FEATURE: Female Icons: Part Twelve: Kylie Minogue

FEATURE:

 

Female Icons

PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue 

Part Twelve: Kylie Minogue

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I have penned several features regarding the legend…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue

that is Kylie Minogue (this is an especially timely one), but I have never really covered her in too much detail. Don’t get me wrong: I love her work and grew up listening to her…and she is definitely someone I would love to interview soon enough. Last week, I featured Aretha Franklin in my Female Icons section and there is no doubt that she deserves that accolade: to me, there is nobody as powerful as Franklin. Many might ask whether Minogue, as one of the queens of Pop, is worthy of such attention. Absolutely. Not only has her music inspired many other artists and changed lives but her recent appearance at Glastonbury brought people to tears and it made me wonder why she was not afforded a headline slot on the Pyramid Stage – she was doing the ‘legends’ slot but could easily have made for a memorable headliner. Regardless, Minogue is touring at the moment and I will talk more about that in the conclusion. The fact she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to cancel her scheduled Glastonbury headline set in 2005 is reason enough to mark her as a bit of a legend. She battled back and stayed resilient; it was not long until she was back recording and, let’s hope, there are many more years left to come…

I do think that she gets overlooked when it comes to the iconic Pop artists of the past few decades. Sure, one can name Madonna and Kate Bush as leaders but where does Kylie Minogue fit in?! Let’s sort of go back to the start (step back in time?!) and I shall mention when Minogue arrived in my life. Like many people, perhaps her debut album, 1988’s Kylie, passed us by. I recall hearing The Loco-Motion (written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King), and I Should Be So Lucky. Whilst Minogue would go on to create deeper and more substantial songs, one cannot deny the 1980s brilliance and memorability of those early tracks. I was aware of Minogue and her debut from, I think, about the age of six or seven (at the end of the 1980s or right at the turn of the 1990s). I love the innocence of the cover and the fact that the songs have this youthful and spirited sound. It is understandable that Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman’s songwriting factory would be favoured by Minogue. They were masterful when it came to cranking out hits but, rather than Minogue being a generic Pop artist, she was already establishing herself as someone to watch. To me, she started to develop by the time her follow-up, Enjoy Yourself. With hits such as Hand on Your Hand and Wouldn’t Change a Thing, the album was a success.

Although her first couple of albums provided a footing and found Minogue establishing herself as a definitely contender, I definitely think 1990’s Rhythm of Love is a strong album. There are few Pop albums with a better one-two than Better the Devil You Know and Step Back in Time. The sheer infectiousness of the tracks and the effusiveness of Kylie Minogue means these songs were a success then and have remained favourites now. The joy of hearing Minogue today belting out these tunes today resonates with fans old and new. I was a child when the Rhythm of Love album arrived but I recall the best songs being played loud and constantly; from serious radio-play to my friends playing the songs through various boom-boxes and radios, it meant that I was well aware of Minogue from the start of the 1990s. The first few albums from Minogue had a definite pattern and style and, from the start through to 1994, a string of radio-friendly hits arrived. Like I said, these songs were more memorable than a lot of what was arriving in the charts. Maybe it was the delivery and panache of Minogue or the fact that the Stock, Aitken and Waterman machine was a perfect fit for Minogue. In any case, the partnership was over by 1994’s more serious and deeper Kylie Minogue. Notice the fact Minogue named 1994’s breakthrough ‘Kylie Minogue’ whereas she just used ‘Kylie’ on her debut – the covers are very different and you can see this definite transformation from the ingénue who was making her name to an artist who was making strides to be taken more seriously.

 

Minogue broke away from her previous tenure and contract and signed with Deconstruction in early-1993. She was allowed more creative freedom and, having earned that freedom because of her previous success, Kylie Minogue is a more satisfying, varied and experimental album. Minogue definitely had a feeling that 1993/1994 was a blank canvas and she could reinvent herself – without compromising her reputation and breaking too far away from her foundations. If some of her earlier albums opened with a rousing and commercial Pop blast, Confide in Me is a different beast altogether. More alluring, sumptuous and layered than her previous hits, it sounds more natural and loose. It is a fantastic song but not the only peach on Kylie Minogue! Rather than discuss all of her albums in chronological order, I will highlight two distinct phases that occurred after Kylie Minogue.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue

A reinvention would occur at the turn of the century but, after the changes and evolution on Kylie Minogue, Impossible Princess showed that this was not an artist willing to repeat herself or stay still. The experiments and boundary-pushing songs continued aplenty in Impossible Princess but some critics were a bit lukewarm. I guess when it arrived – in 1997 – one could hardly expect Minogue to produce an album like Kylie Minogue: it would sound jarring against the changing landscape and might get overlooked. Despite the fact Minogue was adding Techno, Dance and unusual strands into a Pop album, it took a fair few years before critics responded to the complexities and merits of Impossible Princess.

In this retrospective review, AllMusic had this to say:

By 1997, much of the pop music landscape had changed. The music papers were declaring the "Techno Revolution" was on, Oasis and Manic Street Preachers were ruling the charts, and simple dance-pop seemed to be the domain of teenage girls. So what does the dance-pop diva of the '90s do? She recruits Manic Street PreachersJames Dean BradfieldSean Moore, and Nicky Wire, starts writing unaided, and completely changes musical direction. Enter Kylie Minogue's Impossible Princess (the title was changed to Kylie Minogue after the death of Princess Diana). From the trippy cover art to the abundance of guitars and experimental vocal tracks, this was her "great leap forward." The move got her in the papers, but, unfortunately, critical acclaim was lacking (and so were sales). Critics called it a mistake, and the public was less than impressed. Which is sad, because this is a pretty damn good record. Unlike her early work, this album sounds stronger and has a more natural feel. Her songwriting abilities have come a long way, and Impossible Princess actually flows together as an album. Worth another look”.

 In a musical climate with U.S. Rock and the tail-end of Britpop, it is understandable some were a bit slow to attach themselves to Impossible Princess – even though artists like Björk were splicing the same sort of genres as Minogue.

Although the iconic Pop artist would take a few more years for her reputation to be cemented, Impossible Princess’ average reaction and retrospective regard meant that another reinvention was needed. Rather than continue to push Techno and Dance, 2000’s Light Years was more focused on Pop and Disco. There were some darker shades and tenser songs but, on the whole, Light Years is an updated and more ambitious version of her first few albums – the song quality is better and Minogue is a stronger and more adventurous singer. New writers and producers (including Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams) added to Minogue’s cannon and I think Light Years ranks alongside the best Kylie Minogue albums ever – it might just be her best record.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue

Other artists in her position might have suffered a lack of confidence after some bad reviews or taken their music in the wrong direction. The experience and savvy Minogue knew what was needed and constructed an album with some growers - but there were plenty of instant hits. Spinning Around and On a Night Like This is another potent one-two; Your Disco Needs You is one of the best Dance tracks of the early-2000s and Kids is a track that is impossible to forget – a duet with Robbie Williams, it is a winner that is brimming with sexual chemistry and confidence. Spinning Around definitely lodged in the public mindset, helped in part by the eye-opening video of Minogue in gold hotpants dancing in/on a bar.

Mixing sleek and sophisticated tracks with camper and more throwaway numbers, Light Years is a perfect bridge between her early career and the more experimental albums of 1994 and 1997. I have mentioned atomic one-two Minogue album tracks but let’s talk about the quick follow-up to Light Years: 2001’s Fever is a fantastic offering and surprisingly complete and different considering it was released a year after Light Years. Consider, also, the cover art for both albums, too. The first few Kylie Minogue albums were sweet and innocent: projecting the singer as accessible and the girl-next-door type. In a reverse of what one might expect, the more mature Minogue is a sexier and more risky artist on Light Years and Fever’s covers – indication that these albums are sexier, more assured and physical. Before I move on to Fever and its potential benchmark status, The Guardian were impressed by Light Years:

There's the fantastic Kids, a duet with Williams also featured on his new album, and Loveboat, a homage to the 1970s TV show of the same name. The latter is a female response to Williams's Millennium - it sounds very similar but has a less cynical approach to love. The familiar references to martinis, bikinis and 007 are all there - Williams really should try joining a new video club - but so too are the verbal come-ons that'll either make you squirm or laugh out loud. "Rub on some lotion," Minogue pleads breathily, "the places I can't reach." More amusing still is Your Disco Needs You, a call to arms that the Village People would be proud of. Minogue has her tongue firmly in her cheek for this camp slice of epic disco that will doubtless become the obligatory soundtrack to every Christmas office party.

It's only when Minogue deviates from the fun that the album falters. Bittersweet Goodbye is an overblown ode to love that seems like an excuse for a video featuring satin sheets, while the title track is suitably spacey, though it still left me singing Brotherhood of Man's Angelo at the end. Ultimately, Minogue shines brightest in the blinding lights of a club and Light Years is an album that should be played as you force your boob-tube into place and drain the remnants of that can of hairspray before you go out. This time round Kylie's got it right”.

I love Fever and its quality tracks but, as you get with critics, there are those who will find fault and be snobbish. A lot of Kylie Minogue’s albums get the two best tracks done right away but, rather than go in with the best material right at the off, Love at First Sight, Can’t Get You Out of My Head and Come into My World are songs two, three and seven respectively. There is a great weighting when it comes to the big hits but Fever has a nice distribution of bangers and slower, more nuanced tracks. In my view, the two-album explosion of Light Years and Fever was Kylie Minogue at her peak. AllMusic, in their review of Fever, explained how Minogue was on this golden run:

The first single, "Cant Get You Out of My Head," is a sparse, mid-tempo dance number that pulses and grooves like no other she's recorded, and nothing on Light Years was as funky as the pure disco closer of "Burning Up."

And while it's hard not to notice her tipping her hat to the teen pop sound (in fact, on this record she works with Cathy Dennis, former dance-pop star and writer/producer for Brit-teen pop group S Club 7) on songs like "Give It to Me" and "Love at First Sight," her maturity helps transcend this limiting tag, making this a very stylish Euro-flavored dance-pop record that will appeal to all ages. Not one weak track, not one misplaced syrupy ballad to ruin the groove. The winning streak continues”.

I shall talk about some of her albums post-Fever but, in my view, that sense of recovery (after Impossible Princess) and domination between 2000/2001 is what makes Minogue an icon and ever-evolving star. Like Madonna post-True Blue (1986) and post-Erotica (1992) (and on 1998’s Ray of Light), Minogue was capable of these turns, leaps and unexpected triumphs. 2003’s Body Language continued her fine run and gave us the fine single, Slow, whilst X (2007) and Aphrodite (2010) were lauded because of Minogue’s impressive writing, versatility and, to an extent, it was more of a return to the Pop sound – breaking a little from the Dance and Disco of her previous couple of records. I think the mark of a truly great artist is one who can keep producing hit albums but not do the same thing; keep the style and sound fresh but retain that core sound. That might sound like a hard balancing act but Minogue has managed to achieve this time and time again – growing stronger and more surprising as her career has developed.

Her latest album, 2018’s Golden, finds her moving into Country territory. Rather than produce another Pop album or something with Dance overtones, Golden is a more mature, soft and reflective – are there artists as chameleon-like as Minogue?! It seems that every album has been a chance for Minogue to take her music and imagination to new genres and, owning them all, one wonders where she will head next. This sort of takes us to where she is now. The ever-popular and stunning Kylie Minogue has not long let the dust settle from her triumphant Glastonbury set and she seems to be in a really happy place right now. Not only will her Glastonbury appearance remain in the hearts of her existing fans whilst bringing in new followers but one suspects Minogue herself will struggle to get over it for some years. The poise, power and passion Minogue has put into her music since the late-1980s is inspiring and impressive to say the least! Right now, one can enjoy a Kylie Minogue retrospective with her new greatest hits collection, Step Back in Time and it is a perfect assortment of Pop gems for those who know Minogue inside out and for those who are fresh to her work. Before wrapping things up, I want to bring in a couple of interviews Minogue has conducted over the past few months.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Nickerson for The Times

The first, with The Times is illuminating and revealing. She is very open and frank and, in this exert, discusses her cancer diagnosis and feelings regarding motherhood today:

It’s remarkable that Minogue has the stamina to dance until 5am at an age when many women are experiencing the menopause. Indeed, she’s already been there, done that. As is common with younger breast cancer patients, her menopause was medically induced when she had treatment, to suppress her oestrogen levels. On Desert Island Discs, she stated that she would love to start a family. It’s a difficult subject to broach, but I wonder if she feels the chance to have children has passed. “I can definitely relate to that,” she answers. “I was 36 when I had my diagnosis. Realistically, you’re getting to the late side of things. And, while that wasn’t on my agenda at the time, [cancer] changed everything. I don’t want to dwell on it, obviously, but I wonder what that would have been like. Everyone will say there are options, but I don’t know. I’m 50 now, and I’m more at ease with my life. I can’t say there are no regrets, but it would be very hard for me to move on if I classed that as a regret, so I just have to be as philosophical about it as I can. You’ve got to accept where you are and get on with it”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue

The second interview I want to source from is with PAPER. Again, it is a revealing piece but Minogue is asked about particular time periods in her career and how she responded to the ups and downs:

There was an awkward phase in your career between 1991 and 1994, when you released Kylie Minogue and Impossible Princess. What were you seeking during that period?

Perhaps if I'd been at that stage of my life and career at a different point in time, it definitely would have been different. That was the mid '90s, and you can hear that I am being influenced by Björk and Garbage, and indie pop, and people like Tricky. That was where I was trying to fit in. It turns out that wasn't exactly my lane. I think for fans, they love seeing and hearing something different, and it definitely was a learning curve for me, which I am thankful for. It wasn't successful, but strangely moved in its own way. But I think the start of that we got right, which was "Confide in Me"

IN THIS PHOTO: Kylie Minogue performing at Edinburgh Castle in July 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Rennie 

I always wondered about how insanely quickly you followed up Light Years with Fever then Body Language. What was the timeline like for you? You must have felt unstoppable.

It was all very noughties. I don't know about unstoppable, but it was all happening. Like I said before, before "Spinning Around," I just didn't know what the future held for me. So, yeah, it was busy. Through that period, I got back into live touring. That's the one thing I will be thankful for Impossible Princess. It made me go on the road in Australia. I had to fight for a measly projector and two dancers! Basically, the set was cardboard and lycra. We had literally nothing, but it just kind of got me on stage and connecting with the audience and doing small gigs. That led to 2001, the tour which was for my Light Years album. Then we went stratospheric with Fever and did the Fever tour, and really nailed that. Then Body Language, so right, it was busy.

In 2018 you released Golden. Country music is having a huge moment right now — you were one of the first pop artists to get on that resurgence.

That was thanks to my A&R, who incidentally was the same A&R who did "Spinning Around." In the initial part of recording for Golden, we didn't really have a direction. It was going in with some of my old favorites and new people and just seeing what would happen and what the collision brings out creatively. We kept trying to get a country element but we couldn't quite get it until I went to Nashville, and then it all made sense…

That place must have particular lay lines or something. There's a spirit there, and it would have been totally disingenuous to suddenly be country, but definitely taking the inspiration from the songwriting point of view and putting stories into the songs. It was good at that point in my life to explore that. I don't think that will leave me, moving forward. Although God, if another "Can't Get You Out of My Head" came my way, I would take it, thank you very much. I would write it, or I would take it.

There is no stopping the iconic Minogue and, having won fans across the world, the demand for her music and live performances is still huge. It seems like she is a far better situation than she was back in 2005 and, clear of cancer and having delivered one of her career-best sets at Glastonbury, might this extend into a burst of new creative energy in the form of an album?! One feels Minogue is owed a rest and I guess she might want to return to her native Melbourne for some family time and relaxation.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue

I opened by asking the question as to whether Minogue can be seen as a musical icon alongside such stellar artists like Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé and Joni Mitchell. There is no denying the fact these women have all made a huge impact on music in their own ways. I know of many modern artists who look up Kylie Minogue and, whether through performance or fashion, Minogue has definitely inspired close followers and those aspiring to be like her – the mark of any idol. Throw into the mix that instantly recognisable catalogue of songs and the fact Minogue is one of the nicest people in music – with a determination and sense of control – and you have someone who have a bona fide legend and icon. Long may her brilliance continue but, when you think about it, Kylie Minogue has already given the world…

SO, so much.

FEATURE: “The Love You Take/Is Equal to the Love You Make”: Will The Beatles’ Abbey Road Receive the Celebration It Deserves?

FEATURE:

 

“The Love You Take/Is Equal to the Love You Make”

PHOTO CREDIT: Iain Macmillan 

Will The Beatles’ Abbey Road Receive the Celebration It Deserves?

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IT is not often that I revisit a subject…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles captured in August 1969/PHOTO CREDIT: Ethan Russell and Monte Fresco

a few months after the first post. I wrote a feature back in February that stated how important the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles’ Abbey Road is and why we need to give the album a lot of love. I shall try not to tread over the same ground as I did back then – although someone has just commented on one of my blog posts and said I repeat myself too often – but I think, given the gravity of Abbey Road, such a fine album warrants another spin. On 26th September, 1969, The Beatles released Abbey Road and it was the final album they recorded together. Their final photoshoot happened on 22nd August, 1969 and the band were very much about business after that point – they would not step into the studio again the great harmony they shared at the start of their career had definitely faded. The fact that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr recently played together means there is a lot of love between the two surviving Beatles. Back in 1969, the face and feeling of The Beatles was very different to the one in 1962/1963. Although the band were happy with a lot of Let It Be (recorded before Abbey Road but released in 1970), there was a lot of tension and there were some blow-ups in the studio. Abbey Road, sure, was not an entirely smooth process – at least George Martin was back as producer after Phil Spector helmed Let It Be – but there was a feeling of the band uniting for one final, stunning push.

I shall get to the good points regarding Abbey Road but, with any classic album, there were one or two kinks. Alongside the torturously long recording process of Paul McCartney’s Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and a few tensions, one has to look at the remarkable music made between February and August of 1969. Many fans debate as to which Beatles album is the best but, over time, Abbey Road has made its way near to the front of the pack – I think it is one of their most important albums and definitely one of the best albums the band ever produced. I know everyone will pick one or two songs that are not quite perfect and can be overlooked but I look at Abbey Road as a whole; a complete statement from the world’s greatest band – the final time they would do so. In a couple of months, we will see Abbey Road marked but I think most of the coverage will revolve around articles online; journalists marking fifty years of this gem; perhaps one or two little features on the radio. In 2017, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band received a lot of love and there were discussions on various stations – I even appeared on one for BBC Radio 5 live. Last year, BBC Radio 6 Music (and BBC Radio 2)’s Matt Everitt and a selection of musical peeps gave a very insightful and illustrative nod to The Beatles’ eponymous album.

Joined by musicians, journalists and Giles Martin (George Martin’s son remastered the album and dug up some demos and rarities), it was a great event that had a live studio audience (it was live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube). I can understand the need for an event like that because The Beatles is a double-album and there is a lot to unpack. Forgive me, as I say, for repeating myself – I have been told I do that too often – but I do wonder whether there is anything happening behind the scenes right now. I can imagine there was a lot of planning behind the scenes when it came to the Everitt-led stream regarding The Beatles; a lot when it came to marking fifty years of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I would also assume. I think Abbey Road is the most important Beatles album and, as I said back in February, its fiftieth anniversary is monumental – I do not think we will see another anniversary as important this generation! Was Abbey Road a masterpiece? Was it seen as such in 1969? This article highlights some of the album’s reviews and, yes, the fact Abbey Road is not flawless:

 “However, Chris Welch, writing in Melody Maker, felt just the opposite: “The truth is, their latest LP is just a natural born gas, entirely free of pretension, deep meanings or symbolism.” Similarly enthusiastic, The Record Mirror said that Abbey Road was “every bit as good as the last three” albums by the group. History, too, has been much kinder, with many now citing this as their favourite Beatles album.

 What is it that makes Abbey Road a masterpiece? Well, the breadth of the musical vision, the sheer scale of the band’s collective musical imagination, and the audacity of it all, at a time when The Beatles were coming to the end of their time together.

And then there are the two George Harrison masterpieces, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and ‘Something’; both rank alongside the best songs the band ever recorded. Of the former, uDiscover’s Martin Chilton, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says “it’s almost impossible not to sing along to” – and he’s right.

Opinion is divided among some fans and critics about some of the remaining tracks. However, there is no disputing the power, no denying the magnificence, of two of John Lennon’s compositions. ‘Come Together’ is one of the great opening tracks on any album. Likewise, ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ just takes the band to a place they had never been before… towering”.

