What I’m Listening To: James Blake – James Blake


Written By Simon Chisholm

James Blake is a British electronic producer and songwriter. After a number of E.P releases and rising fame, he released his self-titled LP in early 2011. I was introduced to the post dub step sounds of James Blake when my brother showed me a beautiful live performance of the song ‘Wilhelm’s Scream’ at the BBC.

James Blake creates sparsely textured sound-scapes using slow throbbing electronics, processed sounds, synthesisers, percussion and vocoders. The textures vary subtly based on the mood; the vocal and accompaniment layering define the arrangements.

The grooves and sounds are disjointed in some places, and at times the songs are harmonically dramatic. The overall sound is chilled out and easy to listen to. Being an electronic producer it’s only natural for Blake to make use of House-like beats and coincidentally house-like grooves. The backbeats feature some rather severe rhythmic pieces, most likely achieved through directly editing the waveform, and sampling. This severity gives some of the tracks a rigid, disjointed feel, and other times the accompaniment is relaxed and free; the contrast feels refreshing.

Blake delivers his vocals in such a way that it sounds like crying; there is a sense of strain and desperation. The melodies are sung at the top of his range, but not falsetto, giving that strained sound. The main body of the songs consist of vocal layering. The lyrics are simple, making use of repetition, layering, flowing melodic contours and melismas (one syllable sung over more than one note).

The main accompanying instrument is piano, whose performance is very dynamic in it’s use of volume, attack, flourishes and relaxed feel. At times the piano takes on a classic ‘pop’ role. Other accompanying instrumentation includes elements including clicks, pings, slaps, shakers, noise, and various sampled percussion sounds. There is a sense that a lot of the performances were derived from experimentation with sound and manipulation. The use of electronic sounds promotes interest in the backing tracks.

‘James Blake’ released in 2011 by ATLAS. Produced by James Blake.

What I’m Listening To: James Blake – James Blake


What I’m Listening To: Steve Liriks – Pardon Me I’m Going Thru A Phase

Written By Simon Chisholm

I’m not a huge rap fan. Most of the hip hop we are bombarded with on the mainstream is about clubbing and ‘bitches’ and the whole thing just makes you ill. Steve Liriks’ LP ‘Pardon Me I’m Going Thru A Phase’ was recommended by fellow ‘What I’m Listening To:’ Reviewed Chaz Knapp, who also contributes to the accompaniment. Steve Liriks has created a rap/ hip hop album that is easy to listen to, and does not leave the listener wishing death on anyone who takes part in the making of ‘beatz’ and ‘spitting lyrics’.

The first thing I notice about Steve Liriks’ music is that its not a conventional four-on-the-floor back beat. There is actually some substantial instrumentation in the loops. The beats are groovy, using swing, and laid back feels; accents are syncopated. The beats aren’t overly complicated, they are only busy enough to serve their purpose, lay down the groove and keep the track flowing.

The instrumentation is fun. You get the impression that he’s spent time playing around and having fun with synthesizer sounds and effects. The fact that the sounds used aren’t conventional in a mainstream sense makes them interesting. The opening track has that futuristic sound typical of oscillating whirring synth sounds, and sawtooth leads. The accompaniment isn’t only electronic, there are some cool acoustic drum beats as well. Also, Chaz Knapp contributed some accompaniment arrangements for a couple of tracks.

Lyrically, Steve tackles themes including social commentary, dream chasing, philosophic life lessons and serious world issues. Setting him apart from a lot of rappers is his seriousness in lyric writing; Steve is not joking around, he is not trying to funny. Something that I admire in Steve’s performance is the high level of difficulty in which the syllables are phrased. The rhythm and phrasing of the words perfectly flows with the groove and is delivered with extremely clear articulation and diction; and he takes breaths somewhere in there too.

As an added bonus, “Pardon Me I’m Going Thru A Phase” is a free online release. You can download it here:


My favourite track is ‘World Ends’. For it’s message and the dramatic instrumentation and arrangement. This track is a fulfilling way of finishing the album.

What I’m Listening To: Steve Liriks – Pardon Me I’m Going Thru A Phase

What I’m Listening To: Anberlin – Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place

Written By Simon Chisholm

‘Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place’ is Anberlin’s fifth studio album, the second to be released on a major label. This release is in no way one of the typical pop rock ‘cookie cutter’ imitations churned out by major labels. In fact ‘Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place’ takes a step back to bridge the gap between 2008’s ‘New Surrender’ (Universal Republic) and ‘Cities’ (2007. Tooth And Nail).

