Sunday, 18 May 2014

Kitten and the Hip- Hello Kitten

Cheesy bubblegum pop, electronic dance music and 20s jazz are just some of the genres which collide in this début release by Ashley Slater and Scarlett Quinn, A.K.A. Kitten and the Hip.

What the music lacks in depth or sophistication, it more than makes up for with the sheer energy and fun. Track by track, the mixture of electronic music and jazz horn sections and souped-up double bass lines keep the music moving along at a good pace. The different styles of older music added into the modern sounds ensure each song has a different feel-gypsy jazz, Balkan swing, 50s pop, soul and funk all make an appearance.

Shake it Out may take the electronic dance and dubstep edge a bit further than I enjoy, but there are plenty of other songs here which more than make up for that, the annoyingly catchy Shut Up and Dance and Don’t Touch The Kitten will be stuck in your head after only one listen.

Hello Kitten is a strong album, especially if you enjoy your music a bit mixed up, catchy, and definitely not too serious. Get your head bopping and hips moving to this one.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Youngblood Brass Band- Pax Volumi

Funk and jazz, hip-hop and punk; these are just some of the places that Youngblood Brass Band have gone to draw inspiration for this latest release.

Pax Volumi, the fourth album from this 10-piece collective from across America. Blending hip-hop rapping with tongue-in-cheek lyrics, jazzy horn lines, punk-y beats and funky bass lines, there really is something to appeal to all audiences about this music.

The album successfully captures the energetic craziness of the live band, and shows off the way the group is influenced by New Orleans Dixieland jazz with the semi-improvised nature of the tracks, and the interaction between the different parts.

Youngblood Brass band really have got some fantastic tracks on this album- the opener and debut single, ’20 Questions’ shows off their Hip-hop stylings to great aplomb. The horn riffs crackle like fire and the lyrics come thick and fast. ‘Wrestlevania’ is a much more jazzy number- instrumental, it shows off the band’s prowess as players. The cover of Chaka Khan’s 80s classic ‘Ain’t Nobody’ is full of life and energy, with some great sections of powerful horns, with a slightly latin beat. ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ takes the feel and sounds of a New Orleans funeral march, slow and sombre, before lifting up into a celebration of life with the segue into ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow.’ The moments where individuals have solos only serves to show how talented the individuals who make up the band are- both tasteful and complicated, these short solos add little bits of individual character to certain tracks, rather than being used as something to have in every song.

Overall, this album crackles with energy, and shows off the talents of the band as a whole; as well as individual musicians. Equal parts jazz, rock, hip-hop and funk, there is something for everyone on this release.


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Ballard- Pancho Got Soul!

An attempt at soul that seems to have more in common with rock of the 1960s and early punk than strict soul music, Ballard’s 4-track EP (and a bonus demo song), Pancho Got Soul! is a low-tech, guitar-based offering.

Rejecting highly polished production and squeaky clean digitalised sounds, this EP has a raw honesty to it. The crunchy, slightly distorted sound works well for tracks like ‘Race Relations’, which sounds like it is being shouted through a loudhailer. 

However, this dirt does get a bit trying on some of the other tracks, as it doesn’t offer much scope for a variety in sounds. The drums are very low down in the mix- especially as the vocals and guitar are so loud, and sound very loose; at times almost like a child’s toy drum set.

The songs themselves all follow a fairly set pattern, simple structures, no fancy playing, pseudo-socially relevant lyrics, and a few catchy hooks- the chorus in Race Relations is a good example of this- and a humorous take on real-life subject matter. 

Overall, it’s an enjoyable album, and with a slightly tighter production, and a bit more variety in the writing, a next release could be really good.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Sleekstain- Hard

Opening in the way they intend to go on, Sleekstain’s latest release of pure, un-diluted rock and roll channels the energy of classic acts whilst remaining individual and modern.

The music on Hard is all no-frills and stripped down. What solo sections there are are kept short and sweet, only as added sections to compliment some of the songs, rather than as compulsory, elongated areas for the players to show off for long stretches. However, this does mean that the songs can get repetitive and samey, with very little change in the texture or overall sound of the individual tracks.

The 10 tracks on the album are all high in energy and are intended to be played at a loud volume. The songs are melodic riotous, good-time rock and roll party tracks which showcase the bands ability to write uncompromising songs and great, catchy riffs, along with hooks and melodies which are instantly memorable and inspire you to sing along.

Overall, it’s a catchy album, full of good-time songs and soarin melodies. However the lack of variety can make it seem repetitive and samey. Despite this, track for track, the songs are all storming rock belters.


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Marius Neset Live @ Brighton Dome Studio Theatre 04/05/13

European jazz came to Brighton for the first day of the 2013 Brighton Festival. For the second year, Marius Neset and his quartet brought their modern sound to a packed out Dome Studio Theatre.

Performing mostly numbers from his latest album Birds, the selection of numbers showed off Marius’ virtuosity on both Soprano and Tenor saxophones in equal measure. The songs took inspiration from post-bop players such as Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker as well as classical music like Stravinsky and Steve Reich.

