Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg
It must be difficult for an eighteen-year-old boy to capture the mood of a generation, boasting barely more than an acoustic guitar and a mouthful of unadulterated wit, but that is exactly what young Jake Bugg has managed to do with his raw and raucous self-titled début that currently smiles shyly from top of the UK Album Charts.
Born and raised in Clifton, Nottingham, formerly the largest housing estate in Europe, Jake Bugg stumbles towards stardom with a voice that respectfully emulates Dylan, and yet seems comfortable and original with its sound in a world where singer-songwriters are as common as a Korean horse-impersonator. Understated and untouched, the album explodes into a thunderstorm of screeching guitar solos which Bugg somehow blends into a verse that wouldn’t look out of place on a country-and-western record; nevertheless “Lightning Bolt” still manages to open the album with a swagger. He then ushers us on at the same pace, refusing a pause for contemplation as he flirts with the idea of writing a four minute song until we reach the pivot of his album – it really is his album. “Broken” drifts into earshot at this point and it immediately strikes, but with a very different punch than the electricity of “Lightning Bolt” or the bouncy “Two Fingers”. It’s more as if Bugg whispers ‘down in the valley where the church bells cry’, hauntingly loud, but distant as he slides across the words as if he’s taken lessons from Alex Turner himself.
Lyrically speaking, you can see the Arctic Monkeys’ influence on “Seen it All” as Bugg reminisces of crashing parties with knives: ‘Nothing shocks me anymore’, he states rather than moans in reflection and this is perhaps one of the only valid criticisms of the record. Maybe Bugg is not a master of emulation but simply good at imitating the decades of sceptical, realist lyricists that have preceded him – Doherty, Turner, Cocker spring to mind – but then when you have an ever-increasing fan base that includes The Stone Roses and Noel Gallagher perhaps you can afford to be slightly unoriginal. Even then, Jake Bugg as an album doesn’t feel copied. It sounds genuine, sincere (try “Someone Told Me” for a taste of unabashed romance) and slightly believable. ‘My best friend is the night’ Bugg states on “Taste It”, a boy who has grown up in the dark, and it is an aptly-named choice for Jake Bugg. He’s the sort of artist that needs to be savoured. It’s easy to read the album by his age and measure it up to his future, but it is important that we too, can taste the night when he describes it to us. Well, it’s not as if The X Factor will provide a better alternative anyway.
By Roy Manuell
Shapeshifter – Soulstice
New Zealand Shapeshifter may not have accrued a following as prolific as mainstream divas like Carly Rae Jepsen or Beyonce, but the Christchurch drum & bass group have been the subjects of a meteoric rise in the past few years, having been signed to the genre’s most lucrative label Hospital Records in late 2010.
Having met at jazz school in Christchurch, Shapeshifter formed in 1999 to fuse far-ranging genres from hip-hop to dub, metal to funk, with D&B being the overarching theme of their musical output. Following several mash-ups of local critical acclaim but limited airplay, the band hit the big-time with their Platinum-selling album Soulstice, to receive coverage in the alternative club and indie concert spheres around the world.
Shapeshifter are chill. Icy chill. Soulstice is a musical allegory of the naturalist image which pervades all factions of New Zealand life. From sipping a cool brew on beaches bathed in the evening ochre of sunset, to mountainous vistas caked in soft powdery snow, Shapeshifter have the vibe and they have the flow.
The opening track “New Day Come” sets the scene, with scales of soft piano keys rising and falling effortlessly to a backdrop of classic syncopated drum and bass. With ascending tonic and layering throughout the song, the peaceable listener is transported to countless bucolic backdrops; beaches, forests, streams and all the like associated with that cool mellow vibe.
The coup de grace is manifested in “One”, a song by which Shapeshifter have since been iconized. With a liquid feel-good flow and the dulcet incantations of band singer Paora Apera, the mind of the listener is sent reeling from the inherent beauty of untouched dunes and shady pohutukawa trees, hallmarks of the antipodean joie-de-vivre. “One” is a song conceived to make all those in the fast lane reminisce and treasure the simple beauties of their childhood years.
Whilst other tracks such as “Southern Lights” may lack the same feel-good continuity that pervades the tracks aforementioned, the album is on the whole a masterpiece of cool. Cheeky beat schemes and neon electronica sounds in songs such as “Electric Dream” add a slightly more dancefloor layer to the album, making it appropriate to Wednesday night pre-lashes as much as Thursday night placidity.
Soulstice is a huge album, conjuring musical imagery of the beauty of nature and the beauty of life as we know it. The kind of album you’ll listen to for years in a plethora of different emotional contexts, Shapeshifter’s chef d’oeuvre is one for the iTunes library and one for the record shelf.
By Geoff Upton
Sόley – We Sink
Sóley Stefánsdóttir – or simply Sóley – the self-described ‘ bespectacled multi-instrumentalist from Iceland’ released her darkly enigmatic debut album We Sink a year ago, yet she has remained largely under the radar, despite the growing trend of interest in Nordic pop music propelling artists like Sigur Ros and The Knife to fame in recent years.
“I’ll Drown” opens the album and instantly asserts the artist’s musical creativity. From the earthy echoes of wooden blocks the song moves into sombre chords that rise into a sweeping piano melody before the introduction of synthesisers and all at once the listener is transported into Sóley’s strange dreamlike world with a curious appetite for what’s to come. Fans of Bat for Lashes are likely to enjoy Sóley, as another artist with a penchant for combining electronic elements with bursts of clapping, wooden-block whacking, and at times even metal pans seem to substitute the traditional drum set. Add both female artists’ ethereal voices and the result is highly intriguing and sublimely beautiful music with a dose of occult primitivism.
