England’s diamonds are beginning to sparkle…but they still need polishing

21 Nov

The World Cup was a torrid time for us England fans. Any pre-tournament optimism proved to be dumbfounded and pessimism possibly wasn’t enough as we dejectedly boarded our trains to work sans-free-newspaper for fear of one glimpse of the embarassed face of Roy Hodgson splattered across the back pages triggering a full on breakdown in the midst of our fellow commuters, following our unenthusiastic performance in Brazil.

The Lions roar faded into but a whimper with the only silver lining to be lazily plucked from the otherwise abject attempt at glory being the fairly promising performances from a handful of starlets.

This, combined with the retirement of stalwarts Gerrard and Lampard and the desperate need for a change of philosophy, has ushered in a new generation of England players which has so far been refreshingly successful. The team now has unrestricted pace and flare, and despite an evident drop in the overall quality of player, we’ve won all six games since Brazil.

There is little to criticise Roy Hodgson’s men for currently, exemplifying the schizoprenic nature of the back pages and warming our hearts for the bitterly wet and cold winter ahead. Of course, we musn’t get too ahead of ourselves, although we will because we’re England fans and and the hope and pride that burns inside us is too strong for us to be constantly downtrodden.

There’s plenty reason for England fans to be feeling content. We convincingly beat the Scottish on their turf for one; a contrast to the reverse fixture at Wembley where Rickie Lambert spared our blushes in a predictably fiery encounter. But on Tuesday night we saw our boys control the game and keep their nerve in the hostility of Celtic Park. The character we showed after conceding a sloppy late goal to the left-back Robertson (who took his goal well, and deserved it, too) by putting together a sumptuous passing move for Rooney’s second of the evening was immensely satisfying.

We showed similar maturity in Saturday’s encounter with Slovenia, coming from a goal down and stepping up our game. And the performances have been solid throughout the team too, particularly with Nathaniel Clyne staking his claim to the previously uninspiring right-back slot, and glimpses of Jack Wilshere’s potential shining through in a new, deeper-lying position.

It is these two positions that go some way to explaining the sudden upturn in England’s fortunes. Since the loss of Gary Neville from the side, we’ve been hideously under-fulfilled at right full-back. The infamously inconsistent Glen Johnson offered us little in the way of stability in that position but now he’s finally had sufficient competition and been dropped, the defence looks a lot more comofrtable and the team more balanced. Chambers, Stones, and now Clyne, have all looked strong enough candidates, demonstrating the old adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and with former England teams having a wealth of experience available across the other positions of the back four, it is a promising sign that we now have a similar situation at right-back too.

It is Wilshere’s form that is somewhat curious. Many critics of the Arsenal man have questioned his temperament, inparticularly concerning his ability to play the holding midfield role for both club and country. However, he is flourishing at the base of the England midfield, playing some delightful passes to his team-mates and upping his contribution to the team. Some might argue that Hodgson has found Wilshere’s natural position. Perhaps. But there is something larger at work.

Like many players, Wilshere is a player who has to feel loved; he gains twice as much confidence from having a good game, but conversely loses twice as much from a bad one. Therefore, it is important for Wilshere to be in his zone. This is where the change in system comes into play.

Inspired by the fluidity of Liverpool’s formation of the 2013-14 season, partly due to the inclusion of young Reds in the team, Hodgson has opted to introduce Brendan Rodgers’ philosophies to the England camp. The diamond in midfield, which proved to be a success for the vast majority of last season, has allowed Jack Wilshere and others to prove their worth.

While Wilshere may not be an out-and-out, Nigel de Jong type defensive midfielder who will steamroll anyone who gets in his way, the new formation allows him to dictate the play whilst remaining appropriately defensive. This is because the diamond includes two other central midfielders, Jordan Henderson and James Milner for instance, who run their proverbial buttocks off, whether it be through attacking movement or defensive positioning. This means Wilshere is protected from having the onus of being the man to break up play, something which is not his forte, as well as having space to spray over-the-top balls, like he did to Oxlade-Chamberlain to devastating effect against the Scots, due to the other midfielders making it for him.

