Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Review: The Longest March - David Bennett

As someone who writes about music online, I try to keep myself in the loop of others who are doing similar things. One thing I’ve often been tempted to do with this blog is to discuss certain elements of music theory, an effort which has so far only been represented by my ‘Playing With Time’ article – but one of the main reasons why this output has been so limited is because almost everything I’d like to write about has already been discussed by David Bennett, whose YouTube channel regularly presents such discussions spectacularly – much better than I ever could. Bennett is by far the best of his cohort of music theory YouTube peers, and as well as producing the short videos that he does, he is also an excellent pianist. This month, Bennett released his debut EP, The Longest March, and as a pianist myself, I was certainly interested in listening to what he has produced.

The EP opens with ‘Mother’s Day’, unexpectedly beginning with some reversed sound effects, before he delves into his distinctive piano style. The piece is very minimalistic in technique, relying almost exclusively on arpeggios – a very effective technique in drawing out the expressive harmonies and creating a strong mood. Reminiscent of the likes of Ludovico Einaudi, the right-hand melodic lines subtly demonstrate Bennett’s advanced playing ability. And the piece isn’t only piano: halfway through, some synthesised strings enter, and although they’re clearly synthetic – Bennett’s strength is in performance, not production – they still convey the exact feel he is going for. The piece ends with some similar effects to those we heard at the start, and overall, he manages to express a great deal through comparatively little throughout. Comparatively, ‘Clap’ – the shortest piece on the EP by quite some margin – is a display of composition over performance, with hardly any piano – instead being largely percussive, with both tuned and untuned instruments used extensively. Particularly timbrally interesting, it’s the metallic sounds that stand out the most. There are a few sections here that don’t flow perfectly, but these criticisms are only minor, and really quite nitpicky.

Back to the piano, it’s clear from the off that ‘Kneel’ is another display of performance – in fact, even more so that ‘Mother’s Day’ in fact, as it’s immediately obvious that this is very advanced in its nature. Again, Bennett is utilising the arpeggios, but not in as minimal a way as ‘Mother’s Day’ – there are plenty of changes found here. Some of the lower tones are beautifully placed; and the additional synths toward the end work excellently too, and are a great addition. The piece ends with the most minimal outro of the whole EP – relying only on single notes for an extended section; and with it’s fantastic harmonies, exceptional playing, and fine display of compositional ability, the piece stands as the best of the EP. Finally, in ‘The Longest March’, Bennett uses his favourite technique once again, arpeggiating the chordal changes to draw out all the notes as clearly as possible, fully realising the harmonies. He’s used those unfortunate synthetic strings again here, which is a little distracting, but there’s no denying that the tonal choices are fantastic – and I’d love to hear what it sounds like with an actual string section. The piece is quite slow-moving, and takes a while to go anywhere, so the resultant emotion isn’t as forthcoming as the other pieces, but the journey is still quite the spectacle; and once the bass enters about halfway through, it becomes clear just how much of a storyteller Bennett is with his music – every emotion he creates is ultimately received exactly the way it is intended.

I have absolutely nothing but positive things to say about Bennett’s music theory videos, and with this debut EP, I’m pleased to report that his skill is also apparent in his playing and composition abilities. I was perhaps expecting something a little more jazzy, but am nonetheless still very impressed. With influences from the world of minimalism, as well acts such as Penguin Café Orchestra or the Cinematic Orchestra known for expertly fusing pop with more Classical influences, Bennett has developed a playing style that is distinctly and recognisably his. It’s a very relaxing listen, and just the type of thing to gently soothe us as we approach the end of 2020. A brilliant debut EP; and from one pianist to another, I can only congratulate Bennett.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Review: Greatest Hits - Little Big

I’ll be very honest in starting this review, and admit that I partially just wanted an excuse to talk about Little Big. This certainly isn’t a standard album or EP, the likes of which I usually discuss, and whilst I’ve written about compilations in the past (see Sleaford Mods’ All That Glue), this collection is even more unusual in that it’s a vinyl-only release. Nevertheless, Little Big are without a doubt one of the most interesting acts of the present day, with their fusion of punk, rave, and pop giving them a completely unique style that sounds something like the Prodigy-meets-AronChupa-meets-Die Antwoord. With an absolutely tremendous following in their native Russia, it’s genuinely quite hard to fathom just how popular they are. For context, on YouTube – where they seem to have the biggest presence – six of their songs have over 100 million views, with the highest viewed approaching half a billion. Their Greatest Hits, stylised as “Ungreatest Shits” showcases 16 of their most-loved songs.

