Friday, 20 March 2015

Heavy Rotation - Five Hip-Hop Tracks I've Had On Repeat

While I have no intention of turning SIS into a serious hip-hop blog, there is no denying that it is my favourite genre of late. Working from home, it's almost comforting to feel as if someone is 'talking' to you...even if they are dropping N-bombs like it's going out of fashion.

With issues of race and stereotyping weighing heavy on my mind (see here for my thinkpiece on Kanye and THAT Brits performance), here are five tracks I can't stop whacking the 'loop' button on.

1) Kanye West - All Day
It's always a bit of a cop out to call something 'big-sounding', but after the middle-of-the-road sentimentality of 'Four Five Seconds' and 'Only One', 'All Day' has a certain arena-sized Watch The Throne whiff about it. As Kanye's flow grows steadily more urgent, we're reminded of the glory days where he was fierce, angry and yes, oh so egotistical.

2) Kendrick Lamar - The Blacker The Berry
It's clear from just one listen that Kendrick's 'To Pimp A Butterfly' is an incredible listen, constantly on the edge of being uncomfortable but always pulling it back with a variety of samples taken from the illustrious history of black music. However, it's lead single 'The Blacker The Berry' that is truly jaw-dropping, hitting it's subject matter at full speed. 

3) Drake - You & The 6
Oh Drizzy, how I adore you. A man who can bring tears to my eyes with a simple melancholy chord, it was pretty difficult picking a favourite from his recent mixtape 'If You Read This, It's Probably Too Late'. However, as someone currently experiencing the sobering 'you're truly an adult now' process of watching their parents sell up their family house, 'You & The 6' has been especially touching, drawing back that curtain of fame and revealing the relationship between one very famous son and his doting mother. 

4) Big Sean - Blessings (featuring Drake and Kanye West)
Ever since his feature on Drake's 'Nothing Was The Same', I've been a big fan of Big Sean's super lazy, drawling style of rap... there's something oddly hypnotic about it. I'm yet to be entirely convinced by his preference for a very 'bitches and hoes' subject matter, but 'Blessings' is definitely a catchy one, made all the better by that Drake hook.

5) ILoveMakkonen - Tuesday (featuring Drake)
Our Drake has been getting around on the old features recently hasn't he? There's no getting away from the success of 'Tuesday' recently, but it's still as fresh-sounding as when I first heard it. Favouring a lethargic, trippy approach, it's beautifully reminiscent of that 3am club feeling when everything's got a little too much but you're still pretending to have an amazing time. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

LIVE: The Maccabees, Sheffield Leadmill, 21.02.2015

When you love a band - I mean, really love a band - it can become difficult to be objective. Conversations down the pub about which album is best threaten to break out into actual violence, missing a tour date becomes an inconceivable prospect and any missteps in their career are dismissed as them 'going through a transitional period'. 

The Maccabees are a band I really love, and so it goes without saying that I would defend their brilliance to the hilt. However, one of the many reasons I love them is their consistency, and their desire to make sure their music is absolutely perfect before showing it to their fans. Almost two years in the making, their impending fourth album has been long awaited and shrouded in relative secrecy, save for a short stretch of shows with Kasabian at the back end of last year. It's why tonight feels so special, so exciting. Indeed, The Maccabees are ready to give their new material to the wilds.

Before all that though, the sparsely populated room is treated to the sonic stylings of LSA, a band who's name throws up results ranging from the Liverpool School of Architecture all the way to the Late Stone Age if you put it into Google. Search a little deeper, and you'll find that their name actually stands for 'Love Stays Alive', a reaction against the superficial judgement made against new bands starting out. But do LSA pass the flash in the pan test? While the nepotism of being Maccabees members Hugo and Felix's brother will probably not be lost on lead singer Will White, they are a captivating little outfit, laid-back yet somehow earnest on the likes of 'Can't Be Trusted' and 'More Or Less Equal' a song that sounds like the poster anthem for the 2007 'Best Midlands' movement despite LSA's London postcode. Without succumbing to the normal mundane 'how you doing Sheffield?!' schtick, they come across self-assured and ultimately, very promising. 

With chants of 'MAC..A..BEEEEEEES' increasing in volume at the same steady level as the room's sweaty temperature, tonight's headliner take to the stage in traditionally unassuming fashion. 'Wall Of Arms' is a fitting opener, an ode to the camaraderie between fan and band that has sustained them for so many years. As the track reaches it's peak the crowd surge forward, and the spell is broken - just like bumping into an old friend, the recognition of a song loaded with memories makes it feel like they never went away.

Mingling with such classics as 'Precious Time', 'William Powers' and a deliciously rare outing of 'Latchmere', there of course are new songs. In spades. All five of them, delivered with the confidence of a first album track. 

While it's always difficult to get a measure on a track from only one listen, it's near on impossible not to feel immediately satisfied with the quality of what is offered over tonight. When they were describing to NME 'both the fastest and slowest music [they've] ever done', it's clear they were referring at least in part to 'Marks To Prove It', a track that carries the same wide-eyed euphoria of 'pelican' but with even more pace. Any record label with any sense would declare it the first single on the spot. 

