Musical Discovery: ‘Million Bucks’ by Smallpools

It’s always interesting listening to the music that artists themselves listen to, as they can often lead to some fascinating new finds. Look no further than Emma Blackery’s recent livestream, which saw viewers listen to a snippet of Million Bucks by Smallpools.

It’s a quintessential indie bop, released in the height of this year’s summer season and complete with seaside guitars and anthemic vocals singing about Los Angeles. Pack all this into a 4 minute song and you have a track on the same level as Chocolate by The 1975 and T-Shirt Weather by Circa Waves. In a sense, to group Million Bucks into such a genre does give the impression that it’s yet another upbeat indie song which lacks that particular unique edge, but that’s where the catchy chorus comes in, selling the track and sets it apart from all the others.

The lyrics and instrumentals have a strong part to play in its catchiness, but without a doubt, the pacing of the chorus keeps things flowing, fluttering and interesting to listen to. Take lines such as I’ve got all my, money on you/And though my, dollars are few, where a slight pause in the middle leaves enough room for punchy guitar chords and you have a solid chorus from the three-piece band. Then, when followed by an expressive instrumental interlude, the feel-good vibes are strong as the song comes to a close.

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Musical Discovery: ‘Message’ by Audien

As the name suggests, Some Ideas – the latest EP from the American DJ Audien – contains three songs all completely different from each other. From chill house to hazy synths, it’s a release which sees the musician flex his producing muscles. Yet, by far the most traditional-sounding song of the lot is the EP’s opener, Message.

After all, there’s the repeated lyrics – message from my heart/too loud to stay apart, taken from the 2010 dance track by Yuri Kane, Right Back – alongside Audien’s signature beat drops (be it a bass drum or sudden pause in the song) and delicate piano. It follows the usual structure, too: minimalistic piano chords guide the track all the way up to the main lead, which is complete with the occasional off-beat note and a satisfying rising and falling melody. Yet again, US artist sure knows how to create a euphoric dance hit.

Whilst part of this song is down to sampling and the repeated lyrics may come across as simplistic, it must be remembered that this is quite an experimental assortment of songs. Message, Resolve and Rampart see Audien try out new sounds, with each track different from the other. Simply put, it’s a pick-and-mix EP, and there’s a high chance you’ll like at least one of the three.

Exciting Existentialism

Life is a pretty random thing. So much so, that we have meta-narratives such as science and religion to help us understand it all. There’s a variety of ‘paths’ we can follow in life, and in the world of UK education, it can certainly feel a little streamlined – that is, until you enter your third and final year at university.

I will miss this view come August 2018, when I graduate.

Up until that moment, everything is pretty straight-forward for most people: primary and secondary school (or alternative versions of this system), Sixth Form and then university. Of course, there are people who do apprenticeships or college, but for the most part, this is the usual route which most people take. For a lot of people, going to another county and getting that all-important degree is their end goal, so what next after that?

During the lengthy summer break, the questions got more frequent: what do you plan to do next after university? Will you stay and do a Masters? Granted, there are options, but at this moment, everything feels much more unrestrained. To refer back to the aforementioned ‘end goal’, I’ve got there and am soon to complete it, so what next?

Such thoughts unearth a bubbling existential crisis inside me. As someone that’s always liked structure and whose iPhone calendar is the main way they organise their life, having to accept the fact that come May 2018, the slate is blank is a little terrifying. It was a dread I felt last month when people asked me if I was going to the next Summer in the City convention next year. Taking place around the time of my graduation, I simply had to say that I had no idea, and not knowing my availability is as frustrating as it is alarming.

So, as I’ve now settled in to my university flat, I approach my third and final year of university with excited existentialism. This academic year sees me work hard on a 10K word dissertation (the subject of which I am genuinely interested in), produce extensive amounts of radio work, and work as the editor of the university’s student newspaper, The Linc. I’m looking forward to it, whilst knowing that time will indeed fly by.

Let’s get started…

Musical Discovery: ‘Some Kind of Love’ by The Killers

There was just enough time for The Killers to squeeze out one last single before the release of their sixth studio album, Wonderful Wonderful, this time next week, and it’s certainly a move away from the rockish grit heard on previous tracks such as The Man and Run for Cover. Now, with a little inspiration from English artist Brian Eno, Flowers and the rest of the band take a step back for a more reflective sound.

Like Madeon meets The xx, it’s a heavily atmospheric song throughout, complete with haunting synths, soft vocals from Flowers, light bass and a constrained drum beat. On top of this, with the frontman revealing to Rolling Stone that the song is about his wife, it brings a whole new sense of emotiveness to lines the outro: ‘Can’t do this alone/We need you at home/There’s so much to see/We know that you’re strong’.

When outside the realm of Wonderful Wonderful, one imagines that this would make for an interesting break from the traditional rock tracks which appear on the band’s tour setlist. As The Killers prepare for their UK tour in November, it’s without a doubt that Flowers and co. will bring out some tracks from the new release, and here’s hoping that Some Kind of Love gets a play.

