kendrick-lamar-iTITLE: i
ARTIST: Kendrick Lamar
LABEL: Top Dawg Entertainment
RELEASED: September 23rd 2014

He had a great year last year and Californian rapper Kendrick Lamar appears to be continuously rising up the ranks of hip hop. Influenced by big names such as Jay-Z, Tupac and Notorious B.I.G, Kendrick has always aimed high and channelled his own brand of creative energy into his songs. Due to this, I have to say that I do enjoy his music and recognise him as a frontrunner within the genre.

His last release Good Kid m.A.A.d City was a regular on best albums of 2012 lists and clinched the top spot of Pitchfork’s, BBC’s and Complex’s lists. Early last year, MTV awarded him the accolade Hottest MC In The Game and he won a MOBO for Best International Artist. This year he received seven Grammy nominations and his status is rapidly accelerating with the dawn of his new album approaching. Don’t expect many other artists to make appearances though. KenKendrick-Lamardrick has stated: “I have so much to say. It’s almost selfish of me.” There is no official release date yet but latest single i is the first taster of what is to come and it looks set to be an upbeat record with plenty of catchy hooks.

Sampling 70s soul hit That Lady by The Isley Brothers, i mixes the classic cheerful rhythm with Kendrick’s slick lyrics. A lonely guitar whines along in the background while Kendrick discovers his inner Kanye and delivers the chorus “I love myself” as we’re left to bathe in the retro beat. It is undeniably catchy and will have everyone screaming with self-confidence and declaring their greatness (maybe!). Eventually, it reverts to a heavier electronic sound with a throbbing bass and techno whizzes complete with angry car horns and offbeat electro wiggles to end.

There are darker undertones which are most obvious in the second half but it is a very honestly happy song. Lovers of old school happy music will appreciate Kendrick giving us something to smile about and a damn earworm of an instrumental to go with it. Have a listen right here!

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janetdevlinsingleTITLE: Creatures Of The Night
ARTIST: Janet Devlin
LABEL: Insomnia Music Records
RELEASED: September 22nd 2014

Former X Factor contestants quite often seem to fall off the face of the earth once they leave the show, sometimes even winners, but every now and then, a special case will show itself still going strong in the music business. Janet Devlin, who finished fifth place in the 2011 series, is just that. Aged just 16, Janet entertained us every Saturday night with her quirky hippy vibe and beautiful unique voice treating us to renditions of Sweet Child Of Mine and Fix You.

Through weeks 2 to 5 of the live shows, Janet received the most public votes, winning British hearts everywhere with her kooky Irish charm. Since then, she has been busy in the studio and has written with many accomplished songwriters, as well as Newton Faulkner who co-wrote her latest single Creatures Of The Night. It is on her debut album Running With Scissors which was released in June this year.

janetdevlinSticking to her upbeat folk style, Creatures Of The Night comprises of a simple catchy rhythm made of acoustic strumming and soft drumming. Janet’s hypnotising vocals trickle over the top of the instruments in a shimmering fashion which match the magical feel of the song. Her voice is unmistakeable and although the song itself is a typical pop-folk track not dissimilar to those we’ve heard before, Janet’s whimsy tones are exactly what gives it the charisma and personality that make it memorable.

There’s no denying that it is incredibly catchy and it’s the perfect antidote if you’re feeling miserable about the arrival of autumn as it will certainly remind you of chilled-out summer parties. It is a little sparse on lyrics so after a couple of listens, you’ll already be singing along to the whole thing and tapping your feet to the cheerful instruments. It probably won’t be heard by many ears due to it being released via an independent label but Janet is the kind of artist who makes music for herself rather than the fame. However, Creatures Of The Night is a song that I’ll be singing for a long time and is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of all who hear it.

Illustrated and animated by Gary Dumbill, the video suits the song perfectly and will no doubt warm you up with joy this coming season.

