I have a guilty music pleasure: Rihanna. She may not be particularly 'cool' in certain circles, but I for one have loved her ever since I found myself ashamedly listening to 'Unfaithful' on repeat. So, it was with anticipation that I awaited her latest musical offering Loud - and it doesn't disappoint.
The tracks may follow a tried and tested pop/club-track formula, but it doesn't take away the fact that they are quality songs. After all, what other album released this month features the line 'Sticks and stones may break my bones/But whips and chains excite me'. Oh Ri, you are a tease.
While the album does feature some songs that miss the mark slightly (skip past 'California King Bed'), tracks like 'What's My Name' more than make up for it. Addictively good, she oozes sex appeal with every innuendo-fuelled line.
Closing track 'Love The Way You Lie (Part II)' picks off from the truly incredible prequel, this time told primarily through Rihanna's vocals. The killer verse from Eminem halfway through makes the song - rife with anger and passion, it's a masterful follow-up to the already mind-blowing Part I. This one shows that Rihanna is more than just catchy lyrics and addictive beats.
An Introduction to...Elliott Smith
If you've never heard of Elliott Smith, you need this album in your life. This posthumous release from the late artist is the perfect starting point to an often-overlooked musical genius, as well as providing an ideal reflection of Smith's short-lived career for any existing fan.
For many, Smith's apparent suicide seven years ago was as big of a deal as Cobain's. Beautiful and haunting, his songs are a reflection of his turbulent life, and he exposes himself in a way few have brave enough to, unafraid to address his problems - depression, drug abuse, alcoholism; "I'll fake it through the day/With some help from Johnny Walker Red/Send the poison brain down the drain" he laments on 'Miss Misery'. Yep, it's fair to say that these songs aren't for the faint-hearted; 'Cheesy Pop Soc' members look away now.
'Twilight' has a poetic brilliance, "if I went with you, I'd disappoint you too, Well, I'm already somebody's baby", Smith whispers - this, for me, is the highlight.
'An Introduction to... Elliott Smith' is a beautiful collection of some of the most affecting, touching, and at times distressing songs written in recent years. Listen to this and start loving Elliott Smith.
Black Hole: Jon Savage Presents/California Punk 1977-1980
In 1977 California was pretty ready for punk. San Francisco hippies, Hollywood decadence and all the things getting punks snarling the world over were thriving. The Dils were screaming "I hate the rich" and Dead Kennedys told us "Zen fascists will control you!" This state full of angry kids was a perfect spawning ground for punk, and in the latter half of the 70s the touch paper had been lit.
The first few seconds of 'Forming' gives you a good taste of what's to come; trashy guitar line, impetuous singer and raw production riding on a wave of energy and bile that ties the whole mess into something special. From the opening 'Rip them down!' to the final note The Germs, The Weirdos, The Zeros and the rest charge through the album only pausing for breath for seconds at a time.
Jon Savage has been writing about music since publishing punk 'zines in the 70s, a true music historian, and in this collection he succeeds in capturing the zeal of early west coast punk, and in making you appreciate their importance. Music like this blew the cobwebs out of the 70s music scene, and could still do the same now.
Now I know that most of you won't have heard of Weekend and most of you will no doubt begin to switch off a little when I tell you Sports, their recent debut, fits into the overworked sub-sub-genre of lo-fi noise rock. But believe me: it's not as bad as you might think. While Weekend's tried and tested formula of mega-distortion and a shed load of reverb isn't anything new, Sports is a solid album with some thumping rhythms.
"Coma Summer", the album's bass-pumping opener, immediately pulls you into Weekend's shoegazing current of sound, granting you no relief when, after a minute or so of pure distortion, you land yourself in "Youth Haunts", and are propelled forward once again into the clamour. In fact, Sports' defining point is in its relentlessness. Even when the music stops and the bass cuts out, you're still faced with a ceaseless energy you rarely find in more minimalist bands, a la The xx. While Sports is by no means the greatest album of our time, it is certainly one worth listening to. Prepare yourself.