Typical of Anberlin, we hear easily flowing, catchy, melodies, memorable hooks, and classic harmonic change and progression. There are many layered sounds that do not clog the mix, even making the illusion of being sparse enough for the airy vocal to be prominent. Each element is important to the overall sound-scape, whether simple (subtle percussion) or complex (main guitar ostinato).

The songs are easy to listen to due to the approach of the instrumentation. The drums groove on what are almost dance beats, staying upbeat keeping up the energy level. The guitars have some very interesting atmospheric effects and flowing countermelodies, while the bass has a distinct crunch. Lyrically, the songs broach subjects of emotional turmoil, internal struggles, social struggles and relationships. The vocal makes use of some free flowing ornamentation.

The overall mix fills out the bass, mids and high frequencies very well, like hearing the full spectrum without a harsh assault on the ears. There is a lot of reverb present, mostly on the vocal, usually I would condemn this, but it really enhances the sound. There is use of sampling throughout. In terms of structure, there are common threads in each of the tracks; the songs tend to build up to the choruses and the outro choruses repeat with harmonies.

This is another quality release from an old favourite, and is definitely recommended to anyone who has ever heard on Anberlin before, and a great introduction to the band for any newbie. Put this album on, listen from start to finish and have a fun foot tapping time!

Anberlin are:
Stephan Christian – Vocals
Joseph Milligan – Guitar, Keyboards, Programming
Nathan Young – Drums
Christian McAlhaney – Guitar, Keyboards, Programming
Deon Rexroat – Bass

‘Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place’ released by Universal Republic in 2010. Produced by Brendan O’Brien.

What I’m Listening To: Anberlin – Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place

What I’m Listening To: Four Year Strong – Enemy Of The World

Written By Simon Chisholm

Four Year Strong’s fourth album,‘Enemy Of The World’, is a collection of ‘Summer Songs’, or what I’d call pop punk battle anthems. No matter what label you choose to put on it, this is music that will get you moving.

For me, Four Year Strong falls into the same vein as Set Your Goals, with the call and response vocal style, and the mixing of pop punk and hardcore. Different though are the vocal timbres; the voices are full bodied and powerful with a throaty crunch. The vocal is a screaming singing style, but not the typical style associated with ‘screamo’, the delivery is more of a yell. As well as the use of two vocalists, the band heavily uses gang vocals, providing what sounds to me like a battle cry.

Lyrically, the tracks are intensely positive. Just about every song tells a story about overcoming problems, chasing dreams, motivational chants and just being you.

The music is intricately layered, and each layer is very rhythmic and busy. The guitar provides the main harmonic movement and also supplies leads (sometimes there are two leads), while the crunchy bass shreds, and the chugga chugga drums bust out polyrhythms, heavily crashing on the cymbals and attacking the skins with ferocity; All the while the main voice and gang vocals yell catchy hooks over the top.

While I love the album as a whole (it can be enjoyed from start to finish or on shuffle) my favourite tracks include; On A Saturday; Wasting Time (Eternal Summer); and Enemy Of The World.

As a whole ‘Enemy Of The World’ is fast paced, high-energy sonic fun.

Extra Kudos for the beards.

Four Year Strong are:
Alan Day: Vocals, Guitar
Dan O’Connor: Vocals, Guitar
Josh Lyford: Vocals, Synth
Josh Weiss: Bass
Jackson Massucco: Drums

‘Enemy Of The World’ released by Universal Motown Records in 2009. Produced by Machine.

Also check out Four Year Strong’s 90’s cover album ‘Explains It All’

What I’m Listening To: Four Year Strong – Enemy Of The World

What I’m Listening To: Veara – What We Left Behind

Written By Simon Chisholm

What We Left Behind’ is, in essence, an ode to all the negativity the members encountered in their hometown in Augusta, Georgia. Every track has a bitter feeling. The groups Sophomore effort explodes from your speakers.

The songs are fast paced pop-punk pump up music that will have you wanting to jump around. In keeping within the pop punk genre, the choruses are catchy, the rhythms are ‘dance-able’ and the tempos are fast and up beat. The vocals in classic pop punk style, heard easily in the phrasing and cadences. The themes covered by the lyrical content include bitterness, encouragement, honesty, selling out and fakers.

