Wednesday, 2 September 2015

DIGITAL WORDS / 'Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz' Album Review

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How much of a surprise release is this, really? After a disappointingly unremarkable turn as the host of the MTV Video Music Awards – which this year drew a record low number of viewers – Miley Cyrus revealed the release of this: a previously unannounced free album available for streaming only. No word yet on a physical or download formats that may compensate Ms Cyrus for the $50k she took out of her own pocket to fund this oddity of an album.
Whilst uninteresting in its “surprise” form, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is fascinating in function. It feels authentically Miley; a committed statement of her fluctuating artistic intent. Helmed by her steadfastly supportive mentor and now co-writer Wayne Coyne of The Flaming LipsMiley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz makes 2013’s Bangerz seem as out of touch with the 22-year-old media meteorite as her long-time abandoned purity ring-wearing Disney child star material.
Having been at this fame game for over a decade already, this album is a well-earned eruption of inventive freedom. In many ways, Cyrus has proven how easy pop notoriety is to earn these days; make a pledge to lewdness, have Terry Richardson document some of it and there you have it! Everyone will still be talking about you and MTV still using you as ratings bait two years later (a lifetime in pop years, of course).
Now for something more interesting than the chart crushing likes of ‘We Can’t Stop’ and ‘Wrecking Ball’…
As opening track ‘Dooo It’ details, smoking weed and not giving a fuck are two overpowering forces in Miley’s universe. So it’s only to be expected that Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz and it’s 23 tracks is awash with rambling stoner structures (or lack thereof), but it’s certainly not an unpleasant trip. Once past the coarse aforementioned opener, and deliberately provocative likes of ‘Bang Me Box’ and ‘Milky Milky Milk’, plus the hyper self-aware ‘BB Talk’, there’s a kaleidoscope of dreamy, slow burning numbers to get lost in. Sure, there’s a feeling of being stuck on loop sometimes but the free form nature of the likes of ‘Tiger Dreams’, featuring Ariel Pink, the gently confessional ‘I Get So Scared’ and soothing ‘Evil Is But A Shadow’ prove neither radio nor MTV approval are on Miley’s agenda right now. The Lady Gaga ARTPOP aping ‘1 Sun’ is as close as Cyrus edges towards palatable pop.
After what feels like a very long two years of the least subversive rebellion possible (as if a young, white, skinny woman with a proclivity for sexual fluidity and a permanent Hollywood wax isn’t every male music big wig’s greatest commercial wet dream come true), Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is a striking example of Miley literally putting her money where her mouth is. Pretty much every move Cyrus has made since cutting her hair off and sticking her tongue out has made her seem like a pop culture Frankenstein-like monster, but a tearful piano ballad about the innocence and death of a fish (‘Pablow The Blowfish’) finally shows someone genuinely not playing up to every industry expectation.
What happens next with this material is where things will get really interesting. Whilst Cyrus’ label RCA have stated they are “pleased to support Miley’s unique musical vision” they didn’t provide any budget for Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz and this self-release will not impact her multi-album contract. But can Miley go one better: can she take this material on tour? And – this is getting carried away now – but what if she can inspire even just one other A-list name to spew out a collection of songs as artistically accurate as this. It would make next year’s VMAs a hell of a lot more compelling.
Written for FMS

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

DIGITAL WORDS / iMessage Interviews with Billie JD Porter and Bertie Brandes

Not sure if I have just made a rather significant contribution to the ever accelerating decline of modern journalism, of if I have just enhanced the field beyond measure with the invention of the published iMessage interview.

I spoke to filmmaker and journalist Billie JD Porter and Mushpit editor Bertie Brandes over text for My Flash Trash.

Read the interviews and you can decide if I have just become the redeemer or enemy of 21st century journalism... 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Sunday, 19 July 2015

DIGITAL WORDS / Evvol Interview

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“Progress is impossible without change…”  - George Bernard Shaw.

“Ch-ch-ch-ch- changes,” - David Bowie in 1972.

Julie Chance and Jon Dark – a.k.a. Evvol – are a testament to the power of change. The darkwave electronica pair, who previously went by the band name of Kool Thing, are now reaping the rewards of breaking with their established name and sound, and are forging new sounds with a revitalised mind-set and garnering more attention and praise than they had been counting on.

