#NewMusicFriday: ‘Villains’ by Emma Blackery

Bold, impactful but also incredibly personal, Emma Blackery’s Villains is a confident debut from the Essex-born singer-songwriter.

A vlogger on the video-sharing site YouTube, the musician has been involved in a fair bit of online drama over the years. Much like her previous EP, Emma’s album Villains chronicles another period of reflection for the singer, as she went through what she describes as “personal relationship issues”.  Her 11-track debut is just as honest as Magnetised – except this time, with a side order of sass and one heck of a punch.

In a tweet ahead of the launch, Emma described the record as a “concept album” – the linear narrative clear from the start, with Villains Pt. 1 and Villains Pt. 2 discussing Blackery’s list of “good and bad” and serving as two very different bookends to the artist’s many emotions across the tracks – moving from the colourful, confident hits DirtAgenda and Fake Friends into the more stripped back sounds of Icarus, Petty and What I Felt With You.

The bold tone of the album has already attracted comparisons to Taylor Swift’s reputation era (which Emma shorty responded to on Twitter after the lead single Dirt was released), but there’s also some slight Madonna and Charlie XCX vibes – on Fake Friends and Take Me Out respectively. The latter in particular warranted a few more listens before becoming a catchy hit.

Alongside Fake Friends and What I Felt With You, Blackery comes into their own on the track Third Eye. Her interest in electronic music on full show, the track offers up pulsing synth and sharp vocals. As the artist prepares to go on tour in October, this is one which is likely to get the crowd going in a concert environment.

As a whole, Villains breathes confidence. Even on the chilled electronic track What I Felt With You – arguably one of the stand-out songs on the album – Emma is in her element as she takes a more delicate approach to the song, something we’ve already seen her accomplish on the hit Magnetised. There’s also the small matter of the high notes at the end of Villains Pt. 2, a final demonstration of her vocal talents and an indication to fans and to anyone else listening that she’s here and ready to rock.

Rating: 4/5

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Review: ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell

Intelligent, haunting and incredibly post-modern, Orwell’s bestselling novel is both refreshing and eye-opening in a time of socio-political turbulence.

There’s a reason why Nineteen Eighty-Four had a surge in popularity recently. The classic by George Orwell, written in 1949, feels worryingly timely in the aftermath of Trump, Brexit and more importantly, post-truth politics.

A growing scepticism towards journalism, (fake) news and facts has meant that aspects of reality itself have come into question, and our perspectives have narrowed. It’s easy to interpret the Party members’ blind faith in the one, Big Brother narrative as being somewhat similar to the restrictive environment of online echo chambers.

By far the most interesting part of the book though is the excerpt of “the book” by Goldstein. Although an easy opportunity for Orwell to make his commentary more apparent, it’s here where the writer really shows off his intelligent way of writing through a lengthy essay. Much like Winston, at this point in the novel we become a bit more enlightened about the dystopian world of Oceania and The Party that runs it.

Yet, with this being quite a way into the book, one does wonder if having this essay earlier on in the book in some way would help the reader understand the fictional environment better. Although, this would probably be difficult plot-wise, and like most apocalyptic-style stories, the big reveal as to how the world ended up the way it did is usually left until the end – if it is indeed mentioned at all.

Like any classic, the book does have a fair amount of ‘re-readability’ to it. With a lot of underlying points throughout, it would probably warrant a few more reads before a reader has a better understanding of the philosophical and psychological arguments Orwell is making. Not only that, but with a rather unconventional ending, a few re-reads would help with a lot of things.

Rating: 4/5

#NewMusicFriday: ‘Love Me / Love Me Not’ by HONNE

With a mixed bag of punchy grooves and chilled, hazy electronica, HONNE’s sophomore album Love Me / Love Me Not is as bilateral as the name suggests.