The Orion talked about the album last year and had their say:

In two parts, this sprawling album represents how far The Beatles came throughout the decade. With such multifaceted work clear in each song, the amount of effort put in by all four members seems monumental. Even by today’s standards it represented yet another step forward for music from The Beatles.

Even on their way out, The Beatles were leaders to the future of music. The album covers a wider variety of topics and ideas, yet at the end, it is telling that the band concludes with a simple message about love (after all, so much of their catalog was concerned with the many facets of love). Perhaps we would all do well to remember their final line to the world, at the end of an incredible career, focused instead on that love: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”.

I shall bring in one or two reviews to end this feature but there are a number of reasons why Abbey Road warrants some big love and focus. Not only are there some of the best Beatles songs on that album – Come Together and You Never Give Me Your Money among them – but George Harrison reached his peak as a songwriter. He was always a great songwriter but Something and Here Comes the Sun are the best songs he ever created. Ringo Starr – a drummer that has very few equals – got his first solo on The End and the band even threw in a hidden track: Her Majesty is short and sweet but not many other artists were putting hidden tracks onto their albums. Abbey Road also has that conceptual suite in the second side where smaller songs are woven together into this elegant, diverse flow. Maybe Paul McCartney was exerting more influence in 1969 – I feel he took on the role of the band’s leader from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band onwards – but one cannot discount the efforts of John Lennon (his majestic I Want You (She’s So Heavy) is titanic!), George Harrison and Ringo Starr (Octopus’s Garden). From the lush and romantic Something to the harmony-golden Because; the brevity of Polythene Pam and the classic final few songs, Abbey Road has something for everyone and I actually like every track. Maybe Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Octopus’s Garden and Oh! Darling get unfair criticism but I feel all the songs work beautifully together.  

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ethan Russell and Monte Fresco

It is hard to say why Abbey Road has grown in stature since 1969 and moved up the ladder regarding the best Beatles albums but I do think that the fact it is the last album they recorded is a reason. Also, I think there is so much to enjoy in Abbey Road; it is a more complex and interesting album and you could tell that, although the band were ending their time together, they were still capable of producing these genius songs. The album cover alone has spawned endless parodies, replications and spoofs through the years. It is a simple shot of the band walking across a zebra crossing but is perfect. The fact Paul McCartney is bare-footed led many to assume he was dead; others just appreciate it for its sheer cool and class. It is a great shot to look at and shows a breeziness and calm that was not always evident during the recording of Let It Be and Abbey Road. Also, we have two surviving Beatles and the fact they will both be around the mark fifty years of Abbey Road is really important. I do think there will be some articles and features written about Abbey Road but I wonder whether we will see anything as good and authoritative as celebrations of other Beatles albums. I am drawn back to that stream last year where Matt Everitt and team unpacked and discussed The Beatles.

If anything, I think Abbey Road deserves an even longer discussion and, as I know I have said before, it could be a chance to hold a once-in-a-lifetime event where someone, maybe Everitt, and musicians/journalists/fans assemble at Abbey Road Studios and dissect all the great tracks. I would love to see the album cover analysed by photographers and other artists; maybe someone like Giles Martin returning and, if he is remastering Abbey Road, talking about this classic. It would be good to hear from journalists/artists and their experiences of Abbey Road; see some artists jam in the studios and play songs from the album. I would love to see a stripped-back version of I Want You (She’s So Heavy); I would love a new take on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer or a new cover of Something. Imagine an all-star group performing the song suite from the second side or witnessing the entire album being performed by a range of different artists. In that iconic studio, it is tantalising imagining which artists could perform the songs and how that would sound. I do think every major Beatles album deserves its moment in the sun and, when it comes to a fiftieth anniversary, Abbey Road’s should definitely get the full works. Maybe there is something happening right now and we might be treated to a televised show; maybe something on the radio or a big documentary. Rubber Soul is my favourite Beatles album but Abbey Road was a revelation. I listen to it now and it still sounds completely daring, ambitious and together.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Ethan Russell and Monte Fresco

Each track has its own life and I adore the way the album makes you feel. It is hard to put into words but there is something magical about Abbey Road. Knowing Abbey Road was the final album The Beatles would record together adds emotional resonance and an extra sting. Rather than mourn the fact we would not see another Beatles studio album (recorded, not released), we should celebrate this album and give it all the love it deserves. The reviews for Abbey Road speak for themselves: there were very few who had a bad (or average) word to say about it. Pitchfork had this to say when assessing it back in 2009:

Paul McCartney's "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and Ringo Starr's "Octopus's Garden", two silly, charming, childlike songs in a long tradition of silly, charming, childlike Beatles songs, round out side one. But then, oh: side two. The suite that runs from "You Never Give Me Your Money" through "Her Majesty" finds the Beatles signing off in grand fashion. Gathering scraps of material that had piled up, McCartney and Martin pieced together a song cycle bursting with light and optimism, and this glorious stretch of music seems to singlehandedly do away with the bad vibes that had accumulated over the previous two years. From the atmospheric rip of Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross" that is "Sun King" to the sharp pair of Lennon fragments, "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam" (the former given a line about "sister Pam" to join the pieces), and on through the explosive, one-climax-after-another run of "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window", "Golden Slumbers", and "Carry That Weight", the nine fragments in 16 minutes add up to so much more than the sum of their parts.

The music is tempered with uncertainly and longing, suggestive of adventure, reflecting a sort of vague wisdom; it's wistful, earnest music that also feels deep, even though it really isn't. But above all it just feels happy and joyous, an explosion of warm feeling rendered in sound. And then, the perfect capper, finishing with a song called "The End", which features alternating guitar solos from John, George, and Paul and a drum solo from Ringo. It was an ideal curtain call from a band that just a few years earlier had been a bunch of punk kids from a nowheresville called Liverpool with more confidence than skill. This is how you finish a career”.

I shall leave the Abbey Road celebration/speculation there but it is only just over two months until we mark fifty years of this great album. Naturally, people will play it and talk about it but I wonder whether there will be a party; a concert or documentary that introduces Abbey Road to a new audience. There is a generation that might not be aware of Abbey Road and I do hope that someone, somewhere will give it an anniversary bow. There are few albums ever recorded that deserve such a big celebration when they turn fifty but anything by The Beatles should be marked – Abbey Road, I feel, needs to be right near the top. On 26th September, the world will praise this remarkable album at fifty. It is amazing that Abbey Road got made and sounds so exceptional but the fact we are still talking about it shows what a magnificent swansong…  

 

ABBEY Road was.

TRACK REVIEW: Leon Bridges - That Was Yesterday

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Leon Bridges

PHOTO CREDIT: John Midgley

That Was Yesterday

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, That Was Yesterday, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAgh1CI4By4

GENRES:

Soul/Neo-Soul

ORIGIN:

Texas, U.S.A.

RELEASE DATE:

19th July, 2019

LABEL:

LisaSawyer63, Inc. (under license to Columbia Records)

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ON this outing…

I am moving onto an artist who I last reviewed a year ago. He has not exactly been quiet since then but last year’s Good Thing was a revelation. I was amazed by the smoothness of Leon Bridges’ voice and the class of the songs; the sheer power and agility of his voice and how he can transport the listener to somewhere very engrossing, comforting and evocative. Now that he has a new track out, I want to talk about Bridges’ style of Soul and how we need to hear more of it in the mainstream; what an artist can do in terms of emotional resonance and reveal; the importance of black artists and how, still, we are not seeing balance and parity regarding exposure; those that can inspire the next generation and have that star quality – I will also talk about Bridges and where he might head next. Let us discuss Bridges in the context of Soul and Neo-Soul. I am going to bring in an interview he gave with GQ last year (when promoting Good Thing) that sort of shows how he has evolved and how his music has shifted over the past few years. When he released his debut, Coming Home, in 2015, I was instantly hooked and it was so refreshing hearing a young artist who mixed modern Neo-Soul (in the sense of putting a twist on Neo-Soul) and retaining that old-school Soul sound. There are soulful artists around like Michael Kiwanuka, but I do not really think we have as many out there as we should. I am not sure why that is but maybe it is something to do with translating to certain audiences and maybe trends have moved on. Soul is no longer as prevalent as it once was but, as Leon Bridges proves, a voice that is steeped in history and beauty is a rare thing. I love the way he can remind one of Soul greats like Sam Cooke but has a very modern touch. Listening to him sing and one is relaxed but empowered.

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This GQ interview found Bridges talking about his debut album and the audiences it was reaching:

Coming Home, Bridges says, found predominantly white audiences. "It's uncomfortable live to look out into the crowd, and during my song 'Brown Skin Girl'—that's part of my patter, the whole thing is like, 'Where's my Brown Skin Girls at?'—and...there aren't any." People didn't seem to think Bridges' music was black, or black enough. "There are people who say ignorant stuff like that," he says. "Which is a crazy thing to hear." The new songs are sexier, more authentic and original and aware; Bridges explicitly changed his sound to find a more diverse audience. If you're a fan of Coming Home, you'll recognize that smoked-honey voice. The music, however, is something different—wholly modern, though visited by the ghosts of the past. You can hear a parade of Bridges' inspirations all over Good Thing: "Fuckin' Usher, Ginuwine, James Blake, Portishead, R. Kelly, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson," he says”.

Maybe his debut was a little commercial in a way but the songs definitely had Bridges’ D.N.A. all over it. There is always that problem, when you start out, that the music might not reach as wide an audience as possible. I have seen other Soul artists around and the sound is very dumbed down and designed to hit the commercial market. Maybe that means writing songs that are less personal and are more designed for the charts. On his follow-up album, Bridges moved through the gears and created more authentic tracks. Now, his voice seems richer and sharper whilst his songs explore new ground and territory. It is exciting to see Bridges grow and I know that his brand of Soul/Neo-Soul will attract those who have not heard the genres before. Whilst genres like Pop are still prevalent and they are not budging anytime soon, I would like to see other artists like Leon Bridges emerge. I think the Texas-based artist is shining a light and standing out as an idol of the future.

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In terms of the power and prowess of Leon Bridges, I do think that he has also evolved since his debut album. Coming Home had its fine moments and standouts but I do think that Good Thing contained more texture and emotions. The effect of that album is still reverberating in my head. I want to (briefly) return to the interview I just sourced that documents how Bridges has grown since his debut and how he grew from his debut to the follow-up:

By his own admission, Bridges was a "baby" when Coming Home dropped in 2015. He was in his early twenties when he recorded it, down in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. "I was very sheltered," he says. "I wasn't in a relationship, any relationships at the time. I didn't really, um…go out and drink and all that kind of shit." In the three years since, Bridges has toured the world, been nominated for two Grammys, attended President Barack Obama's last birthday celebration at the White House—"surreal," Bridges calls it, before launching into a surprisingly excellent impression of our former president—and returned with another album, Good Thing, which is due out early this May. The new stuff shows just how much Bridges has grown up: He's debuting a new, contemporary sound, one that more accurately reflects who he's becoming. That person is more mature, more in control, and more aware of himself and the way the world sees him”.

If Leon Bridges was slightly shy and alone on his debut album – in the sense he did not have the same confidence he does now – there was this blossoming and realisation on Good Thing. The voice, the songs and the music: it was more of the true Bridges and did not have to be compared with contemporaries and who was trending in the charts. The greatest gift Bridges has is that voice. The purity and passion that pours from it is immense and captivating. If you find an artist who can uncover hidden emotions and make you feel better, they should be taken to heart. So much of today’s music is about emptiness and commercialism. Leon Bridges is one of those artists who digs deep into the soul and can make the heart swoon.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Rambo Photography

I will keep the interview quotes low but, before moving on, I want to bring in an interview from CLASH that backs up my point regarding Bridges’ voice and how he grew in confidence and intent – thanks to personal decisions and relentless touring:

I just kinda felt this weight of expectation from the fans - a lot of my fans, they want that specific sound, and they’d be content if I made that same sound for the rest of my life,” he says of the pressures he faced when considering change, and attributes a realisation he experienced at the 2016 Grammy Awards, where he was nominated for Best R&B Album, as the catalyst for the new musical direction he’d take. Considering his fellow nominees, he noted: “I just thought to myself that I have the talent to be in the same conversations with the Brunos and the Ushers and all those guys, but still stay unique. So that was the whole motivation behind this project: how can we take the elements from the first album but evolve the sound?”

Despite any trepidation during its creation, ‘Good Thing’ is dripping with self-assurance. The cultivated dynamics of Leon’s voice, honed after three years of constant performing, are confident and engaging, particularly on the suggestive ‘Shy’, which also introduces this intriguing sexuality that exudes throughout ‘Good Thing’ - a facet hitherto unexplored by the self-confessed shy loner”.

On his latest track, That Was Yesterday, that vocal brilliance and shine is augmented and has reached new levels. The song is slated to appear in the Season 2 finale of Big Little Lies and it will mean his music reaches new ears. It is clear Bridges is a star and he keeps getting stronger and more impressive. I talked about Soul and how we do not really have too many artists like Bridges. I listen to Bridges and I am calmed but, at the same time, his voice reveals so much and is filled with nuance.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rambo Photography

Maybe it is a risky subject to bring in but, in 2019, I wonder whether there is a discrepancy when it comes to promoting black and white artists. There is a horrible feeling that Leon Bridges, on his debut, was told to make his music more accessible and commercial. He did not abandon his roots and tastes but one feels that the comparative lack of authenticity and his pure self was a move to appeal to white audiences. I loved that album but did feel that Bridges was holding back and the true him was being kept back until the album hit and was taken to heart. I am glad Bridges was given a greater lease of freedom on Good Thing and he was allowed to create material with greater verve, personality and width. It is slightly worrying that, in order to be seen as commercial and popular, black artists are not allowed as much freedom and scope as they should; when they do achieve success, the rewards and exposure is not the same as for white artists. It is a bit dangerous bringing up these theories but I am concerned that we are not giving the same rights and opportunities to black artists. Some festivals are breaking ground and, of course, I am not saying black artists are underground and lack visibility at all. What I mean is that, when it comes to letting an artist be themselves, musicians like Leon Bridges are being held back. I know there are so many great black artists in various genres that are promising but, as they are not as accessible and commercial as some artists in the mainstream, their path is being held back. It seems a shame but I hope we are making strides and things will change very soon. I do think artists like Leon Bridges will inspire change and, as he has shown with his personal growth, providing artists the ability to be who they are is most important.

I shall move on to his latest track very soon but, even though his latest album was released last year, I do think we will hear more from him in time. Good Thing was one of the most affecting albums of 2018 and I am still listening to it now. The songs, whilst they did have an aspect of Soul greats, struck and stunned because this was Leon Bridges coming out of the shadows and revealing all his different sides and qualities. The songwriting is exceptional and the vocals are among the most alive and striking I have ever heard. This year has seen so many great female artists come through and, when it comes to artists that are going to inspire the next generation, we have plenty of options. I think that Leon Bridges has shown why we need more Soul/Neo-Soul artists right now. The effect of his music and how it makes you feel…it is much more potent and wondrous than so much of what is out there at the moment. It is not just Bridges’ voice and his music that gets to you and opens the eyes but it is clear he has determination and a plan for the future. That determination he had – after his debut – to move on and improve his music; that is something that will compel other artists and shows he was not willing to repeat himself. I keep mentioning his debut album in slightly negative terms but, in truth, it was a wonderful release and a fine achievement. You look at Bridges and the fact that he pretty much pops from the page. The man is seriously cool and is a bit of a style icon. Bridges talks so fondly about his musical idols and where he came from. He is a complete package and someone who is a mile away from the usual Pop artist. Bridges is a perfect example of someone who has come from quite humble beginnings and has become this popular and inspirational artist.

The trouble Bridges found earlier in his career that he was not seen as a relevant black artist. He was living in Texas but his music, to anyone who had sense and good ears, was stunning. He was receiving criticism because some felt he did not fit in with the black community and there were some who felt his music lacked any relevance and realness. He was not getting booked as much as he should have been and this was disheartening for Bridges. Maybe it was the material he was performing and the fact it lacked the breadth of his later work. Another reason why I feel Bridges is inspiration is because he moved from the more traditional basis of love on Coming Home and incorporated more politics on Good Thing.  Bad Bad News was a clear shot against society and how there are limits imposed on people. Maybe there were some, when it comes to politics, who wanted him to write about President Trump and what is happening in America. That was not what he was about; he did not want to attack and write political songs like everyone else. Having experienced discrimination and disappointment, that notion that society (including music) has these notions and ideals was more important to him. Bridges writes songs he is passionate about so, if he was expected to write a certain way, that would not seem real and it would not get the same reaction. Bridges will encourage other artists who want to write about what they know and what resonates within them – rather than following the herd and being a commercial shill. One of the changes I have noticed in Bridges is how he has to work slightly less hard to impress. There is more space in his music and, even though he has developed in terms of compositional ambition and vocals, the music seems more economical. You see these artists who have an almost film-like quality to them. Bridges started life with ambitions and dreams of becoming a big artist. His early gigs and recordings were promising but Bridges has seen his stock rise. Now, with potential for another album, I wonder just how far Bridges can go.

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That Was Yesterday begins with strutting strings; an acoustic start that is beautiful and graceful yet has a definite energy and punch. It is a brief introduction but one that perfectly opens the mind and gets images projecting. In a way, the song seems to be about Leon Bridges and where he has come from. He did not know whether he would amount to anything and whether he would succeed. Whether talking about personal achievements or making a success of his career, Bridges looks back and takes the listener to his childhood; maybe the years before he was signed and dreamed of bringing his music to a bigger stage. Bridges’ voice is less rapturous than it was on some of Good Thing’s best moments but this is what the song calls for. There is contemplation and wistfulness but also the sound of the man now looking at where he started and taking stock. Bridges had holes in his shoes and coat (only yesterday, as he says) and he was just a boy “living amongst children”. There is this vision of him in a struggling scene where he has very little and the only dream he has is surviving and making sure he can stay afloat. Ideal of success and musical dreams were miles away and seemed impossible. Whether Bridges is talking about his own experiences and childhood or is employing a fictional edge, I do not know. I do get that sense of personal experience because Bridges’ voice cracks with emotion and you can tell he means every word! Even though Bridges has come a long way and is no longer in the same place he was, he is still learning the game and learning his trade. Listening to the song – and reading the title – there is this feeling that Bridges has not left bad memories and his beginnings in the past.

They are still impacting him but the worst times are behind him. It is sobering to think that this man had a hard start and was a very different person to who he is now. Investigating the song closely, I get the feeling Bridges is talking about his career and how he used to be under the surface. Maybe he was not being heard and things were not going swimmingly. I get this feeling Bridges is also talking about his personal life and how he has come a long way. All of that was yesterday but there is this lingering pain and emotion that comes out. If Good Thing was synonymous with musical boldness, a sense of crackle and energy; here, there is greater emphasis on the bare and controlled. It is almost like That Was Yesterday is a prayer and recollection. Whether Bridges will employ this sound/direction on a new album is up for debate but the strength of his latest song is its sparseness; the fact that his voice is not held back and having to compete with instruments. The power is there but there is this huge emotional purity and tenderness that brings the words to life. He had no direction in his life once upon a time but now, able to look back, things are moving in the right direction. Many people will be able to relate to Leon Bridges’ messages and where he is coming from. We do not share the same experiences but we all can appreciate how things are different today compared to yesterday; how dreams can be realised and how we can go from humble beginnings and make our way. All of these bad times were yesterday and they are all in the past. Bridges brings in backing vocals – a gorgeous, rich harmony – that adds Gospel tones to the song. Bridges realises that he has done well and has changed but he will never forget where he has come from. The roots are strong and firm but Bridges does not want to look back too much and let it affect him. The future is now and he wants to keep moving. Although Bridges has felt lost and worked tirelessly to get where he is, the future is open and he is not taking anything for granted. Every line and expression will impact someone out there and all listeners, as I say, will be able to relate to what Bridges is saying. That familiarity is inspiring but you also hear this deeply personal song from a man who has a lot more to say. That central message – things being in the past and life now being different – is key but it also acts as a springboard for Bridges. That Was Yesterday is a marvellous song and I do hope that it forms part of a new album. Bridges’ debut was brilliant but Good Thing saw Bridges explore new areas and sounds. Now, there is another direction and it shows that Bridges is always exploring what is possible and where his music can take him. That is the mark of a truly remarkable artists and someone, as I said, who is an idol of the future. I am a big fan of Leon Bridges but am amazed at how far he has come and the quality of the music he is putting out there. If you need your soul uplifted but also want to ponder and look deep inside yourself then you need to listen to That Was Yesterday and have your heart and mind opened to something exceptional, moving and spellbinding.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Oldham

That Was Yesterday is a song that could be standalone or could be the start of his third album. I hope there is more material coming but Bridges has been working hard since Good Thing arrived last year. He has been gigging a lot and he does not want to rush into a new album. There is always that pressure, when you release a great album, to bring something out soon to capitalise on that wave. That can often damage momentum and can affect an artist. I do think Leon Bridges has moved on from his debut album and has grown in stature and confidence since his earliest days. Born in Atlanta, Georgia; he moved to Fort Worth, Texas and now…this young artist can take on the world. Bridges played countless open-mics whilst he was working at Del Frisco’s Grille in Fort Worth. Having been signed to Columbia Records in 2014, this young man has tackled disappointment and matured as an artist. These are still early days for Leon Bridges but I just know he will continue to conquer and release exceptional music. Many will want a third album pretty quick but I think it is better he takes his time and prepares something that is meaningful to him. So many artists feel the pinch and they will get pushed by their label. With each gig and tour, Bridges learns something new and grows in confidence. That leads to stronger material and new colours. I will end things very soon but I would urge people who have not heard Leon Bridges to check out his music and listen to this truly amazing artist. I know Soul is a hard genre to tackle because, on the one hand, people have these ideals of what Soul is (legends like Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin) and will want artists to follow them. So many young Soul artists idolise the legends but, if they just replicate them, it might lead to limited appeal and longevity.

