Albums

Natural Born Losers by Nicole Dollanganger

This week’s episode of “The Walking Dead” was quite an emotional one. One of the more likeable, newer characters got a good amount of screen time for some interesting character development. That was just before that person was shot in the back of the head with an arrow. When carrying her body back to the home base, the remaining characters were backed musically, by one of my favourite artists at the moment – “Nicole Dollanganger” with her song “Chapel”.

Contrast

Art, whether it be film; tv; or music, is always more interesting when two or more contrasting ideas are brought together to form something that wouldn’t have been thought possible before.

Like when Quentin Tarantino had “Stuck In The Middle With You” by “Stealer’s Wheel” playing over the famous ear-cutting scene in “Reservoir Dogs”. Or when we see Hannibal preparing a beautiful meal only to know that it was made from human flesh.

Nicole Dollanganger’s music fits into this idea of stark contrast perfectly, and is one of – if not the – most beautiful joining of acoustic guitar and a female voice I’ve ever heard.

She is a siren

The opening to the album, “Natural Born Losers”, tells you straight away what Nicole is all about stylistically – although not what she is limited to. Poacher’s Pride opens with a sweet, innocent-sounding voice singing the follow words:

I shot an angel with my father’s rifle
I should have set it free, but I let it bleed
Made it into taxidermy, hung it on my wall
On my wall

Poacher’s Pride, Natural Born Losers

Straight away you get the beautiful sound of Nicole’s haunting voice along with the dark lyrics – a siren enticing you in to experience this darkness with her. And you wont be able to deny her.

That song – and the rest of the album – conjured up imagery and feelings to me, of my watching the first series of the aforementioned TV series, “Hannibal”. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s that dark feeling of beauty in death, and innocence that can be found in the darkest places.

The Style of the Album

Her voice, when I first heard her, immediately made me think of a slightly-introverted, young girl sat in the corner of a pub on open-mike-night, performing to herself, with everyone else there as extras. Her lyrics however reveal anything but an introverted artist – she is telling stories about, and based on, some dark, hard subject matters.

The album’s instruments are often minimal and range from acoustic guitar, to thundering bass-heavy kick drums that you will feel more than hear, as in the song “Executioner”. Occasionally the guitars are used to give a drone, pedal-tone effect, but then out of that darkness a heavily-distorted, almost smothered, electric guitar will stalk towards you. You can hear this in the album’s mid-way song, “Alligator Blood” – one of the album’s heaviest-sounding songs, along with “Executioner”.

From out of the darkest places.

“In the Land” is one of my favourite songs on “Natural Born Losers”, and is a beautiful sounding song with the most horrifying inspiration for a song I’ve ever come across. As I read on a comment for the song, it was apparently partly inspired by an american serial torturer called David Parker Ray, whose story I wont repeat here.

Give it up for the milk carton angel
Soaked in vomit, tied up at the kitchen table
Choking on the chicken bones, a plate of mashed potatoes
Her momma screaming “come on, bitch, chew and swallow”
When she’s done she will give her to the earth

In the Land, Natural Born Losers

In fact a lot of the album seems to have dark inspirations, which is in stark contrast to the result that her songs have. These are some of the most beautiful, emotive songs I’ve heard in a long while and often have her music on repeat when at work.

In Closing

I have tried to give as honest as possible a review of this album and really hope that people reading this don’t see this album’s darkness as something to be avoided. As humans it is important that we experience a wide range of emotions from art and music – even if it sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable – for only when we experience those feelings can we truly grow.

It is artists like Nicole that deserve to be, and need to be, heard. She is one of the few people who dare to look into the darkest reaches of human experience, and sometimes depravity, and come out with some of the best music I’ve heard in a while.

And thank you to Grimes who put Nicole’s album “Natural Born Losers” out on her purposely-formed company in order to get more people to hear this unique artist. Nicole had already recorded many albums by herself at home before this album came out, which are just as good as this album. Its great that she has now been introduced to many more people who can themselves now investigate her amazing back catalogue.

What are your thoughts on “Natural Born Losers”, or on Nicole Dollanganger’s music in general? Leave your comments below and let’s talk.

