Monday, October 29, 2012

Album Review: Delilah – From The Roots Up (2012)

I realise I’m probably not the target demographic for Delilah’s debut album From The Roots Up, but it is nonetheless an album I feel compelled to make comment on given that it’s been unexpectedly high on my own pod rotation for the best part of the last couple of months. And I say I’m not the target demographic only on the presumption that lush dubby angsty girl pop couldn’t possibly appeal in any way, shape, or form to a grizzled late 40-something father of three. But I’m not so sure taste and wider appeal can be quite so easily framed, or accounted for in such cold demographic terms.

Delilah – aka Paloma Ayana Stoecker – is a 22-year-old Paris-born, London-raised, genre-defying songbird of such precocious talent it seems certain that From The Roots up is merely the first instalment in what will surely prove to be a long and successful career. Without doubt the album is as polished a debut effort as we’ll see all year.

I knew of Delilah some 18 months ago as the voice featuring on a number of dubby electronica tracks produced by Chase & Status, most notably on the hugely popular ‘Time’. But at that stage there was no real hint that she was pursuing a “solo” career in her own right, and to be fair I probably wouldn’t have noticed either way. Then one night about a year ago, driving along the M8 somewhere between Edinburgh and Glasgow, the rental car’s audio at full tilt, I suddenly heard ‘Go’ in all of its glory; wtf was this?! … isn’t this just a re-work of Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’? … yet it’s lush and cold all at the same time … and slighty bent … and twisted and dubby … disconnected somehow. And that voice, I knew it from somewhere? … I’d immediately been hooked by a strong sense of nostalgia, and seduced by the subtle poptastic charms of Delilah.

‘Go’ is one of several genuine highlights on an album that gets better with every listen. From The Roots Up blends strong songwriting with elements of chilly dubstep and high gloss electronica to produce an absorbing 45 minutes of pure pop, class of 2012 style.

There’s the angst-ridden ‘Breathe’, the melodic pop of ‘Love You So’, and of course there’s ‘Inside My Love’, an ambitious cover version of Minnie Ripperton’s finest moment. Every single track on the album has something going for it, and it certainly feels like a filler-free full-lengther; a rare thing in the dance/pop crossover album market these days.

Aside from ‘Inside My Love’, and the partial re-write of ‘Ain’t Nobody’ in the form of ‘Go’, a feat that Chaka herself labelled “genius”, the bulk of the album is written by Stoecker/Delilah, the vast majority of it while still in her late teens, and perhaps it is in the art of composition and arrangement that her most prodigious talents rest.

Most of all though … and here’s the rub … I enjoy From The Roots Up because there are parts of it where it feels like Delilah steps beyond the teenage girl in me to speak to the grown man; she may only be 22 and somewhat shy on genuine life experience, but somehow she gets “in”. Somehow Delilah transcends demographics and target markets to soundscape some of my inner most – and perhaps darkest – thoughts. More often than not with little more than a few jazzy bars of a solitary keyboard accompanying that highly addictive and unique voice.

Here’s ‘Go’:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Album Review: Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune (2012)

As we edge closer to the end of another calendar year it occurs to me that I haven’t covered or reviewed even a fraction of the new album releases I’ve been listening to over the past ten months. So I thought it timely to start getting a few thoughts up before they lose whatever morsel of relevance they have. I’ll start with Air’s Le Voyage Dans La Lune, a February 2012 release and one I’ve returned to a few times over the course of the year.

Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin are well travelled in the art of soundtrack work, so when the press note accompanying the album’s release informed us that Le Voyage Dans La Lune had been inspired by a 1902 silent science fiction flick called A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune) it seemed very much in sync with everything else the duo has given us to date. That it received a mixed bag response from critics and the general public alike was also rather in keeping with more recent appraisals of Air’s considerable output.

The strength of Air’s debut album Moon Safari nearly a decade and a half ago now has ensured that the duo’s work is always scrutinised with the highest of expectations in mind. Moon Safari was one of those albums that seemed to be everywhere at the time of its release, its sumptuous warmth was all encompassing to the extent that it challenged the very definition of the genre it was most commonly associated with – chill. It was more summery breeze than sub-Arctic blast. It also arrived at a time when French disco was coming as close to crossing over as it ever would, and the debut, with its club ready grooves, added no little momentum to that scene for a few years around the cusp of the century.   
So pretty much every subsequent release from Dunckel and Godin has been fated to pale in the shadow of Moon Safari. And it’s fair to say the duo’s seventh studio effort was always destined to suffer the same fate, despite the ambitious concept behind it; the idea that a century-old silent sci-fi classic, which previously would surely have only ever had a single piano accompaniment at best, could be revisited and soundtracked by the very best that post-millennium post-windows technology has to offer … well, as an idea it’s nothing if not a little indulgent and grand.

Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t quite match the ambition for around half of the album. When Air is on song, when the duo is firing, it works, and tracks like ‘Seven Stars’, ‘Sonic Armada’, and ‘Cosmic Trip’ would not look out of place sitting alongside the best of the rest in Air’s wider discography. But other tracks feel over-cooked in parts, a little bloated, and well … a bit too proggy for their own good.

Ultimately the best way to assess or enjoy Le Voyage Dans La Lune would be to hear it in its entirety while watching the film. I get that. That is the nature of the beast with this project, and a now common thread in Air’s work. And while that may be possible when the restored and colourised version of the film hits a festival theatre somewhere near you sometime soon, the fact remains that the vast majority of us listening to the music now are unlikely to have that context. Therefore it has to be judged for what it is. Or in the form available, as a digital download in my own case. And on that basis, Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a bumpy ride, the album as a standalone work feels lumpy and inconsistent, a bit pompous and full of itself even, and it won’t go down as one of the duo’s more realised pieces of work.

I guess the most frustrating thing about Air is that, just like the little girl with the curl in the nursery rhyme of yore, when they’re good they’re very very good, and when they’re bad … well, let’s just say there’s a smidgen of horror lurking there somewhere. One of the reasons I did return to this one through the year was because I wanted to like it, I wanted to give it another chance. I loved the stuff I did like, but in the end my finger was never too far from the “next” key on my pod, and it wasn’t an especially enjoyable start-to-finish listen.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

80s Dance Classic: Nitro Deluxe – This Brutal House

This trippy little early house number was a genuine monster in clubs across the globe for a year or so in 1987 through 1988, aided no doubt by the fact that it had at least two different incarnations, released about a year apart – firstly, I think, as ‘This Brutal House’ and later, as ‘Let’s Get Brutal’. It probably wasn’t heard quite as much outside the confines of clubland, but it stayed fresh, and was instantly ripe for any amount of remixing. This one is more firmly indebted to electro than many other early house standards, which were in the main more bpm-geared spawns of what we might otherwise have called disco.

Nitro Deluxe is actually Philadelphia’s Manny Scretching, who may or may not have died earlier this year … I’m thinking I saw an obit somewhere recently.

(I googled it but my browser for some perplexing reason kept defaulting to a search term of ‘Fanny Scratching’ … and from there I kinda lost what it was I was supposed to be searching for in the first place. Plus a little bit more of my own will to live)

80s Dance Classic: The Valentine Brothers - Money's Too Tight (To Mention)

Simply Red took this into the charts, but that nonetheless funky version isn’t really a patch on this bass-tastic original by the far too underappreciated Valentine Brothers.  Soul.