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If they stray too far away from the Soul template then it might not sound as authentic and certain audiences might feel alienated. Leon Bridges came into music and found that there were some unwilling to embrace his sounds and influences. Breaking away from that and adding in new shades, Bridges has perfectly mixed classic Soul’s power with something individual to him. His audience base has widened and he has managed, I think, to unite black and white audiences. Those who doubted him at the start must be eating their words! I shall end it now because we all need to get on but, really, you need to get behind Leon Bridges because I predict he will go on to become this megastar. When another album arrives, it will show what he has learned over the past year and whether he will add new ideas into his music – maybe he will talk about new political themes given the way the U.S. has changed and divided. That Was Yesterday is an exceptional song it is great to have Leon Bridges back in the music world – not that he ever left! There are so few Soul/Neo-Soul artists operating at the moment and I do think they are difficult genres to bring to the mainstream. On this sunny day, bring Leon Bridges’ new song with you and let it do its work. It is a magnificent song and shows that Bridges is one of the strongest artists…

WE have right now.

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Follow Leon Bridges

FEATURE: Just WHO Was Johnny Ryall? Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique at Thirty

FEATURE:

 

Just WHO Was Johnny Ryall?

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Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique at Thirty

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YOU get these albums that come along…

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys in 1989/PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Rider

and they sort of pass under the radar without too much fuss. Although the Beastie BoysPaul’s Boutique is regarded as a classic now, it was not revered as such back in 1989. Recorded in Mike Dike’s apartment and at Record Plant in Los Angeles between 1988 and 1989, Beastie Boys’ second album was a chance to prove that they were not one-hit/album wonders. There was this feeling that Licensed to Ill (released in 1986) was a bit jokey and the trio were not born for great success – a few of the songs were sexist and there was homophobic content (it was clear they needed to make changes and retune their vocabulary at the very least!). The intrepid threesome of Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond (vocals, drums), Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch (vocals, bass) and Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz (vocals, guitar), perhaps, created one of the most dramatic about-faces in musical history. In terms of the leap of ambition from their debut to their second album, there have been few other artists who have done something like this. There were hints of samples and ambitious threads of Licensed to Ill - but Paul’s Boutique is such a different beast. Even though Licensed to Ill is one of the lesser-celebrated albums in the Beasties’ back catalogue, sales were good and they were buoyed with some chart success – singles such as (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!) and No Sleep till Brooklyn were class cuts.

At the time of Paul’s Boutique’s release, it was not met with much celebration. Who can imagine that, on 25th July, 1989 that there would be so little celebration and love for an album that changed the face of Hip-Hop?! Maybe it was the thick samples and the complexity of the music; perhaps the vast difference between their debut and Paul’s Boutique threw fans and critics. I shall not quote some of the meaner reviews of 1989 but it is safe to say some critics were lining up to kick the Beastie Boys and an album that, to them, was strange, scattered and stupid. Soon enough, Paul’s Boutique would be regarded as a classic; some saw it as the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of Hip-Hop; others marvelled in its cross-pollinating sounds and bold lyrical jumps. I shall talk about (the album’s legacy) and the reviews for Paul’s Boutique shortly but, in terms of the sound of this album, The Dust Brothers are the unsung heroes. The production team were, at first, charged with making a hit album but they took Beastie Boys in a new direction. A much bolder and experimental album, over one-hundred samples are deployed through the album. Contrary to belief, most of the samples used on Paul’s Boutique were cleared amiably and easily; consider how hard it would be to do that today – a sign that we have taken a step back when it comes to encouraging art and sampling through music. The lack of litigious delay meant that The Dust Brothers and Beastie Boys could create this masterpiece.

The fact that The Dust Brothers had a lot of music sorted before they met with the Beastie Boys, coupled with the relatively low-cost samples, meant that there was this harmony and excitement in camp. The lyrical fire and confidence throughout is brilliant but, to me, it is those samples that take Paul’s Boutique from great to a stone-cold classic! The stunning Shake Your Rump is a standout of the album but it fuses Harvey Scales, Foxy and James Brown in the same song. I think Johnny Ryall’s mix of Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Kurtis Blow provides the most arresting and risky combination but, when you hear the song, it all works! I have posted a video of the samples used on Paul’s Boutique…but look at this article and they provide more details. Hey Ladies is crammed with samples and the closing wonder of B-Boy Bouillabaisse goes into hyperdrive with its collages and invention! We live in a time when artists are struggling to get sample clearance because of laws and copyright; the fact samples are expensive means many are going without or facing lawsuits if they negate the traditional clearance paths. Some of the finest albums ever have been ripe with samples and I do think it is a shame that we will never see anything quite as fulfilling and vast as Paul’s Boutique – can you see an album with so many samples today making its way to the market without lawyers and estates hounding the artists for royalties/money?!  

In this review, The A.V. Club explained the beauty of the samples and the fluidity of Paul’s Boutique:

So why would anyone buy this exquisitely redundant version of a stone-cold classic? Perhaps because it’s just about perfect, an essential product of a golden age of creative freedom where inspired crate-diggers like Boutique producers The Dust Brothers could get away with sampling anyone and everything, from The Beatles to Johnny Cash, without paying prohibitively expensive licensing fees. Boutique flows together like a single cohesive track: It takes such a trippy, kaleidoscopic, immersive ride through its creators’ pop-culture-warped minds that it’s hard to believe the journey lasts a mere 53 minutes. Those who don’t own Boutique should by all means pick it up. They might also want to pick up Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Thriller while they’re at it, and consider moving out of that cave. Then again, unlike with the recent Thriller botch (is anything improved by the addition of Will.I.Am?) the Boys know better than to mess with perfection”.

That comparison to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band might walk perilously close to blasphemy and hyperbole but consider how The Beatles tore up the rulebook in 1967 and then, twenty-two years later, the Beastie Boys did it with an equally kaleidoscopic, colourful and rich album. The Beastie Boys’ masterpiece is not just full of diverse sounds that see artists conversing with one another but the tracks flow effortless and supremely.

Anyone can put loads of samples together but will the songs move and flow naturally? Will we hear something cohesive and original? With The Dust Brothers by their sides, the Beastie Boys helped to create one of the defining albums of the 1980s – just as the decade was sort of coming to a close. To mark thirty years of Paul’s Boutique, the Beastie Boys are releasing some rarities – as NME explain:

Six new EPs, including remixes and B-sides, will arrive over the next month

Beastie Boys‘ classic record ‘Paul’s Boutique’ celebrates its 30th birthday next week (July 25), and the band are lining up a host of special releases to mark the occasion.

Six new digital EPs will be released over the course of the next month, featuring 21 rare remixes and B-sides that will be digitally released for the first time.

Three EPs, ‘An Exciting Evening At Home With Shadrach’, ‘Meshach And Abednego’ and ‘Love American Style EP’ are released today (July 19), while remix EPs of the singles ‘Hey Ladies’ and ‘Shadrach’ will come out a week today (July 26)”.

Make sure you snap those up but, on Thursday, it will be thirty years since Paul’s Boutique landed. It remains one of the finest Hip-Hop albums ever but, if it were not for some keen critics and some sharp ears, it could have been commercial suicide for the trio.

The relative lack of hoopla Paul’s Boutique received in 1989 is shocking but, as the album is so dense and epic, perhaps it took a while for many to see its true value. The samples are magnificent but one cannot overlook the performances of the Beasties themselves! Pitchfork, when reviewing a twentieth anniversary edition of the album highlighted the boys’ evolution and standouts:

And, of course, there’s Ad-Rock and MCA and Mike D themselves. Where the aesthetic of Licensed to Ill could have permanently placed them in the crass dirtbag-shtick company of “Married With Children” and Andrew Dice Clay if they’d kept it up, Paul’s Boutique pushed them into a new direction as renaissance men of punchline lyricism. They were still happily at home affecting low-class behaviors: hucking eggs at people on “Egg Man”; going on cross-country crime sprees on “High Plains Drifter”; smackin’ girlies on the booty with something called a “plank bee” in “Car Thief”; claiming to have been “makin’ records when you were suckin’ your mother’s dick” on “3-Minute Rule.” But they’d also mastered quick-witted acrobatic rhymes to augment their countless pop-culture references and adolescent hijinks. “Long distance from my girl and I’m talkin’ on the cellular/She said that she was sorry and I said ‘Yeah, the hell you were’”—we’re a long way from “Cookie Puss” here.

After years of post-Def Jam limbo and attempts to escape out from under the weight of a fratboy parody that got out of hand, they put together a defiant, iconographic statement of purpose that combined giddy braggadocio with weeded-out soul-searching. It’s the tightest highlight on an album full of them, a quick-volleying, line-swapping 100-yard dash capped off with the most confident possible delivery of the line “They tell us what to do? Hell no!

This article adds to the argument the Beastie Boys upped their game and changed the dialogue:

Lyrically the Beasties had also flipped the script. Their raps were as hilarious as ever, but this time they were witty. Even the notoriously brusque critic Robert Christgau gave them props for “bearing down on the cleverest rhymes in the biz” adding “the Beasties concentrate on tall tales rather than boasting or dissing. In their irresponsible, exemplary way they make fun of drug misuse, racism, assault, and other real vices fools might accuse them of.”

Paul’s Boutique gave the Beastie Boys the critical acclaim they desperately desired. Rolling Stone manoeuvred a U-turn and brazenly called it, “the Pet Sounds / The Dark Side of the Moon of hip hop.” But more importantly, it also earned the group respect with their peers and idols. Miles Davis claimed he never got tired of listening to it, and Public Enemy’s Chuck D even said, ‘The dirty secret among the Black hip hop community at the time of the release was that Paul’s Boutique had the best beats.” ‘Nuff said”.

I am about to write an article on another huge album celebrating a big anniversary this year – The Beatles’ Abbey Road turns fifty in September – but I think a lot of attention should go the way of Paul’s Boutique on 25th July. Even if you were not around to experience the album the first time around, picking it up now is almost like stepping into a new universe; a world created by the Beastie Boys that is full of clashing sounds, slick jokes and supreme confidence. The fact the album lasts under an hour bellies the scope and magnificence of the songs. The drama that unfolds; the addictiveness of the songs and the feeling one gets from listening to Paul’s Boutique – everything is present and very much correct! Many argue as to which album was the best of Hip Hop’s golden era (1986/1987-1991/1992) but, to me, Paul’s Boutique would be right near the top; perhaps slightly overshadowed by De La Soul’s debut, 3 Feet High and Rising. Whether you prefer Egg Man, 3-Minute Rule or Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun (my favourite from the album), one has to accept that the completeness, unity and eclecticism of Paul’s Boutique is what makes it…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A truly biblical record.

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. V)

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Sisters in Arms

IN THIS PHOTO: Hey Violet 

An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. V)

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THIS time around…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Maven Grace

I have taken from different genres and, I think, created one of the most eclectic playlists for quite a while. The weather is pretty warm right now and the sun is shining. I think we all need great music and those tunes that keep us lifted. Here is an assortment of great new tunes (some from a week or two ago) that will definitely get you in the mood and raise the spirits. From great new Pop through to something nostalgic and some great hard-hitting sounds, there is something in the pack for everyone. Have a listen to the songs here and I am sure you will agree that these female-led sounds and pretty…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lingua Ignota

DAMNED fine.

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Winters Photography Co. -Mickie Winters Art

Joan ShelleyCycle

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Camille ChristelChicago

PHOTO CREDIT: Shell Daruwala

Bloom de WildeSoul Siren

Baker GraceSad Summer

Charlotte LawrenceWhy Do You Love Me

Tierra WhackUnemployed 

Ada Leathe party

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Maven GraceMe vs. the Volcano

Sasha Sloanat least i look cool

BleachedKiss You Goodbye

Lingua IgnotaDAY OF TEARS AND MOURNING

Laura JurdCompanion Species

PHOTO CREDIT: W Magazine

King PrincessProphet 

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Sabrina CarpenterPushing 20

PHOTO CREDIT: Loroto Productions

Frankie CosmosWindows

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PHOTO CREDIT: Lela Wright

Davina and The VagabondsI Can’t Believe I Let You Go

Jess and the Bandits Don’t Let Me Take You Home

Miranda LambertLocomotive

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ade Udoma & Michelle Janssen

IDERBody Love

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Zee AviSaya, Kumau

Molly SarléThis Close

PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Millichamp

GazelRain Is Coming

Wildwood KinBeauty in Your Brokenness

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Hey VioletQueen of the Night

Grace LightmanAztec Level

girl in redi’ll die anyway.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Glass House Productions

Freja FrancesThe Wolf

ROCHAll Time Favourite Girl

Hayley KiyokoI Wish

FEATURE: The July Playlist: Vol. 3: A Meeting of Titans and a Mighty Pride

FEATURE:

 

The July Playlist

IMAGE CREDIT: Beyoncé/Disney 

Vol. 3: A Meeting of Titans and a Mighty Pride

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THIS is a huge week…

IN THIS PHOTO: Christine and the Queens and Charli XCX

where some great artists are all releasing tracks at the same time! I cannot believe how many wonderful songs are out right now. Christine and the Queens has united with Charli XCX; Shura and Ezra Furman have tracks out and there is music from Iggy Pop and Sleater-Kinney; Beyonce and Bill Ryder-Jones are in the pack. It is a packed and busy week and I suggest you get down to investigating everything in the list below. There are weeks where you get all this high-grade material but it seems like this weekend is an especially golden one. As the weather continues to warm, make sure you take these incredible artists…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Iggy Pop/PHOTO CREDIT: Guillaume Bounaud

WHEREVER you go.  

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Charli XCX & Christine and the QueensGone

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Shura - the stage

Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won't Hold

PHOTO CREDIT: Christina Cooper

Brittany Howard Stay High

PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica Lehrman

Ezra Furman - Evening Prayer

PHOTO CREDIT: @antoine909

Iggy Pop Free

Bill Ryder-Jones - And Then There's You

IN THIS PHOTO: DZ Deathrays

DZ Deathrays (Matt Caughthran) - Year of the Dog

PHOTO CREDIT: Ade Udoma & Michelle Janssen

IDER Saddest Generation

The Night Café - Mixed Signals

Leon Bridges That Was Yesterday

The All-American Rejects – Demons

Four Tet – Dreamer

Lingua Ignota - I AM THE BEAST

Hayley Kiyoko – I Wish

Beyoncé BROWN SKIN GIRL

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Tom Tripp – TAM

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Laura Jurd Jump Cut Shuffle

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Maven Grace – Me vs. the Volcano

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PHOTO CREDIT: Maggie West

Sam Smith – How Do You Sleep?

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Zee Avi – Saya, Kamu

King Princess Prophet

Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny McGuire Chevys and Fords

PHOTO CREDIT: Neil Kryszak

Vivian Girls – Sick

PHOTO CREDIT: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Thom Yorke – The Axe

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The Flaming Lips Feedaloodum Beedle Dot

PHOTO CREDIT: Bao Ngo

Ada Lea – wild heart

Grace Lightman – Rescue Party

Freya Ridings – Still Have You

Iggy Azalea – Sally Walker 

PHOTO CREDIT: Loroto Productions

Frankie Cosmos - Rings (On Tree)

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The Amazons - Doubt It

PHOTO CREDIT: Travis Shinn

PIXIES - On Graveyard Hill

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tess Janssen Photography

IDLES Never Fight a Man with a Perm      

(Sandy) Alex G Hope

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Mahalia (ft. Burna Boy) - Simmer

TRACK REVIEW: Shura - the stage

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Shura

the stage

 

9.7/10

 

The track, the stage, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDCPai9kWLQ

GENRE:

Pop

ORIGIN:

Brooklyn, U.S.A./London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

15th July, 2019

The album, forevher, is available from 16th August. Pre-order here:

https://shura-uk.myshopify.com/collections/music/products/forevher-cd

LABEL:

Secretly Canadian

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I am enjoying reviewing bigger artists…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @ChacinEsteban

because it provides me the chance to spread my wings and cross various genres. I will mention Shura’s latest track very soon but, before arriving there, I want to talk about bold Pop and that which is influenced by the 1980s; sexuality in music and, whilst it is best not to obsess on it, how some artists are opening doors and the conversation; music that can be personal but has more reality and revelation to it; this year’s music and why it has been dominated by women; a look at where Shura might go and why she is a possible headliner of the future. I have heard a lot of great Pop music this year but I do feel like there is this core that still relies on the commercial tropes: talking about love in a very dull way or employing soulless beats and not adding anything to the conversation. I do wonder whether we will ever see an end to those artists who all sound the same and come across as awfully cheap and commercial. There is a market but one wonders whether these artists/tracks will endure through the years and whether we will actually remember them. I doubt it and do feel like there is an alternate camp of artists who have a lot more strength and originality. This year has been particularly good when it comes to Pop and what is being offered. Consider albums from Billie Eilish and Lizzo and you have some incredible sounds to get your ears around. I know there are other genres mixed in but, at its heart, you have that Pop sound but one that is heightened by exceptional compositions, personal lyrics minus the clichés and confident performances. To me, the best music is that which can combine the meaningful but put the listener in a better mood. So much music today is predicated on the idea that we need to be anxious and downbeat all of the time. The world, no matter how bad it seems, is not that bad yet artists insist on making music that is alarmingly bleak and serious.

I would never suggest artists abandon any sense of serious and project fun all of the time but there doesn’t seem to be an equal balance at the moment. What I do love is discovering artists like Shura who can talk about something quite deep and affecting yet she keeps the bubble and spritz close to hand. Her earliest work especially has that 1980s sound that reminds me of the likes of True Blue-era Madonna. There are other 1980s artists in the mix but I do hear that influence and it is wonderful getting a nice mix of the 1980s and the modern day. Before moving on, I will bring in this BBC interview where Shura discussed modern music and her influences:

"You have so many songs that are like, 'I'm so into you' or 'Let's get it on'," says the 25-year-old. "I don't recognise that swagger, I'm never going to feel like that."

"I felt that pop music didn't represent me. And that's why I made my own."

The results are written across her debut album, Nothing's Real, a catalogue of calamitous crushes and creeping anxiety, set to slow-burning synth-pop.

"We could be more than friends - but maybe I'm just too shy to say it," she sings on 2Shy, an expert dissection of awkward relationships; while the breakthrough single, Touch, finds the singer pining: "I wanna touch you but I'm too late".

It's funny you mention Whitney - because your music is constantly compared to '80s divas like her and Janet and Madonna. Do you mind that?

I'm massively inspired by Janet Jackson, and I adore Whitney Houston and Madonna. Production-wise, those records absolutely have been blueprints for me. I'll add a cowbell to make a song sound like Whitney; or a lovely Juno 106 [synthesizer] to make us feel we're in Live-To-Tell-era Madonna.

I'm also inspired by bands like The National and Fleetwood Mac, too, so it's not just the divas I adore. But you're constantly borrowing: borrowing thoughts, borrowing melodies, borrowing chords, but using them in a new context and giving them a different flavour. Otherwise it's just stealing!”.

