Reviewed: Cut Copy – Free Your Mind

Released just last week, Free Your Mind is the fourth album from Australian synth-pop group Cut Copy. It’s an album so summery and just downright danceable in sound that it’s hard to believe that it’s been released in early November. If it were released just a few months prior it could have been the soundtrack to summer 2013.

From the Intro to Mantra, Free Your Mind plays as one long love letter to the Second Summer of Love. If the Hacienda existed in 2013 it’d probably be playing the whole of Free Your Mind on loop. The fact that Dan Whitford’s vocals sound like Bernard Sumner crossed with Bobby Gillespie just adds to it. Every track on Free Your Mind invokes New Order, 808 State and so forth. From that perspective it’s hard to single tracks out as highlights. It’s a very consistent record. Meet Me In The House Of Love contains a blistering chorus that cements its status as one of the most downright euphoric dance records all year though. Then you have Footsteps, which contains a pounding bass-line that is more acid house than piano house. It’s so 808 State esque and it almost certainly samples Pacific State (for a second). The balance is the blissed out, slightly psychedelic Walking In The Sky – which is the perfect comedown after the sheer euphoria of the preceding twelve tracks.

Free Your Mind is surely one of 2013’s most cohesive records – it’s utterly liberating to listen to. Much of it sounds like some sort of  warehouse wave dreamscape. In that sense, the overall atmosphere of Free Your Mind is akin to Screamadelica – whilst listening to it, you feel like you’re in another world. Irresistible dance hooks are in abundance here. Does it bring anything new to the table? No – it’s too much of a sonic homage for that. Although frankly it’s so easy to get lost in the music on Free Your Mind that really, that doesn’t matter. And for that reason Cut Copy have released one of the best albums of 2013.

First impressions: M.I.A – Matangi

The other record I got this week was Matangi, the much anticipated new album from M.I.A. Thank goodness it’s finally here – I’ve been waiting for this for ages. I have to say that it really didn’t disappoint either! When I first heard Bring The Noize I was worried that Matangi would be too heavy but I was wrong. Parts of it are very heavy but it’s not consistently like that. It’s definitely a schizophrenic album that darts between styles at breathtaking speed. It never feels sloppy though which is great And it covers a lot of ground. The album is never dull that’s for sure. I love the world music influences which permeate a lot of the album too. It provides a much needed break from the cacophonous  electronic sounds that can be found in abundance. Thankfully the rather uninspired Bad Girls is the weakest on the album. Matangi as a whole is definitely more like Bring The Noize. And even then, there’s better songs. The twisted raves of Double Bubble Trouble and Warrior are my two favourites. To be honest I didn’t dislike any track on the album really. Only Lights and Know It Ain’t Right didn’t leave a mark on me. Exodus ends the album in great style though. It was demoed for Madonna I believe, and it sounds so Madonna that I’m frankly gutted she didn’t duet with M.I.A on it for MDNA. Oh well – at least it made it onto Matangi. I was disappointed that Unbreak My Mixtape wasn’t included. I’d happily have replaced Bad Girls with it to be honest. In any case Matangi has not let me down at all. The hooks have wormed their way into my brain, and the album has wormed its way into my list of ten albums for 2013!

Pet Shop Boys’ Thursday B-sides

Two days ago (finally) the postman delivered the Thursday CD single. I was very eager for the single to arrive as I hadn’t heard a note of either of the two new B-sides. I’m a few days late with this post – I’ve had an exceptionally busy week. Thankfully normal service can resume now. Anyway, here’s my thoughts on the new B-sides.

No More Ballads
My first thought when I heard this was “Wow – classic Pet Shop Boys opening”. The very first opening chords remind me a little bit of Play-era Moby actually. I was skeptical about No More Ballads initially because Neil had described it as “Our Rihanna hit she hasn’t recorded yet”.  I was expecting No More Ballads to be a pacy electronic song, very Electric in style. It couldn’t have been more different. It is in fact, a ballad. Moreover, it’s potentially one of their best ballads in years. No More Ballads doesn’t have the dour heaviness of Invisible. In fact the music is pretty light really. The lyrics though are chilling. It’s sung from the point of view of someone who has been badly hurt in a personal relationship with a singer. The narrator views this singer as a joke and questions how can they sing lovely songs yet behave in such a despicable way.  The song could be referring Rihanna and her relationship with Chris Brown. It’s a very strong possibility. I have to say I love the concept for the lyrics in No More Ballads. Very inventive and quintessentially Pet Shop Boys. There’s an allure to the song. What a shame it’s just a B-side given it’s quality. Definitely a very worthy addition to Pet Shop Boys discography.

