Music, OldVenue

Album Reviews – Sia, DIIV and Foxes

Sia - This Is Acting. Illustration: Ana Dukakis for Concrete
Sia – This Is Acting. Illustration: Ana Dukakis for Concrete

Sia – This Is Acting
Exploding into the mainstream music scene in 2014 with 1000 Forms of Fear, after simultaneously performing and writing songs for years, Sia has become an unstoppable force in the industry. Penning several successful tracks for other artists including Rihanna and Beyoncé, Sia made the transition from behind the scenes to centre stage – despite the fact that she isn’t all too fond of fame itself, and chooses not to show her face during performances, opting instead for her signature silver crop wig. What does a successful song writer do when the tracks she creates are turned down by their intended artist? Fuse them all together to create an interesting new album, of course!

This is Acting is all about the different ‘roles’ Sia is playing by taking on songs designed by her for other artists, and in this way, she is toying with different personas, and acting her way through their ‘style’. In some songs this is quite literal, as she puts on slight accents and adjusts her vocal delivery to give a convincing performance as that star – ‘Move Your Body’ is a prime example of this, as Sia puts on an uncanny Shakira impersonation that the Colombian would be proud of. This is acting at its best, and Sia is a seasoned professional.

A risky venture, Sia manages to pull it off for the most part, and in some cases we get some unexpected gems from the singer. ‘Cheap Thrills’, an exotic EDM mash-up that is very ‘Pon De Replay’ – it’s almost an exciting game in itself to guess who each song was written for – and full of good old summer fun. If you’re on the look-out for the next ‘Chandelier’ then you may find it in the form of ‘Alive’, a powerful anthem that stretches Sia’s vocals to their limits; the end result is quite something. ‘Unstoppable’ is an invigorating delight that is a cheat-sheet for how to make the perfect pop song, whilst ‘House On Fire’ will surely add a bit of spark back into your life with its passionate simplicity.

Of course, for every success there are usually a few missteps, and Sia is not without fault, as tracks like ‘Reaper’ fall flat and don’t possess the same power or acting prowess to see them through to a sturdy finale. Similarly for ‘Sweet Design’ which sounds like a disappointing tribute act to some jazzy pop singer.

While This is Acting is almost like parody, and far from her most personable album (after all, that is kind of the point), it is actually rather clever in the way in which it manipulates songs written for other singers and gives them the ‘Sia effect’. What this means for her future is uncertain, but Sia’s latest album is a testament to her impressive ability as a songwriter and most importantly, her versatility as an artist.
Melissa Haggar

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DIIV - Is The Is Are. Illustration: Ana Dukakis for Concrete
DIIV – Is The Is Are. Illustration: Ana Dukakis for Concrete

DIIV – Is This Is Are
Diiv are the epitome of the contemporary American guitar band in that they are so easy to write off. On immediate listening, they sound like most of the pivotal guitar bands of the last 30 years (which means they sound most guitar bands nowadays.) Their frontman Zachary Cole Smith is a drug-addled Kurt Cobain-wannabe who might as well walk around with word “trust-fund” scrawled in black ink on his oversized tie dyed tee. Between an arrest for heroin possession last year, the on-off relationship with his girlfriend Skye Ferreira, his “obsession with mixing his songs” and the result of a general air of recovery/fecklessness, it’s taken him and his bandmates three years to follow-up their copycat sounding debut Ohsin with Is the Is Are (not a single fuck given for grammatical propriety intact.)

Now to the actual review – Is This The Are is actually quite an accomplished album. Cole may not sound the least bit original, but Diiv’s sophomore album proves that he can sound innovative. Erroneously described by Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen as “just an album about getting high” Is the Is Are sounds far more like the exact opposite – an album with the pulsating, shimmering mantra of “stay away from drugs, kids!”. This album also achieves a feat rarely seen in contemporary indie albums, the trick is that the first track ‘Out of Mind’ is merely ok – following track ‘Under The Sun’ to mimic Smith’s parlance – ‘Totally owns!’ Diiv’s second album is full of such aural conceits – ‘Dopamine’ a tale of Smith’s spiraling addiction for the hard stuff, sounds like a poppy skate through suburban summer avenues.

