Big Eyes - Being Unkind (off Almost Famous, 2013, Grave Mistake)
Nobody’s really yelling from the roofs about how good Big Eyes’ sophomore LP is so allow me: Almost Famous is something you need playing while driving your car or making dinner (the ways I’ve been listening to it) so you can shock yourself by realising how many of the songs have burrowed their way into your brain and won’t budge. The best songs are the post-breakup accounts like ‘Being Unkind’, songs that swarm with pop nuance to sweeten singer Kate Eldridge’s bitter mantras. “Now it’s all said and done,” she growls near the song’s end, “I don’t want to hear about you.” Then again, punchier this time: “Don’t wanna hear about you!” Then a guitar solo arrives, the sound of someone shaking off their shackles and moving on to something better.
YOU JUST A COMMENTATOR
Baz Luhrman may consider himself a fabulist, but he’s an even better fantabulist. His films are drenched in sheer luminosity and crafted as overwhelming entertainments, yet they appear dizzily distant from palpable human reactions. An example: his romantic adventure Australia (2008) is an epic that believes in love but offers to settle for the comfort of gesturing at it from afar. (Same with the film’s namby-pamby well-intentioned racial politics, but that’s another longwinded blog post for another day.) Luhrman is obviously a man with a lot of heart and plenty of passion, but he throws both factors onto the screen and rarely works out how they will work successfully in tandem.
This year’s kinda-blockbuster The Great Gatsby is his most reasonable film – as layered a confection as his other films, but leavened with a healthy doze of cynicism lifted from its source material. The soft-focus, Lana Del Rey-soundtracked Dicaprio/Mulligan affair that pushes the story forward is well executed. However, the bitterness of its outcome helps Luhrman along as a storyteller. No longer does he have to sell-sell-sell the power of love, not when there’s crumbling American dreams and American lives that he can sell-sell-sell via gutsy juxtapositions of pop culture.
This means that a pitch-shifted version of NY rapper Despot ‘100$ Bill’ drowns out the sound of Amitabh Bachchan drawling wonderfully in a speakeasy. (Bachchan, probably the biggest movie star in the world, gets barely five minutes of screen time and an introduction nearly as over-the-top as Dicaprio’s fireworks extravaganza. It’s hilarious and worth the price of admission alone.) You have a white American chanting a mantra alongside Jay-Z’s timeless black cool, whilst a legend of Hindi cinema plays a Jewish gangster stereotype onscreen. It’s one of the most pleasant clusterfucks I’ve experienced in a cinema all year, a cross-cultural multiethnic celebration of men relishing the commerce of ill repute.
That has nothing on a scene about forty or so minutes into the film: narrator and audience surrogate Nick (Tobey Maguire, the purest emotional face in all of big-budget American film) scrambles to leave a party before being plied by offers of ladies, pills and alcohol. As he drinks, the voiceover paraphrases F Scott Fitzgerald’s prose: “I had been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon…” Maguire’s eyes bug open and the Throne’s mammoth ‘Who Gon Stop Me’ drops so loudly, its juddering bass shook the armrest of my seat.
With Gatsby and the hand of none other than Jay-Z, Luhrman and music supervisor Anton Monsted make decisions I have been dying to see in cinema culture. Hip-hop is the biggest musical genre in the world in terms of influence and record sales yet in cinema it is mainly tethered to inner city narratives or tired Caucasian irony. A month ago, I posted that Chief Keef’s ‘Love Sosa’ should soundtrack an Andrew Dominik film and I wasn’t even joking. It bores me to hear an entire genre of music soldered to specific cinematic genres and it bores me to hear few music supervisors take the chances on putting hip-hop in films. (Same with cinema culture’s treatment of metal, but that’s another longwinded blog post for another day.) So I applaud Luhrman and Monsted for their attempts, especially with ‘Who Gon Stop Me’, its drenched-in-money sheen making a surprisingly good match with the alcohol-fuelled jubilation of the Jazz Age.
