Kanye West – ‘The Life Of Pablo’
So, here’s the problem. How to talk about the music on The Life Of Pablo without ignoring all the buzz around it? The whole Swish/Wave name-finding Tweets, the over-the-top demonstration of megalomania by launching the new album together with a clothing line at Madison Square garden (watch below), the Wiz Khalifa Beef, the misogynist Bill Cosby comment. Answer is: you can’t and KANYE WEST brought this upon himself by making everything else around the release of The Life Of Pablo bigger than it acutally ist. It’s just a rap record, although one that is less aggressive and progressive as 2013’s Yeezus. WEST himself described it as a gospel record which is best showcased in the opening Ultra Light Beam which comes with a big choir and lyrics like ‘Pray for Paris, pray for the parents’. It’s in the almighty ambivalence of the artist that he, three songs later, addresses ‘all the girls’ who want to sleep with him just to get famous. Yes, that includes TAYLOR SWIFT although it might be more fitting for his IT-girl/ reality show wife Kim Kardashian, right? It’s not funny and we have no idea why RIHANNA signed up for this.
Besides the usual questionable lyrics he still got his flow on point on the short Freestyle or in the ironic I Love Kanye which makes Yeezy rapping things like ‘I miss the old Kanye’ and ‘I invented Kanye’ at the same time. From the tender gospel pop of Highlights, to the almost SHLOHMO-like ambient beat of FML to the gentle disco groove of Fade – the production is on point, reduced, surprisingly dark and deep. There are some great introspective reflections on the new KANYE WEST record (Real Friends) but they exist aside all that childish, offending and egonomic first-world-problems. The whole discontinuity of his own artistic self-understatement remains the biggest problem of his otherwise really good artistic output. And as his career goes on we simply have to ask ourselves if we can allow ourselves to let him get away with all these ‘flaws’ by worshipping an artist who might be extremely talented but also really stupid. I found my answer, hopefully you’ll find yours after The Life Of Pablo. (Norman Fleischer)
NBHAP Rating: Does it even matter?
The Jezabels – ‘Synthia’
It’s always tough for every band when your previous output overshadows new releases thanks to its unique quality. When Australia’s THE JEZABELS released their 2012 debut Prisoner, it was a perfect example for furious and epic stadium rock that showcased that this special ‘subgenre’ can be done with dignity and emotional quality. In an age when big drums and even bigger gestures became an ongoing element in contemporary music (let’s call it the ‘WOODKID‘ effect), Hayley Mary and his band represented the light side of the force. Still, 2014’s The Brink tried a bit too hard to also work on Top 40 radio stations and limited the band’s own abilities, it seemed. Album number three, called Synthia, marks a return to form as it renews the strength of the JEZABELS debut record.
Part of the record’s quality also comes from its ambitious main theme. According to Mary the album focusses on ‘the rock world’s simplistic perception of the synthetic feminine versus the authentic male’ and is a strong female statement from start to finish in which the distinctive singer remains the anchor. From furious rock diva (My Love Is My Disease) to gentle floating siren (A Message From My Mothers Passed) to playing the sensual vamp (Pleasure Dive) – Maley is the heart and soul of the powerful wave pop by THE JEZABELS once again. The electronic elements play a slightly stronger role on Synthia, just to underline the 80s hints a bit more. Aside from that the Cinematic anthems remain strong from start to finish and feel way less forced than on the album’s predecessor. It’s definitely too early to write these guys off. (Norman Fleischer)
NBHAP Rating: 4,2/5
Memoryhouse – ‘Soft Hate’
The story of Canadian dreampop two piece MEMORYHOUSE aka Denise Nouvion and Evan Abeele has been one of steady progress. It all once started as an instrumental project by Abeele who combined piano-based neo-classic compositions with a certain love for ambient electronic. Via their EP The Years and the 2012 debut album The Slideshow Effect the project slowly but steady turned into a full-band. Soft Hate takes that idea even further and sounds nothing like the early work of MEMORYHOUSE but that itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. ‘Maybe it’s the same’ asks Nouvion in the opening Fate but pretty quick you realize it’s not entirely the case. Soft Hate feels more polished, more pop, more epic but keeps the dreamy atmosphere of previous work, mainly thanks to Nouvion’s distinctive vocal work.
The drums are heavier on Soft Hate and so are the other elements. From a surprising blues-rock guitar in Arizona to the grooving 80s bassline in Honey Baby Darling. A few songs like the interlude In The Woods and Knife In The Water recall the duo’s ambient roots but refuse to simply copy the floating pre-SubPop days. We got an obvious answer to Nouvion’s question in Get Back: ‘Can we get back to where we started from?’ Well, obviously not. The fog lifted and MEMORYHOUSE clearly have no attention to remain in the haze of their own past. They can still write proper pop songs although it seems as if they haven’t really decided yet on what sort of band they would like to eventually be. But maybe that’s what progress sometimes is all about. (Norman Fleischer)
NBHAP Rating: 4,1/5
Me And My Drummer – ‘Love Is A Fridge’
German dreampop two-piece ME AND MY DRUMMER took their time to release a second full-length. In those accelerated times four years in-between albums seem like a lifetime, especially when a band decides to take a long break following their debut. Charlotte Brandi and Matze Pröllochs took the risk after 2012’s The Hawk, The Peak, The Prey. They overthrew ideas and songs, recorded almost an entire album, only to start from scratch again. The Berlin-based duo took a certain risk but one with a successful end. Love Is A Fridge takes the concept of the debut even further, sounds more focussed and presents ME AND MY DRUMMER finally ready to make the overdue international impact. Musically, album number two isn’t that far away from its predecessor; still, Love Is A Fridge feels more colourful, eclectic and even a bit danceable.