Sat on the rickety wooden benches of an all-organic Dalston cafĂ© on a sweltering summer afternoon, Julie and Jon are dressed casually but plastered in  some seriously smoky eye makeup, having finished up a cover shoot earlier in the day. Jon’s look is soft and shimmery, whilst Julie’s war paint is jet black kohl to the max, smudged all over her eye sockets and beyond. They laugh off the challenge of removing it all come bed time, plus they thought it would be a waste to wash it off at the end of their shoot.

Over organic juices, natch, the band formerly known as Kool Thing talk excitedly about shedding that exact tag:

“It was freeing,” Julie asserts, “but scary too. I think we kept the old name for too long anyway and we wanted to change it.”

Having released a self-titled album, toured with the likes of Grimes and Peaches, and established themselves on the Berlin scene (where they both call home) as Kool Thing, it would be understandable for Jon and Julie to have felt apprehensive about leaving their old identity behind. Not so for Evvol, whose break with the past has allowed them to move on to bigger and better sounds. “We wanted to change the name and the focus,” Chance explains. “A whole new name for a new project.”

And that “new project” culminates in the release of Evvol’s debut album, ‘Eternalism’, via !K7/Mad Dog & Love on July 24.

‘Eternalism’ is the little album that could. The original intention for Jon and Julie, who had a spell of separation before reuniting to reformulate their band, was to simply lay down an EP and distribute it as a self-release.

Fate had other plans as the music presented itself so generously that an album painlessly emerged. As Jon recalls, “The writing process felt completely free. There were no pre-requisites. All we needed was one thing and it would set off a spark. It could be a single lyric, a sound, a general mood or feel, maybe a harmony. It was just the best time, being around your best mate and playing music.”

The overall sound of ‘Eternalism’ is an authentic reflection of the creative freedom the band remember fondly. It veers between arthouse trance and noir pop with dashes of R&B warmth and intricate instrumental finishes.

‘Eternalism’ also stands defiantly against the ultra-customisable way many now choose to consume music. Pick a song from here. Sum it up with a hashtag there. No. ‘Eternalism’ lends itself to uninterrupted listening. It demands full unerring attention due to its waxing and waning structure, and sense of journey.

‘Starcrossed’ is a definite highlight of album and acts as microcosm of ‘Eternalism’ as a whole. “That’s an emotional song for us,” Jon reveals. The story of the pair of them coming back together is encapsulated in ‘Starcrossed’ and plays out over a beseeching, trembling lyric of “I’ll take care of you” before what they describe as a “John Mayer kind of guitar solo” announces itself, and concludes with a swirl of synth sirens.

Such eclecticism may stem from the fact that the girls are from different sides of the world (literally, Jon is from Australia, and Julie Ireland), and that they had very different musical upbringings. “I grew up listening to a lot of traditional Irish music from my dad,” Julie recalls. “Me and my sister would fight over who would get to singalong to Christy Moore or Mary Black albums first. And I was in my first band when I was at primary school. We would play covers of The Travelling Wilburys.” Jon, on the other hand, admits to being “obsessed with ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. I had it on vinyl and would sing along to it at the top of my voice.”

However, what they both agree on now is the influence being based in Berlin has had on Evvol’s sound. “There’s no way a person cannot be affected by living in a city like Berlin,” Chance insists. “Plus we’re really into the music that has been made in the city – Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and Iggy Pop’s ‘The Idiot’. It was very natural that we ended up there and I just think you can’t help but be influenced by your surroundings.”

The evidence speaks for itself. Whilst the darkened undertones that ebb away beneath glossy electronic currents of ‘Eternalism’ pay tribute to the band’s cultural base, the human pulse of the record reveals the personal voyage that’s captured within. As much of a sonic voyage as ‘Eternalism’ is, this doesn’t feel in anyway like the final destination on the continuing journey of Evvol’s evolution.  

Written for NOTION

Friday, 26 June 2015

DIGITAL WORDS / Juno Calypso Interview

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Juno Calypso is the name you need to know on the London art scene. 
The artist and her staged alter ego, Joyce, is making waves with her self-portraits that examine Americana suburbia, consumerism and ideas around beauty and femininity – all with a distinctively unsettling and compelling vision.
Ahead of her upcoming exhibition as Artist of the Day at Flowers Gallery (21 Cork Street, London, W1S 3LZ) on July 2, we spoke to Juno about her life, art and style. 
Check out what Juno had to say and some of her best work below…
Hey Juno! We can’t decide if we think of you as a photographer or an artist… Which title do you prefer? 
I like artist because taking the photo is only the last small step in a long process of prop making and set building. And because it let’s me off when I forget how to use a camera properly! 