While the juxtaposition of new and old/black and white/158th St Nicholas and 147 Mercer St is a thrill, it also highlights the problem of using hip-hop in an anachronistic manner. Like ‘100$ Bill’ and a goosed-up sliver of ‘No Church in the Wild’ in the film’s opening, ‘Who Gon Stop Me’ dashes around, rapidly flashing relevant Kanye lyrics before tuning out into its instrumental. It appears to be an attempt by Luhrman and Monsted to take control of the song, to make it serve the visual narrative. But ‘Who Gon Stop Me’ has its own narrative, one too tricky to fit into the world of Nick Carraway’s shellshocked drinking and Myrtle Wilson’s broken nose. That is truly unique in hip-hop’s DNA: it jumps from topic to topic, metaphor to metaphor, chasing its own tale and making its own story as it goes from verse to verse, a celebration of language with a penchant for the non-linear. The first lines of ‘Who Gon Make It’ survive Gatsby’s cut’n’paste job, making for a jarring moment where Kanye compares the treatment of black Americans to the Holocaust over Luhrman’s meticulously choreographed partying. The Holocaust lurks around the corner from the onscreen antics, a mere seven or so years away; the only black characters on screen are servants, dancers or hookers, descendants of the same race dichotomy Kanye yells about. The usage of ‘Who Gon Stop Me’ intriguingly propels Gatsby to another level whilst refusing to comply with the limitations set by the medium. Like the story’s narrator, it is “both within and without”.
—Bring In The Katz
P Money - Bring in the Katz (off #MAD, 2013, the internets)
If you’ve never heard of P Money, he is one of grime’s most reliable, an MC who bypasses overly technical rhyme schemes for full-fledged, almost old school blunt force. He can spit as fast as anybody else, trigger a rave with the best of them, but is best at sounding authoritative - a voice of burly control that you would never try crossing.
The man’s recent #MAD tape functions as a sequel of types to last August’s Dubsteppin EP: hard bars over club production, with little frills or concepts beyond turning dancefloors into DMZs. When it came to beats, Dubsteppin had the unparalleled assistance of London radio and club kings Rinse. Left to his own devices, P Money falls into a few inevitable traps (nobody needs to hear another ‘Higher’ or ‘Harlem Shake’ freestyle at this point) but also has sounds like he’s having more fun than usual. He cheekily teases rapping over ‘Gangnam Style’ before shoving it to the side for a snarling freestyle. He coins a truly guffaw-worthy punchline about “a Durex umbrella”. He does a mean “2 CHAIIIIIIINNZZZZZ”. In the midst of this clearing-the-air jokeyness, he hijacks a B-More club oldie and crafts an absolute stunner out of it.
KW Griff’s ‘Bring in the Katz’ has been floating about as a Baltimore staple for a few years before a 12” reissue on Night Slugs surfaced last year. The simplicity of the track - a ‘Think’ break here, some louder-than-bombs claps, hyperactive toasting by a dude called Pork Chop - leave it sounding as though it could have been released ten days or ten years ago. It’s a monster, unbeholden by trends or movements. P Money interestingly takes on Griff’s original mix rather than the minimalist sprawl of the more recent L-Vis 1990 remix, and it’s a decision that pays off in heaps. He’s egged on by the Pork Chop sample (“YES!” “OH!”) like he’s in the middle of the rave, turning an already energetic track into something befitting a riot, gassed off the vibes: “I’m every girl’s DREAM! Roll with ME!” His verse finishes and Pork Chop, a master of ceremonies turned hypeman, calms us down. Then Griff brings in the katz* and it’s havoc once again. The track’s all over in under three minutes, but not before P Money marks his ground: “YOUR TUNE’S DEAD, BRUV!” Even when he’s having fun, it’s through brute force.
* a reference to a sample of Kevin Aviance’s ‘Din Da Da’ scatting buried somewhere within the track. That’s an amazing song, too, by the by.
Tyler, the Creator feat. Na’kel, Jasper, Lucas, L-Boy, Taco, Left Brain & Lee Spielman - Trashwang (off Wolf, 2013, Odd Future Records)
I haven’t listened to Wolf for a couple of weeks because it is, to be honest, exhausting to listen to. Tyler’s flitting between vulgarity and storytelling and experiments and honesty so often, more so than on his previous LPs, that it begins to tire by the halfway mark. Tyler’s certainly a genius kid, but there’s perhaps too much Tyler on this album, more than ever.
So obviously my favourite track is the time-honoured stoopid piss-about posse cut in the spirit of ‘Tina’ and ‘We Got Bitches’. Number one, it has a Jasper verse, a rapper whose utter lack of skill is one of the most endearing OFWGKTA in-jokes. Number two, they shout out Lil B’s Task Force which come on. Third of all - and most importantly - Left Brain’s hook is a tribute to Waka’s ‘Turnt Up Niggaz’. This song would have to have tried its hardest to stink for me not to unconditionally love it.
