Album review: Avicii – Stories

Avicii falls with a case of second album syndrome that may have improved instrument choices but ultimately holds the record back from delivering upon its potential.

Originally published in The Edge

Whereas Avicii’s 2013 debut album True favoured banjos in a flamboyant display of its bluegrass and country influences, his new release Stories incorporates a far wider gamut of styles. The result, however, is not dissimilar, as the variation within tracks and perplexing curation produces an incoherent yet steady album experience.

On occasions where Tim Bergling introduces uncultivated ground with Stories – and there are indeed many – contrasting styles don’t quite meld sufficiently. The trap breakdown of ‘Pure Grinding’ after bluesy mumblings on work ethic – “started out with nothing and still got most of it left” – does nothing to inspire, and its companion promotional single ‘For A Better Day’ meanders along with only a tambourine and staccato piano beneath Alex Ebert’s strained soul. The honour of the most startling track falls to ‘Can’t Catch Me,’ a nostalgic reggae duet between Wyclef Jean and Matisyahu. Continue reading “Album review: Avicii – Stories”

Sublime Sangakkara squeezes Surrey into Lord’s final

The Oval: Surrey 300/5 (Kumar Sangakkara 166) beat Nottinghamshire 296/7 (Greg Smith 124, Dan Christian 54, Samit Patel 51) by 4 runs

Kumar Sangakkara’s first century since retiring from international cricket at the age of 37 – and his second-highest score in a List A career spanning 511 matches – saw Surrey to a narrow victory over Nottinghamshire in their Royal London One-Day Cup semi-final.

Sangakkara announced his arrival to the crease in style, uprooting the entire wicket at the non-strikers’ end in a superfluous and misaligned dive to register on the scoreboard. Before Surrey reached their first hundred 24 overs in with Rory Burns chipping over Steven Mullaney, Nottinghamshire had conceded only 6 boundaries and 2 extras. The visitors’ bowling and defensive field placement provided significant control but little threat, with singles into gaps – both in Read’s layout and past spectacular dives – a frequent sight. From there, Sangakkara and Burns began to execute their strokes with a greater aggressive intent, including a pirouette hook from Burns and a violent straight shot from Sangakkara that narrowly avoided the head of bowler Jake Ball.

Burns fell for 23 attempting to go to the point boundary and locating an outstretched Greg Smith who made a tough opportunity look straightforward. Sangakkara struck the only six of the innings towards the groundsman’s alcove and his thirteen fours – of which only two came in his first 50 balls and seven in his last 66 – littered all corners of the ground and gave wicketkeeper and captain alike food for thought. In few situations could one imagine a backstop in professional cricket, yet Sangakkara’s panache for paddles, ramps, and sweeps behind square as he took 61 from 31 deliveries in the final Powerplay demanded one. Each was followed with a smile through gritted teeth as he took a knee to find more energy. This was the innings the Monday afternoon crowd craved.

Gary Wilson, the member of Surrey’s wicketkeeping quintet who was actually granted the gloves, played an admirable support role in a partnership that reached 100 in 86 balls. Though he began slowly with anxious wafts at Stuart Broad, he flourished in his role of largely maintaining Sangakkara’s strike. The onslaught finally concluded in the first ball of the final over, with Sangakkara finally misjudging a paddle against Ball into the hands of the wicketless Broad. This followed a torrid final over from Harry Gurney which began with a no ball and ended with Sangakkara 19 runs better off. Fortunately for Nottinghamshire, Wilson couldn’t reach his 50, locating Riki Wessels with the last ball off the innings.

Sam Curran, the 17-year-old left-armer who managed to take the day off from school to take part, wasted no time in putting a chokehold on Nottinghamshire’s hopes. Following a relatively tidy opening over from Jade Dernbach that surrendered a solitary wide, Curran utilised steadily escalating pace to make Wessels play on second ball and trap Brendan Taylor lbw immediately after. The next over he was unlucky not to add Smith to his haul, as the ball flew narrowly out of reach of Steven Davies at mid-on, and only an incredible effort from Curran’s older brother Tom on the boundary edge prevented damage being too severe. Moved to the slips, Davies had the Outlaws three down within less than an over with a sharp catch to dismiss Michael Lumb. At 16/3 after 21 balls and with Samit Patel receiving treatment for cramp minutes later, the road to Lord’s looked stormy.