Odd Man Out
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of this. That’s not to say it’s a poor song by any means though. It starts off on a similar down-beat tone to No More Ballads. It’s got quite a classic Pet Shop Boys feel too. The song is essentially about the trials and injustices faced by a homosexual in 1961. It’s also inspired by the film Victim (from the same year) which was a pioneering movie regarding homosexuality. The portion of dialogue sampled at the end of Odd Man Out comes from Victim actually.  The melody in the song is a little strange – especially the chorus. The chorus actually grates on me a little bit. What doesn’t help either is that the song’s lyrics don’t speak to me. I can’t relate nor connect to the song in any way. That’s the main reason I can’t get into the song. It’s just too far removed from my own experiences . It’s not a question of quality as such. It’ll never be an all time favourite Pet Shop Boys song for me, but I can definitely appreciate it.

That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth. I still think Get It Online is the best Pet Shop Boys song of the Electric era. I think No More Ballads could become a favourite for me however.  Sadly I think that may be it in terms of Electric singles and thus B-sides. Thursday is the third (arguably fourth) single from the album, which was the same amount of singles released for Elysium. I hope I’m wrong though – we’ve only had four Electric era B-sides whereas Elysium generated nine. Only time will tell though.

 

On this day…..

There’s a very interesting music anniversary today – November 8th 2013 – here in Northern Ireland. Today marks fifty years since The Beatles played their first date here as part of their 1963 Autumn Tour. I never actually knew that The Beatles even played any Northern Irish dates. They played a set-list comprising of ten songs at the former Ritz Cinema on Fisherwick Place. A hotel is now on the site.  It would be their first of two visits here. Almost exactly a year later they would play The Kings Hall (also in Belfast). Anyway, just thought I would share this interesting little fact!

Pet Shop Boys on Jonathan Ross (From last night)

So, last night Pet Shop Boys appeared on The Jonathan Ross show. Appropriately they were performing their latest single, Thursday. It was released today on digital stores (in the form of two EPs). Tomorrow the physical single will be released. I can’t wait for the physical CD single to arrive later in the week because I haven’t heard a single note of No More Ballads or Odd Man Out (the two new B-sides).  Anyway I really enjoyed the live performance of Thursday from last night. They essentially played a shorter version of the No Rap Radio Edit, with Neil singing the parts that Example sings on the longer versions. It’s actually my first time watching  professionally recorded live footage from the Electric era. I’m aware of the set list but I’m trying to avoid watching any footage in case I end up attending a date in 2014. Failing that then I’m reserving watching the bulk of the show until the inevitable home release. I can’t say how much this TV performance echoes the tour, if it does at all. Nevertheless I really enjoyed it – Neil’s vocals sounded excellent. There’s also a funny little moment in it but I shan’t spoil it. You’ll just to have watch it for yourself!

PSB Radio Show (from 1992) Gems.

So, today I found something I’ve been eager to hear for quite some time! Way back in 1992, Pet Shop Boys stood in at the Simon Bates Show on BBC Radio 1 for a week.  It was actually the same radio show that they created Generic Jingle (found on Behaviour Further Listening) for. Anyway, during their time on the show they played nothing but dance records.  When I read about this string of radio shows I was keen to track a recording of them down. I love dance music from the late 80s-early 90s, it’s when dance music was at its peak. I was doing some random browsing on the internet today and suddenly I found them! There’s two separate mixes for each of the five days they hosted.  There’s one called Mix, and another called Golden Hour for each of the five days. All in all, there’s ten mixes that run for an hour each. I obviously haven’t been able to listen to all of the mixes yet. I did flick through the two Mix hours for Monday and Tuesday though.  Two of the songs really caught my attention:

