It has already had some early mixed reviews with some describing it as ill-timed in the wake of the Ferguson riots in MIssouri which began after police shot dead an urarmed black teen but there is no denying the catchy upbeat nature of Taylor Swift’s new single Shake It Off. Maintaining her quirky outspoken style, Taylor sticks two fingers up to her haters and comes out with a video that parodies herself as much as it does anything else. Those who accuse the video of any racism or prejudice need to realise that Swift has always been very self-aware. She knows that she isn’t considered one of the coolest artists in the industry. In my opinion, the fact that she can laugh at that always makes her the bigger person. Shake It Off is the first glimpse of Taylor’s upcoming album 1989, which will be released in October.

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i-can-see-you-nowTITLE: I Can See You Now
BAND: Signed In Crimson
LABEL: Unsigned
RELEASED: June 18th 2014

I mentioned Signed In Crimson in my review of Dystopia, the debut novel by Anthony Ergo who is the bassist of this female-fronted alternative band. Their debut EP I Can See You Now is the first glimpse of their work and it follows the demise of their previous project. This is the North West rock band’s strong, punchy revival and with an established fanbase behind them, Signed In Crimson is destined for success. With the abbreviation “Sic” meaning “as it is written”, the band build on strong friendship and musical talent to deliver high energy, emotional rock anthems.

As a lover of female rock stars, the beautiful tones of frontwoman Micki Consiglio is the stand-out feature for me. Of course, she is backed by strong, powerful alternative musicians and the result is a fierce passionate sound that is full of dark metallic riffs and beautiful lyrics. Judging by their first effort, Signed In Crimson are a band who are set to overhaul female alternative rock.

The first track Just Maybe opens with a staccato fuzzy riff and soft whispery vocal. The darkness grows and Micki’s melodic vocals trickle through the growling instruments. The catchy chorus has a touch of Evanescence to it but with a more upbeat vibe. A death scream at the end gives it a haunting end as it flows into Imposter.

signedincrimsonImposter has quirky, mechanical squeaks which continue to crop up throughout the song. Dark drums and a guitar with an electro feel back up the pretty ghostly vocal. There are some beautiful runs in the voice and it has a great live show feel. The lyrics are kooky and catchy while the strong staccato guitar at the end finishes it off.

Blame On Us begins with soft guitar tones and a bouncing electro riff over the top. A metallic riff then spirals through and behind the drawling vocals. A steady drum and bass provide the basis while the vocals adopt a strong, no-nonsense attitude. Another catchy chorus makes it a real crowd pleaser while the slamming of the instruments give it real oomph.

Perhaps the most empowering song is Not Who I Am. It’s about breaking free from control and being who you really are. Simple strumming and a steady drum with a snarling staccato riff couple the upbeat melodic chorus. Micki spits out the lyrics at a fast pace to a catchy chorus followed by a singing guitar solo.

My favourite track on the EP is its closing track Glow. A soft guitar and gentle vocals accompany a slow steady bass and barely-there drum. It’s a beautiful swaying ballad that is full of magic and gorgeous vocal runs. There are some really touching similes in the lyrics and it’s almost as if it is speaking to the listener. It’s incredibly uplifting and a beautiful way to end a debut EP.

Signed In Crimson look set to be future hitmakers and their EP is testament to their superb songwriting skills. Plenty of dark energy flows through their songs and the vocals are second to none. It is a must listen for fans of Evanescence, Paramore and other female-fronted rock bands. As a lover of female singers, they may well be one of my favourite unsigned acts that I’ve discovered recently.

flawless-beyonce-nicki-minajTITLE: Flawless (Remix)
ARTISTS: Beyonce, Nicki Minaj
LABEL: Columbia
RELEASED: August 4th 2014

An unexpected collaboration dropped this week as Beyonce teamed up with Nicki Minaj to produce a remix of Flawless, the original of which appears on Beyonce’s headline-grabbing self-titled album which was released at the end of last year. Making big waves in the rap scene, the single is a big statement in itself. Beyonce has her say on that incident between her sister and her husband earlier this year and Minaj puts a different spin on the track,
whilst sounding better than she has in a long time.

Minaj also rebeynickileased her new single Anaconda this week but she says of the Beyonce collaboration “She told me, ‘I want you to be you. I don’t want you to hold back.'” Nicki’s verse references Michael Jackson’s death and both hers and Beyonce’s A-list status, allowing her to reclaim her hip hop crown. The remix also sees Beyonce rapping which isn’t something that we’re used to but her perfect vocal runs are also there.

