GIITTV: Mike Dennis – Junction 19 EP (Independent)

Mike Dennis is not your typical Bristol MC. Combining his classical violin, a strong loop pedal performance and a grounded knowledge in production; his work is an interesting step forward into the future of hip-hop and rap.

His latest EP Junction 19 is his next release after the album Smiles and Cries from last year. It is paired with the upcoming Junction 29 EP and respectively they’re based on the motorway slip roads that grant entry to Bristol and Cardiff.

Junction 19 begins with the title track describing Bristol from a perspective only someone living there could give. Layered not only with personal connections but sonically layered too; the track’s production is inspired by the loop pedal performance it would have been written for. Juxtaposing beautiful violin strains against well crafted generated beats, the first track sets up the sound of Mike Dennis’ style.

Following the title track, ‘Men With Guns Reloaded’ is a remix of a previously released song. Again, the track is extremely layered, but possibly too much so – barely leaving room to breathe under the weight of extra production. Whilst the second verse is less built up and easier to understand, the remix does leave a little to be desired and is too overcome with samples and additional instrumentation to stand out on this EP.

Shining through however is ‘UnDo’ featuring JB Nichols – the solo endeavour of Rob Nichols from Cardiff band Junior Bill. The smooth & clear production is also accentuated by sharp stabs of violin and drum beats. Strong, beautiful choruses sit in between understated verses with a dark bridge that once again builds in the loop pedal style. Nichols’ voice swoops throughout the track, bringing a new style unheard from the singer before.

The next track ‘OK KO’ is a disappointment after this. Whilst rap can often be very “on the nose”, you’d expect something different from Dennis. Unfortunately, this track dates itself quickly, concerning itself with Donald Trump and Theresa May and social media trends and pitfalls. Hip hop tends to be more exciting when it breaks away from these clichés and escapes the boundaries of just stringing sentences together.

‘Things’ is a great anti-consumerism track, much better than a lot of cringe-worthy modern diatribes. The fantastic production includes a beat that’s hard to resist head bobbing to and little licks of violin come through from the second verse – which is clearly Dennis’ aural trademark. The song’s concept about “things that I didn’t buy” is layered with humour and irony with an exceptional rap flow.

Finally ‘Learned How To Be’ finishes off the EP on the upbeat. A personal rap about how Dennis “learned how to be cool”, it puts the typical story-telling rap against unusual production and with a similarly unusual flow but still includes clever wordplay that makes you smile. Bouncing between rap and melodic vocal lines, Dennis uses his features well (in this case Amy D) without need for guest verses but with a simple “Rihanna hook” (for want of a better term).

Junction 19  sets out to be a sort of concept EP from the start, but instead is more like an assortment of more recent music from Mike Dennis. Whilst some tracks (‘UnDo’ and ‘Things’) are undoubtedly strong and interesting, others (‘Men With Guns Reloaded’ and ‘OK KO’) could have been left off to create a more cohesive release. Undoubtedly though, it sets up great expectations for the next EP Junction 29.

Junction 19 is released independently on May 7th, 2017

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GIITTV: Maximo Park – Risk to Exist(Cooking Vinyl)

There are enough reasons at the moment to hate society and every single worthless, piece of shit, twatface person in it. To that end, it’s commendable to know the mighty Maximo Park, part swooning North-East Morrissey bibiophiles, part vulnerable Conor Oberst confessionalists complete with heart-in-throat voice quavers are still, unfalteringly, sensitive, good eggs.
However, on Risk to Exist, their sixth(!) album, I sort of wish they’d just created a Tumblr if they wanted to get this shit off their chest so literally, and concentrated more on writing some BANGING CHOONS like the literal millions they have under their belt already.

Initially turning heads with subtle but disarmingly accurate missives on intimacy, love and self-reflection, while simultaneously smacking you round the chops with several elegiac choruses after the other (often within the same song), this time Maximo Park are mad. They’re mad as hell. Well, mad enough to make an album full of wincingly on-the-nose songs about Brexit, the migrant crisis, Syria, benefits sanctions and Nigel Farage, largely set to a backdrop of insipid, nondescript-ish funk jams.

Risk to Exist the title track is promising enough, containing the classic sonic about-turns, close to the bone observations and warm synths the Park have perfected since A Certain Trigger in 2005. Profits from the single and accompanying video went to a migrant charity aiding rescue efforts at sea; call it Brexit Music (for a Film)*

What Equals Love is more classic MP, a bollocks-and-fannies out disco stomper on the well-worn subject of the mystery behind lasting relationships (although silly Paul Smith – we all know the equation for love is desperation, loneliness and the fear of dying alone 🙂 ).

However, I’m not gonna lie: I didn’t enjoy this album and most of the lyrics just made me cringe. I don’t mean to get all Katie Hopkins about this, I reeeally don’t, but I feel little enjoyment in a record so worthy and self-conscious, with none of the urgency or excitement of the usual Maximo Park experience. It is a disappointing album – especially since their last album, Too Much Information, was fantastic.

