Sunday, December 30, 2012

Round two: Green Day make a splash

album review

Band: Green Day
Album: ¡Dos!

Their touring plans may have been postponed following Billie Joe Armstrong’s onstage meltdown and subsequent stint in rehab, but the unveiling of their three-albums-in-four-months project continues unabated with the release of ¡Dos!, the second disc in the ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! series.

¡Uno!, the first part of the trilogy, reminded listeners that the group may have been delving into rock operas of late, but they can still churn out a set of fun pop rock ditties, taking us back to the sound that swathed their ‘90s offerings. Like on the first installment, the pop rockers still retain the vigor of their old, pre-American Idiot selves on this follow-up, but unlike ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! seems slightly less concerned with being breezy power pop, and displays a tad more edge and variety. Mostly there isn’t a dramatic shift in direction, just a slight tilt towards a more garage rock oriented sound.

The songs on the set are variously hedonistic and cautionary. Billie Joe Armstrong sings about reckless partying and he sings about its pitfalls which seem all the more resonant given his current circumstances; perhaps the songs’ underlying darkness becomes more apparent in light of how things have unfurled for the singer during the last few months.

First single, ‘Stray Heart’, a straightforward, catchy tune, is business as usual for the California rockers, and the energetic jaunt of songs like ‘Stop When the Red Lights Flash’, ‘Wild One’, ‘Baby Eyes’, and ‘Wow! That’s Loud’ continues the rock ‘n’ roll party while exuding the standard Green Day charm.

Elsewhere though, the change in direction becomes more apparent. The hip hop of the peculiar ‘Nightlife’ - the group’s awkward collaboration with rapper Lady Cobra - goes for a sound that is better left to the Gorillaz, although it does show that the band is trying something different; not necessarily impressive, but definitely different. The Strokes reminiscent ‘Lazy Bones’ and The White Stripes tinged ‘Lady Cobra’ - that, thankfully, does not feature Lady Cobra - see the band take a brisk trip to the garage. And the somber album closer ‘Amy’, a tribute to Amy Winehouse, brings the album to a seemingly heartfelt, albeit a tad listless, end.

As an album, ¡Dos! is more interesting and varied but less poppy than ¡Uno!, and its content carries darker undertones beneath the surface. Its overall effect brings Green Day’s side project Foxboro Hot Tubs to mind, which isn’t surprising since it even includes a track that started as a Foxboro tune. It may be more scruffy than ¡Uno!, but it certainly feels more polished than Stop Drop and Roll!. As for the ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! project on the whole, the presence of fillers in the set is becoming more apparent as we go along. Green Day aren’t writing about matters of grave importance or creating grand rock operas here, but they certainly know how to make catchy, enjoyable music. And while some of the songs on ¡Dos! don’t stay with the listener quite like some of the group’s more immediate ditties do, there are enough interesting songs on this set to keep you interested in the trilogy and looking forward to its next installment.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 30th December, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012


cover story

The world rolled along the same as ever, as humanity continued its freefall for yet another year in 2012. And the fact that it was a leap year meant we had an extra day to plunge a little deeper into the abyss that is our existence. 2012 wasn’t a complete write-off though, as we did make some advances in science, inspired each other by attempting daring feats, and came together to raise our voices against oppression and injustice. Here’s what we were up to during the last 366 days…

- The Year of Cooperatives: 2012 was declared the International Year of Cooperatives by the UN to highlight the importance and “contribution of cooperatives to socio-economic development, particularly their impact on poverty reduction, employment generation, and social integration”. Here’s hoping the UN can declare 2013 as the Year of Mass Communication so that they can themselves learn how to reach out to the public and actually inform us about these kinds of things for a change.
- U.S. tornadoes: A tornado outbreak in the Southern United States caused millions of dollars of damage, but tornados weren’t the only natural disasters that hit the world this year. Adding to our worry were earthquakes, hurricanes, and typhoons that devastated thousands of people. The East Azerbaijan earthquakes (August) stole over 300 lives in Iran, becoming the deadliest earthquake of the year. Hurricane Sandy (October) struck North America, killing over 250 people. And the Philippines was devastated by Typhoon Bopha (November), which resulted in over 900 fatalities, and left over 800 people missing.

