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We are listening to Days Are Gone by Haim until Sunday 9th March
For my second nomination of 2014, I choose Haim’s debut album Days Are Gone. Days Are Gone was released in Summer 2013 with a reasonable level of hype, and has been recommended to me by a few people. It features the three Haim sisters, Este, Danielle and Alana, and their unrelated drummer Dash Hutton. Providing a neat inter-album segue, Danielle provided vocals on the first track of last fortnight’s album, Free the Universe by Major Lazer. Dave and I will be listening to Haim for the next fortnight.
Well Free the Universe by Major Lazer was certainly a listening adventure! Averaging around three collaborations per track this is a really busy album. There are a few unexpected names in the list such as Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, and whoever knew that 2002′s darling Ms Dynamite was still kicking around the music scene? The album as a whole is very upbeat and noisy (in a good way), and packed with funky beats. I was initially trying to listen to Free the Universe at work, which I would not recommend; this is an album to play with the volume high!
The songs may sound cool, but I personally found it pretty hard to make out most of the lyrics. One of my favourite tracks Mashup the Dance has a pumping rhythm, great buzzy synth wails and a smooth rap section, but I have absolutely no idea what they’re saying. I even looked up the lyrics, and I still have no idea what they’re on about! Unfortunately I definitely understood the lyrics of the preceding track Bubble Butt. I don’t particularly appreciate casual misogyny in my music so the album automatically loses a star for that.
It’s easy to see why Watch Out For This (Bumaye) was the album’s biggest track, with it’s strong beat and brassy samba vibe. Free the Universe is at it’s best on the faster tracks; the slower songs, such as the boring Jessica, tend to fall flat. The exception to this is Get Free, which has a more relaxed pace but managed to keep the interest up with a more Eastern feel.
Moombahton definitely wins the award for weirdest sounding genre yet. Major Lazer have lived up to this by producing an action-packed album that’s good for a dance.
With its star-studded list of collaborators, it is little surprise that Major Lazer’s Free The Universe is has spawned eight singles, making it feel a lot like a greatest hits album.
Working with so many people has created a wonderful mix of styles within the album. Dub, ska and reggae feature heavily in Major Lazer’s sound using instruments such as steel drums and featuring many vocalists from the Caribbean including Shaggy, Wyclef Jean and Busy Signal. Diplo adds to this a bouncy, electro zapping, dancey sound which blends house, hip-hop, and dubstep.
Whilst I very much enjoyed shaking my ‘bubble-butt’ to Major Lazer at Sónar in Reykjavík last weekend, my personal highlights of the album are the slower tracks. Get Free, featuring a wonderful vocal performance from Amber Coffman, is a gentle grower with a Japanese sounding keyboard that shimmers between the verses and a catchy chorus. Jessica, featuring Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend, is a lovely, slow song with classic ska bassline and simple lyrics that sounds like it’s come straight from 1960′s Jamaica.
Free The Universe is a consistently strong album packed with hits and great for a party or the headline slot at a hip, electronic festival in Iceland.
Last week Dave and I took a break from listening to this fortnight’s album, and went to see Moderat at my new favourite venue. KOKO in Camden is a converted theatre, and a beautiful gig venue. With at least four layers of balconies holding bars, comfy chairs and more, everyone gets a great view of the stage, and you can choose whether to watch from the dance floor or the comfort of a sofa. Just look at that disco ball!
Having seen Moderat before, I already knew this, but for the benefit of those who haven’t been so lucky: Moderat are an amazing live band. You would have thought that three blokes standing behind sound boards would be a little bit boring, but Moderat fully compensate for this with the best visuals I have ever seen at a gig (second prize goes to Soulwaxmas 2011 with their excellent animated album covers). Largely in moody monochrome, the visuals that ran throughout the set ranged from billowing sheets to animated bulls in space. The display consisted of five screens; four forming a cross, with the fifth behind, giving the visuals some depth and even creating the illusion of 3D at times. My only complaint would be the under-use of KOKO’s disco ball – I would have loved to see that thing in action!
Luckily for me, the bulk of Moderat’s set was taken from their second album II. Having listened to it over the last fortnight, I know it well! We heard pretty much all of II across the gig, and even got some excellent remixed versions of bonus track Last Time (complete with a space matador on the big screens). The few tracks they played from their debut Moderat were also great to dance to, even if I wasn’t familiar them. You don’t need to know the music to have a good time at a Moderat gig; I hadn’t heard of Moderat the first time I saw them, and they still had me hooked.
The highlight of the gig was without a doubt the hypnotic Milk. Dave may be a fan of lengthy slow builders, but I sometimes get fed up of them when I’m just listening to the music. Not so at KOKO – this track is perfect for Moderat’s live style. The visuals were minimal, but ever so effective. Design collective Pfadfinderei used simple white lines to brilliantly build the tension of the track, starting with gentle bars wandering across the screen and culminating in an absolutely mesmerising blast of light and sound. In fact, you should just watch it.
I would recommend the Moderat live experience to absolutely anyone. There are still some dates left on their tour, so why not take a trip to Europe and try it yourself!
Next up on our adventure is Major Lazer’s second album, Free The Universe, released in April 2013. I’m heading to Sonar Festival in Reykjavik, Iceland this week and Major Lazer is headlining this chilly, electronic fest.
Major Lazer is a project by American producer Diplo. The first album was a collaboration with Switch. He left the duo in 2011, although his name appears on many of the writing credits for Free The Universe. Major Lazer also works with a wide range of other artists and producers, including such famous names as Wyclef Jean, Peaches and Bruno Mars.
Moderat II opens with a pretty pointless instrumental, but it quickly makes up for this with the excellent second track Bad Kingdom. With its relaxed upbeat vibe and soaring vocals, Bad Kingdom is a track to groove to. The rest of the album continues in much the same vein, evoking the atmosphere of a late-night lazy-rave.
If this review is rather short, it’s because the semi-hypnotic rhythms of II blend together easily, lulling you into an electronic daze. It’s definitely a pleasant experience, but there are not many moments that made enough of an impression to write about. Tracks Therapy and Gita provide a bit of a focus point in the middle of the album. Therapy for its faster beat and catchy hook, and Gita with it’s strange vocal ticks (eh!?). The rest of the album is a gentler wind-down from towards the final track Last Time (a bonus track on the deluxe album version), which closes the record nicely with its introspective lyrics, finishing the album on a characteristically chilled-out note.
This is an album I will listen to again, and I’m looking forward to seeing Moderat on Tuesday!