Yesterday, I published an article relating to k.d. lang and her incredible track, Constant Craving. The song stands on its own as something magnificent and timeless but one must consider that the track is about yearning and a sense of desire from a gay woman in the 1990s. There were very few gay men in the mainstream during that time but even fewer women. It was a bold and brave move to release a song such as Constant Craving and, when lang came out, it was a huge moment. Not only did she open the doors for artists at the time but you can see how she has affected music now. I am aware there are many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ artists that are working in the underground and you feel are not given the same opportunities as other artists but, gradually, there is improvement and progression. Shura is a gay artist and, whilst she does not want people to focus on that and let it define her, one cannot argue that she is inspiring other artists and making music much broader and open. We still do not hear enough L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists in the mainstream and there are too many cases of established Pop artists writing songs in the vein of an L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artist but it is insincere or designed to get people talking – more sensational than pure and meaningful. Shura’s videos have never backed away from her sexuality and portraying same-sex relationships in a very real way. A few years back, an article came out in The Guardian that talked about the way she can make statements and reflect something very authentic and different:

 “When it comes to making bold statements, few do it with the unapologetic charm of electropop singer Shura. In the John Hughes-inspired video for her last single What’s It Gonna Be? – a sweetly earnest ode to romantic insecurity, wrapped up in effervescent synthpop – Shura and her real-life twin Nick play timid high-school students. He gazes lovingly at the posters of a girl running for class president, she exchanges anxious, flirty glances with a boy in her science class. Together they scheme out how to win their crushes’ attentions. Gradually, though, bubbling up in the fizz of teenage angst and confusion is the realisation that they’ve got their objects of affection muddled. It’s the girl who Shura wants to kiss.

The video struck a chord for putting a playful, queer spin on the high-school romance cliche. “I was really impressed with how that was received,” says Shura. “People were like: ‘Look at this awesome fucking high-school video… and it’s got a twist.’ It wasn’t: ‘Oh my God, Shura kisses a girl’, or, ‘Oh my God, Shura’s gay’ – in which case, what planet have you been living on because it’s, like, kind of obvious.”

That may be so, but the 25-year-old Shura is among a handful of artists, including her heroes, Canadian pop twins Tegan & Sara, Years & Years and Christine And The Queens, who are blurring gender and sexuality in pop music. They are, to borrow the former duo’s words, “queering the mainstream” and offering an alternative to the conventional pop star aesthetic. In other words, the monolithic image of a pop star – glossy, hypersexualised and, invariably, heterosexual – is no longer the only option. Shura, a punk Madonna with green-tipped hair and a nose ring, for example, looks as if she could be cranking out lo-fi grunge instead of polished-to-perfection beats”.

I have said how, rightly, Shura does not want to be identified solely as a queer artist because people get fixated on that and she is just writing music that is true to her experiences and feelings. I do feel like she is paving the way for other artists to come through and, actually, the past few years has really created some form of balance when it comes to L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. themes. I do not think we are where we need to be but artists including Christine and the Queens, Shura and Years & Years are adding to the dialogue and tipping the heteronormative scales. We have lived through a year when there has been attacks on the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. communities and attempts to prevent children being taught L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ themes. It is a bit shocking seeing this happen and there is so much hatred, misunderstanding and ignorance pervading. I do not think we will eradicate this ignorance in a hurry but music plays a vital role when it comes to education and enlightenment.

I refer back to that interview Shura gave regarding music and its reality. She looked out at music a couple of years back and was aware that the themes being addressed were not true to her. I think things have changed slightly since then but, still, there are artists who boast about conquests and have this swagger that does not chime with most of us. Maybe that is escapism and giving the listeners something a little different but I do feel like we need to promote artists we can relate to; that have something important to say yet do not bring the mood right down. This year has, sadly, seen too many artists reflect the anxiety of the world without offering anything in the way of relief, humour or any sort of light. It can be suffocating listening to such heavy music always so it is good we have someone like Shura who can bring some energy to the party. Now that we are in a time when the nation is divided and we are all sort of getting a bit scared, I think music needs to tread carefully when it comes to emotional balance. For sure, we do need to confront what is happening and not shy away from that but people listen to music for more than the cold hard truth. I want to listen to music that makes me feel better and can balm and sort of anxiety. It is also important talking about subjects such as anxiety because, as Shura has said, she suffers from it and a lot of modern music does not represent her and that experience. It is a tough blend and hard sell but I am seeing too many artists either be too insincere and shallow or be far too po-faced and gloomy. Music is at its strongest when it has a nice blend of the personal and fun. Shura can do this in spades and, when her new album comes out, it will show that to new and existing fans alike.

The much-anticipated forevher – despite the annoying habit modern artists have of putting song and album titles all in lower-case letting! – will build from her previous work and add something new to the palette. Shura used to be based in the U.K. but is now over in Brooklyn but, whilst her setting might have changed, she still faces questions and struggles she is working out. I do feel, when you listen to her latest work, she is a more comfortable space and more optimistic about life. 2016’s Nothing Real was a tremendous album but I did sense this sense of anxiety and an artist who was trying to make sense of things. Whilst some of those fears and questions remain still, I get the feeling Shura is growing and she is tackling her problems and obstacles with more steel and optimism. Luckily, she is still writing in a very open way and not backing away from topics such as heartache and anxiety. Riding high in the mix is this always-intoxicating sound and sensation that gets you pumping and raises the energy levels! I shall move on in a minute but, before then, if you are new to Shura then make sure you listen back to her earliest work before investigating what she is putting out now. I do think it provides more context and one can definitely hear this evolution and growth. I think she is one of these artists who does not quite get the credit she deserves and that, one feels, will change very soon. So many great women are making music right now and one has to accept that, when it comes to gender inequality and the imbalance we feel right now, things have to change. There is this perception that women are making music in a very ordinary and linear fashion; compared to the men who are more experimental, varied and appealing. This perception has been around for years and I do think that we need to make some bigger steps very soon.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Whitton

What I mean by that is, as I keep saying, including more women higher up the bills at festivals and not rely on the same acts every year. This year’s festivals have been great (so far) but we have not seen equality and balance. Shura played at Glastonbury and, whilst they are closer to a fifty-fifty gender split on the bill, they did not achieve it and all three of their headliners were men. Music is at its strongest when it is balanced and the old argument regarding women and the lack of quality is galling. I have heard so many commenters and people discuss the imbalance and state that we are in this place because men are better and there are few viable female artists emerging. That is a nonsense and has been disproven by the incredible showing at Glastonbury this year. Look at the best albums of the year so far and, for the most part, women are on top. IDER have just released Emotional Education and Shura has her album out soon; Beyoncé just released her album and , by the week, we are seeing this break away from men storming it to women ruling. Why has there been such a burst and change over the last year? Well, I do think that many female artists shining now have been close to the mainstream and public focus but have been held back. Greater festival exposure opens eyes and minds and there is a collective determination for women to be taken more seriously. I am of the opinion that we need to book artists at festivals based on talent and potential but, still, there seem to be other factors at play. There are so many men behind the scenes which means, inevitably, they will go for the same artists and rely on the men. I know I do stress this subject and write a lot regarding gender equality but it does warrant repetition.

Shura is a fantastic artist who, in my view, is an ideal festival headliner. She has this musical base that is full of life and has a blend of the personal and fun but, more than that, she is a phenomenal live performer with so many fantastic songs under her belt. When her debut album came out a few years back, I was instantly struck by Shura and wondered whether, in a few years, she would be a headliner and major star. She is still growing and building her foundation but I do think that the music world needs to open its arms more to her music. As an inspiration to female and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ artists around the world, she has a very important voice. Her music has that delightful balance of old-school and the modern and (her tracks) are instantly indelible and nuanced. You hear them and they stick yet, when you least expect it, they come back for more and new layers are unveiled. That is the sort of thing we need in the music industry: sounds that tick all the boxes and marks herself as a definite superstar. I am keen to move on to reviewing the stage very soon so I shall keep my chat to a minimum. I will finish up this section by saying that, sure, it is hard including everyone and change comes gradually. That is fine but I do hope we are moving in a direction that will see greater balance – not just in terms of gender but also sexuality in the mainstream. I look around and I am not seeing as much diversity and organic discussion as I should and, still, we have this ideal impression of what music should be and who should be at the top. Shura is an artist who is not shouting at people and pointing fingers but I get the impression she wants to see changes and, through her music, she is really helping. Her videos are bold and striking without being sensational and needlessly provocative – the mark of so many Pop artists – and she is always honest, tender and inspiring. This is what we want from artists and, as I said earlier, she is inspiring others around the world. Let’s get down to the business of reviewing, then.

The track, religion (u can lay your hands on me), has already been released and she brought out BKLYNLDN earlier in the year. Apart from the mind-boggling mix of upper and lower-case letting, Shura has been gearing up for the release of forevher. In typical fashion, Shura wasted very little time in getting the music popping and popping. Whereas her debut album, to me, was very Madonna-inspired and had that clear 1980s Pop sound, there is more Disco and Dance this time around. One can still feel the bubble and anticipation of her previous skin but there is something a bit lighter and sensual on this track. In fact, when one listens to the lyrics, there is this lust and desire that creates a fire. Shura asks (of her love) whether they are going to kiss her and lead her by the hand. She cannot see the stage – whether this is a literal setting or a metaphor – and this bliss seems at once pathetic and blissful. The language Shura uses is moving and original. She is clearly wrapped in this moment but admits that there is something quite childish, perhaps. One cannot ignore the passion in her voice and the fact that, here, we are seeing two lovers abandon music and the stage and entwine themselves in this excitement and intensity. I think so many modern songs are still pretty pessimistic when they talk of love or, as I said earlier, there is a lot of anxiety working away. Shura has this very golden moment before her and, rather than question it and unpick the situation, she has her mind set on the thrills and closeness that beckons. I see the song as this moment where she moves from one stage of life to another; getting away from somewhere holding her back and embracing this freedom. She wants to get in the car and get back to her place; spend the night embroiled in passion and, yes, keep this flame alight for a long time. The idea of the stage and performance clarifies and illuminates further down the tracks.

There is no denying this experience is real but it seems like these two players have stepped from the stage. They have both forgotten their lines – in a nervous and giddy way – and it makes me wonder whether that relates to them breaking convention and not following form or simply being wrapped in one another. You get this sense that the heroine has been waiting for something as evocative and moving as this moment and, now that it has arrived, she is helpless to resist. That setting of the stage plays inside this love story that gets hotter and more satisfying. With no consideration given to failure and anxiety, Shura is moving through the streets and sheets with her lover. They are not wasting a moment but one feels that this might be quite new to Shura. She has had girlfriends before but maybe this woman is different. I don’t know but I get the sense this is rawer and more exciting than anything before. Whilst the vocal has this lust and passion sparkling and bubbling, the music is more relaxed. There is plenty of warmth and motion but Shura does not let it crowd the song and get too carried away. I do feel other artists would have huge synths and buzzing electronics that are meant to portray the giddiness and buzz of the story but, more often than not, it can be too intense and spoils things. Instead, we have a song that puts the lyrics and vocals higher up the mix whereas the composition is there to do what we want it to do: perfectly score the song and add emotions and colours without getting too firm and loud. You will need to listen to the stage a few times because it is such a rich track. You are caught by its addictiveness and brilliance the first time but might need a couple more spins before all the words and notes absorb. That is the mark of a great song and, as you’d expect from Shura, she has crafted something fun, meaningful and moving. There are not many artists who can accomplish this so ably but Shura seems to do it over and over again.  

I have talked a lot about Shura and her latest track, the stage, and it all leads to her upcoming album, forevher. Catch her perform live if you can and make sure you keep abreast of all her happenings. Tune into her social media channels and discover what comes next for Shura. She is certainly busy right now and has just played Glastonbury. I know there are other dates in the calendar and 2019 will be a pivotal year for her. I have been following Shura since 2016 and have seen this promising and magnificent artist step up and really fly. She was extraordinary back then but I feel her music has grown even stronger and more thrilling. There are so many artists writing about anxiety and woes with no constraints and, whilst this is laudable, I do feel it creates a fatigue and can be hard to digest. Shura uses music as a way to communicate her experiences and feelings but she wants the listener to be uplifted as well as educated. That is a hard balance but she strikes it hard and that is what makes her music so addictive. When it comes to her passions and matters of the heart, her music brings that to the surface and you have someone who is keen to connect with her audience. There is none of this fakery that you get with so much Pop music nor is there the sort of doom and depression that is coming from so many artists. I do appreciate the fact everyone has their own tastes and we need this balance but, in such hard times, I feel we all need something positive and fun to sit alongside the realities. Shura is getting bigger by the year and I know forevher will get some big reviews. Let’s end things because I have gone on for quite a while, I know! I love Shura’s work and think she is adding something crucial to the music industry. Long may this success and popularity continue and my hope is that she is booked as a festival headliner very soon. She has the ability and confidence to slay and her music speaks for itself. In a world of strain and tension, the superb Shura offers something…

UTTERLY engrossing and uplifting.

___________

Follow Shura

FEATURE: All Souls Towards Truth: The Importance of k.d. lang’s Groundbreaking Constant Craving

FEATURE:

 

All Souls Towards Truth

PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Pfluger for The New York Times

The Importance of k.d. lang’s Groundbreaking Constant Craving

_________

I want to talk about…

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the magnificent k.d. lang and the fact she is in the U.K. performing at the moment and, considering her wonderful album Ingénue is twenty-seven, it gives me a chance to discuss that. Whilst that album brought L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ themes more into the open and saw lang come out – it was not often done in the 1990s –, it also boasted some truly terrific music to boot! Its best-known track is the powerful-yet-tremulous Constant Craving. This is a song I actually discovered, oddly, when Now That's What I Call Music! 24 came out in 1993. That compilations boasts some epically wonderful music and, alongside all the beautiful gems is k.d. lang’s masterpiece. Being nine when the compilation arrived, I was not aware of the significance of the track. I could appreciate the longing and the sheer desire burning hot but, as a youngster, I was not actually aware of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ issues and communities – I am not even sure I ever heard the term used (although it would most likely have been ‘L.G.B.T.’ then) – so my love of k.d. lang was based purely on musical merit at the time. I listen to Constant Craving now and it sounds utterly spellbinding and insistent! A chart hit around the world, there are scandalously few featured and articles dedicated to this wonderful song – the same goes for the Ingénue album! Even the Wikipedia entry for the song is pretty brief but, as it won a Grammy in 1993 (Best Female Pop Vocal Performance) and an MTV Music Video Award for Best Female Video, it warrants some serious respect.

I have seen recent interviews lang has conducted recently – to promote her new tour – and she is asked about Constant Craving and its relevance. The idea of a gay female musician coming out or expressing their desire through song in the 1990s was a huge moment. Many might not have realised it at the time because, whilst lang wanted to keep her private life quiet, when she did come out, Constant Craving revealed new truths and layers. Think about music now and the fact there are relatively few gay artists confidently expressing their sexuality. That is not their fault; more a problem we have in music where there is a bit of stigma and the heteronormative ideal of modern mainstream music rigidly exists. There are some wonderful L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ artists striving right now (including Shura) but  they are in a minority. I know for a fact there are many more L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ artists in the underground and, with the mainstream set up like it is, how many songs like Constant Craving will we see I do think k.d. lang’s jewel of a song opened doors and conversations; it is cited by artists today as being a pivotal moment and, thinking about it more and more, it was a hugely brave song to release. I adore the video and the fact it bases itself on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In the video, lang waits backstage as actors perform on the stage. Short in black-and-white, the gamut of emotions lang goes through is impressive. At once she is inflamed and hungry and that turns to anxiety; she smiles and laughs and, in another shot, runs her hair through her hands.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

One can see the video as, perhaps, lang revealing herself to the world or trying to blend in; maybe she is playing a part of this is her moment to shine. It is a gorgeous video and one that perfectly complements the song. The final track on Ingénue, Constant Craving is a complete reinvention for lang. Prior to the album coming out, her style was more Country-based and, taking huge leaps, Ingénue surprised some. It is a magnificent work and one, as AllMusic highlight, that signalled a change of style/pace for k.d. lang:

Ingénue presented lang as an adult contemporary artist for the first time, and if she felt any trepidation at all about her stylistic shift, you'd never guess after listening to the record; lang's vocal style is noticeably more subtle on Ingénue than her previous albums, but her command of her instrument is still complete, and the cooler surroundings allowed her to emotionally accomplish more with less. lang's songwriting moved into a more impressionistic direction with Ingénue, and while the literal meanings of many of her tunes became less clear, she also brought a more personal stamp to her music, and the emotional core of "Save Me," "Constant Craving," and "So It Shall Be" was obvious even when their surfaces were evasive. And the production and arrangements by lang and her longtime collaborators Ben Mink and Greg Penny were at once simple and ambitious, creating a musical space that was different in form and effect than her previous albums but one where she sounded right at home. Ingénue disappoints slightly because while lang was a masterful and thoroughly enjoyable country singer, she was a far more introspective adult contemporary singer/songwriter who seemingly demanded the audience accept her "as is" or not at all. However, the craft of the album is impressive indeed, and few artists have reinvented themselves with as much poise and panache as lang did on Ingénue”.

IN THIS PHOTO: k.d. lang in 1992/PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Natkin/Getty Images 

To me, when I first heard the song, there was no historical significance and I was not aware of the importance. I look at it now and am amazed. Maybe there were a few gay men I was a\ware of in the 1992 mainstream but not that many at all. One cannot overemphasise the importance of Constant Craving and how much it meant to lang. In this feature in The Guardian from 2017, she spoke about its creation:

We’d hired a little place in Vancouver to write songs. I’d been listening to Black Crow by Joni Mitchell and said to Ben, my songwriting partner: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do a song with similar, flowing open chords?” I sat down with a little Casio keyboard and the music came quickly, but I struggled to write lyrics for months. Then one day I just sat at the window with a typewriter and the phrase “constant craving” came into my head. Once I had that, the lyrics flowed.

“Constant craving” relates to samsara, the Buddhist cycle of birth and death, but I wasn’t a practising Buddhist then so I honestly don’t know what the impetus for the song was. I just wrote it from the perspective of desire and longing.

The song is part of who I am. At the time there weren’t really any other pop stars who had properly come out, especially female. I was on the cusp of being really famous, so there was a lot to lose. The previous year, there was a huge backlash when I did a “Meat Stinks” campaign for Peta, but by the time I came out I think people had exhausted all their anger and hate for me. When we were nominated for the Grammys, there were religious groups outside picketing, but it wasn’t too bad”.

 IN THIS PHOTO: k.d. lang captured in 1992/PHOTO CREDIT: Jill Furmanovsky

I know that, as lang is touring and playing Ingénue to multiple generations, it will raise debate around sexuality in music and how far we have come. Certainly, lang is a trailblazer and someone who continues to inspire. This article discusses how bold and different Ingénue was in the context of music back in 1992:

When “Ingénue” was released in 1992, with its dirge-like anthems to love and longing, the idea that a thrillingly sexual, openly gay and very butch woman would become a pop idol was seismic. It’s hard to imagine now, when hit television shows like “Transparent” treat lesbian sex as the least complicated of its themes and when the average seventh grader has been schooled in the semiotics of drag and to see gender as a spectrum.

Gay men were familiar. Gay women, not really. And certainly not gay women as magnificently sensual as Ms. Lang. In that same decade, Ellen DeGeneres would become famous, partly by being all-American affable, never an erotic threat. Even singing her fierce “Come to My Window,” Melissa Etheridge hewed closely to the image of a traditional country singer. But K. D. Lang in a man-tailored suit was something else altogether”.

Every time I hear Constant Craving, although I am not gay and do not connect with the track in the same way as many others, it sends shivers down the spine and reveals something deep in me. The fact that its video is so striking and artful adds new dynamics and nuances; an impassioned longing explodes and aches, all scored by lang’s incredible voice.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I don’t think k.d. lang gets enough credit as a singer. In terms of her emotional range, she can go from joyed and rapturous to this sensitive and soul-baring artist. The immense power and beauty one can hear in a song like Constant Craving is one of the reasons it has remained so popular and continues to find new fans and those keen to unpack it and investigate its myriad sides. You can still catch lang on tour in the U.K. - but I am sure she will be back. I know this tour is so especial because she is playing Ingénue and many fans new and old get to hear songs like Constant Craving in all its glory. Given the fact there has been protest at schools in connection with L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ teaching and homophobic attacks happening around the country, it seems like Ingénue is more relevant than ever. Although we have made strides over the past few decades, I do feel like there is this ignorance and hatred that, I feel, could be tempered and reduced if music opened up more. I mentioned how there are so many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ artists in the underground and, in terms of the Pop charts, are we still to limiting, heteronormative and commercial? I think so. Artists like k.d. lang have helped open up the discussion and a song such as Constant Craving cannot help but influence and affect today.

In this interview from earlier in the month, lang was asked about her role as an influence:

Does she recognise that she opened the door for others to walk through? “Um, yeah, although I try not to take huge credit for that because it’s not a competition. It’s something bigger than all of us. I am certainly proud, but at the same time, I’m just one of many. Gay culture isn’t just one sliver of humanity – it’s a huge cross-section of people.”