How did you get started in your line of work? 
I studied photography at London College of Communication where the course was very fine-art based and they really taught me how to make a career as a fine-art photographer. After I graduated I was nominated for the Catlin Art Prize and I’ve been hitchhiking around the art world since then. 

Tell us about your character Joyce. Where did she come from? What does she represent?
Joyce was an accidental child. I used to only photograph friends and models but I’d always use myself as a stand-in model to test out the lighting a few days before a shoot. I’d pull ugly faces to make the experience less awkward and one day I brought the pictures into uni just to have something to show my tutor for our weekly deadline and she loved them.
My face made her laugh and that was an interesting reaction that changed everything. Before, all I wanted to do was make hyper-alluring glossy images of women looking sexy and dangerous. Now I use my weird face to make people laugh but also to explore the exhaustion women often feel while bearing the weight of constructed femininity.  

What is the proudest moment of your career so far? 
I think being awarded first prize and full marks for my degree show is still my favourite because I had no idea if my work was any good then and I’d worked so hard for it. I’m a born and bred Londoner so seeing my work on the underground was cool too. 

What’s coming up for you next? 
I have a solo exhibition at Flowers Gallery on Cork Street on Thursday July 2nd where I’ll be showing a new body of work that I shot at a couple’s honeymoon hotel in America. I went by myself and it was a very awkward experience but I can’t wait for people to see the images. 

Written for MY FLASH TRASH

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Sunday, 31 May 2015

DIGITAL WORDS / Bebe Rexha Interview

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Think you don’t know Bebe Rexha? Think again.

She co-wrote ‘The Monster’ and gifted it to Eminem and Rihanna – which is one of the Slim Shady rapper’s best-selling No. 1 hits of his career, just FYI. And you will also be familiar with her roaring vocals on the chorus of David Guetta and Nicki Minaj’s latest radio banger ‘Hey Mama’, as well as Cash Cash’s ‘Take Me Home’.

The 25-year-old New Yorker is a huge pop star just waiting to explode. Her edgy look is a refreshing antidote to pop’s overtly bubblegum flavour at the moment, and she writes songs that every girl can relate to (please see ‘I Don’t Wanna Grow Up’ and ‘I Can’t Stop Drinking About You’).

Bebe grew up watching TRL, checking her local Toys R Us on the daily in the vain hope that the Baby Spice doll would be back in stock, and freaking out about seeing the video for ‘…Baby One More Time’. Essentially, she’s just like us!

We caught up with  Ms Rexha backstage at a recent live showin Shoreditch, London where she tore the joint up. In between sips of herbal tea to soothe her vocal chords and showing us the eclectic collection of jewellery she had packed in her luggage – a scented coin necklace from Turkey, a gifted necklace from her record label, a body chain, statement earrings and shell rings from Israel –  Bebe chatted to My Flash Trash about her musical upbringing, fashion and beauty tips, life advice and gave us some preview info on her upcoming debut album…

Hey Bebe! Let’s get straight to it. You’ve described your look before as “grunge glamour”. How can we emulate your look?
Mix cool expensive stuff with cheap shit. I’ve got Doc Martens on today but I have a pair of Vesaces that I travel with too. A really good leather jacket is essential. I recently bought a real leather motorcycle jacket, it’s so heavy, it’s about 20 pounds. Tons of jewellery is good too, as well as jeans and lots of t-shirts to switch up underneath. Layer shit – layering is key. Get the basics together and then add to it.

How about your makeup? Your eyeliner is always perfect.
I’m very simple. I bounce between two classic looks. One is clean winged eyeliner and really pretty lashes, and a red lip. The other is a smoky eye and nude lip. Sometimes I just take an eyeliner and smudge it, lashes on and apply a bit of bronzer.

So how has your European tour been going so far?
The crowds have been very respectful and listen to everything I say. In the US they’ll be a little more crazy, but I’ll get to a slow song and I’m like, “Shut the fuck up!” That happened once. I told everyone to shut up and they wouldn’t listen. I was being dead serious but they just kept cheering me on. In Finland yesterday I cried. It was the first time there has been an audience that knew every word to all my songs. I got emotional. There was a little nine year old girl there, crying, she was singing every word, including all the swear words! She had a little leather jacket on and she said, “I’m wearing my leather jacket for you.” It was the cutest thing in the world. Playing my own smaller shows but to people who know all the words is way better than bigger shows supporting someone else. These people are coming to see me – it’s amazing.