The hook is all about female empowerment and women looking and feeling good. “We flawless, ladies tell ‘em, I woke up like this… Say I look so good tonight” is full of female confidence that reminds us how Beyonce has earned her Queen Bey status. Another line that is definitely noteworthy is “Of course sometimes shit goes down when there’s a billion dollars on an elevator” which is a nod to the scuffle between Solange Knowles and Jay-Z at the Met Gala in May. What the “billion dollars” refers to isn’t certain but it could suggest that the reason for the argument was to do with Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s marriage and estimated $1 billion fortune.

A strong electro beat and slow sensual rhythm backs up the explosive verses which gives way to horn blasts from an unexpected sample of Outkast’s SpottieOttieDopaliscious. Ending on Nicki’s impressive verse, the remix comes to an aggressive, defiant finish. It’s a track that is full of power and strong content which is delivered by two outspoken, inspirational female artists. A big contender for the feminist anthem of the year!

guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-posterTITLE: Guardians Of The Galaxy
STARS: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Glenn Close
DIRECTOR: James Gunn
RELEASED: July 31st 2014

As one of the most anticipated film releases of the year, Marvel’s latest blockbuster had a lot to live up to. I’m not normally a huge lover of sci-fi and superhero films but the trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy did draw me in. A star-studded cast and a huge following before its release meant that it was always going to sell a lot of popcorn but does it live up to all the hype?

The story follows Peter Quill or Star Lord (Chris Pratt) who is kidnapped by space pirates headed up by Yondu (Michael Rooker) just after the death of his mother. Years later, he steals a mysterious orb and is ambushed by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), adopted daughter of the titan Thanos. Their fight attracts two bounty hunters -a genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) but the group are arrested. Imprisoned in the Kyln, Quill reluctantly joins forces with his fellow captives to escape. Gamora is accosted by the powerful Drax (Dave Bautista) who threatens to kill her due to her connection to the evil Ronan who killed his family. After explaining of her disassociation with Ronan, Drax insists on accompanying the group as they escape. Gamora takes the group to Knowhere to Tivan the Collector who is interested in the orb. He reveals an Infinity Stone inside the orb which can harness enough power to destroy everything but the beings who hold it. As Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) joins Ronan in the hunt for Gamora and the orb, the film hurtles towards a dramatic emotional ending.

Guardians of the Galaxy has some of the best characters in sci-fi. The special relationship between Rocket and Groot was a bizarre but beautiful thing to watch. Both characters provided the bulk of the humour with Quill also chiming in every so often but they were also at the heart of some of the more emotional scenes. Saldana played Gamora as a no nonsense assassin, which was great to see in an all-action space drama. So many films set in this genre depict women as either minor characters or as frail beings who need saving. Quill is a very normal guy in a world where he doesn’t belong but in which he has to be the hero, which gave him a definite likeability factor. Even the initially frightening intimidating Drax became a loveable character who came up with some very funny lines.

It is a fast-paced action film that gets the balance between comedy and emotion just right. Not many dramatic films like this feature the level of comedy that it did but as a result, I felt more invested in the characters than I normally would do with a sci-fi. The sad moments resonated more with me because the characters involved had already made me laugh profusely. As a result, it was easily the best film of its kind that I’ve seen in a long time. The plot wasn’t the best in the world and it was definitely the characters that I came away from the film with. In fact, I had to remind myself of the actual plot before reviewing!

The twist at the end got me excited for the sequel and I’m disappointed to discover that it isn’t due for release for another couple of years yet. If you love your comic book films then it is a must-see, however there are plenty of elements in there for non-comic geeks too. Don’t be afraid that it won’t live up to all the stellar reviews that it’s getting because believe me, it does!

sabacomfortzoneTITLE: ComfortZone
ARTIST: Saba
LABEL: Unsigned
RELEASED: July 15th 2014

It isn’t often that I review hip hop because it has never been the kind of music I enjoy listening to. Of course, I’d never write off a whole genre but I’ve yet to find a rapper or hip hop group that I could happily listen to for hours. However, it was suggested that I give 19-year-old Chicago rapper Saba’s latest offering a listen.

ComfortZone is his second release away from the rap collective Pivot Gang. Saba is known for aggressive delivery, intricate lyrics and high energy with a reputation for connecting with fans of all kinds of hip hop. Creating beats since childhood, he is a musician who has spent his young life dedicated to his art and that’s something that I wholeheartedly admire. Saba says his music is driven by “sexy space synths”, which certainly sounds promising!