 

A quick shout out to a band who have always been big supporters of this blog. Hearts Under Fire release their brand new single Knots today on iTunes. It’s the first taster of their debut album Outlines, which will be released on October 13th. The all-girl alternative punk-rock foursome have been firm favourites of mine for a long time now and their previous EPs Letters and We’ve Come Too Far To Live In The Past will always be playlist regulars for me. Now as we approach the dawn of their long-awaited album, we are treated to a kick-ass first single just to whet our appetite a little bit more. Here is an acoustic performance of Knots filmed almost a year ago when the song was first written. Download the finished product here.

theirontrialTITLE: The Iron Trial
AUTHORS: Holly Black, Cassandra Clare
EDITION: Doubleday
PUBLISHED: September 9th 2014

As two of the best-selling and most talked about YA fantasy authors, the collaboration series of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare was always going to make big waves in the teen book lovers community. I’m going to a signing for it at the beginning of next month and wanted to get it read before then, so that I’d have something to talk about with both authors. Although I have a fair few Holly Black books and Cassandra’s The Infernal Devices trilogy, The Iron Trial was my first dip into the worlds of both of their minds and I have to say that I am looking forward to reading more from them.

The Iron Trial is the first book in a new series, Magisterium, a prestigious magic academy that only takes the very best young magical minds. All his life, our protagonist Call has been told by his father that the Magisterium is dangerous and that he should never trust magicians, due to the tragic fate of his mother when Call was just a baby. When the time comes for Call to take The Iron Trial which will judge his ability to make it into the Magisterium, he tries his hardest to fail miserably and he does indeed come bottom of the rankings. Yet the mysterious Master Rufus selects him as one of his apprentices and Call is thrown into the dark magical world that he and his father have tried so hard to avoid. Making friends, uncovering secrets and learning his true power, Call eventually becomes attached to the alluring academy and the ominous shadows that surround it.

Although it may seem obvious even from the synopsis, it wouldn’t feel right not to draw on the comparisons between The Iron Trial and Harry Potter. There are a lot of similarities and the world that the Magisterium inhabits does definitely have an echo of Rowling’s infamous series. In fact, there are even character similarities between Rowling’s three heroes and The Iron Trial’s -Aaron is Harry, Tamara is Hermione and Call is perhaps a version of Ron. However, although these reflections do scream at me, I wouldn’t really say that The Iron Trial is like Harry Potter but with Ron as the main character. Call is not Ron. Although Call and Ron do have some common traits, Call is a brave, intelligent character in his own right and watching him grow over the course of the book is both exciting and heart-warming. Both Aaron and Tamara are much more like Harry and Hermione than Call is like Ron and I think it was seeing the characters that I’ve loved for so many years within them that caused me to connect with these new faces.

While it’s clear that the authors have drawn on inspiration from other successful fantasy series, the events and characters of The Iron Trial are unique. Despite being very familiar with series of this nature, I was taken by surprise on several occasions and it didn’t feel like I was reading a story that I’d read before. Being able to write a series that is ultimately similar to something that is already popular and yet still managing to keep it original must have been no mean feat and I wholeheartedly congratulate the authors on that. The writing style is fresh, engaging and on point while the story draws you right in just as Call is drawn into the Magisterium.

The level of mystery and secrecy is insane. There were so many twists in this book and I found myself gasping at so many points at something completely unexpected. Revealing so much in the first book of a series is something that isn’t often done and it was perhaps a smart move by the authors. We now at least think we know the true nature of the main characters and are merely anticipating trouble to ensue in light of that but are there yet more secrets to be revealed that we haven’t even considered? Judging by the amount of mystery and intrigue that The Iron Trial contained, I can only imagine that there is yet more of that to come.

 

hailmarymallonTITLE: Jonathan
BAND: Hail Mary Mallon
LABEL: Rhymesayers Entertainment
RELEASED: September 9th 2014

As well as the Run The Jewels sequel, another big hip hop story of late is the very recent drop of a new single from a group who have been absent since their heyday a few years ago. Hail Mary Mallon is made up of New York rappers Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic. Jonathan is their comeback single and the first taste of their second album Bestiary, which is now available for pre-order on iTunes with a November release date.