- Queen’s Diamond Jubilee: The 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne marked one of the most important events of the year, and we’re using the word important quite incorrectly here. Later in the year, various members of the British Royal Family were also embroiled in some controversies. Kate found out the hard way that if you’re famous, then you really shouldn’t do anything outside your home that you don’t want the whole world to see. Harry discovered why excessive partying and playing strip billiards aren’t a very good idea. And we all learned that crank calls aren’t funny; and, humiliating people for a laugh is both crass and dangerous.
- Academy Awards: Hollywood continued its self-indulgent back-patting with its usual line-up of award shows. At the head of the pack were the 84th Academy Awards, which saw the genuinely delightful The Artist (2011) take home the coveted Best Picture award, as well as four other Oscars, including the Best Director prize for Michel Hazanavicius, and the Best Actor trophy for Jean Dujardin. Meryl Streep won the Best Actress honour for her role in The Iron Lady (2011). Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy became Pakistan’s first female Oscar winner, when Saving Face (2012), the documentary she directed with Daniel Junge, won the golden statuette in the Best Documentary, Short Subject category. (And yes, we’re still quite miffed that little Uggie wasn’t awarded a Best Animal Actor trophy!)
- Arab Spring: The ongoing Arab Spring movement continued to reshape the Middle East. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was succeeded by Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi in February; Mohamed Morsi because the President of Egypt in June; Mohammed Magariaf was anointed the Chairman of the General National Congress of Libya in August; while unrest continued in countries including Bahrain and Syria.

- James Cameron’s deep sea dive: Canadian film director James Cameron became the first person to reach the Challenger Deep, the deepest known point on Earth, in a solo trip, piloting the Deepsea Challenger craft. He had supposedly realised that humanity has hit rock bottom and wanted to try and find it …
- Encyclopædia Britannica: 244 years after first publishing their encyclopaedia in 1768, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. announced that it would not produce any new print editions of the encyclopaedia. Trees of the world heaved a collective sigh of relief.

- Siachen avalanche: As wonderful as nature is, it can sometimes be heartbreakingly brutal, as it was when the avalanche in the Siachen region hit a Pakistani military camp. 124 soldiers and 11 civilians were buried under the snow and lost their lives.
- Bhoja Air crash: Another tragedy struck when Bhoja Air Flight 213 crashed while travelling from Karachi to Islamabad, killing its 121 passengers and six crew members. This was one of a number of aviation accidents of the year, the deadliest of which happened in Nigeria in June, when the Dana Air Flight 992, travelling from Abuja to Lagos, crashed, killing all 153 people on board.

- Russian elections: Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev switched positions, and went from being the Prime Minister and President to becoming the President and Prime Minister respectively. Because, you know, change is important.
- The Scream auction: The sale of a pastel version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream set a world record, earning the highest nominal price for a painting at auction. It was sold for US$120 million … a sum that left us with a suspiciously similar facial expression as that of the figure in the painting.
- Tokyo Skytree opened: The world’s tallest self-supporting tower, Tokyo Skytree, which is 634 metres high, was opened to public, and instantly gave all the other towers in the world an inferiority complex.
- The Avengers released: The Avengers raked in $1.5 billion at the box office, becoming the most successful film of the year. The Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises and the Bond film Skyfall eventually ended up second and third on 2012’s highest grossing list respectively.

- Solar transit of Venus: The century’s second transit of Venus across the Sun took place and lasted for six hours and 40 minutes. For those of you who missed it, don’t worry; all you have to do is live for another 105 years and you can catch the next one in December 2117.
- IBM Sequoia: The IBM Sequoia (America) replaced the K computer (Japan) as the world’s fastest supercomputer, performing at a speed of 16.32 petaflops, 55 percent faster than the K computer’s 10.51 petaflops. How many petaflops till they rise and start taking over the world, does anyone know? Should we be concerned yet?
- ‘Gangnam Style’: Korean rapper PSY’s infectiously grating hit ‘Gangnam Style’ drilled its way into our brains when it went viral after its video was uploaded on YouTube, eventually taking over the world and becoming a global phenomenon. Its signature dance moves were then performed by lots of people around the world, including singers, actors, athletes, and reportedly even British Prime Minister David Cameron!
- Pakistani government: After Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani’s disqualification and ouster for contempt of court, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was elected the Prime Minister of Pakistan, continuing our leaders’ incessant game of political musical chairs. As they say, nothing is certain but death, taxes, load shedding, and sporadic changes in the Pakistani government.
- Fifty Shades of Grey's success: Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy may have become the best-selling series of all time on Amazon this year, but it was the massive success of E. L. James’ erotic series that really grabbed the headlines. Fifty Shades of Grey became the fastest selling paperback of all time in Britain, and sold millions of copies all over the world. Frankly, between this and the rise of Honey Boo Boo, we’re not sure humanity should be allowed to continue to exist anymore.

- Higgs boson discovery: The much sought after and notoriously elusive Higgs boson may or may not have been observed after experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. This may or may not be a monumental discovery of historic significance. We may or may not be very excited about this.
- Summer Olympics: The 2012 Summer Olympics were held in London, where the best physical specimens of humankind gathered to make the rest of us feel like unfit, lazy slobs. Wrecking our self-esteem the most was American swimmer Michael Phelps, who became the most decorated Olympian ever with a total of 22 medals. Topping the country medal count tallies were 1) United States (46 gold, 29 silver, 29 bronze), 2) China (38 G, 27 S, 23 B), and 3) Great Britain (29 G, 17 S, 19 B), while Pakistan met expectations with our usual tally of 0 gold, 0 silver, and 0 bronze. We did redeem ourselves later in the year though, winning the Asia Kabaddi Cup (November), triumphing at the IBSF World Snooker Championship with Muhammad Asif winning the tournament (December), and finishing third in the Hockey Champions Trophy (December).