The game was subjected to a lengthy delay in the 21st over to determine whether Smith – brought into the side as a consequence of Alex Hales and James Taylor’s England calls – had hit either two, four, or six. Having driven straight over Gareth Batty, an athletic attempt by Sangakkara to take the catch or at least save a boundary proved in vain, as he was ruled to have made contact with the rope before freeing the ball from his tumbling grasp. Patel went on to escape narrowly twice in consecutive overs with a stumping appeal – referred to the third umpire to the chagrin of the crowd – and a one-handed catch from the pads by Wilson both rejected. His resilience was eventually curtailed by Zafar Ansari as he gave Davies a second catch – this time at long on – two balls after reaching his fifty.

The partnership of 91 still left the Outlaws looking for almost 8 per over, though a platform of some sort allowed the returning Dan Christian to assume the limelight as Smith quietly accumulated. A mammoth six that struck the upper tier of the pavilion chased Batty out of the attack as Surrey’s spin pair, while largely economical, hadn’t achieved the desired breakthroughs. The tandem of Currans were then granted five overs, with a few looser deliveries tarnishing their figures, before the same could be said for Ansari and Dernbach, with the former producing some heavy movement and unlucky to allow Smith into the 90s as he hit a one-bounce four to bisect the colliding Tom Curran and Aneesh Kapil at square leg. Later that over, Christian’s fifty came up with another wallop into a cluster of members in the sky, leaving 92 to win from the last Powerplay period and – much like Surrey’s quarter-final against Kent two weeks prior – a match poised for Surrey’s early dominance to collapse into complacency.

Christian only lasted an over more as a mistimed cut against Kapil went safely to Ansari, but Smith reached triple figures for the second time in his List A career soon after. It was an innings with little power – his stroke for the century itself was a fortunate glance to fine leg and only his seventh boundary – but finely accumulated. Swift running had put Surrey in command, but swifter too were the Outlaws. When Mullaney ran the ball deftly to third man, they managed two. Both his and Smith’s bats were on the floor, and a Donald-esque run-out farce was only avoided through a Wilson tumble.

Five overs later, the equation remained the same: 9.6 per over to go to Lord’s. A hobbling Dernbach surrendered briefly to the Currans, only to return and deliver his final two overs with a torn calf. Smith locates a chasm behind square on the leg side. Just after Tom put down a running catch off Sam’s bowling, Smith tried to play the ball by lying the bat on the ground; soon after, backing up and not given the shot from Mullaney he was hoping for, the centurion is gone. Tom leaned in to make sure he wouldn’t fumble this opportunity.

With captain Read at the other end, the all-rounder and sometime opener brought out his own array of behind-square specialities, before Read too perished, falling to his right to paddle a Dernbach delivery that instead found leg stump. Dernbach’s limp and grin grew ever greater as 19 from 12 slipped to 14 from 6, and a dodgy yorker from the elder Curran tucked Broad safely away at the non-strikers’ end. Standing casual and tall, were it not for Broad, Mullaney scrambled doubles. That behind-square chasm? Still there, but not enough. 5 from the last ball proves an ask too far, and the sun set on a roaring Oval with Gloucestershire in sight and Surrey’s road to Lord’s complete.

Words on words

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed the complete lack of action on this blog – and many of the others that WordPress has allowed me to setup without properly thinking through what I was doing – over the past few years. I’d like to pretend there are good reasons for this, such as a trip to the Moon or top-secret internship in the Alphabet labs under the exclusive supervision of Kanye West, but that would be rather exceptionally disingenuous. This is, however, quite an interesting time and the end of said silence.

The realisation that school is now a thing of the past only hit me in earnest yesterday. Education, however, is not. Later this month, I’ll be starting a BSc in Web Science at the University of Southampton. This means that not only will I be studying a fascinating array (if you’ll pardon the pun) of topics from microeconomics to programming to demographics, but I’ll also be living in a city (or, in fact, a well-populated place) for the first time since reaching an age at which I was aware of my surroundings. Apparently I’m an adult, and it’s all rather exciting.

So, most importantly, what does this all mean for the blogs? This one, which should soon have a rather snappier domain assigned properly to its pages, will become rather useful in this transitional process and beyond. It would be lovely and, I suspect, helpful to discuss life and the universe and everything around these parts, so prepare for that. Digging through archives at The Broadie before I left made me realise how little of that stuff ever made it onto the web, so I’ll be plastering those gems (and shoddy attempts at cricket-based humour and Miley Cyrus jokes) here over the next few weeks for posterity.