It also means we can afford to play two up front but not in the flat and stale 4-4-2 of yesteryear. This is vitally important when you consider our strikers. Danny Welbeck is much more effective when part of a strikeforce and not played out of position, as is his former Manchester United team-mate and now-captain, Wayne Rooney, who noticeably becomes a more ardent player when deployed up top. And with a number of star strikers to choose from, it would be asinine to pick just one.

Going forward, it is imperative that we stick to this fluid formation that afford our creative players more freedom and continue the admirable new trend of calling up players that are in-form instead of by-price tag. Charlie Austin definitely deserves a chance, as well as maybe Mark Noble. Perhaps the most important thing we can take from our dreadful summer campaign will be the opportunities afforded to otherwise overlooked players and a lack of expectancy, which is arguably what held us back with the superstars.

Is Brendan Rodgers mad, lucky or a genius?

6 Nov

05/11/2014

I suspect there was an unplanned minute of silence from the Liverpool faithful who’d travelled to the famous Bernabeu stadium last night to watch their beloved Reds take on the European Champions. The empassioned away fans who had given up their time and money, and probably taken at least one day off work, to make the Champions League group stage match in Madrid might have been stunned into silence as the stadium announcer read out their teamsheet over the tannoy. Moments before, the 80, 000 souls who had congregated at the stadium would have just witnessed the announcement of a superstar Real Madrid team which included the likes of Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. They even had the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale, on the bench.

But then came the news that Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had opted to field an unexpectedly weakened team. Turning out for the Anfield club last night was Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen and a right side consisting of 20-year-olds Manquillo and Lazar Markovic. Social networks exploded with shock, amusement and predictions of Liverpool’s demise. Many expressed sympathy for the fans who had made it to the game, suggesting that they were there to watch Gerrard and Balotelli don the red shirt in a high profile Champions League game such as this, not Fabio Borini. There were also fears that the away side were going to be, as they say in football, “turned over”. Madrid had been rampant in the reverse fixture at Anfield two weeks ago, scoring three before halftime and deciding to rest on their laurels thereafter, and some were sure it would be a similar plot at the Bernabeu before the teamsheets had even been announced,

Yet yesterday evening’s game didn’t go as many predicted. Sure, Real won. But it was 1-0, at home, against an under strength Liverpool side who have experienced results with a stark contrast to last year’s impressive title challenge. It wasn’t a classic performance from Carlo Ancelotti’s men, nor was it the case that Mignolet had had a blinder to deny them a big win. The simple fact was that Liverpool put in quite a good performance, all things considered.

Kolo Toure, who has been somewhat of a comedy figure of late, rolled back the years to show good pace and strength against a formidable Real Madrid front line. The midfield moved the ball well and protected their back four. Lallana and Markovic showed promise, with the former going close to scoring in the second half with a neat bit of skill before shooting narrowly wide of Casillas’ left hand post. All in all, they did a job.

Football fans will cynically point to the issue of throwing in the towel before the game had started or perhaps the fact that they still lost. But coming away from the Bernabeu having only lost 1-0, regardless of who you are, has got to be a good thing. The fact of the matter is, Liverpool were not expected to win and only the most optimistic of fans would have predicted a draw, especially considering their team’s lacklustre domestic performances. Having lost 1-0 to Newcastle at the weekend, and with a clash against lead-leaders Chelsea coming up for the Reds on Saturday lunchtime, who could blame Rodgers for fielding a much changed team in a game that they had nothing to lose in?

