ALBUM REVIEW: ROBERT GLASPER EXPERIMENT, Black Radio Volume 2

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Originally published in The AU Review.

 

Delivering an equally remarkable and innovative second chapter to 2012’s Black Radio is the Robert Glasper Experiment, a trio that continue to push the boundaries of jazz music further and further away from its tradition.

In 2012 Robert Glasper – the commander of this electric post-bop vessel, composed a brilliant album which completely defied Genre, fusing Jazz, Rnb and Hip hop as a means of stitching together every aspect of contemporary black radio to create one singular vision. Ironically, Black Radio was awarded Best Rnb album at the 2013 Grammy Awards. Glasper’s success in breaking down the barriers of genre was completely disregarded and instead, this masterpiece, was interpreted and labelled as a single generic form. With a primal focus on lyricism and theme, Black Radio also featured a collection of prominent guest-vocalists, including Lupe Fiasco, Erykah Badu and yasiin bey. In Black Radio Volume 2, Glasper continues to shine a bright light on the illusion of genre importance, an illusion that hopefully next year’s Grammy’s will cotton on to.

The overrated importance of genre is only one of Glasper’s messages throughout Black Radio 2. Like its predecessor, this record includes an impressive group of vocalists. Lupe Fiasco and Lalah Hathaway return, joined by newbies Brandy, Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott and Norah Jones, just to name a few. Singing and rapping over the top of Glasper (keys), Derrick Hodge (bass), Mark Colenburg (drums) and Casey Benjamin (vocoder/sax) are vocalists earnestly reflecting on primitive themes and real issues. Unlike the endless supply of self-indulgent, disposable contemporary urban music which often focuses on hedonism and vulgarity, Black Radio 2 brings its listeners back down to earth with the importance of autonomy, love, enlightenment, friendship, acceptance and resilience.

Immediately introducing all that refreshing rawness is the opening track, “Baby Tonight.” Divided into two introductory parts, the Experiment welcome its listeners to the “Robert Glasper show.” The first part is dominated by a delicate key composition, subtle percussion and a vocoder manipulating “Baby tonight/On your radio/Black Radio.” The second part is a wonderful idiosyncratic introduction orchestrated by the guest vocalists. They each greet their audience and the best part is when you hear “We never get to do shit like this.” This is exactly what defines Black Radio: its originality and audaciousness. It’s brilliant.

The second track, “I Stand Alone” is led by Common and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and condones autonomy and the power of one. It could also be a stab at mediocrity in contemporary music, validating the importance of one to stand alone and do something completely different. Like Miles Davis and other fusion pioneers before him, Robert Glasper is that one; a leader of musical experimentation. But it is the latter half of the track that is really interesting, featuring an anonymous voice-over highlighting the demise of black individuality, “Where has all of that gone?” The omniscient poet reflects on the “mind-numbing sameness” that pollutes contemporary music.

“What Are We Doing” is a funky track, with Brandy reflecting on a futile relationship and its inevitable breakdown. “Calls” is a personal favourite, introduced by a melodic key arrangement and Jill Scott’s organic vocals. Scott sings to her lover, “You always answer my calls/When I call/You come.” Both Scott and Glasper perform with such lightness, using their different instruments to suggest fragility and create space.

“Persevere” features Snoop Dogg and Lupe Fiasco rapping about resilience and the importance of perseverance in a world that is almost impossible to comprehend. “Somebody else” sees Emeli Sande fantasising about escapism and identity.

The final track “Jesus Children” is simultaneously heartbreaking and reassuring. Dedicated to the memory of the 20 children that were killed in the Sandy Hook shooting last year, Lalah Hathaway and poet Malcolm-Jamal Warner reflect on the afterlife of the deceased. Hathaway’s vocals are incredibly emotive and sombre when she sings “Hello children/Jesus loves you.” MJW closes the moving track by commemorating the children and their place with God, “20 children standing there/beaming bright and angel light as they take flight.”

Black Radio 2 fails to fall short of its predecessor. It is a remarkable second interpretation of black radio and genre. It builds its own pedestal in the former and laughs in the face of the latter. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

Review Score: 9.6 out of 10

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LIVE REVIEW: THE PREATURES, Northcote Social Club, Thursday September 12

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Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

For all you sorry motherfuckers that didn’t get a chance to catch a Preatures show last week, make sure you grab the next one. On Thursday night, the Northcote played host to a true rock and roll show which fused musical performance and theatre as a means of resonating with its audience long after its termination. The Preatures, a five piece outfit from Sydney, owned that stage and their audience to the point where their performance became cultish. Fiercely alluring, front woman Isabella Manfredi was like some sort of ancient Greek goddess, using her voice, eyes and body in a way that left her crowd writhing around on the dance floor. Rather than staring over our heads, she would keep her eyes locked on one individual for half a song. Her seductive gaze was simultaneously arousing and uncomfortable; a paradox that raised one’s intrigue even more.