In direct comparison, the coconut-stomp of 'WW1 Portraits' constantly feels on the cusp of something bigger, so much so that when that inevitable drop comes, it floods the room with palpable, intoxicating relief. Tension has always been something The Maccabees have been great at, and it's clear that the new record will be loaded with it, dripping in emotion. 

Rounded out by Given To The Wild's magical closer 'Grew Up At Midnight', tonight's show has been a masterclass in the comeback. Showing tangible evidence of progression with the same old charm, The Maccabees stand once more as proof that the nice guy doesn't always finish last. Prepare your stereos. 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

REVIEW: McBusted, 'McBusted'

If it were not for McFly and Busted, I doubt this blog would be in existence today. A 12 year old's gateway to pop punk, to emo, and then to indie and alternative, they started a lineage which is responsible for all the of music I have held dear to my heart over the years. From the outside, their lightweight guitar pop is throwaway. To me, it was the key to the city.

Nearly ten years after Busted's split, a lot has changed. Cheeky lyrical innuendo has been replaced with twerking and toke-taking, deep house has become radio-worthy and some blokes called One Direction are papering the walls of teenage girls bedrooms. The spikey hair and airborne 'jumps' of yore are relics of another time, resigned to history alongside pokemon cards and sticky aliens that gave birth in the freezer. Is there really enough room in pop for six guys, rapidly approaching their thirties, to sing about girls with American Pie-worthy youth? Is it authentic enough to survive?

The thing about both Busted and McFly, was that it was never supposed to be serious. What I Go To School For? Back in 2003 that was a boyhood anthem. Nowadays, it would be labelled peadophilia wrapped up in a catchy chorus. All About You? A timeless feat of sweet lyricism that could be applied to almost any situation, even DFS adverts. That Tom Fletcher of the McFly half has been filling his spare time writing songs for the likes of One Direction and Five Seconds Of Summer tells you everything - these are no amateurs. But still, I would be lying if I said that my strong emotional attachment to my childhood heroes caused my heart to fill with dread at the promise of a new record, destined to mar a legacy so fun and unspoilt.

The catch? I needn't have worried. At 21 years of age, it was always unlikely that this record would come to mean much to me on a deeper level, but that's okay. Pop music doesn't always have to be everlasting. With McBusted, the purpose is simple - revive one nostalgia act (Busted), tack them on to a still semi-successful act (McFly), and send them off to tour the world, make straight-to-the-point-pop and delight fans while putting a solid investment in that pension fund. Who can blame them?

There's no way around it - 'McBusted' is a time capsule record, a celebration of things past as opposed to any attempt to win any new fans. Lead single Air Guitar sums up it's essence perfectly - upon first listen, it's a cheesy midlife crisis desperately trying to be hip; on the second, it's the sort of track you'd get up early on a Saturday morning to tape the performance of on CD:UK, the lyrics of which you'd scrawl across a banner to drag with you to Wembley arena. It's big, happy and lovable.

Setting the tone of self-deprecation that lifts the whole record, it's difficult not to put your cynicism aside and enjoy 'McBusted' once you're in on the joke and have forgotten that they're mostly married with children now. 'Sensitive Guy' is a hilarious rip of hipster culture that is probably more spot on that most of the bands who've tried it before (I'm just a super, super sensitive guy/I sleep with the light on/Got a badass eco-friendly motor-scooter to ride on), whereas 'Before You Knew Me' is loaded with sugar-rush pop-culture references that are very obviously indebted to the Busted sense of humour:

"I liked you better before you knew me
You were high definition
Now you're barely 720
You were Hannah Montana
But now you're licking things like Miley"

With so much emphasis on the vocals of McFly's Tom, and Busted's James and Matt, the McFly constituency is left fairly under-utilised, a slight annoyance when you consider that McFly's Danny is probably the groups best singer. There's no denying that this record is very Busted - 'Riding On My Bike' would have slotted nicely onto James' musical project Loserville, and 'Hate Your Guts' is so heavily indebted to Blink 182 that they went the whole hog and got Mark Hoppus to feature. 

As the band with the most chance of a separate future after this, it's not surprising that McFly have perhaps taken a back seat. And indeed, as the half with the messier history, the emotional weight of Busted's delivery works to create the record's more lasting moments. Recalling the aftermath of their initial split. 'What Happened To Your Band' is frank and open, capturing the dark humour of being forced to explain yourself to the worlds media.

"They gotta know first hand
They wanna understand
What happened to your band?
What are your future plans?
I'm like your biggest fan"

A rare moment of introspection among all the japery, it's a sign of true catharsis, offering an insight into the purpose of the project in the first place. Starting a new band is an unlikely method of closure, but perhaps it's the only medium that seemed appropriate, healing the cracks by creating new memories. Indebted to Busted as the band who opened the door for their success, this is McFly's offer of thanks and friendship, and it shows. Surely there are worse legacies to leave?

'McBusted' is available now on iTunes