Δευτέρα 30 Μαρτίου 2015

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

The eccentric and multi-instrumentalist songwriter has released his seventh album. Sufjan Stevens is a unique artist. But most of all, he is a guy that you would like to hang out with. And that's really interesting if you think about it for a bit· there aren't many musicians around the world who are genuinely weird. Like literally weird. How many Bjork's, Prince's, Sufjan's and Florence's do you think there are out there? I mean, his last words in "Fourth of July" are constantly repeating "We're all gonna die". C'mon, Sufjan, let's have a walk.

"Carrie & Lowell" is about darkness and introversion ("I am a man with a heart that offends with its lonely and greedy demands. There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking, I'm dead", from "John My Beloved"). Unlike his previous and partially electronic project, "The Age of Adz", this time he returns to his folk format. And all the words are about his childhood and his mother's death, Carrie.

There are no read-between-the-lines songs in here. They are all quite direct and sincere and you feel like diving in his mourning, singing along the guitar/piano-driven tracks. Sufjan suffers like a normal human being who has just lost his mother. And this is actually sweet. But he writes about it like everything else around him is dead, too, thus leaving you without hope. And the most weird thing of all? He makes you feel nice about it with his melodies, just because he is that kind of guy· he can transform his dark lyrics and sad chords into some kind of redemption. For him and for you, too.

Undoubtedly, one of the best things he has ever recorded.  Highlight: "What's the point of singing songs if they'll never even hear u?".

AnArtCalled... 9,5/10

Παρασκευή 27 Μαρτίου 2015

Laura Marling - Short Movie

It's a fact that Laura Marling is fully capable of combining folk tradition, country stories and indie production. She's done it many times in the past, four if we want to be accurate. So, let's suppose that Laura has a new album out and she has done it again for a fifth time. Is there something new she has to offer or she is just duplicating her other albums all over again, just to keep her fanbase and her artistry happy? Keep reading...

It's a fact that Laura Marling has been nominated 3 times for a Mercury Prize for her music. She has never won, but that's not the case. She is one of the main reasons behind an upsurge in folk music the last ten years, plus she has never changed her style, in order to be mainstream or to top the charts. That's another thing you have to consider if you want to listen to her new songs.

It's a fact that Laura Marling has had universal critical acclaim all these years. She never had a single bad review for one of her albums, which sometimes was a little overestimated, to be honest. For me, "I Speak Because I Can" is her best effort to date - strong songwriting, wisdom beyond her years, a true sophomore trip to self-discovery and an even stronger title as a personal statement.

So, we are in 2015 and "Short movie" comes out. And it is all about the time she spent in America. A British female folk songwriter living the American Dream? Well, not. In these songs, Marling takes a deep breath and dives into the hard everyday reality, the Hurricane Sandy in New York ("False hope"), the alienation of Los Angeles ("Walk alone") and her disability (or her ability) to adjust to the new challenge she created for herself. She felt so "Lost in translation", as she has stated recently, that she could not help but create music about this. Music that she produced herself, sometimes using electric guitars ("Don't let me bring you down", "False hope") and sometimes feeling like a rock band ("Gurdjieff's Daughter").

Even if I insist on my first statement about her second album, I have to say that every Laura Marling project is multilayered, truthful and simple (not simpleminded though). Her constant craving to be stronger as a songwriter never lets anyone down and that's something to start with if you have not yet listened to her songs - she tries. And she tries really hard.

AnArtCalled... 8,5/10

Σάββατο 21 Μαρτίου 2015

Empire Cast - Empire: Original Soundtrack From Season 1

This is the reason why the new Madonna album debuted at No 2 on the Billboard charts last week. The "Empire" tv series is not only a huge ratings' hit, but also an unstoppable music machine. Here, you can listen new songs and covers by Jennifer Hudson, Estelle, Mary J Blige, Courtney Love and all of the main and recurring cast. Actually, everyone in this drama series acts and sings, even if this means that he/she is just a guest star for a couple of minutes (Patti LaBelle, Anthony Hamilton, Rita Ora).

The production is basic Timbaland stuff and piano ballads. But the thing is that if you have watched the show, it is simply IMPOSSIBLE not to get addicted to the soundtrack. The sound takes you back in the 90's, where r'n'b and hip-hop were dominating the charts around the world with artists like Whitney, Missy, Janet, Boyz II Men, En Vogue, Brandy, Dre and Lauryn. And if you have ever loved those people, it's inevitable you will love these tracks, too.

Although the rap/sung collaborations are pretty tight and strong, it's the ballads that make the show's music work. Jennifer Hudson sings her lungs out (again) in the heartfelt "Remember the music", Estelle proves with "Conqueror"  that she never was and never will be a one-hit wonder, while the TV Jamal (Jussie Smollett) puts some sugar in everyone's bowls while singing "Good Enough", "Keep Your Money" and "I Wanna Love You".