These punk aficionados –with their black leather jackets, tight pants and doc martens, plus a couple of Stone Roses and Pretenders emblazoned tees – played a particular sound that dips a toe in a number of old-school flavours. On record, they are a rock and roll band dabbling in various pop melodies, but on stage they become so much more. Their theatrics and stage antics are frenzied and uninhibited, performed with an intensity that is reminiscent of ’70s rock and roll decadence. Manfredi fucks you with her eyes and co-vocalist and guitarist Gideon Benson sets your panties alight with his masculine howl. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more authentic, Manfredi’s $1000 leather jacket caught fire, due to it being left next to the lights. “It’s cool though” she remarked, throwing water over the jacket, herself and us. Ah, a true rock and roll performance.

Instrumentally, The Preatures were flawless. Manfredi and Benson’s voices were ridiculously sensual and powerful and their band played off that, showcasing dirty guitar and bass riffs and melodious drum patterns that transitioned swiftly from rock and roll into disco. Manfredi also played keys, creating spooky ’70s organ inspired compositions that took them into a Gothic soul paradigm. Manic Baby and Dark Times were crowd favourites, but it was the hit single Is This How You Feel? that got the audience really swinging. The band’s movements were contagious and soon enough we found ourselves copying the energy of The Preatures. Damn, did it get hot in there!

After they finished, any innocence the audience may have had was irrevocably stripped away. It now belonged to Manfredi and her delectable cult. As far as I’m concerned, she can keep it.

 

LOVED: The whole bloody spectacle

HATED: Not being up on stage

DRANK: Sweat

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: FRANZ FERDINAND, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action

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Originally published in the AU Review.

 

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action speaks like a wry, introspective commentary on the current position of the Glasgow indie rockers. 10 years after the staggering success of their debut eponymous LP, Franz Ferdinand’s fourth album strongly insinuates the inevitable end of a well-worn out band.

Take a look at the cover art. The capitalised letters and aggressive arrows are reminiscent of those old Soviet propaganda posters. RIGHT THOUGHTS, RIGHT WORDS, RIGHT ACTION are directed one way, while a tiny arrow emblazoned with the name FRANZ FERDINAND is directed in another. Hmm. It could be implying that Franz Ferdinand, consciously aware, are refusing to go in the right direction with this album. Perhaps they have accepted their limitations and have orchestrated this new record as a means of manifesting their awareness as a musically stale band. Or, maybe they are reinforcing their value as a left-field, indie outfit. It is ambiguous and cryptic. However, the one thing that is clear are the audacious and resigned messages that lie within the record.

In Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, Franz Ferdinand have moved away from the synth-driven, ‘pop’ aesthetic of their predecessor Tonight: Franz Ferdinand and reverted back to the guitar-driven, dance-friendly sound that made us fall in love with their debut and sophomore so many years ago. Their debut will always be placed on a ridiculously high pedestal, making it almost impossible to rank any other Franz album anywhere near it. This one tries hard, it really does. The return to its comfort zone should be commended, but unfortunately, most of the tracks sound like lost Franz Ferdinand ones. “Right Action” gets prematurely excited, reaching its climax too early with signature Franz guitar work. Once it rounds the chorus, it flops – with nowhere else to go.

Although similar stylistically to their early work, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action speaks existentially about the band’s legacy and inevitable demise. In “Fresh Strawberries,” vocalist Alex Kapranos bitterly laments about the unavoidable existence of the fruit, a metaphor that contains a more sinister insinuation about the band itself, “We are fresh strawberries/Fresh burst of red strawberries/Ripe turning riper in the pole/We will soon be rotten/We will all be forgotten/Half remembered rumours of the old.” Kapranos uses strawberries brilliantly here as a personification of the past and future position of the band.

This bold message is further explored in “Goodbye Lovers and Friends,” the final track which is impossible to misinterpret. The title is evidence enough, however it is the lyrics contained within that provide a naked insight into the consciousness of the band. “Goodbye Lovers and Friends/It’s so sad to leave you” and “You can laugh as if we are still together/But this really is the end” reads as a resigned final farewell to the fans and friends of Franz Ferdinand.

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action is a courageous suicide letter – a farewell note acknowledging the exhausted limitations and final chapter of the 21st century indie pioneers Franz Ferdinand. The music within this album will probably be forgotten, but the bold statements made by the band won’t be. However, like fellow British post-punk collective Arctic Monkeys, Franz are a fan of tongue-in-cheek lyricism and it is this traditional cheek that makes one wonder if they are simply pulling our legs – trying to make us believe in the illusion that this will be their final album. Who knows right? What we do know is that Franz have exhausted their signature sound and this fourth installment is a clear manifestation of that.

Review Score: 7.2 out of 10