The first really took me by surpise. It’s a very relaxed electronic song. Melancholic even. Stylistically it reminded me of some of Electronic’s songs, which sometimes have a similar, slightly ambient sound.  It even put me in mind of the Brothers In The Rhythm mixes of We All Feel Better In The Dark by Pet Shop Boys too for the same reasons. It’s called Espania and it’s by The Good 2 Bad & The Hugly. It was obviously popular with listeners because it featured in both the mixes I was listening to. Pet Shop Boys even said that themselves before playing it on the second show, The Good 2 Bad & The Hugly made hardcore records normally, so Espania is a definite departure for them. Hardcore is practically the other end of the dance music spectrum compared to Espania.  After I heard the song I went and listened to more of The Good 2 Bad and The Hugly’s songs on Youtube. I have to say they weren’t my thing really. That’s not so surprising though because hardcore isn’t a sub-genre of dance music I particularly like. I only like a handful of early songs from the genre actually.  I’m more house oriented. Anyway, none of that detracts from Espania though, which I do feel is quite a hidden gem!

The second was High, by Hyper Go Go. This instantly hooked me in right from the opening piano riff. Piano house is my favourite style of dance music so it’s definitely apparent why this is up my street. The contrast between these two songs is terrific. Espania is a lovely relaxed song, but High is just relentlessly danceable. It’s euphoric and just makes you feel so alive. It’s also incredibly catchy. I’ve listened to it twice and already the main melody is stuck in my head. I can’t stop singing the few lyrics  that there are either.  I can’t believe I had never discovered this song before now actually. I heard another Hyper Go Go song called Never Let Go afterwards too. I did like it a lot, but I definitely do prefer High. The main piano line in High reminds me just a little bit of  the classic Strings Of Life by Rhythim is Rhythim.

I’m definitely looking forward to working my way through the rest of these mixes. I can’t get enough of the two tracks I’ve shared here with you. If I find more gems like these (which is very likely), I’ll be sure to post them here at some point!

Why We Should Cherish Our Heroes

Davidbowie2With the sad news of Lou Reed’s passing nearly a week ago, it’s got me thinking. Thinking and reflecting about the most morbid of subjects. Death. More specifically: death in the music industry.

Lou Reed passed away at 71. No short life by any stretch of the imagination. It’s made me think though of other musical legends at a similar age though. People like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan amongst many others. They all belong in the same age bracket. Lou Reed’s relatively unexpected passing just reminded me of a pretty horrible thought. That sadly, legends such as those that I’ve mentioned are now at the point in their lives were we can no longer take their continuing presence for granted. Of course you can never take life for granted really, but that’s especially the case the longer you live. After all – death is the only true certainty in life. It makes you think, doesn’t it?

Then to balance that, it made me think of artists that didn’t have the luxury of even living 71 years. My record collection is dominated by artists who died far too soon. People like Ian Curtis, Joe Strummer, Kurt Cobain etc. Everyday I’ve spent listening to their records, I’ve done so with the full knowledge that I will never hear a new record from them again. In the case of Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain I’ll never have the chance to even share the earth with them – they died before I was born.  Joe Strummer died when I was eight. Obviously I was far too young for The Clash at that age. With these three men it feels like a waste. Their bodies of work speak for themselves in terms of quality, but I can’t help but feel that should they have lived longer more excellent music was coming. Especially for Ian Curtis – I can’t help but feel we may have not even seen the best Joy Division album. An alarming thought for sure given how excellent Unknown Pleasures and Closer are. Sadly though we will never know if the best was yet to come. joe-strummer-railway-bw-9710

This is all a bit of a stream of thoughts, but it’s a subject that really has featured on my mind this week. This week, I was sure to be grateful to have the chance to read new announcements from David Bowie regarding The Next Day Extra. Not a huge thing I know, but it’s something I can’t say I can ever expect from Joe Strummer. It’s sad, but that’s just the way things are. His death won’t detract from my enjoyment of his work though, and he’ll continue to have significant importance in my life. His death has no barring on that.

I guess I’m trying to explain two things here. That it’s imperative we cherish the legends whilst we have them. It’s brilliant to see legends like Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon etc still releasing music and still reminding the world why they rightly deserve to be seen as the giants that they are. long may they continue to do so.  However there will come the inevitable time where that won’t be the case, and we’ll have to bid farewell to them. Although – and this is my second point – we can take comfort in the fact that their records won’t die. And for those that have died too soon, let’s be thankful for the music they gave us in their all too brief lives. All in all, let’s be thankful. In the wake of Lou Reed’s death, I for one will be sure to be thankful that David Bowie, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen are still around just that little bit more.