Review – A Head Full of Dreams

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Well, everyone, this it it. After fifteen years since ‘Yellow’ graced our presence, and gave us one of the most equally loved and hated four piece rock groups since Nickelback, Coldplay are back with what we’re to believe is their final album: A Head Full of Dreams (AHFOD), hard on the heels of last year’s melancholic Ghost Stories.

If this really is the band’s swansong, is this the return of the “old Coldplay” die-hard fans have been craving for since X&Y? Or is it their final nail in the coffin to the notion that “all their music sounds the same”?

Those questions remain to be answered as opener ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ begins. Whilst it’s not the strongest title track they’ve written, it does set a good tone for what’s to come, with positive messages like “you can see the change you want to be when you get a head full of dreams” giving the song a strong, feel-good character. Couple that with Chris Martin’s airy yet powerful vocals, supported by a boisterous sound, and you have a good indication that the band are set on making a happy record, which Martin himself has confessed they have yet to create.

The title track’s positivity could be taken as a cause for concern that this record is simply a Mylo Xyloto Mark II; however, as it continues, Coldplay quickly defy expectations.

‘Birds’ gives the band a much-needed dose of indie rock to their repertoire, with Will Champion driving the song through a steady percussion beat, and a simple but memorable riff shared between guitarist Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman on bass. Meanwhile, ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ situates the band in an unfamiliar R&B territory with a ‘Turn Down For What’-style club song, featuring none other than Queen Bey herself. The first of many collaborations on AHFOD, it’s undeniably a conscious effort to cement Coldplay’s place on the dance floor as last year’s ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ attempted to. Beyoncé and Martin form a fitting duo, with their “drink for me, drink for me”s standing their own against a bellowing chorus of trumpets. This sound doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the album’s production team Stargate are behind the likes of Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ and other R&B hits. And then there’s AHFOD’s lead single, ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ – undoubtedly one of the catchiest songs on the album, with its pop-like structure and rip-roaring electric guitar reminiscent of the strong cultural influence on the album.

What you have in these tracks is an attempt by Coldplay to ‘push the boundaries’ musically, arguably what they were known for in the Viva era, making some memorable pieces in the process, and possibly the “happy” songs Martin was looking for. However, as is the band’s standard, they’ve also acted as fitting disguises for a number of love stories. At other times in the album, Coldplay tears down this veil and exposes them in plain sight.

Everglow, written by none other than Martin’s ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, and the cited inspiration behind last year’s Ghost Stories, is a tale of a once-was relationship that’s left its mark in the form of a soaring ballad. Whilst the concept of an ‘everglow’ is difficult to grasp at first, stripping the song down musically allows it to become on of the more lyrically poignant songs on the album. The same can be said for Amazing Day, with its simple and dreamlike melody giving way for the story of two lovers sat on a roof, naming the stars and confessing their love for one another. Whilst it may be a bit of a standard love scenario, it doesn’t feel contrived, and is a good display of a band striving to be cool and different in some places, and not being afraid of who they are at their core in others.

Although that’s a blessing to listeners, it can also come across as a bit of a struggle in songs where they’re trying to expand themselves both musically and lyrically. Hidden track X Marks the Spot, whilst striving to be a contender to Daft Punk’s recent Random Access Memories, falls a bit flat with its sluggish beat, and attempts to divert from the usual lyrics of heartbeats and miracles with equally commonplace lines like “I just put my hands up to the sky, feeling like I’ve got a rocketship that I want to ride”. The album works when Coldplay make efforts to go beyond the musical style they’re used to, but not when they channel their efforts into doing this lyrically too.

That, ultimately, is what cripples the album in the end. Final track Up and Up, whilst it creates a good contender to Oasis’ Champagne Supernova, thanks in part to Noel Gallagher himself creating an appropriately grand guitar riff, the lyrics don’t do the large chorus sound and inspirational “we’re going to get it, get it together” message of the song justice. Coldplay have never been the strongest lyrical bands around, but that’s allowed for more attention to be focused on the good sound they create. Silly lyrics like “trying to empty out the ocean with a spoon” don’t, undermining the song in this case.
Overall, A Head Full of Dreams is littered with gems that demonstrate Coldplay’s willingness to experiment musically, and their ability to create simple but emotive pieces when they remain true to who they are lyrically, even if that isn’t the strongest. However, in places where they attempt to diverge from this, it weakens what they try to achieve musically, as was the case with Mylo Xyloto. If this is to be the band’s last album, it certainly isn’t their strongest, but it’s a fine example of how Coldplay perform best, and the fruitful results that can happen when they do.