The first track is ‘Uno’, which was in fact due to be performed as Russia’s entry to the 2020 edition of Eurovision, before the show was cancelled. Demonstrating their recent transition to a more pop sound, ‘Uno’ is sheer joy. It’s ludicrously catchy – due largely to the simple motif repeated throughout, but this is all that’s needed to create the mood of 100% enjoyment. ‘Give Me Your Money’ follows, featuring frequent collaborator, rapper Tommy Cash. With its Russian sounding melodies, and traditional vocals in the chorus, here the band are signalling their origins, whilst also showcasing their own distinctive sound. Cash’s vocals add an interesting element, although it’s singer Ilia Prusikin’s voice that stands out the most. The title of ‘Punk’s Not Dead’ signals the genre that this track will largely focus on, with very heavy elements of both punk, and EDM too – certainly reminiscent of the Prodigy. This specific sound is definitely a strong signifier of their early style that brought them initial fame. And then ‘AntiPositive’ continues this feeling, again including elements of traditional Russian vocals like in ‘Give Me Your Money’. A live recording, it was a good idea for the band to include this, as it really demonstrates the sheer ridiculous amount of energy it holds, with inspiration from both punk, and drum ’n’ bass.

Next up is ‘Skibidi’, one of their best-known tracks – not only for the dance craze it inspired, but also for just how fun the song is, with its nonsensical lyrics, samples of animal noises, and the unstoppably bouncy backing track. This is Little Big at their best, particularly so for their more recent, pop-based pieces. ‘Faradenza’ then really manages to bridge the sound from their earlier, heavier dance music to their modern pop releases. One of their few songs not to be sung in English, this again features the bounciest backing track one could wish for – it’s as catchy as anything and will certainly get a crowd moving. ‘LollyBomb’ is probably the track with the least influence of punk rock: with no real heavy elements at all, this is pure EDM. Whilst it may take a few listens to really appreciate, there’s a lot to enjoy here once it’s cracked you, and it’s another that could easily get stuck in your head for days. And then side A ends with ‘To Party’ – featuring more traditional Russian influences mixed with the heavier end of dance music – similar to ‘AntiPositive’. The bounce is as explicitly prevalent as possible here, and whilst there are some slightly questionable harmonic choices – with certain parts that don’t really work – there’s no denying that the energy is as high as it could conceivably be.

‘Go Bananas’ opens Side B – on a similar level to ‘Skibidi’ in terms of silliness. As the title exemplifies, this isn’t a remotely serious song, and the whole piece is just an outlet for as much nonsense as possible. When recognising the piece in light of these intentions, it’s fantastic. And then we have ‘Life in da Trash’, one of their earliest songs; like ‘Punk’s Not Dead’, this is the sound that made Little Big what they are. Some of the vocals found here are really quite disturbing, and the band are very effective at creating this disturbing feel whilst still ensuring that the music is enjoyable – with various classic EDM clichés used completely unironically. ‘Voice of Hell’ is definitely one of their lesser known pieces, managing to include some hip hop elements, in both the beat and the vocal flow – at least in the verses. It’s only subtle, but noticeably there. Whilst other parts are comparatively minimal, the chorus brings us back to the unstoppable energetic heights familiar from other tracks – in fact, it’s one of the most energetic choruses of them all. And then ‘AK-47’ is a little unique, in that it seems to fuse this relentless energy of the earlier songs with the silliness of their later style. Like ‘Faradenza’, this is definitely a transition to the poppier tracks, with elements of modern R&B thrown in as well.