Elsewhere, my plan is certainly to keep writing things of multitudinous ilks and to see where that takes things. That will almost certainly involve Digixav making a majestic return to your RSS feeds, a continued growth in cricket-related content on Stumpline, smuggling further pseudonymous articles into The Broadie, or more likely some exciting new things that are yet to be born or embraced by my procrastinatory fingers. Watch this space.

And then there’s the podcast. Having actually met a real human being with a podcast in the flesh for the first time a few weeks ago, my interest in the whole thing has been reignited. The Digixav Podcast will return, as Henry and I both need some way of ensuring we talk utter nonsense for hours on end keep track of the goings on in consumer technology and the world in general given the fact that we’ll literally be 400 miles apart. That’ll be happening quite soon, so subscribe on iTunes or Android or some such to make sure you get alerted to the poor microphone technique and Flavor Flav jokes when they ‘drop’. There might even be some non-tech stuff to follow, but we shall see. Or hear.

If you wish to follow me on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn or add me on Facebook or endure photos of cricket grounds on Instagram or slow replies by email, you’ll probably come across whatever words or things I do end up producing. It would be great to hear from you all.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be fun.

Stoic Taylor ton sets up Nottinghamshire resilience

Horsham, Day 1: Nottinghamshire 358/5 (James Taylor 163*, Riki Wessels 94, Chris Read 54*, Ollie Robinson 4/81) vs. Sussex

How does 30/3 turn into a formidable score? For England, the question lingers, as a malfunctioning top order again failed to appear as the hosts crumbled to 103 all out in pursuit of 509 today at Lord’s. In Horsham, however, a similarly mediocre start turned into a golden position for Nottinghamshire thanks to an unbeaten 163 from James Taylor.

Taylor, who has long flirted with the fringes of the national side but remains a veteran of only two tests, could not have found a more timely century. Though not without its chances, which included a pair of LBW appeals that took him off his feet either side of reaching his first century of the summer, Sussex failed to control Taylor, who reached three figures from 190 balls and continued to push on, gaining in flair and carefully accelerating. The shot that brought up his 150 was a microcosm of the day’s luck, as a prod to mid-off for a single ended up rolling to the boundary for 5 and a chorus of applause from the Nottinghamshire squad, under the watchful eyes of England selector Mick Newell and exiled coach Peter Moores.

He found support in a pair of century stands with wicketkeepers, with Riki Wessels’ departure for a punchy 94 to be Ollie Robinson’s third victim soon bringing Chris Read to the crease. By this stage, Taylor found himself settled on 50, and this allowed Read to make a slow yet untroubled start. He eventually reached his 50 from 117 balls, adding just one more run before stumps. Though Ed Joyce let a tough opportunity off Read’s edge fall on 35, Sussex can take solace in their drastic improvement in fielding from a comedy of errors in Friday’s T20 loss to Hampshire.

The third option with the gloves, Taylor’s Zimbabwean namesake Brendan, was not so fortunate. As the visitors appeared lukewarm to the initial character of the pitch, he fell for 7 from 37 balls to provide an early reward to Matt Hobden, who went on to concede over 100 in his 17 overs. Before him, Alex Hales had become the first to fall off the bowling of Ollie Robinson, providing an edge to Chris Nash at second slip on 3.

Like Hales, Steven Mullaney played a strong hand on Nottinghamshire’s last trip to West Sussex, and for a few balls it looked as if his destructive mindset was the same. Ultimately his innings proved more concise, ending on 15 in the plentiful mitts of Luke Wells for Robinson’s second, but not before he all-out decapitated a rare empty seat with a swipe over the midwicket boundary. Hope later emerged out of the escalating scorecard for Sussex as Samit Patel succumbed to Robinson for 9 to chase Wessels back under the pagoda, followed by a tightening of the screw from Robinson and Magoffin, though Read, once under way, helped Taylor into a comfortable position at the close.

The home side, who were spun to an incredible victory against Warwickshire here last summer by Kentish loanee James Tredwell, found their ongoing spin conundrum remaining one of the many concerns. Wells, an opening batsman by trade whose dabbling in spin has recently begun to resemble treading water, was the first trusted with the ball – ending up with 21 overs under his belt, third only to Robinson and the typically miserly Magoffin – before trialist Peter Burgoyne, formerly of Derbyshire, was unleashed to bowl at 5.7 per over. Both finished wicketless at stumps.