- Curiosity landing: NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in the Gale Crater on Mars, travelling thousands of miles in search of a friend, only to find that nobody was home. Or, it might’ve gone there to study the planet. Either way, the Martians didn’t show up to welcome it. We’re disappointed.
- Lance Armstrong doping scandal: Good news everyone: now we all have the same number of Tour de France titles as Lance Armstrong does! Bad news Lance Armstrong: you don’t have any Tour de France titles anymore. After being stripped of all his accolades since August 1998 for using performance-enhancing drugs and being banned from professional cycling for life, Armstrong responded by calling the cheating allegations a “witch hunt”, and said he is “finished with this nonsense”.
- Eid: Eid-ul-Fitr was celebrated on one of a number of days after everyone disagreed to agree on the sighting of the moon. Eid-ul-Azha followed, with considerably less controversy, in October.

- Innocence of Muslims trailer: The trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims on YouTube caused anger in the Muslim world, and led to protests in many countries, which resulted in a number of deaths. The video was subsequently blocked by YouTube in some countries, while YouTube was blocked by other countries, including Pakistan.
- Factory fires: Fire wrecked havoc multiple times during the year. Fires broke out in factories in Karachi (garment factory) and Lahore (shoe factory), killing more than 300 people and injuring dozens more. Also, a fire at a prison in Honduras killed over 350 inmates (February); a Bangladesh factory fire killed more than 100 workers (November); Brazzaville, the capital of Republic of the Congo, was ravaged by fires after a series of explosions at a munitions dump that left more than 250 people dead; and 79 people died due to rioting and fire at an Egyptian soccer match (February) in the worst incident of football violence in Egyptian history. And as with both fire and rioting, terrorism also continued to make periodic appearances throughout the year and left with a considerable toll.
- iPhone 5 release: Apple released its iPhone 5 smartphone so that everyone could start speculating about iPhone 6. Fans rushed to buy iPhone 5 on the day of its release – presumably because they were concerned it would be outdated by the time they reached the store – then marvelled at the gadget in their hands for about ten seconds before immediately falling into a deep depression over the fact that it wasn’t an iPhone 6. Apple also released the iPad 3 tablet, and then, just for laughs, released the iPad 4 a few months later.

- Felix Baumgartner’s space dive: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s just an Austrian dude skydiving from the edge of space. As part of the Red Bull Stratos space diving project, and with enough sponsor’s logos plastered everywhere to prompt a logo counting contest, daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without any machine assistance, after jumping out of a helium-filled balloon from 39 kilometres (24 miles) into the stratosphere over New Mexico, because that seems like a perfectly sane thing to do. Oh and in case you missed the very subtle marketing, the project was largely sponsored by Red Bull. As they say, one small step for man, one giant leap for advertising!

- U.S. Presidential elections: A few months after slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon and thereby certifying himself as the hippest head of state ever, U.S. President Barack Obama won a second term in office, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney. A few days later, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned after having an extramarital affair. Yes, a man cheated on his wife; our lack of shock is astounding. Elsewhere, France dumped Nicolas Sarkozy in favour of François Hollande (April); Greece elected a new parliament – twice (May, June) – amidst continuing economic woes; Mali ousted its president in a coup (March); and Kiribati held elections (January) in hopes that we’d notice it exists. Mission accomplished, Kiribati!
- Malala assassination attempt: 14 year old student and education activist Malala Yousafzai was shot and injured in an assassination attempt but survived the attack.
- Operation Pillar of Defence: To make sure that we don’t inadvertently have a year without death and destruction in the Palestinian territories and Israel, the cycle of violence continued in the region, killing nearly 150 people in the process.

- 12-12-12: At 12:12pm on the 12th day of the 12th month of the year 2012, nothing noteworthy happened.

- Apocalypse averted: The Mayans lost all credibility as the world failed to come to an end on the 21st of December. So the world didn’t end, but the year now comes to a close. But keep your hopes up, doomsday enthusiasts – maybe the world will end in 2013; keep your fingers crossed!

And with that we say goodbye to 2012, and hope that the next 365 days bring us more joy and less load shedding than the last 366 did. Happy New Year everyone!

- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 28th December, 2012

Rewind - a look back at music in 2012


- It was a good year to be a Green Day fan. Convinced that releasing one album in a year simply wasn’t cool enough, the pop rockers decided to release three instead.
- It was not a good year to be a Jet fan. The alternative rock band broke up, as did pop group Westlife. And one hit wonders Chumbawamba got knocked down, but didn’t get up again...
- My Chemical Romance released a bunch of singles as part of their Conventional Weapons series.
- Muse were given the task to create the official song for the London Olympics, so they made ‘Survival’, a track that took them to a whole new level of corny. The fact that it seemed more suited for soundtracking a battle than a gaming event is clearly irrelevant.
- The Olympics closing ceremony, A Symphony of British Music, included performances by Pet Shop Boys, Madness, Elbow, George Michael, Annie Lennox, Spice Girls, Take That, and The Who.
- Blur released the brilliant ‘Under the Westway’. Not many people noticed.
- Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, Usher, Shakira, Tom Jones,, Jessie J, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, and just about everyone who has ever sung a note in public became a judge on one of a gazillion reality TV singing contests, as the quest to produce more mediocrity for the masses continued.
- Singing superstar Whitney Houston passed away unexpectedly at the age of 48. We also said farewell to the brilliant Adam Yauch (Beastie Boys), the Queen of Disco Donna Summer, singer Etta James, the Monkees’ Davy Jones, and the Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb.
- Adele won six Grammys, recorded the theme song for the new Bond movie Skyfall, had a baby, and continued to dazzle us with her awesomeness.
- Taylor Swift had another high-profile, short-lived relationship (this time with Conor Kennedy), and made an album about all her other high-profile, short-lived relationships. She also tried to beatbox; it was embarrassing.
- PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ became an international hit, and turned into a song that we will never forget ... though we will try very, very hard to.
- Carly Rae Jepsen wanted us to call her Maybe. We still prefer calling her Carly Rae Jepsen though.
- Lady Gaga still didn’t go back to her home planet.
- Madonna continued to have a career, for better or for worse. Mostly for the worse.
- Nicki Minaj became the most influential female rapper of all time, proving once and for all that the world’s quality threshold has fallen down a bottomless pit.
- Ke$ha released her second album, which was great to listen to if you like listening to terrible music.
- Miley Cyrus got a haircut.
- Rihanna released her seventh album, and embarked on a mini tour, performing seven shows, in seven countries, in seven days.
- Christina Aguilera released new music. She probably enjoyed making the album; we just didn’t enjoy listening to it.
- Unlike last year, Kim Kardashian did not release a song this year. Our ears were grateful for this.
- Katy Perry shared a part of herself with us in a 3D movie.
- With her propaganda machine working overtime, Lana Del Rey gave a really bad live performance on SNL, and then somehow became very famous. It’s sad how the world works.
- Last year’s Making Mirrors continued to make Gotye a worldwide success.
- fun. were fun to listen to.
- Liv Tyler mangled an INXS song, but looked hot doing it.
- P!nk told us the truth about love.
- Jessie J revealed that she has never heard of PJ Harvey, which is kinda ironic because we wish we had never heard of Jessie J.
- Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger and singer Avril Lavigne got engaged. Here’s hoping they don’t make any music together ... or separately either.
- Girls Aloud reunited.
- Spice GirlsViva Forever! showed us what happens when you turn the world’s weakest discography into a musical.
- The news of Kevin Richardson rejoining the Backstreet Boys reminded everyone that the Backstreet Boys still exist for some reason. Feeling left out, 98 Degrees, who had previously had the decency to break up, decided to reunite.
- Paul McCartney collaborated with Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear - the surviving members of Nirvana - for the song ‘Cut Me Some Slack’ that was debuted at the 12-12-12 benefit concert in aid of victims of hurricane Sandy.
- Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez broke up. Millions of teenage girls rejoiced. But then the two reportedly got back together, cutting the celebration short.
- One Direction made it hip to be a manufactured product again.
- Calvin Harris triumphed with 18 Months.
- Jack White released an album. It was unsurprisingly good.
- No Doubt released an album. It was unsurprisingly bad.
- Tom Cruise tried to sing. We think we might know why Katie left him ...
- John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John reunited to make an awkward Christmas album for charity.
- The Fray released new music to the delight of TV drama producers everywhere.
- Jay-Z met Ellen Grossman on the subway.
- Shifting his allegiance from canine to feline, Snoop Dogg changed his name to Snoop Lion, and also performed with a hologram of Tupac Shakur at the Coachella Music Festival.
- Fiona Apple postponed her tour to spend time with her dying dog, and melted our hearts in the process.
- The Beach Boys came together to mark their 50th anniversary and released That’s Why God Made the Radio, their first album of original material in 20 years.
- Skrillex pleased the fans of electronic music and dubstep, while giving the rest of us a headache.
- Bruce Springsteen continued to be awesome.
- Linkin Park released a new album. It hit all the clichés we love.
- INXS decided to call it a day, approximately 15 years after they should have.
- And acts including Keane, Hoobastank, Maroon 5, John Mayer, Matchbox Twenty, Mumford & Sons, Owl City, Sixpence None the Richer, The Darkness, and The Killers released new albums, much to the joy of the record buying public.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 28th December, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012


movie review: in the picture

Argo ****1/2

Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, and Chris Messina
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Tagline: The movie was fake. The mission was real.

