Halsey [live review] – O2 Academy, Glasgow 19/02/16

  

With tonight’s show originally billed for the ABC before being upgraded due to phenomenal demand, the sticky floors of the Academy are full to absolute capacity for Halsey (otherwise known as Ashley Frangipane) to make her Scottish live debut. To describe Halsey as an artist coasting on hype, however, would be to do her a disservice; she very much owes the internet for her discovery and accelerated success, certainly, but the release of 2015’s Badlands (acknowledged by many as a defining pillar in the current wave of moody electropop) and the long list of impressive collaborations and tour spots under her belt confirm that her art has legs to stand on. Currently in the process of emerging as something of a cultural icon, too, Halsey embodies the values of today’s younger music consumer – outspoken, tuned into social issues and unapologetic in her expression of self, but with an advantage on many in the industry as, at just 21 years old, she speaks as part of the generation driving this shared conscience.

That sense of being simultaneously one-of-us and somewhat alien – ethereal, even – is most definitely present during her time on stage tonight, shaved head and thigh-high boots setting a striking silhouette against relentless backlighting. Gasoline serves as a fitting introduction to the set, Halsey’s distinctive timbre asking: ‘Are you insane like me? Been in pain like me?’ in a way which would feel as personal as a whisper were it not for the audience’s volume overpowering her, suggesting that they believe they indeed are and have been. Barely stopping to breathe between tracks, Halsey launches through the majority of her album material with a stage presence that seems almost carnal, crouching and weaving and as desperate for connection as the swell of hands reaching towards her from feet below. A small backing band helps the songs pack more of a punch than their recorded counterparts, though the vocal track used through meatier sections can sometimes be enough to pull you out of the performance momentarily. Fortunately, there’s no risk of this raising questions regarding Halsey’s vocal competency as her voice remains solid throughout the rest of the show, guttural and dulcet all at once.

Where many pop acts struggle to find the balance between visuals which reach unnecessarily distracting levels and visuals which scream half-hearted afterthought, the production of tonight’s show is gloriously effective and stunning at points. A simple angled screen behind the band’s set up displays atmosphere-driven imagery throughout, dipping in and out of solar systems, animated Brooklyn Bridges and a plethora of beautiful colours perfectly timed to enhance the experience without overshadowing the performance. As the music is left to speak for itself, then, Halsey herself speaks considerably little, and keeps it almost exclusively to admissions of love and gratitude for her supporters, though stopping to remind her fans that they “don’t belong to anyone but [themselves]”.

Tonight’s set certainly feels short, but isn’t unreasonable considering her limited bank of material and the ultra-cohesiveness of the tracks. Impressively so considering her relatively short time as a touring artist, Halsey has perfected the art of establishing intimacy in circumstances which should be anything but, performing vulnerability and displaying the strength of doing so in one short hour of raw mid-tempo synthpop. It’s difficult to imagine her material would work particularly well otherwise, however – one can’t imagine that the scores of younger fans in the room tonight can always relate to her stories of sex, drugs, and complex relationships viewed through a 3am haze, but she makes herself accessible in a way that allows fans to see shades of themselves reflected in there anyway. And therein lies her greatest strength.

Despite the motif of honesty pushed through everything Halsey does, she appears at her most genuine as she engages in mutual adoration, gazing deep into the venue and asking: “Who could ever get sick of this?”

The Front Bottoms (live review) – The Garage, Glasgow, 07/02/16

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, Feb 2016.

