bright eyes – one and done [single review]

Bright Eyes continue the exploration of mortality through the conduit of spaced-out balladry on latest single One and Done. The instrumentation on this track ranks alongside Bright Eyes’ very best. String and horn sections arranged by Nate Walcott add a cinematic element which sits as an ideal backdrop to Conor Oberst’s cryptic lyrical vignettes.

The track opens with a disembodied voice announcing that he was just “dreaming of you”.  The dystopian images of famine, societal breakdown and old friends in low places suggest that Oberst may have eaten too much cheese before bedtime, however. The feeling of a dream is cemented by the influences drawn from Bright Eyes back catalogue. One and Done could’ve slotted in nicely on 2004’s Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. The orchestral arrangement is reminiscent of Cassadega era Bright Eyes. The echoed drums subtly nod to Approximate Sunlight from their last outing, The Peoples’ Key.

Once again, Flea is on bass duties, provided a subtle, yet funky foundation which keeps the track bouncing along throughout the chorus and instrumental breaks. The verses exist as a dirge, with Oberst listing terrifying news almost as casually as society has come to accept it. This building tension is released with an upbeat chorus, with backing vocals by Miwi La Lupa adding texture to the brighter sound. A stirring orchestral break gradually leads to a crescendo of strings and drum rolls which sounds truly epic. Without disregarding the quality of the previous two singles, One and Done seems like an obvious choice for a lead single.

Just like those preceding singles, Persona Non Grata and Forced Convalescence, One and Done zeroes in on mortality and loss. The lyrics here deal with acceptance of the fact:

“This room seems even smaller now than I remember it
Hung mirrors on the walls and the ceiling
There’s no disguising it
There’s no denying it
This little box fits everything there is”

Obersts scoffs at the “masochists all celebrating love”at a wedding, ponders the paradoxical infinity of “fleeting moments” and seems to question if he’s too fixated on how it’s all going to end —

“I’ve seen the sparkle of the diamonds on the watch of the emcee
It’s not keeping time, just shining”

For now, Oberst, Walcott and Mogis’ comeback continues to shine.

 

buachaill bán – ancestry [EP review – techno]

Influenced by modern day titans such as T47, Paula Temple and Umwelt, Buachaill Bán’s debut on Ireland’s Sweet Tooth label is a tour de force of ferocious techno.

Hunger kicks Ancestry off with a bang and immediately sets the theme of primal needs and urges to be drawn upon throughout the EP. Featuring crisp hi-hats and masterful shifts in dynamics, the production really shines through on the opener.

The relentless thump of kicks, bass and menacing call and answer synth lines triggers the adrenaline of a hunter about to spear his prey.

 

Instinct features a rolling triple kick drum pattern which sends the listener down a mine-shaft in a rickety cart. The rhythmic style here aims to repeatedly prepare the listener for the next bar, creating a relentless banger.

Throughout the short-player, affected atmospheric noise is used to great effect, capturing the industrial sound in all it’s scraping, hammering glory. There are moments of respite in the form of Homecoming, an experimental cut which takes the finger off the trigger before Offering delivers the kill-shot with an expansive, floor-filling sound to round off an impressive debut.

The concept of this EP is tied together in a way that is often missing in electronic releases. The consistency of the sound palette and theme makes, together with a carefully paced track-list makes Ancestry an immersive listen from beginning to end, whether listened on high-end speakers or ear-buds.

*Ancestry is available for download on Bandcamp.

*Follow Buachaill Bán on Soundcloud here.

*Mastering by Chris McCormack of Blacklisted Mastering.

*EP artwork produced by @endless_prosperity (Instagram)

 

bright eyes – forced convalescence [track review]

The eagle has landed. Bright Eyes’ second single in rapid-fire succession, Forced Convalescence features some impressive additions to the usual line-up. The band have recruited Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) on bass, Jon Theodore (Mars Volta and Queens of the Stone Age) on drums and percussion as well as Kip Skitter on additional percussion.

Forced Convalescence is an uplifting counterpoint to initial single Persona Non Grata. A few years back, around the time of the release of Oberst’s collection of demos which became known as Ruminations, the front-man was diagnosed with a cyst in his brain. The instrumental of this track chugs along, propelled by Flea’s bouncy yet subdued bassline as Oberst rattles off word-association style lyrical gems. A booming backbeat accentuated by arpeggiated guitar and a dreamy atmosphere leads into a earworm of a chorus complete with vamped piano and drum rolls. At face value, this is a cheery track, reflected in verbal passages such as:

“Now I’ve recovered completely,
Life is easy,
Hula-hooping around the sun,
The calendar’s little boxes,
All these presents,
Get to open every one”

To quote a Bright Eyes deep cut from several lifetimes ago, there is “joy in acceptance” here, as we hear a fully realised band with clean production and more mature lyrical themes.