Albums

All I Need by Foxes

I’ve never been much of a Doctor Who fan but I do sometimes find myself watching it with my girlfriend, who likes it. One of the better episodes I have seen was one called “Mummy on the Orient Express”. It was about a Mummy that was killing off passengers in a space version of the Orient Express. This was also the first time I’d heard the artist whose album I am now writing about – Foxes.

In the episode she performs a cover of Queen’s ” Don’t stop me now”. She has a knack for performing great covers, as I later discovered with her version of Pharrel’s happy, mixed with Massive Attack’s “Teardrops”.

“All I need” is the follow up to her debut album, “Glorious”. I didn’t hear the latter until it had been out for about a year and a half. But with “All I Need” I jumped straight in on the strength of that first album. And I wasn’t disappointed – I loved it immediately. There was no skipping through songs to hear the singles I was familiar with; I always listen to this album front to back.

The songs on this album sound huge. Many are unashamedly pop belters with big drums, strings and Louisa Rose Allen’s stunning vocals. Then there are some that take a step back with a slower and, dare I say, darker tone. In fact my favourite song on this album is “Devil Side” – A darker ballad about being in love with someone who has a darker, perhaps even violent, side. But that’s open to interpretation.

Run and hide, it’s gonna be bad tonight
Cause here comes your devil side
It’s gonna ruin me
It’s almost like, slow motion suicide
Watching your devil side, get between you and me

Devils Side, track 7 from All I Need

Common Themes

When you focus on the lyrics of this album, the theme comes through evidently – that of doomed love, and of loving someone that your heart says yes to, but your head is yelling no.

This is what I take from it anyway.

Burrowing a little deeper

Each song on All I Need is great, there’s no filler songs here. And the pacing across the album is just right. In one breath you’ll be hearing a catchy pop tune while in the next you’ll be hearing a stripped down piano ballad.

The opening of the album is an epic-sounding instrumental, which is later reprised on the album’s closing song.

Then we drop into “Better Love”, which starts with Louisa’s singing over simple piano, followed soon by a recurring sound from the album – a pulsing kick drum. This song, along with the following – the super-catchy single “Body Talk”, serve to give you a good idea of what to expect from Foxes – vast, layered, powerful songs.

Of course like any great artist there’s variety in this here album. As mentioned above, “Devils Side” slows things right down, as does “If You Leave Me Now” and “On My Way”.

With “On My Way” Louisa sings over piano backed with a light string arrangement and one of my favourite choruses on the album. The song is played light on the piano as she sings softly. Then the chorus drops deep and heavy as she sings:

Something I just need to learn
Every time I feel alone
I can’t keep running back to you again

Turned my gold into dust
Rain on me until I rust
All I do is run to you again

On My Way, track 12 from All I Need

In Conclusion

This album has songs that would be great to get ready for a party to. Equally some others would be suited to lying in the dark, retrospectively.

If you’re looking for a modern pop album that isn’t afraid to dip into the darker side of love, then check this one out.

Albums

This Is Acting by Sia

As soon as the opening song’s first chorus hit my eardrum, it just blew me away. The song felt familiar and yet still fresh. As I continued through the rest of the album I kept getting that same thought. It didn’t take many listens before this album quickly became one of my go-to albums when I’m quickly thinking of an album to switch to when the traffic lights are on red.

Prologue

With “1000 forms of fear”, Sia’s previous album, it was the videos for the album’s singles that got me interested in her music. Even when I hear those songs now I can’t help but think of those great videos. With this album the first time I heard the songs was from the album alone. In fact, at the time of writing, I still haven’t seen the videos for this album.

The first thing that is apparent on this album is Sia’s idiosyncratic singing style. Her often-powerful, sometimes-breaking voice pulls you through some of the most air-drum-inducing songs I’ve heard for a while.

Some Key Plot Points

“Bird Set Free”, as already mentioned, is the album’s opening song and it feels huge. And it’s her voice that’s doing the line’s share of the work in creating that vast audible sound scape. Of course, there are still instruments you would expect from her music – strings; piano; drums; but it’s her soaring voice that lifts the song into the stratosphere and – if you’re not expecting it – will give you a swift kick up the arse when the chorus hits.

“Move your body” is a lot more dancier than I am now used to hearing from Sia, and even though I’m not much of a dance fan, here it works. I’ve not been to many dance clubs but I can picture this playing with torch beams and glow sticks going mental in the chorus. Hell, when this comes on when I’m on the train I wanna just go mental myself if only just to shake of the lethargy of commuting.