Do you like London?
Everybody dresses so cool here. The fashion here is ridiculous. It sucks to say but you cannot compare London fashion to New York. Europe is so much cooler. I wore some creepers in my video and you can’t do that in L.A. or New York, they don’t think it’s cute at all.

You’ve already filmed some epic music videos. Did you grow up watching a lot of MTV?
Yes, TRL! And I will always remember seeing Britney Spears’ first music video. I haven’t had that same feeling since.. All her videos are insane and I’ve never had that strong feeling for anyone other than Britney. I want to make bigger videos in the future. I wanna burn shit down!

You’ve previously cited Alanis Morrissette as a key influence for you…
Once we were blasting her CD at the studio and Glen Ballard was there – he produced Jagged Little Pill. That album is insane, and even though she had the songs she refused to be the fashion girl and didn’t fit the mold. You can do whatever the fuck you want!

Who else did you grow up listening to?
I only started liking the Kanyes and Lauryn Hills, or Tracey Chapman – all these more credible artists as I’m getting older because I can see what they’re saying and it means more to me. But when I was little I was listening to Destiny’s Child and Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. I was a total pop junkie. I liked ‘80s stuff too, like Madonna and Duran Duran. My aunt bought me my first tape, it was ‘Genie In A Bottle’.

You’ve worked with Max Martin already… Can you tell us something about him that no one knows?
He’s very nice but also very gangster. When I was working with him he had two sessions going on at the same time, he would come in, doctor the melody, do it himself. Oh, and he has a great voice! A really fucking good voice. Like, superstar voice! His ear is incredible. When he listens to a song it’s  mathematical to him. It was very different working with him because I just do what I feel.

How does it compare hearing other artists’ recordings of your songs to listening back to one of your own releases?
Hearing your own song is more epic. I can see Eminem and Rihanna perform my song in front of a million people and it feels awesome but if I see 200 people singing the words to my own song, that’s incredible. When you write a song it’s like part of your soul. You put your spirit, soul and energy into creating a song from thin air.

The songs on your EP are very relatable. Is that something you aim for?
In the end I ultimately want that but it usually starts out as just therapy for myself. But when I try to help myself as a form of therapy it does help others too. I do take it into consideration and I’ve been writing about women and empowerment recently – a song called ‘24/7’. It’s about letting a girl have her moment. If she wants to cry, or put her lipstick on,  or go dancing and feel sexy… It’s not easy being a girl or a woman.

You’ve spoken really openly about losing your first record deal. You’ve written about the negativity that followed it too. What advice do you have for anyone feeling knocked down?

There’s this saying I like: “In the end it will be okay. And if it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.” I tell myself that. You have to remember that things will get better. I wrote a song called ‘Die A Little’ – a line of it says, “You have to die a little to know what it’s like to be alive.” And if you ever feel down, go for a walk. Walk for miles – that’s what I do – it clears your head. 

