Song of the Week – Don’t Wanna Fight

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Don’t Wanna Fight – Alabama Shakes

Take a funky bass melody, solid drumbeats, jarring electric guitar riffs and a powerhouse voice like nothing you’ve heard for 20 years and you get Alabama Shakes new track Don’t Wanna Fight.

This American rock band formed in, you guessed it- Alabama – are a band you should know if you don’t already. They burst onto the scene in 2012 with their superb first single Hold On. They carved up at the 2013 Grammy’s with their debut album Boys & Girls, taking home Best New Artist, Best Rock Performance and Best Recording Package.

Ever since then I’ve been patiently waiting for the next installment and now I’ve been given a small taste in Don’t Wanna Fight and I just want more!

This song has elements of The Black Keys work. Don’t Wanna Fight shares that similar sound like it’s been recorded during a jam session in the basement. It’s slightly more commercial than their previous offerings but that is working in their favour here. The song is catchy and will appeal to a wide audience while still maintaining the fresh and unique sound heard on their first album.

It’s been said time and time again that lead singer Brittany Howard sounds like Janis Joplin but I disagree. She’s better. Her soulful yet somewhat grungy voice is glorious. It’s too hard to explain so you all just need to have a listen.

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Song of the Week – Where The Sky Hangs

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Passion Pit – Where The Sky Hangs

Great news everybody! Passion Pit are back with as much funk as ever. The Massachusetts indie-pop group have released a couple of songs from their upcoming album Kindred. The tracks both have that classic Passion Pit sound we’ve come to love over the years. My favourite – Where The Sky Hangs – picks up right where their brilliant 2012 album Gossamer left off.

The track is slowed down somewhat compared to their trademark radio hits but still features those impressive falsetto vocals from frontman Michael Angelakos. Much of Passion Pits appeal comes down to this magic voice, it puts the finishing touch on the groups bouncy melodies, and that’s exactly the case in Where The Sky Hangs.

The song is chilled out at first but it’s not long before the chorus sees things taken up a notch with a catchy rhythm and repetitive melody.

As we’ve come to expect from these guys. the sexy use of synths and uplifting drum beats make Where The Sky Hangs infectious. A clever bridge comes in at the perfect moment breaking the track up so it’s not too same-same.

If you’re a Passion Pit fan you’ll love this track from the first listen. I can’t wait to hear the remaining eight tracks on Kindred when it’s released in April.

http://youtu.be/SDuwmU1a1kY

Song of the Week – Glory

Common and John Legend stand together during their 2015 Grammy's performance
Common and John Legend stand together during their 2015 Grammy’s performance

Glory – John Legend and Common

Since watching the Grammy’s on Monday I can’t stop thinking about and listening to one song – Glory by John Legend and Common.

The rap and soul combination track was written for the film Selma and documents the struggle for black civil rights in the past and still today. It’s tells a powerful tale of tragedy, bravery and revolution. It is one of the most chilling songs I have heard in a long time, not just because of it’s topic but because it’s written, produced and performed beautifully. I’m not at all surprised the song has picked up a nomination for the Academy Awards for Best Original Song and already won the same award in the Golden Globes.

It’s magic was reinforced for me when I watched Legend and Common perform it as the closing act of the Grammy Awards. What an incredible show they put on. Legend’s rousing piano playing forms the basis of the song, that alone is hair-raising. Add to the mix his faultless vocals and he’s electrifying. Legend has to be one of the best soul artists we have ever seen and the words and melody he has written for Glory emphasises that more than ever.

I’ve always found Legend’s live performances remarkable, but this one was that much more special because of Common’s contribution. Firstly I have to say this man has struck gold with his lyrics. Each time I listen to them I discover another reference to an incredible story in the fight for black civil rights in America. He talks not only of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march the film is based on but about other struggles. My favourite line makes reference to an historical leader in the civil rights fight before flipping to an example of the stereotypes people are still working to change today in US towns like Ferguson:

“Truant livin’ livin’ in us, resistance is us
That’s why Rosa sat on the bus
That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up
When it go down we woman and man up”

It gets better yet, forming a backdrop behind the two artists is a choir of gospel singers. We all know how effective a gospel choir can be but I find today they’re often overused in songs without enough meaning behind them. This obviously is not the case in Glory. The chorus completes what is already a brilliant track by adding a sense of power as it represents the faith seen in the stories told in the song.

At the end of their Grammy’s performance the pair walked from their microphones to stand together side by side. They stood still staunchly in a haunting display of pride. It was such powerful symbolism. Every time I listen to the song now I picture this moment and Glory once again takes on new meaning. What a phenomenal song.

Concert Review: Broods

Broods play the Wellington Opera House
Broods play the Wellington Opera House

Right now I’m trying to imagine myself as a pop-loving 16-year-old, on the verge of discovering the alternative music scene but not quite ready to give up my top 20 hits.

I’m doing this because if I was that person, right now, I would be unable talk about anything but the best-concert-EVER!

Please excuse me for so terribly trying to set the scene, but those are the shoes I need to fill as I write a review for the concert played at the Wellington Opera House last night by Broods. I say that because almost every person who went to this concert fitted the above description and they all seemed to love every second of it. At least that’s what their screams, awkward dance moves and irremovable grins told me.