Pop is one of the few cultural movements where the young are ascribed more power than the old. Often, it can feel like young pop stars are given credit for things lang was doing well before they were born: playing with gender and image, blurring the lines between what it is to be masculine or feminine. There is obviously still a power in the subversion, but do they have to fight in the way that she did? A pause. “Women are still fighting, and people of colour are still fighting, and gay people are still fighting”.

It seems like the middle-aged lang is pretty content and happy; although there is this sense that, after so many years, she has doubts and fears regarding people’s perceptions. I urge people to read the interview she gave with The New York Times last year because it is very illuminating, personal and stirring. I have selected this extract because, to me, it stood out most strongly:

I’ll never be a Billie Holiday. I’ll never be an Ella Fitzgerald. I’ll never be a Joni Mitchell. So it’s this kind of relinquishing, this kind of acquiescence. I guess I’m really giving in to the fact that I am who I am. I’m too young to be a legend, and too old to be pertinent.”

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Seeing her interrogator raise an eyebrow, Ms. Lang cracked up. “I’m more focused on trying to stay open to people and stop myself from rushing to judgment even if they’re being irrational,” she said. “I fail constantly and it’s really sad to me. It’s more plain than mindfulness. It’s just like, ‘Be nice to people,’ and God, that’s hard to do.”

It is wonderful seeing lang perform and still on the stage; putting these big hits to the world and, as live reviews from her recent shows have indicated, hearing the warmth and banter she projects. A truly captivating performer and definite role model, I come back to Constant Craving and the first time I heard it; nestling on that 1993 compilation alongside hits from Paul McCartney (Hope of Deliverance), Snow (Informer) and Annie Lennox (Love Song for a Vampire). It was an amazing moment for a then-nine-year-old but, at thirty-six, it holds new meaning and wonder. Whether you can appreciate the significance of the song and the Ingénue album or are a little detached, one cannot help but acknowledge the importance of Constant Craving and a time in music when there were very few gay women in the forefront. I do hope lang comes back to the U.K, next year or some time because there are many who will not be able to see her this time around – the demand is always there for the Canadian legend and her wonderful back catalogue. As her final U.K. dates approach, I return to this masterpiece of a song that is being discovered by new audiences and, in 2019, still seems so bold and inspiring – let’s hope that renewed interest helps bring about greater equality, understanding and less hatred towards the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community. The inspiring opening words of Constant Craving still resonate: “Even through the darkest phase/Be it thick or thin/Always someone marches brave…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Pfluger for The New York Times

HERE beneath my skin”.

FEATURE: Spotlight: IDER

FEATURE:

 

Spotlight

PHOTO CREDIT: Ade Udoma & Michelle Janssen 

IDER

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THERE are so many great rising acts out there…

 PHOTO CREDIT: IDER

that it can be hard deciding which we need to look out for. Of course, ALL great artists need to be augmented and heard but, in the modern landscape, that is simply not possible. How, then, does one determine which acts are worth some serious ear-time?! I think there needs to be that emotional connection; music that is impactful and accessible but has something original working away. Also, I look for artists that have that potential to last: there are so many bands and artists that sound bereft of inspiration and you wonder just how long they will remain. If you are looking for a great new fix then I have to recommend the terrific sounds of IDER. Their latest video, for Wu Baby, shows you what they are all about. There is a kick-ass attitude and physicality with voices that can switch between the controlled to the electrifying. The duo of Megan Markwick and Elizabeth Somerville have been around for a while and, actually, have an album due on Friday – I shall come to Emotional Education very soon. Back in September last year, The Guardian spotlighted IDER and recommended them for further investigation:

If you’re not a lyrics person, tracks such as Does She Even Know bring enough beautiful, indelible melodies, power synths and ghostly, funky fingerclicks to decorate all the damage and eviscerated hearts. You’ll hear everything from Haim to Frank Ocean and Portishead in Ider’s anxiety dream pop and heartbreak ballads. Their latest track, Mirror, broods over identity, imposed or chosen, but with a steroidal kick fattening their spare sound to radio strength.

The danger is that Ider will become just another three easily digestible minutes, with all the good bones of their underground work blanched in the corporate sunlight. There are plenty of inspirational moments among the introspection, though, enough to suggest that Somerville and Markwick can discover and retain what’s special about themselves”.

The duo have grown since then and have been thrilling audiences up and down the country. I think they are a duo that has immense promise and they have received incredible reviews for their shows. Like all the great duos (‘IDER’ is the mysterious ‘third member’), Sommerville and Markwick produce so much sound and emotion. They do not need endless instruments and force to ensure their music resonates; the sheer connection between the duo summons so much reaction and energy. Their songs are instantly effecting and remain in the head for ages! There is something sister-like between IDER and that translates in their music. Before moving on, I want to bring in an interview they gave with NME earlier in the year that highlights how their sound/lyrics come together and how important their bond is:

How did you build this particular sound?

Megan: Well we don’t really confine ourselves to one particular genre. We listen to a broad range of different artists and lots of different music, and in terms of our sound and our songwriting, we’re influenced by a lot of different styles. So electronic pop would definitely be there, but so would R&B, dark pop and dark moody elements.

A lot of the lyrics have a strong ‘realness’ to them, and dark imagery. Do you devise those together?

Lily: It varies really, because we’re constantly writing and getting stuff down together because we live together, so in that sense it’s quite natural. A lot of the time it’s so collaborative that ideas and lyrics will be going round and round and you’ll forget who wrote them.

Megan: We’re always like, “did that happen to me or you?”

How important is your personal chemistry when you’re writing and performing?

Lily: I think that chemistry is everything. I would say it’s the most important thing. It’s at the centre and the heart of what we do. The strength of that is what creates everything that we create. When that is at its strongest is when we create the best stuff and perform the best”.

It does seem like, with their album imminent, there will be big demand for IDER around the world. Most of their gigs so far have been in the U.K. but they have performed further afield. Not only is there that alchemy in the recorded music but, on the stage, you really get a sense of oneness that defines all great live acts. It is probably worth mentioning their new album but, on that point of live performances, I want to bring one last interview to the table. When speaking with Bitter Sweet Symphonies earlier in the year, IDER discussed touring in more detail:

To wrap things up and to bring it back to the live shows… already this year you’ve travelled a lot and played some of your first IDER shows in the Philippines and more shows in the US, additionally you started this tour in Falmouth (a town of significant meaning for IDER). What’s your outlook on performance now?

Meg: “We love touring, don’t we?”

Lily: “Yeah. I would say songs for us—and probably a lot of artists—find a real… you really settle into a song when you tour it, and that’s true for all the music that we play live. I think you find a real home for it in a weird way.”

Meg: “Yeah, and just to add to that, seeing how people react to different songs. You know, like, there’s certain songs that do so well for us—other artists I would imagine also agreeing—live, they just come to life more and I think that’s just because people are reacting to it in the room. So, songs can go on completely new adventures I think.”

Has the way you approach performance informed any other aspects of who you are as individuals and musicians?

Meg: “You get more confident. In our live shows we like to connect with people, and we like to engage, and we like to meet people, we don’t get exhausted really by meeting people and talking to people. Like, we are quite extroverted in that way.”

Lily: “And we really enjoy that because it makes it feel so much more connected, it makes more sense of everything for us.”

Meg: “Yeah I think it’s definitely helping us grow as artists outside of the show. So, afterwards when we’re meeting people whether it’s just selling merchandise or whether it’s in an interview it helps to kind of bring people into our world a bit more—because we’re best friends and IDER is all about our friendship… I don’t know, I feel that’s what we bring, we become friends… not to sound too cheesy but we—“

Lily: “We let people in to that.”

Meg: “So I think that’s what we have been learning as we tour”.

The world is full of vacuous Pop and I do think that there is this revival and growth of sub-genres that is revitalising the scene and providing a great alternative. I am going to be reviewing IDER at the weekend because I think their music is full of life and highlights. They are quite digestible and never too forceful but there is plenty of colour and emotion bubbling and bursting. 

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Rory James

I will conclude shortly and underline why you need to see IDER and listen to their music but, with Emotional Education out on Friday, some reviews have already come through. The Line of Best Fit have been especially positive in their review:

Emotional Education showcases the growth IDER have made in just three short years. Returning even just to the sparse, confrontational sounds of 2017 EP Gut Me Like An Animal, the richness of this debut full-length is thrown into brilliant contrast. Live instrumentation plays no small part in this progression, making particular impact on standout cut “Busy Being A Rockstar”. The track – a heartbreakingly frank ode to an often-absent father – features a live brass section to great effect, whilst pointing towards a future of larger-scale performances that seems to beckon the pair.

Coherent despite a refusal to adhere to genre-based constraints, Emotional Education is heartbreaking yet hopeful, relatable yet precise. It refuses to shy away from the mental health crisis currently facing Markwick and Somerville’s generation, yet leans unashamedly into no-strings-attached nostalgia on closing track “Slide”. As complex and multi-faceted as any woman in her early twenties, IDER’s debut LP is an album made for people like those who wrote it, and is all the stronger for it”.

This year has been synonymous with fantastic female artists and I think the likes of IDER are underlining that. In another review, the writer emphasises the qualities of this remarkable duo:

Electro, melodic and unlike anything I’ve ever heard, this record from IDER is full of raw synth-focused anthems. The London duo rock harmonies with none of the twee connotations you’d perhaps expect. Instead, themes of mental health, absent fathers and 20-something anxieties are all covered with a backdrop of dance beats and radio friendly choruses.

Easy listening but with a deeper meaning, Emotional Education displays unique voices that blend together deliciously make IDER stand out in a world of empty pop. The lyrics are bold, with clear direction taken from Lana Del Rey’s melancholic genre; it’s an essential grown-up ‘girl power’ record for millennials. Add exemplary track Wu Baby to your summer playlist”.

Between their incredible live shows, the close harmony of Megan Markwick and Elizabeth Somerville and the wonderful music they produce, I do feel like IDER have a very long future ahead of them. Make sure you download or buy Emotional Education and, if you can, see them perform (check their social media channels for more details). When the album is released, there will be demands from abroad and I think IDER’s music translates really well. This year has been a competitive one for music but I feel like IDER stand out and they are primed for a very golden future. Check them out and show them some love on social media. As the sun is out and it is most definitely summer right now, IDER’s music adds extra spring but it offers something deeper and cool – a perfect blend of sounds and sights. If you do not know this incredible twosome then rectify this and make sure you…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/IDER

SPEND some time with them.

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Follow IDER

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FEATURE: Raising the Needle: The Best Albums to Own Next Month

FEATURE:

 

Raising the Needle

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sleater-Kinney/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

The Best Albums to Own Next Month

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THIS year has already produced some rather…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bon Iver/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

mighty albums and, next month, we have a few gems that are worth exploring! I am amazed by the standard this year and the fact that there have been so many remarkable albums out in the world. If you are undecided as to which ones you need to get a hold of next month, I have been looking around and selected the ten most-promising. No matter which genres you are into and whether you have heard of these artists, I would definitely recommend you get involved and have a look at these terrific works. If you are in need of some guidance as to the best releases to look out for next month then I think I have…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sheryl Crow/PHOTO CREDIT: Wyatt Crow

YOU covered.

ALL ALBUM COVERS/IMAGES: Getty Images/Artists

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MabelHigh Expectations

Release Date: 2nd August, 2019

Label: Polydor

Producers: Various

Standout Tracks: Don’t Call Me Up/Selfish Love/Put Your Name on It

Key Cut: Mad Love

Pre-Order: https://shop.mabelofficial.com/*/Music/

SlipknotWe Are Not Your Kind

Release Date: 9th August, 2019

Label: Roadrunner

Producer: Greg Fidelman

Standout Tracks: Birth of the Cruel/A Liar’s Funeral/Orphan

Key Cut: Unsainted

Pre-Order: https://www.slipknot1.com/

Marika HackmanAny Human Friend

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Release Date: 9th August, 2019

Label: Sub Pop

Standout Tracks: wanderlust/blow/come undone

Key Cut: the one

Release Date: 16th August, 2019

Labels: Xtra Mile/Polydor

Standout Tracks: Nica/Eye of the Day/The Lioness

Key Cut: Sister Rosetta

Pre-Order: https://store.frank-turner.com/

King Gizzard & the Lizard WizardInfest the Rats’ Nest

Release Date: 16th August, 2019

Label: Flightless

Standout Tracks: Planet B/Organ Farmer/Perihelion

Key Cut: Self-Immolate

Release Date: 16th August, 2019 

Label: Secretly Canadian

Standout Tracks: side effects/religion (u can lay your hands on me)/ BKLYNLDN

Key Cut: the stage

Pre-Order: https://shura-uk.myshopify.com/

Sleater-KinneyThe Center Won’t Hold

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Release Date: 16th August, 2019

Label: Mom + Pop

Producer: St. Vincent

Standout Tracks: The Center Won’t Hold/Ruins/Bad Dance

Key Cut: Hurry on Home

Release Date: 23rd August, 2019

Labels: Republic/Taylor Swift Productions

Producers: Joel Little/Taylor Swift

Key Cut: You Need to Calm Down

Pre-Order: https://store.hmv.com/music/cd/lover

Bon IverI, I

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Release Date: 30th August, 2019

Label: Jagjaguwar

Producers: Chris Messina/Brad Cook/Justin Vernon

Standout Tracks: We/U (Man Like)/Salem

Key Cut: Hey Ma

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Release Date: 30th August, 2019

Label: Big Machine Records

Producers: Sheryl Crow/Jeff Trott

Standout Tracks: Live Wire/Beware of Darkness/Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You

Key Cut: Everything Is Broken

FEATURE: The Party Is Just Getting Started: The Unique and Brilliant Billie Eilish

FEATURE:

 

The Party Is Just Getting Started

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PHOTO CREDIT: Billie Eilish/Getty Images 

The Unique and Brilliant Billie Eilish

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A couple of weeks ago…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Hannah Sider

we were all enjoying Glastonbury and the wealth of artists on display. Even if you were not there, the performances were available on the BBC and there are clips on YouTube. I do think that this year’s Glastonbury was defined by female artists and their brilliance. Although Lizzo and Kylie Minogue brought something special and memorable to Glastonbury, a lot of people flocked to see Billie Eilish. I shall talk about her latest album in a bit but it is clear that Billie Eilish has risen and captured the imagination. She has accrued so many new fans and is definitely putting something fresh and exciting into the world. The reviews for Eillish’s Glastonbury set were pretty impressive. Here, NME provided their thoughts:

 “This year has been so big, that Emily Eavis was forced to bump Billie Eilish up the bill for her Sunday showing on the Other Stage. There’s an argument to be made that she could have leap-frogged the rest of the bill and headline Glastonbury’s second stage entirely: she’s that popular.

Her stage presence is more animated than usual and gees up the crowd for big drops – despite the sound issues that she says explains her “angry face” throughout. She need not worry, it sounds superb from where we are. Particularly, ‘You Should See Me In A Crown’ a destructive and affirmation of her current reign over pop music right now. ‘Copycat’ throws down the gauntlet to all the pretenders and phonies: “Copycat trying to cop my manner/Watch your back when you can’t watch mine”.

Billie has long been a live-force to reckon with. Even at her first ever shows in the UK at London’s Courtyard Theatre a couple years back – which she remembers fondly halfway through this set – she’s been a captivating performer for songs both loud and quiet. She lays flat on the stage for the twinkling ‘When I’m Older’ and for ‘Ocean Eyes’, she wants people to live in the moment: “Hold your phones down and look at me in the eye. We’ll never be in this moment ever again.”. Her ballads are just as impressive, too. ‘Wish You Were Gay’ is simply majestic and the swooning ‘Xanny’ is as addictive as they come”.

I do wonder whether, given her performance this year, Eilish will get close to headlining Glastonbury next year. She was on a smaller stage this year but Eilish was not fazed and gave an incredible set. It is amazing that, still a teenager, Eilish has this confident and seems to use the stage as an extension of herself. She has a legion of fans and there is something about her music and personality that draws people in. It is clear Eilish is honest and open and not afraid to speak out. So many artists are label-led and having very little to say. I think Eilish is refreshingly straight and she wants people to connect with her. Check out her other live reviews but, when it came to one of the world’s biggest music festival, Eilish delivered the goods and was completely on top. I expect to see her back at Glastonbury next year and determined to see her live myself.

A lot of attention has come the way of Eilish because of her unique and daring music. Reviews for When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, have been largely positive but there have been some reviews a little cold or confused. The thing with Eilish music’s is that it is very unconventional and, if you are expecting this teen to follow the pack and produce music that is pretty commercial and hummable than think again! Eilish ca do accessible but her music is more about texture, feel and experimentation than big choruses and climbing the charts. She does have beautiful moments on her album but there are plenty of interesting angles and diversions. Those who get what she is doing can bond with the songs and follow her mindset: those who want something a bit more settled are not quite sure what to make of Eilish. CLASH, in their review of When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, talk about Eilish’s contrasts and constant sense of movement:

The gloomy afterglow of ‘when the party’s over’ softly blurs into the sickly-sweet ukele of ‘8’ which is undoubtedly the oddball track on this peculiar record. ‘my strange addiction’ and ‘bury a friend’ pick up the beat before dissolving into the anxious lullaby of ‘ilomilo’. Billie then closes the album with a heartbreakingly melancholic mix of tracks, bringing you close to tears with ‘listen before I go’, ‘I love you’ and ‘goodbye’.

‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ is a brave and fortuitous debut album from the LA teen, capturing the hopes, fears and vulnerabilities of an entire generation. The genius in this record is its unaffected relatability. It is like a reassuring hug letting you know that you are not alone. Billie Eilish’s intelligent response to the world crumbling around her is to make it into art, and to see the beauty in her generation and their protests.

She champions the strange, the misfits, the misunderstood and offers an alternative to the oversaturation of vapid, plastic pop stars and reality TV ghouls. You might not get her but she embraces it and will thrive, but quite frankly she probably couldn’t give a damn”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I think that Billie Eilish’s debut album is an extremely bold, interesting and accomplished release from a seventeen year old (she wrote all the tracks with her brother, Finneas O'Connell). It is scary to think where she goes next and how good she might get in a few years. Right now, she is channelling her conflicts, problems and thoughts into music that you cannot ignore. I will end with some interview quotes and personal revelations which bond you closer with Billie Eilish but, for my money, there is not another artist around like her. Sure, some of the tracks on When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? do not hit the mark and it is not the sort of album that you can listen at any time. I do think When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is best enjoyed when you need an emotional release or want to escape in this incredibly unusual and striking sound. Eilish, for that reason, might not be able to convert every listener but I think this is true of every innovative and challenging artist. She is this completely free and liberated artist on stage and one listens to her music and is stunned by the confidence and natural ability she has. Away from the cameras and microphones, there is a very relatable person who has an incredibly wise head on her shoulders.

I want to bring in a couple of interviews with Eilish (one from last year and one this year) that shows that there are a few different sides to Eilish. She is confident and bold but she is also anxious and fearful. It makes for this very real and brilliant artist who makes for very compelling focus. In this NME piece, some interesting revelations and quotes came out:

I’m the type of person if you tell me to stop doing something, I’m going to do the opposite,” she says in our interview.

She’s a teen – she’s meant to be rebellious – but Billie has an endearing ‘fuck you’ attitude that only a handful of people can carry off. Want proof? After a long day of shooting, she’s been asked by US TV network NBC to film a spritely ‘Happy New Year’ message to be shown on their New Year’s Eve coverage. She tries and fails several times to nail the happy-go-lucky attitude the network wants. On the seventh try, she looks like she’s about to nail it. She reaches the end of the clip and blows a kiss to the camera to sign off, then immediately flips the bird directly to camera. Her mum, Maggie Baird, who’s been with us all day, is exasperated – the clip is useless. “You need to leave a beat at the end of the clip for them to edit away,” she tells Billie. “I did,” Billie replies. “This is my beat” – and she throws up the middle finger once more.

 

It is not easy to predict Eilish and see where her music comes from but, when it comes to the type of music she listens to and the sort of life she leads, it is not too different to a lot of teens:

Like most people her age, her influences and listening habits are strikingly diverse. During the day-long shoot in West Hollywood she vibes out to music by rising US rapper Tierra Whack and her 15-minute album, ‘Whack World’, and as well as The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys. When we met last year, she cited The Beatles and Avril Lavigne, among others, as all-time favourites.

Though they are fairly traditional influences, her music is thoroughly modern. Her generation’s hope, anxiety, vulnerability and heartbreak are reflected in the songs she pens with Finneas. ‘Bellyache’, from that debut EP, was inspired by the regret she felt when she would shoplift or occasionally nab toys from friends. “I’d leave and want to throw up with guilt. I used to think the police were going to come to class and take me away from my parents,” she laughs. “It was completely irrational, but there’s nothing like that overwhelming feeling, and to say that a child can’t write about those feelings because they are too young is bogus.”

