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Monthly Archives: June 2014

X_coverTITLE: X
ARTIST: Ed Sheeran
LABEL: Asylum
RELEASED: June 23rd 2014

Suffolk-born acoustic wizard Ed Sheeran’s new album has been a long time coming. Three years after his debut + was released, we are treated to new released X pronounced “multiply”. The singer-songwriter is still only 23 and unlike a lot of artists, he has enjoyed huge success between his two albums. Writing songs and performing with Taylor Swift and One Direction, Ed definitely hasn’t retreated to a recording studio in the last few years and this may be one reason why he has managed to produce a new album that is fresh and exciting.

Ed is known for his heartbroken ballads stripped of high impact instruments and filled with raw emotion. X definitely has a few tracks that are classic Sheeran but we do also see a more upbeat urban artist, reminiscent of his hit You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. It’s clear that Ed has been working with different producers and his style has altered but his existing fans will still love these tracks as a lot of them retain his raw, honest and open character.

Ed’s vocals lapse into a falsetto at several points on the album, most notably on its two singles Sing and Don’t. While some fans may dislike this change, both songs are catchy, upbeat pop tracks that are ideal for summer parties and festivals. Sing was co-written with hit-maker Pharrell Williams and Don’t was co-written with Moves Like Jagger producer Benny Blanco. Judging this album on its singles, you might be forgiven for thinking X was a new, cooler, urban Sheeran. Snappy rhythms, catchy choruses and tropical holiday beats are all over the album and we get it again on Tenerife Sea and Runaway.

edsheeranTenerife Sea has the new version of Ed in rhythm and general style but the lyrics are a beautiful declaration of love rather than a straight up party anthem. It’s a beautiful love song with atmospheric vocal runs and rippling acoustic riffs that simply wash over you, leaving you relaxed and content. Runaway is much the opposite. The strong beat and urban slant on this summer pop song back up a story of a young person running from their parents’ home due to needing space from their father. Runaway advocates that it’s OK to get your own space sometimes without completely destroying family relations. This is something that so many people can relate to and will definitely resonate with Ed’s young fans.

Bloodstream is another chilled summer track that will be perfect for festivals. A glitchy beat, urban R&B vibe and dazed style gives it a youthful, quirky sound. It’s about using alcohol and drugs to block out the pains of heartbreak and love but with a catchy hook that will certainly capture a crowd’s attention. Eerie backing vocals give it a dream-like edge while Ed’s vocals see it out. Clapping rhythms are great for summer festival tracks and Nina is fun, sing-a-long addition to the album. Pretty piano chimes keep appearing amidst the chilled beat and matter-of-fact lyrics. It sees a colder Ed to the warm, lovestruck artist we’re used to and sparks a pang of sympathy for the subject matter who appears to be in love with him despite him putting his career and success first.

X is full of slow, swaying ballads that Ed is best loved for. The opening track One is a chilled acoustic track with wispy vocals that tell a tale of a lost love that he is hoping to hold onto. Photograph is another beautiful ballad where Ed pours his heart out about a past relationship. Using the image of a photograph to preserve love and reminisce about good time is really touching and there is some lovely imagery in the lyrics that will impact anyone who has ever mourned the end of a relationship. Thinking Out Loud is perhaps the most romantic track on the album. Declaring eternal, unconditional love makes it perfect for a first dance song and the soft country twangs border the beautiful story.

Afire Love brings the album to a real tearjerker of an ending. It is Ed’s tribute to his late grandfather and the synth glides and piano together with the soft beat illustrate the grief perfectly. The lyrics allude to the sudden nature of death, the eternal love between the deceased and his wife and some truly heartbreaking images of a family united in sorrow. Ethereal backing vocals provide a choral feel and the ending has a big production element to it, which ends X on a devastating, theatrical note.

X gives something for fans of both Ed’s styles -emotional, acoustic Ed and upbeat, cool Ed. Personally, I prefer Ed stripped back and full of angst and heartbreak, as I love his storytelling ability but for a summer party, there are some guaranteed playlist additions on this album. Justin Timberlake fans will certainly love the ventures into Ed’s falsetto and there’s no doubt you’ll be humming along to the catchy hooks after just one listen. Thanks to Ed’s wise decision not to fade away into the background during the release of his two albums, X is likely to be a big seller so watch this space!