Despite the loss, Brendan will be pleased with his players, and himself for picking them, as a handful might have impressed their boss enough for a first-team opportunity in the Premiership. It also afforded Mr Rodgers the opportunity to hand some of the younger players some valuable Champions League experience, which they might need should they progress to the next round, an event that’s entirely possible should Liverpool win their next two fixtures against Basel and Ludogorets, both of whom should, bar a miraculous upset, lose to Real, who are looking like runaway winners of Group B.

Now the Reds can turn their attention to the fixture with Chelsea, which usually proves to be a good game, regardless of either team’s form. And the shorter flight home and extra day of preparation could prove vital for Brendan Rodgers’ men, as well as the home advantage, as they look to derail Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season.

Flora Cash

1 Oct

[Recently, I began a section on my blog with the purpose of reviewing YouTube videos, with my initial post being on the topic of the Ice Bucket Challenge. I somewhat neglect my blog and I wasn’t sure about the quality of it so I’ve decided to go in a different direction with this piece and see how it goes.]

Unlike the last entry where I reviewed the videos, this is more of a recommendation, specifically a recommendation for you to listen to a band called Flora Cash, a band I stumbled across completely by happy accident. I won’t be anrgy if you don’t, I’ll just be disappointed. The band is composed of Shpresa Lleshaj (don’t ask me how to pronounce it), from Stockholm, and Cole Randall, from Minneapolis. It’s discovering talents like this that makes YouTube so great, maybe even more than being able to play Snake on the videos. It’s also a testament to Soundcloud as the pair met on there (is that a thing?), with each of them creating music seperately before meeting up to create some wonderful music. Comparisons can be drawn with Of Monsters and Men, the Icelandic folk-pop band but Flora Cash’s music has more of a country vibe with a modern twist. They are also look a lot cooler, check out Cole’s beard:

Freakin’ Love is the first song I heard by Flora Cash; it’s wonderfuly infectious and I fell in love with them upon first listen, similar to the way you fell in love with me upon first read of my blog. The use of an understated instrumental component with simple guitar chords really allows their vocals to do the talking (Unintetional lame pun). And they compliment each other fantastically, showcasing the strength and range of each of their voices. It really is a perfect match and it’s incredible to think that they come from opposite sides of the world. Thankfully their musical compatibility has been recognised and performed for us all to hear on YouTube. It’s a wonder why the pair haven’t been signed yet, especially with delightfully uplifting songs like this:

There are a host of other brilliant songs they have created, too, which I would suggest you listen to too, such as Old School Japan and Summerset. There is an intimate familiarity with Flora Cash, a rare and important trait for a band to have. Another strength they have is the ability to create a cracking cover. There are several of note, including On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons and Mumford and Sons’ Hopeless Wanderer but here’s perhaps the best one (’cause I said so):

Flora Cash are currently in the process of raising money to record their debut album, which, if they continue in the same vain, will surely be none too soon. And if they do get famous just remember, you saw them here first, you lucky bastards.

New Section-YouTube Reviews. I procrastinate so you don’t have to. Ice Bucket Challenge

26 Aug

My blog is desparingly devoid of activity for long periods at a time where I am busy or have been at university but I really want to start filling it up with content and try to write multiple entries a week. As such, I have decided to start a new section on here: YouTube video reviews. I count YouTube as one of the best websites ever created and I believe it will be remembered as such for years to come. However, I have noticed that there are a limited number of reviews for videos, other than those left by disgruntled 12-year-olds in the comments, which left me wondering a) since when do pre-teens have a greater lexicon of swear words than me?, and b) should I give it a go? As I love reviewing all kinds of media, I thought this opportunity was too good to pass up.

So here goes, I hope you guys all enjoy it and please feel free to give me some feedback and even some suggestions of which videos to review!