‘Rock-Paper-Scissors’ is a real highlight – one of their rockiest numbers, whilst still keeping the very recognisable elements of EDM that has defined their sound. Again, it’s extremely catchy, and I’d be tempted to place it as their best song. It’s certainly up there, though there’s undoubtedly very strong competition – which is a testament to how many memorable songs Little Big have produced. ‘I’m OK’ will likely be the most preferable to regular readers of this blog, as it really demonstrates that big band ’n’ bass sound. With some of the most genuinely hilarious lyrics I’ve come across, this is a solid drinking tune, and will go down brilliantly in clubs. Towards the end of the release, ‘Hateful Love’ has a seriously unique sound – definitely standing out as being somewhat different to every other track found on this collection. Fusing various styles from the heavier end of EDM – including elements from both drum ’n’ bass and hardstyle – the harshness of the sound is reflected in the lyrics as well, which are absolutely brutal. But the song is genuinely great, and if you’re into this kind of heavy styling, it’s one of their best. And finally, ‘Big Dick’ presents some of the most juvenile lyrics ever composed, which to be honest – are awful – but that’s exactly what they’re intended to be, so it would be worthless to be critical of them. Again, this is a reminder that Little Big don’t take themselves seriously at all, and perhaps that’s why they’ve chosen to close with this one – as a blatant reminder not to overanalyse the band.

Little Big really have a knack for making the catchiest music possible. Not taking themselves even remotely seriously, their music doesn’t contain any sort of depth whatsoever, and that’s entirely intentional. It’s just plain fun and enjoyment – and there’s certainly a lot of enjoyment to be had here. From their earliest recordings with their strong punk influences, through to their latest pop offerings – always with a strong element of various EDM styles mixed in – Little Big’s music is typified by its unique memorability, and the fact that it’s impossible to listen to them and not have a smile on your face. Across their whole catalogue, they’ve created a genuinely distinctive sound – which is a difficult task in the 21st-century. Having experienced astronomical success across Russia, it’s a wonder that they’re not bigger elsewhere – a consideration which is demonstrated perfectly by the level of entertainment found throughout this collection.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Review: Infinite Things - Paloma Faith

So some may consider this a surprising artist to pop up on this blog, seeing as I generally tend to cover fairly underground – and almost exclusively dance-based music. But I’ve never claimed to cater only to a certain music style or scene, and I’m certainly not one to disparage an artist for the sole reason of their respective success. There’s something that can be fantastic about pop music, and whilst I partly understand the desire to ignore the mainstream, I feel that there are a few select artists who are genuinely making incredible music within this area. This can perhaps be no better exemplified than Paloma Faith, who has been making captivating music since her debut release in 2009. Infinite Things is her fifth album.

The album begins with the 1980s-influenced ‘Supernatural’, which brings all the trends of that era, including the strong synthpop influences, and the powerful vocals reminiscent of the female-led power-pop of the day. Indeed, this is unmistakably both pop and powerful, with plenty of belting to demonstrate her incredible vocal prowess straight away. ‘Monster’ then follows, a real catchy number which instrumentally is more minimal – being a clear display for the vocals. There’s a bit more instrumental addition in the chorus – being very synth-driven – with a simplistic but solid bassline. And then we have the single ‘Gold’, which many have been enjoying for a couple of weeks now, and is absolutely magnificent. With its gospel-inspired backing vocals, and the almost primal cries throughout, this is pure pop perfection; exactly what we’ve come to expect from Faith, and the best display of her style and talent.

‘Falling Down’ is then another heavily vocal-based song, which – when your voice is as good as Faith’s – is a good idea to have as many of as possible. The chorus is admittedly slightly underwhelming, not really building on the verses at all, but it’s still a nice tune. ‘Infinite Things’ is then the title-track – another synth-led piece with a clear ’80s influence. Whilst starting off sounding a little lesser than one might expect, as the piece develops it becomes clear that this was in fact an excellent choice. The slightly subdued nature of the music really highlights and compliments the excellence of the songwriting, demonstrating just how well it stands. There are some really nice harmonic choices in the chorus, and the backing track continues to build, with some suitably orchestral involvement by the end. Next, when ‘If This Is Goodbye’ begins, I can tell I’ll love it immediately. It’s very held back, with just piano and acoustic guitar to start, showcasing the great thing about Faith – that the songwriting is so strong she doesn’t need any fancy tricks or frills – and of course her wonderful vocals are the icing on the cake. With its beautiful chorus, this is easily one of the best tracks of the albums.