There is an uglier side to her success and Eilish is no stranger to the hateful side of the music industry; getting cruel comments and having to fend off a lot of negativity:

Being bombarded with hateful messages is a harsh reality of being a pop star right now, but it’s not all bad news, she says. “This industry is fucking horrible, but if I wasn’t doing this I would probably be miserable because this is always what I’ve wanted. No matter how horrible fame is and how horrible this and that is: a lot of things make all of this worth it, y’know?”

PHOTO CREDIT: Rachael Wright 

Do you think it’s because you’re a young woman that people feel that have a right to comment on what you do?

“Hell yeah. I’ve spoken a lot to female artists about this, because if you’re not a female artist you probably don’t think about this. If I was a guy and I was wearing these baggy clothes, nobody would bat an eye. There’s people out there saying, ‘Dress like a girl for once! Wear tight clothes you’d be much prettier and your career would be so much better!’ No it wouldn’t. It literally would not.”’

PHOTO CREDIT: Billie Eilish/Getty Images

I get the impression of an artist who wants to make music that seems very real to her but knows she has to play the game and is part of the bigger machine. This is something that irks Eilish and, whilst inevitable, I do wonder whether the success her debut has acquired will see the label making demands or people asking for a repeat – Eilish is someone always moving and not willing to compromise. Earlier this year, Eilish (and Finneas O'Connell) spoke with Zane Lowe for Apple Music and it is interesting to read. Every interview she gives is fascinating and it is a relief to hear this artist being true and not given these boring answers; those that are dictated by the record label and have to be on-point:

“In just a few short years, though, Eilish has gone from jumping that barrier to be right under her favorite artists to being the one whose barriers are being jumped and touring the world with Finneas at her side. She says they've talked about how this level of intense fame can't last forever, realizing that everyone has to keep living their own lives as well.

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"We can't have this be the rest of our lives. We were talking about it the other day, we're just like, 'I'm 17, dude.' I can't have my life exactly like this forever, and he can't either," she says, noting that her brother just bought a house with his girlfriend and got a dog. "It's a weird balance, because I want to grow in my life, and grow up and have a life. But I already have my career. ... Having been on tour, I know how it works. I know that you leave and it's a little bit of your friends being sad. Then, you're gone for long enough that life moves on and they keep doing things. It's the same way as if someone dies. You have to keep going. You shouldn't be mourning them every two seconds for the rest of your life. You have to keep going."

With so many songs that tackle dark, personal topics with often bleak imagery, Eilish tells Lowe that "there's only a few people in the world that can understand this," referring to life-changing events like becoming a parent, losing a loved one, fame or depression. "You just can't understand it, and you can't act like you do. When someone you love loses someone very close to them, you can't say, 'I feel you.' You just can't. That's okay," she says, encouraging listening rather than trying to empathize in a way you may not genuinenly be able to. "I feel like some people just try to act like they know, but just listen. It's not about trying to up their depression. It's not about who's sadder, who's gone through worse. It's about listening to people and actually just caring about them."

Eilish has worked incredibly hard to get to where she is now and one can imagine this young girl humming songs and dreaming one day of being on a big stage. She is only seventeen and she has achieved more than a lot of artists a lot older than her. That sort of spotlight and pressure might weigh heavy and be a burden but I feel like Eilish has a very mature attitude and she realises there are horrible sides to the industry. She has experienced anxiety and depression and is honest about it. She will provide comfort and guidance for many teens going through the same thing and I think her music is among the most powerful and memorable of the moment. Eilish is the complete package and I feel like we are seeing this star being born. Her Glastonbury set proved she could handle a huge festival and, actually, there was more attention put her way than a lot of more experienced and popular artists. Not only is Eilish a fantastic and spirited live performer but a brilliant songwriter and a young woman who has a lot to say and is fascinating to listen to. If you have not checked out Billie Eilish then make sure you do because she is an artist that is going to go very far indeed. Maybe her sound is not your usual cup of tea and the water might seem rather uninviting. Once you dip your toes in and experience all she has to offer, I guarantee you will…

                  

NOT want to get out anytime soon.

FEATURE: Too Many Voices in My Head: Is the Modern Collaboration Culture Less About Quality and More Concerned with Figures, Money and Backing Labels?

FEATURE:

 

Too Many Voices in My Head

IMAGE CREDIT: Ed Sheeran 

Is the Modern Collaboration Culture Less About Quality and More Concerned with Figures, Money and Backing Labels?

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THERE was a time in music when we had…

some memorable duets and collaborations that genuinely stood out. Whether it was a rare hook-up in the 1990s or a girl group like En Vogue mixing it alongside Salt-N-Peppa on Whatta Man; if you get the chemistry right, it can lead to something exceptional. If you think about the best duets of all-time then they have one thing in common: it is the perfect pairing of artists and adds something a single artist can’t. Listen to Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush on Don’t Give Up or Queen and David Bowie on Under Pressure. These are fantastic songs where different artists are joined and seamlessly gel; challenge one another and help create a simply wonderful moment of music. There have not been that many great cases of duets in the last few years. I don’t know whether demands have changed or what but it is a shame that we do not see great artists joining together to perform something focused yet ambitious. All those great duets and collaborations are notable because they are unexpected and different to what you are used to. I guess we all have our fantasy list of artists we’d like to see get together and make some magic stir. I do think there is something to be said for economy and rarity when we consider collaborations. Whilst it is nice to see a perfectly-judged unity and an unexpected partnership, I do think there is a bit of fatigue in the modern industry.

Rather than put artists together to create something inspiring and quality-heavy, it seems a lot of artists are coming together simply so they can boost their profiles or get streaming figures up on Spotify. Every week, I collate a playlist of new songs and use Spotify for guidance. You would not believe how many songs from the lists I look at – usually New Music Friday – weld together artists. It is fantastic when you discover a genuinely moving pairing but, more often than not, it is a case of artists you have not heard of all bustling together in a song that is overloaded and has no sense of focus. I am not suggesting we only should have solo artists and bands recording but I do feel like there are too many collaborations and songs where you have four or five artists together. It is more common in genres like Rap and Hip-Hop but it happens across the board; where you have a song where each artist takes a couple of lines or you get an artist that only adds the odd word or thought – making me wonder what the point is and what they are actually adding. My article has been influenced by Ed Sheeran’s new album, No.6 Collaborations Project. It is an album where Sheeran collaborates with everyone from Eminem and 50 Cent (Remember the Name) to Put It All on Me (ft. Ella Mai).

Where it does not have the same raft of people in the mix as a lot of songs around right now, I do think collaboration albums are a bit of a bad idea. Unless the song really calls for it, very few tracks are elevated and bettered by having more voices on them. Unless there is a fantastic song that specifically calls for several voices, I do think you need to be savvy and sure when it comes to bringing names in. I have listened to Sheeran’s record and, whilst a couple of the songs are quite affable, the album is rather safe and there are no extraordinary moments; songs do not really sink in and you sort of wonder why many of the collaborators were asked to come along. One of the problems is hearing someone rather bland and safe as Ed Sheeran performing on the same song as 50 Cent. It is quite extreme and the dynamic connection is not really there. He could have made the songs pop on his own or added some unknown voices in the background but bringing these huge names together makes everything seem like a case of flexing and using his fame rather than thinking about the music. The Guardian shared some positive comments and argued why Sheeran, more often than not, succeeds:  

The sound skews noticeably towards the R&B-influenced end of his oeuvre represented by Sing and Shape of You: if there isn’t a song here quite as undeniable as either of those, then both the Khalid feature Beautiful People, which sets an indelible melody line and chorus amid soft-focus synths, and Put It All on Me, which features Ella Mai and an insistent guitar hook draped languidly over a breakbeat, runs them close...

IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Surridge 

Indeed, it occasionally cleaves a little too closely for its own good: South of the Border sounds perilously similar to Shape of You. The latter also sees the appearance of what you might call the shameless Sheeran of Galway Girl, a man abundantly aware that the general public’s notion of cool seldom chimes with that of record labels or indeed rock critics. Charged with writing a song for the Cuban-American Camilla Cabello, he manages to last barely a minute before breaking out the Latin language of love: “Te amo, mamá.”

It’s not the only moment that doesn’t work. You can see the logic behind the Eminem and 50 Cent collaboration Remember the Name – the jaunty musical backing is clearly designed in the image of The Real Slim Shady – but there’s something jarring about Eminem rapping about sticking nails in his eyeballs next to Sheeran repping Ipswich.

But elsewhere, Sheeran succeeds in pulling off his patent trick of simultaneously stunning you with the pitiless commercial efficiency of his writing while retaining a certain ordinary-bloke humanity. For all the bragging about his achievements when the genre he’s dabbling in warrants it – put him in the studio with a rapper and it won’t be too long before he starts filling you in on the eye-popping financial take-home of his last world tour ($340m, in case you’re wondering) – there’s a tang of affecting authenticity about the parade of neuroses on display elsewhere in the lyrics. This ranges from social anxiety to fretting about the onset of male-pattern baldness: a reminder that, while Sheeran undoubtedly pioneered the valuable pop commodity of #relatability, he did it by default rather than design”.

If you are a big artist then it is tempting to brings some other artists in because you can pick whoever you want and go a bit nuts. I am one of these romantics who loves when artists are joined because they are passionate about the song and there is this mutual respect; no desire to boost the label or any marketing aims. All the greatest duets and collaborations, to me, seem to be based on the desire to make the song the best it can be. Maybe that is naïve to an extent but there are mouth-watering possibilities when it comes to big artists and what sort of song could come about if they got together. I do get a feeling that most of the collaborations we have now have no other aim but to raise the profile of other artists or to make money. How often do we see collaborations where the design and desire it the art itself?! This article from Rolling Stone talks about possible motives behind Ed Sheeran’s latest album:

It turns out that Sheeran shares a label with many of the artists he’s a fan of; No. 6 Collaborations may be an accurate reflection of Sheeran’s streaming habits, but it’s also a deft piece of brand synergy, showcasing a wide range of names on Atlantic Records. The guest list is culled so that nine of the singers or rappers here are in some way connected either to Atlantic, the industry-leading label according to one recent market-share estimate, or its parent company, the recently renamed Warner Records. Sheeran is throwing a party, and the bar is generously stocked, but most of the booze is staying in the family.

The Atlantic clan includes Bruno Mars, Meek Mill, PnB Rock, Cardi B and A Boogie wit da Hoodie, currently the label’s breakout star and the third most-streamed artist of 2019. The electronic producer Skrillex, who also appears on No.6 Collaborations, releases music through the label Big Beat, which is also under the Atlantic umbrella. The unpredictable rapper Young Thug puts out his music jointly through 300 Records and Atlantic. The grime star Stormzy — who scored his first Number One in England earlier this year and then headlined the country’s flagship music festival, Glastonbury — is signed to Atlantic UK. And the rising Argentinian trap artist Paulo Londra, who has amassed over a billion streams worldwide, is signed to another part of Warner Records, Warner Music Latin.

The rest of Sheeran’s duet partners appear to be roughly split evenly between Warner’s two primary competitors. Sony Music Entertainment shows up on No.6 Collaborations in the form of Travis Scott, Khalid, Camila Cabello, and H.E.R., while Universal Music Group lends Sheeran the services of Eminem, Ella Mai, Chris Stapleton, and Justin Beiber.

For Sheeran’s label-mates, especially the rappers and Londra, the inclusion on No.6 Collaborations is a chance to reach Sheeran’s more adult-contemporary-leaning fanbase, who would probably not seek out hip-hop or music in Spanish otherwise. And it’s also a nice jolt for their global profiles — Ed Sheeran is the most popular artist on the planet on Spotify, with over 65 million monthly listeners around the world”.

I can agree with a lot of the words in the article above. I do not think it is cynical to suggest that a lot of collaborations join label-mates and it is designed to get more attention and money the way of certain artists. Sheeran is not the only culpable artist and, indeed, so many modern-day collaborations are designed with money and statistics in mind rather than any notions of quality and originality. I do like it when you have artists joining together that create this golden moment and there is nothing in mind bar making something truly exceptional. I listen to the new songs coming out and there are so many names fused together and it makes me wonder why. It is subjective when it comes to saying which collaborations work and which don’t but I hate the phenomenon of crowbarring artists together just so that the line-up looks cool and they get some big streaming figures. I realise there are some great songs from solo artists and it is not like we are getting buried in collaborations. I do think the ones we have are not particularly great and I do wonder whether artists are coming together for the right reasons. These songs with so many names on them…what are they actually achieving and what is the actual point?!

I think it is great artists want to record together but I have this uneasy feeling that a lot of the motive revolves around backing label-mates or letting your ego reign. It has been a while since a truly classic collaboration has come about and maybe this is a sign of the modern times and different motives. I congratulate artists like Ed Sheeran and what he is doing but I think albums like No.6 Collaborations Project are less about merit and exploring new ground but, instead, it is quite cynical, ill-engineered and bland. When you stuff so many names together and come up with something ordinary that raises questions about motives then that does not look great. I still have these fond memories of the classic duets and do wonder whether those days are gone and we are going to be subjected to endless songs with faceless names all together singing rather listlessly. A great, supreme duet or collaboration can really hit the senses and remain popular for decades but I think there is little chance of that happening today. Instead, we have these insipid collaborations that do not stick in the mind and they are, let’s face it, sound pretty dull. Maybe there is a classic duet or collaboration around the corner and we will see a modern-day classic but, unfortunately, it seems like that possibility is…

A long way away.           

FEATURE: Female Icons: Part Eleven: Aretha Franklin

FEATURE:

 

Female Icons

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images 

Part Eleven: Aretha Franklin

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I am eleven editions into this feature and have not…

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mentioned a female artist who defines what it is to be an icon. Aretha Franklin is one of the most inspiring artists of all-time and someone whose music has changed so many lives. I guess I use that phrase quite a lot but it seems very apt when we speak of Franklin. The icon died on 16th August, 2018 and it was a very sad when we lost her. Franklin had been ill for a little bit but the world was rocked when her death was announced. Even though she has been gone almost a year, her legacy remains and you can hear her voice in artists coming through. Although there is nobody quite like Aretha Franklin, it is undeniable modern artists are taking her essence and incorporating it into their work; from the power of Franklin’s voice to the potency of the songs. Born on 25th March, 1942, Franklin sang Gospel songs at church in Michigan in her early life. Her father was a minister and that early experience of being in church and being exposed to such a powerful environment rubbed off on her. It is hard to say when she first stepped into church but, like so many Soul greats, it was the power of prayer and togetherness that brought something from Franklin. To be a witness to her earliest performances must have been transformative. Being around others who were delivering prayers and songs with such intensity instilled a desire in Franklin.

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By the age of eighteen, Franklin stepped away from performances in church and embarked on a secular career. Her first few recordings established her voice and promise but, having signed with Atlantic Records in 1966, the hits started to come. It must have been a hard transition to go from a more faith-based style of music to stepping into more traditional areas such as love and yearning. By the end of the 1960s, Franklin established herself as The Queen of Soul and was reigning supreme. One looks at artists now who are in a position of power and influence and, in terms of their past, there is nothing extraordinary or especially tough. Some artists do grow from humble beginnings or struggles but, when it comes to Aretha Franklin’s background, she overcame so much. Here, in this article, it is revealed what Franklin endured as a girl and, as a young woman, how her life changed:

But her childhood was not a happy one. Amid rumours of infidelity, her parents separated in 1948 and her mother moved to Buffalo with a son from a previous relationship. A few years later her mother was dead.

The job of looking after the young Franklin fell to several women, including one who was known as the "greatest gospel singer in the world", Mahalia Jackson.

The world she grew up in was one in which gospel singing took centre stage, and where the growing popularity of her father's driving sermons led to his mission being visited by various performers like Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.

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 It may have been because of the unstable nature of life at home that she fell pregnant and had children twice before the age of 15.

At 18, she told her father she wanted to follow in Sam Cooke's footsteps and become a pop artist, and after she signed to Columbia she enjoyed a degree of success on the R&B chart.

She was managed by Ted White, a man she married in 1961 at the age of 19 and had another child with three years later.

White was described by a number of sources as controlling, dealing out domestic abuse on many occasions.

In 1970, after their marriage broke down, Jet magazine reported that White was investigated for shooting Sam Cooke's brother, who attempted to protect Franklin when her husband turned up at her house”.

Franklin released a series of albums in the 1960s but her undeniable first ‘peak’ was when she released I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. I shall talk about this more later but, when it comes to defining Franklin and what makes her an icon, the delivery of the music has to be discussed. Her phrasing and that raw release; how she moves through the verses and emits so many different emotions, each of them pure and natural. Although Franklin co-wrote a few tracks on I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, it was the covers that really stood out. The way she heightens and transforms Otis Redding’s Respect; the explosive and passionate title track and the sheer brilliance of Soul Serenade – these tracks have survived through the decades and remains as evocative now as they did then.

Critics, naturally, were full of praise for I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You and contemporary reviews are hugely positive. AllMusic, in their review, underline the importance of Aretha Franklin’s 1967 masterpiece:

While the inclusion of "Respect" -- one of the truly seminal singles in pop history -- is in and of itself sufficient to earn I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You classic status, Aretha Franklin's Atlantic label debut is an indisputable masterpiece from start to finish. Much of the credit is due to producer Jerry Wexler, who finally unleashed the soulful intensity so long kept under wraps during her Columbia tenure; assembling a crack Muscle Shoals backing band along with an abundance of impeccable material, Wexler creates the ideal setting to allow Aretha to ascend to the throne of Queen of Soul, and she responds with the strongest performances of her career. While the brilliant title track remains the album's other best-known song, each cut on I Never Loved a Man is touched by greatness; covers of Ray Charles' "Drown in My Own Tears" and Sam Cooke's "Good Times" and "A Change Is Gonna Come" are on par with the original recordings, while Aretha's own contributions -- "Don't Let Me Lose This Dream," "Baby, Baby, Baby," "Save Me," and "Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business)" -- are perfectly at home in such lofty company. A soul landmark”.

 

Franklin would record a lot of big albums through the 1970s but it was two more 1960s albums that, like her 1967 release, showcases this tremendous singer who had transformed from an aspiring singer and promising force into a mighty artist who had no equals. 1968’s Lady Soul is another masterpiece that contains some iconic Franklin performances. Chain of Fools; (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and People Get Ready are all in there! Franklin inspired so many singers after her heyday and regency – including Whitney Houston and Beyoncé; others like Amy Winehouse – but can we think of any other singer who has the same gravitas and can deliver a song like she did?! Aretha Now, whilst shorter in terms of inclusions, packed hits such as Think and I Say a Little Prayer and the latter is one of my favourite songs from Aretha Franklin – written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Franklin’s sublime ready sends shivers down the spine. Franklin’s fortunes would dip a bit through the 1970s and the 1980s especially, but that extraordinary run of albums in the late-1960s took Franklin to rare heights and revealed this staggering talent. We know a lot about her music and those brilliant albums but it is clear that Aretha Franklin’s personal life enforced her music. The Guardian, following Franklin’s death, discussed her private life and how success mixed alongside struggle. I wanted to quote a few passages that talk about Franklin’s pains but also how she got involved with the civil rights movement and became this voice for America:

Franklin’s fraught personal life was instinctively understood by the select few she allowed into her circle, particularly the female soul singers with whom she bonded. “There was always an unspoken understanding between us,” Etta James later confessed, “...we’d be drawn to men, the wrong men, who weren’t in love with us, but were in love with who we were.”

In Franklin’s case, the pain and heartbreak were transmuted into song, sometimes expressed with an almost casual, but paradoxically powerful, delivery that belied the traumas of her life. The cost, though, was often high, and her life was punctuated by mysterious illnesses and bouts of severe depression.

In all of this, Franklin expressed her own personal struggles as well as the simmering discontent of an America in which race was – and remains – a fault line. Fifty years after she reluctantly travelled down to Alabama, the ideology of white supremacy is once again being openly expressed in parts of the American south not that distant from the studio where she recorded her first great soul song, surrounded by white musicians awed and inspired by her talent.

When people say she was the voice of America, there is an obvious truth in that, given the integrated context in which those early soul songs were created and the singular journey they precipitated. She went on, after all, to sing for presidents, her voice distilling the aspirations and hopes of the Obama era in particular, and by extension of a nation that finally seemed to be coming to terms with the legacy of slavery and segregation”.

