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Even if you have not heard of his name, you would probably have heard his compositions, which has shaped 2013's greatest hits, Get Lucky (Daft Punk) and Blurred Lines (Robin Thicke). That's right, I'm talking about the man with the giant hat, Pharrell Williams, and his second album G I R L.
Having saturated the airwaves with the deliriously infectious Happy, a track off the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, it seems Pharrell has found a way to the peak of the masses after a 20 year long career that has seen a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. Part of the production duo The Neptunes, who have created many a hit behind-the-production-scenes for some of the millenial popstars, Williams has also dabbled in N.E.R.D with his Neptunes partner Chad Hugo, to little fanfare if you compare it by today's standards.
Still, the evolution of taking dirty, Southern beats in his hip-hop productions a decade ago, to the much slicker, smoother and funky R&B compositions in G I R L is apparent, and it seems taking things mellow is what fits Pharrell best, although it may come across as vacuous to some, especially lyrically.
In his so-called tribute to women, the album is a light-hearted, good-dude sentiment to the demographic. I personally like the opener Marilyn Monroe, which was a fun, smooth number to introduce the whole concept of the album, in a surprisingly non-degrading way. Of course, he's not exactly the best singer in the world, coming off as pitchy and a little tone-deaf when singing live, but you can't deny the man knows how to make people groove to the emotions that music brings. Just take Happy for instance, if you are not dancing or feeling a little bit lifted by the end of the song, you're just a rock, seriously. The song is the epitome of the word, and never once does it make you feel like you're alone in this case.
Lost Queen is a doo-wop wonder plastered over a South African Lion King sonicscape, as he calmly and matter-of-factly sings of a love that sounds almost supernatural, "What planet are you from, girl? And are there others like you there? And could you do that magic trick again? Poppin' up from nowhere". It almost feels out of this world, with the unlikely pairing. There is evidence of dabbling speckled throughout the album, although with not much wow attached to it.
The funkiness that spiralled Blurred Lines to fame is somewhat found in the eighties' R&B inspired Come Get It Bae, featuring It-Girl Miley Cyrus. Over enthusiastic hand-claps and Pharrell's airy falsetto and harmonisations, it's just a come-hither call with the ease of a seasoned predator that paints a picture all rosy and innocent. Brilliant. That's how girls let their hair down sometimes eh?
Track Cuts: Lost Queen, Come Get It Bae, Marilyn Monroe, Happy
If you were a teenager in the '00s, you would have spent quite a bit of time on MySpace, which was the Facebook for our ages. One of the aspects of MySpace was to discover new and upcoming independent bands, and we would pride ourselves for uncovering such potential hidden talent, and this would quandruple if the band actually got signed.
Now, 5 Seconds of Summer were formed back in 2011 by Aussie boys Michael Clifford, Calum Hood, Luke Robert Hemmings and Ashton Irwin, way past the expiration date of MySpace, but their rise to fame has all the trappings of a MySpace band shooting to fame. Their musicality is also somewhat similar to what we would find on the social networking site, a little pop, a little rock - rough around the edges but ready to shine.
Having opened arenas for the hottest boy band of the moment, One Direction, it seems this band of brothers have found their calling with Capitol Records, and are releasing an introductory EP in hopes of gaining more fans before their debut album release later this year.
The She Looks So Perfect EP is a blast, definitely giving good reason to the listener to want to make that further purchase. It's not exactly bubblegum pop, with the boys playing their own instruments with good amount of grit and personality, but it is catchy enough to occupy brain space with their catchy chorus of the titular track. I mean, c'mon, "You look so perfect standing there, in your American Apparel underwear, and I know now, that I'm so down." Young teenage devotion and a subtle mention of taking clothes off (but not so subtle in the MV)? I'm so down. You can hear in their compositions, their influences by bands like All Time Low and Blink 182 with a tad more radio-friendliness.
Things get edgier with Heartache on the Big Screen and will be the game-shifter in terms of placing them in the same categories as One Direction. The lyrics of this song is something alike Taylor Swift in If This Were A Movie, with heartbreak reimagined on screen, and while it has heart, it also manages to sway into the punk territory, which is what they probably were aiming for - hardhitting guitars, crashing symbals and an intense, energetic set of vocals.
I'm just a little skeptical of their longevity in this business, and it remains to be seen whether they are a one-hit wonder or something more long-lasting.
In short, this band will go places, probably already has gone places, and may head to a place near you soon. If that happens, you might want to get your dose of 5 Seconds of Summer, especially if you live in London (with the perpetual rain :p).
Track Cuts: She Looks So Perfect, Heartache on the Big Screen
Photo Credit: Capitol Records
The Young Adult novel genre has in recent years seen somewhat of a resurrection in the movie adaptation scene, following a lull when the last of the Harry Potter movies finally ended its reign. Following in its footsteps were movies like Twilight, Divergent, The Hunger Games and now Vampire Academy. It seems to be a trend that Young Adult novella that have been adapted for the screen require a standout soundtrack that would work as a standalone album to engage the tween audience while the producers work hard at churning out the next few sequels, and the Vampire Academy soundtrack is no different.