The London electronic duo HONNE (consisting of friends James Hatcher and Andy Clutterbuck) have clearly taken their creativity to another level with their latest release, deciding to release 10 out of the 12 tracks on five double single releases. It’s a stylistic decision almost reflecting the two sides of a vinyl, and Love Me / Love Me Not is certainly an album for the turntable.

Photo: HONNE.

A year and a half since their debut album, Clutterbuck has truly refined his vocals – still offering the unique, raspy soul of before, but with more flair and variety across the tracklist. His voice also works perfectly with the record’s featured artists, with newcomer Rebeka Prance (known simply as BEKA) and hit jazz musician Tom Misch both fitting in nicely with HONNE’s established, stripped back vibe.

It’s here where the pair really shine through, their song with Misch – Me & You – being the stand-out track of the album with the artist’s traditional guitar melodies working beautifully alongside HONNE’s normal soul sound. Other notable collaborations include I Got You (feat. Nana Rogues) and Location Unknown (feat. Georgia) – the weakest being the slightly dragging track Feels So Good (feat. Anna of the North).

Outside of these five tracks, HONNE slip back into their normal tone, with only a few tracks packing a punch worthy of your full attention. Sure, this album is mostly one for casual listeners, but for those hoping that there would be more tracks like Someone That Loves You and Coastal Love from the duo themselves, they may be disappointed.

With that being said, Day 1 offers a bouncy dance hit, Shrink shows off the pairs vocal and instrumental talents and Sometimes will be enjoyable for fans who like Mako’s style of electronica. Tracks to miss include 306, which despite the sentimental meaning of the track itself, falls flat with its unusual vocal distortion in the chorus.

For those looking for a break from the loud and heavy mainstream electronic sound, HONNE offer up a chilled record for lazy evenings in the form of Love Me / Love Me Not, a creative second album with something for everyone.

Rating: 4/5

#NewMusicFriday: ‘Promises’ by Calvin Harris feat. Sam Smith

Sam Smith adds a wonderful jazzy dimension to Harris’ new funk sound on their track, Promises.

Sam Smith’s fuzzy, lower vocal range is an interesting rarity in his music when a softer, clearer and high-pitched sound is often at the forefront. Yet on his latest venture in the world of EDM – this time joining forces with veteran hit maker Calvin Harris – this particular style is centre-stage, and the results are fresh, smooth and razor-sharp.

There’s an American jazz production to the track with bouncy drum beats, short piano stabs and pulsing bass – a combination which soon allows for a more traditional, albeit chilled, EDM track to come through. It’s a sound far removed from the loud, punchy sounds of Summer and How Deep Is Your Love, but continues the Funk Wav Bounces era in a refreshing way.

As for Smith, the Money On My Mind singer further proves his competency when it comes to performing on dance tracks, except this time there’s more variety in his vocal range. What’s particularly impressive is the bridge to the track, where high notes, aided with a little bit of bass, come with a degree of warmth which really solidifies the track as a cosy, relaxed listen.

Hot off the heels of his hit One Kiss with Dua Lipa, Harris develops his new, stripped-back sound, moving from funk to jazz and showcasing a new vocal side to Sam Smith in the process.

#NewMusicFriday: ‘Solarize’ by Capital Cities

Establishing an intergalactic theme with an abundance of synth, Capital Cities’ second album Solarize lives up to its name, but fails to offer the same catchiness as its predecessor.

Having started off writing jingles together, the duo behind Capital Cities, Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, are quite experienced in what makes a catchy hit.

Their debut album, In A Tidal Wave of Mystery, came packed with them. Bubbly, upbeat electronica mixed with the occasional flair of saxophone defined the duo as an inventive pop funk group – their collaboration with André 3000, Farrah Fawcett Hair, fully demonstrating their creative abilities.

Fast forward to their sophomore album, and it’s clear that the pair wanted to strike a slightly different tone to their next release. Out goes the vibrant, punchy grooves, in comes a slightly stripped-back and chilled vibe – save for the track Vowels, which is a refreshing look back at a style almost non-existent on the album.