The Radio Department
Never Follow Suit EP
Swedish indie-rockers The Radio Department reached their zenith earlier this year with their third album Clinging To A Scheme. I must admit, I was blown away by the album's near-perfectness, so I was with eager ears awaiting their latest release, the Never Follow Suit EP. Essentially a single, I can't deny being disappointed with this five-track follow-up. I was hoping for the EP to be a something of a partner to Clinging To A Scheme, but I was a little too hopeful for my own good. It's obvious why "The One" and "On Your Side" weren't placed on the album. They're nice tracks, with some sweet melodies, but nothing compared to the brilliance of the full-length record. The EP's real shining-point is probably Pistol Disco's dub remix of "Never Swallow Fruit" with its slow beats and swirling samples. While Never Follow Suit is hardly a mar on The Radio Dept.'s back-catalogue, it's nothing more than a fan-essential really. And especially as the two new songs are being featured on the band's singles/B-sides compilation album next year, the whole thing just feels a little pointless really.
It is safe to say that Nicki Minaj's debut Pink Friday has left me very confused. I have been a fan of hers ever since her first appearances on Lil Wayne's Drought 3 mixtape and her schizophrenic delivery and unique flow brought, in my eyes, a new meaning and purpose to the female MC. However, after having listened to the entirety of her debut album, I seem to have almost lost hope in her already.
In hip-hop circles she had garnered plenty of respect with her mixtape releases including a cornucopia of features on other tracks including her heavyweight performance on Kanye West's Monster where she outshone the likes of Jay-Z and Rick Ross. Sadly, the explosiveness displayed, through her rapping, in her earlier releases seems to be lost in a huge melange of over-produced pop, repetitive subject matter and incredibly stale delivery.
I understand the need for artists to express their diversity and, I'm assuming, Minaj attempts just this with tracks like 'Right Thru Me', 'Save Me' and 'Your Love' by singing her way through half the album about the same idea (rags to riches, haters etc.) over and over again but the result is far from what she intended.
It seems that Minaj also tries to display the 'real' Nicki with some of the track choices in this album but I prefer the gum-chewing, pink wig wearing femcee. And for those of you who agree I'm afraid you'd be better of playing Beam Me Up Scotty (her most well received mixtape) over again rather than subjecting yourself to Pink Friday.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye has become the stuff of internet gold, from his Twitter hissy fits, to interrupting everyone via Photoshop, or his (South Park alleged) love for fishsticks. He is for music bloggers what George Bush was to political commentators, and even Barack Obama has given him a stamp of Presidential disapproval by calling him a 'Jackass'. But that is the man, and this is the music: and Kanye certainly doesn't shy away from confronting his personality in MTDBF. Whether joking about eating chicken jerk ("You are what you eat") or admitting "I was the abomination of Obama's nation" in 'POWER' he is lyrically on top form. Somehow with a huge roster of guests, the songs remain distinctly his own, with the exception of a killer out-classing guest verse by Nicki Minaj on 'Monster'.
Around 10 producers have worked across the 13 tracks on the album and it sounds, well in the words of Chris Rock on 'Blame Game' "this shit on another fuckin' level". 'All Of The Lights' is a peak in particular with its sonorous trumpets and Rihanna chorus, and then there is the minimal piano chiming of 'Runaway' or the potentially disastrous, but actually seamless use of Justin Vernon's auto-tuned vocals on 'Lost In The World'. Sure there are some niggling errors: the pointless final track, a grating skit ruining 'Blame Game' and the slightly dud offcut beats to 'So Appalled', but these are minor blips.
Asshole, jerkoff, dickwad: whatever you want to slander him, Kanye can finally say "I'm the best" and have us partially believe it.
Attempting to classify the various sounds electronic producers have been releasing across the past year in the UK has become a rather meaningless task. Who knows where house, drag, R&B or dubstep really start or end for producers like James Blake, Girl Unit, or Forest Swords. Electronic music has morphed and assimilated so many influences that it is like trying to contain some sort of supervirus outbreak.
Somehow producer Mathew Barnes has managed to create a whole new strain of electronic sound, in the already cluttered landscape, with the release of Dagger Paths. What is so surprising for such an experimental record is how integral a guitar has been its creation. In nearly every track a distinct guitar rhythm rises out of the haze of bass and blurred vocals and becomes the protagonist. Barnes manipulates guitar in a way that is reminiscent of Burial's distorted vocal samples; whether by echoing a single guitar strum as in 'Rattling Cage' or impersonating a hip-hop vocal in 'The Light' .
There something quite Oriental sounding, as hinted at by the cover art, about the languid strumming and warlike drum beat that invades many of the tracks. Such is the hypnotic pull of Dagger Paths that it leaves you drifting off visualising unknown landscapes.