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Album reviews: Gaika, Daughtry, Israel Nash and more

The Independent logo The Independent 25/07/2018 Roisin O'Connor, Jack Shepherd, Jacob Stolworthy, Joe Goggins

Gaika – Basic Volume

★★★★★

On his debut album Basic Volume, Gaika breaks new ground on the UK music scene and asserts himself as one of the most provocative and multi-talented young artists of this generation.

Featuring production from the likes of SOPHIE, Dre Skull and Jam City, the south London artist – full name born Gaika Tavares – brings together a multitude of influences including dancehall, electronic, trip-hop and punk for this first studio LP, and incorporates mesmerising beats and huge, yowling instrumentation that recall the stark, futuristic landscapes of Mad Max and Ghost In The Shell… which in turn feels like an extension of the utopian nation he imagined in his piece for Fader: The Spectacular Empire.

He has a deep awareness of London’s cultural history in all its forms: on ‘Hackers & Jackers’ there’s a reference to the Clash song ‘Guns Of Brixton’ which feels entirely fitting, a tribute not only to his hometown, but also to one voice of a generation from another: an astute social commentary on gentrification and social clashes.

Elsewhere, hisses of static and echoing beats highlight industrial rock influences that Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor would applaud, showing his knack for placing organic sounds in mechanical surroundings, like a human heart beating in the chest of a cyborg.

Much like his contemporary Kojey Radical, with whom he collaborated on the 2016 track “Loose Residuals”, Gaika offers a fantastic, progressive aestheticism in the way he explores genre – the trickling water on “Ruby” recalls Radical’s brief intro on his recent Mahalia collaboration, and on “Grip” a rasping noise mimics the kick of an ignition before the song gets into gear.

But where the landscapes Radical crafts are lush and Eden-like, Gaika’s are overcast by clouds that signal an approaching storm: many of the tracks are battle cries and calls for resistance, like “Crown and Key”, with its eerie, drifting opening that snaps to attention with his distorted vocals that grow slowly clearer as the beat gets sharper, closing on the call: “Every ghetto youth must take back him crown/Just ride if you’re down, this fight is right now.”

Gaika pays no mind to the barriers or limitations of traditional genre or songwriting structure, tacking themes of identity and the tensions of life in the city with a profound intelligence; consistently challenging tired stereotypes put in place by a predominantly white mainstream media of what black British music is, and can be.

In an interview with the Guardian he spoke of how his video for debut single “Blasphemer” played with the idea of what it means to be a young black male… “it’s about hyper masculinity and vulnerability at the same time”, he said. There’s a similar vibe on the disarmingly soft, intimate track “Born Thieves”, where some moments see Gaika sing in an almost-whisper, creating a stark contrast in a mention of the childhood game “cops ‘n robbers” with the real-life violence taking place on the streets.

The SOPHIE, Gaika and Aart-produced “Immigrant Sons (Pesos & Gas)” offers a brief respite from the moodier production on other tracks and is more of an invigorating call to arms. SOPHIE’s influence is clear in the bright, giddy synths which dart across a dramatic hip hop bass line, as Gaika sings in a light, husky tone: “Young women with your heart in song/I wanna see you in rebellion/Stand up for yourself, don’t take no s**t/Put your bombs on the grip, every boot, every kick.”

Closing with “Spectacular Anthem”, a nod to the aforementioned empire in his Fader epic, you hear a keening chant over the Sylvan Esso-style beats and Gaika’s gruff, slightly melancholic reassurances. On Basic Volume, he’s an alchemist producing gold from the depths of his city, placing his art ahead of himself, and on this thrilling, dynamic and complex release, that gold shines brighter than most other releases this year. (Roisin O'Connor)

Israel Nash - Lifted

★★★☆☆

“I am a man of many names,” Israel Nash sings at the top of his new record Lifted. It’s a seemingly self-referential nod to the Missouri folk musician who just recently dropped his surname (Gripka) in a continued bid to evolve. This latest release, his fifth, is an intimate spiritual cleanse that demands multiple listens for fans’ faith to be rewarded.

Recorded in his ranch home studio in the Texan town of Dripping Springs, Lifted is an amalgam of pleasant melodies, scintillating harmonies and glassy lead vocals which evoke the likes of Neil Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty. Nash capably bounds his way through tracks - spearheaded by admirable opener “Rolling” - sizzling with an optimism disguised as two fingers in the face of the world leaders of today (he provided backing vocals for folk musician Anthony D’Amato’s anti-Trump song in the wake of his election in 2017).

These songs, however, with their rolling bass lines and thigh-slapping beats, find themselves in danger of coalescing into one which serves to make track seven’s tonal shift all the more welcome: with “Spiritfalls”, Nash kick-starts the album’s second half of songs eschewed to the minor, a breath of fresh air best exemplified with highlights “Northwest Stars” and “The Widow”.

Nash is a maestro and, although less experimental than previous efforts, his cosmic almost dreampop Americana featured here provides proof that music comes in many sounds as well as names. (Jacob Stolworthy)

Daughtry - Cage To Rattle

★★☆☆☆

Daughtry are a quintessential “love to hate them, hate to love them” band. Fronted by Chris Daughtry, who came fourth in American Idol, the group may have once labelled themselves rockers but their latest record – Cage To Rattle – takes them into outright pop territory. And, unfortunately, that comes with all the pop trappings you would expect from six people trying to make a record as inoffensive as possible.

Things begin mundanely enough with ”Heaven,” a track that sets the tone for a record where every track strives for a chorus that reaches the heights of an Imagine Dragon song but can never get there. ”Backbone” has a thumping stomp throughout, aggressively melting your ears with noise and sounding like Black Keys covered by Nickleback.