The album has a pervading sense of contradiction between the innocent and the macabre, and the overall conceit seems to be that of childhood nightmares. The second track “Smashed Birds” conceals its sinister lyrics ‘I took all your birds and I smashed them in my pocket…’ with a lilting, summery feel good guitar tune that could well deceive the casual listener. “Kill That Clown” features a murderous clown and “Bad Dream” a killer rabbit that steals her heart in a nightmarish inversion of childhood symbolism. Sόley masterfully evokes the genuine experience of a nightmare by ending the latter track so abruptly as if suddenly jolted out of a dream.
The highlight of the album is arguably the third track “Pretty Face”. The piano melody recalls a tinkering trinket-box tune which starts out soft and sweet but, as with many of the tracks, builds into something more devastating and dark. The piano dips an octave and minor chords crash into the melody, snare drums add drama, electronics transforms the track into a more mature melody, before the song ends with a Wurlitzer in a circus-like flourish.
At times the eerie discord of it all gets a little overbearing, as with the disturbing features of hallucinatory dreams in several tracks. “Bad Dream” invokes psychedelic visions of the inanimate world coming to life: ‘the grass was holding me down’, ‘the moon was laughing’. “About Your Funeral” demonstrates Sόley’s musical ingenuity at its most experimental: combining beat-boxing and chanting with frenzied piano melodies, an orchestral backdrop, and soaring voice synthesisers. “The Sun Is Going Down” sees things get downright chaotic as instruments clash and the melody becomes indiscernible. But immediately afterwards “The Sun Is Going Down II” provides redemption as one of the most beautiful tracks on the album that sees a return to a simple piano riff and her voice returns to its most dulcet. Just when things get a little too discordant, Sóley offers the antidote.
Sóley stays faithful to the title of the album – We Sink submerges the listener into the nocturnal world of spectral nightmares, guided by her highly visual lyrics and lullaby voice. At the end of the thirteen tracks with the close of “Theatre Island” you get the impression that Sóley doesn’t take her ‘dark edginess’ too seriously and is simply playing with the boundary between the experimental and the listenable in a highly imaginative way. Her extraordinary creativity and musical talent rescues the album and brings the listener swimming back to the surface eager to recollect the fragments of a disturbing yet sublime dream.
By Farah Tabbakh
JJ DOOM – Keys to the Kuffs
So we’ve all been very excited about the Supervillain’s new release, adding yet another alter-ego to his repertoire with JJ DOOM. Every DOOM alias seems to show us yet another original side of the mask; DOOM never seems to fail to bring originality to hip-hop whilst maintaining his own unique flow. This new collaboration does not fail to bring those perplexingly complex DOOM lyrics with a new twist in the beat. However, I would almost say that occasionally Jarel’s beats remind one a little too much of hideous Radio 1 dubstep, or skrillx, but this is rare and over most of the album he creates really chilling sounds that lay you back with hilarious and often insightful samples. This album has many references to English culture and English music. This is because the Villain has been taking over London for the past couple of years after being ‘refused out the US/ and he ain’t even Spanish’ (“Banished”). And because he has a British passport (ah yeah, the Villain is really an English rapper), he has been living in London. Furthermore, the flow of this song reminds me of English grime rap. There are many British references littered throughout the album; of course there is the tune “Rhymin’ Slang”, and he also references My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding in “Banished”. A lot of the samples too seem to be paying respect to his current country of residence; there are many English voice samples and where there are American samples, they are often portraying an idiotic side of the US. There is a cool sample at the end of the album about how the word ‘muppet’ is British for ‘a stupid, ignorant person’, which comes directly after a sample of an NRA member discussing when to use your gun…
DOOM never ceases to amaze with the complexity of his flow, and this certainly is true of Keys to the Kuffs. From the high-paced and aggressive “Banished” to the nostalgic “Winter Blues”, the Villain changes his line length and relentlessly rhymes the incredibly simple with the very complex (for example ‘vocal’ with ‘Evjafjallajökull’; the Icelandic volcano which exploded in 2010). “Guv’nor” is probably the best lyrical song from the album, adding a slight DOOM twist to English concepts like ‘the rolling hills of Dover’.
Of course this is not just a DOOM album, and whilst I have not heard too much Jneiro Jarel, this production seems to be rather untypical of him. Most of his previous work seems be very laid back and jazzy, not really containing the relentless bass that most of Keys to the Kuffs has. The instrumental song on this album, “Viberian sun part II” is really beautiful though, and far more relaxed than most of the album. It has a really comfortable bass line and the treble seems to have hooks in your heart it’s so moving. I’d say this is the best production on the album; it is almost reminiscent of Dilla-esque chilledness.
This is a rather untypical DOOM album (although every album is different, so what is typical DOOM?) But I wait with great anticipation for two more DOOM records: “Madvillainy 2”, which promises to be immense, and should be out before the end of the year, and the DOOMSTARKS collaboration (with Ghostface Killah as Tony Starks) which should be out early next year. I would give Keys to the Kuffs 4/5, for some of the very grating tracks on the album. It would be less but for Doom’s phenomenal lyricism, which always has a dazzling effect.
By Leo Graham