The positive effect of The Front Bottoms’ signing to Fueled By Ramen in 2015 was made evident when tonight’s show at the Garage sold out well in advance, and the electricity moving through the crowd even before support Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band takes the stage is indisputable. Kevin, a musical veteran when considered alongside tonight’s headliners, brings his own brand of introspective folk rock to bassier levels in his full-band getup; a far cry from his regular solo performances, he bounces across the stage at any given chance throughout a set which is met with a more enthusiastic (though not undeserved) reception than one would necessarily expect from a crowd which seems largely unfamiliar with his material. The vocals are a little low in the mix tonight, which is a shame – though it seems likely that a few of tonight’s attendees will return home to discover for themselves that Kevin really shines lyrically.
As Glasgow welcomes New Jersey’s The Front Bottoms to the stage like heroes, an inflatable ‘TFB’ is haphazardly pushed up behind the drum riser in a manner fittingly unpretentious and fun for a band whose charm lies in the deliberately thrown-together feel laced through their songs. The band pauses in place before beginning their set in a way that suggests they know what they are about to unleash, and sure enough one opening note of older track ‘Flashlight’ is enough to ignite something wild in tonight’s venue. What follows is nearly an hour and a half of pure delight, stream-of-consciousness indie rock at a pace that barely gives the crowd time to rest as they dance and sweat and live out any cliché you can think of which embodies a gig which is just downright fun. As performers TFB are tight, delivering a sound with more body and punch than their recorded efforts. It’s a rare feeling at a show, and something that is the mark of a special one, when there’s an overwhelming sense that the band is the favourite of every single person in attendance – and as the audience’s volume overpowers frontman Brian Sella on almost every word, that certainly seems the case tonight.

I Dance to Purple Songs [playlist]

One of my favourite things to do is make themed playlists (tip: my Spotify library is a riot, don’t even bother), especially when they’re for other people, and especially when I think I’ll be expressing something or other with this little collection of tracks I spent hours selecting and agonising over. I also really wanted to do enough of something to at least be able to convince myself that I had been mildly productive on this sleepy Sunday, but I have a bad habit of second guessing myself when it comes to blog themes (I’m still working on how to be somewhat interesting). I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately, both for publications and to be stored away on my hard drive never to be seen by human eyes again, and all I’ve really wanted to discuss is music. Which is the case most of the time, really. So I spent the afternoon throwing together a playlist of, well, my favourite songs right now. I did toy with a few theme ideas – themes make things a hell of a lot easier – but nothing sparked my imagination much, and the internet doesn’t need another ‘Songs to listen to when you’re surrounded by mush on Valentines Day’ playlist which consists solely of Beyoncé songs. Because mine would. I promise.

I also really like the way this kind of playlist can act as a screenshot into someone’s life at that moment, because these songs aren’t suggestions in the hope of winning cool points nor do they need to adhere to tone or cohesion. They’re the tracks someone keeps going back to as they go about their life, and it’s definitely a fun way to get inside someone’s head when you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are as passionate about music as you are.

That, of course, is far too straightforward a thing for me to do, so I’ll also be using this to talk about my synaesthesia a little. “Synaesthesia is a condition where a sensation in one of the senses, such as hearing, triggers a sensation in another, such as taste. For example, some people with synaesthesia can taste numbers or hear colours.” (Thanks, Google.) I’ve been a synaesthete for as long as I can remember and it’s a cool little personality tidbit that I give heavy credit to for my creative writing flare. The main strand of synaesthesia I experience is day/name/number/object/pretty much anything you can think of > colour (though it goes a lot further, and I’m still discovering them even at this age as ‘not things everyone does’) and so I’ll also note what colour each of  these songs is to me. I have yet to figure out if my enjoyment of music is in some way linked to the colour I see it as. I will use HTML codes, because I am a woman of the times.

Catch the embedded playlist at the bottom of the page!

1. Your Graduation – Modern Baseball

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Yes, yes, I know, groundbreaking choice of Modern Baseball track. It took me a long time to get into this band the way so many people are, and I couldn’t see the attraction much beyond this song, but about a month ago it clicked and now I can’t get enough of  their stuff. I’m really excited to see them play Stereo again.