‘Better Than This’ was the album’s first single, although it’s not quite as powerful as ‘Gold’; it’s a very typical Faith song – undeniably her, and couldn’t have worked anywhere near as well for anybody else. In some ways though, this might be its own downfall – it’s so definitively her that it’s a little formulaic and predictable – I would have like a few more unexpected elements. That being said though, it’s still a very nice song – especially the chorus. ‘Me Time’ is then another solid pop tune – a little bit jazzy too – and this is what I really wanted to hear from a new Faith album. It’s a bit understated in parts, but elsewhere it’s quite musically advanced; and Faith demonstrates her huge range – from her lowest depths up to her highest capabilities. And then ‘If Loving You Was Easy’ is another that’s very held back – similar to ‘If This Is Goodbye’, though not quite as strong. The backing vocals are great though – being almost choral in parts; and it’s notable that even in these understated songs, there is still a powerful impact. ‘Beautiful & Damned’ is easily the most ’80s inspired of the album, coming off rather cheesy as a result. The drums, the synth, the reverb – all add to the mix to create this effect, although I worry that these elements are somewhat masking the fact that it’s a slightly weaker piece overall. The fact that it’s the shortest song on the album confirms that it’s likely just filler.

‘I’d Die for You’, though, returns us to another firm, upbeat mood, with some quite Latin-inspired, syncopated rhythms. The Western instrumentation makes it a nice example of fusion in a sense then, and there’s certainly quite a contrast between the different sections. Again, this is another song with fairly advanced parts compositionally. Next up, ‘Living with a Stranger’ is another example of pure pop. Whilst catchy, it’s not particularly innovative, and perhaps a little forgettable overall. However, there’s bound to be a few tracks that miss the mark slightly, and it’s still much much better than the derivative nature of much contemporary pop. And it’s a grower too, which one will surely find themselves enjoying more and more as it goes on. And finally, ‘Last Night on Earth’ is indeed a very interesting one. There are all sorts of influences present, and the song manages to sound somehow acoustic, and synth-led at the same time. This effect is achieved through some really top notch production, and whilst this is very far from the type of bass-driven dance music I usually cover, there are some very subtle elements that seem to be utilising some of the same techniques. The chanting sections work exactly as planned – which is excellently; and there’s a great chorus – it’s a great choice to end what is largely a great album.

Inifinite Things is very enjoyable overall, and will certainly be welcomed warmly by Faith’s dedicated fans. Tracks like ‘Gold’ and ‘If This Is Goodbye’ easily stand amongst her best, and the overall strength of the album is seriously impressive. There’s been an interesting deviation from her usual sound here as well – with a really notable influence of the 1980s throughout, when previously her sound was generally typified by pre-1960s sounds. So whilst the distinctive feel of music still very clearly belongs her, there’s been some obvious progression too, which she’s done admirably. Obviously, Faith has an extraordinary voice, a fact which is so undeniable as to almost go without saying; and I’d recommend this release to anyone, even those usually averse to standard pop music – I’d be surprised if this didn’t prick up your ears, and make you pay some attention. I genuinely can’t imagine anyone coming away from this without experiencing some real appreciation; and thus, Infinite Things is a wonderful addition to Faith’s back catalogue.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Review: Interstellar Swing - Tallulah Goodtimes

I’ve certainly been looking forward to this one. Though I may be mistaken – I think that this is the first time I’ll be reviewing something that I’ve helped to fund, via Kickstarter. Nevertheless, I shall remain my usual, impartial self. Interstellar Swing by Tallulah Goodtimes: as a DJ, Tallulah Goodtimes has been on the scene for several years now, and in terms of her tune-selection and mixing ability, she is one of the best. But this is a new for her – her debut album as a producer. Whilst some elect to remain only a DJ, and others prefer creating tracks but never really performing them live, a true test of one’s talent may come in seeing how one can demonstrate their ability in both of these domains. For Miss Goodtimes, this new album represents the culmination of that test.

