MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS Froot

Following on from the high profile pop of 2012’s Electra Heart album, Marina And The Diamonds returned earlier this year with the more intimate Froot.

Electra Heart had been marked out by its concept album approach in which Marina Diamandis played around with ideas of female stereotypes cast against the widescreen stage of American culture. It’s a pool that the likes of Lana Del Ray also dabble in and it’s clear that Marina was continuing to explore that fascination with Americana that had been evident in earlier tracks such as ‘Hollywood’.

For the new album the Welsh singer/songwriter opted for material that was more under her control, writing all the tracks herself and limiting production duties to herself and David Kosten (known previously for production work with the likes of Bat for Lashes) to forge a much more personal and intimate record.

That theme is evident from the outset in the stripped down melancholia of opening track ‘Happy’ in which Marina equates the pursuit of happiness with, amongst other things, penning a good tune. At the same time, the kinetic pop that Miss Diamandis displayed on earlier tracks, such as ‘Shampain’ and ‘Primadonna’ isn’t entirely absent on this release. The quirky pop of ‘Froot’ plays with lyrical games involving fruity metaphors that give us strawberries and cream (where lesser talents would give us a raspberry).

Equally, ‘Forget’ is one of Froot’s hidden gems with catchy hooks and a euphoric chorus. It’s lyrical themes of regret and moving forward utilise Marina’s smart wordplay as she regrets the times spent chasing rabbits when “I was born to be the tortoise/I was born to walk alone”.

Froot also serves up self-doubt and introspection that picks at darker themes. ‘I’m A Ruin’ shows guilt at breaking up a relationship with Marina’s airy vocals soaring over spacey rhythms and melodies.

That broken relationship introspective carries over to the bassy pop of ‘Blue’ that showcases Marina’s trademark operatic trills, while offering uncertainty and doubt in it’s tortured lyrics dealing with regret and self esteem.

‘Can’t Pin Me Down’ shares more of those soaring vocals on an angry song that challenges concepts of categorising people. “Time to back off motherfucker” growls the Welsh songstress in a song that executes Marina’s knack for lyrical wordplay as she bounces between contradictions in her character.

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There’s also a simmering rage on the insistent pop of ‘Savages’, a track that took partial inspiration from the brutality of events such as the Boston Marathon bombing. “Underneath it all we’re just savages” suggests Marina as she reflects on the more unpleasant aspects of human nature.

Meanwhile, there’s pure, unabashed pop appeal on ‘Better Than That’ which delivers an effective slice of percussive melodies and confident lyrical delivery.

Closing track ‘Immortal’ bears similarities to ‘Teen Idle’ (from Electra Heart) with its simple, breathy vocal intro and washes of sound. It’s a broody slice of introspection musing on themes of life and death and remembrance.

Froot is ultimately an album that manages the tricky task of straddling intimacy and reflection with some full-on power pop bangers. The polished production, with its use of space and mood, finishes the job with style and delivers yet another classic Marina And The Diamonds effort.


Froot is available via Amazon

http://www.marinaandthediamonds.com

This article originally appeared on the Wavegirl site.

A-HA Cast In Steel

The Norwegian synth outfit return from their brief retirement with a new album and a new sense of perspective…

It was difficult to get too emotional once the last strains of ‘Take On Me’ had echoed around the Brighton Centre, one of the dates on a-ha’s ‘Ending On A High Note’ UK tour in 2010. By their very nature, farewell tours generally attract a greater audience, and I always felt the so-called split was more a cynical marketing ploy rather than a desire to draw a permanent line under an extraordinary career. As guitarist and principal songwriter, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, confirmed to the band’s official website: “The idea to end the band was forced. Not natural. It felt like a business decision to me. Just someone’s bright idea.”

a-ha actually reformed less than a year later in August 2011, albeit in exceptional circumstances, performing ‘Stay On These Roads’ at the Oslo Spektrum, in remembrance of the victims of the Norway massacre the previous month. And, if there was ever a reminder needed of the band’s enduring popularity in their native country, it came in November 2012 when they were awarded the Knights First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav for their outstanding contribution to music.

With an opportunity to perform again at ‘Rock In Rio’ (the scene of, arguably, their biggest triumph in 1991) too tempting to resist, the full scale of a-ha’s reunion was eventually announced – somewhat nervously – at a press conference in March this year, with details of a 2-year plan encompassing a brand new studio album and tour.

During the conference, Paul flippantly observed that he’d been “super busy and released one song” (the excellent ‘Manmade Lake’) in five years. In fact, he’d also collaborated with Jimmy Gnecco on ‘Weathervane’ for the Headhunters soundtrack in 2011, and contributed to albums by Linnea Dale and Hågen Rørmark. He also continued work on the next studio album for his other excellent band Savoy (who have to date released five studio albums and a retrospective), and other solo endeavours.

Magne Furuholmen, meanwhile, busied himself composing the soundtrack for last year’s Norwegian film, Beatles, and also contributed to albums by Tini Flaat Mykland, Marius Beck, Martin Halla and the Backstreet Boys. In 2012, the ‘supergroup’ Mags formed with Coldplay’s Guy Berryman, Apparatjik, released their second album, Square Peg In A Round Hole. He has also continued his dual-career as a visual artist, and in 2013 released a compendium of his 20+ year career, titled In Transit.