 

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So it has now been a whole year of AskAlex and I’d like to thank everyone who has ever read or commented on a post. I’m afraid this will be my last post of its kind. I feel like it has been a great interlude to my reviews but it has now come to an end. I hope it has given you an insight into me as a person and I only hope that you continue reading my blog.

What can you do today that you couldn’t do a year ago?

Such a fitting end to a year-long feature! One thing I have definitely improved is my ability to write without fear of others’ opinions. I feel that this is really important for bloggers and journalists. You have to be honest, especially if you’re reviewing something and if that means a negative write-up, then that’s the way it has to be.

If you read my earlier posts, you’ll see that I used to be quite complimentary of pretty much everything I reviewed. However, recently I have reconsidered this. When you’re first starting out in the blogosphere, you want to gain friends and followers and so giving a positive review seems like a sure-fire way of doing so. Of course it works and you get a lovely reply back from the band/author/brand and a friendly professional rapport begins. For me, even back then, there was always a niggling doubt in my mind that perhaps this wasn’t the best way to build a blog or website upon.

I was immediately concerned that I wasn’t being honest with my readers and that really bothered me to the point where I did decide to change tack. Reviewing music as often as I do isn’t always easy. Quite often, I listen to an EP or album that someone has sent me and I just think “my god, this really isn’t for me at all” and my heart immediately sinks. Not only have I got to write a less than glowing review but I also owe it to the musician to listen to the entirety of the record -a real chore if I already hate it at the start. However, I do force myself to do this because I feel I can’t really give a fully informed review of something I’ve only heard half of -I suffer so you don’t have to!

So definitely, writing more balanced reviews is something that I’ve learnt to do in the last year and I’m really proud of myself. I feel like my blog is now more of my honest opinions rather than me trying to gain friends. Having said that, I do always look for the positives in everything and therefore, I’ll probably never give an entirely bad review -future reviewees, don’t be afraid!

 

Jack_White_-_LazarettoTITLE: Lazaretto
ARTIST: Jack White
LABEL: Third Man Records
RELEASED: June 10th 2014

Two years ago, I reviewed Jack White’s debut solo album Blunderbuss, which went on to do very well and score the number one spot in both the UK and US album charts. Jack has now returned with the follow-up and its name is Lazaretto. Based on stories and plays that Jack wrote in his late teens, the album is a rather haphazard record with twists and turns around every corner. On discovering his writing again, Jack said:

“Some of it’s garbage and I sort of laughed while I was reading it. I was going to throw away a bunch of it, but I was just coming up with new styles of attacking songwriting for the album.”

The former White Stripes frontman has never been one to fit into any particular genre and Lazaretto is no different. Elements of jazz, blues, alternative rock, country and electronica are all present on this album and as a result, the songs are diverse and totally unpredictable. The title track was released as a single back in April and it is a great introduction to the distorted nature of the record. A frantic vocal delivery and dark screaming riffs give way to a lone guitar and electronic whizzes halfway through. The violins squeal before the whole thing slowly collapses and comes to an end. However, the subject matter deals with a totally different style of music and culture. Speaking of the lead single, Jack said:

“This was a rhyme about the braggadocio of some hip-hop lyrics -the bragging about oneself in hip-hop music. The character who’s singing this song is bragging about himself, but he’s actually bragging about real things he’s actually accomplished and real things that he actually does, not imaginary things or things he would like to do.”

jackwhiteThe mismatched effect is continued on instrumental track High Ball Stepper and whimsical carnival tune That Black Bat Licorice. The former is full of glitchy sparks, fuzzy rock and haunting whines and screams. With no vocals, it’s all about creating a scene without a story and it certainly does evoke a number of feelings. That Black Bat Licorice is a big show tune which cuts between loud and tricky jazz blasts and shining electro-rock whines. The instrumental hook is catchy and will no doubt have you tapping your toes right away.