In the recent past, Everything Everything‘s peerless Get to Heaven was a masterpiece of spittled, moving lunacy at the horrors of the world, and the new British Sea Power album is also a graceful example of a band of auteurs adjusting their gaze from their own inner world to reacting to the constant concrete punches to the face of life in the world today without resorting to David Brent-tier cringe antics.

One of Maximo Park’s most popular songs, My Velocity, shows they’re perfectly capable of tackling the issues of the day – in this case Britiain’s recent wars – with wit and a lightness of touch (“are you willing to resist?/for people you’ve never met/the devil’s wheel revolves/but it needs to be reset”) pretty much absent from Risk to Exist.

Without any sort of bite or weight to these songs, this protest album is nearly as inane and banal as some Tory shitbag saying Brexit means Brexit adnaseum with no extra plan to follow it through.

*I know that didn’t really make sense in context, but I’ve thought of it now so it’s going in the review. DON’T STEAL IT. DON’T STEAL IT. (c) Laura Prior 25/04/2017 DON’T STEAL IT.

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Owen Jones: Labour can’t turn it around by peddling misery. It must exude hope

From Clement Attlee to Ronald Reagan, the lesson of election success is clear: even in dark days, voters still crave optimism

What do Ronald Reagan and Spain’s radical Podemos party have in common? Little, you might imagine. The former was an unapologetic champion of letting the market run riot; the latter is, in part, a rebellion against that dogma. But both defined their contrasting philosophies in a similar way: with hope, optimism and empowerment. Reagan won two landslide elections; while less than two years after it was founded, Podemos – though still not in government – became one of Spain’s three major parties.

A cursory glance at opinion polls would suggest that, for any progressively minded person, talk of hope and optimism currently means delusion and denial. Labour has six weeks to chip away at a colossal Tory poll lead. The defeatist approach is to think it’s too late and people have already made up their minds.

Related: The myth of Ronald Reagan: pragmatic moderate or radical conservative?

Britain’s official leave campaign waged a campaign of fear, but its slogan – “Take back control”– cut through

Continue reading…

GIITTV: Cotton Wolf – Life In Analogue (Bubblewrap Collective)

Cotton Wolf, a Welsh duo comprising of Llion Robertson and Seb Goldfinch, seem to exist in the same stratosphere as folk such as Luke Abbott, whose Holkham Drones album provided me with a means to send my then baby son to slumberland on long journeys through glorious countryside, and I will be forever grateful for that reprieve!
Life In Analogue is a similarly hypnotic (albeit far more varied) work, though the chances of it now sending a now hyperactive seven year old even vaguely bleary eyed are probably somewhat remote, I suspect…

No matter, for the pair’s first outing for Bubblewrap is full of dreamy aural landscapes like ‘Lliwiau‘, which feels rather like we are bathing in the most natural of spring waters while staring up in awe at the beauty of a Swiss mountain. Or a Welsh one at least. This is due, at least in part, to the breathy vocals of the wonderful Alys Williams, which elevates an already fine composition into something capable of leading our minds gently into a somewhat nirvanic state. A Class A drug but without the comedown, if you will.

The whole shenanigan kicks off with ‘Glosh‘, which sprinkles its love dust over everyone before going all Disclosure on us, like the local barber is shaving the back of your neck whilst performing intricate dance moves in a surprisingly graceful manner. There are certainly shades of some of the ‘big hitters’ here too, the longest track ‘Cage Of Light‘, amongst others, evoking comparison’s with the likes of Massive Attack, all the while retaining its own sense of self – you could never level any claims of copyist grandeur at Cotton Wolf; those soul-stirring swathes of strings give them a niche all of their own.

One can quite confidently reason that Kraftwerk have played a major role soundtracking the lives of Robertson and Goldfinch too, specifically towards the closing stages of Life In Analogue, where the pulsating ‘While Night Grows‘ evokes Karl Bartos at his very best. This is probably the key track, for me, as it feels like the journey from birth through childhood and adolescence to adulthood and perhaps even beyond. A lot of the compositions here do possess that gentle otherworldliness that makes for a compelling listen and only improves with subsequent spins, especially those with Williams as the vocal helm.

Often, this is musical cinematography at its best, and as a result, Life In Analogue is a real winner of an album, especially if you’d rather escape the real world into a fantasial dream version instead. And let’s face it, these days, who doesn’t?

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Richard Godwin: Now everyone is trying to get our close attention

I was filling up my car near San José the other day when I fell victim to a sinister new crime wave. A popular brand of corn snack forcibly inserted itself into my synapses via a pump-mounted telescreen. For two whole minutes I was hostage to its unmutable jalapeño-flavoured agitprop. And who can say what wonderful thoughts might have occurred to me in that time? From