Ashar Zaidi and Will Beer, the only specialist spinners in the contracted squad, observed from the boundary, doubtless pondering how else they can win the red-ball affections of Mark Robinson. Just two games ago Zaidi was one of four centurions at Edgbaston in a motorway duel, while Beer has been granted just 6 appearances in the Championship side since his debut in 2008, despite his white ball prowess. In a town he calls his home, at a ground where his mother acts as a purveyor of baked goodness, murmurings were rife that Sussex could do far worse than give him a chance.

Album review: Jamie xx – In Colour

Originally published in The Broadie

I’ve always wished for some kind of innate musical talent. Being able to pick up an instrument and make a pleasant noise or convey some form of legible tune would be marvellous. Pointless and only enhancing my laziness, but marvellous nevertheless.

Jamie Smith, better known as the production third of The xx and a producer in his own right, brought me closest to such an experience during the German exchange in year 9. Within seconds of spotting a steel drum, I was merrily reciting his recent release ‘Far Nearer’, which has maintained its spot as my song for the sun bursting through into summer ever since.

Such, well, straightforward radiance is reflected in the chromatic cover of debut long-release In Colour, though the LP is unfortunately not as prevailingly joyous as this implies. Continue reading “Album review: Jamie xx – In Colour”

Album review: Madeon – Adventure

Originally published in The Broadie

Hugo Leclercq makes you wonder what went wrong in your own life. Aged just 20, the Nantais musician is releasing his first album, Adventure, on Columbia Records. That in itself isn’t particularly bewildering, though considering his burst into the spotlight almost four years ago courtesy of a remix contest triumph (Pendulum’s ‘The Island’) and his incredible ‘Pop Culture’ live mashup of 29 songs, you begin to get a better picture of his perhaps prodigal aptitude.

Since, he’s seemed to be rather silent. After the charting singles ‘Icarus,’ ‘Finale,’ and ‘The City’ in 2011 and 2012, ‘Technicolor’ snuck out in mid-2013 to a limited online release, before he vanished from the radio. Of course that time was being put to good use, as he picked up production credits for the likes of Muse, Lady Gaga, Two Door Cinema Club, Ellie Goulding, and Coldplay. The climax of this period comes in the form of Adventure. Continue reading “Album review: Madeon – Adventure”

Album review: Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü

Originally published in The Broadie

My first encounter with Jack Ü, the pseudo-supergroup of professional noise-merchants Sonny Moore and Wesley Pentz, better known as Skrillex and Diplo, came on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Miami last March. At the Ultra Music Festival, the commercial centrepiece of the annual Winter Music Conference that draws the great and the good and the brostep to Floridian shores, the pair took to the stage for the most anticipated set of the weekend.

Within a minute, Diplo had clambered onto the desk and was commanding his sun-soaked congregation, mostly scantily clad college students squandering their spring break by flailing limbs in a sardine-like crush, to scream and clap and all sorts of things that would make the music harder to hear. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the opinion that a good DJ should neither be seen nor heard. Their job is to play pre-recorded music in a fluid and appreciable fashion, but Jack Ü took their babysitting duties very seriously and audibly.

And yet, Moore and Pentz moulded their hour on the main stage into the most thoroughly entertaining show of the weekend. Rapidly devouring Skrillex’s new album, Diplo’s dancehall-inspired Major Lazer discography, the talent of their respective labels OWSLA and Mad Decent, and even Toto’s ‘Africa’, the frantic set clicked perfectly. In parts, so does their collaborative album. Continue reading “Album review: Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü”

Album review: Knife Party – Abandon Ship

Originally published in The Broadie

Although my sarcastic and weary demeanour may tend to convey otherwise, I don’t try to intentionally dismember what I review. Perhaps I may sit down at my desk and brace myself for an onslaught of mediocrity, an instinct that usually serves well through the likes of Miley Cyrus’ magnum opus Bangerz. Knife Party triggers this radar like a machete at airport security, but each time I take a listen to their noises I find myself pleasantly surprised about how much I don’t despise them. The music is typically just as humane as the name suggests, with stabbing synths and heavy percussion, but Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen, the Australian duo who formed from the remnants of drum and bass ensemble Pendulum, have a perplexing knack of making it sound vaguely tolerable.