Of course, after two fast pace tracks, every pop singer knows you need a slow-building ballad. Daughtry do not let us down as “Deep End” comes in, containing a chorus more on-the-nose than the worst Foo Fighters tracks. “As You Are” keeps things basic, as does “Death of Me” – two middle-of-the-road ballads that sounding like something you would hear a local covers band playing their heart out to.

There’s so little differentiation from the basic song structure (verse/pre-chorus/chorus/repeat) that each track unintentionally become bogged down by repetition. I found myself switching off, shocking myself when I realised that the song had actually changed. Even when Daughtry attempt something instrumentally different – such as the electro-swing sapping “Back in Time” – they just cannot score anything above offensively average.

There are some moments where they get the pop-formula just right: “Bad Habbits” makes for one of the more exciting tracks on the record thanks to a strong chorus, while “Gravity” has an intoxicating guitar rift. By the end of Cage to Rattle, Daughtry attempt to go a little harder, turning up the distortion ever so slightly. There's even a guitar solo on “Stuff of Legends”. Yet, it's too little too late. “Won't let them get to me,” Daughtry sings, but the label bosses wanting a by-the-numbers record that has zero personality but chart potential seem to have got their way. (Jack Shepherd)

Kenny Chesney – Songs for the Saints

★★★☆☆

Kenny Chesney built his impressive CV – which encompasses stadium tours, thirty million records sold worldwide, fourteen albums to have been certified at least gold in the US., and an annual income that stretches well into eight figures – on the back of introspective balladeering and the kind of lighters-in-the-air vagaries and mass-market platitudes that guarantee him a broad fanbase.

With Songs for the Saints, though, he’s changing course; for a start, the album has him looking outwards, at the Virgin Islands that he’s called his home for years in the wake of the devastation wreaked there by Hurricane Irma late last summer. He does so with an endearing affection, particularly on the title track, a tender celebration of the indomitable spirit of the islanders that have become his neighbours – he name-checks farmers, teachers and kids playing in the street as he contemplates the mammoth task of rebuilding that lies ahead.

Chesney is canny enough to know that scathing political messaging is going to do nothing but hurt him with the devoted supporters he refers to as the "No Shoes Nation", and yet the Trump administration’s woefully inadequate response to the disaster can hardly be ignored on a record so dominated by it – especially given how so much of Chesney’s love for his adopted home is rooted in its diversity.

Instead, then, he quietly champions racial harmony on ‘Get Along’, and embraces stylistic experimentation on the mandolin-driven ‘Pirate Song’ as well as the reggae-tinged "Love for Love City", which features steel drums and a guest turn from Ziggy Marley. It won’t be enough to alienate long-standing followers or to attract too many new ones, but Songs for the Saints is nothing if not heartfelt. (Joe Goggins)

Cody Jinks – Lifers

★★☆☆☆

At the age of 37 and with six records already under his belt, something seems off about referring to Cody Jinks as one of the rising stars of U.S. country. Only now, though, is the Denton, Texas native stepping away from self-releasing his music, having signed with noted roots imprint Rounder for this seventh LP, a decade after his first foray into the genre (he previously played thrash metal).

Jinks is happy to describe himself as a populist songwriter and he certainly sets his stall out on Lifers’ title track, which sees him raise a metaphorical glass to “struggling strivers, working long after the day is done”, as well as to the “cowboys in old hats – the last of the great generation.”

Elsewhere, we get lead single "Must Be the Whiskey’, a rambunctious addition to the drinking song canon, as well as ‘Big Last Name’, a ramshackle blues affair that lambasts a local girl for having ideas above her station, including the temerity to aspire to financial security – “ain’t nothing good enough in this town”, apparently.

It’s probably safe to assume that Jinks did not vote for Hillary Clinton and, in fairness, there’s surely as big an audience for this kind of chip-on-the-shoulder country rock as there’s ever been in America. It does mean, though, that he’s boxing himself in; musically, Lifers is by-the-numbers and thematically, it doesn’t ever threaten to break any new ground within the genre that he’s being tipped as a future leading light of. Still, the country rock hardcore will surely lap it up. (Joe Goggins)

Tony Molina – Kill the Lights

★★★★☆

First things first: if you’re the sort of person who puts a quid in the jukebox and then picks a load of progressive metal, not because you like it but because you want to see your money go as far as possible, you’d be well-advised not to splash out on any of Tony Molina’s records.

The West Bay songwriter’s latest is, by his own fleeting standards, practically an epic, with the longest track clocking in at a relatively sprawling two minutes and twenty-six seconds. The entirety of Kill the Lights runs at close to a quarter of an hour, almost four minutes more than his twelve-song debut, 2013’s Dissed and Dismissed.

That LP – if you can call it that - was warmly received on the very reasonable basis that quality trumped quantity, and Kill the Lights feels like another step forward for Molina, demonstrating real diversity in his craft. He wears his influences pretty firmly on his sleeve, but does so stylishly; the guitars on opener “Nothing I Can Say” chime handsomely in a manner that recalls The La’s, whilst on the achingly pretty “Wrong Town”, Molina allows a little bit of hush to creep into his vocals, and suddenly, he sounds an awful lot like Elliott Smith.

Elsewhere, “Inside Your Mind/Losin’ Touch” might be the highlight, hinting as it does at the psych-ier, woozier side of his myriad sixties heroes. The easy misconception would be that the brevity of Molina’s work suggests he might be work-shy. On Kill the Lights, though, he makes the arduous process of self-editing sound simple; with no fat or frills, the melodies shine through in gorgeous fashion. (Joe Goggins)

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