Sunday, 19 May 2013

REVIEW: Shama Rahman - 'Fable: Time'

*Originally published for Artrocker (29/4/13)

Shama Rahman leads a rather busy life as a PhD student of musical creativity, actor, storyteller and musician, and it's obvious in her music. From the instruction to listen to Fable: Time on shuffle, to playful and original world music fusions, nearly every part of the record is cloaked in experiment, drama and metaphor. But does it work?

Fable: Time is meant to be listened to in any order to help realise "how time affects us, its illusions, deceptions and myths", leaving all song titles in an equally-muddled state. This freedom is an interesting experiment - not quite the boldness of a Gwilym Gold innovation - but works tastefully as an extended metaphor for the theme of time. 

Faux-opener, 'Reflections' (merely the first track downloaded)is a strange little number. Elementary piano notes thump around salsa rhythms and warm brass, whilst Rahman sings in rather erratic waves. The variable beat patterns are admirably creative, but it's a real effort trying to catch the slippery thing. 

Next in the lucky dip is 'Coast', but luck isn't playing fair today. Aquatic guitars swash about in a pool of horribly distorted instruments and Rahman's vocals fail to interlock with the intricate sitar, double bass and drum arrangements. Perhaps that's the point. 

'Time' finally shows off the talent that Gilles Peterson and the like have so raved about. A lone sitar floats above Rahman's gorgeous otherworldly vocals, evoking images of vast, uninhabited desert plains. An Indian tabla and a fluent violin help build the tracks many layers, but the sitar is the star of the show here. Rahman has been taught by the late Pt Ravi Shankar and it's clear. She has developed a combined style of sitar playing and singing that is so natural and expressive (the kind that would be wonderful to see live) and allows this to be the glue that holds a good chunk of the album together. 

Rim taps emulate the tick-tock of a clock on '26 Hour Baby', lolling guitars and sitar thread between the complex time signatures in 'Jokhon', and you can honestly pick out the nuances of jazz, folk, bossa nova, dubstep that Raman cites as influences. This is especially evident on 'Warrior', which races between genres but leaves Rahman's spoken-word music untouched. However, like 'Bolte Paro Ki' and the some of the aforementioned tracks, this is one of the weakest on the album.

Fable: Time is good when its good and poor when its poor. Many songs get lost in themselves, muddied as they are by Rahman's cross-genre manifesto, but others do rear their beautiful heads. There is no question of the record's originality, but there is a way to exaggerate it and a way to let it breathe. Regrettably, the balance isn't quite reached.


REVIEW: Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood - 'Black Pudding'

*Originally published for Artrocker (29/4/13)

Few musicians have enjoyed such a varied career as Mark Lanegan. Initially the frontman of Washington grungers Screaming Trees, Lanegan has since worked with the likes of Kurt Cobain, Isobel Campbell and Queens Of The Stone Age. His new collaboration with rootsy multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood comes as little surprise then for a singer comfortable lending his baritone to all types of music.

Title track 'Black Pudding' is stark and stunning: a Spanish guitar cascades unaccompanied, plucked tenderly by Garwood, speaking volumes without lyrics. 'Pentacoastal' barely lets the opener rest, with a blues guitar biting at Lanegan's trademark oak vocals. The hot and heavy melody seeps right into your pores and refuses to leave. 

There isn't too much of the experimentation expected of the collaboration until further into the record. 'Sphinx' and 'Mescalito' are the initial purveyors with billowing classical guitars, drones, jittering sitars and box beats - the latter track a definite highlight of the record. Imagine picking out all the characterisations of a blues track but making it about a hundred times better. That's right, hip-hop rhythms slamming on bottleneck guitar slides, sitars humming to looped melodies and drones pulling the track's sludge and drudge. It's mightily impressive. 

Another stand-out track is the unassuming, 'Driver', a seven-bar blues track awash with 90s phaser pedals and rasping vocals. It's simple, infectious but also rather inventive. The world sounds like it's about to implode on 'Thank You' and there's little indication of how this effect is achieved. Maybe it's the detuned piano, maybe it's the rotting strings, but whatever it is, it sounds at once awful and at once amazing.

Lanegan's vocal style is what many would regard as 'traditional' or 'proper' or maybe how your granddad sings - a gentle vibrato on each cadence, each note executed like there is no opportunity for a redo. It's remarkably deep and at times sinister but it doesn't lose you in its darkness. 

'Cold Molly' sounds like the beginning of 'Superstition' with a funky clavinet sound. It may well be impossible to sit still whilst listening to it (we've got funk and soul here, people!) but it sticks out like a sore thumb. Not even the fun and angry brass notes can save it. 

Country, blues and Celtic music come together succinctly on 'Death Is A White Horse', and the nodding riff of 'Shades Of The Sun' is so damn catchy that you swear you'd once mastered it in a guitar lesson. 

Although no track on Black Pudding weds Lanegan and Darwood's writing more naturally than 'Mescalito', the record is consistently strong, best digested slowly during a quiet afternoon. For the time being, let's hope no one steals either musician for other collaborations. 


Saturday, 11 May 2013

FEATURE: Phlo Finister

*Originally published for The Tipping Point (10/5/13)

LA/London poster girl, artist and fashionista Phlo Finister isn’t exactly modest. “I’m a underground R&B singer I don’t need no major deal to be a legend”, she says, “I inspire myself, you just use me for inspiration.”

Statements like these are often the workings of PR, but in Ms Finister’s case it seems authentic – stemming from collaborations with respected underground hip-hop groups (Raider Klan) and fashion stints for Dolce and Gabbana. Time to give her a little listen then.

‘Coca Cola Classic’ is Aaliyah given a dubby makeover; Phlo’s sultry vocals glide above a sub-bass that would make Katy B quake in her boots. It’s not a dubstep track in its own right, however, and it’s enjoyable to locate all the interlocking genres from rap, to soul, to hip-hop and beyond. Shady synthesisers and glitchy electronics bleep around analogies of drug addiction, whilst Phlo’s desire for “real love” is summated by “fuck that fake shit.” Lovely.

This songstress is certain to divide opinions with her daring statements, but her music is worth keeping an eye on.

*Tip courtesy of Tom Cotton at Amazing Radio.