After a plethora of delays, debut album Abandon Ship has finally found the light of day, but alas, it’s immediately obvious that the pair shouldn’t have tried to spread out their inspiration, if you could so generously assign it that term, to a longer body of work than a four-track EP. Though the duo were keen to avoid having dubstep on the record, they’ve not strayed too far from their traditional ‘electro house’ stylings. Any exploration into new territories feels strained and disingenuous – almost as if their major label contract has shoehorned them into boxes more befitting of spoons and cake forks. Continue reading “Album review: Knife Party – Abandon Ship”

Hales hundred gives Notts perfect start to title defence

Horsham: Nottinghamshire 312/8 (Alex Hales 116, Michael Lumb 77, Will Beer 3/60) beat Sussex 282/8 (Steffan Piolet 63*, Ed Joyce 59, Steven Mullaney 4/33) by 29 runs

As the newly-restructured Royal London One-Day Cup launched throughout the country this weekend to signify the return of 50 over cricket to the county circuit, reigning limited overs champions Nottinghamshire took a convincing victory over Sussex to begin their title defence of sorts on another beautiful wicket at Cricket Field Road, Horsham.

After being put in by Ed Joyce, the Outlaws ticked along steadily with openers Alex Hales and Michael Lumb staying put for a century partnership that frustrated the home side, who had taken a rare victory over Warwickshire in the Championship on the same ground on Thursday. Unusually for the pair, known predominantly for their exploits in Twenty20, docility appeared the name of the game as both reached half centuries at strike rates of below 100 – Lumb from 58 balls, Hales 73 – before Lumb played on a Will Beer delivery for 77 in the 29th over.

Then, the middle-order collapse began. Though Hales was dropped by Matt Machan on the boundary for 88, Beer (3/60) managed to bowl James Taylor before the batting powerplay was taken after 35 overs. Nottinghamshire didn’t utilise this particularly well, scoring just 27 for the loss of both Samit Patel and Riki Wessels. Hales too almost fell to Chris Liddle, who ended wicketless and 86 runs down the drain, but Matt Machan’s drop over the midwicket boundary spared him as he moved onto his century off 107 balls.

Hales finally departed for 116 to the bowling of Steffan Piolet, who finished with 2/35 from his allocation, but Steven Mullaney fired the team above the holy run-a-ball threshold with 40 off 20, including 16 from a consecutive trio of Lewis Hatchett deliveries. Hatchett eventually prevailed, following up with a bouncer that visibly threw the batsman off track as he offered a simple catch to Craig Cachopa at backward point in the 48th over. Early thoughts were that 350 would be par upon the flat, dry outground wicket, and Mullaney’s blast lifted them from 235/6 after 42.1 to 312/8 at the conclusion.

Sussex started in encouraging fashion, with a partnership of 64 between skipper Joyce and Luke Wells, who departed for a pedestrian (though List A career best) 23 off 44 as Sussex not once overtook the Notts run rate. Lacking Luke Wright, who picked up a side strain during his record breaking 153* against Essex on Friday night, few Sussex batsmen went aggressively at the Nottinghamshire bowlers. One exception was Cachopa, making his List A entrance for Sussex by launching a free hit from fellow Kiwi James Franklin over the long-off toilets on off his first ball before falling contentiously to a Chris Read catch on 22.

Fellow Sussex List A debutant Piolet was the top scorer with his maiden half century in the format, finishing on an unbeaten 48-ball 63 that included 8 boundaries, but support was sparse as the required rate escalated. Joyce mustered 59 to reward James Taylor’s consistent athleticism in the field, while Machan fell for 43 as miserly Mullaney did away with much of the middle order in a spell of 7-1-19-3. He later returned for the struggling Ben Brown (3 off 16) and ultimately secured the points for the visitors with his 4/33. Jake Ball picked up the wickets of Beer and Liddle at the death, completing a 29 run victory that perhaps reflected too kindly upon the hosts’ batting.

“As defending champions we wanted to stamp our authority on the tournament and we’ve certainly done that here,” said Hales at stumps. “It was a nice wicket to bat on. There was a little bit seam movement early on but, as it showed, if you got through that then you’ve got a good score on the board.”

Album review: Skrillex – Recess

Originally published in The Broadie

Since his breakout with 2010’s boisterous Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites, Los Angeles native Skrillex has become the poster boy of the EDM revolution. With copious brostep, a dubstep-based sound that Spin labelled as “lurching and aggressive” in a polite way of saying it sounds like a live cat going through a meat grinder, and a haircut to match, Sonny Moore has polarised and alienated, but created a whole new mainstream electronic scene, especially in the US. His first full length album, Recess, of course stays true to the genre that made him a superstar, while also half-heartedly dangling a toe near every pond. Continue reading “Album review: Skrillex – Recess”