The album opens with ‘Universal Love’, demonstrating slow and smooth, jazzy influences to begin with. There’s a very live feel to this one, which transcends beautifully into a fantastically catchy beat. Indeed, each different section of the track seems to have its own feel, but there’s no disconnect at all – it flows perfectly. On this track at least, she has definitely proven her production skills; and there’s some nice, positive lyrical themes too, reminiscent of the likes of Captain Flatcap. ‘Zip Zip’ then launches into something different straight away, but still matching the ultimate feel created so far. There’s a really great contrast between the subtle wobbles and gypsy jazz guitar, with very staccato elements interspersed throughout. One level of interest simply isn’t enough here – something new is occurring at every moment; and just when you think you’ve experienced it all, it drops into a new and even better section. This is the type of track that Caravan Palace would have loved to have released early on in their career. And then ‘All I Wanna Do Is Swing’ brings the tone initially down a bit – it’s more laidback, but still very driving. There are some fantastic bass timbres underscoring the rhythm, sounding like a cross between a filthy synth and a sousaphone – and some gorgeous piano parts too. I absolutely love the subtle details scattered throughout each track – and this one is a great example of that.

‘Dark Eyes’ starts off with some almost Middle-Eastern vibes, before bringing the tempo straight back up, for an insanely fast recreation of ‘Mack the Knife’. We have a continuation of the strong gypsy jazz themes, with this track being the best yet for it: the guitar part is spectacular. Towards the end, the song dissolves into an unexpected operatic performance, quickly developing back into a positively massive bassline, which is incredible – this will absolutely kill at festivals. The guitar then continues seamlessly into ‘Billie’, where its expert skill continues to be utilised, before emerging into a solid house beat. The vocals in this one are very poppy in general, being a bit simplistic in the verses – slightly improved in the chorus – but it wouldn’t hurt to be slightly more dissonant at times. However, the electronic underscoring shines again, particularly so in the chorus, showcasing all its minutely detailed elements. And then there’s an absolutely flawless transition into ‘Brass Tacks (Here For A Good Time)’ – one would be forgiven for thinking it’s part of the same song. The subtitle of this track sums up the sound perfectly – it’s a real party anthem, and definitely one for the dancers. There’s a real fun, synth brass section that introduces the song, and overall, it’s the most explicitly electronic piece of the whole album. Indeed, in the breakdown, we even find a quoted scientific passage, giving the track a genuine space-age, sci-fi feel. More than any other, these three tracks really have something of a trilogy feel about them.

Moving on from this, the title track, ‘Interstellar Swing’ then starts off sounding very much like classic electro swing, with all the familiar characters – the brass, the reeds, the house beat, the phase sweeps. There’s some genuine counterpoint here too, that you don’t often hear in this genre, so props go to Tallulah for including something fairly complex within what would otherwise be quite an expected framework. The track features a nice ending too – suitably grand. And the closing track is ‘Touchdown’, which starts off sounding particularly futuristic, bringing together all the elements to contribute to the album’s overall theme. There’s a great, offbeat house pulse, with a tight focus on the downbeat, which creates a very pleasing rhythmic feel. The breakdown towards the end is very sudden and unexpected; and overall, this track doesn’t feel quite as grand as the previous – perhaps not so much like a traditional closer – though given the album’s general themes, it is arguably placed perfectly.

Conclusively then, one can plainly recognise that Tallulah Goodtimes’s DJing skill has transcended magnificently over to her production abilities. She’s clearly got a fantastic eye for detail, and manages to bring a great and identifiably new sound to the overall electro swing style. The clear inspiration from gypsy jazz fuses wonderfully with the futuristic, science-fiction-esque tone to the overall album, giving one a lovely contrasting feel which works excellently. And there are some really nice vocals throughout as well. I for one certainly hope that she continues along this production pathway, and going by what we’ve heard upon this debut, there’s some real potential for her to become a seriously major player across the entire wider scene.

Interstellar Swing is available from 14/11/20.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Review: Cats & Caboodle - Balduin

The majority of the electro swing artists I feature on this blog are those who populate the UK scene – the region I’m clearly the most familiar with. And regular readers will have noted that some of my more recent reviews have delved into the music coming out of the US. But anyone familiar with electro swing will know that the scene’s roots lie firmly in mainland Europe – primarily in countries such as France, Austria, and Germany. The number of significant artists who have emerged out of Germany in particular is immense, and pioneers of the sound have included such acts as Tape Five, Alice Francis, Club des Belugas, and Sound Nomaden. A relatively recent artist of note is Balduin, a production duo from Frankfurt who’ve been on the scene since 2016. This coming Friday sees the release of Cats & Caboodle, their latest EP.

