detachment which pervades “Go Your Way” punctures genuine emotional involvement. However, it is an intriguing introduction to a new artist with a distinctive sound and compelling aesthetic. CO


Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16ddIO5u4BQ

Hip Hop, Pop

DJ Khaled- “Grateful” Review

The prevalence of DJ Khaled in modern pop and hip-hop is perpetually puzzling. A man who doesn’t produce his own beats, and who is, to put it kindly, a limited MC and lyricist has nonetheless been heard bellowing his own name on radio hits for over a decade. By his own admission, Khaled is closer to an organiser and promoter of the music that is released in his name, generating a reputation through his bullish self-promotion and seemingly endless connections. A brief scroll through the track listing of “Grateful” will reveal endless famous names: Beyoncé, Jay Z, Rhianna, Drake, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj just to name a few.

Khaled’s status as a meme is also probably a contributing factor in his fame. His escapades, including famously getting lost on a jetski, leaking his own sex tape and live-streaming the birth of his son have all drawn bemused incredulity, as well as the easy dilution of his brand down to a handful of hollered phrases—“Another one”, “We The Best Music”, “Congratulations, you played yourself”. In this noisy and transient zeitgeist-defining, his actual music is often lost.

“Grateful” itself is primarily defined both consciously and unconsciously by excess. The record bloats horribly at 23 songs, loosely defined as a concept album about Khaled’s thankfulness for his “blessings”, namely his fame, his money and his son. An Apple interview before the album’s release provides a surprisingly insightful glimpse into his mentality in producing “Grateful”: “This is my 10th album so I’m going all out… there’s no album cuts on there, these are all anthem singles”. Indeed, tracks often seem to mirror recent rap hits: “Iced Out My Arms” bears a strong resemblance to Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” and “Good Man” sounds a bit like Desiigner’s “Panda”.

Ironically, as the album wears on, the endless guest spots that were probably intended to obscure Khaled’s lack of talent become its greatest weakness. Songs like “Whatever” are ruined simply through overcrowding, various guests virtually shouting over one another to be heard, and this is mirrored in the glossy clutter of the production. This problem is compounded by Khaled’s desire to make the album into a non-stop hit-fest, meaning that there are no subtle, reserved moments on “Grateful” in which the listener can catch their breath. Despite being 23 tracks long, the record still feels strangely truncated and rushed.

In amongst the unfocused clutter and noise there are glimmers of potential. One of the best moments on “Grateful” is the relaxed, sunny and (at least comparatively) spacious “I’m the One”, which will probably become one of the biggest songs of the summer. “Wild Thoughts” is a dreamy Spanish guitar reverie with a passable Rhianna guest spot, and “I Love You So Much” is a catchy enough to survive the typical pointless overproduction, a sweet Jackson 5 pastiche glorifying Khaled’s son with likeably ridiculous Khaled hyperbole (“you’re a mogul, you’re an icon, you’re a legend”). However, most of the rest of the album is lost in a din of headache-inducing excess, soullessly clinical production and Future’s ridiculous comatose flow. CO


Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weeI1G46q0o


Psyrena -Comic Avatar Music Video ‘Rainbows and Unicorns’

Psyrena brings her transcendental electronic pop track ‘Rainbows and Unicorns’ to all corners of the world. Using her avante-garde surrealist music video to spread a vivid imagery of an out of this world video, escaping you from the doom and gloom of reality.

You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUYx90sHzZg

Psyrena live.jpgShe is accompanied by her keyboard warrior backing Mr.Bear. In their adventures they embrace the world or modern society with humanitarian issues such as queer, transgender and female sexuality, hate crimes and discrimination. A weird but vibrant music video which expresses subtle but clever messaging.

The music is far from mainstream as it meshes electronica- pop with retro-dance, pushing into some niche music vibes.

However, whilst ‘Rainbows and Unicorns’ may seem ‘overly-cute’ at times, the song is in fact a multi-faceted creature; its lyrics offering a sense of ambivalence, also addressing the serious topic of human rights.

This pop anthem mixes a new sound but with an extravagant moulding of comic avatar, giving it a new angle which the music world is yet to explore.


Webpage: http://www.psyrena.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MusicAvatara/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MusicAvatara


Alternative, Electronic, Hip Hop

Album of the week: ‘Rain’ by M3staken


This week we’ve got something a little out there for you: If you like your hip-hop then it’s one for you, but if you like something that gives a challenging listen, then wrap your ears round this one too!

Hailing from South Carolina, young producer, M3staken (M3) creates a unique blend of hip-hop with jarring electronic beats, making for a complex, yet intriguing listening experience.

‘Rain’ is his latest, and arguably the best of his ‘trilogy’, which also began with ‘Apex’ and continued on with ‘Water Colors’.

There’s a real dark feel to M3’s work, but also a compositional quality that poses the question: are artist like M3 the Mozarts of the modern day? Of course, his music is a million miles away from Mozart’s, but he has been know to dabble with blending classical piano with his beats.

Listen to ‘Rain’ here on bandcamp:



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