“I’m not afraid of the future,
Have to suffer and repeat”

Conor Oberst has stated in interviews that if he wished to tell a fully autobiographical story, he would write a book instead of producing music. It’s impossible to completely separate the art from the artist in this instance, particularly when it comes to Oberst and his well-acknowledged struggles with addiction. Fans may be disheartened to hear yet more references to “needle(s) to oblivion” as well as a mention of Seroquel, a drug used to combat schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, which Oberst states is “fighting (his) fantasies.”

The truth is that Bright Eyes and Oberst’s best music has always come from a dark place, and this new track, despite its happy demeanor, promises that a classic Bright Eyes LP is on the way. Bright Eyes’ central appeal for many fans is a feeling that they are not alone in their struggles, so this appears to be a perfect time to make a long awaited comeback.

earl sweatshirt – WHOLE WORLD feat maxo (prod Alchemist) track review

Following a double whammy of divisive releases in the form of 2018’s Some Rap Songs and 2019’s increasingly experimental Feet Of Clay, Thebe Neruda Kgositsile AKA Earl Sweatshirt is back.

The Alchemist is on production duties on WHOLE WORLD. This isn’t the first time he’s worked with Earl. E. Coli and Wind In My Sails are familiar to Earl fans as treasured deep cuts, as well as his more recent work on 2019’s MTOMB. The surprise appearance here is Maxo’s understated verse, which suits the tone of The Alchemist’s drugged-out bass-heavy beat. The track slithers along like a snake trying to eat its own tail, only to be resolved by the next bar. Earl is defying expectations here by minimising his sound, perhaps to the delight of critics of Feet of Clay. As he rapped on Azucar, Sweatshirt “shook tradition, did it (my) way”, and it’s worked out – WHOLE WORLD is a home run.

How much shrapnel can your soul take?” Earl ponders, as he floats with effortless mastery over the beat. The two rapper’s verses are punctuated by Maxo’s prophetic refrain:

“Got the, whole world round me
Whole world round me crumblin’”

 

call my phone thinking i’m doing nothing better – the streets x tame impala (review)

When an Instagram snippet was shared on April 1st claiming a collaboration between Tame Impala and The Streets was on the way, many assumed it was an April fools joke.

How could two artists mesh such distinct sounds? How could Mike Skinner’s spoken-word and UK grime music leanings form a cohesive bond with psych-rocker turned discotheque titan Kevin Parker?

The answer is: beautifully. This track grabbed me from the opening seconds. Skinner and Kevin Parker swap hooks before the song devolves into The beat slaps like a lost cut from Original Pirate Material. The piano chords resonate from A Grand Don’t Come For Free. This is an anthem acknowledging a world where people have lost sight of human connection in favour of virtual communication. Skinner’s unique lyrical bent has endured –

“How funny family is actually fuckin’ has you in bits
Your mum has good genes, but Dad’s are ripped”

The unlikely duo complement each other, with Skinner’s beats bringing the necessary garage-influenced rhythm while the rough edges of Skinner’s mockney accent are sanded and smoothed out by Kevin Parker’s dreamy vocal breaks. Call My Phone is undoubtedly a summer track for the socially anxious.

thundercat – dragonball durag review

Stephen Lee Bruner, better known by the alias Thundercat is back and as ludicrous as ever.

thundercat-siachen-studios

The Californian singer/songwriter /bassist extraordinare has been involved with some of the most critically acclaimed musicians of recent years, including appearances on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and much of Brainfeeder colleague Flying Lotus’ music. Despite his undeniable talent, Bruner doesn’t take himself too seriously, as you can see from the video for Dragonball Durag, the teaser track from his new LP It Is What It Is.

Take 2 vials of incredible technical ability, 1 vial of wacky humour and a sprinkle of psychedelia, shake well and you have the recipe for a Thundercat.

Dragonball Durag is a juxtaposition of a melodic pop song with the absurd, reminiscient of Frank Zappa’s I Have Been In You. Sugary vocal melodies soar above Thundercat’s unmistakable stuttering baselines as he waxes poetical about his durag. Accompanied by swaggering percussion and gentle keys, the hook on which Bruner asks “Baby girl, do you like me in my durag?” is an earworm of upper echelon quality.

The mix leaves layered vocals dripping in honey. It’s saccharine to the core and may cause diabetes and restless leg syndrome but comes with a 100% guarantee of a funky jam to bop along to.