Band of Skulls – ‘Himalayan’ Review

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Original article on York Vision

With Leeds and Reading, two studio albums and more commercial appearances than Kevin Bacon (‘Need for Speed’, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Guitar Hero’, to name a few), the three-piece alternative rock band are starting to extend their reach that bit further than Southampton. Now, having teased via Facebook and streamed through NME, Band of Skulls’ third studio album, ‘Himalayan’, has finally arrived – does it bode well for their rock ‘n’ roll image?

The album doesn’t ease you in – the immediately aggressive guitar and drum beat of “Asleep at the Wheel” bellow to the fact that you, listener, have entered the world of rock of roll. It feels familiar to some of their previous sounds, very The Black Keys and, as some fans are describing it, ‘fucking dirty’.

That feel begins to settle in for the next few tracks. You’ll begin to feel your feet stomping and your head banging as “Hoochie Coochie”, what with its tight, dance floor grip. From there, lead singers Emma Richardson and Russell Marsden know that they’ve got you and ask you to sit back, relax and take a classic Band of Skull’s road trip.

Together, they co-operate to deliver to their fans, to rocking newbies and just about everyone. You’ve got the love ballad of “You Are All That I Am Not”, the psychedelic feel of “Cold Sweat” and that exploding sound of about every song. By the end of “Get Yourself Together”, you feel satisfied that the band have tried to stimulate you in almost every way they can.

Admittedly, I was sat there making some comparisons to the likes of Foo Fighters and Jimi Hendrix throughout my listen. With that familiar, kick-ass rock sound underlying its modest 12-track listing, you can’t help but draw a few here and there. Still, it doesn’t completely take you away from the fact that Band of Skulls has given you a pretty good journey for the past hour.

Whilst it may not deliver something completely new to its genre, ‘Himalayan’ does provide for a great time to both fans of its genre and for its loyal fan base. With their upcoming European tour, expect to hear their name just a little bit more, folks.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Special Edition – Review

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Original article at York Vision

Composer for the scores of timeless classics such as Mrs Doubtfire and The Silence of the Lambs, Howard Shore is writing in the league of musical genius. Sadly, as admirable as his efforts were, they were overshadowed by the likes of Robin Williams burning his bosoms over a kitchen stove. That certainly wasn’t the case with his soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings, giving him renowned success and nasty hobbitses everywhere music for Middle Earth. If following that up with a score for An Unexpected Journey was a brave return for Shore, continuing with The Desolation of Smaug was an even braver one.

Opening with The Quest for Erebor, I was half expecting the popular Misty Mountains Cold theme to intertwine itself with the film’s score as was previously done. However, it instead has that orchestral empowerment we were introduced to ten years ago. From the first few tracks, it begins to feel darker and gloomier than An Unexpected Journey, a fitting move by Shore as Peter Jackson’s prequel trilogy begins to change its tone. Flies and Spiders hits this perfectly, with its sharp chords and mighty crescendos, giving it that feel reminiscent of Mordor from The Lord of the Rings score.

  The Elves save not only Bilbo and company from some horrific spiders, but the soundtrack from becoming two hours of doom and gloom. Rivendell, also from the original trilogy, has always been a personal favourite piece of mine, as beautiful to me as a pint is to Pippin. Feast of Starlight provides that same gloomy but mystical coating, before the soundtrack goes on its travels down The Forest River, as fast paced as the scene in the movie itself.

From here, Shore takes inspiration from his previous Middle Earth composition. Sadly, it isn’t a cameo of The Green Dragon Song like they did with Frodo last year, but instead giving a certain ambiance to his music in order to portray different themes and concepts conveyed in the film.

For example, we have the bold and brass nature of the Dwarves, conveyed by instruments of a similar description in Girion, Lord of Dale; summing up the very personality of a city with grandiose melodies, as is done for Lake-town in Thrice Welcome; and letting you know when Hobbits are getting some worthy screen time with the famous Shire clarinet in The Courage of Hobbits. It all feels familiar, which is a wonderful thing – this is the Middle Earth you left ten years ago, which sounds as authentic as you remember.

The composer isn’t afraid to tread new ground, however. Shore uses a descending arpeggiated melody in pieces such Bard, a Man of Lake-town and Protector of the Common Folk which give the score some cohesion, whilst pushing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to its limits in creating an altogether sinister conclusion of tracks to scale up Smaug’s fiery (sorry) reputation, as is brilliantly presented in My Armour is Iron, with its rhythmic strings and blaring brass, building him up in a Sauron kind of way.