Young Gully - Mislead You (off HM5, 2012, self-released)
The Bay Area’s Young Gully is responsible for one of my favourite hip-hop songs of recent years, ‘The Go-In’, a playfully masterful example of rappin’ ass rappin’. He compares himself to a cockatoo, a Doberman and a schedule; calls his opponents vegetables and eats them; claims he’s in your girl “like a condo”, which is both a goofy metaphor and a potential Grandpa Simpson reference. “I am not trying,” he laughs as the track fades out, ruefully shaking his head as though to say: this is effortless, this is nothing to me.
By comparison, the recently released HM5 mixtape (props to Thizzler) is all effort. There’s playfulness there but it’s in brief spurts, replaced by an intensity to keep rhyming, keep proving, keep going. Gully is on his tunnel vision shit here. Once you delete the momentum-sapping for-the-ladies jams - yeah, do that immediately - HM5 reveals itself as a solid tape full of good beats and impassioned rapping. Its best track is ‘Mislead You’, containing not only one of Gully’s more intense performances, but a wordiness and a worldliness that keeps you listening: “sometimes I’m blind to the facts like they come in braille,” he spits, in total understanding of his follies, sifting through the wreckage through tumbles of words.
Annie - Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts (digital single, 2013, self-released) [via thesinglesjukebox]
Sometimes I have problems that are hard to soolllllveeeeee and I address them by writing megashort stories in place of traditional music reviews.
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: “12:30/I’m about to depart.” The night has begun, a cavalcade of bad vibes. As Norwegian public transport trundles along, Annie sits shaken and broken on the way to… somewhere. Anywhere. There’s got to be a beat on the other side, and until that appears, there’s “Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts” in her head. You can almost see the white lights flashing, those huge claps reverberating from wall to wall. With Annie, these sounds do not offer escape from the twitchiness of her words; the ability to nullify the anxiety is not on the table. Here, the club sounds are a welcome extension of bad vibes, a zone where internalized gloom is writ large as nocturnal beats. The music is unnerving and rickety, under its own spell of spookiness. But she’s not there yet. She’s stuck on public transport, keeping as calm as she can with strokes of glossolalia nonsense: “mamama oh mamama oh nanananana”. 
Disclosure feat. Eliza Doolittle - You & Me (off Settle, 2013, PMR) [via thesinglesjukebox]
Patrick St. Michel: One day, these brothers are going to slip. They’ll release a mediocre song, or even a straight-up dud, and we will all be a little surprised. That’s because Disclosure are on a Miami Heat-like run of fantastic music. Have they even released something approaching so-so? Even more impressive is they’ve done this while sticking mostly to the same formula — straightforward intro into woozy build-up swinging into a fantastic chorus, usually featuring a guest singer absolutely slaying. This is “You & Me,” too, another impressive “W” as they march toward the NBA Fina — er, album release date. 
Will Adams: The pop-kissed deep house of “Latch” and “White Noise” are great, but it was the shuffling garage of “Control” that first drew me to Disclosure. “You & Me” picks that up while adding a warmth that sets it apart from its icier predecessor. Disclosure’s skill is in portraying so accurately the intense emotions one feels on a dance floor. Their synth pads wrap around the song at all the right moments, and with Eliza Doolittle’s precise vocals it’s a winning combination. These two are unstoppable.
Alfred Soto: Another in their winning string of no-fuss dance gems, “You & Me” basks in Doolittle’s warmth. It’s not a matter of pulling any punches: she creates a sonic space in which she and the listener can two-step to the “Show Me Love” template.
Edward Okulicz: So dance music in 2013 is going to have elements of the musical summers of ‘93 and ‘03 with a vocal performance that could have been straight off an underground disco pop record from ‘83? Even if it lasts just the length of this record, hopefully that movement has a nice long chart life.
Katherine St Asaph: Disclosure, so far, have managed an illustrious career of making me love vocalists I previously gave zero shits about; when they get Katy B in, it’ll either be amazing or ruin my year. (Quite the feat, that.) “You & Me” continues the streak, but only just. Too pat, maybe; too much contentness, too little tension, too much of a drift toward the coffee bar. Basically, 2015 is going to be full of worse versions of this.
