Foxes “All I Need” Album Review: Queen of Synthpop Royalty

 

In 2013, Southampton songstress Louisa Allen (not to be confused with Lily Allen), most commonly known as stage persona Foxes, became an overnight sensation with the release of her euphoric debut album, “Glorious”. Since winning a Grammy for her “Clarity” collaboration with renown EDM artist Zedd, featuring on Fall Out Boy’s monumental comeback record “Save Rock and Roll”, opening for megastar Pharrell Williams’ Happy world tour, and establishing herself as an ambassador for British pop music – Foxes has catapulted herself to the highest zenith of stardom.

Fresh from British pastures, Foxes joins an influx of emerging home-grown talent in the UK – Dua Lipa, Charli XCX, London Grammar – all producing authentic, glossy, organic, tasteful music. However, unlike the tropically fruitful-sounding stylings of Dua Lipa’s “Be The One” EP and the urban underground pastiche of Charli XCX’s PC SOPHIE-produced “Vroom Vroom” project, Foxes’ musical style is “pop” in its purest form – personal, unapologetic; and without gimmicks – a style that is celebrated on blockbuster-sized singles, “Youth”, “Let Go for Tonight” and “Holding onto Heaven”.

So after the unanimous success of “Glorious”, can sophomore album “All I Need” recapture the magic and originality of her first album?

“All I need” is sophisticated, emotionally captivating and an autobiographical manifestation of dejection and dolour. This is showcased in the form of “Body Talk”; a defiant, electropop classic that feels as vibrant as a 80s neon roller disco. From the plaintive cries of “Days like these, I just want you back, I can’t breathe, I can’t even speak”, with Foxes eulogising the heartbreak from a former relationship; to the single’s dark, dolorous choruses, reminiscent of M83’s “Midnight City” – “Body Talk” is easily a contender for song of the year.

Produced and co-written by Bastille’s Dan Smith, “Better Love” is an oriental-tinged lullaby that is equally as enchanting as it is heart-rending. Confined by the clutches of a haphazard relationship, Foxes harps “I do my best to ease your pain, and here we are, but we’ve learned nothing, and it’s killing me”, as her thoughts of resentment trap her like a silk woven spider’s web.  From a dreamy Cyndi Lauper-esque instrumental, to a textured macrocosm of vociferous, big beat drums and atmospheric vocals; Foxes has a gift of transforming misery into melancholic masterpieces.

Another notable moment from Foxes’ second instalment is slinky RnB dancehall groove, “Cruel”. Comprising modern calypso soul with soca, and carrying the 90s nostalgia & club swagger of Missy Elliott’s “She’s a Bitch”; “Cruel” is seductive, beaming with summery hooks, and extremely memorable – possessing all of the qualities of fully-fledged universal floor filler.

Aside from the aforementioned highlights, every track on “All I Need” could enact as a single. With the indie sensibilities of “Wicked Love” and “Lose My Cool”, to the bravura of insipid piano-closer “On My Way”; this album’s succinct songwriting and slick production effortlessly make it a compelling contemporary pop record, cementing Foxes’ status as a world beater.

However, it’s not entirely without faults and flaws. Ballads “Devil Side” and “If You Leave Me Now” lack the emotional trajectory and rawness of previous singles “Holding onto Heaven” and “Glorious”, and, as a result, Foxes’ vocals sound unenthusiastic and dialled in. Upbeat “Amazing” is as uplifting as it is commercially sickening, and “Money” feels like a cheaply recorded Logic project, with lyrics which rehash Jessie J’s “Price Tag”.

To conclude, although “All I Need” is laced in strong melodies and glossy production, it ultimately feels like a collection of songs specifically designed by Syco’s record label for breaking America and gaining commercial radio airtime, rather than a body of songs that adopt the charisma and flair consistently found throughout Foxes’ debut album. Allen is an immensely talented musician, a spine-chilling vocalist and an all-round superstar, making “All I Need” all that more disappointing for failing to leave an everlasting impression.

