Πέμπτη 23 Φεβρουαρίου 2017

Sampha – Process

Being heavily affected by Solange’s Don’t Touch My Hair, I sat down and listened to Sampha’s solo debut album really carefully, without having listened to his past efforts with SBTRKT or having known his songwriting credits for other artists (I did know them, actually, I just didn’t know I actually knew them). I tried to focus on every sound, every word, every reverb and every agony in his vocals, as they desperately try to save themselves from drowning every time a chorus opens. For a second there, I almost had the sense he wants to sound like an American soul crooner, like John Legend, Frank Ocean or even a male version of Macy Gray. But Sampha is everything but that.

He breaks the rules of singing, writing words, building melodies or even composing rhythm sections. He creates from a well-hidden place in his heart, a personal sanctuary, something mystical and mystic at the same time. His songs, though, are not weak, dark or dramatized. On the contrary, they are solid and emotionally bigger than everything he has experienced in the recent past. Process feels more like a personal spiritual catharsis being narrated over pianos and drums and less like a studio album. In terms of music reviewing, that sounds inconsistent, because, as a product, it’s a studio album. But it’s solitary as well. It sounds like he is on a mission, other than selling records.

Process consists of 10 tracks co-produced by Rodaidh McDonald. They all have the same purpose: to communicate the singer’s truth and traumas. Death, health issues and lonesomeness are the main themes, while he uses them as a vehicle to reach his mental well-being and to fully understand his own existence… An angel by her side, all the times I knew we couldn't cope / They said that it's her time, no tears in sight, I kept the feelings close / And you took hold of me and never, never, never let me go / Cause no one knows me like the piano in my mother's home.

This is one of the most sonically adventurous projects during the last few years (I guess). Electronic pads and synths are gradually blending with old school breakbeat drums and piano chords in Blood On Me. Percussions are imperious, delivering an experimental funk performance in Kora Sings. Reversed audio files sound imperfectly perfect in Reverse Faults, which serves as a bridge for the intoxicating UnderI see you manipulate your lover / Take cover, waves come crashing over us. And then, somewhere between the piano ballads and the voice trembling, Timmy’s Prayer comes along, channeling Enya and various ensembles from the Highlands in Scotland. At first, it’s weird. And then, you simply accept the fact that it works.

Process is a soulful album, without ending up being a part of the RnB genre. It’s electronic, reminding us a lot of Jessie Ware’s songs, while it stands on its own as a painful trip to self-discovery. Sampha lost his mother during the recording sessions. He had a lump in his throat, too. The thing is, you don’t have to know these pieces of information to feel his pain. You only have to let the music do the magic. After a couple of hearings, it finally gets you. And you find yourself sketching an image of him in your mind playing the piano in his mother’s home in London. That’s the process.


Κυριακή 16 Οκτωβρίου 2016

Solange - A Seat At The Table

It takes years of hard work in order to become an artist. But it only takes a bunch of days to create a milestone. And if you think about it, it always happens when least expected. Think about Adele's 21, Lauryn's The Miseducation of and Alanis' Jagged Little Pill. Zero anticipation. Nobody really cared, until the day of their release.

A Seat At The Table is Solange's third album. Few people listened to the debut. Some more people noticed the second one. And then, there were none. Four years later, she recorded the addictive True EP and she instantly became a hipster. And now, another four years later, she releases one of the most consistent and remarkable albums of 2016. Is this a Lemonade coincidence or a personal statement?

Solange is a smart girl. While her sister runs the world, she has decided to be something completely different: an anti-star. Solange is a real person. You can find her in New Orleans with her husband, creating music, drinking old-fashioned cocktails, biking and collecting vintage dresses. She doesn't care about attention, world tours, Instagram records or winning a Grammy. Well, we can check this off the list, even if it's too early for next year's nominations.

ASATT is a smooth and mature celebration of being a black woman. Though I can't stop thinking about the obvious similarities with Erykah's Baduizm or even Jill's Words and Sounds, Solange takes her version of feminism a step further. She derives her inspiration from her family, her hometown, her own marriage, her sister, her personal experience. But don't ever think this collection of songs is about girl power. It's about black women being devalued, black women being great artists, black women being future American Presidents. Her vision is moving and emotional, but never arrogant or cocky.

Her first two videos, Don't Touch My Hair and Cranes In The Sky, made an instant impact the day they were released. With flawless, minimal production (God bless Raphael Saadiq), solid songwriting, vital brass sections, velvet vocals and impressive whistle notes, Solange certainly redefines the soul/r'n'b genre with a unique sound. She also did it with True, but this time is stronger, more efficient and sophisticated.