We have to be honest, the actual star of the show is Jussie Smollett. His acting part and his voice have stolen "the Lyon's share" since the beginning, along with Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson). So it's more than fair to Give to Caesar what is Caesar's. My advice: Watch the 12 episodes of "Empire" and then listen to the songs. You'll get what I mean.

AnArtCalled... 8/10

Παρασκευή 20 Μαρτίου 2015

Tinashe - Amethyst

In a world where sophisticated r'n'b (or alternative r'n'b or however you want to call this) has done some serious damage in the pop charts (and awards shows), Tinashe has finally found the perfect timing to make a statement and produce music. After the release of her debut and my personal best for 2014, Aquarius, she just gave us for free her fourth mixtape (the first after her debut album), which she recorded in her childhood bedroom over Christmas vacation. She tweeted that it's a gift to her fans and, well... "you can count me in, girl".

In "Amethyst", she is more mellow and laid down than before. Her sound here is not about the charts the way "Aquarius" was. She sounds like an indie artist you just discovered on SoundCloud or an unsigned girl waiting to be huge someday. That makes this 7-track mixtape special. She is not waiting to release her sophomore project in two years or so. Instead, she keeps recording and sharing her music for free, simply because she seems not being able to survive without creating.

Her aquatic sound is always present in tracks like "Worth it", where retro synth pads blend with a solo sax and rap/sung vocals by herself and Iamsu!, who also has produced the track. In "Something to feel" and "Dreams are real" she reminds us the reasons why we have loved her sensual debut that much, while the Ritz Reynolds produced "Just the way I like you" is probably her most experimental track to date. But still, all of the songs are about one sound, one vision, one person.

As I have mentioned in the past, Tinashe is a pure talent. She is a music geek. She is constantly producing her own songs on her laptop and you can always find her using her SoundCloud account, listening to artists from all over the world. I mean, she went to see her parents for Christmas and she recorded seven tracks, c'mon.

AnArtCalled... 9/10

Τετάρτη 18 Μαρτίου 2015

Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon

These piano-based ballads should and could be the male version of Adele's drama ballads, though the songwriter here is primarily a bass player, not a piano player (he learned how to play the piano just a couple of years ago, what the odds?). "Goon" by Tobias Jesso Jr is not a great album, it is a heartfelt album, which makes it somewhat... great? Yes, indeed.

You could say that this debut has everything a new artist could wish for· production from Patrick Carney (The Black Keys), drums by Danielle Haim ("Without you"), plus some tweeting assistance by Adele and Haim (for "How Could You Babe", the first single). I mentioned that it is not a great album, just because it's a mellow, low-tempo, Norah Jones-esque album and that's something we have listened to a lot in the recent past. The significant thing here, that also makes it a good debut, is that Tobias sings his own life with the simplest possible way.

Even though "Goon" is a pop album, the storytelling is pretty country· everyday stories, breakups, family health issues and dreams. The sound is almost like being in a live or a rehearsal session, while his vocals are never too much or the first thing you can notice in the production. So if you are searching for a vocal triumph here, you won't find it, he just sings his songs.

Tobias Jesso Jr has every potential to be huge in 2015, because he is honest with his music and cute. Ed Sheeran is huge, Sam Smith is huge, so it's the perfect timing for him to be the next Best New Artist nominee at the Grammys of 2016.

AnArtCalled... 7,5/10

Δευτέρα 16 Μαρτίου 2015

Marina and the Diamonds - FROOT

When "The Family Jewels" was released, Marina Diamandis had just been through some hard times, so her music was really intense and vulnerable in many ways. The album was critically acclaimed, so she had a hell of a year. And then "Electra Heart" happened and though it was a concept album with a lot of potential, it failed in many ways. Her GaGa synthpop tracks were poor as far as the melodies are concerned and the smart videos did not save the day. She looked damn pretty in those, we have to admit it. So what happens now, in 2015?

Well, Marina is a pure songwriting talent and that's a fucking strong asset. This time, with her third album, "FROOT", she is capable to showcase this exact talent. She has written all the songs by herself and she has co-produced all of them along with David Kosten (Bat For Lashes). And it works. It works like Amy and Tina presenting the Golden Globes.

The sound is still electronic, but she has again found her indie twist. With a voice as powerful as hers, it's smart that she and Kosten chose to produce the songs with a minimal touch, using basic rhythm sections, reverbed pianos, distinctive guitars and throwback synths, so that the vocals can actually be heard. Marina demanded to be produced as a band. And the result is more than rewarding for her and her vision.

