Musical Discovery: ‘No Matter’ by Frances

Like a good movie trailer or the blurb on the back of a book, a group of singles which tease an upcoming album should offer a clear hint at the record’s direction, whilst still maintaining that sense of ambiguity. With just under a month to go until Frances’ debut album, Things I Never Said, is released, the BRITS Critics Choice Award nominee has once again challenged our expectations with her new track, No Matter.

Until now, the Say it Again singer’s collection of releases have seen her soft, humble vocals accompanied with light piano chords. However, before we could assume that there will be piano chords abound in Things I Never Said, this time the piano is swapped for the guitar.

With smooth, bouncy riffs and pounding drums that fit right in to the Cold Water and Say You Won’t Let Go guitar craze sweeping the pop industry, it’s a single similar in style to that of When it Comes to Us – Frances’ collaboration with Ritual.

No Matter has some of key ingredients for a feel-good pop song. The pounding accentuate Frances’ unique soul, adding extra merit to the high notes in the song’s chorus and creating a sense of euphoria which all great singles are capable of doing.

Once again, Frances hints at a beautifully diverse debut album with a new release. Emotive tracks such as Let it Out and Don’t Worry About Me will provide listeners with cathartic melodies, whilst Say it Again, Borrowed Time and No Matter contrast this with jubilant soul. Frances has surprised us once more, meaning Things I Never Said should be an intriguing and exciting album indeed.

 

Review: ‘Burned and Broken’ by Mark Hardie

Works of fiction about police procedure are always interesting. The inner workings of a police force are investigated as closely as the crime the detectives are examining themselves. In Mark Hardie’s debut novel, Burned and Broken, readers get not one, but two cases to dig their teeth into: an officer subject to an internal investigation has been murdered and a girl has been killed too. In that regard, you would think that the book contains a very rich plot, with the occasional burst of action. Yet, the gripping intensity which can be found in some of the best crime novels was something Hardie’s Burned and Broken lacked.

Save for the opening scene, where we see the crime taking place, the remainder of the book was somewhat devoid of action, and seemed to focus more on the characters and their investigations. Whilst this certainly helped character development – Donna’s interactions with the deceased Alicia were certainly interesting – there was no sense of intensity or curiosity (the ‘whodunnit’, as it were) which drives lovers of a mystery to read on. Something which caught my eye was a scene with one character dealing with a motorcycle accident, but all of the action seemed to be in the past. We didn’t see the accident happen, and when a body is found hanging from a building, we didn’t see how he ended up there (and of course, there are ways of this being done without giving away the culprit).

The loss of interest was a feeling which emerged a third of the way through reading, and even when it came to a last-minute rush through the remainder of the novel, nothing jumped off the page. Granted, to review a novel when I haven’t read it in its entirety or in detail is not a wise move to make, yet I had read enough to know that this book was not the one for me.

That being said, Burned and Broken does a great job of developing the main characters through the avenue of police procedure – something a debut novel needs to do well. With more books on the way from Mark Hardie which see a return to the Essex Police Major Investigation Team, hopefully there will be more action and intensity for readers to explore the next time around.

Note: Whilst I was sent a free advance reader’s copy of this book for review by Little Brown, this blog post is not sponsored and contains my honest opinion.

 

Musical Discovery: ‘Paris’ by The Chainsmokers

Last year was a great year for the DJ duo The Chainsmokers. Their awkward 2014 hit #Selfie has been forgotten and now fans know Drew Taggart and Alex Pall for the tracks Closer and Don’t Let Me Down. 2016 was a year for the artists to develop their dance style – with unique fuzzy synths and vocalists lending themselves to every single the DJs released. Now, 2017 starts with Paris, a track which sees them cement the best bits from their success as they decide the next avenue they wish to take with their music.

It’s clear that the success of Closer had some part to play in the sound of Paris, as the track sees the abandonment of a featured artist and a return to the chill, hazy vocals we see on the former single. Yet, whilst the song does see elements unique to The Chainsmokers’ musical style, there’s that 1975 coastal guitar vibe in the melody which makes you wonder if you’re listening to a variant of Settle Down.

Once again, the vocal rhythm and lyrics are bizarre, but thankfully a repetitive chorus prevents us from worrying too much about learning the words to this top 10 single. Paris is a laid-back single which stands out from the duo’s previous dance releases and may not appear at live performances (unless as the ‘wave your phones in the air’, emotive, mid-show song). It may be described as Closer Part Two, with the poppy coastal vibe being the only thing setting the two songs apart, but there’s no doubt that this will be another successful single for the DJ duo to add to their long list of hits. Paris is the perfect, relaxed track for those not so keen on summer anthems just yet.