 

2. Sloppy Seconds – Watsky

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Watsky has been, far and away, not just my most listened to artist this week but of the year so far. He is a master of words in a way I could only dream 0f, and his tunes range from damn great to damn fun. This was actually the first track of his I was told to listen to and it popped back into regular rotation for me recently when a couple of lines really caught my ear in a way they hadn’t before. Show me someone who says they’ve got no baggage/I’ll show you somebody who’s got no story/Nothing gory means no glory, but baby please don’t bore me.

3. Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time – Panic! At The Disco

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I have been asked recently if they new Panic! album is good and honestly, I wasn’t sure what to say. I don’t know if it’s good. Brendon’s lyrics are passable at the best of times and his voice is so good that it’s almost difficult to judge the songwriting independently of that, but I know I have listened to it more than I have since Pretty. Odd. was released. This track is huge, that sample works works perfectly and it definitely satisfies the twelve year old inside me who is still covered in Fueled By Ramen stickers.

4. Dance For You – Beyoncé

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I said the playlist wouldn’t be entirely Beyoncé. It’s no secret that I’m a huge Bey fan, but this has been one of my favourites for a long time and I never grow tired of the way the chorus almost hits you in waves. That beat makes me want to take all my clothes off.

5. Losing Myself – State Champs

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One of the few pop punk bands formed after 2003 that I still listen to, State Champs really do the by-the-numbers thing well and this is always the first place I go when I give the newest album a spin. We attract what we’re ready for.

6. Freakish – Saves The Day

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A classic, of course, but it popped up the other day and it was like I was hearing it for the first time. I knew I had grown out of Saves The Day when they bored me senseless on that Brand New tour, but… this chorus just gets me, in all the glory of its emo.

7. Crumb – Lafawndah

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I was given Lafawndah’s Tan EP to review recently and was very pleasantly surprised. Some of the sounds on this are crazy good and this track in particularly is delicious for the rhythm-orientated part of me.

8. Driveway Birthday – Milk Teeth

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I’ve been digging the lyrics to this a lot lately when I’ve felt down and didn’t feel it could be battled with a one man Nicki Minaj dance party. Awesome band.

9. Junk – Eyedea & Abilities

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I’m still getting to grips with the E&A material but keep returning to this one. Definitely not background music, it demands your attention in all the best ways.

10. Same Ol’ Mistakes – Rihanna

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I’ve really been loving ANTI, and this song is a good example of the moody haziness of the whole album. The production alone makes it worth a listen.

11. We Don’t Believe What’s On TV – Twenty One Pilots

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Again, the album this appears on (Blurryface) is one I’ve been really into recently but this one keeps reappearing on my day-to-day playlists. I don’t care what’s in your hair, I just wanna know what’s on your mind. I struggled to decide between this and Doubt as the Twenty One Pilots feature.

 

So there you have it. I encourage everyone to make similar ‘this is what it sounds like to be me right now’ playlists!

 

spotify:user:hannahpavlove:playlist:1kwv8Z9Q10orC4D3gxOw9H

Lafawndah – Tan (EP review)

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, February 2016.

On her second EP, Lafawndah (real name Yasmin Dubois) makes use of sonic space just as much as she does the sounds of her multicultural background. The half-Iranian, half-Egyptian alt pop artist throws in influences from her heritage as well as time spent in Paris, Tehran and Mexico to create something simultaneously textured and delicately scattered; the thick atmosphere of Tan never falters although the strength of Lafawndah’s ethereal melodies does at points.
The release, fifteen minutes in length, is threaded together with lyrics about politics and relationships with other women over persistent loops of pipes, drums, and synths in what becomes a near hypnotic infusion of rhythms. At such a short length, the lack of structure to each of the four tracks is palatable, though one can imagine that a full-length of a similar style may run the risk of being impenetrable. That said, nothing suggests that Lafawndah had any other intention; Western music is not what influenced her, and so her songs meander to fit a different (and what often feels more thoughtful) standard. Soothing yet uncomfortable; sleepy but unrelenting; certainly vulnerable but still with the confidence of a woman who knows what kind of art she wants to produce, Tan is a compelling account of juxtapositions.