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Jake Bugg: Shangri La
At only 19 years old, English singer-songwriter, Jake Bugg, has achieved more than most would dream of; he's the British indie scene's Justin Bieber, but with more talent and less obsessive fan-girl hype. Having released his first self-titled album last year, Bugg is back with his second release, Shangri La.
The album was produced by Rick Rubin, and named after his home studio where it was recorded; perhaps a name-dropping exercise of sorts by young Bugg. Featuring 12 tracks, the majority barely hit the 3-minute mark, making Shangri La an easy-listening choice that won't challenge the ears.
The album's first single, 'What Does Not Kill You', addresses the UK's troubled street culture – car park stabbings, public binge drinking and general disorder. Riddled with heavy, punkish guitar sounds, the chorus sums up the philosophy; "What doesn't kill ya, what doesn't hurt/Sometimes you feel you're up against the world/This life it seems, to bring you to your knees/you try you bleed then finally you breathe."
On its own, the track might suggest to an unfamiliar listener that this album is a fast, to-the-point, rock epic. This is far from the case.
The album at times remains too calm for too long. Bugg rarely revisits the loud, rebellious spirit that the album opens with; possibly in an effort to keep Bugg's sound marketable to as wide an audience as possible in both US and Europe.
Instead, Shangri La's overriding tone is a mesh between old school 70s punk and the watery guitar tones of grunge. More often than not, the album wanders into folk, as heard in opening track, 'There's A Beast and We All Feed It', as well as 'Me and You' among others.
It's easy to pin-point the extent of Bugg's – and several hired song-writers' – influences; Johnny Cash, Donovan, the Beatles and Oasis are all definite inspirations.
Despite the derivativeness, credit must be given to Bugg's vocal efforts. His voice is reminiscent of a young, nasally Bob Dylan – especially on closing track, 'Storm Passes Away' – though slightly mellow in comparison.
And so in the end, Shangri La has few characteristics to distinguish itself from the cascade of similar sounding, mainstream releases over the past decade that have treaded across the en vogue, indie-folk rock phenomenon; don't expect anything fresh or enriching with Shangri La.
In eleven songs, they built a unique sound that you couldn't quite put your finger on: slow beats dressed in austerity, accompanied by enigmatic lyrics and lone wondering guitars. With a Mercury music prize under their belt and almost every music critic at their feet, they started work on their sophomore album.
But overall, this album is much less introverted. Both Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim seem to have gained confidence as singers and hone their vocal skills with more conviction then they did on their debut album.
Beatmaster Jamie xx, having built a very solid reputation as a producer in between the creation of the two albums, also steps closer to the limelight on this record. Even more songs than on the debut album are built on beats instead of a guitar riff and those beats are slightly more experimental than they previously were. There is even some steel drum - certainly not the hippest of instruments - seeping through in ‘Reunion’.
Ever since the 2012 release of their double a-side single, ‘Flying To Berlin/Husbands’, Savages have occupied an interesting space in the musical spectrums. With a mixture of old school post-punk and noise rock, they appear to be the perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans. Their frenetic, dark, and sinisterly beautiful style has been receiving rave reviews the world over from critics and fans alike and their latest EP Adore Life is more of the same.
This is an album about love, but one would hesitate to call any of the tracks traditional love songs. Instead of falling into classic song writing tropes about how amazing love is, Savages instead approach the subject matter from a much darker perspective. This is an album about the true power of love, nd how that isn’t always a good thing.
The opening track, ‘The Answer’, heaves with energy from the get go, telling the story of an almost obsessive infatuation, with frontwoman Jehnny Beth (real name Camille Berthomier) repeating the words “If you don't love me/You don't love anybody” throughout the song just to drive home the fact that love can be a dangerous force. The hectic instrumentation provides a binary opposition to Beth’s sweet tones and is the perfect start to the record.
That is not to say that Adore Life is unrelenting in its aggression. This album is a mixture of forceful distortion, British post-punk and torch songs, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the song ‘Adore’. It’s slow, it’s bassy, it’s reverby (is that even a word?) it’s dark, but above all, beautiful. Concluding with a lyrical coda accompanied by a slow crescendo, it sounds like something you would hear in a smoky Paris café at 3AM. Make no mistakes, this is an early contender for one of the best songs of 2016.
Even towards the end of the album, they manage to keep the energy up. The penultimate track, ‘T.I.W.YG’, is almost a sequel to ‘The Answer’ in terms of style and narrative. The instrumentation provides an organised cacophony to truly drive home the fact that, this is what you get when you mess with love.
For what is only a second album, Adore Life shows a surprising maturity from the London-based female foursome. The lyrics are emotive without being contrived, the instrumentation is varied without being schizophrenic and the style is classic without being clichéd. This is more neo-post punk as opposed to post-punk revival and thank god it is, because the last thing we need is another attempt to revive a past genre. Remember the comment about the band being perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans? This album hits the nail on the head, being equal parts a love song to the past and an ode to the fuzzy future.