I however, need a bit more convincing. Don’t get me wrong, I was still impressed by this New Zealand brother-sister duo, there’s a lot to love, but after last night’s show I left feeling a little bit underwhelmed.

I’ve always thought the Nelson sibling’s singles Bridges and Mother and Father were catchy wee tunes but they’d never made the rotation on my music playlist. However, I decided to check them out live after hearing a radio interview last week in which Caleb and Georgia Nott played an acoustic version of Sober. It was simply stunning. In fact I was so impressed I bought tickets to their gig right then and there. But this is where I run into problems, last nights show was very different to this performance.

I went along hoping for a few hair-raising moments and I’ll give the Nott’s credit, these I got. In a gorgeous stripped back acoustic take on their latest single Four Walls, Georgia’s voice was impeccable, Caleb’s keyboard playing was delightfully delicate and the pair soared. We saw shades of this again in slow tune Medicine and a new song, which they told us, was unfinished but in my opinion, doesn’t need any more work.

The trouble for me was that more often than not I felt the beauty of the songs, which are all well written and well performed, was tainted by over production. There was a tad too much synthesizer often drowning out Georgia’s incredible falsetto and Caleb’s gentle but chilling harmonies.

I have no doubt this concert would make for a fun dance party, something their music is made for, but the Opera House was the wrong venue for that. Spread out seating didn’t work in their favour, Broods needed their audience up close and personal, they needed a sweaty pit of swaying fans not people trapped by their seats wishing they could get closer. Even still they did a great job of making party tracks like L.A.F and Everytime go down as crowd favourites.

One thing’s for sure, I got a real sense of kiwi pride watching these guys play. Seeing musicians from our little corner of the world doing so well in the international music scene is fantastic. Regardless of my few reservations, Broods are great performers for artists so young in their career. Their stage presence and musical abilities are enviable.

I want to reinforce, despite my above criticisms, there were many highlights for me in this gig. If pop music is your thing, you’d be in for a treat at a Broods concert. As for me, and anyone else who leans more toward the mellow electronica tunes, lets hope the duo do an acoustic tour because that, would be something to see I’m sure.

Concert Review: Paul Simon and Sting

Sting and Paul Simon
Sting and Paul Simon

A few days ago I told someone Paul Simon and Sting were a rather random pairing of musicians to perform together on an extensive world tour. I expected two completely separate shows and a real contrast between acts. But after seeing them play the Bowl of Brooklands in New Plymouth on Saturday, I take that back. This wasn’t an odd match up, it was a perfect union.

What a showcase of hit, after hit, after hit! For an almost three hour set there wasn’t a single minute that wasn’t entertaining. The artists took turns on stage playing their own extensive repertoires as well as regularly coming together to perform as one super act, complete with their two bands brought together as a magnificent 15-piece cacophony. These moments in particular were what stood out during the gig. The first taste we got of this was right at the start of the show during a soft and sway-inducing Fields of Gold. It was at the end of that song that I knew we were truly in for a night of hits and genius collaborations.

Any Simon and Garfunkel fans wouldn’t have been disappointed with a lack of harmonies in Art Garfunkel’s absence. In the songs made famous by the duo for their stunning vocal abilities, Sting stepped up to the plate wonderfully. When the pair played The Boxer I found myself in musical heaven, they sounded magical together and the audience knew it and responded with an almighty singalong.

On their own the two artists gave us a perfect taste of all their hits, no obscure songs from failed albums featured on this set list, each song was worthy. Sting treated us to the best of the Police, performing rousing versions of Roxanne and Walking On The Moon, which were impossible to sit still during. But the best moment was when he tackled Simon’s much loved America. He brought the crowd of 11,000 to a standstill as he enunciated the beautiful lyrics perfectly and gave Simon a run for his money. As the song came to a somber close he cleverly brought in the base line of Message in a Bottle and what was a tear inducing moment was quickly spun around into a massive dance party as people all across the hillside leapt about “sending out an SOS”.

Paul Simon’s solo showcase also had a dance-inducing effect. Hits like Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard, The Mother and Child Reunion and You Can Call Me Al were enthralling. The band brought the eclectic backing beats alive and Simon bounced along with an infectious enthusiasm. You wouldn’t know he was 73, he still acts like a young thing and there was no sign he was running out of energy. As for his voice, it’s as breathtaking as ever. Add to the mix Sting’s impressive crooning and it’s a recipe that couldn’t go wrong.

Finally, what a finish. Every Breath You Take, Cecilia and Bridge Over Troubled Water – could you ask for a better line up of songs? The mesmerising performance by Sting and Simon came to a wondrous culmination of both of their sounds as they sang these most famous songs of theirs as if they’ve been playing together forever.

The connection between them was electric, it was obvious they have a real love for each others music and are having the time of their lives playing together. It’s not often you’d get a double bill with two superstars as big as this that are willing to play together, instead of just alongside each other. Both Simon and Sting were equal in talent and a dull moment was never even close to happening during the long set.

I want more – perhaps it’s time for an album collaboration? I’d be first in line to buy it.