Kygo develops his tropical house sound with ‘Stargazing’ EP

If one was to look a bit too deeply into the name of Kygo’s new EP, then you may think that Stargazing is a nod to the Norwegian DJ’s inspirations. After all, with U2 – one of his favourite bands – featured on You’re the Best Thing About Me, and country-style guitars appearing on This Town (which may be seen as an homage to Avicii), what’s not to say that the producer’s latest release sees him gaze at his ‘stars’ with admiration?

Though, first and foremost, the name of the EP comes from the title of the opening track, which sees Kygo (real name Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll) collaborate with American singer, Justin Jesso. Once again, whether it’s the delicate chords in the verses which intertwine with the Jesso’s rhythm, or the bouncy stabs underneath the choppy vocals in the chorus, Kyrre’s talents with the piano shine through once again. Add this to Jesso’s voice – which has the ability to be both soft and soulful (with a slight rasp to it) – and imaginative vocals, then you have a successful first track which certainly sets the tone and lives up to its name.

What follows next is two tracks we’ve heard before: It Ain’t Me (feat. Selena Gomez) and First Time (feat. Ellie Goulding), so there’s a possibility that a few people will be annoyed at the lack of new material on the EP, but at last, we have the release which includes these previous singles. Kyrre’s collaboration with Gomez sees a brief guitar melody before quickly descending into the traditional piano tune with slight vocal distortion. It’s fitting that it follows on from Stargazing, as there’s certainly a few similarities.

Compare this to First Time and you have a more minimalistic sound from Kyrre. Yet again, the producer paves the way for the vocalist (in this case, Goulding) to take centre stage in the verses, before slowly progressing into the drop. Yet, the build-up this time around feels calmer and more stripped back. Rather than a melody playing before the main tune, Kyrre relies on Ellie’s vocals in the pre-chorus before introducing the interlude. It’s a movement which makes an interesting change from other tracks, highlighting a lighter tone from the DJ.

However, by far the most intriguing track of the five is This Town. The second new song on the EP, Kygo ditches the heavy, plucky synth and piano for a more chill, country vibe. It was something the artist flirted with a little in his track with Kodaline, Raging, but now it has a much stronger influence. The tempo is slow and in a sense, it feels more like a Sasha Sloan track than a song by Kygo, as yet again, Kyrre places heavy emphasis on the featured vocalist.

It’s a track which moves away from the Cloud Nine era whilst also building upon it, but it’s not the only song on the EP to do so, as the record comes to a close with a collaboration with U2 for a remix of their track, You’re the Best Thing About Me.

Whilst Kygo has always preferred piano or acoustic guitar in his tracks, he can now have a bit of fun with a grittier guitar sound that Bono and co. like to use in their music. In that regard, Kyrre does a great job of preserving the best parts of the original (including the smooth guitar and, for the most part, Bono’s unique sound) whilst adding a bit of a spring to the tempo and some slight distortion in his melody.

As an EP which shows off Kygo’s remixing capabilities and his new direction alongside his traditional sound, it may not be just the stars which the Norwegian is looking at, as it’s a release which shows that the DJ is very much looking onwards and upwards.

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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.

Musical Discovery: ‘Waking Up Slow’ by Gabrielle Aplin

Gabrielle Aplin has fully embraced an electronic pop sound, and I for one am completely happy with that decision. The Please Don’t Say You Love Me singer made the switch on her Miss You EP, with the song Night Bus and the title track both offering fluttering synths. Now, with Waking Up Slow, Aplin is squeezing out the last little bits of summer with a euphoric, fuzzy hit from her upcoming release, Avalon.

It’s a track full of blissful harmonies, one of the most beautiful being in the pre-chorus in the lines: you know I’ve never/been so lonely on my own. Yet again, whilst poppy instrumentals bubble in the background, Gabrielle’s vocals remain pure, soft and smooth. Calm in the verses and then jubilant in the chorus, it’s a slow build-up towards an upbeat chorus.