Bristol: A city of construction and creativity

For the past two weeks, I’ve been in Bristol and on one Saturday, I had the chance to look around and explore a new city I’ve never been to before. I was determined to track down some Banksy artwork, visit the Clifton Suspension Bridge and have a good look round. As part of my commitment to capturing more ‘moments’ in my life, I tried to take as many pictures as possible. Here’s a slideshow of some of my favourites:

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Looking back at the above photos I took, the construction of the city’s culture is an interesting thing. Bristol is a place with creativity and construction in its core. It’s amazing what art can do and the many forms it can take. Whether it be graffiti on a wall by one of the most famous anonymous artists, or a bridge with a historic value assigned to it, they’re both a part of Bristol’s life. In a sense, Banksy is the modern contributor to the city’s identity, whilst Isambard Kingdom Brunel is one from the past. It’s a city which constructs and creates its culture constructing and creating, and that is a beautiful thing.

Theresa May’s Brexit speech: A statement which failed to solve the problem of certainty

The post-Brexit debate has always been about seeing both sides of a very complicated equation. Our exit from the EU must satisfy the leave voters that wanted a return of Parliamentary sovereignty, whilst pleasing those who wanted more controls on immigration. It must be a clear removal from a union, whilst also reassuring remainers that their rights to live, work and travel around Europe won’t be affected – at least not too much. However, one of the biggest problems Theresa May failed to solve in her speech at Lancaster House yesterday was that of certainty.

Photo: DFID – UK Department for International Development on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

There is a balance to be struck ahead of triggering Article 50. Understandably, May must keep some of her cards close to her chest, as it were, when going to the negotiating table – not everything can be disclosed to the public beforehand in case it jeopardises our position. Yet, the vagueness that comes with describing Brexit with cake metaphors, colours or the popular line ‘Brexit means Brexit’ does not provide certainty to those who need it most: the remainers. Uncertainty leads to frustration and anger, which only adds to a debate which is currently dividing our country.

Of course, the first point about the PM’s 12-point plan for leaving the EU was about certainty, but whilst the transitions of EU law into British law after Brexit (until they are repealed by Parliament) was reassuring, that’s not the only thing remainers are worrying about. Sure, all this talk about a ‘Global Britain’ may reassure some business owners if they forget about the fact we’re leaving the single market, but what about dealing with the division in the UK? What about addressing the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and right-wing populism? What are you doing about those, Theresa?

In a sense, it was a statement structured like a non-fiction novel. They mostly tell us things we already know, but present some new information too so we don’t feel patronised. Unfortunately for Mrs May, telling us that we’ll need to control our immigration and that we want to make our own laws doesn’t prevent a feeling of deja vu from lingering in the air. Likewise, mentioning that we’ll be leaving the single market and protecting workers’ rights (the latter should please Labour to an extent) in passing won’t help either.

It was a speech littered with juxtapositions too. LBC’s James O’Brien mentioned on his show yesterday that it suggested “we’re a global country that doesn’t want you to come here”. Whether it’s a lack of detail or contradictory remarks, both don’t provide the clarity we need.

Finally, there came a line which will only add to the anxiety remainers have at the moment. “While I am sure a positive agreement can be reached,” said May, “I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

During the referendum campaign, those who backed a vote to stay mocked and joked about Brexit having a disappointing outcome. The comments all followed the same tone of it being a magical post-Brexit future which never comes to fruition (be it told in the style of a dodgy divorce, bad plans for a night out or so on). It’s a joke which may just become possible.

After all, Theresa May plans to give Parliament a vote on the final deal. Yet, with Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party MPs all opposing the Conservative’s plan for Brexit (on varying levels), it’s unlikely that an agreement on the terms of exit will be struck in the Commons.

A disastrous ‘no deal’ remains a possibility. This, combined with May’s unclear comments on leaving the single market and resolving our country’s division, has only created more uncertainty – something forced optimism always fails to mask.

Musical Discovery: ‘Run for Your Life’ by Mako & Rat City feat. Natalola

As the winter season comes to a close, it feels weird to look ahead to summer. Yet, for DJs keen to release the next big anthem, their focus has always been on that time of the year. If they can create a track which dominates the charts from June to August, then they tend to self-proclaim that they created the ‘summer smash’ of the year. Marshmello is one artist doing this, but with their track Run for Your Life, Mako is another artist keen to keep the party spirit alive.

Nostalgia and euphoria are two feelings Alex Seaver and Logan Light are always keen to create in their music. With somewhat mellow verses leading to a loud synth melody, it’s a build-up of emotions we hear on Run for Your Life too.

This time, it’s the turn of Natalola to provide the sassy, grumbling and almost Rihanna-sounding vocals. It’s a style of singing which fits perfectly into the bouncy, upbeat and tropical feel of the song.

Then, in terms of the chorus itself, we hear a group of rhythmic and fluttering melodies which create an emotive tune to relax to – be it the hazy synth chords at the forefront of the chorus, or the fluctuating high notes played every once in a while.