In the midst of the 1979 Iranian revolution, six members of the U.S. Embassy staff evaded capture by protestors and sought refuge at the house of the Canadian ambassador, where they remained in hiding for weeks. The story of their rescue forms the basis of Argo, an exciting thriller that effortlessly engrosses the viewer for its two hour runtime.

The tension is palpable from the get go and never lets up. Argo recounts the tale as the six diplomats flee the American Embassy in Tehran that is taken over by protestors and its staff taken hostage, and then find themselves holed up in the residence of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber) with no way to go anywhere because of the widespread unrest and anti-American sentiments running high in the country. Back in the U.S., the authorities struggle to find a way to bring the personnel back. Days turn into weeks and no rescue appears to be forthcoming, until CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) dreams up a seemingly bizarre scheme - it involves false identities and a fake Hollywood science-fiction thriller!

In an era where Star Wars has captivated the world, the development of a new sci-fi film is perhaps as good a cover story as any. Embraced as the “best bad idea” on the table, the plan is set into motion. The script for a film named Argo is selected, and with the details hammered out, Mendez sets off for Iran, posing as a producer scouting for locations, with the American diplomats disguised as the film’s crew; his mission is to pass them off as Canadian filmmakers, get them on a plane, and bring them back home.

Having previously directed solid projects like Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ben Affleck knows how to deliver an impressive film, and with Argo he doesn’t disappoint. Affleck skilfully puts together the action taking place in disparate settings, creating a seamless narrative that never feels incongruent or disjoint. And it helps that he’s working with a capable crew. Chris Terrio’s screenplay and Rodrigo Prieto’s vintage-looking cinematography come together harmoniously to create a smooth canvas for the events to unfold; you know the eventual outcome of the caper, but the tension remains relentless, and the Aaron Sorkin-esque quality of the proceedings works well for the film. The acting across the board is top notch. The brilliant Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Victor Garber are all reliably proficient, and their performances are appropriately nuanced. And while some might fault Affleck for giving himself the lead role, there is no cause for complaint here as he easily pulls off the part with casual confidence.

Grippingly tense and darkly comic, Argo delivers intelligently and consistently, and even though it does fall victim to a few unnecessary contrivances at the end, it never fails to be exciting. The movie lets you feel the urgency and the panic of its subjects, and for the most part doesn’t drown you in a sea of sensationalized frenzy. Argo is swiftly paced and well acted, with a smart script and competent direction, and is definitely one of the standout films of the year.

– Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 16th December, 2012

“Diving rhythms, constant bliss, spacing out, reverb, and sunshine”


//orangenoise discuss their debut album, A Journey to the Heart of Matter

If you have an eclectic musical palette and haven’t heard of //orangenoise yet, then you need to rectify this oversight immediately. The psychedelic shoegazers - or chappalgazers, as they prefer - from Karachi made an impression on listeners with their appearance on Uth Records, and now their debut album, A Journey to the Heart of Matter, impressively displays their talent.

A Journey to the Heart of Matter is an experimental marriage of different genres. The most apt description of its sound, according to band member Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey, is “textured”. It exudes “driving rhythms, constant bliss, spacing out, reverb, and sunshine, all part of the formation of a new star,” says Talha Asim Wynne. Why were they drawn to this sound? “It was more like the sounds chose us,” he explains. “We only played whatever was coming to the heart and mind; it all ended up sounding like it should.” “Doing what you love is about having as much fun as you can,” adds Daniel, “and we enjoy what we’re doing. It wasn’t anything we made a decision on. Anyone who has been to some of our live shows may have experienced bits of jazzy somethings amongst some of the noise in the past too.”

The album’s cover is both artistic and very expressive once you delve a little deeper into the concept behind the imagery. “It is an image of the particle collision (white stuff) that takes place inside the Hadron Collider,” he explains, “which has been overlaid on some of my photography. We designed the album cover ourselves.”

The album art isn’t the only thing the band members did themselves; much of the recording process was also a home effort. “The album took about one year in the making,” tells Daniel. “Initially we had recorded the first demos in the summer of 2011 track by track, conformed to a metronome and put down basic structures. We kept fiddling around with the mixes, but it just didn’t seem to fit right. Earlier this year we finally figured out a proper setup and system to record the drums, guitars, and bass together live and without a metronome as one-takes; those takes ended up becoming the entire rhythm section, after which we overdubbed a layer of synth, vocals, and additional guitars, and then mixed and mastered all on a trusty, dusty laptop at home,” he says about Journey’s recording. “We finally agreed on a setup where we recorded a basic “juice” layer which consisted of the drums, bass, and guitars being recorded at the same time as a one take jam to keep the essence of our live sound alive,” Talha says. “This technique worked really well with us and we ended up recording the entire album like this. It was mostly done at home - everything, from recording to the final mastering.”