Her Lil Wayne collaboration, Mad, is one of the album's highlights. Don't Wish Me Well creates an aggressive, but also sexy momentum. Weary delivers urban wisdom: "Be leery 'bout your place in the world/You're feeling like you're chasing the world/You're leaving not a trace in the world/But you're facing the world". And so on.

You cannot skip tracks or interludes, while listening to ASATT. This album demonstrates such an ethereal beauty that makes it so difficult not to be part of its magic. Even though Solange controls every minute of the hearing, A Seat At The Table is somehow self-existent. It feels like it had already been recorded somewhere in the universe and it patiently waited for the right woman to sing it away.

AnArtCalled... 9.5/10

Πέμπτη 28 Απριλίου 2016

Beyoncé - Lemonade

It’s been a long time since the last time the world realized that global pop stars and landmark albums are not an endangered species. «Bad» did that to the world. «The Bodyguard OST» did that. «Confessions on a dance floor» did that. «Purple rain» did that. «21» did that. But then again, it seems so far, far, far away, just because we create, live and interact in a digital era and physical copies are indeed an endangered species, if not an extinct one. So, what’s so special about Beyoncé’s «Lemonade» that it has made the whole world stop?

The thing is, she has not underestimated her power. But she has not overestimated it, either. The surprise marketing tricks are, etymologically speaking, tricky. There is no guarantee they will succeed, but she and her team are working very hard in order to guide the surprise factor to a safe place, where freedom and success are united. The «Formation» video, the fake tracklist with the Adele & Mariah collaborations, the HBO special, the divorce concept, the concept-album concept, the immediate digital release and, finally, the fact that once again she broke the internet.

Beyoncé owns her artistry. She truly owns it. She sings, but she screams as well. She writes about Jay-Z cheating on her, but she also makes political statements like Janet did with her «Rhythm Nation 1814». She delivers her swagger, but she is also vulnerable, playing the keaboards and building sand castles. She thinks of her father as a South American, country/blues guardian angel, while she acknowledges that he too was a cheating male, who taught her how to shoot in «Daddy Lessons». It has been written lately that in «Lemonade» she is the strong black female she was always supposed to be. But the truth is she has become the black feminist she was always supposed to be. And that's not a double standard, that's a huge artistic and personal victory.

Her second visual album is not about announcing her divorce from her husband. It's about sharing and channeling the first signs of him cheating in «Pray You Catch Me», her actual sadness, her female truth, her black truth from daddy Alabama to momma Louisiana to Texas, her strength to save her marriage and the fact that her freedom to choose is the quality she needs in her life. And that's exactly what you watch during the film.

Sonically, she is out of her comfort zone, but she still manages to sound like she has always been producing non-hit records with James Blake. It's the first time she follows her Southern roots and not a studio pattern. It's the first time the brass sections and the guitars in her songs are actually breathing. It's the first time her vocals are raw and simple with Jack White's help. It's the first time she is not pop enough for the radio stations and the first time she is edgy enough not to really care for a catchy chorus or a perfect bassline. And it's also the first time that her songwriting tops the production.

Beyoncé is the only living artist who has the inner power to let you believe that it's time to stop what you're doing and listen to what she has to say. And then you do it, because she cares. Cause her daddy made her fight. And maybe she isn't always right, but it's her 2nd fucking amendment. I can't tell if this is The album of the year. But I can surely tell it's an instant classic.

AnArtCalled... 9.5/10

Σάββατο 26 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Albums 2015

Sometimes, you just have to listen to what you listen to, in order to write a music countdown. There have been times in the past I tried to be a music editor and not a music lover. This particular time, I'm counting down my 20 favorite albums of the year 2015, along with some beloved lyrics. Enjoy, bitchez.

20. Miley Cyrus – Мiley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz
"I feel protected by things I don't understand. And that's more than you could say."

19. Jamie XX - In Colour
"I go to loud places to search for someone to be quiet with."

18. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
"My knees gettin' weak and my gun might blow. But we gon' be alright."

17. The Weeknd - Beauty Behind The Madness
"I'm just tryna live life for the moment. And all these motherfuckers want a real love."

16. Lianne La Havas - Blood
"The closer we get, the less we need to show."

15. Janet Jackson - Unbreakable
"I had this great epiphany and rhythm nation was the dream. I guess next time I'll know better."

14. Foals - What Went Down
"I buried my heart in a hole in the ground with the lights and the roses and the cowards downtown."

13. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
"I’m light as a feather, I’m bright as the Oregon breeze. My black shroud frightened by my feelings. I only wanna be a relief."

12. Erykah Badu - But You Cain't Use My Phone
"Every time you get a message, act like you don't see it. I could make you put your phone down. Tell me, do you copy?"

11. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
"Give me all your money and I 'll make some origami, honey."

10. Róisín Murphy - Hairless Toys
"Never underestimate creative people and the depths that they will go."

9. Grimes - Art Angels
"If you can’t scream it out, then swallow it down."

8. Miguel - Wildheart
"I 'm your pimp, I'm your pope, I'm your pastor, babe. Confess your sins to me, while you masturbate."

7. Leon Bridges - Coming Home
"I like the way you sail your ship down. Let me be your cargo."

6. Marina and the Diamonds - FROOT
"I 've been saving all my summers for you."

5. Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
"I don't know whose problem it is. I don't know whose fuck to give. I'm losing it."

4. Benjamin Clementine - At Least For Now
"We all make a living by what we get, but we make life by what we give."

3. Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon
"You're so Art Deco out on the floor, shining like gun metal, cold and unsure."

2. Dawn Richard - Blackheart
"We were titans eternally engraved. We were lovers born against the grade."

1. Bjork - Vulnicura
"I am a glowing shiny rocket, returning home. As I enter the atmosphere, I burn off layer by layer. Jettison."

Σάββατο 12 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Erykah Badu - But You Cain't Use My Phone [Mixtape]

The Queen is back. I'm not writing this stuff as her true fan, but as a music fan. She has always been a pioneer, an art lover, a wise creator. She started her career back in 1997 with the best neo-soul album of all time, "Baduizm", while she has only recorded another 4 studio albums since then. But the thing is, you cannot be impatient if you want to enjoy a Badu project. Cause a Badu project is a grower. Like the perfect penis.

"But You Cain't Use My Phone" describes her urgent need to enjoy life in the absolute digital era. She samples favorite songs by Usher, Egyptian Lover, Isley Brothers, New Edition and Drake, she produces fresh and futuristic rhythm sections with Zach Witness in just 12 days and she delivers a modern hip-pop classic. But with a fun twist - shaken, not stirred.

Personally, I agree. She can make me put my phone down so that we can cruise through the city all day and all night, but her vocals are so sick 'n' tired, that she actually believes it's not possible for a human being to be totally disconnected and happy at the same time. Even when she playfully sings "U don't have to call" accompanied by old-school production, she knows that she does not mean this. Well, what kind of person calls her boyfriend "squirrel" and yet she wants to be alone tonight?

Anyone can expect that an Erykah Badu mixtape should be something about wise words, heavy basslines, jazzy vocals and provocative videos like "Window Seat", "On & On" or even "Honey". Let's just say that you cannot put a label on a true artist, cause her body will reject it like a fake transplant. You can easily spot the fun factor here, but you can also spot her struggle to survive as a 44-year-old musician in a touch screen world.

Erykah Badu runs this Mixtape with swagger and wittiness, along with her friends Andre 3000 and Drake. She has been the jazz-soul new artist during the late 90's, the New AmErykah creator in the 00's, the sweet-Love-Of-My-Life sugababe now and then, while she currently redefines herself as a devoted hip-hop performer. It's really weird that Adele and Erykah Badu share the same passion these days about their smartphones, but it's actually cute that pop culture has a common sense of humour, even though it's musically expressed through different paths.

AnArtCalled... 9/10

Σάββατο 21 Νοεμβρίου 2015

Adele - 25

It has been 4 years since "Rolling in the deep", but its success makes me think it came out like a couple of months ago. Or so. I feel the same thing about "Hello", but it actually came out a couple of months ago and that's weird. Cause it's not a bad song. What's the difference? Adele herself. It's her status and her distinctive voice which have created an Adele era in music and everything she does, it becomes an instant classic.

Maybe that's the misguiding thing here - it's not the perfect music album, but it's huge already. So you cannot concentrate on what she is trying to do. And that's pretty simple - she is trying to sing her heart out, without complicated arrangements and epic stuff. And this is wise, you don't need the perfect pop song and the perfect instrumentation for the pitch-perfect voice. It would be like Whitney or Christina singing Carly Simon or John Williams (awkward).