Ambient textures like the opening Lancelot meet delicate 80s-infected grooves (Gun) or a certain smooth tropical note in the playful (Tie Me Bananas). Brandi’s powerful voice is as strong and confident as never before which helps to easily carry epic pieces like Pentonville Road and Nuts. The record’s lead-single Blue Splinter View with its Western guitar style turns out to be a bit misguiding since the guitars sill play a minor role in the musical microcosm of the group but add a nice new aspect to the sound (Grown Up Shape). Spherical electronic sounds, synthesizer basslines and Pröllochs’ organic drumming dominate the majority of album. The debut was already quite crafted for a first full-length and Love Is A Fridge makes basically everything right in terms of natural progress. ME AND MY DRUMMER deliver outrospective and cinematic dreamy pop that successfully balances the thin line between format radio and experimental approach. The rest of the world can’t look away anymore. (Norman Fleischer)
NBHAP Rating: 4,4/5
VIMES – ‘Nights In Limbo’
Label: Humming Records
My friend Jeff claims trip hop is over, but he thought I mentioned DISCLOSURE in reference to his money troubles, sorry Jeff but you can’t be trusted. Especially since the release of Still a Dream: A story of Shoegaze last week. It is clear that it’s still not only relevant but gaining a contemporary audience. Nights in Limbo, the long awaited first full-length release from Cologne-based duo VIMES, plays a marriage between the old and new. Combining the sweet vocals of 1980s trip hop with a contemporary beat, Nights in Limbo is a strong debut from the German two piece.
It’s hard to describe how music can sound inherently European, but this has a Euro centric cool to it. Each track is different yet bonded together by a genre. Mind a sweet track with a lyrical edge and Tuem which plays like a stunted club classic. As a debut its hard to fault, harking back to 90s cool whilst still maintaining a modern musical relevance. Nights in Limbo by VIMES is an album that deserves to step into the limelight, that much seems for sure. (Hannah Fahy)
NBHAP Rating: 3,7/5
El Guincho – ‘HiperAsia’
EL GUINCHO, the adventurous pop alter ego by Pablo Díaz-Reixa, is one of those acts you almost forgot ever existed. That, of course, wouldn’t make much sense since 2010’s Pop Negro and its tropical outburst of grooving and uplifting indie-pop might be one of most underrated little pop gems of the past years. Just recall the weird and furious Bombay music video again to get an impression. While Pop Negro already had its experimental moments but managed to remain in a pop context. Six years later, HiperAsia takes the EL GUINCHO idea into more abstract territory and delivers chopped songs, quick cuts, edgy synthesizer sounds and dry 808 beats. Díaz-Reixa delivers an ambitious and forward thinking concept of synthetic pop with R&B and rap elements. And there’s a deeper meaning behind it since HiperAsia has been inspiredd by a chain of enormous Chinese bazaars in the outskirts of Madrid.
Díaz-Reixa was fascinated by the way these bazaars take western brands and re-build them in an often more interesting way than the originals. With the new EL GUINCHO record he aimed to translate this business structure into sound aesthetics. And that’s what HiperAsia feels like: a wild and furious mixture of ideas, impressions and song sketches; a stimulus satiation just like during a visit on those market. From break beats and video game sounds (Sega), to auto-tune madness (De Bugas) to an almost APHEX TWIN-like deconstruction of beats (Stena Drillmax) – the producer remains restless and sets himself no boundaries. Everything is possible, from trap-beats to pitched-down vocal performance (Muchos Boys). HiperAsia became a stressful adventure, just like an hour at the bazaar. Nothing against consumption critique in pop music but a bit less chaos and more heart would have helped to make the new EL GUINCHO work on a musical level beyond its interesting art and wristband release concept. Call me old fashioned but I might just stick with Pop Negro for now. (Norman Fleischer)
NBHAP Rating: 1,9/5
Nothing But Thieves – ‘Nothing But Thieves’
Release-Date: 12.02.2016 (outside the UK)
Label: RCA Victor
Amidst all the pop songs or dance tracks blaring at us from either side, don’t you sometimes yearn to listen a good old rock? Then look no further. NOTHING BUT THIEVES have finally released their self titled album worldwide and it’s packed with all you could want from a new age rock album. The guys from Southend dropped their debut album in the UK last year and it’s already come 7th in the album charts and even 1st in the vinyl records.
From songs like Itch, Trip Switch or Ban All The Music that leave you bringing out your inner rock god to more slower tracks like Lover, Please Stay or Tempt You (Evocatio) the album really showcases the bands broad spectrum. Lead singer Conor Mason’s voice will leave you reeling and although their music influences such as RADIOHEAD and JEFF BUCKLEY are quite detectable throughout, the guys have really made this an album their own. With a performance at Jimmy Kimmel Live! under their belt and close to sold out tour dates on their second leg of touring, it’s safe to say the guys are on the fast track to success. (Marla Geesing)
NBHAP Rating: 4/5