The only other place on the record where one can expect to find something familiar is on the track, Gatekeeper Julie. Like Farrah Fawcett Hair, the track is full of spoken lines, but this feels more like a distant relative of the hit, with the constant voice interruptions sounding like a friend repeatedly talking over that song you like which is playing on the radio.

This is only one of a handful of songs which are new on the album, with most either being singles or from an EP released previously. As for what remains, nothing really stands out.

While the change in style on Solarize is to be respected, the quieter sound comes at the expense of catchier, vibrant melodies.

Rating: 3/5

‘The Jungle’ review – a raw and important tale of community at the heart of the refugee crisis

Incredibly immersive and delivered by a phenomenal cast, The Jungle gets to the heart of the refugee crisis in an emotional tale of hope, community and companionship.

In the UK, the Calais Jungle and the refugee crisis have only been observed from afar. Media coverage shines a light on the issue, but there is still a degree of separation – a barrier instantly broken down in Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s latest production.

With singing and dancing too, this West End production is a brilliant piece of theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner.

If you’re lucky enough to get stall seats, then you find yourself in Miriam Buether’s ‘Afghan Cafe’, the stalls section which is very much part of the stage. Actors hand out leaflets about “another proposed eviction of the Jungle”, naans and drinks to audience members as they enter. Cultural music plays. The fourth wall is instantly broken, and you are immediately immersed in the environment.

It’s the sense of community which really shines through over the two hours and forty minutes, as cast members bounce off each other’s performances seamlessly and with ease.

So much so that there is not one overall stand-out actor. Ammar Haj Ahmad (who plays the main protagonist, Safi) delivers mesmerising monologues in an embracing and welcoming tone, whilst Ben Turner charms as the dedicated restaurant owner, Salah. Black Mirror star Alex Lawther is impressive as a British aid worker, and Trevor Fox offers some brilliant comic relief as Boxer.

Although fictional, Murphy and Robertson’s script does a phenomenal job of exploring the Calais Jungle with pure honesty. Okot (John Pfumojena)’s monologue about his attempt to make it to the UK is one of the most heartbreaking and moving parts of the play. Important points about the crisis are bluntly communicated throughout – as much as the play draws you in, it also leaves you with questions to ask once you’ve left your seat.

As such, The Jungle stands as both an excellent and important work of theatre and as one of the most important plays to see this year. Thought-provoking, moving and incredibly immersive, this must-see production is exactly what theatre should be.

Rating: 5/5

The Jungle is now playing at The Playhouse Theatre in London from now until the 3 November.

#NewMusicFriday: ‘Tie Me Down’ by Gryffin (feat. Elley Duhé)

In keeping with his traditional style, Tie Me Down sees Gryffin combine a powerful female vocalist with flowing lyrics, a trap beat and hazy synths to make another catchy and vibrant dance hit.

Elley Duhé is certainly making a name for herself in the dance community lately. Riding off the success of a collaboration with Zedd on the track Happy Now, the American singer-songwriter has joined forces with yet another dance great.

With Duhé’s original music already containing somewhat of a trap rhythm, Gryffin certainly caters to the artist’s talents whilst also offering something a bit more creative and challenging. Lyrics are delivered at different speeds flirt with an offbeat rhythm underneath. There’s a sense that the singer is in her element here – and that’s certainly shown in her performance.

Elsewhere, Gryffin’s production talent shines through with the song’s seamless progression through verses and chorus. A subtle guitar melody guides the vocals through the verse into the build-up, switching from light instrumentals to full-on hazy synth vibes. Such is Gryffin’s skill as a producer that such a development from a stripped-back feel to a loud hook never feels rushed or sudden.

Credit must also be given to the lyrics to the track, which offers something different to the over-saturated topic of a difficult relationship and helps create a catchy chorus at the heart of the song. Tie Me Down is an incredibly slick, fresh and creative collaboration from the American DJ and Elley Duhé.

Tie Me Down is available now on Apple Music and Spotify.