It follows their 2011 debut album Are You Gonna Eat That? which did its rounds of the underground hip hop scene on its release and raised the group’s profile considerably. With that in mind, Bestiary has been a long time coming and those who love their fierce rhythms and quirky offbeats will welcome Jonathan with open arms. It’s promoted with a very intriguing, kooky video which features tarot cards mixed with playing cards and an array of interesting characters. The group have pushed their tongues firmly in their cheeks and simply said of the video: “Our video for Jonathan was shot on location in an arcade, the forest, the desert, the sky and the ocean. It is the best video you will ever see for our song Jonathan”.

hailmarymallonduoThe song follows a simple low-key rhythmic pattern for the most part with both rappers trading verses in a steadfast manner but it does occasionally throw itself off-balance with an electronic aside that give it character. There are plenty of trippy squeaks and kooky electronic spurts that save it from being a straightforward plodding rap track. One thing I really like is the magical mystic theme to the lyrics which is reflected in the video. This isn’t something that is visited much in the hip hop I’ve listened to, which makes a refreshing change for me in terms of subject matter.

Hail Mary Mallon are still a very under-talked about group and Jonathan probably won’t be heard by that many people. However, it is pretty catchy and the video is full of cool tricks that you want to watch over and over again. Have a listen yourself and tell me you don’t want to watch this video again!

Following last year’s comeback album Save Rock And Roll and their explosive hit single My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark, Fall Out Boy are back with a new single. Centuries premiered on Radio 1 yesterday and it is the first hint of what is to come on the band’s sixth album, the release date of which is still yet to be decided. In a recent interview, bassist Pete Wentz said “We don’t have an exact timetable yet. I have a two-week old son and Patrick has a baby on the way in October, so there’s a lot going on.” As with all Fall Out Boy songs, Patrick Stump’s unmistakeable vocals are the most striking aspect and this time they’re backed by a more muted guitar and softer drum than their previous work. The hook is another incredibly catchy one and Centuries could definitely be a big autumn anthem. Listen to it now!

queenofthetearlingTITLE: The Queen Of The Tearling
AUTHOR: Erika Johansen
EDITION: Bantam Press
RELEASED: July 17th 2014

This book was an instant buy for me as soon as I heard of its existence. Being a huge fan of Emma Watson who apparently couldn’t put it down, I simply had to give it a go. Despite it being a very new release, a film adaptation is already confirmed with Emma as the star and Harry Potter producer David Heyman in the director’s chair. Having read it, I’m positive that it will be a blockbuster not to be missed.

Set in the 24th century, the story follows Kelsea, the heiress to the throne of the Tearling, who has been raised in a woodland cottage by her foster parents after the death of her mother Queen Elyssa. On the evening of her nineteenth birthday, the remainder of the Queen’s Guard arrive to take Kelsea back to the Keep where she will rule as queen. For the last eighteen years, the Tearling has been ruled by her uncle, the Regent who is controlled by the evil Red Queen of neighbouring kingdom Mortmesne. Protected by the Mace and an army of men who were fiercely loyal to her mother, Kelsea embarks on the journey to rescue her kingdom from the tyranny that it’s under while dodging the forces that are out to kill her.

Kelsea is a wonderfully funny and endearing protagonist. Johansen has created a heroine that is strong-willed, down-to-earth and extremely easy to relate to. She isn’t the typical beautiful princess, as she is repeatedly described as plain and overweight and her attitude is indeed far from queenly. She is constantly being told how different she is to her mother who was spectacularly vain and stupid. Kelsea’s love of books and knowledge stems from her childhood in the woods and it’s this upbringing that no doubt gives her the humble personality that so astounds her Guard on first meeting her. Her naivety is countered by her growing maturity throughout the book as she learns more about the situation she has been born into and what she can do to rectify it.

Although the book is supposedly set in the very distant future, it has an overwhelming medieval theme running through it. There doesn’t appear to be any technology or futuristic elements but the mention of doctors and such remind us that this isn’t the medieval time that we know of. The idea that the 24th century will actually be very much like the 15th and 16th is incredibly original and interesting to consider. What implications would that have and what happened to cause the world to reverse so dramatically? There is the feeling that some sort of apocalypse or global revolution occurred and there are brief mentions of the time before but the reader is left to come to their own conclusions about that, opening it up to multiple interpretations.

Scattered with smile-inducing one-liners, a fast-paced fantasy plot and a main character going through both the physical journey to her throne and the emotional journey of growing up, The Queen Of The Tearling is a must read for Game Of Thrones fans, particularly female ones. Like George RR Martin’s epic series, there is plenty of debauchery and threat but with much more likeable characters and an undeniable feminist slant. I’d love to see more kick-ass female protagonists in fantasy series and Kelsea more than satisfies that. I’m very much ready for the sequel already!

 

 

 

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