Granted, it’s a laid-back type of electronica which is more suited to chilled environments, as opposed to the clubs or dance floors, but it succeeds at being a great song to play in the background as you relax at home. It’s the mix of laid-back vocals and euphoric synths which Mako gets right every time.

 

Sherlock: ‘The Final Problem’ review – A sense of closure which is hard to comprehend

Warning: This post contains spoilers for series four, episode three of Sherlock. Please do not read this post until you have watched ‘The Final Problem’.

As mentioned in my review of The Lying Detective, the mid-series episode always tends to kill time with a plot that builds up the excitement for the series finale. The first episode in the trilogy tends to solve the previous cliffhanger before introducing us to a new villain, whilst the finale tends to see Sherlock defeat another criminal. Yet, with The Final Problem, the episode not only continues this arc, but provides a sense of closure and conclusion which could mean that it’s the last series of the quality British drama.

Photo: BBC.
Photo: BBC.

At the heart of tonight’s episode was the emotions the detective had concealed and suppressed whilst he was carrying out his work. Euros was the perfect final villain for Sherlock to confront, because she played with Holmes’ ’emotional context’ – his weakness, as it were.

The case with Culverton Smith showed us that the smugness of a villain can really aggravate the sleuth, to the point where he lashes out.in anger. In this episode, the frustration came with the scene with Molly, as Sherlock destroys the coffin. It’s almost as though feelings are something which he cannot handle, and so, as he is locked in a room with Mycroft and John, he is forced to let emotions get in the way of a case. It’s the one thing he cannot comprehend – take the case with Irene Adler – and as a result, he gets angry at his own confusion.

Yet, there’s a sense that Sherlock has finally come to terms with this in the end. The death of Mary was the wake-up call to him and he is now focussed on relationships and friendships with other characters. John and Sherlock’s companionship is stronger than ever despite the blow in episode one, Holmes finally seems to be getting Greg’s name right and the sub-plot with Molly had a surprising resolution too.

Aside from the development of the show’s protagonist, Mycroft finally had his chance to shine. The mind palace scene describing Euros was sheer cinematic brilliance – delivered with confidence and not cockiness, unlike the first episode. Then, with the dilemma of whether Sherlock would kill his friend or his brother, came the last drop of character progression. Throughout the episode, it was clear that everyone disliked Mycroft (this allowed for some hilarious comedy, by the way) and all this attention on the character made this scene rather poignant. The Walking Dead taught us that when someone’s life was getting a little too cosy, things would go wrong. In the Sherlock universe, the death of Mary told us that this would be the series where normality was no longer a thing, and that the ‘one big happy family’ image which ran throughout the last three series would not be happening. With all this in mind, it did seem, for one second, that it would be the end of Mycroft.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but it was another moment which aimed to give us an insight into Sherlock’s moral compass and compassion (the fact he then turned the gun on himself showed this). Other intense moments included the ‘justice’ scene, where Holmes had to condemn one of the three brothers suspected of a crime, and the scene with the governor. In a way, it did feel a little old – the usual ‘value of a life’ ethical dilemma is something which has been done countless times before. That being said, it was clear what Moffat and Gatiss were hoping to achieve with these scenes, and it was somewhat successful.

Some other things to mention were Mrs Hudson continuing to be rather rebellious in nature (as if her flash car wasn’t enough, hoovering to Iron Maiden took things to another level) and the return of fan favourite, Jim Moriarty – albeit in flashback form.

Now, the main plot point: Euros. Much like how the A.G.R.A plot point from episode one was hard to understand, the backstory surrounding the Holmes sister is another one of those stories which will probably take a second or third viewing to fully comprehend. The mystery surrounding Redbeard was finally solved – a sense of closure which was satisfying to see. Although, aside from that, there’s a sense of confusion which comes from a lengthy backstory being crammed into part of a one hour and a half long episode. Whilst Sian Brooke did an incredible job of playing such an evil character (the point about Euros being able to ‘enslave’ people and how she convinced one man to kill himself and his family was brilliantly dark and sinister), the conclusion that it was just another case of sibling rivalry and another nonsensical metaphor – something about planes, apparently – was a little disappointing, no matter how much closure the character brought to the plot.

It’s this sense of disappointment which continues as the final montage plays. We see Sherlock and John continuing to solve crimes together as Amanda Abbington’s Mary narrates the last bit of her farewell message. It’s not clear whether this feeling of ‘numbness’ was because of the closure the series provided was unexpected, because there was no indication of another series or because it looked as though another great BBC drama had called it a day. Either way, no clear came out on top as the credits rolled.

There has been talk about a series five being plotted and some more episodes in the future. However, with no end-of-series cliffhanger this time round and hints from the show’s writers and Cumberbatch that it may be the final series, it looks likely that this is the last time we’ll see the Baker Street boys in action – and what a goodbye it was.