Retro showtime is a big theme on this album as the opening track Three Women (based on a track by ragtime blues singer Blind Willie McTell) and Just One Drink also heavily feature sounds from years gone by. Three Women is the story of a man who has three very different women to choose from set to a jaunty bass and jazz background. Just One Drink features the voice of Lillie Mae Rische which mingles well in harmony with Jack. It’s a summer road trip anthem that has a funky piano and a sensual vocal delivery.

Favouring the spooky side of things is Would You Fight For My Love? and I Think I Found The Culprit. Would You Fight For My Love? has tribal drums, a dark piano and haunting vocals and electronic chimes. I Think I Found The Culprit is full of foreboding and surreal harmonies that create a ghostly aura. Simple shimmers of electronica really sends shivers down the listener’s spine and brings the temperature right down.

Plenty of glimpses of Jack’s love of country and blues music are on Lazaretto. Alone In My Home, a simple upbeat jazz-piano led track about savouring time to yourself, has a lot of clear country influence. Entitlement is also led by a simple country guitar and Jack’s voice takes on an undeniable rodeo twang. Lillie Mae Rische is also responsible for the folksy sounding fiddle on many of these tracks, which really give them a lot of quirky character.

Perhaps my favourite track comes right at the end of the album. Want And Able is a simple ballad that appears to be weeping as it tells a heartbreaking story about the difference between desire and possibility. It’s a story we all know so well and have come across in our own lives very often. Jack describes it beautifully and the fact that all that is required is a soft piano and swaying melancholy rhythm adds so much weight to it.

I’m not as big a fan of Lazaretto as I was of Blunderbuss. I’ve never loved the screechy sounds of jazz but I do love all the whimsy and wackiness of the album. I think I might have enjoyed it better if I’d read Jack’s stories from which these songs came from because I’m definitely not crazy about the production. However, there will be those of love it, so pick it up if you love something rooted in blues and retro jazz but still completely unique.

Still reaping the success of their latest album AM, which was released last September, Arctic Monkeys have unveiled the video for new single Snap Out Of It. It is possibly one of their catchiest ever songs and it has been teamed with a video that illustrates just how much one woman can love them (or indeed any band). Early comments on the video suggest some mixed reactions from fans with some saying that it appears to be one big Alex Turner ego trip while others gush “my whole life in one video”. Whether you interpret the story as an ex girlfriend who is having some trouble getting over Alex or simply a representation of fangirl culture, I guarantee you’ll be humming along to this for the rest of the day.

A little look into the side of my life that isn’t often seen again this week. This answer will probably show me off in an extremely nerdy light but I guess that is what these AskAlex questions tend to do.

What is a weird quirk about you that very few people know?

It probably won’t come as much of a shock to the people who know me but I do like some rather geeky TV shows and films. I’ve said before in AskAlex posts that I love children’s TV and films and I still regularly watch Disney films but this isn’t something I really hide much. However, I don’t often mention my love of shows such as Blue’s Clues and The Hoobs. Kids shows that make you think a little bit and have some air of mystery involved really enthral me in a way that adult equivalents often don’t. Kids presenters make me laugh too, so I think it’s that innocent happy atmosphere that I love.

My love of game shows is another weird quirk that doesn’t often come up in conversation. I especially love retro game shows such as The Crystal Maze and Knightmare. I’m pretty sure I’ve just alienated all non-British readers but these are basically adventure game shows that used to be on British TV in the 80s and 90s. However, thanks to Challenge (a Sky TV channel) I can now watch them and many others and this is something that I’ve loved doing since I was really young. I was too young to know about them when they were on mainstream TV, so they are all new to me!

I also love doing crosswords, wordsearches and any other word puzzle. I love words and challenging myself with them is really fun. It also distracts me from other worries I might have and I find them really relaxing for my mind. When it just won’t calm down inside my head, a word puzzle normally does the trick.

I can’t think of any other strange quirks I have but I’m sure my close friends will be able to tell you!

The-Fault-in-Our-Stars-Poster-438x650TITLE: The Fault In Our Stars
STARS: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe
DIRECTOR: Josh Boone
RELEASED: June 19th 2014

This story first came into my life at the beginning of 2013 when I wrote a rather gushing review of John Green’s infamous tearjerking novel. Since then, thanks to the growing popularity in YA contemporary literature, the book has gone flying to the top of must-read lists and has become a bestseller pretty much everywhere. With such a huge following, it was inevitable that a film was going to be made and I’m delighted that it appears to have come around so soon. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to an advanced screening and as I do consider the book to be one of my favourites of all time, I was hoping that it would translate well to screen.