The mixtape begins with TimeZone, a catchy track led by soft chimes and a gentle beat. A slurred bass electro voice and a smooth sax towards the end accompany female choral sighs. These backing vocals are a regular occurrence on the album and almost become a default setting in Saba’s soundscapes. Burnout channels it with the vocals of Eryn Allen Kane which give it a chilled R&B vibe. Quirky clicks and piano notes set the strong but relaxed tone which continues on Butter with Jamila taking over. The deep slurred voice is back as are the chilled synths. Jamila’s ethereal female voice pairs with Saba’s fast rap delivery to provide a contrast which seems to fit together perfectly. Altogether, you come away from it in a peaceful atmosphere with simple but pretty synth lines ringing in your ears. Welcome Home sees the return of the choral backing vocals, which is haunted by a constant drone. There is a soft gentle feel behind the darkness of the rap and the metallic rippling echoes give it a touch of magic, which continues to the fluttering end.

saba401K is a darker interlude to the otherwise incredibly relaxed album. The electronic beat with exotic moans creates another chilled-out setting but Saba’s aggressive rap flows over the top and gives it an edge and a sense of danger. It certainly stands out as a symbol of the high energy live performance that he is known for. For Y’all sees another appearance of Eryn Allen Kane and the arrival of MC Tree. The gentle piano is interrupted with a sudden strong beat and soft R&B vocal harmonies. Another catchy rhythm and Saba’s fast vocal delivery make it a firm favourite, as does its perfect blend of gentle R&B and emotional passionate rap. The synth injections at the end give it a firm memorable finish. Beginning with claps and whispers, Scum deals with a strong subject matter set to a relaxed rhythm and the pretty choral backing is there again. Catchy backing licks with an unexpected twist at the end keeps it interesting.

Saba then teams up with Benjamin Earl Turner on Westside Bound. Deep echoes, a staccato beat and desperation in the delivery push it along with heaps of energy. The sound itself is slow and simple and all the effort comes from the union of the rappers. Moving into another casual, dreamy track with Whip (Areyoudown?), Saba begins with slow spacey synths, lazy piano and slurred drawn-out vocals. It has a very catchy hook with quirky squawks halfway through that give way to slow guitar plucks towards the end. Westside Bound Pt.2 features a female French voice that sets the chilled sexy feel of the track. It has a chilled party vibe with a catchy rhythm and simple steady beat. The synth work is atmospheric and the soft piano at the end mixes well with the jittery beat.

Yet more of Saba’s simple magical sound is heard on Marbles, which sees the chimes and solid beat repeat underneath his angsty rap. LEGIT enter the frame on the atmospheric and haunting Comfort Food. The first part is sleepy and dream-like with the repeated line “just look at the stars”. Almost as if two songs have been welded together, it then morphs into a jazzy electronic mix full of moog sounds and a beat that gives it a confused, scattered feel.

One of my favourite tracks is Tell You, which has a soft melodic piano, electronic spurts and a chilled-out summer vibe. Again it sounds like an R&B track from a few years ago but the violin blasts keep it original and fresh. Keeping it carefree and youthful, it shows Saba as the fun-loving teen he is. Ending on United Center with Chandlar and Ken Ross, the album is wound down in much the same way. Piano ripples, a rumbling beat and a focus on the rap, which has a steady delivery. Chilled electro riffs and ghostly chimes send it to sleep as the album finally comes to a standstill.

Although I’m not a fan of the genre, ComfortZone was an album that appealed to me. I do love 90s and early 00s R&B and because of that, I was able to get into a few of the tracks. I can’t say that I loved it but it did have a few songs that I will probably listen to again such as For Y’all and Tell You. I’d say it’s definitely for fans of Chance The Rapper and other chilled out hip hop artists.

justlikegiantsep2TITLE: Long Road Ahead
BAND: Just Like Giants
LABEL: Unsigned
RELEASED: May 11th 2014

A little while ago, I reviewed this Southampton four-piece’s debut EP Take It Back and said glowing things about it. Since then, another EP has dropped and it was only natural that I spend a bit of time listening to three more kick-ass pop-punk tunes from Just Like Giants. Both EPs are available for free on their Bandcamp page and if you love British pop-punk, then you’re bound to love these guys, so give them a listen.