There’s no denying that it’s a positive song to listen to – and that’s without the knowledge that Aplin has described this song as an ‘a-ha moment’. Much like Miss You, the song is an open letter to a mysterious lover and whilst the aforementioned track sees the singer talk wanting to resume a relationship, this one is a lot more upbeat, with the lyric: when I’m with you/it’s like everything glows proving that this is a warm, summer track to dance to.

Following on from the hit that was Miss You, one wonders if more electronic music is to come from Gabrielle when Avalon drops on 15 September.

Fickle Friends’ ‘Glue’ – a groovy assortment of sweet, sticky pop

It was nothing but coincidence that all three songs from Fickle Friends’ new EP have a viscous substance as their title, but even so, with intricate guitar riffs, smooth vocal harmonies and rocking beats, SugarVanilla and Glue all live up to their names.

EP artwork for 'Glue' by Fickle Friends
The EP comes exactly two months after the title track, ‘Glue’, was released.

Look no further than the title track, Glue. Natti Shiner’s dreamy voice is guided with light synths and plucky guitar to produce an excitable track about rushed romance on a night out. Strip back all the funky instrumentals for the acoustic version and you have a song which really shows off Shiner’s soft vocals.

Then comes Sugar, which is essentially Glue 2.0, but tamer. Yet, the chorus is what’s distinctive. The line: and you don’t, and you don’t know, you don’t know you’re sugar interlinks beautifully with the beat underneath, and the harmonised sugar in the next line helps make it a strong second track for the EP. Calm but still funky, it bridges the gap between Glue and Vanilla – a song which certainly drifts away from the tone of the previous two.

Although, that is no doubt because of the new direction which the band pursue in this track. A slow drum beat immediately calm things down as the electronica takes a back seat for the most part and is replaced with a slouching rhythm and atmospheric bass.

If one was to dissect the record in more detail, it could be said that Glue splits up the feel-good sound we’ve heard on previous releases (such as Brooklyn and Hello Hello) to begin with, before the more chilled side of the five-piece comes through on the final two songs. Vanilla is a breakaway from the funk, and the acoustic version of Glue – as mentioned previously – demonstrates Natti’s talent.

It’s definitely a clever way of keeping fans excited for the band’s debut album, which is believed to be released early next year.

Review: ‘Swimming Pool Summer’ by Capital Cities

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Capital Cities. Late last year they returned with their track, Vowels, but it was all the way back in 2013 that the duo released a collection of songs – that was their debut album, In A Tidal Wave of History.

Now, the band reveal their new EP, Swimming Pool Summer. For those who hoped that Vowels was the build-up to their second album, it looks like that isn’t coming just yet.

Swimming Pool Summer Album Cover
‘Swimming Pool Summer’ follows on from Capital Cities’ 2013 debut album, ‘In A Tidal Wave of Mystery’.

The EP’s title track is a welcome return to Capital Cities’ original style (following a little funk detour with Vowels). Much like Safe and Sound‘s standout trumpet melody, this song has a repeated synth tune which makes this track memorable. Add that to the odd trumpet flourish, traditional harmonised vocals and a bouncy drum beat, and you have the groovy sound we know and love. At the end of the EP, we hear THCSRS remix the track, which is a fair re-version, but it’s the original which is the best of the two, with its nostalgia hit making it a stand-out track on the record.

The band’s signature tone is distorted in the second track on the four-song EP. Drop Everything still maintains the bouncy tempo apparent in a traditional Capital Cities bop, but now, the main melody is an electronic-heavy tune that feels somewhat out of place when listening to the band’s previous work. In the past, the group have always flirted with synths and electronica, though it has always been tame, calm and euphoric. With Drop Everything, much like how Vowels tapped into the increasingly popular funk scene, the track tries to chip in to the current electro scene (with a sound reminiscent of the DJ, Marshmello) – to mediocre success.

By the third track on the EP, one starts to assume that the record will be ‘old, new, old, new’ in terms of structure. A mix of Love Again and Farah Fawcett HairGirl Friday sees singers Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian repeat vocals in the hope that this will deliver a hit for them. Whilst the chorus and first verse set a chill tone, this vibe is quickly destroyed by the rapper Rick Ross. Regardless of the smooth flow, Rick’s interruption of the chorus just ends up being obnoxious, ruining the 50/50 balance that a collaboration should convey.