1) Benedict Cumberbatch’s Ice Bucket Challenge for #MND

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOa7ZjxRuKM

Seeing as it’s my first entry, I thought I’d start simple and current. And what could be more current than the Ice Bucket Challenge? Strenghtening further his claim to the Coolest Brit Alive crown (possibly just on the strength of his name) is Benedict ‘Sherlock’ Cumberbatch. Not only is he a great actor, but in this video, he demonstrates what a top bloke he is. Seeing as he was nominated on multiple occassions, Benedict decided to go further than most of the celebrity world and get substantially more ice and water thrown at him. The slo-mo effects during the administration of the plethora of bucket throws make for an enjoyable watch and definitely one of the better Ice Bucket Challenge videos I’ve seen, with only Patrick Stewart’s effort (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ju5VxyM3S4o) beating him to top spot, not only on the video front but, unfortunately for Benny C, to the Coolest Brit Crown.

2) Little girl does Ice Bucket Challenge

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waL5Cf-CFJU

In keeping with my theme for this post, I thought I’d add a personal favourite.With cuteness levels well over 1000 from the second it starts, it highlights to me what’s so perfect about the Ice Bucket Challenge, in that everyone can get involved, it’s a bit of fun and the videos are usually less than 30 seconds, therefore meaning you can watch them on the go. This tiny have-a-go-heroine is doing what all three to five year olds do and copying in the most adorable way possible. Combine this with a few shockingly adult choice words at the end, and you create, in my opinion, a highly Ice Bucket Challenge video with minimal effort.

3) “Leego” Ice Bucket Challenge

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0p8ALiwJ7E

Whenever a popular craze like this comes along, there will always be few naysayers trying to crush public morale because they weren’t loved as a child, or perhaps creating an alternative because obviously it’s “cool” to be different, no matter what you do. After a pointless 10 seconds of looking at an awkward young boy standing in the corner of his kitchen, his father steps into shot and asks the viewer incredulously “Why the f*** ‘Ice Bucket’?” as if it’s the most bizarre idea anyone’s ever cooked up. Doing his best impression of what he thinks on-screen personalities should act like, “Marcy Lopez” confidently tells his ever-present audience that he’s about to do the “Lee-go” challenge. He then proceeds to pour all of his son’s Lego pieces on top of himself, while screaming “Woo!” and walks off camera in a blaze of glory, surely destined for an award of some kind, an Oscar perhaps? His son surely deserves a “Best Supporting Actor” nomination right? To make matters worse for the poor guy, he states in the description that “We had to clean to kitchen for two hours”. “WE”?! So not only did Marcy Jr have to go without his Lego for his dad’s crackpot schemes, he then had to help him clear it up? No wonder he stood in the corner defiantly. All worth it for 74 views huh Marcy?

Kasabian-48:13 review

10 Jun

kasab4813

Listening to Tom Meighan and Serge Pizzorno describe the inner workings of their fifth studio album in an NME interview recently was utterly mesmerising. Granted, Serge might be from another planet, and Tom could do with a few workshops on expressing himself, but the passion is there in the words they use. Tom repeats the word exciting more times than a hummingbird flaps its wings and Serge runs out of superlatives for his bandmate’s vocals.

You can tell that the band truly believe this is the one. The album that defines Kasabian. The record oozes simplicity in a blend of their old and new sounds. Almost in a nod to their early work, 48:13 has more of an electronic element than, say, Velociraptor!, but keeps the integrity of their rock and roll routes. Routes, which, as is the same with a plethora of British rock bands (and the rest), stem from The Beatles. This is particularly noticable in ‘stevie’ and ‘(mortis)‘ with the boys’ melodic tones comparable to that of John and Paul. The opening track, ‘(shiva)’, echoes the resonance of Dire Straits or Pink Floyd. And glimpses of the band’s admiration for The Clash and The Doors is evident.

Yet ‘glass’ hits us at full pelt from a completely different angle halfway through the album. Forget rock and roll heavyweights, and start thinking hip-hop. A grimey, spoken word rap from Suli Breaks, the man who gave his two cents about education a while back, is included on this track, which surprised me but is somehow in keeping with the feel of the album.