What’s more, Shore has created something truly beautiful in his tracks Kingsfoil and Beyond the Forest. They’re almost narcotic when they introduce a basic, elven melody that breaks away from the overall threatening tone of the film; although, they are true to this concept, and can be just as epic in their own rights as the songs progress.

Let me discuss the elephant in this soundtrack, Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire. Where does a chart-topping, acoustic-loving 22 year old have his place in a Middle Earth soundtrack? You either loathe it, for said reason, or you love it for the reason that I do. Of course he’s not singing in Elven, but that doesn’t take away from the authentic feel that he grants to The Desolation of Smaug.

The song bleeds with Thorin’s anguish for Smaug destroying his people, calling to his dwarven brothers to stand against him. ‘And if we should die tonight, then we should all die together…. watch the flames burn auburn on the mountain side. Desolation comes upon the sky.’ Ed Sheeran channels this in his tender vocals, strumming a simple rhythm on his guitar, accompanied by nothing more than a drum and cello. Its simplicity mirrors the fact that Thorin and his people have nothing. Also, he gets a folklike violin solo – any Hobbit’s dream!

To conclude, Shore does a magnificent job in capturing the essence of The Desolation of Smaug in his soundtrack. He stays comfortable in some parts, using old tricks in a new setting; in others, he experiments with what he has learnt across his time as a composer, daring to be different in some aspects, paying off entirely. Whilst it won’t go down in motion picture history as The Lord of the Rings soundtrack did, it will certainly go down in mine and any budding Tolkien fan’s history.

The Moment

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If you’ve come looking for a book by Douglas Kennedy, or the start of a Taylor Swift song, I’m afraid I’ve underwhelmed you. WAIT DON’T LEAVE. As a consolation prize for those who were, here’s a beautiful piece of music written by my sister (“the girl triplet”, a popular label arising from my uni friends) on her Soundcloud profile, MissHMusic.

http://m.soundcloud.com/missmusicojh/the-moment.

Also, if you enjoyed the piece, be sure to share her music and follow for some banging tunes, mate! Whatever you do, don’t let me say ‘banging tunes, mate!’ again?

My Life Is Alive, With The Sound of Muuusiiic

It may be Monday. It may have rained so much today that my clothes have stuck to me for the majority of the day. There may be a triple bill of Simpsons on Sky One tonight. BUT even those reasons aren’t enough to stop me posting tonight. Now I would say ‘commitment’ is my middle name – but I kind of spoilt that illusion in my last article. You catch the drift, time for my next post!

Now my WordPress ‘Gravatar’ gives it away, but I am a dedicated musician. Quite like the picture, there never seems to be a moment where I don’t have a violin in my hand. Myself and my triplet siblings have played it from the age of 7 and music has been a key part of my life ever since. I know that some people will find themselves in a situation where they literally have nothing else to do – music gives you an excuse to fill that empty space in time. Whether it’s to have fun or to expand your skill-set, playing an instrument is a great way to create a new hobby.

Yeah, I know that a lot of guys nowadays prefer to play Call of Duty as opposed to a crackin’ tune on a violin, but still – that doesn’t mean music is dead. Hopefully people can agree with me when I say that I always seem to have a pair of earphones plugged into my ears. While obviously it’s a great way to get out of an awkward situation (nothing to say? Pretend to text and stick those headphones in – works like a charm!), listening to music helps to reinforce every emotion. Feeling happy? Feel even happier with a bit of music. Feeling sad? Chin up, buddy, put those headphones in. For those few minutes whilst a song plays, we immerse ourselves into our own little musical bubble, where the world can be forgotten just for a little while. It has helped me get through a lot in my life, and I’m sure it will continue to do so.

We all have different musical tastes thanks to our different personalities. Personally I like to see myself as a bold individual, someone who likes to make themselves heard, who’s not afraid to experiment from time to time. Hopefully you’ve guessed my musical choice already. If not – here is a bit of a giveaway: 

I’m not a great fan of modern chart music (I’m looking at you ‘The Wanted’), it’s just too “samey” for me. Rock’s always finding a way to reinvent itself, to be even more barmy than the last record whilst keeping to a deep, meaningful lyric set. Well, most of the time anyway. That’s always been a concept I’ve thought about – look at yourself as a person. How you act, how you react. Does it reflect your personality? Just a little thought to leave you with. Oh, and this. Of course I wouldn’t do a music post without a reference to this. It’s just brill.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0