The first track is ‘Music Box’, which kicks us off with a highly-quantised, piano-based intro that sets the tone for how the EP will play out. It’s a very digital sound, with no real live instruments other than a few vocal lines. However, it’s actually a really motivating tune, and would certainly get a dancefloor moving. Above all, the most noticeable feature is the distinctly European sound – which is very reflective of the act’s origins. This classic electro swing sound is even more prominent in ‘Dirty Dazzler’, but despite this, it manages to sound very modern, taking a lot from cutting-edge pop; in this sense, it reminds me of what I was saying about Riff Kitten’s ‘Nine Lives’. The verses are the standout part – whilst the chorus is slightly clichéd – the verses are real smooth, and add a largely unheard sound to the mix. There’s a nice breakdown towards the end too. ‘Swing It Like Mike’ is a very short song, coming in at less than two minutes, and with a title strangely reminiscent of Klischée’s ‘Swing It Like Roger’. Another digital piano introduces the piece, and largely dominates the track, other than a bit of brass which enters midway. The piece itself is quite simplistic – but in a kind of refreshing way – Balduin are taking super familiar electro swing tropes, but managing to put their own spin on them.

The next song, ‘Move Your Behind’, is the act’s attempt at a hip hop offering, with a noticeable influence of old-school hip hop reminiscent of the Sugarhill Gang, or Kurtis Blow. The flow could be a little stronger however, as nothing jumps out as being too impressive; resultingly, the track isn’t quite as energetic as it could be. I do really appreciate the bass in this one though, which carries a great sound. We then hear that familiar piano again at the start of ‘Love Drug’ – beginning to sound like a bit of a signature. Like with ‘Dirty Dazzler’, the vocals here are strong, and this fusion with contemporary pop really works for Balduin – though it’s not quite as contemporary here, taking more from the influence of ’90s R&B. This song generally has more of a live feel to it than the others, and is possibly the best one – certainly the most innovative. And then the EP finishes with ‘Gloomy Kitten’, which features some nice dark tones punctuated by a lone trumpet – reminiscent of some of Parov Stelar’s latest experimentations on the Voodoo Sonic trilogy (my reviews available here and here). Instrumentally, this is probably the most skilful track, and it’s a great way to end the EP, leaving the listener quite fulfilled – although it could certainly have been drawn out more. Like with ‘Swing It Like Mike’, the track is not even two minutes long.

Cats & Caboodle is an enjoyable little listen, with some easily digestible tunes and nothing at all challenging. My main criticism would be the general brevity – a lot of the songs are really quite short, and have a lot of space for potential innovation; there are several moments of missed opportunity throughout. But aside from this, I still liked the record. One will get what they expect here; if you’re not a fan of the classic European electro swing style, then this may not be for you – but if you know that you do love this sound, then you won’t be disappointed. And this is definitely much more than paint-by-numbers electro swing as well; Balduin succeed in taking what is by now a very recognisable sound, and they push these ideas forward. Whilst there may still be much room left to be pushed into, the songs that make up Cats & Caboodle will leave the fans of this classic style very satisfied indeed.

Cats & Caboodle is available from 30/10/20.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Chucks - In Memoriam

The electro swing world suffered a major shock yesterday, when it was announced on the Correspondents’ official Facebook page that Tim Cole – AKA Chucks – had unexpectedly died the preceding Sunday. As the man behind the music of one of the most exciting acts to emerge in the 21st-century, not just for the electro swing genre, but across the entire spectrum of contemporary dance music – this news hit considerably hard for a great number of people. Chucks was loved by many, and it cannot be overstated just how influential and innovative the music he produced was.