 

5/10

 

Written and published by James Macdonald.

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Y O U // 01-03-16

Most stargazers,

Seek infinite universes,

In girls so celestial;

All the planets perfectly align

But I was unlike any astrophile

And she was a space odyssey like no other

Amidst the aurora and stardust

Through

Every collapse

And creation

Resonates the

Atoms of

You

&

I

Poem written and published by James Macdonald.

Kanye West ‘The Life of Pablo’ Album Review: America’s answer to Picasso?

After a series of track listing teases, Twitter meltdowns and album title alterations; Kanye West debuts his highly anticipated seventh studio album, “The Life of Pablo”, at NYC’s Maddison Square Gardens (during the premiere of his Yeezy Season 3 clothing line) – playing host to a plethora of fashion designers, respected musicians, live streaming Tidal subscribers and the infamous Kardashians. “The Life of Pablo” highlights (no pun intended) the American rapper’s musical evolution as an artist, as he goes full circle on his extensive hip-hop oeuvre; comprising the intermittent and often braggadocious black punk of Yeezus, the melancholic minimalism of 808s & Heartbreaks, the audacious contemporary pop sensibilities of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and, at times, the alluring magnetism of his original trilogy.

The Life of Pablo’s angelic album opener, “Ultralight Beam”, harmoniously blends the paradisiacal blue-eyed soul of early 80s motown with infectious African American gospel polyrhythms – reminiscent of Kanye’s Graduation era.  With its powerful heartfelt lyricism; encompassing themes of forgiveness, redemption and serenity, “Ultralight Beam” is a plea, a confession, a testament towards God. Kanye West questions “Why send depression not blessings? You persecute the weak / Because it makes you feel so strong” amidst a phantasmagoric barrage of organ-warbling synths and auto-tune – delivering his most introspective work since 2015’s “Only One” collaboration with Paul McCartney. However, the American auteur isn’t the only miracle-worker on “Ultralight Beam”, as a myriad of guest spots deservedly bask in their own holy light. Chancellor Bennett oozes charisma and charm on his awe-inspiring verse about salvation, the importance of family and religion, preaching “I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell, I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail”; Kelly Price’s soaring a-capellas on her confessional choruses are biblical beyond belief and The Dream’s euphoric choral crescendos contain more effervesce fizz than a shaken up Coca Cola bottle.

In addition to the heavenly trio of Chancellor Bennett, Kirk Franklin and The Dream, a spellbinding assemblage of superstar features are effectively implemented throughout the entirety of “The Life of Pablo”; and only accentuate the album’s chaotic melodrama and explosive idiosyncrasies. Rihanna’s resplendent rendition of Nina Simone’s ‘Do What You Gotta Do’ transforms headline-garnering “Famous” into an instant classic, Frank Ocean’s hauntingly ambient contributions to “Wolves” are both spiritually liberating and sensually captivating – gifting a master class in texture, style and form, while The Weekend’s ominous marital-blues add emotional substance and sophistication to the album, as “FML” dissects the broken pieces of Kanye’s psyche like a complex jigsaw puzzle.

 

When it comes to taking abstruse songs and electrifyingly repurposing them; Kanye’s a master curator. Historically reworking Shirley Bassey’s  illustrious “Diamonds Are Forever” into “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”, The ARC Choir’s “Walk With Me” into fan-favourite “Jesus Walk”, Chaka Kahn’s sensual ballad “Through the Fire” into “Through the Wire” and many more – these rich melange of samples are representative of Kanye’s entire discography and unique identity as an artist.

“The Life of Pablo” follows in the footsteps of its iconic predecessors, effectively sampling Pastor T. L. Barrett’s “Father I Stretch My Hand” and Desiigner’s “Panda” on appropriately titled “Father Stretch My Hands Pt 2”, Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” and Nina Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on aforementioned “Famous”, Whodini’s “Friends” on pensive “Real Friends”, Arthur Russell’s “Answers Me” on sporadic “30 Hours”, Walter “Junie” Morrison’s “Suzie Thundertussy” in jaunty “No More Parties In LA” and Mr. Fingers’ “Mystery of Love” on Fade.

