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Review: VS - Bastille

20th December 2014 | Music

On listening to “VS”, we shouldn’t expect to hear Bad Blood Part 2, but Bastille exploring different styles with a variety of collaborators. The songs are often unpolished and occasionally ill thought out, but they often have the raw energy that is sometimes missing from the band’s more mainstream efforts. The LP hints at a more dance related direction for the second album, but keeps us hedging our bets by retaining a love of luscious strings, indulgent harmonies and unashamedly pop choruses.



Definite highlights are ‘Torn Apart’ and ‘Weapon’, both of which push Bastille in new directions. The intro of the former song is enough to indicate that it burns with a greater intensity than something like ‘Pompeii’. It builds through relentless drum loops towards an explosive chorus, which definitely calls for intensive dancing. The lyrics may be bland (the chorus is simply “we were born to be together! Torn apart! Torn apart!”) and it does feel a little bit confined within a rigid structure, but none of this diminishes it’s stomping appeal. What is distinctly odd is separating Lizzo’s one minute rap interlude into a different track as a kind of deleted scene. Forgiving this we move on to ‘Weapon’, which is dominated by Angel Haze’s relentless and aggressive rapping before giving way to another heavenly chorus which becomes stronger and more compelling each time it repeats. Things trail off a bit when R&B singer Braque chips in, but this is still Bastille at its most exciting.

Elsewhere however, tracks refuse to take off. ‘Axe to Grind’ does have some marvellous guest vocals from Tinashe Fazakerley (not entirely sure if this is either Tyde or Rationale); but the fragmented synths are chilled to the point of dull, and the chorus is fairly boring…

Review: Never Been Better - Olly Murs

19th December 2014 | Music

There has always been doubt over whether X Factor prodigies can truly become fully rounded artists. This may be musical snobbery, but when was the last time anyone heard of Joe McElderry or Alexandra Burke? It would appear though that Olly Murs is here to stay; he now has four albums under his belt and a large and committed fanbase. Unfortunately Never Been Better proves that there is still a great deal lacking. There is no emotional depth; we never move away from tired pop conventions; and Murs’ sickly sweet voice quickly becomes nauseating. It is a catalogue of failure, and leaves no lasting impact after listening.

The major problem on the album is Murs’ voice. There is now doubt that he is a very talented singer; a lot of these songs sound like they would be much more successful with the added spark of live performance. The issue is that his voice is too polished to be distinctive and too assured to register any vulnerability. We are never given a glimpse of the inner Murs, we are just left with a rather superficial performance. With only a few exceptions, his delivery is fairly one-note. The only character he can play is the cheeky chap and confident showman; more emotive songs like ‘Hope You Got What You Came For’ and ‘Tomorrow’ tend to fall a little flat. There is the occasional moment where his voice takes on a more fragile intimacy, usually in the bridge, but the effect is quickly shattered by the return of the brash performer. It is a tangible relief when Demi Lovato takes over as guest vocalist on the choruses of ‘Up’, adding some bite in contrast to Murs’s saccharine verses.

The songwriting is nearly as lamentable as the performance. The instrumentation is often…

Review: Abandon Ship - Knife Party

14th December 2014 | Music

After the emotive blend of electronica and rock that was Pendulum, founding members Rob Swire and Gareth McGillen abandoned bleeding hearts for bombastic basslines in 2011 through their new band Knife Party. Now, after a series of successful EPs, they’ve finally released a full length LP. Abandon Ship, however, is not a promising name for a debut album; it’s apparently bemoaning the decline of EDM (Electronic Dance Music for the uninitiated like me). Whether the tragic death throes of drum and bass prompt us to reach for the tissues is a matter of personal preference, but Knife Party don’t make the best case for its continued dominance.

 

It’s true that all of the songs on the record have bags of energy; and within a potentially limited set of generic conventions (most breakdowns and drops do sound relatively similar) there is plenty of variety on show. We’re served up portions of reggae on ‘Give it Up’; sickly sweet pop on ‘Superstar’; and something vaguely Eastern on ‘Red Dawn’; all immersed in the traditional drum and bass. Another seeming plus point is that Knife Party could never be accused of taking themselves too seriously. The general feel is of mischievous lads rebelling against their more polished performances on Pendulum and revelling in the rawness and unsophistication of their grimy bass. This approach works best on the growling yet infectious bass riff of ‘Give It Up’ and the inclusion of Windows error noises to counter the high drama of ‘404’. On the dreamy ‘EDM Trend Machine’, however, the raw grinding bass of the drop is replaced by glittering aural invention, and the listener cannot help but smile at the witty song-writing on show.

 

Sometimes the silliness gets too much. Between the explosions of bass, there…