One of my favourite songs on “This Is Acting” is “House of fire” – a song with a simple backing, and my favourite chord progression on the album. I realise how that may sound, but it really is. I have marked the point in which it happens in the lyrics excerpt beneath with an asterisk (*).

Babe I want to drink you in
Like oxygen, like oxygen
Baby I’m a house on fire
And I want to keep burning
I’m going on up in flames
And you’re to blame
Yeah, you’re to blame
Baby I’m a house on fire
And I want to keep burning
I want to keep burning*
I want to keep burning
I want to keep burning
Baby I’m a house on fire

House on Fire — track 8

“House on fire” is also the first song on the album whose lyrics stuck out to me as being particular poetic, hence why I’ve included them above. That’s not to say her other lyrics aren’t – I just remember these ones being particularly memorable on the first listen.

“Sweet design” took a complete left turn from the style set up by the preceeding two songs. Here she is singing samples from other well known pop songs and mashing them together into some kind of mad, fun frankenpopsong. I really like this one and it really makes me want to try body popping when I hear it.

“Broken Glass” brings us back to those huge-sounding choruses with a voice that just keeps building and building, seemingly more powerful with each verse. This woman sure has got a good set of lungs on her.

The final song, “Space Between”, is a minimal slow bass groove that gives Sia’s voice complete space to really shine – but a lot more void of other instruments than the previous 11 songs. I think this song would be equally as effective if sang completely a cappella. Saying that, the backing does give the song some extra depth – as though floating through the blackness of space itself.

Curtain Call

Overall the album does well in showcasing Sia’s talents as both a songwriter and an amazing vocalist.

So many feelings are invoked by this album. From the powerful, fist-pumping chrous anthems, “Unstoppable”; “Bird Set Free”; to the slow poetic love letter of “House on Fire”, to the frantic get-up-and-jives of “Cheap Thrills” and “Sweet Design”.

This album is varied enough whilst still being anchored to a commanding control over one of the greatest female voices of our time.

Albums

Art Angels by Grimes

This is the album that made me want to start trying to write about my favourite albums – both old and new.

Grimes is an artist in the truest sense of the word. She reminds me of people like David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Jack White – she uses whatever instruments or sounds fit the song she happens to be writing.

She’s not tied down by any pre-defined musical conventions either: she makes great music, plain and simple.

Complete creative control

Grimes, alias of Canadian-born Claire Boucher, produces all of her own music. After watching a recent interview with her it’s obvious that her passion for music as a whole – as well as her own – runs deep.

Her previous album, ‘Visions’, was produced – solely by herself – on a minimal budget in Garage Band. ‘Art Angels’ feels like it has stemmed out of that creative freedom and control, learned from the making of ‘Visions’, and taken one step further.

She holds the reigns tightly on her own stuff – anyone who wants to meddle can f**k off.

Eclectic and Focussed

Grimes’ music probably isn’t like anything you’d have heard before.

Each song on this album is unique. In one moment she’s punching out some of the best foot-stomping, head nodding pop beats you can imagine – see the song ‘Flesh Without Blood’, the next she’s literally screaming a chorus between Taiwanese rapper, Aristophanes singing on the aptly-named song, ‘SCREAM’.

Despite the eclectic nature of the album, Art Angels feels completely focussed, and not just being eclectic for the sake of it.

A versatile voice

As mentioned before, the songs on this album are eclectic, and so to is her voice.

Sometimes she’ll be screaming, while at other times she’ll be singing softly accompanied by hand-picked guitar – see the album’s penultimate song ‘Life in the vivid dream’.

You can hear her eclectic range of styles well on my favourite song from the album – Kill V Maim. In this one she’ll jump into screaming the end of a verse, followed by a verse sang cheerleader-style, which then drops into a party-anthem-esque thumping chorus.

God knows she’s good

At the end of it all, Grimes is simply a great artist.

From writing, producing and performing live all of her own original material; to drawing all of her own album artwork; to showing a genuine love – and depth of influences – of a large range of musical styles.

When we look back, in the future, at artists who have had a positive impact on the path that popular music has taken – in both style and production – I strongly believe that Grimes will be up there.