I would call this album a concept album; the clash of genres and simplicity being key. Meighan and Pizzorno believe that “less is more” with this album and I can certainly see why: simple album name, simple album cover, simple messages. Even the video to ‘eez-eh’ is delightfully uncomplicated. It is this “stripped back” sound which gives 48:13  its iconic feel, which was a careful and succesful consideration by the band.

Whether the band also decided to release the album to coincide with Soccer Aid to remind us of Serge’s spectacular lob in the event two years ago or not, it is the eccentric singer-songwriter’s musical talent, not sporting, that is salient. The second single (and song) on the album, ‘bumblebee’, was apparently cooked up in the ‘Sergery’ and played to Tom well over a year ago. It is, in my opinion, the perfect festival song.

Imagine: the fluttering of speech from thousands of people around you as you await the headliner act, which this year is Kasabian. You can barely see in the dark but, suddenly, shiva comes rumbling through the speakers for its minute-or-so-duration and then out of nowhere, bumblebee crashes into your eardrums, propelling everyone into a chorus of collective chanting. Ecstasy.

48:13 is a great album. But we never really expected anything less of a band that only produces great albums did we? Kasabian’s strengths can also be their shortcomings though. The pure quality of their music leaves them in danger of producing very similar successive albums. They have counteracted this wisely but in creating such a bare bones album, it remains to be seen whether the substance and integrity of their music remains in tact. The lyrics pale in comparison to the enigmatic West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum for instance.

However, the explosive nature of the band has not been lost, and instead fits seemlessly into an impressive experimental record. The introduction of previously unused elements ensures 48:13 has a unique sound without straying too far from what we know. It might not be their best album in terms of quality of songs but it certainly is their most innovative work yet.

 

Rating: 7.5/10

Clean Bandit-New Eyes review

2 Jun

Clean-Bandit-New-Eyes-Album-Cover-2014-1200x1200

 

Not meaning to brag or anything but I’ve known Clean Bandit for about a year, long before Rather Be reached number one in the singles charts. But I can’t take all the credit. I wasn’t some lone disciple of theirs maniacally shouting at everyone I saw, proclaiming that they should listen to Clean Bandit or they’d be struck down upon their next move. Well I did do a lot of shouting.

But anyway, before we went to Reading Festival last year, my friend and I were checking out the talent of bands we somehow hadn’t heard of, despite our superior music knowledge. My friend told me to listen to a band called ‘Clean Bandit’, a band he said mixed classical music with a bit of rap and a bit of electronica. I was intrigued. So I listened. And heavens above, I was not disappointed, and we were perhaps more excited about seeing them then some of the headline acts.

So there we were, at the newly established Reading dance stage on the Friday at about 3pm, like a pair of derranged groupies, dancing like lunatics and ever since I’ve been waiting for their album. Nine months I’ve had to wait. NINE. I could have had a baby in that time. Don’t worry mum, I haven’t, but we did see their popularity explode when they released Rather Be.

Now, I’m not one of those people who dislikes a band as soon as they become popular, BUT, that whole time I have implored people to discover some of their other songs. Songs like Internet Banking, Dust Clears and Mozart’s House; songs which established their raw talent. And I made sure I played them on my radio show as much as possible. Thankfully, their album was released today and I can now sit back smugly and watch people rave about it.

This is where the self-promotion ends and the review of the album actually starts. Firstly, all of the songs are incredible. What I have always liked about Clean Bandit is how refreshing their sound is. The band themselves dubbed their genre “Classica-electronica“. They seemlessly blend violins and a double bass with electronic music and, impressively, they have managed to introduce this into the mainstream music charts.

I had already heard about half of the songs on this album before it was released as they have been on YouTube for a while and I’m obsessed enough to have made a playlist on my account. That’s cool though right? Of the songs I was yet to hear, one stands out as being as stunningly exciting as songs like Mozart’s House and A+E, which is Birch, the final full track on the album. The low tempo contrasts perfectly with the rest of the album and translates Bandit’s understated electro beats into more of a chilled out song.