Written for MY FLASH TRASH

[Insert caption]: Me

Friday, 22 May 2015

DIGITAL WORDS / Brandon Flowers Live Review

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Photo by Torey Mundkowsky

Like any really good album, Brandon Flowers’ latest solo release, The Desired Effect, is too short. Ten supreme tracks that flash by and leave you wondering, “Wait, what just happened there?” The same can be said for the opening night of Mr. Flowers’ tour debut in support of his new LP.
Admittedly, he does make a noticeably late arrival on stage but all is forgiven when he appears and suitably begins with The Desired Effect’s expansive opener ‘Dreams Come True’. It’s a rousing start that’s upped by an immediate transition into what is arguably his best composition yet, ‘Can’t Deny My Love’. It’s dark, powerful, intense, glossy – in essence, pop perfection. And Flowers is looking and sounding better than ever too. Dressed in skinny black jeans and fitted tee, topped off with a golden blazer, his vocals and stage presence are faultlessly commanding.
Not that he has to do much to win over an unexpectedly dedicated audience. Flowers encourages the occasional call and response and espouses some genuine sentiments of thanks, but the power is all in the music. “Remember this one?” he asks before kicking into ‘Crossfire’, and the appreciative reception it receives answers Flowers with a resounding, “Hell yes.” ‘Only The Young’ and Flamingo album cut ‘Magdalena’ go down equally well. “Do you know this one yet?” Flowers faux humbly wonders before playing another one of his crowning recent singles, ‘Lonely Town’. The Bronski Beat-sampling ‘I Can Change’ is yet another winning performance moment.
Photo by Torey Mundkowsky
In fact, attaching a chorus of ‘Smalltown Boy’ to the end of ‘I Can Change’ is just one of many unexpected and pleasantly surprising additions Flowers inserts into the set. So robust is the strength of Flowers’ solo material that he doesn’t have to, but he does, obligingly, play some Killers’ hits. ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’ is stripped down to an acoustic ballad and ‘Mr Brightside’ pared back to slithers of synth. Regardless, the crowd belt out the lyrics true to the original recordings and their enthusiasm is rewarded with a full-on rendition of ‘Read My Mind’.
Similarly unexpected is an appearance from Chrissie Hynde. Flowers reveals that he’s pissed off that journalists have failed to recognise the influence The Pretenders have had over The Killers, so decides to make it clear by teaming with Hynde for a run through of ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ – during which the pair of them sweetly try but fail to co-ordinate a shoulder dip dance. Chrissie stays for a further duet on the touching ‘Between Me And You’. A final guest appearance comes from Mrs Brandon Flowers and two-thirds of the couple’s off spring, who has to be coerced to coming on stage to give an awkward wave to the audience ahead of her beaming husband dedicating his ode to fidelity, ‘Still Want You’, to her.
Photo by Torey Mundkowsky

The slow burning ‘The Way It’s Always Been’ makes for a strange parting number. It effectively returns the crowd and performer alike to a state of calm after an elongated singalong to ‘Still Want You’. But it feels like it all ended too soon. Even after the house lights come up, some fans stay awaiting more, convinced that there simply has to be something else coming. Nope, that’s your lot. Dumbfounding flawlessness that leaves ‘em begging for more is apparently what Brandon Flowers is all about now. The desired effect? We think so.
Written for FMS

DIGITAL WORDS / Bebe Rexha Live Review

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Wednesday night saw the debut London show of – we’re saying it – our (and by extension, your) favourite new pop star, Bebe Rexha.
In a former musical life the 25-year-old New Yorker sang alongside Pete Wentz in his Fallout Boy side project, Black Cards. She also previously had a contract with Island, but it fell through. Island’s loss was Warner Bros. gain, but the emotional fallout from this let down has proved instrumental in the rise of Ms Rexha.
Succumbing to depression and self-doubt, Rexha’s time spent being prescribed pills and bad advice from a therapist feeds directly into her defiant single ‘I’m Gonna Show You Crazy’. In fact, raw, first-person narratives are what drive many of Bebe’s best songs to date. Her two-man band leave the stage whilst she concentrates on the fragile delivery of ‘I Don’t Wanna Grow Up‘ and she positively drowns the stage in energy and attitude when it comes to ‘I Can’t Stop Drinking About You‘.
Oh and then there’s just the small matter of ‘Monster Under My Bed‘ – just a little track inspired by Charles Darwin a quote she found on Tumblr ("We stopped looking for monsters under our bed when we realised that they were inside us") that she co-wrote and donated to Eminem and Rihanna, which they re-named ‘The Monster‘ and took to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic.
Bebe also performs the other major league chart hits she already has under her belt: Cash Cash’s ‘Take Me Home’, David Guetta’s ‘Yesterday’ and the Nicki Minaj featuring ‘Hey Mama’, plus Pitbull’s ‘This Is Not A Drill’. Whilst she performs these club bangers with aplomb and shows off that she can twerk, grind and slut drop as good as the rest, it’s when she performs her EDM pop-meets-actual sentiment numbers that she sincerely bursts with passion.
Opener ‘Pray’ sees her vocal chops and intensity immediately proven, and so excited is she about an empowering feminist anthem called ’24/7′, taken from her upcoming debut album, that she can’t stop herself from airing an A cappella preview (FYI it’s as sassy as anything on her ‘I Don’t Wanna Grow Up’ EP but sees her moving past the heartbreaks and disappointments of times gone by).
Bebe stomps her patent Doc Martens, thrashes and whips her hair tirelessly in an effortless display of confidence, as if getting up on stage is the most natural thing in the world – as any decent performer should.
Amongst the music, Bebe talks extensively and honestly with the audience and makes a quick connection, particularly with female members of the crowd who can be heard whispering to one another, “I love her” at the close of each song. And we’re inclined to agree. Bebe Rexha is a true talent and personality unafraid to say and sing exactly what she thinks and feels.
Written for FMS