It is hard to put into words how important Franklin was and how important she remains. The way she spoke out against injustices and represented the civil rights movements inspired millions. Her music translated beyond genre boundaries and compelled generations. I discovered Aretha Franklin when I was growing up and was not a huge fan of Soul.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rick Kern/WireImage.com

Maybe it was my rigidness, but I got into Soul through Aretha Franklin. I was instantly hooked and blown away by this incredible voice and the way music could get into my bones. I followed other Soul artists but it was Aretha Franklin that lit the fuse and stands above the rest. This article from Legacy drills down to the core: the fact that there is nobody like Franklin:

When we describe a singer’s voice as incomparable, we actually mean to say: like Aretha. Any song she sang became hers, and anytime she sang, you knew who it was. Franklin sang for queens and presidents and Super Bowls and Black Panthers and victims. She was a money-where-mouth-is activist, performing on behalf of civil rights causes in the '60s and offered donations spanning the Black Power era of the '70s and various medical causes throughout her life. Even her unapologetically audacious church hat became famous in 2009 as she sang at President Obama’s inauguration. Through it all, it is important to remember that Franklin is not a hall of fame singer; she is the hall of fame. The lessons of her style are injected into the DNA of nearly every popular singer since 1961. She was church for people who didn’t attend services, the patron saint of women who have decided to take no more, the queen of clapback back when it was called “sass.” “Legend” is an enormous word for just about anyone you can ascribe it to, but not Aretha Franklin. You cannot say it about many artists, but for Aretha Franklin, legend really is too small a word”.

I will round things off in a minute but, before I do, I want to bring in an NME article that explains how Franklin transitioned from that incredible period of the late-1960s and continued to evolve in the 1970:

American history wells up when Aretha sings,” Barack Obama said in 2015. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll – the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.” 
Franklin’s success would continue into the early ’70s, when her 1972 gospel album ‘Amazing Grace’ would sell 2 million copies, and she became the first R&B singer to headline San Francisco’s Filmore West venue. Further albums on Atlantic fared less well, however, and it wasn’t until moving to Arista in 1980 that her career was revived, thanks to poppier hits such as ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who?’ and ‘Freeway Of Love’ as well as successful collaborations with The Eurythmics on ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ and George Michael on ‘I Knew You Were Waiting For Me’. Over 20 years on Arista, Franklin established herself as a grand dame of soul music, and since leaving the label in 2004 has made celebrated appearances at the 2006 Superbowl, at President Obama’s inauguration and at the 2015 ceremony to honour Carole King at the Kennedy Center Honors
”.

There has been nobody like Franklin since she came into music and I do think we will ever see another singer like her. Even though nobody can walk in Franklin shoes, so many artists have been inspired by her.

I have mentioned a few but listen to the likes of Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera and how you can hear Franklin in their voices. There is no telling just how far Franklin’s influence extends - but it is clear her inspirational messages and scintillating performances have compelled so many. Consider the performance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at the Kennedy Centre Honours during the section for honouree Carole King. That performance set the Internet alight and I can think of few other performances as moving and spellbinding. It is hard to explore Aretha Franklin in proper depth and explain why she is such an icon. Her earliest recordings are immense but make sure you check out her albums of the 1980s and beyond as there is gold to be found. Her live shows were the stuff of legends and the way she raise awareness of corruption and social injustice cannot be understated. Franklin was more than an artist. She was a leader and spokesperson for those who wanted to see change and equality. I have covered a few female icons already but I do not think any of them have quite the same legacy as Aretha Franklin in terms of what she achieved and the people she has inspired around the world. I shall end things now but, after you listen to my playlist below, do some more digging and investigation and realise what an amazing artist…

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ARETHA Franklin was.            

FEATURE: Tomorrow Never Knows: Keeping The Beatles’ Music Burning for Future Generations

FEATURE:

 

Tomorrow Never Knows

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PHOTO CREDIT: REX

Keeping The Beatles’ Music Burning for Future Generations

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WHEN we talk about iconic acts and those…

 PHOTO CREDIT: David McEnery/REX Shutterstock

artists who will live forever, surely The Beatles are top of the list. I am not saying other acts lack worthiness and that sort of clout but The Beatles are on their own planet; a plain so rarefied that it is hard to see any other artist ever getting to that level. The band’s album, A Hard Day’s Night just turned fifty-five and we get to celebrate fifty years of Abbey Road in September. I love the fact that, with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still making music, we have two of The Beatles in the world. It is a privilege but one cannot overlook John Lennon and George Harrison and the fact these four guys created the best music the world has ever known. It does seem unbelievable that, somewhere, someone does not know who The Beatles are; maybe, in years to come, there will be less awareness and their music will not be as prolific as it is now. That is a bone-chilling thought but, in these days of streaming, are we doing enough to keep bands like The Beatles alive and shared? Sure, radio plays their songs and many of us have records by The Beatles but on these big platforms, are people who are a little new to the band being led in their direction? The Beatles will always be played an adored but I do have a concern that, as we use streaming services more now, whether there will be a day when the greatest band ever are not as influential as they once were.

With the recent film, Yesterday, still in our minds, it has created a nice effect: many of The Beatles’ classics are making their way back into the charts. Billboard explain more:

Classics by The Beatles infuse Billboard's Hot Rock Songs chart following the theatrical release of Yesterday, which features many of the band's iconic tracks.

In all, five '60s/'70s Beatles titles re-enter the Hot Rock Songs tally dated July 13, led by "Here Comes the Sun," at No. 9. (Older titles are allowed on Billboard's multi-metric charts, such as Hot Rock Songs, if they rank in the tallies' top half and show a meaningful reason for resurging.)

Renewed interest in the band's catalog comes thanks to Yesterday, which premiered in theaters on June 28. In the film, the lead character, portrayed by Himesh Patel, finds that he is one of the only people alive who remembers The Beatles, leading him to begin performing their music and passing it off as his own.

In the June 28-July 4 tracking week, The Beatles saw a 26% boost in equivalent album units, earning 54,000, according to Nielsen Music. Of that sum, 17,000 comprised traditional album sales, a 41% increase. Additionally, the band's catalog was streamed 51.2 million times on on-demand services, up 17%, and it moved 35,000 digital downloads, a vault of 40%.

"Here Comes the Sun" leads the band's Hot Rock Songs return with 3.8 million U.S. streams and 2,000 downloads sold. "Let It Be" follows at No. 12 (2.8 million streams, 2,000 sold). The other three re-entries: the film's namesake "Yesterday" (No. 14; 2.3 million streams, 2,000 sold); "Hey Jude" (No. 16; 2.4 million streams, 2,000 sold); and "Come Together" (No. 17; 2.7 million streams, 1,000 sold).

All five titles had previously reached Hot Rock Songs, with "Here Comes the Sun" and "Come Together" the band's highest-charting titles prior to the latest list, both at No. 14 (in 2017 and 2016, respectively). Thus, thanks to "Here Comes the Sun" at No. 9, The Beatles land their first top 10 on Hot Rock Songs, which began in 2009”.

I do like the fact that a film can put a band’s music back to the fore and many argue that The Beatles are always at the front and never go away.   are always stories about The Beatles and we get to celebrate their big albums. I do have a concern that there will be a generation that hear about The Beatles through their grandparents. Consider how many people discovered The Beatles: we had our parents’ collection and we were raised on their sounds. Now, I do think that parents and relatives have The Beatles in their collection but there will be a day when that shrinks.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

One might say that all great artists warrant as much acclaim as The Beatles and I would agree with that. I think all the legendary bands/artists who have given the world so much should endure for decades and be heard by as many people as possible. Whilst many of The Beatles’ biggest songs have millions of streams on Spotify (Here Comes the Sun has over 324,000,000 streams), compare that to new artists and it is quite glaring. By comparison, some of Pop’s modern stars are more popular and have bigger sway on streaming sites. I feel The Beatles, more than anyone else in music, should be put on a pedestal and should have this immortal love behind them. They changed the world in so many ways and, whilst it is great Yesterday has put some of their songs back into the charts, I do feel like more should be done to keep The Beatles’ music right at the centre. Some people might approach my fears with a simple argument: vinyl will always exist so their records will endure; their music is always in the world so people can find it. This is true…but consider how prevalent their music was years ago and how that has changed. I do think The Beatles are played far less on the radio than they should and, whilst I know stations have quotas and they cannot play too much from the same act, I do not hear the Beatles nearly enough.

I do think that there needs to be more happening on streaming sites and radio to get The Beatles’ music out there; to play some of the lesser-known songs and encourage people to seek out their music. One hopes that tradition of passing on vinyl will continue but, the more digital we get, will this happen less? I know The Beatles will never be completely forgotten but I genuinely have heard some younger people ask who the band is; not aware of their songs and, in a way, it sort of mirrors the plot of Yesterday: living in a world where one person remembers The Beatles and they do not exist to anyone else. The band inspired my parents and I am so glad that The Beatles were brought into my life from a young age. I cannot put into words the effect the band has had and how much they have transformed me. I am in my thirties and there are still songs from the band I have not heard. Algorithms on streaming sites work to an extent but I think they are too narrow and they are not nearly as bold as they should be. We all sort of get into a habit of listening to the music we are used to and not often breaking away from that. I do have this anxiety where The Beatles are relatively underground on streaming sites and there is still this reliance on new artists. Fewer parents will keep vinyl and the radio stations, who do not play The Beatles’ music enough, will not do as much as they should.

Sure, there are podcasts, articles and news items about The Beatles but will we get to a stage when this will star to dry? Will The Beatles’ genius start to dim? I do not think that is possible but I feel like here is a band that have influenced so many people and artists and their music needs to be preserved and promoted as much as possible. Even as a die-hard fan, I still get surprised by a track of theirs I have not heard in a while. Radio stations do not dig deep enough into the back catalogue and I hope this recent wave created by Yesterday continues. We are, as I mentioned, lucky to have two Beatles with us still and Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr do not look like they are going to retire anytime soon! I am not saying streaming sites need to put out a Beatles alert ever week but I do think we owe this wonderful music more than we are giving it right now. In the meantime, we have Abbey Road’s fiftieth to celebrate in a couple of months and who knows where McCartney and Starr will go from here? The Beatles’ music sound as original and exciting to me now as it did when I was a child and I hope that sensation continues for generations to come. There are other remarkable artists who have shifted the world and changed music but, in my opinion, none have had the same impact…

AS The Beatles.             

TRACK REVIEW: Matt Corby, Tash Sultana - Talk It Out

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Matt Corby, Tash Sultana

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 Talk It Out

 

9.5/10

 

The track, Talk It Out, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8FAAUTfRNg

GENRES:

Blues/Alternative/Neo-Soul

ORIGIN:

Australia

RELEASE DATE:

10th July, 2019

LABEL:

Communion Group Ltd

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I am going slightly off the usual track…

and am looking at two artists rather than the one – the amazing Matt Corby and Tash Sultana. Before I come to their song, Talk It Out, I wanted to look at collaborations and why there are too many right now but, inside all of the collaborations, there are some really good and well-judged ones. I will discuss songs that sort of define the summer and whether singles still have the same clout as singles; multi-instrumentalists and artists that go beyond songwriting and expectations; Australian artists and, again, why we need to look that way; how music can elevate the mood and stick in the mind – I will end by seeing where Corby and Sultana will go now. I will talk about collaborations more later on but, at the moment, I will briefly talk about it. It seems like there are endless hook-ups and you get these songs crammed with guests. It seems like every week there are dozens of these songs that are loaded with people but do not really focus and have any sort of purpose. I guess including any more than one other artist to your song can get complex and I do wonder whether there is much of a point. Think about the best songs of this year so far and can you say that any of them have featured other artists? Look back through history and the best collaborations seem to be duets. It is that perfect measure where you can play off of someone else without crowding a song. It is a problem of the modern age where artists rely on Spotify playlists and streaming figures; collaborating with various artists can boost their figures and there is more marketing than there is actually quality. I get tired of these songs that have three or four (or more) names on them and you wonder who these artists are and what they are actually contributing to the blend. I am not saying every collaboration is unwieldy but I do gravitate more towards songs that are a little leaner and have that one voice leading.

PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Johnson/LNWY

Saying that, when you get a partnership that is just right, it can be a wonderful thing. Think  of all the great duets through time and you just stay in the mind and memory – from Elton John and Kiki Dee (Don’t Go Breaking My Heart) through to David Bowie and Queen (Under Pressure). I think a great duet relies on an understanding and friendship. If you have artists included that are just there for the ride, it can be a bit obvious and it sounds pretty unnatural. In my opinion, Matt Corby and Tash Sultana’s partnership seems like a very natural and solid one. The two are friends and they have a mutual respect. Both, as I shall explore, are talented musicians and great Australian stars of the future. It is a shame that there are not more duets and this sort of thing in music because the scene is still dominated by pointless collaborations. Even when it is a solo artist and they have one other person in the mix, you often wonder what the point is and how much stronger the song would have been if they had left that person out – I am thinking about Eve’s new single and how Konshens (whoever he is) doesn’t add much and, indeed, Eve could have made the song better with only her voice on it. It is a shame many artists feel they need to pack so much in and bring lots of other voices to their music. If you have this well-judged collaboration then it transcends music itself and has an almost spiritual quality; almost like lovers conversing. Matt Corby and Tash Sultana are different musicians away from this new track but, when together, it just sounds right and assured. You know both of them are giving it their all and there are no extraneous bodies in the mix. So much sound and colour is projected between the two of them and I hope they both work together in the future.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dara Munnis

Every year seems to be defined by albums and, when we think of singles, not as many stand out in the mind. By that, I mean the press give more attention to albums and I am a bigger fan of the album compared to singles. If you get a great track, it is a wonderful experience but I will forget about it soon enough. Compare that to a solid and varied album and that sensation lasts a lot longer. I do love the fact that we still have singles in the modern age and that will never go away. I am listening to Michael Kiwanuka and Tom Misch’s Money (another great duet) that is a perfect summer single. It has a nice Disco flavour to it and is a brilliant standalone track. I wonder whether the two will record more songs for an album or whether each artist has a new album coming up. This one-off single provides intrigue and tantalisation and, with Corby and Sultana, we have a terrific song that makes me wonder whether both are gearing up for new albums. Although we do not have physical singles anymore, I feel like they are vital to music and we need to review the way the charts are set up. I do feel like there is too much dominance of Pop and we do not hear a lot from those artists who produce singles that have little commercial zeal. Artists like Matt Corby and Tash Sultana, in my view, are stronger artists than the type you see high up the charts and it seems unfair that a great single like Talk It Out gains comparatively little focus. I know one can buy singles on vinyl but I am disappointed we do not have that chance to go to record shops and buy tracks anymore because, not only would it generate more money for artists, but it is nice having that physical product. I do feel like albums are overlooked in this time and many people are more reliant on singles.

Radio stations play artists’ singles and there is not a lot of time spent exploring album tracks. The market still is reliant on promoting these singles and, when it comes to the full album; do we still have that same love? That might sound bleak for the album but I do not think so. Sales are still pretty healthy and a fantastic album is a hard thing to beat. There have been so many singles out this year and, across radio and streaming platforms, certain ones have stood out. As I said a bit earlier, most singles I hear stay in the brain for a bit then disappear but, when it comes to the bond of Matt Corby and Tash Sultana, that will be harder to get rid of. It all goes back to what I was saying about collaborations and how a real pure one creates that chemistry. If both artists were to lazily get into the studio and go through the motions, the song would suffer. As it is, we have this wonderful song that is a strong and extraordinary thing in its own right. I do love singles but when you get a cracker like Talk It Out it makes me curious whether an album will follow. The partnership between Corby and Sultana is rock-solid so I would definitely like to see the two of them record more songs together. I like when artists step away from their solo work and work with another artist; sort of like when David Byrne and St. Vincent worked on an album together, Love This Giant. I shall move on now but I wonder whether Corby and Sultana have plans to work on more material and whether they can replicate what they have created on Talk It Out. The single was a track that Corby has originally penned for his album, Rainbow Valley, but he felt that it was unfinished and needs someone else’s touch on it. Corby plays every instrument on the song except for the guitar chops, which are provided by Sultana.

I will talk more about Matt Corby in a bit but, before then, I wanted to discuss Tash Sultana. Many people might not be aware of her work but the stunning Australian is one of the most impressive artists around right now. She is a musical wonder who can master any instrument you throw at her. This article from early in the year talks about Sultana’s musical expertise and how she has battled problems to get where she is right now:

Fluent in over a dozen different instruments, Tash has mastered the saxophone, bass, guitar, flute, and trumpet—and those are just a few! They take these diverse musical sounds and delicately ropes and intertwines into their music. This creates a distinct, layered and full sound. They now are a twenty-one-year-old sensation, touring their sophomore album, Flow State, worldwide.

At the meek age of seventeen, Tash fell into the claws of drug psychosis, in which they could not pull them self from a psychotic state back into reality. This psychosis lasted for nine months; nine months of not being able to understand if they were living in real life, dead, or trapped in some sort of illusion.

“I lost the complete purpose of life,” Tash said.

Music was the only thing that finally put Tash’s mind to rest and jolted them awake from the state of psychosis. When they would play and write music, all the induced chaos in their head melted away as seamlessly as the notes that fluttered off their guitar strings.

Tash has also been honest about mental illness, opening up about the exhaust that came with touring. Dark thoughts would enter their head while on the road, latch on, and could not be shaken. Tash admits that this frightened them, however they rested on the fact that the shadows in their mind would only be temporary. Tash remains an advocate for mental illness, encouraging those affected to speak out and not be afraid to seek help.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dara Munnis

Tash’s new album Flow State consists of thirteen songs. This work indulges in a cocktail of psychedelic pop with reggae undertones. They often lead with a slightly distorted electric guitar melody, layering that with drums, bass, vocal harmonies, and even the occasional beatboxing. During live performances, Tash is the only person to inhabit the stage, lighting it up with a full sound resembling that of a whole band. They do this by looping their sounds using various pedals. Ultimately, Tash has complete control of their sound, standing as a one-person band, fully captivating crowds consisting of thousands of people”.

She is a wonderful artists and someone who has evolved and seems to get stronger by the album. I love the fact Sultana is this artist who can play so many instruments and this gives her music such breadth and variation. We do not often see artists as broad and talented as Tash Sultana and, when they come around, you need to hold onto them. Although Sultana is a fine musician and has immense talent, it is Corby who takes the instrumental lead on Talk It Out. Both artists have incredible skills and they can pretty much go anywhere musically. I look at solo artists and bands and it is very rare seeing someone who can play a few instruments. So many solo artists are reliant on others and it does depress slightly. I am not saying every artist needs to learn several instruments but it would be nice to see more artists spread their wings and pick up instruments. I have been a fan of Corby for a while and been following his music closely. His early material gained comparisons with Jeff Buckley but I think Corby has expanded and broadened since then. He is a wonderful artist whose lyrics and music is as strong as his playing. He is a complete talent who, like Sultana, is someone we need to follow closely. I do think we need to encourage more artists to pick up instruments rather than rely on technology or limit themselves.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Aaron Crossman

Before I come on to my point regarding Australia and music in general, it seems that both artists are pretty busy right now. I believe Matt Corby was due to perform at the Citadel Festival today in London but has had to pull out because of ill health. It is a shame but Corby is an artist always in-demand and he will be back on the trail as soon as he is better. The same is true of Sultana who, as this recent piece explains, is right in the middle of some dates:

 “Tash is in the middle of a busy summer that includes a flurry of European festival dates and a few weeks back home in Australia, before they embark on a US tour. And in the midst of all this all they’ve still managed to find the time to release new music, in the form of Matt Corby collaboration, ‘Talk It Out’.

“He just sent me this song that he didn’t put on his album, and gave it to me to fill in the spaces. And I thought he was fucking crazy for not putting that song on his album, as I thought that was the best song that I’d heard,” Tash explains.

Writing ‘Talk It Out’ was a fairly smooth process, as the two artists worked so well together. “We collaborate very well together because we’re very very similar as people, different as artists, but similar as people,” Tash said. “I’ve done some other collabs with different people that are a little bit more challenging. Especially as I don’t have a producer, and if you work with another artist who has a producer, then it’s a really odd change – which is normal, and a good thing.”

And it came at exactly the write time, as Tash had been struggling to write new material. “I needed it because I had full on writer’s block, and I wasn’t writing shit and I was hating the stuff I’d written. I was hating the show I was playing as I was stuck. But now I’m fucking loving it! I’m loving all the shows I’m playing, I’m loving all the stuff that I’m writing, I’m loving the song we did, and I’m proud of it”.