The album’s release was also independent, and the set was made available online as a ‘name your price’ download on the music platform Bandcamp, a strategy that many indie bands use to spread their music and reach a wider audience. “Being a band that isn’t signed to a label, we manage everything ourselves,” elucidates Daniel, “so in terms of the cheapest way to do this, digital is the way to go! Besides, music will always end up on the Internet and this is music that is meant to be shared. We do intend on and want to make a physical release of the album, and since this is, once again, something we’ll need to do on our own and need money for, it’s only going to be possible with support from people by coming to shows or donating towards the album online. It’s a ‘name your price’ release on Bandcamp, and you may also enter 0 to download it for free; we don’t mind either way! Share it with everyone!”

A Journey to the Heart of Matter comprises of 11 songs, each of which are special for the band. “They are all our babies,” says Talha. “These songs have made it so far and they’re out there now. I guess it’s because they all have a particular significance, each song in its own way.” The tracks that make up the album are shrouded in layers that take multiple listens to become apparent. The group cites ‘I Don’t Know’ as the most immediate song on the record as it “kind of lays down what you’re about to go experience with the rest of the album”, and they think ‘Hopeful Creatures’ is the most different and experimental piece on the set. “‘Hopeful Creatures is the last song we ended up composing for the album and a very late inclusion,” reveals Daniel. “The timing and progression was quite a workout. Also, three of us ended up singing on the track.” “It has a weird time signature switch,” elaborates Talha, “and we got Danial [Hyatt] to sing on it as well. It’s definitely something we haven’t done before.” ‘Hopeful Creatures’ was also the toughest to perfect for the band, “mostly because of the odd time signatures and shifts in key that occur during the track.” Conversely, the song ‘Children’ was the easiest to make, and it only needed one take to come together. “The second track, ‘Children’, was a track we hadn’t jammed out properly, but we had an idea of what it was going to be like as far as the structure was concerned,” continues Talha. “So when time came to jam it out, we just happened to get it right on the first take. That was a moment of relief and joy for the band, I feel.”

The one song on the album they most want everyone to listen to is ‘Clipped’. “It’s probably the easiest to hook you in and sing along to,” thinks Daniel. Talha agrees; “it has to be either ‘Clipped’ or ‘I Don’t Know’, because those two package the whole //orangenoise deal pretty well in one song. Also they might incite you to look further into the band’s sound.” But with a vibe so different, where does A Journey to the Heart of Matter stand in the current Pakistani music scene? “It’s a tiny speck on a great new generation of music coming out in the country (hopefully),” replies Daniel. “I guess [it stands] in the corner somewhere. You’ll obviously have to dig to find it; it’s nowhere near the surface,” says Talha.

So if you haven’t heard //orangenoise’s music yet, then now would be a good time to “dig”. Download their album - it’s easily available online - and, as per Daniel’s suggestion, “enjoy listening to it, repeatedly if you need to”. Better still, the band recommends you see them live. “Our live shows are better than the album,” professes Talha, “and I’d suggest fans of the album to definitely come out to our shows and discover other fantastic bands in the Karachi circuit and beyond.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 16th December, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Faakhir stages a ‘fashionable’ comeback with ‘Kho Jaaoon’


Singer Faakhir Mehmood has been a well-known presence in the Pakistani music scene since entering the industry two decades ago. The performer who first saw fame with his band Awaz in the '90s has since established a thriving solo career and has a number of successful albums under his belt.

Last year, the singer returned to the music scene, following an extended break, with his new album Jee Chaahay, making a comeback after taking some time off for personal reasons. “Yeah, I took a sabbatical, and it lasted longer than I'd have thought,” he concedes. “It started when I lost a loved one, and that changed my entire perception towards life. By the time I completed Jee Chaahay, the dynamics of album releases had changed worldwide significantly over a period of time due to digital downloads; now singles have become the norm. However, I still went ahead and released a full length album to mark my comeback.”

Now he is releasing the video for his song 'Kho Jaaoon', which stars Meera and the Veet Miss Super Model finalists. The clip has been directed by Sohail Javed, with designer Fahad Hussayn responsible for the wardrobe. “'Kho Jaaoon' was actually picked [for the video] by Frieha [Altaf] to associate it with the Veet Super Model contest that she's recently produced,” says the singer. Frieha also chose Sohail Javed to direct the video, and the Veet girls and Meera were all “chosen, contracted, and coordinated by Frieha” as well.

The song, 'Kho Jaaoon' is a ballad that sees Faakhir create a sound that is different from his regular pop arrangements. “'Kho Jaaoon' is a romantic ballad, and its audio went through wholesale changes after I did not like its earlier music arrangement which sounded very "house",” Faakhir reveals, “so I sat again on its music and changed its sound to what it is now. Its concept is straight forward: serenade the one you love, and celebrate the beauty, aura, and effect that person has on you.”