As for lyrical content on the album, “The Life of Pablo” is more obscene than the man himself. With the departure of distinguished co-writer and regular collaborator Rhymefest, Kanye’s librettos on his seventh installment suffer from a severe case of verbal diarrhoea. For example, he explicitly retorts “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous” on controversial “Famous”, “Now if I fuck this model / And she just bleached her asshole / And I get bleach on my T-shirt / I’mma feel like an asshole” on misogynistic “Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1” and “I love you like Kanye loves Kanye” on neurotic ode, “I Love Kanye” – on what documents the Roc Nation rapper’s most car crash songwriting to date.

To conclude, “The Life of Pablo” isn’t a self-professed “gospel album”, but a wildly fragmented farrago of narcissistic self-obsession and artistic affectation. Every spasmodic gospel snippet, smooth soul intermission and montage of musical spasms on the album aims to capture the essence of Pablo Picasso’s artistry – abstraction, originality and timelessness; but ultimately, aside from its ephemeral moments of sonic, melodic and poetic brilliance, Kanye’s greatest efforts to cultivate a magnum opus result in shambolic confusion and disillusionment. The production feels lively and well-polished, but is all too often camouflaged by the album’s structurally jarring incohesiveness. Also, tracks such as “Lowlights”, “Freestyle 4”, “Silver Surfer Intermission” and “Facts” feel like unnecessary filler.

Although “The Life of Pablo” is sometimes as comically laughable as “The Life of Brian”, it certifies Kanye West’s status as the most unpredictable artist in contemporary pop. He’s no American Picasso, but his music sure feels as dangerous as Pablo Escobar.

 

6/10

 

Written and published by James Macdonald.

I N E Q U A L I T Y // 02-01-16

 

Why are moths treated worse than butterflies,

And bluebottles are only infatuated by death & what dies,

What if flamingos were regarded as masculine/feminine creatures,

And iguanas no longer felt invisible to naked eyes.

 

Why are terrapins treated worse than turtles,

And vultures are bedeviled by the thought of what rots,

What if ugly ducklings were deemed as beautiful as white swans,

And wild leopards were commemorated for changing their spots.

 

What if dark horses were heroic and natural born winners,

And wasps’ temperament weren’t as self destructive as bees,

Why are underdogs discounted before running a race,

And elephants are plagued by insecurities.

 

In a world that picks apart our imperfections,

In our faults and in our flaws,

That discriminates against our differences,

And abuses us like animals.

 

We are all beautiful,

And deserve to be loved equally,

Us and organisms alike,

Won’t be punctured by prejudice,

And celebrate peace & diversity.

 

This world epitomises beauty;

From every footmark to footprint that walks the earth beside you,

Every animal should be equal,

Every man and woman too.

 

Poem written and published by James Macdonald.

(Copyrighted to James Macdonald)

Panic! At the Disco ‘Death of a Bachelor’ album review: Art of reinvention

Since Panic! At the Disco’s rise to prevalence in 2005, the Vegas virtuosos have released a certified platinum record, dominated the Billboard 200 and continued to cement their status in contemporary pop culture; and to add to their ever-growing list of achievements, the band celebrate the tenth anniversary of their exceptionally diverse discography; playing host to a kaleidoscope of sounds and influences throughout the musical spectrum. From the vaudevillian theatrics of revolutionary debut “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out”, to the 80s bombast of Hunter S. Thompson inspired “Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die”; Panic has become renowned for their art of reinvention. The Nevada native’s latest release, “Death of a Bachelor” is no exception, as the band’s fifth album signifies a seismic shift towards modern pop supremacy.

