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.

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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.

Review: ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ by Taylor Swift

“I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now… Why? Oh, ’cause she’s dead.”

It’s not unusual for an artist to undergo a change in style (the ever-changing music scene requires it), but Taylor Swift’s latest evolution is by far the most radical in a long time. The aforementioned song lyric from her latest single, Look What You Made Me Do – taken from upcoming sixth album, Reputation – states bluntly that the Love Story singer has ditched the sweet country and pop in order to pursue a much darker, hip-hop sound. Whilst previous digs by Swift have been masked under cheery, seemingly upbeat tracks such as Shake it OffI Knew You Were Trouble and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, the 27-year-old isn’t holding back on this lead single, which is believed to be about the star’s rivalries with fellow musicians Katy Perry and Kanye West.

Haunting piano and strings provide a gothic opening for the track, before Swift’s smooth vocals flow on top of a strict drum rhythm. Despite the rigid tempo, that doesn’t stop Swift fluctuating with varying pace throughout. The first two verses follow the same pattern, with lines such as Of the fool and Locked me out keeping things fresh and moving at speed. There’s no doubt that the song is extremely repetitive (look no further than the chorus, which appears to sample the 2006 hit by Right Said Fred, I’m Too Sexy), but the flow of the pre-chorus makes for some interesting listening. With most of the words being sung on the same note, but with sharp staccato and atmospheric synthesisers, it certainly builds up the tension ahead of the chorus. Granted, when it eventually comes, it can feel underwhelming and basic with monotonous vocals, but when one considers the nature of the track, the sassy, almost sing-song nature is clearly intentional.

After all, the third verse – beginning with the world moves on/another day/another drama drama – is the most telling for both the content of the song and Swift’s evolution. The subject (or indeed subjects) of the singer’s remarks is told that you’ll all get yours [karma] in a series of lines sung in a chanting cheerleader style similar to that of Shake it Off. Yet, underneath the lyrics, warped synths and effects prove that this is much darker than the 1989 track – especially with the vocal distortion on the final line.

The new Taylor is certainly here and she’s certainly out in force.

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.

Musical Discovery: ‘Thinking of You’ by Busted

I was wrong to assume that an electronic-funk style for Busted was a bad move for the trio. Whilst my opinions on their return single, Coming Home, remain the same (that its attempts to appeal to a teenage demographic with expletives is unneccessary), the band’s new album Night Driver is far from a turbulent transition into a new musical genre.

Take Thinking of You. Fluttering synth arpeggios linger underneath electronic vocals, as the band sings another song about another girl. From air hostesses to great-great-great granddaughters, to a woman who is ‘on fire’, a typical Busted theme remains in the new music – and let’s not forget the guitar bridge towards the end, which is a brief nod to older days.

Yet, the aspect of the track which stands out the most is the keyboard melody during the chorus, which sounds like three meowing cats (in a good way – it’s the best way of describing the sound). With regards to Bourne, Simpson and Willis’ vocals, a harmonic style in the verses mean that they’re pretty forgettable in the song, save for the chorus.

A track which has hints of Busted’s older days in amongst the new stuff, one wonders if Thinking of You would have made a better lead single than Coming Home. The answer? Quite possibly.