After all, with a slow tempo and a moving message at its core, it would certainly make for a great ‘phones in the air’ track in between the rockier tracks from the new album and previous records. Whilst The Killers have always been known for their rough American rock, Some Kind of Love shows further adaptability from the band behind Mr Brightside, as well as supporting Flowers’ earlier comments to NME that Wonderful Wonderful will be a very personal release.

Review: The Killers at the O2 Academy Brixton

It was a one-off gig which surprised Killers fans and left them excited and nervous ever since the intimate Brixton performance was announced at short notice at the end of August. There was, naturally, the mad rush for tickets, the exclusivity of the show, and then the fear that Hurricane Irma might have stopped Brandon Flowers and co. in their tracks earlier on in the week. Nevertheless, the singer still graced the stage with enthusiasm and style last night, opening with a track full of bravado, The Man.

Although of course, before all of that, there was the obligatory support act in the form of Howling Bells’ Joel Stein, a.k.a. Glassmaps. With slow rhythms and whining vocals, it was a set which was dull, boring and forgettable in nature. Whilst it did make for calm, relaxing listening, having a quiet band open for a rocky group such as The Killers felt fairly out of place. Also, with 126 monthly Spotify listeners and 385 Twitter followers, Stein clearly has a long way to go before the crowds start to recognise his songs – but opening for the US hitmakers no doubt gave his solo project a reasonable boost.

Then came the main act. A member of the tech team walks on stage, unveiling a light-up Mars male symbol which makes a change from the lower-case ‘k’ which was used at Glastonbury and Hyde Park. Aside from the new set design having some relevance to The Man, one has to wonder whether it also ties into Flowers’ comments about the upcoming album Wonderful Wonderful being a personal record. Combine all this with the fact that Brandon and drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. were the only two original members on stage (with guitarist Dave Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer pulling out of touring), and it’s likely that all eyes are on Brandon Flowers at the moment.

Brandon Flowers stage presence remained on top form throughout the night, engaging with the crowd at every opportunity.

As for the set itself, it was one full of all the well-known hits (with Somebody Told MeRead My MindAll These Things That I’ve DoneHumanSpaceman and of course, the huge Mr Brightside all getting played), along with a few new tracks as well, such as the fast-paced Run for Cover and an unheard track introduced by Divergent and Zombieland actor Woody Harrelson, The Calling.

Granted, there were a few tracks I couldn’t recognise, which made me feel a little bad as I rocked out in my new Killers t-shirt (it was clear that I had to do some extra listening once home). Yet, even so, that didn’t stop me dancing along as The Killers powered through songs at an incredibly fast pace.

Lastly, one has to consider the venue for such a performance – The O2 Academy in Brixton. With a historic twang to its interior and exterior architecture, it was certainly an eccentric place for an equally eccentric band to play. Add this to the fact that the main floor sloped towards the stage and felt both spacious and intimate, and you have a phenomenal atmosphere for The Killers to make use of. Joyous chants to Mr Brightside and Human felt extra special when you consider how small and cosy the venue felt. Chuck in a few unexpected crowd surfers and mini mosh pits and you have a quality show from one of the best bands on the global rock scene.

Musical Discovery: ‘Too Good At Goodbyes’ by Sam Smith (Robin Hustin Remix)

For any DJ, remixing ballads is always a tricky move. Aside from the fact that people like Whitney Houston, Adele and Sam Smith are household names and boast strong fanbases, pushing a slow tempo and finding a unique melody to place on top of the track could take away from the original aspects of the song. Much like how artists were quick to work on Adele’s Hello when she returned in late 2015 (to various success), following Sam Smith’s return last week, DJs are now working on remixes for his latest single, Too Good At Goodbyes. One such artist is Robin Hustin.

It’s a remix which is structurally sound throughout, following the usual rise and fall expected of a dance track. In the verses, Hustin steps back to let Sam Smith take centre stage with his vocals. That is, up until the pre-chorus, which the Danish DJ uses as the perfect build-up to a pulsating drop full of sharp club synths. Whilst the original purposefully – and rightfully – didn’t contain many instruments, Hustin has filled the gap with subtlety and flair with his own creative remix.

Update: Since publishing this review, the remix is no longer available due to ‘copyright issues’.

A New Adventure…

This has been an exciting one. Monday saw me visit Go Ape for a fun day out with a friend, and Wednesday saw me go to London to see a live recording of The Russell Howard Hour (more on that soon). It was also on Wednesday that I received another bit of good news.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’d know that I went to Summer in the City last month – a UK convention dedicated to YouTube and online video. It was there that I met the team from the YouTube magazine TenEighty, and naturally, I asked about writing for them.

A few weeks later and after a fun application process, an email landed in my inbox saying that I can join the team, and I was over the moon.

I already have two articles up on the website so far, including one on disabled YouTubers having their videos demonetised, and asdfmovie creator TomSka announcing the end of his vlog series, Last Week. I look forward to writing even more articles for TenEighty in the future.