However, since the release of psychedelic sophomore album “Pretty Odd”, Panic! At the Disco has become a revolving door of former band members, suffering casualties from primary lyricist Ryan Ross and drumming dynamo Spencer Smith, leaving mouthpiece and multi-instrumentalist, Brendon Urie at the forefront of future artistic discretions. The frontman has now become a talisman for everything that’s prototypically Panic. Aside from a collection of co-writing credits on the first three songs of “Death of a Bachelor”, including top 40 mega-mind J.R Rotem, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo & regular collaborator Jake Sinclair, every haunting melody, every punk rock cliché, is Urie’s brainchild.

Victorious

With a smorgasbord of grandiloquent cheerleader chants and mellifluous guitar grooves – highly reminiscent of Demi Lovato’s “Cool for the summer”, “Victorious” is an anthemic powerhouse which serves as a slice of delectable pop indulgence. From the Freddy Mercury-esque roars of “Double bubble disco queen headed to the guillotine, let me be your killer king”, to the eruptive choruses of “Oh we gotta turn up the crazy, Living like a washed-up celebrity”; the charismatic frontman showcases a series of vocal summersaults more acrobatic than a team full of Olympian athletes. Accompanying the solo act’s spellbinding sostenuto, the production is lively, effervescent and somewhat pugnacious as ever, with influences deriving from The Who and Pink Floyd. However, although Urie’s natural freneticism in his vocal performance is executed with resounding conviction, it ultimately fails to encapsulate the big British rock band persona it tries to emulate.

Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time

“Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” continues Panic’s long lineage of hedonistic hullabaloo by sampling the sonorous surf guitar riff from B52’s “Rock Lobster” in a similar fashion to Fall Out Boy’s “Uma Thurman”. This cautionary tale sees Urie embark on a juiced up joyride fuelled by “champagne, cocaine and gasoline”, as the young Sybarite questions what happens in the wake of the bacchanal. Is he willing to sacrifice a lifetime of sinnercism for married life? It’s these intoxicating thoughts which leave Urie hungover. With whimsical whines of “I roam the city in a shopping cart, A pack of camels and a smoke alarm” and drunken slurs of “I’m not as think as you drunk I am”, there’s credit due for their hilariously tongue and cheek wordplay.

However, for all its outstanding moments of eccentricity and enthralling storytelling, this track’s superfluous meshing of style, ranging from rap to 70s rock, suffer from sounding fragmented and the lyrics all too often become a cumbersome parody of themselves.

Hallelujah

Panic’s “Hallelujah” is a baroque-leaning, gospel-woven, uplifting rollercoaster of a first single. Infusing the jollification of Paramore’s “Ain’t it fun” with the funkalicious gleams of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”; this masterpiece will instantly have thousands of self-proclaimed “Sinners” worshipping its contagious melodies and irresistible harmonies. From the eerily cinematic sports-sounding opening, to the summery sing-a-long choruses of “All you sinners stand up sing hallelujah, show praise with your body stand up sing hallelujah”, Panic’s chameleon-like ability to evolve manifests itself firmly on this track, as they manage to sonically reinvent themselves whilst remaining quintessentially Panic.

Emperor’s New Clothes

Opening with a cascade of electronic stutters and pulsating basslines, “Emperor’s New Clothes” levers listeners into the darkest depths of Urie’s mind. With a Cantina band-lead horn sequence and the singer’s spine-tingling screams of “Finders keepers, losers weepers” reaching stratospheric heights, this wildly experimental phantasmagoria of sounds perfectly explores his demonic descend into madness.

Death of a Bachelor

The album’s title track, “Death of a Bachelor”, celebrates a moment of pure ingenious, as Urie’s sultry croons unequivocally sound like a re-modernised Frank Sinatra Classic; married to the stellar hip-hop production of Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love”. Aside from a myriad of tenor and trap influences, the song features a rather impulsive and thematic interlude. With its pixelated synthesisers and retro 8-bit jitters, this section sounds like it’s been sampled straight out of a Nintendo 64 classic.