The Correspondents began their journey in 2007, when electro swing was still in its infancy, and had barely reached the shores of Britain. Primarily a duo, the band was made up of Mr (Ian) Bruce on vocals, with Chucks handling production duties. Whilst never intending to explicitly make electro swing, they were without doubt pioneers of the genre, and songs such as ‘What’s Happened To Soho?’, and ‘Washington Square’ acted as blueprints for literally hundreds to follow. In 2013, the band headlined the first ever Swingamajig festival in Birmingham; and continued to expand their sound, as evidenced by the two albums they put out, 2014’s Puppet Loosely Strung, and 2017’s Foolishman. Foolishman in particular saw the act reach incredible new heights, exploring every genre seemingly imaginable, and effectively rewriting the rules of each as they did so. Songs such as ‘Boss’ beautifully demonstrated Chucks’ tremendous ability to create strong contrasting feelings within the music; whilst ‘Pelo Amor’ was an explosion of influences, showcasing the enormous sound that could captivate audiences every night without fail. More recently, songs such as ‘Who Knew’ developed and pushed their sound even further.

In 2017, the Correspondents played a ten-year anniversary show at London’s Electric Brixton – featuring support from such mighty names as DJ Yoda, Krafty Kuts, Chris Tofu, and BBC1’s Rob Da Bank – and it came as no surprise to any that their career had managed to sustain itself for so long. The fantastic thing about them was that – whenever they were playing a stage – no matter how many times you had seen them perform previously, you’d always want to go again, such was their spectacular performance. Evidence of this comes in the fact that, in almost a decade of Swingamajigs, they’re the only act to have headlined twice – three times if you count the joint headline in 2015. And whilst Mr Bruce would often steal the show due to his outlandish dance moves, it was always Chucks holding down the music, the ever-present force at the back of the stage keeping everything together.

If I may be so bold as to reflect upon my own memories of the Correspondents, that first Swingamajig that they headlined was the first ever electro swing event I attended, and I distinctly remember them being the act I was most excited for. I’ve since seen them many many times – including at Boomtown 2016 with the full live band – and most recently at their Cardiff show last November. That particular show clashed with another gig the same night by Primal Scream, and whilst I was frustrated at the time that I missed out on the Primal Scream tickets, I’m now incredibly grateful that I got to see the Correspondents one last time. Many of their songs are amongst my favourites of the extended electro swing genre, but if I had to pick one it would likely be ‘Carnival’, an unreleased track which was always an absolute highlight of the live show. And whilst I didn’t have the good fortune to have known Chucks personally in any way other than in passing, I’m being truly honest when I say that every mutual friend of ours spoke only highly of him.

The band are undoubtedly one of the most important acts in electro swing, and I’d probably go so far as to say the most important act in the genre to have come out of Britain – and Chucks was the backbone of that. As a result of this tragic news, Freshly Squeezed has made What’s Happened To Soho? – the band’s debut EP freely available here, and I’d recommend a listen to anyone wishing to really appreciate Chucks’ skilful level of production. His work will continue to stand unparalleled, and the sound that defined the Correspondents’ music will remain a testament to his visionary and creative spirit.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Review: Kitty Litter - Riff Kitten

The third and final Freshly Squeezed release I’ll be reviewing this month comes from Riff Kitten, with the album Kitty Litter. Like Atom Smith, Riff Kitten is also a producer hailing from the United States, but unlike Smith – who has been in the game for quite some time now – Riff Kitten, the pseudonym of producer Andrew Reilly, is only just presenting himself to the world – this being his debut album. Having studied as a Classical composer, Reilly’s music reflects this influence strongly, and his music has much of a cinematic feel to it. In this case, that influence is particularly pertinent, as the album is largely being promoted as Halloween-styled music, right in time for the holiday on October 31st.

‘Little Dancing Skeletons’ begins by putting this Classical element on display with a sharp piano riff. The track definitely starts the album as it means to go on, and the minor tonalities and archetypal melodies create a spooky feeling straight away. The musical timbres sum up the exact ethos of his sound, with what sounds like a synthesised harpsichord (possibly created with a stylophone?) making the music sound both very old and also new. It’s not really a dancey track at all, but certainly has that kind of soundtrack feel to it – a good introductory song, certainly something that could accompany the opening credits of a film. ‘Hide & Seek’ has a bit more of a jazzy flavour to it – though still with the dark, minor harmonies and timbres. The vocals present this feeling well too, with even the lyrics carrying it to a subtler degree – every element coming together to bring this mood completely to the forefront. The mixing comes off a little bit choppy at times, but when it properly kicks in, it kicks in nicely, and gets everything moving to an effective tempo.