The set showed off Neset’s solo playing outside of the quartet too, as he explored he full range of the saxophone’s sonic range, from low, multi-tones through to piercingly high altissimo notes. The speed and accuracy of the playing was dazzling, performing complex passages with ease. Neset was also able to take a step out from the limelight, occasionally moving over to the side of the stage to allow the other members of the band to take priority for keyboard and bass solos.

The whole band really got into the groove of the music, giving an energetic performance, showing an improvisational ability and spontaneity which, combined with their togetherness as a group really showed the way in which the quartet reacted and interacted as a group.

If jazz and experimental, self-reflective instrumental music if for you, then definitely check out this young musician.

(Pic from

Marius Neset- Birds

This second album from rising Norwegian saxophone star Marius Neset show off all of the aspects of his playing and compositional styles which have enabled his ascent in the European Jazz scene.

On all tracks, the angular melodies, long, flowing runs and long, solo passages all flow smoothly frim under his fingers, whilst supported by an expert rhythm section. Neset’s Tenor and Soprano playing here alludes to his wide range of influences- from Michael Brecker to Stravinsky. The playing is inventive and experimental in places, whilst retaining a style which harks back to earlier players, providing a range of sounds and using repeated passages overlapped with each other to create exciting soundscapes- as can be seen from the immediately compelling title track Birds, which shows off all of the wide technical skills of Neset’s playing and those of his quartet.

The album contains a good balance of more aggressive tracks such as Boxing, and lighter, more flowing numbers like Reprise.

The invention and originality of Neset’s playing seems to leap out of the speakers and definitely compels you to listen to the album over and over again.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Skints, Is Tropical, Thumpers & Blaudzun @ The Komedia, Brighton 16/05/13- The Great Escape Festival

The first evening of Brighton’s Great Escape Festival was in full swing when the acts scheduled for Komedia kicked off their night. The sheer diversity on offer from one venue over the course of the evening was astounding, from folk-infused pop, to noisy punk-dance through to dub-reggae, there was something for everyone, and, as the ever-changing makeup of the audience suggested, each group had their own fan base out in force.

First up, representing Holland for the evening was Blaudzun, a seven-piece group who mixed folk music and instruments with uplifting pop melodies, to create an uplifting and joyous set. The group had obviously won some fans earlier in the day at a previous gig the played in the city, as many in the audience had been so impressed by the first show that they felt a second time was a must. Between the various members in the band, the range of instruments played was staggering, all of them playing at least two or three different instruments (mandolins, banjos, trumpets, accordions and electric violins were amongst the instruments which were brought out at one time or another.) The band’s sound varied from uplifting pop-ish tracks, complete with folk-dance rhythms, to lighter sounds which the various extra instruments gave interesting textures to- creating washes of music which flowed over the audience, creating an ethereal atmosphere. It is not hard to imagine, especially with the make-up of the contemporary charts, this band- the project of Johannes Sigmund, his brother, and various others- rising in fame and popularity, with many of the songs sounding similar to various tracks which have shot into the public consciousness on the back of advertising campaigns.

Band two was London group Thumpers. Their brand of safe, commercial pop which seemed to have less depth than a puddle in the desert, and seemed devoid of much in the way of meaning and thought, won them a small following. The tracks were fairly similar and basic, following more clichés and set formulae than what constitutes “radical new music” than can be found in an issue of NME.

Next up, Is Tropical came to the stage in a blaze of distorted guitars, leather, punk-rock attitude and technical difficulties when it took a while for them to get their microphones to work properly. This additional frustration, however, seemed only to fuel further their angry mixture of rock and synthesised beats, which gradually increased as their curtailed set progressed. The trio, which was expanded by the addition of an extra singer for their final track, performed tracks which mixed thrashing guitar chords, brief solo passages and heavy drums with synth beats, meaning it took a short while to get used to their unusual sound, but once it was in full flow, it was hard not to enjoy their infectious grooves.

The final group was London dub-reggae outfit The Skints, on the first of their two Great Escape shows. The band’s urban, reggae sound, mixed with rapping and ska flavours has won them a large following over recent years, and the club was packed with a full audience, all skanking the night away. It was hard to remain still as The Skints’ upbeat rhythms kept up at an unrelenting pace. Three of the four members at various points took to the mic, each of them with a totally different vocal style, each of which perfectly suited the style of tracks they were singing- from melodious, slow dub-reggae, to rapid-fire ska to rapping over the Jamaica-meets-London mix. This melange of grooves and funky tunes made for a fantastic end to the night, far and away the best band on the bill, offering funky grooves and great sing-along tunes. (Although a brief attempt by an audience member at crowd at a stage dive/crowdsurf met with minimal success).

By the very nature of the Great Escape Festival, audiences are very fluid, moving from venue to venue to see different bands on different bills, which meant that the different groups and subcultures who flocked through the doors of Komedia on Thursday evening each brought with it a new atmosphere and a different energy- each in itself interesting to watch- giving the different bands appreciation. Although it would have been an interesting experiment to have the same audience stay in for all four of the evening’s bands, as at a standard gig as opposed to a festival event, to see what dynamic would emerge then.