“Death of a Bachelor” is irrefutably the most spellbinding song on the whole album, offering an abundance of originality, spontaneity and unorthodoxy and a renewed sense of versatility.

Crazy = Genius

“Crazy = Genius” cooks up a tantalising concoction of charlatan swing and 1920’s dance, as a combination of titillating horns and tumultuous tom-tom beats feel more animated than a Great Gatsby party on steroids. With its high octane rollicking and ostentatious shenanigans, it’s difficult to not picture the clinking of martini glasses as dancers jive the night away to the Lindy Hop.

This swingers’ anthem’s lyrical content is equally as rumbustious and unapologetic, as Panic replace tales of debauchery and intimacy with a prodigious amount of autobiographical jibes, directly referencing their post-“Pretty Odd” fallout. Urie sombrely spits “She said you’re just like Mike Love/But you’ll never be Brian Wilson,” – a stinging thorn in the side for any former member. For all of its flamboyant and spendthrift moments, this toe-tapper feels well calculated.

La Devotee

“LA Devotee” romanticises the splendour of Los Angeles’ fast and loose lifestyle, as the singer pays homage to “The black magic of Mulholland Drive” and “Swimming pools under desert skies”. With an oscillating swagger that carries the grandeur of Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” and a rhythmic pitter-patter which mimics Vices and Virtues’ “Let’s Kill Tonight”, this self-confessional love letter is an ode that fully captures the essence of big city dreaming.

Golden Days

“Golden Days” is a buoyant synth extravaganza which comprises the 90s raw-rock nostalgia of bands like Blink 182, Sum 41 and Green Day. Enacting as a modern counterpart to “There’s A Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought Of It Yet”, this composition possesses the lyrical potency of old Panic, while delving into notorious histrionics of Queen – a masterful combination. With its uplifting outcries of “Golden days” and obscure 70s references to “Farrah Fawcett hair” and “Carafes of blood red wine”; everything about this show-stopping belter demands a streaming confetti canon sized celebration.

The Good, the Bad & the Dirty

“The Good, the Bad & the Dirty” features a battle royal of pop sensibilities and superficial stories of bar-brawling angst. From looping Western whistles of “If you wanna start a fight, You better throw the first punch”, which remain prevalent throughout the chorus, to an onslaught of poetic incantations that pack a harder punch than a heavyweight boxer – this danceable number contains all the ingredients for a radio-friendly smash hit. With the band adopting a stronger pop orientation, “The Good, the Bad & the Dirty” only expands their rich palette of sounds and marks a natural evolution of each precursory record – an admirable accomplishment.

House of Memories

“House of Memories” is the Vegas Vagabond’s answer to Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. Featuring an assortment of haunting techno beeps and layered falsetto shrieks, this epic thriller apposes as a beautiful nightmare.  Around the midway point this house of memories transforms into a house of terrors, as a stunningly absence piano intermission entwines effortlessly around Urie’s yearning vocal swoons. During this surging climax Panic’s trademark fervour becomes paramount, as the singer’s soars of “Those thoughts of past lovers, they’ll always haunt me” are truly magical. However, for all of its atmospheric flashes of inspiration, the song eventually loses its sense of purpose and leaves the album on a slightly underwhelming note before its grand finale.

Impossible Year

“Impossible Year” showers itself in orchestral flair and sensual balladry, as Urie channels the emotional melancholy of Billy Joel’s heart-wrenching “Souvenir”. Solemnness leaves the singer in a pensive mood, eulogising a disastrous relationship made of “heartache and heartbreak, and gin made of tears” as he confronts the next chapter in his life. Ultimately, the album closer leaves listeners fulfilled, as Panic delivers one of their most beautifully poignant pieces of song writing to date.

A ‘Death of a Bachelor’, but a rebirth of an artist.

 

7/10

 

Written and published by James Macdonald.