The next track is ‘Fallen World’, featuring vocalist Kumiho, whom we’ve already heard on Duke Skellington’s Devils, Dames N Debauchery. The spooky feeling penetrates in this one incredibly well – like you’re on a ghost train, or walking through one of those haunted houses. There’s some great instrumental contrast too, even featuring what sound like a theremin at one point. Then, ‘Nothing to You’ is the first piece to start off really sounding like a dance track, if a little downtempo. There’s a solid bass that goes right through you, and really great production overall; the track is very poppy in all the best ways – being exactly what pop should be. I especially like the piano solo, the minimalism of which is very effective – using only the elements necessary to create the desired effect, and not being at all superfluous. ‘Blue Moon Groove’ starts with a similar vibe to ‘Hide & Seek’ – being as bluesy as that one was jazzy; and like ‘Little Dancing Skeletons’, the timbres are ideally developed to sound both old and new. The track has something of an interlude feel to it, which explains its placement – thought it could still stand on its own. It’s incredibly smooth all the way through, never sounding at all forced.

Following on, ‘Where’s the Love?’ continues with this blues feeling, bringing in elements of country too, and thereby managing to showcase Riff Kitten’s ability to work with all sorts of musical styles and feels. For instance, the inclusion of a banjo, whilst fairly subtle, manages to be one of the most important elements in creating this track’s desired mood. There’s quite a fast tempo considering the standards for this particular genre, and one may also note that the Halloween, spooky feeling has completely gone by this point – which one may welcome or not, depending on what they’re wishing for from the album. ‘Star Saloon’ has been placed ideally in the tracklist, starting with very slight elements of the blues to continue from the feel of the last track, but bringing the darker elements back in, before crashing straight into the electro swing-esque reeds we all know so well in the genre. It’s a nice little instrumental – nothing too great or memorable overall – but I’ve nothing bad to say either. And then we have ‘Catatonic’ – featuring Alanna Lyes. I’m amazed at the amount of times Lyes’ name has popped up on this blog – she genuinely seems to be featured on every current release in the genre, only further solidifying her already fantastic reputation. There’s a good use of double tracking here, and the song also has a very strong synth game – especially on the bass timbres. The piano once again stands out – having something of a Nina Simone feel about it, which I guess is that Classical feel coming through. The only downside is the rather weird ending – the effect works in the way in which it was intended, but I just think it was that good of a stylistic choice.

‘You Make Me Dizzy’ has a nice onomatopoeic musical effect to it, if such a term can be put to use here. It really does make one feel dizzy; everything about this song goes round and round, at high speeds, with all sorts of ideas spinning around the listener’s head. The saxophone is clearly artificial, which is a bit of a shame, but the rest of the piece works well, with some noticeably Parov Stelar-esque vocal samples too. Next up is ‘Nine Lives’ – with its title of course fitting with the artist’s moniker. Again, the spooky feeling seems all but gone, but regardless, this is a great piece of electro swing. Not only – as with the genre – does it sound simultaneously old and now, but the piece even manages to sound like both old and new electro swing – as in, resembling the genre’s classic sounds of the past 10 years whilst also sounding very much like something from 2020. And finally we have ‘The Dirge’, which ends the way we began. Where ‘Little Dancing Skeletons’ could have accompanied a film’s opening credits, this could easily be placed over the closing ones. It even sounds slightly video game-esque actually – the choice of synth timbre is definitely somewhat influenced by chiptune. And the harmonies are suitably epic as well – sounding not just like the soundtrack of a Halloween film, but like the accompaniment to an entire fantasy world.

Riff Kitten’s introduction to the electro swing world is certainly memorable. Whilst the decision to release a Halloween-inspired album may seem somewhat gimmicky, the final result is not, and manages to successfully demonstrate that Riff Kitten is more than just a one-trick pony. Indeed, many of the tracks will perfectly accompany the coming holiday, but many others could be easily played at any point throughout the year. I love the inclusion of Classical music as an influence too, even if only minimal, but the few moments really manage to demonstrate his compositional prowess. I, for one, certainly look forward to what the future may bring for Riff Kitten.

Kitty Litter is available from 16/10/20.