It follows the blossoming relationship of Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), an assertive, bookish girl who lugs around an oxygen tank and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a witty, poetic boy with a prosthetic leg. Meeting at a support group for teenagers with cancer, they fall in love and embark on a romance that drags you along with it right from the first “okay”. From fulfilling their life-long wishes to simply being normal teenagers, they laugh and joke their way through their tragically short lives until the ending strikes, bringing everything back to harsh reality.

Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Their blind friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) provides a lot of the comic relief. The scene in which Hazel, Gus and Isaac throw eggs at Isaac’s ex-girlfriend’s house is full of laughs as Isaac’s blindness prevents him from being able to aim properly as is the scene in Gus’ bedroom where Isaac proceeds to smash everything up in a rage at being dumped. There are also plenty of funny moments between Hazel and Gus while their love is developing and the fact that they are both such clever, witty people only adds to the tragedy.

The film did stick pretty closely to the book and there were certain scenes where you couldn’t help but get choked up. Gus claims that he wants to attend his own funeral so asks Hazel and Isaac to speak at a rehearsal he has set up. Hazel reads out a heart-breaking eulogy about how thankful she is for her relationship with Gus and how much she loves him. This along with the very end are guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes as you reflect on what an ambitious, brave person Gus is. His strength are what keeps Hazel going and it’s a lovely nod to the belief that young love is never insignificant. In fact, it’s probably the strongest kind of love there is.

All in all, the book was definitely better than the film but that isn’t to say that it didn’t come over well on screen. Indeed there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema but as with so many book-to-film adaptations, nothing can ever beat the original text with your own interpretation of the characters. Dealing with Hazel and Gus’ situation in my own mind was somehow much more heartbreaking because I felt more invested in them as people than I did with the cast of the film. However, The Fault In Our Stars is a beautiful timeless love story that is guaranteed to hit you hard. At first glance at the film trailer or back of the book, it may appear to be a fluffy teen romance topped with cheese but it is in fact, so far from that.

The subject matter takes YA entertainment to a new level of emotion. Yes these kids are dealing with normal teen struggles such as discovery of sex, conflicts with parents and worries about the future but they’re doing so while standing on the brink of oblivion -which is what Gus confesses is his only fear. This alone means you have to hand it to John Green for tackling a topic as serious as cancer and writing it in a way that everyone can relate to whether you’ve come into contact with it yourself or not -something only a very skilled writer can do.

Wow, I can’t believe I’ve reached the 50th AskAlex post! It is almost at the year milestone too, so that’s pretty exciting. Once again, I’m always up to questions from my readers and I’ll always answer them, so please leave them in a comment!

What are your top tips for becoming more likeable?

Seems a fairly obvious answer to this question. Smiling more and showing an interest in other people are clearly positive qualities that come off well when you meet new people. It feels weird answering this question when I have so much social anxiety myself. I know that I am incredibly shy and as a result, I can come off as quite stand-offish with new people. However, I know what I like in people I first meet and so I’ll impart that to you.

I like people who ask questions about me and are receptive to my views on things. People who talk about themselves non-stop or immediately shout down my opinions when it took a lot of courage for me to express them in the first place really get me annoyed. Smiling and maintaining eye contact throughout a conversation is also really important. Any of the little things that make me feel that the person is interested in me and what I have to say ticks all the boxes in my opinion.

Of course, it can be hard to focus your attention on one person especially in a crowded setting but I think it is really important for getting to know someone. I also love people who are open. As a curious person, it really irritates me when people are obviously holding things back or keeping secrets. I can always tell too, so I can go away from interactions like that really irked.

Apart from that, it’s just little personal taste things really. I love people who are kind to animals, creative people, ambitious people and those who are genuinely comfortable in the skin they’re in. There’s nothing more inspiring and refreshing to be around than someone who is happy with the way they are. Of course, arrogance oversteps the mark but those who don’t complain about their looks are a really uplifting influence.