If I had to make one minor criticism of the album, it would be purely a selfish one: I like albums that are seemless, with songs that effortlessly run into each other, making the album one journey instead of a collection of songs. New Eyes is the latter, but debut albums are scarcely produced in such a manner and I’m just being pedantic as always.

If you’re expecting every song to be exactly like Rather Be, then firstly you’ll be disappointed but, more importantly, you’ve musjudged Clean Bandit entirely. They have always experiemented with alternative sounds and this shines through on the album. The intelligent infusion of rap, reggae and dance music with classical music is something to behold, a truly original album with only room to improve for such a young band.

I’m seeing them at the Isle of Wight festival in just under two weeks and I know for certain that I’m going to be get a flurry of strange looks directed my way because I will be dancing like a madman once again.

 

Rating: 7/10

Coldplay-Ghost Stories review

20 May

Coldplay-Ghost-Stories1-e1396608548360

Coldplay are that band that some people absolutely detest. And it’s not just a hatred where the people think their music’s a bit boring; it’s an intense, campaigning-for-their-removal-from-society kind of hatred. To people who are fond of Coldplay in any way, like myself, this utter contempt for the band is bewildering and slightly unnerving. It’s not like Chris Martin stole these people’s bikes when they were kids so what is it that is so enraging to Coldplay-haters?

I’ve always had a sneaky suspicion that most of these anti-Martins are trying to look cool and hate a band that talks about feelings because that’s really lame. But then Yellow will come on in a bar and they’ll be singing along because it’s a an effing good song. That said, this doesn’t account for the hardcores–those who are probably really normal human beings but turn into murderous, demonic creatures should any Coldplay track play near them.

A dilemma for the ages, perhaps it’s not; but my confusion will only intensify if people tell me they don’t like Magic and its accompanying songs on their new album, Ghost Stories. I first heard Magic on XFM and immediately fell in love with it. The passion in the lyrics somehow perfectly contrasts with the tranquility of the track. And the rest of the album follows this same structure.

For the Coldplay heavies…ahem, by which I mean, those who are disappointed with the new direction because it’s “not proper Coldplay” and will play Parachutes on repeat because “it’s their best album”…this album might not be up your proverbial street. I jest about their complaints, of course, but, with this production of this album, it is perfectly feasible for Coldplay to have two very different types of fans.

The path Coldplay have decided to follow with Ghost Stories is incredibly far removed from their first albums and even up to some of the tracks Viva la Vida. The feel of the album is very fresh. The new sounds Martin and the band have experimented with reverberate around your speakers with a haunting resonance that lends itself to the title of the album.

And I think what makes the sound work so brilliantly well, is the effortlessness of Martin’s voice. On previous albums, he’s been belting out anthems but on tracks ‘Midnight‘ and ‘Ink‘, which is already a personal favourite, the soft but sharp vocals, entwined with the subtlety of the music, make for an alternative but similarly enjoyable listening experience.

The album flows naturally too. Even the transition from the blissfully peaceful ‘Oceans‘ into the most upbeat song on the album ‘A Sky Full of Stars‘ works well. And that is just it about this album, it works. It is understated and easy to listen to.

I might be way off here but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway: I reckon even former Coldplay-haters could listen to this album and not go on a city-wide rampage for a change. I might suggest that they would even go so far as to like the album but I don’t understand the psyhcology of these people so I could be more wrong about that than anything I’ve been wrong about.

The Coldplay we hear on Ghost Stories is a very different one to Parachutes or A Rush of Blood to the Head. The reason for this can be debated and of course, only confirmed by Chris Martin himself. But whatever the reason, the album is simply incredible. Give it a listen, whether you are a Coldplay fan or not. Because I might go so far as to say that regardless of your previous levels of love for the band, it is like listening to a new band altogether.

 

Rating: 8/10

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