Brad Shoup: The next entry in Disclosure’s “we can turn everyone icy” sweepstakes. I’m glad Doolittle’s taking a break from being Nellie McKay for nice folks, but someone like Foxes would have brought the fire to an otherwise fine 4 a.m. two-step.
Jonathan Bogart: Everyone Disclosure works with has a distinct voice and personality, but they still end up sounding like they’re singing a Disclosure song — weightless, bustling, and slightly mournful. I was going to say I’ve never had a problem with Eliza Doolittle before, and then I realized I was confusing her with Holly Golightly; she acquits herself better than that, at any rate.
Scott Mildenhall: It’s probably not a declaration you’d ever expect to see, but Eliza Doolittle is an asset to this song, her Estuary emulations almost approaching some definition of soulful. Not in the way of Sam Smith’s contribution to “Latch”; her vocal limitations probably ensure the level of restraint that keeps the all-important space intact, but there’s feeling amid the glo’al stops.
Anthony Easton: Does this sound brittle to anyone else, hiding exhaustion with jittering attention to energy? If that’s the case, it’s a difficult trick to pull off well.
Crystal Xia: Doolittle isn’t trying too hard to be clever, and that sincerity goes a long way. The way that she sings “my darling” in the chorus is so out of breath and sounds so precious, like she really believes it. But my favorite vocal part is the outro where Doolittle sings about her lover’s house on the hill and refers back to the heart that she had given him several verses earlier. It’s such a simple yet effective bit. Doolittle’s voice is put through some vocal filters that lower the volume and make her seem a little more faded. Disclosure’s done this sort of thing before, where they distort a vocal without losing the emotional intensity. The fact that it works is a testament to their production ability.
David Lee: Disclosure have this knack for summoning impassioned vocals and then running them through drum loops, stuttering basslines or glowing synths in order to create a vibrant narrative. “You and Me” encompasses the dark nightclub corners and thrilling excursions of an intense, loving relationship, torpedoing my pleasure centers with the tension and release of electric string sections and wound-up synths rising over a sea of skittering jungle and garage rhythms. Few songs, “White Noise” excepted, have racked up as many plays as quickly in my iTunes this year.
My blurb, which was lost somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning:
Perhaps it was because I stumbled upon a Simon Reynolds piece on the genre from a 2001 issue of Vibe. Maybe it was the fact I went to a club night celebrating Craig David’s thirty-second birthday. Either way, I’ve been thinking a lot about two-step the past couple of weeks and how its particularly British amalgamation of R&B, dancehall and house has surfaced in the DNA of bass-music acts like SBTRKT, Koreless and Disclosure. “You & Me” finds the Lawrence brothers exploring senses of comfort, a turn away from the sexual and emotional anxiety that traversed through “Latch” and “White Lights”. Guest Eliza Doolittle vows to her beau that she will let nobody “inside of our happiness”. It’s loyalty to the cause. Likewise, Disclosure find that underneath their bag of tricks (plutonium-bright keys, unassailable melodic approach) there is a loyalty to their two-step influence. In the final minute, Doolittle’s ode to loyalty fades away and her hosts strip the track to its bones. The bubble-pop melodies fade into the aether, revealing the heart of the track. Disclosure confidently allow the shuffling percussion to show their understanding of two-step, displaying their reverence and comfort with the genre’s murky stop-start rhythms. Doolittle’s devoted to her lover - the Brothers Lawrence are devoted to two-step. It’s lovely on both accounts. 
Jarina De Marco - Main Dish (off April Showers, 2013, self-released)
I’m not downloading a thirty-three song mixtape by Wyclef Jean on principle, even if he did put Pharoahe Monch and Kenny Rogers on the same song back when I was thirteen years old, even if he did premiere this song on it. Nuh-uh, no thanks. I should be sleeping (it’s almost five) but wanted to throw this video up on my page while I’m remembering reference points: particularly the arch post-Beasties pop of Cannonball Jane; the ensuing internet years of internet-savvy popstars accentuating their cool-kid/populist reference points (‘Big Pimpin’ sample!); early M.I.A. mythbuilding (“age five, got kicked out of [the Dominican Republic]/revolution from the start”); makeshift crayon-streaked visual presentation. All the above make ‘Main Dish’ sound like a cynical piece of groupthink pop when it’s actually quite good.