The concept of the video came about as a result of brainstorming and went through some changes. “Frieha and I had a few sessions to work out the concept for the video and actually ended up shooting more than one scenarios,” he divulges. “However, the final edit seems to have eliminated that complicated storyline we once agreed upon, and looks like a straight forward beauty shots oriented music video.”

Faakhir says the idea of working in collaboration with the Veet Miss Super Model contest came about because “sharing random ideas with friends sometime results in projects like these.” This isn't the first time he is working with a sponsor, and he says he is comfortable with the idea of doing sponsored assignments. “I have worked on quite a few sponsored projects in my career,” he tells, “and I feel it's a synergy of various forces that sometimes result in a win-win situation for all. I'm not at all opposed to working on such projects.”

The singer has also been busy touring, and has been working on ideas for new material as well. “Alongside my hectic touring and travelling for live concerts, I'm constantly working on new ideas and songs, because an artist cannot stem the flow of ideas, creativity, and compositions that come naturally to him. To be honest, it's a very enjoyable process,” says the singer. “I'm working on a couple of projects at present. Let's see which one comes out first.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 12th December, 2012

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Muse and the melting pot of genres

album review

The 2nd Law shows that the group can reinvent themselves

Band: Muse
Album: The 2nd Law

Last year, in a message on his Twitter account, Muse frontman Matthew Bellamy described his band’s new material as a “christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”. The post may have been in jest, but in spirit it almost comes close to describing their new album, The 2nd Law. No, there isn’t any “gangsta rap” on it, but the album really is a melting pot of genres, creating amalgamated electronic metal flavoured progressive rock with an occasional tinge of dubstep. Yes, at times it’s almost as peculiar as that sounds.

On ‘Unsustainable’, the penultimate song of the album, for instance, a female voice layered over an electronic landscape spends the better part of the track reminding us that “if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system, the entropy of that system increases”, quoting the second law of thermodynamics, which the album’s title references. The last track of the set, ‘Isolated System’, tells us how “in an isolated system, entropy can only increase”. Put together, what we have here is perhaps the best science lesson since They Might Be Giants taught us that “the sun is a mass of incandescent gas”. So if nothing else, the album at least serves as a high school science refresher course.

Luckily, though, there is much else.

Before it wanders into dubstep-adjacent territory with its second last track, the album delivers some more symphonic rock, even though it displays a more synth-heavy Muse than we’ve previously seen. It starts in typical Muse fashion with the epic ‘Supremacy’, which then leads to the standout second track ‘Madness’, a delicious slice of electronic rock, and goes on to yield songs like the smooth ‘Explorers’ and the rocking ‘Liquid State’, which is one of the two songs on the record that were penned by bassist Christopher Wolstenholme. And the cacophony of the corny ‘Survival’, which had the dubious honour of being the official song for the London 2012 Olympics, also appears on the album.

If you’re used to playing “spot the inspiration” when listening to Muse tracks, then The 2nd Law will give you plenty of opportunities to do so. Something that is often stated as a criticism of Muse is the various influences that are obvious in their work, and this assertion also applies to their new material. You can distinctly hear a number of influences throughout the album; for instance, shades of Queen, Radiohead, and U2 appear in songs like ‘Madness’, ‘Animals’, and ‘Big Freeze’ respectively. So that critique won’t stop haunting the band with this album.

For the most part, The 2nd Law is modern, crisp, and well executed. And with Muse, you wouldn’t expect anything less. Yet it somehow isn’t nearly as exciting as their previous releases. Nothing here hits quite as heavily as, say, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, and the grandiosity of songs like ‘Knights of Cydonia’ isn’t as manifest here. The record is, perhaps, a bit disjoint, and the pieces of different styles thrown in sometimes do not come together as cohesively as one would’ve hoped.

To their credit though, Muse have tried something different and journeyed into an expansive territory that traverses a number of genres, which is a fact they must be commended for. Instead of getting comfortable with their vibe, they have experimented with their sound and created something that is clearly different from their previous releases, without losing themselves completely in the process. The 2nd Law shows that the group can reinvent themselves and present their work in a number of hues and tints. Ultimately this is still Muse, just in a different shade, and whether this is the Muse you like or not will depend entirely on your musical leanings.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 9th December, 2012

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The second coming of No Doubt

album review

Band:  No Doubt
Album: Push and Shove

After an extended hiatus that saw them undertake solo ventures, side projects, and collaborations, the members of No Doubt reunite to give us their sixth album, the long awaited Push and Shove, which comes over a decade after its predecessor Rock Steady (2001). The group first made it big with their 1995 opus Tragic Kingdom, but it appears as if they have since been shedding the very things that made them stand out; they have moved gradually from a more ska punk and rock oriented sound to synthpop, a direction that became most apparent with Rock Steady. Now Push and Shove continues where they left off 11 years ago, and is closer in vibe to their latter work as well as Stefani's solo material than it is to Tragic Kingdom and the sound they initially embraced with their first few releases.