With a laid-back rhythm, the penultimate track, Drifting, has a fitting name. It’s a different style of electronica to the three other songs. Gone are the slightly auto-tuned vocals and bouncy drums, instead we hear a more pure, chilled sound which brings the EP to a relaxed finish (if we exclude the aforementioned remix).

However, with Girl Friday containing a flawed collaboration, Drop Everything drifting too far away from Capital Cities’ original style, THCSRS’ remix not adding much to the song, and Drifting being a chill track, it’s Swimming Pool Summer which is the only memorable song of note from the EP. At which point, you have to ask: would it have been better to have released the aforementioned track as a single in order to build up excitement for the second album, whenever that may be?

Although the EP does showcase further experimentation from Capital Cities, we are still left in the dark about what’s next for Simonian and Merchant.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, you decide.

Emma Blackery’s ‘Magnetised’ – an honest, powerful EP about heartbreak and moving on

YouTuber and singer-songwriter Emma Blackery’s latest EP Magnetised is, quite simply, an emotional rollercoaster. Granted, the record jumps between dance tracks (such as Nothing Without You and Don’t Come Home) and stripped back soul (in Magnetised and Instead), but all songs unite around the same powerfully honest tone. Over six tracks, the artist packs in a variety of feelings, accentuated with atmospheric instrumentals, to create the sense of ‘mending’ – the one word which Blackery has used to describe the EP.

‘Magnetised’ was released on iTunes and Spotify today. Photo: Emma Blackery on Twitter.

Whether it’s a thanking an ex, moving reflections on unrequited love, or a dismissive ballad, the message in each track is conveyed with confidence by Emma’s voice and her choice of lyrics. It’s a skill which means that every song stands alone in its own right, whilst also contributing to a bigger picture. Similarly, for new listeners, there’s something for everyone. For fans of upbeat, drum-heavy pop, Nothing Without You or Don’t Come Home would appeal to them, country fans may sense a Taylor Swift vibe in Fixation or Human Behaviour, whilst those seeking catharsis may prefer the title track, for example.

Meanwhile, for fans of Emma Blackery’s YouTube channel, some songs will of course sound similar. Instead and Don’t Come Home have already been released to fans online, albeit in a different form. Now, with a refreshing studio quality to them (and even a complete redesign for Don’t Come Home), the two tracks take on an entirely new identity within the EP’s narrative. With moving violins melodies, Instead is even more emotional this time around, whilst Don’t Come Home is transformed into a sad poppy track which is in direct contrast to Nothing Without You.

As each track tackles a different problem in a relationship, Blackery has six tracks to demonstrate her vocal talents. The two ‘bops’ of the EP (the opener and Don’t Come Home) see the artist tackle and execute impassioned high notes, whilst the other, more stripped-back releases see Emma showcase her softer voice. As well as having a brilliantly constructed message at its core, Magnetised is the EP which solidifies her style as an artist.

Musical Discovery: ‘You’ by BLOXX

There’s always something exciting about finding a new band at the start of their musical journey. With nearly 3K followers on Twitter and only two singles under their belt, BLOXX (a four piece indie band from Uxbridge, West London) are still very much in their early stages, but have jumped in to the indie genre with gusto. You only need to look as far as their first track (Your Boyfriend) and their latest release, You – which came out last Friday – for proof.

A guitar melody which, upon first listen, sounded reminiscent of the Friends theme tune sets the upbeat, rocky tone for this track. Contrast Mozwin’s pounding drums with Ophelia Booth’s soft, mumbling vocals and you have a gritty indie anthem perfect for both live gigs and bedroom listening.

For the most part, it’s the ‘all too familiar’ guitar riffs and bass drums which are the true driving force of the song, but credit must also be given to Booth’s sound in the chorus. Now adopting a louder voice, it adds to the emotion created by the backing instruments to form the usual indie track we know and love.

As You builds on the success of Your Boyfriend, it looks as though we can expect to hear more of Bloxx on the radio in the future (the band have already had some coverage from the BBC), as well as some new material to boost the summer mood.