One aspect worth mentioning are the drums. They are huge. Brittany is a percussive powerhouse. I saw Veara when they came out for Soundwave (Feb 2010) and she blew everyone else away. While they are classic pop punk fun grooves, they also have a sense of intensity you feel in your gut.

The tracks are crafted nicely, with contrasting sections aiding to the ebb and flow of the lyrical content. The contrasting sections promote interest through chord and rhythm changes. You really feel the movement within a track when the rhythms change throughout. On the negative side, each of the songs sound very much like a part of each other, giving the album an abstract sound.

At times the singer pronounces some words a little funny. It works, but causes a kind of dissonance. He probably does this to fit the flow of the lyrics and rhymes. Look out for the opening line and the word ‘Frivolous’ in the opening track.

My B-Side Life

Veara are:
Bradley Wyrosdick – Vocals
Patrick Bambrick – Guitar, Vocals
Brian Kerr – Bass, Vocals
Brittany Harrell – Drums

Released by Epitaph in 2010. Produced by Jeremy McKinnon and Andrew Wade.

What I’m Listening To: Veara – What We Left Behind

What I’m Listening To: Yellowcard – When You’re Through Thinking Say Yes

Written By Simon Chisholm

When I heard that Yellowcard were back working together, I was quite excited. When I finally got my hands on the new release, ‘When You’re Through Thinking Say Yes’, I could not have been happier with the effort.

I really like this album, from start to finish. It is fun to listen to, has typical Yellowcard punk melodies and rhymes and the dynamics between tracks vary from frantic punk to ballads.

The album opens with a fast, paced energetic track, seemingly telling the story of the boys return to form, delivered lyrically and outlined by the instrumentation. The drums are fast, the bass shreds, and the violin and guitar supply the leads. Sit back and enjoy the breakdown, it sucks the breath from your lungs. The punk tracks are packed into this release, telling the tales of the hiatus, the time off and the return of punk rock’s biggest bands. The boys smashing into a heavy, fast, punk tracks showing that they are indeed back and ready to cement their place in your music collection. These tracks will have you jumping around busting out some air guitar/ violin. 

The punk tracks continue, till we reach the single ‘Hang You Up’, a ballad made up of sparse parts creating a full, layered texture. The track builds from section to section, raising anxiousness and excitement. ‘Sing For Me’ is another slow song. A heart felt ode to the silent sufferers to speak out and be heard. A song that delivers a message of support.

We conclude the record with a song accepting the fact that we all have to grow up some day, but imploring that we not give up our youth, our dreams or our ambitions.

You And Your Denial

Instrumentally, the album is ‘very Yellowcard’. Making use of the classic fast and inventive drumming, punk melodies and rhymes, leads and countermelodies supplied by violin and guitar, chugga chugga bass lines, and string interludes reminiscent of the classic ‘Only One’. As opposed to other pop punk and pop rock, Yellowcard make heavy use of riffs and ostinatos. These motifs separate the instrumentation from the vocal, keeping interest in the separate entities.

The movement supplied by the violin and leads on the guitar are a fantastic touch. Not only does it keep the interest and move the track, it fills the texture, creates a sense of polyphony and countermelody while not making the tracks too busy.

Lyrically, the band return their roots singing of typical skater punk subjects including life reflection, moving on, dreams coming true, reminiscing on the past, looking towards the future, feeling motivated and strong, calling for help and growing up. While the vocal has a fairly limited range, it gets the message across, and lets be honest, as long as the audience can sing along easily and can understand the words, you’re all set.

The songs are dynamic in the arrangements, they almost mimic stream of consciousness as a person thinks through a situation, makes a decision or gets an epiphany. It’s this stream of thought lyrical approach that makes the audience relate to the songs. High energy with contrasting sections create a sense of ebb and flow.

The choruses are catchy the lyrics hit home, and the melodies flow easily. What more do you want in your pop punk? This is one of those albums you can’t stop listening to.

Yellowcard Are:

Ryan Key – Vocals, Guitar

Sean Mackin – Violin, Vocals

Ryan Mendez – Guitar, Vocals

Sean O’Donnell – Bass, Vocals

Longineu W. Parsons III – Drums, Percussion

Released by Hopeless Records in 2010. Produced By Neal Avron.

What I’m Listening To: Yellowcard – When You’re Through Thinking Say Yes