If you try to find a big hit in "FROOT", you just won't, so stop trying. On the other hand, you can find many emotional Marinas and though the project is not a concept album like "Electra Heart", it serves as one, emotionally. There is the naked-soul Marina in "Happy". There is the girl-power Marina in the masterpiece "Can't pin me down". There is always the rock star (or the Charli XCX) Marina in "Forget", the 80's pop-funk Marina in "I'm a ruin", the new-wave pop Marina in "Froot" and so on.

Marina and the Diamonds has always been retro as a project, even when she has tried to be mainstream. And that's her thing. She can write catchy melodies in order to put her name in the charts, but she can always be unique with her sound and her image. This time, she is musically exceptional as well, more than ever before. "FROOT" is not only her strongest body of work to date, but also a top-10 album for 2015 so far.

And hands down, earl grey bitches, she is fucking Greek.

AnArtCalled... 9/10

Παρασκευή 13 Μαρτίου 2015

Years & Years - Y & Y (EP)

This electronic trio has, indeed and no kidding, something special to offer to the radio stations and the pop charts. It's not only about the stuck-on-repeat-and-addictive melodies. It's not only about Olly Alexander's powerful and soulful vocals. It's not only about the bands' 90's references. It's actually about having fun and recording dance music with an indie twist. That's why everyone loves Years & Υears - they can be both mainstream and hip.

Their EP, "Y & Y", is their first big step after their Kitsuné departure. They won the prestigious BBC Sound of 2015 in January and "King" became their first No 1 single in the UK a few days ago. So, they are, without a doubt, the next best thing right now.

The timing is perfect for their success. With Kiesza preparing the ground in the UK with her house influenced "Hideaway", tracks like "King", "Desire" and "Take Shelter" can shake the whole Europe and the summer festivals around the world, so that Years & Years can actually be pop's biggest act of 2015. Kudos.

AnArtCalled... 9/10

Δευτέρα 2 Μαρτίου 2015

Madonna - Rebel Heart

When Madonna was recording girl power anthems and classic pop records, she was like 25-30 years old and that was a long time ago. When she recorded her best album to date, "Ray of light", she was a Kabbalah fan and when she recorded "Confessions on a dance floor", she sampled ABBA and she had a hell of a ride. After those, she recorded some great songs, she recorded some crap songs and she collaborated with Justin, Nicki, MIA and other chart toppers. At the end of the day, the question is only one: What does Ciccone's daughter have to offer today in the music industry as a 56-year-old pop star?

Madonna is a case study as far as music business is concerned. Gaga is not Madonna, because she does her own thing and she is primarily a musician and then a performer. Britney is dead and she had her share of success for a full decade and that was more than fair for a blonde, no-talent, troubled girl. And so on. Madonna is the only pop star in the world that has actually managed to maintain her pop reign for almost 35 years, singing pop, electronic, r'n'b, musicals and Bjork. And that's not something you can ignore through the years. Plus, she was never hot or vocally perfect, imagine that.

In 2015, Madonna has released/leaked her new album, "Rebel Heart". She released "Living for love" as the first single, she took a fall while performing it at the Brit Awards, she is posing for the cover like she is 15 and she is still trying to be the queen of pop. The thing is, she is trying. And, according to her, "that is not Madonna, bitch".

"Rebel Heart" is a mix of good melodies, good and mediocre production by A-list producers (Kanye, Avicii, Diplo, Blood Diamonds, Ryan Tedder), teen vocals and lyrics about female power, Illuminati, drugs and heartbreaks. She sings like a "Like a prayer" Madonna in "Living for love". She sings like a "Love Profusion" Madonna in the radio-friendly "Devil pray". She sings like an urban "Give me all your luvin" Madonna in "Iconic" (one of the best tracks on the album) and "Bitch I'm Madonna" (one of the best tracks, also). She sings like a "Music" Madonna in "Holy Water". In general, Madonna is trying to relive her old statuses all over again with new songs, having nothing new to offer to music, apart from some (really) good songs, that are actually difficult to identify among all these old look-alikes.

Her most electronic/hip efforts are her most confident uptempo moments also, like "Iconic" and "Bitch I'm Madonna". She sounds like her 56-year-old self while singing the folk-pop "Body shop", her best and her most heartfelt song on the album, while the second half of the album ("Holy Water", "Wash all over me" and "Inside out") could literally create a new sound for the queen if she wasn't so desperate to still be the queen. Oh well...

"Rebel heart" is not a bad album. It's always better than "Hard candy" or "MDNA". But it could have been great if Madonna had not tried too much to reinvent herself with old tricks and old production. Listen to the second half of the project and then the first one and figure this out. It's like a greatest hits album with some additional new songs, which in this case sound better than the old ones. Ok, I shut the fuck up now. Mic dropping sound.

p.s. Beyonce is the new queen, but please, DO NOT tell Madonna yet, she is not ready.

AnArtCalled... 6/10

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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