When "19" was out, she was that cute songwriter with the jazzy voice and her guitar, singing about drama, daydreaming and chasing pavements (my favorite album, still). But since then, she has become an actual diva (but with a sense of humour). And it's again wise and smart that she co-writes her songs with Paul Epworth, Greg Kurstin, Tobias Jesso Jr or Bruno Mars, focusing mainly on her vocals. Just because if you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.

To the point now... It's the "21" sequel. The ballads are here ("Million years ago"), the pianos are here ("When We Were Young" ), the crazy vocals and the high notes are stronger than ever, while the drama has become sweeter and softer ("Send My Love (To Your New Lover)"). All the album producers, including Danger Mouse, have tried their best to build the songs around her ability to touch people's hearts and though every song has a different producer, the sound credit goes to Adele - it's all about her.

"25" is going to sell more than 3, maybe 4 million copies on its first week in the US alone. If you consider the fact that people don't buy physical copies anymore, this number in 2000 would have been 10 million copies and that's more than breaking a record. That's a proof of pure talent and poetic justice in music, in the arts, in the world. And, of course, it's back to basics. A for Adele (lame, but I had to)!

AnArtCalled... 8/10

Σάββατο 31 Οκτωβρίου 2015

The Lobster

It's tough to watch a tough film, without being tough enough to laugh, cry, think and love at the same time. That cannot be done. To feel all these at the same time, I mean. But watching "The Lobster" gets you as far as you can go with that. It's that kind of picture that lets you experience a raw and surreal emotional rollercoaster, which, at the end of the day, takes you one step further into understanding yourself a bit better than you already do.

The film is an experiment in a dystopian future. Take yourself to a place that you have to love someone in 45 days and if you fail, then be the animal of your choice, just because you cannot do otherwise. Alternative choice? Be a loner. Go into the woods, be a wildling, prevent yourself from being with someone, just because you cannot do otherwise, either. Alternative of the alternative? Love someone you are not supposed to love and accept the consequences. Or not. Challenge accepted.

You don't have to be smart to understand this movie. On the contrary, it's back to basics. Yorgos Lanthimos is not a filmmaker that tries to be cocky in order to make art. This is actually a pretty simple project, almost childish. With a different approach, it really should be a Pixar film for children, in order to teach them that you can love and accept everyone if only at first you do that for yourself and be a free person.

The surreal thing exists here, just because you cannot support a film with real actors, exquisite ones, without being symbolic. Colin Farrell, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly and Rachel Weisz take their performances one step further by being simple, sarcastic and non dramatic, while at the same time they do and say things which are supposed to sound weird in a film, but they are actually not weird in real life. And you do them, too. And you tell them every day, without being an actor. And that's the weirdness of it all - this is cinema, while it's not. It's life.

In real life, you can be jealous of your girlfriend if she speaks to another guy who has something in common with you, because you project yourself in it. You are in danger. But when the girl or the boy is in danger, aren't you supposed to walk in their shoes to understand them? Yes, it's about empathy and nothing more. You can be single or a couple, that's your choice. But it's your ethical obligation to have empathy in order to be happy. And, let's face it, you don't walk in other people's shoes.

They say that, with "The Lobster", the circle of the Greek Weird Wave of cinema is complete. I cannot describe "The Lobster" as weird though. It's not fair. The script by Efthimis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos is weird itself. The performances are pretty weird and North European. It's like an Ingmar Bergman or a Michael Haneke movie. It also ends in uncertainty, which is weird, too. But it's not a weird film. Too much weirdness in 2 hours just ends up being too fucking normal compared to real life. "The Lobster" is exhilarating. That's the only valid word.

AnArtCalled... 9/10

Αντί απολογισμού…

Η αλήθεια είναι πως ασχοληθήκαμε με την μουσική έως και αποκλειστικά την χρονιά που πέρασε. Το πιθανότερο είναι να κάνουμε το ίδιο και την επόμενη με την περισσή πάντα, ασυνέπεια που μας διακρίνει. Δηλαδή όποτε μας κάτσει κάτι υπέροχο η απαίσιο –την ίδια ένταση συναισθημάτων προκαλούν άλλωστε. Έχουμε αφήσει ολίγον στην άκρη τα υπόλοιπα. Αν δεις την αρχή του μπλογκ, αφορούσε και φιλμς και εκθέσεις και φεστιβάλ. Αλλά ακόμα και ένα απλό μπλογκ θέλει την αφοσίωση και τον χρόνο του…την φροντίδα του εν τέλει.

Εύχομαι απλά αυτό τον χρόνο να είναι όλα πιο ήρεμα και εμείς να κάνουμε αυτό που αγαπάμε συχνότερα και εντιμότερα.


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