‘Blue Boredoms’ – with Ferreira doing her best Kim Gordon (as opposed to Courtenay Love) impression that the song sounds like the acoustic Lana Del Rey attempt that the tittle suggests and far more like the amphetamine-pepped, dirt-poor aggressive Sonic Youth of Revol. ‘Valentine’ actually manages to sound like Joy Division without overbearingly sounding like it’s trying to. All the while throughout the album the drums sound like good attempts at the Motorik technique, the bass is as playful and inventive as earlier Street Fighter sequels, and Cole’s guitar sound focused while affecting a sense of delirium. Even when presenting the listener with cautionary tales of drug taking such as ‘Bent (Roi’s Song)’ and ‘Mire (Grant’s Song’ – which manages to quote from Primal Scream’s “Movin’ On Up in a way that doesn’t make you want to instantly change album on Spotify) Diiv makes it sound interesting, creative, cautionary – but never preachy. Is the Is Are is foremost an album where melodies build and extremities alongside them, creating an urge to continue listening to whether the band can hold out, where they can turn it next without falling apart. If Diiv’s live reviews are anything to go by, they may be one of the indie bands around today capable of making that almost sociopathic urge apparent in the viewer. For an album all about falling about, Is This The Are is certainly an exciting listen. ‘Like, Rad’.
Wesley Barnes

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Foxes - All I Need. Illustration: Ana Dukakis for Concrete
Foxes – All I Need. Illustration: Ana Dukakis for Concrete

Foxes – All I Need
Southampton sweetheart Louisa Rose Allen – stage name Foxes – has been performing professionally since 2011 and has garnered a lot of attention in recent years following her Grammy Award winning ‘Clarity’ collaboration with Zedd. She’s come a long way since her Youth days, and this is evident in her most recent music, which is far more emotional and raw than any of her previous Glorious works, which were almost pristine in their production and a little too glossy on occasion. Her latest album, All I Need, combines pure pop splendour with emotional lyrics to create songs that possess style and substance; when it comes to making a catchy track that still maintains its meaningful nature, very few people do it better than Foxes.

Whilst her previous album was quite ethereal and wistful, All I Need is a far more serious take on her life and her heartbreak, showcasing the darker sides of relationships in devious ‘Devil Side’, a dramatic and edgy ballad that breaks the formula the singer has so dutifully followed before. The raw emotion continues on Scar, a meaningful song where we get to hear Foxes’ impressive voice crack and waver a bit as she truly immerses herself in the music, inviting us in to see a different side to the seemingly upbeat singer.

There is plenty of variety in Allen’s intriguing album, and the calypso-esque Cruel is a tropical tune that is a clear stand-out, while Feet Don’t Fail Me Now shakes things up with a jazzy banger complete with rhythmic clapping and piano beats that make you want to get up and dance. Rather than sticking to what works for her, Allen takes noticeable risks – some pay off, some don’t – especially with ‘Wicked Love and Money’. The former starts off in typical Foxes fashion (melody similar to Youth) but then does a complete switch, changing the tempo and producing a more candy-coated track that is juxtaposed with the harsher nature of the lyrics, making for a thoughtful and overall effective tune. The latter unfortunately does not have the same effect. Is it more than a bit ironic that one of the few songs that doesn’t really have an impact is the eclectic track where Foxes sings dutifully that “Money can’t love you/ Money can’t hold you”. Perhaps Foxes is proving her point a bit too well. This track does absolutely nothing and lacks almost any personality and sense of self.

Despite this, it would be appear Allen has managed to create a new album that, for the most part, has ‘all you need’. The upbeat songs with melancholy undertones are still there of course – but they are presented far more brutally and bare, not overpowered by sweeping synths or powerful percussions. All I Need highlights Allen’s ability as a personable songwriter and also utilizes her infectious vocals to its advantage, resulting in a collection of songs that show just how you produce pop that is both meaningful and conscientiously catchy.
Melissa Haggar

23/02/2016

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melissahaggar As the current VENUE Deputy Editor and former Film Editor, Melissa spends the majority of her free time sobbing over her mountain of MA work or indulging in cinematic outings. A self-professed lover of Gothic & Fantasy genres, Melissa naturally loves Harry Potter, aesthetically pleasing Instagram posts, and classical music. She also really wants to be Jessica Jones.