Morten Harket was equally as active, consolidating his career as a credible solo artist with a brace of fine albums. Out Of My Hands (unfairly lambasted by the Norwegian media upon its release in 2011) picked up where Foot Of The Mountain left off (retaining the core of its musicians and producers) and featured collaborations with Pet Shop Boys and Swedish band, Kent, By contrast, 2012’s Brother was a more organic and retrospective affair.

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With the 30th anniversary of ‘Take on Me’ chart success fast approaching there is still plenty more to look forward to. Not only have fans been rather spoilt with a mouth-watering 5-disc edition of ‘Hunting High and Low’ , but there are also deluxe reissues of the band’s mid-period albums, Stay On These Roads, East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon and Memorial Beach due for imminent release. A new biography of the band is also in the pipeline. And, of course, there’s also a-ha’s tenth studio release, Cast In Steel

Whilst the sun doesn’t always shine on this new opus, it certainly glistens in places. Gone is the back-to-basics approach employed so successfully on the excellent Foot Of The Mountain album, which – save for one Mags composition and a collaboration on the cut and paste title track – saw Paul restored as the primary songwriter. In its place is the more democratic template that fans have been accustomed to since their first reunion album in 2000 (Minor Earth Minor Sky), with each member making equal – though rather mixed – contributions to the new project.

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The album starts in earnest with the excellent mid-tempo title track, surprisingly overlooked as a single in favour of the next track, the epic ballad, ‘Under The Make-Up’. This was a brave choice of single, beautifully sung by Morten and effectively augmented by strings, but the chorus doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. Arguably the biggest surprise of the album is the songwriting input from Morten – ‘The Wake’, already garnering heavy rotation on Radio 2, is a fine pop single with an excellent chorus, while the beautiful, shimmering ‘Living At The End Of The World’ is one of the highlights of the album. Mags’ highlights include the full-on synthpop of ‘Forest Fire’ and the lyrically-biting ‘Mythomania’, (“You caught belief, like some disease/No words can save ya”), which has shades of De/Vision and some lovely OMD-esque choral flourishes. Somewhat surprisingly, the two weakest offerings come from Paul: There’s the rather plodding ‘Door Ajar’ (“I hit my head on the pillow hard” – really?!) and the similarly over-produced ‘Shadow Endeavours’ which, though featuring a nice gliding Harket vocal, ultimately loses itself in its frenetic arrangement and fizzles out in the coda. Fortunately he redeems himself with the lovely Beatles-esque closing track, ‘Goodbye Thompson’. And then there’s the stunning ‘She’s Humming A Tune’. It’s a track that dates to the band’s early days – bookended by some vinyl crackles to emphasize its early 80s vintage – and seemingly cut from the same musical cloth as ‘Scoundrel Days’.

Overall it’s a worthy, if not entirely cohesive, addition to the catalogue; one that could have been tightened up with the loss of a couple of tracks. It’s great to have them back.


Cast In Steel is available from Amazon.

http://a-ha.com

This article originally appeared on the Wavegirl site.

FIFI RONG Next Pursuit

FIFI RONG has been keeping a high profile of late with the 2013 release of her debut single ‘Over You’ and debut album Wrong, a guest appearance on Tricky’s album False Idols, a special secret gig and now the release of the new EP titled Next Pursuit.

The soulful tones of 2013’s ‘Over You’ were impressive enough, so the question is whether or not Miss Rong can match that standard on the tracks included on Next Pursuit.

Happily, the EP presents a fine selection of stylish tunes that shows Fifi playing to her strengths (and also collaborating with the likes of Sadisc and OP9). “I found myself musically and personally through the making of my first album Wrong“, comments Fifi, “Next Pursuit is a reinforcement of who I am, and a platform for me to set out on a musical journey toward the future and grow with it, always thriving to retain the freedom of making something new, exciting and better in one way or another.”

As we noted previously, there’s a delicate dream-like vibe to Fifi’s work, which also encompasses a broad range of genres including jazz, soul, dubstep and trip hop. It offers up a dreamy world of captivating beats over which her hypnotic vocals provide a point of focus.

The title track ‘Next Pursuit’ has a breathy, bassy charm to it which entices the listener into Fifi’s dreamlike world. Meanwhile, ‘Intimacy’ provides a more reflective soundscape of mesmerising beats and percussive rhythms.

‘Breathless’ is a more restrained number, a bass-driven slice of dark beauty with stark dub-inspired interludes. ‘Wishes Fault’ is an engaging tune that makes good use of electronic rhythms. It also features a nod towards more traditional Chinese melodies.

The acoustic guitar-led melody of ‘Cold In You’ utilises a simpler framework for Fifi’s voice. It’s a change of gear that eschews the heavier production for a more stripped down approach, but also demonstrates how effortlessly her sultry voice can adapt to a broad range of styles.

Finally, there’s some subtle strings on the burbling electronica that underpins ‘Equality’ – a track that weaves in some effective harmonic touches on the vocals.

The journey that she’s embarked upon has taken Fifi Rong to some interesting destinations. We recommend joining the journey to see where it takes you.


Next Pursuit is out now.
The album ‘Wrong’ is available from Amazon.

http://www.fifirong.com
https://soundcloud.com/fifirong
https://www.youtube.com/fifirong
https://www.twitter.com/fifirong


This article originally appeared on J-Pop Go on 26th March 2014