Long Road Ahead retains the high energy pop-punk style from their first EP with a more mature slant in certain areas. The catchy riffs and upbeat rhythms are still there but the vocals have grown and are now performing much more impressive runs. The new EP begins with Taking Chances, which features singing metallic riffs and strong drums shaped around a very catchy melody. It’s a perfect summer party track with a growling guitar pushing its way through the din and the high energy thrown into the song masks the fact that the lyrics tell a sad story about a relationship coming to an end.

justlikegiants2The middle track, Don’t Let Go, has loud crashing drums and a pretty melody that will no doubt stick in your ears like glue. It’s a classic pop-punk track that allows the guitars to tear through the vocals which provide a great sing-a-long sound that is perfect for a live performance. The harmonies on the chorus are on point and add a new developed sound to the vocals, which gives Don’t Let Go more depth. Every band member pulls together and gives 100% energy to the track, which turns it into a real crowd-pleaser.

Finishing off with Afterparty, the vocals take on a passionate desperate feel underneath the rippling singing riff and thumping drums. The catchy melody has a soft swaying rhythm that gives it a chilled-out character while the strong-willed guitars keep the track spinning. The layered harmonies at the end are an unexpected and unique twist that allows the EP to go out with a flourish.

Just Like Giants have clearly focused on their energetic, live-show numbers which does see them sacrifice a little of the emotion that was felt on Take It Back. They are great at doing both styles, so it would have been nice to have a ballad on Long Road Ahead amongst all the chaos that a pop-punk album normally brings. However, it is still a great EP that will no doubt be enjoyed by fans of their debut and by those who have enjoyed their live shows.

dystopiaTITLE: Dystopia
AUTHOR: Anthony Ergo
EDITION: Self-published
PUBLISHED: July 12th 2014

My first contact with Liverpool writer and musician Anthony Ergo was when he followed me on Twitter after I mentioned that I would be attending London’s first ever YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention). He was releasing his debut novel Dystopia at the event and I knew that I would have to pick up a copy. As an added bonus to a music and book blogger, Anthony was selling his band’s EP I Can See You Now with the book, so naturally I bought both!

Dystopia is a paranormal adventure story with a strong-willed female protagonist, Sasha Hunter who seems to be constantly stalked by bad luck. On her thirteenth birthday, Dystopia Day occurs. The whole world blacks out for thirteen seconds to catastrophic results and Sasha’s mother disappears. Three years on, the world is still recovering and Sasha discovers secrets about her father’s mysterious line of work and the trouble he is about to find himself in. Driven by loyalty to her father and a burning curiosity to delve deeper into a strange hidden world of darkness and danger, Sasha uncovers powers of her own and begins to put together a picture of who she really is.

Sasha is definitely one of the most likeable female protagonists that I’ve come across in YA literature in a long time. She is insecure and naive but passionate and focused. A self-confessed loner who suffers with severe asthma, Sasha is a very real girl dealing with her real problems within the bizarre world in which she is thrown into. Having a female lead in a dystopian who isn’t the picture of health is really refreshing. Not only does she have to deal with the dangerous supernatural beings that she encounters but the fact that something as simple as shortage of breath could kill her gives her a vulnerability that is easier for some readers to tap into than a perfectly fit, intelligent girl that is so common in YA dystopians. It was also really great to read a novel written by a man with a female lead that has both beauty and brains!

For most of the book, there are hints of a love triangle about to take place between Sasha and her father’s co-workers Aaron and Zara. The final chapter reveals that this triangle isn’t about to continue through the series though, which sets it apart from other novels in the genre. A common trope of YA fiction is budding romance and conflict around that. Although Dystopia has the growing love between Sasha and Aaron, by the end you realise that their relationship is no longer under any threat and so it is left to blossom, tying it up very neatly before the action continues into the second book. Both Aaron and Zara are great characters -Aaron is a gym-loving teenager with a big ego but the power to understand the feelings and emotions of others, while Zara is yet another strong-minded girl who gets things done and doesn’t take any nonsense with the useful skill of being able to see into the future. The dynamics between the two of them and Sasha is one of great friendship and they can use and play off each other’s strengths. At the end of the book, you get the sense of a great familial bond between them that hope doesn’t break.

Dystopia is full of selfless believable characters in a fast-paced plot with plenty of tension and the odd twist every now and then. Think of it as Supernatural in a YA setting. Fighting evil to save the innocent and solving the mystery that was Dystopia Day alongside a likeable cast is a ride that you won’t want to get off of and as the sequel Hysteria is out in October, you won’t have to be off for long!

 

 

 

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