Its soundtrack features music from a spectrum of genres, including indie rock, rap and synthpop. Prominent artists like Sky Ferreira, Iggy Azalea sit alongside semi-obscure rock bands like Bear in Heaven and lesser-known producers like Max Frost, contributing to the intense eclectic vibes this soundtrack positively reeks of. It feels like a slightly mature and darker version of its mainstream blood-sucking counterparts like The Vampire Diaries and Twilight, and makes the latter feel like a mewling cat in comparison. And wait, did I mention Katy Perry is also featured in this?!
I'm not going to compare it in terms of the movie, because that's a whole other analytical post. What I can say is that this mixtape of gloomy atmospheric tunes really work in harmony to give me an underground, grimy sort of feel - probably what you feel when you study in a Vampire Academy? It paints a picture of the underdog system, and how they have their own pride, their own stories, their own demons to fight with - and track to track segues are pretty well thought out.
I'd recommend this if you are into the obscure sort of indie rock and synth, with a touch of Katy Perry. Even without any prior knowledge of the movie its soundtrack is named after, this could very well be a good playlist to have if you have a glass or two in you and need some tunes to keep you company as you walk home at night.
As a bonus, CHVRCHES does an awesome remix of Bauhaus' Bela Lugosi's dead - updating it with synths, buzzsaw bass riffs and almost monotonic-yet-ethereal harmonies. Bloody well done.
Track Cuts: Bela Lugosi's Dead, Bounce, Sinful Nature, Nice and Slow, Rats
Winner of local singing competition The Final 1 Farisha Ishak has dropped her debut record, Aligned, and for the 19-year-old Singaporean, it showcases her soul-jazz influences and alikeness to artistes like India.Arie, with her saccharine, laid-back coos and easy-going tracks. That said, having watched her sporadically on the talent show, I thought she was someone who could really pull off the emotions that would be needed in tracks like Life is Beautiful and Stranded, of which she penned personally for the album. I found the often over-polished tracks a little flat and uninspirational, and the highlight was probably the ones she wrote on her own, as it showed a slight more connection to the artiste singing the songs. Otherwise, it was a lot of redundant guitar solos, unnecessary synths and beats to make it seem more relevant in today's music scene.
Malay track Oh Cinta featuring Taufik Batisah is one to look out for, as it has enough soul-jazz elements incorporated with a pop riff to make it sound like Ishak's own. But I know that she's still young, and has the passion to strive in this industry, so that's what is working for her for me. Ishak has great vocals, don't get me wrong, as I have seen in her YouTube videos (particularly the one of Adele's Skyfall), but hampered by the production of the album, her emotive and expressive pipes got washed out in the process. So, for this debut, I'm not really putting this on the map, but hopefully she manages to find her place soon and do some amazing things.
Track Cuts: Stranded, Oh Cinta, Life is Beautiful
So I'm racking my brains to understand what kind of progression British four-piece Bombay Bicycle Club are heading towards ever since their 2006 debut onto the indie rock scene and I'm coming up short. That's not to say I'm not enjoying their latest effort, So Long, See You Tomorrow. But it just feels like more of the same old, same old, with a little sprinkling of aggression and attempts at convincing the listener that they are listening to something new.
Which I don't exactly doubt, but it doesn't push any boundaries that they are capable of doing. I get it, the laid-back kind of musical evolution could be their sort of thing, but it frustrates me to no end. Even in their debut album, wasn't The Giantess a slower, more acoustic version of Emergency Contrapception Blues? Admittedly, I was taken with chill-out bass-riffed Always Like This, but skip to five years later, and it seems they have overdosed on the synths and atmospherics.
I appreciate their effort to meld different elements together, especially when it suitably complements Jack Steadman's alto-ish vocals. Luna is one such tune, with an added female singer to add some kind of chemistry into the song. It's so saccharine that it has become more indie-alt pop more than an indie rock sound. However, I do like the visuals the pitter-pattering synths are trying to emulate, and it's one of the better songs on the album. It's something Aussie indie-pop band The Jungle Giants would be proud of.
Home by Now is similarly a duet with female vocalist Lucy Rose, and it kicks off with an almost R&B-hip/hop intro but slides back into the dreamscape of that thin line between indie and full on synth-pop. I have to say, Rose saves this song from dropping into obscurity with her etherealist voice and convincing emotions. The backing tracks just gets a little too overwhelming at the chorus and feels messy.
Overdone, however, starts off with that on-the-radio sound, but turns into a slightly aggressive, dramatic reenactment of its title. It's intriguing, and also something different, which probably got my hopes a little too high.
It's weird, because they started off strong, but I'm not sure if BBC are starting to feel the pressures that this industry can bring - to always innovate and create the new. Especially in this environment of instant gratification; but since they are still topping charts, I think I might be the only one who's feeling that way?
Track Cuts: So Long See You Tomorrow, Luna, Home By Now, Overdone