'Settle Down', the band's funky lead single off the new record, serves as a promising first taster from the album, as its effervescent spirit exudes the energy that is distinctly No Doubt. The rest of the album, however, is far less remarkable. Songs like the title track 'Push and Shove' (which features dancehall reggae artist Busy Signal and Diplo's musical project Major Lazer) give a fair try to emulate the band's reggae drenched ska pop spirit, but others, like 'Gravity', 'Undercover', and 'Undone', as well as much of the album's mid-tempo fodder, are more nondescript. Not only do the songs sound too similar to each other but they seem too generic. Anyone from Katy Perry to Fergie could have used this material to similar, or perhaps even better, effect.

Yes, they're playing it safe and sticking to what they're already done before, but a lot has changed since No Doubt last tried this sound, and now most of this material comes off as generic and throwaway. Other than a few standout tracks, much of the record fails to make an impact on first listen. And while no one expects lyrical genius from dance pop ditties, there can't possibly be a decent excuse for any band to rhyme “hit and run” with “yummy yummy yum”; being playful is one thing, being inane is quite another.

Overall, there just isn't enough No Doubt in the new No Doubt album. The more they move away from their ska punk roots, the more edge they lose. While Stefani has never been a great singer, it was her distinctive style, sass, and affectations that made her one of the most iconic front women of the '90s. That distinctiveness has been diluted on Push and Shove. It lacks the energy and wackiness that made previous singles like 'Just a Girl' and 'Trapped in a Box' so memorable. The songs on this album lack both the immediacy and endurance of their previous hits. Push and Shove could've used a bit of the crispness of the albums that first put No Doubt on the map and it isn't really essential for anyone but their most ardent followers' music collections. Fans of radio friendly, generic electro-pop will enjoy it, and if harmless fun is what you're looking for, then Push and Shove will meet your requirements, but if you've previously dismissed No Doubt as nothing more than a glossy, stylish pop outfit with little substance, then this album won't make you change your mind.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 2nd December, 2012


movie review

Stolen **

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Josh Lucas, Danny Huston, Malin Åkerman, M.C. Gainey, Sami Gayle, Mark Valley
Directed by: Simon West
Tagline: 12 hours. $10 million. 1 kidnapped daughter.

After serving eight years in prison for a bank heist gone awry, a former thief, Will Montgomery (Nicolas Cage), hopes to reconnect with his daughter (Sami Gayle) upon his release from jail. But unknown to him, his old partner Vincent (Josh Lucas) is holding a grudge. Convinced that Will still has the $10 million from the robbery, Vincent kidnaps Will's daughter, locks her in the trunk of his cab, and demands the money as ransom, as Will tries to rescue her while being pursued by the agents who put him away.

So a father who will stop at nothing to get his daughter back? Sounds familiar? Yes, Stolen's plotline brings 2008's runaway hit Taken to mind, but the execution makes Taken look like a masterpiece in comparison. As far as action movies go, this is as by-the-numbers as it gets. Stolen moves along at a reasonably swift pace; bank robberies, skirmishes, car chases, shootouts … there's plenty of action thrown into the proceedings. What's missing, though, is a decent story, a good script, and any sense of novelty or suspense.

If the filmmakers' intent was to see how many clichés can be crammed into one and a half hours of film, then Stolen is a job well done. Nothing happens at any point in the movie that hasn't transpired a number of times in other action flicks. Originality and creativity don't even bother to make an appearance in the movie, and neither does logic. And the ending is so preposterous that it's simply absurd, even by the relatively modest standards of such films.

Its recognizable cast can't really help the project much; Cage's act is weary, and while Josh Lucas is on hand to deliver an over the top madcap performance, there isn't much anyone could've possibly done with this tired material to make it the least bit exciting or convincing. It is sad to see the director and star of 1997's cult hit Con Air reunite to produce this kind of twaddle, and it's depressing to see that the one time Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage has now come to this. His recent projects have included a deplorable string of films, including Season of the Witch (2011), Drive Angry (2011), and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), and it is fairly obvious that he needs to start being more picky about the projects he selects if he wants to have any credibility left with the audience.

To be fair, Stolen does make a half-hearted effort to be amusing and entertaining, but is ultimately let down by the lack of a good story and script, and an absolute dearth of originality. You've seen it all before, and you've seen it done better. The movie will be best enjoyed by those who have a very high tolerance for ludicrous plot developments and/or possess the skill to find amusement in obviously cheesy drivel, but Stolen's collage of movie clichés will ultimately come off as nothing more than unnecessary and forgettable.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 2nd December, 2012