Favourite lyric: “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good.” Continue reading

frank ocean – dear april [acoustic] review

Frank Ocean returns to his roots as a storytelling balladeer on synth-driven track Dear April.

With a croon reminiscent of his Moon River cover, Ocean crafts a romantic tale of two“strangers and their two strange lives”. As Moon River arrived on Valentine’s Day 2018 as a pleasant surprise for lovers and broken-hearted alike, Dear April speaks, unintentionally, to the circumstances surrounding the timing of its release.

An ethereal guitar progression meanders through Oceans unedited vocals, almost disassociative in nature.  Inter-dimensionally pitched-up vocals cut through the tranquil mix to add dynamic variety and colour to the sound palette in the latter part of the track. Patters of keys place the listener in a dream-like state.

Ocean leaves us with an inspiring message of determination fitting for April in 2020, the year of hindsight:

“What we had can’t be the same now /You will make something/That will take you through/And wake you up again/Just like you made me new.”

bright eyes – persona non grata review

It’s hard to know what to expect from a band which hasn’t released music in almost a decade, but Persona Non Grata ticks all the boxes, paying homage to the classic Bright Eyes sound, infused with elements of Oberst’s more sleekly produced solo projects.

“I’m the last of the best”, Oberst boldly declares, and given the strength of his vocal delivery, he sounds sure of it. The next line “I’m your thoughts in the swamp” couldn’t feel more appropriate in these panic-stricken times. Oberst’s lyrics form a collage of personal experience, religious imagery and social commentary. The band follow ramping melodic tension with the welcome release of a stripped-back, Cohensque chorus – a moody unease resolves to blissfulness and serves as a welcome reminder of the escapism found in music and storytelling.

Punctuated by blasts of bagpipes  between verses, the track feels like an anthem rather than a bad cover version of past glory. The beginning has Oberst getting dressed for a date accompanied by Ruminations piano, he “(wears) a kilt like a Celt” and hides his feelings, but the entry of arpeggiated acoustic guitar and drums reintroduce us to Fever and Mirrors-era Bright Eyes with a more mature, confident vocalist. One who you believe when he insists “going to scream when I sing/going to die in the ring”.

When Oberst states “You want to be true to me, once again/and you want me to be true to you, once again” and asks “Oh how can we reconcile?”, his voice shakes with exasperation. The cult following Bright Eyes have garnered could surely suggest a happy compromise at a time when the emotional resonance Bright Eyes provide is more crucial than ever.

7.5/10

frank ocean – cayendo acoustic review

A few days ago the infamously reclusive Frank Ocean provided fans two new 7″ inch singles, Cayendo and Dear April, with accompanying remixes from Sango and Justice respectively.

On the acoustic track Cayendo, an intimate recording inescapably places you in the room with Ocean. The track is so raw that you can catch snippets of metronome. We can even hear what sounds like Frank tapping his leg in preparation for hitting the higher notes, a trait he’s been noted for during his rare live performances.

On Cayendo, the high notes are carefully placed dynamically to touch the soul of the listener in a way that very few vocalists today are capable of. The choice of arrangement consisting of sparse rhythmic guitar leaves the listener unprepared for Ocean’s shift into the higher register for the songs final verse. Ocean’s voice glides before soaring to it’s peak of emotive tenderness. This is realised by the presence of slight cracks in the vocal line, as well as doubled up vocals.

Cayendo reads as a matter of fact rendering of the conflicts we experience in the search for love. In Andalusian-accented Spanish, rumoured to be inspired by his friendship with Rosalia, Ocean tells a brief tale of a lover who has given him the cold shoulder. He concludes that this situation is not something that will break his spirit, but ends the verse with doubt: asking if he truly possesses the strength required, why does he feel as if he is falling? “Si puedo soportar lo que siento, ¿por qué me ‘toy cayendo?”

The battle with his dual emotional state is laid bare in the chorus, where Frank switches to English. “You know too much, I can’t be proud/I still really love you, yes I do” he croons in a manner befitting a whispered conversation.

This  could effort could have slid comfortably into Ocean’s 2016 album Endless, which featured other ballads such as Higgs and Wither. Cayendo, however, is arguably Oceans most revealing track yet. The sense of peace emanating from the dulcet vocals and guitar in conflict with lyrics filled with a combination of self-awareness and self doubt feels like a message in itself. Life is complicated. Love is complicated. We can still choose to dance in the rain, love passionately and appreciate the beauty in individual people, in spite of their shortcomings, and our own.

8/10