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.

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’.

Musical Discovery: ‘Too Good at Goodbyes’ by Sam Smith

It’s been a while since Sam Smith made us use up all our Kleenex. The king of the sad song returns with Too Good at Goodbyes – a single which the 25-year-old says is all about “getting good at getting dumped”. For those who have yet to listen to the new release: think Lay Me Down with a more driving rhythm.

When it comes to any Sam Smith track, the tears flow when it becomes all too relatable. In the pre-chorus, Sam sings: “I’m never gonna let you close to me/Even though you mean the most to me/’Cause every time I open up, it hurts/So I’m never gonna get too close to you/Even when I mean the most to you/In case you go and leave me in the dirt.” It’s a form of protectionism and numbness which most of us have, at some point, felt after a turbulent relationship. In the track, Sam’s become accustomed to break-ups after experiencing them so many times. No matter how many times we have split with someone, Smith once again manages to capture some of the rawest emotions felt at the time with his soft and soulful vocals which are sung from the heart.

Light piano chords and finger clicks set the tempo, keeping things nice and stripped-back for Smith to take centre stage. Yet again, the structural aspect of the song remains similar to the artist’s previous work. The fuzzy, lower tones with the occasional high note flow through the verses, leading up to a chorus packed with Smith’s traditional, impressive and high-pitched vocals. The choir in the background and fluttering violins are two go-to methods for Sam to further pull at our heartstrings, and they work perfectly. To finish it all off, Smith repeats the pre-chorus on a much purer level. With nothing but brief piano chords in the background to maintain a tempo, the singer rounds off the single in the honest and truest way.

After a long break, it’s a phenomenal return from Sam Smith. In the build-up to the release, the Stay with Me singer said he ‘poured [his] heart and soul into this record’. It’s only the first single, but it’s clear that Sam’s exploring deeper emotions in his eagerly anticipated sophomore album.

Musical Discovery: ‘Night Bus’ by Gabrielle Aplin

We’ve all been there: a rainy car journey or an early train ride and we picture ourselves in a music video or black-and-white movie with sad, upsetting undertones. For Gabrielle Aplin, however – known for her 2012 cover of The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood – a bus ride home is the focal point for a track from her EP, Miss You.

A bouncy 6/8 beat is at the heart of Night Bus, which, when combined with a triplet synth melody, only adds to the reflective and heavenly vibe Aplin always manages to create with her soft vocals. When analysed alongside Miss You, both use electronica to heighten their tone. There’s no doubt that this injects some positivity into this particular song, but not enough to detract from the bittersweet meaning of the track itself – that on the way home, the singer is considering ending a relationship.

To throw Night Bus into the ‘generic breakup song’ category would be a terrible mistake. Throughout, the lyrics are wonderfully imaginative and take the us back to a reflective journey on public transport which we have all experienced. The second verse, complete with descriptions of dazed and complacent reflections and lovers that hide from the cold white light, paints the perfect picture of the bus ride. Whilst the setting may be simplistic, the adjectives and the individual’s thought process makes this an honest and open track from Aplin.

As the lyrics float around the fluttering rhythm perfectly, it’s likely that the beat is the more distinctive part of the track, emboldening and placing emphasis upon Gabrielle’s reflective vocals. From her electro-heavy EP Miss YouNight Bus is a blissfully relatable and heartfelt song from the 24-year-old artist.

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.

Musical Discovery: ‘Clap Your Hands’ by Le Youth feat. Ava Max

With a name like Clap Your Hands, it’s understandable for people to approach Le Youth’s latest single with Ava Max with some heightened scepticism (so many artists have sung about clapping your hands over the years) and assume that it’s a traditional pop song which lacks any particular substance which makes it stand out. However, whilst the lyrics to the song are quite simplistic and bland (look no further than the chorus for proof), it’s Max’s smooth vocals on top of flowing instrumentals which saves the song from falling into the generic brand of mainstream music – think Daft Punk meets the voice from How Deep is Your Love by Calvin Harris and Disciples.

Throughout, one off-beat synth chord plays underneath various drum beats – the main one being a groovy rhythm with a double-stroke hi-hat which is to be expected from such a funk-heavy track. The surprise opening of the hi-hat every once in a while keeping the groove fluid and interesting. Swap this for clapping in the final bridge and the beat remains tight throughout.

As for Ava Max’s vocals, the aforementioned synth keeps things nice and stripped back for the American singer in the verses. Pure and soft, it’s a smooth layer to the electro-funk vibes whipped up by Le Youth. The harmonised ah, ah, yeah really adds to the vibrant, chilled feel of the track and makes it a brilliant debut collaboration from the artist, who’s set to release some new music towards the end of the year.

Alongside showcasing the talent of his featured vocalist, Le Youth also stops to show off some of his talents as a producer. Whilst the main chorus offers little progression from the verses, it’s the main instrumental where the true funkiness of the track shines through. A fluttering bass synth hides as a slightly whiny-like electronic melody flows. Listening to this alongside the colourful music video, it’s wonderfully psychedelic and both work brilliantly together to capture that disco funk style we all know and love. To judge this track from its very typical title would be a poor mistake indeed.