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I should really move on to Talk It Out and get down to some reviewing but I want to talk about Australia and how it is a nation still overlooked. I have been amazed by the rise of Melbourne-based Sampa the Great and, whilst she was not born in Australia, she is based in Melbourne and it is clear the city runs through her blood. I just spoke with Gabriella Cilmi, who was born in Melbourne, and she explained how there are so many great Australian acts that we do not really look at and explore. I guess the media is still pretty focused on the U.K. and U.S. and, in fact, when it comes to Irish, Welsh and Scottish artists, they are not given as much focus as acts from England. This needs to change and I think this is especially true when it comes to Australia. The country is vast and, from Hobart and Adelaide through to Sydney, there are so many wonderful musicians. Corby hails from Sydney whereas Sultana comes from Melbourne. These two huge cities have spawned a load of legends through the years and it seems like Australia is a real hotbed for new talent. Although Corby and Sultana travel a lot and tour the world, both call Australia home and they would be the first to argue for Australia and its artists. I recommend people explore Australian music more and have a look at the terrific acts around at the moment. The bliss and quality of Matt Corby and Tash Sultana is just the tip of the iceberg and I think Australian artists deserve as much coverage as artists from the U.S. and U.K. I will look at Talk It Out in a second but I want to end by explaining how a song like this can elevate the mood. I do think music has the power to change emotions and lift moods; it can take you somewhere special and do something quite extraordinary.

I feel like a particularly great song can stay with you for a long time and release its spirit into the mind when needed – whether you need something happy, sad or a bit angry. In the case of Matt Corby and Tash Sultana’s new track, it is a pearl that explodes with colour and emotions and it will definitely remain with you. If you need to feel better or want a song you can dive into, you need to listen to Talk It Out. Wonderful music is all around us but I think there are relatively few songs that endure and have that multidimensional effect. Maybe it is the musicianship of Corby and Sultana or the chemistry between the two but I guarantee you will want to listen to Talk It Out again and again. We all need music to make us feel better and give us a sense of comfort. One definitely gets that here and it sort of renews my appreciation of music. It does make me wonder, again, whether the two will work together on anything else because they are a natural duo. I shall get to the song itself because, away from all the talk and words, you really need to experience Talk It Out. It boasts two of Australia’s most popular and exceptional young artists.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dara Munnis

Talk It Out wastes no time in getting off to the races. There are horns working in the background and this electronic fizz and chorus that give the song such boldness and energy. It is a sunny and bold opening that welcomes in sunshine and energy and, when Corby comes to the microphone, he talks about him and his lover have this space between them and there seems to be this distance. They keep so much under the covers and the bed acts as the setting for the opening scene. I am not sure what compelled the song and whether it was based on a personal relationship Corby experienced. Although his voice is not stressed and angry, there is a detectable note of regret and longing that comes through. It seems like he and his sweetheart are on different pages and they just need to talk out their differences. As Corby sings about separation and this need to recalibrate things, the music gives this sumptuous cool and blast that summons soon and something delightful. The horns are an inspired touch and there is so much going on in the background. Corby’s soulful voice talks of complicating the matter and making things worse. They need to talk things out and, when Sultana comes into the mix, she adds her tones with wonder and confidence. The two voices blend together really nicely and Sultana, although her instrumental duties are lighter than usual, gives this great vocal that explains how the two were in love and could not see things clearly. It almost makes me wonder if, actually, Corby and Sultana are talking about different relationships or they are referring to the same one. She talks about giving her all and (the lover) not having to beg, steal or borrow. Talk It Out gives Corby a verse and then Sultana; Corby then comes back in. It acts like a conversation where both are explaining their stances and do not need to talk over one another.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Johnson/LNWY

The two never argue and lob insults at one another. Instead, there is this open and frank discussion when they reveal how things have been hard and it seems like they need to sit down and have a chat. It is rare to get a song that deals with division that allows compromise and the two parties to get everything out into the open. As the song progresses, you get this beautiful sense of harmony and the fact that they might reconcile. I do love the combination of voices and the fact Sultana and Corby add something different. They both have exceptional voices but I think they are at their strongest when they sort of weave in and out of one another. They unite in the chorus and you get this very real rush that makes the hairs stand on end. You get this brilliant Neo-Soul/Jazz sound that lets the instruments strike and utter but you get something separate from the vocals. There is so much life and personality on offer that you need a couple of spins before the song resonates and sinks in. I have listened to the tracks a few times now and every spin gives me something new. I think Matt Corby and Tash Sultana is an inspired combination and they are beautiful together. Talk It Out will reflect in the hearts of anyone who has gone through a relationship drama or just needs to re-establish communication. It is a very stirring song but one where there is ample passion and understanding. That is what makes it so strong and appealing. Rather than tear stripes off of one another, the two are on the same level and want to work through things. The beats crackle, the guitar adds strut and energy and the brass gives the song a caramel-smooth taste that is hard to ignore. It is a wonderful song and I do hope that both artists work together again very soon.

I think Matt Corby is getting some much-needed rest right now but his Rainbow Valley touring schedule will continue and I think that actually takes him into 2020. If you have not heard his Rainbow Valley album then do so - and the same goes for Tash Sultana’s Flow State. I love both artists and, after releasing these great albums, they are busy touring and bringing their music to the world. I do hope they get to share a stage together and perform Talk It Out but, given the popularity of both, they might be busy with other gigs in various parts of the world. I do feel Australia is expert when it comes to giving us these unique and multi-talented artists. Maybe it is something to do with the culture there or the people; maybe it is something in the air but one cannot overlook all the brilliant music coming from Australia. I have explored Tash Sultana a lot but I know full well how brilliant Matt Corby is and why you need to seek him out. Before wrapping up, then, I want to bring in an interview Matt Corby gave earlier in the year with London in Stereo. I have highlighted a couple of questions that stood out.

Was there a specific moment when you knew that you wanted to become a musician?

I always knew from 5 years old, everyone was always asking me to sing when I was growing up. I remember when I was in year 2 and my music teacher asked everyone to clap in rhythm, and I was seeing some kids and they just couldn’t grasp basic rhythm, so I go up to my music teacher and say that I could sing and stuff, and she takes me straight away to the Principals office, and I sang for the principal.

This is a day that I’ll always remember because the principal stitched me up hardcore, so we have assembly that day and I just remember the Principal saying we have someone who is going to sing for us today, and I was thinking surely this isn’t me. But it was at that point, where I really had no fear, I got up and sang in front of the whole school- and from then I was known as the ‘Singer Kid’ and I was just right there branded with it I was kind of doomed.

So, you previously spent a lot of time in London?

I used to spend a lot of time going back and forth, doing a few month stints here and I met a lot of the crew from Communion (Record Label), when they were first starting up and met Matt Haggardy the guy from Matthew and the Atlas, they asked us to be the first signing. It was nice to immerse myself in a new little scene and have no preconceived ideas following me around and playing to neutral scene…like jeez London fuck me, London crowds are tough. You really have to work for it, and you really have to earn your stripes here”.

It is clear that, when it comes to earning his stripes over here, Matt Corby has our ear and he has a huge fanbase around the world. The same is true of Tash Sultana: both artists are incredible and you can expect them to record music for many more years to come. On their collaboration, they have crafted something different to their solo work. Talk It Out is one of the best singles of the year and, having gained such positive feedback, it makes me wonder when Matt Corby and Tash Sultana…

WILL work together again.

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Follow Matt Corby

FEATURE: Spotlight: JOHN

FEATURE:

 

Spotlight

PHOTO CREDIT: Lindsay Melbourne 

JOHN

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IT is hard to know where to start with JOHN

 IMAGE CREDIT: JOHN

because, actually, there is so much to unpack but fairly little known about them. Hailing from Crystal Palace (something about that makes me smile; I do not often associate Crystal Palace with musical excellence), this exciting pair are definitely worth watching! They are called JOHN but, to make them more searchable online, they are referred to as JOHN (TIMES TWO), too – because they are both called John and are, you know, performing together! I have this charming image of the two Johns drinking tea together at their flat and preparing to go out and cause mayhem. I have also noticed that a lot of the gnarliest duos/bands from the past few years require their members to be pretty well-bearded: look at Royal Blood and, as I will mention soon, the modern-day heroes, IDLES. Maybe there is a connection but one thinks, with a name as Google-unfriendly as JOHN and with its protagonists able to blend in with their pack, what separates these fellas?! I shall get to that but, cribbing from their Facebook page, here is what JOHN are all about:

Taking the mundane spirit of their name as a manifesto, Crystal Palace based two piece JOHN (both members aptly named John) offer a deadpan approach that has become the recognisable force of their live performance, with an almost mechanical solidity rare for only two bodies. Alongside the rhythmic synchronisation of guitar and drums, introspective lyrics suggest that literature and spoken word are just as important influences as the Punk, Noise and Rock genres they might comfortably fit into. This tight balance between content and volume has lead them on to stages with bands such IDLES, Metz, Pulled Apart By Horses and USA Nails, as well gathering notable support from writer/actor Simon Pegg and BBC 6 music. If you were in need of any more persuasion, debut ‘God Speed In The National Limit’ (released at the back end of 2017) bears testament to their unique approach”

‘In this post-truth world where alternative facts get squeezed out via the distorted prism of social media, the simplicity of a band like JOHN makes for a refreshing tonic’ Loud and Quiet”.

I do think this year’s music needs the sort of anger and fire that is inside most of us. There are a few bands and acts on the fringes that are doing some sterling work but I think IDLES are leading the way. Their world domination is going well and, by the month, the guys seem to get bigger and more popular. It is no surprise when you think about what they offer: of-the-moment, intelligent songs that are delivered with intensity and fantastic attention to detail. Let by Joe Talbot, I get the feeling that JOHN have a fond place in their hearts for IDLES. The two acts are different but what is to say JOHN cannot get to the same level as IDLES? Alongside them and Fontaines D.C., it seems like we have some angry young men who are providing catharsis and plenty of fire! What makes JOHN’s revelations and biblical fury impressive is the fact there are only two of them! With only four legs, four arms and an adequate supply of wood, metal and grumble (seriously, I still have images of JOHN tearing it up on stage at night and then settling down in the evening, Bert and Ernie-like after a hard day’s labour!), it is mighty impressive that their new single, Future Thinker, makes such a noise! There is something IDLES-like in the delivery of our lead John but, actually, this exciting twosome have more groove and swivel than the IDLES boys. Future Thinker boasts raw and snarling lead vocals that, if you try to imitate them, you’ll be speaking like Dot Cotton after a heavy bender for several days!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Simon Holliday

Alongside the raging vocals and butt-loosening thrill of their new single comes something, I’ll say it, a bit groovy and cool working its way through! The guitar stabs belches but there is a nice little kick and wiggle that adds some much-needed dance and temperament inside the bubbling cauldron of JOHN - not to mention the tubthumping percussion! The guys headlined The Lexington at the end of May and their album, Out Here on the Fringes, arrives in October. You can check their Bandcamp to see their older recordings but Future Thinker is the sound of JOHN right now; the chef and the painter-decorator (the working boys don’t have the means and money to quite their day-jobs just yet!) are articulating something seriously meaty and substantial! JOHN have caught the ear of BBC Radio 6 Music and, especially, Steve Lamacq. He has an ear for a major rager so it is no surprise he has latched onto JOHN and their ball-melting cocktail of Future Thinker. If you want to see how far the lads have come then check out their debut album, God Speed in the National Limit, and you will see that early promise taking shape. I think JOHN have strengthened and hit a new high with Future Thinker; their minimalist vibes (check out the video to see whilst I mean!) serve them well. Keep your eyes on the social media feeds to see where JOHN are heading and what they are up to because I predict they will be making a lot more noise very soon.

I am not saying they can instantly climb to the same levels as bands like IDLES, but we are living in a time when we are fearful of the future and technology; enraged by our Government and worried that we are sort of being cast adrift. Throw into the mix environmental issues and other problems and music provides some much-needed relief and release. Don’t expect JOHN to be this rather basic and simple duo that are shouting for no reason. Their introspective lyrics and keen intelligence suggests a couple of men who are as fascinated by rhythm, nuance and literature as much as they are volume, force and physicality. With fans such as Simon Pegg (yep!) on their side, I am predicting the JOHN juggernaut to go far and wide. Their incredible live performances and legendary and have been lauded and celebrated by fans and the media alike. Again, there are only two of them and it is amazing that they can make such an avalanche – I know Royal Blood did but their songs did not dig as deep and I do wonder where they have slinked off to! Go buy their upcoming album in October and keep abreast of their happenings - and see them live if you can. Actually, thinking about it, their guitar groove reminds me a bit of the song, The Bird Is the Word but, hey, I digress! These guys are on a roll and I do think they will be rocking festivals and climbing up the musical ladder before too long. With big stations and ears latching onto their incredible music, it seems the averagely-named JOHN are…

 PHOTO CREDIT: JOHN

HERE to stay!                

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Follow John

FEATURE: Intergalactic and Beyond: Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty at Twenty-One

FEATURE:

 

Intergalactic and Beyond

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Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty at Twenty-One

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THE fortunes of the Beastie Boys

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys in 1998/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch

hardly ran smooth early in their career - and it took a few albums before they were winning critics over. Take the first couple of albums and how long it took people to understand and appreciate the trio: 1986’s Licensed to Ill was hardly a raging success and, with accusation of sexist lyrics, the Beastie Boys found themselves fighting the tide and, when Paul’s Boutique came out in 1989, there were a lot of confused heads being scratched. Not only did Beastie Boys set the benchmark high on Paul’s Boutique but they pushed Hip-Hop to new levels. They were ahead of their time and, perhaps, critics of 1989 were not prepared for what they were laying out. That album turns thirty on 25th July and I do think that we owe it a huge applause and sense of gratitude! It is an immense achievement and, luckily, after the album was released and a bit of time accumulated, people unravelled its genius and understood just how good Beastie Boys’ masterpiece is – the legacy and reputation Paul’s Boutique has acquired since 1989 is staggering. 1992’s Check Your Head brought critics back on board and is a more accessible work whereas, to many, 1994’s Ill Communication (which recently turned twenty-five) is seen as the definitive Beastie Boys record – anything with Sabotage on it must be respected! It is amazing that the New York legends managed to survive their first two albums and the fact that they were not instantly taken to heart.

It would have been easy for critics to bury them but, soon enough, they were showing how wrong people were and scoring massive reviews – even if, to be fair, their first two albums gained big reviews from those whose ears and minds were not clogged! In many ways, their fifth album sort of put the bar perilously close to the gold standard of Paul’s Boutique. Whilst not as sample-heavy as that album, Hello Nasty is a seriously ambitious and spectacular album that is packed with highlights and gold. Released on 14th July, 1998, some four years after Ill Communication was unleashed on the world, and caused controversy before a single song was heard. The original cover for the album depicted the band crammed into a pack of cigarettes; right down to the tiniest detail. The cover we have now is them in a sardine tin but the original only lasted a few days before it was replaced and, rightly, replaced with something less controversial – going to show that the Beastie Boys were hardly calming down and playing it safe after all these years. I love the fact that there was a rebellious streak running through them and the sheer rawness of Hello Nasty is fantastic. If albums such as Paul’s Boutique and Ill Communication are fairly dense and elevated by the samples, I think Beastie Boys’ lyrics and rapping rock-solid across Hello Nasty.

I will come to the articles that celebrated Hello Nasty turning twenty last year and some of the reviews the album has picked up but, for me, the record connects me with my school days. Specifically, I am transported back to the final couple of years of high-school and the carefree after-school moments. I was well aware of the Beastie Boys and has experienced the pleasures of Paul’s Boutique and Ill Communication but Hello Nasty spoke to me more directly and animalistically – not that this is a word but I cannot think of another word that will do! It is quite bittersweet remembering when an album came into your life because, inevitably, you cannot go back to that time and experience it first-hand; the memories are dimmer than they were and, sadly, the scents, sounds and specific details of those times are grainy and misremembered. What I DO know is how I felt listening to songs like Intergalactic and thinking how unusual this was; nothing had come out like this and I was hooked by the robotic sounds, slick raps and the sheer class of the song! No Beastie Boys album is about a single track, and so, Remote Control, Body Movin’ and Flowin’ Prose (those guys do love their apostrophes!) sunk in and became part of my Beastie education! Across twenty-two tracks, the Beastie Boys blew open their imaginations and produced, in my view, their most eclectic album.

In terms of ranking the biggest, best and stankiest Beastie Boys albums, people will rival one another in vociferousness; quoting lyrics and reviews to back up their arguments; each camp as passionate and dedicated to their beliefs and intuitions. This is the sort of delightful fervour the Beastie Boys provoke but, to me, Paul’s Boutique is their most important and, yes, Hello Nasty is their best. It might not be as fulsome when it comes to samples and the big hits – not that the trio are a ‘hits band’ – but Hello Nasty has more than its fair shout of great songs. Listen to Putting Shame in Your Game and Song for Junior and you feel involved with these songs; the sheer force, skill and nuance of the numbers seeps into the skin and bounces around the brain for months!  Maybe Paul’s Boutique garnered bigger reviews – considering the retrospective acclaim – than Hello Nasty but I think a lot of journalists and sources miss the point; maybe not as receptive as they should be. AllMusic, in their review, had this to say:

Moving from electro-funk breakdowns to Latin-soul jams to spacy pop, Hello Nasty covers as much ground as Check Your Head or Ill Communication, but the flow is natural, like Paul's Boutique, even if the finish is retro-stylized. Hiring DJ Mixmaster Mike (one of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz) turned out to be a masterstroke; he and the Beasties created a sound that strongly recalls the spare electronic funk of the early '80s, but spiked with the samples and post-modern absurdist wit that have become their trademarks…

On the surface, the sonic collages of Hello Nasty don't appear as dense as Paul's Boutique, nor is there a single as grabbing as "Sabotage," but given time, little details emerge, and each song forms its own identity. A few stray from the course, and the ending is a little anticlimactic, but that doesn't erase the riches of Hello Nasty -- the old-school kick of "Super Disco Breakin'" and "The Move"; Adam Yauch's crooning on "I Don't Know"; Lee "Scratch" Perry's cameo; and the recurring video game samples, to name just a few. The sonic adventures alone make the album noteworthy, but what makes it remarkable is how it looks to the future by looking to the past. There's no question that Hello Nasty is saturated in old-school sounds and styles, but by reviving the future-shock rock of the early '80s, the Beasties have shrewdly set themselves up for the new millennium”.

SPIN, when tipping their cap to Hello Nasty this time last year (for the twentieth), revisited a review from 1998. It noted how the Beastie Boys were moving forward and not willing to rest:

If you’re still waiting for the Boys to renew their license to ill, abandon hope now: They are never going back to their old school. But they are going back to everyone else’s. No matter how much they swear they’re “getting on down for the year 2000,” the Hello Nasty that is given over to hip-hop is filled with so much money-makin’ and disco-breakin’ on and on till the breakadawn, you’d think we’d taken the way-back machine into the early Kangol era. Yet such recapping doesn’t sound even faintly kitschy. More like a labor of love by three premillennial mensches laying their roots down: a B-Boy Anthology of New York Folk Music.

U.T.F.O., Mantronix, and T. La Rock? It’s in there. Battle rhymes and zodiac signs? In there. Fat stacks of Flash and Run-D.M.C? In there like Times Square. “Super Disco Breakin'” and “The Move” kick off the jams with 808’n’hi-hat action on the classic tip, plus sirens, hand claps, and even a little beatboxing. “Unite” locks up funky breaks, horn samples, and ye olde def rhymes— if anything’s New York folk music, this is. They pledge to tradition and tea (“I’ll be smoking roaches in the vestibule/Till the next millennium I’ll still be old school”) and try to bridge the breakers and the ravers.

It would be a perfect album closer, except that it’s followed by three throwaways, including an excruciating Lee Perry guest dub. And back in the middle of the record, “There MC’s and One DJ” (with guest cutup Mix Master Mike) should be the disc’s fattest single. But who will play it? The problem with history is that you can get stupid with it but you can’t exactly get stupid-fresh, and none of this heritage-hop delivers the shock of the new, much less the schlock of  the popular. Without a gangsta, playa, soldier, or an R&B hook in the house, Hello Nasty can say goodbye to both pop and urban radio. Lacking an airwave outlet, the Beasties have no way to find a new audience, and you can feel them hemmed in with their core fans: the same class clowns they’ve been stuck with all decade. There’s a lot of love in the room, but the room is beginning to reek”.

There is no debate that Paul’s Boutique is a masterpiece and there are very few that have anything bad to say about it. The long running time of Hello Nasty means that it will never gain quite the same heft and acclaim as Paul’s Boutique. In this article, Stereogum had an interesting take on Beastie Boys and were they were in 1998:

So when the Beasties sampled that line on “Intergalactic,” it wasn’t just a fun, goofy, exciting moment. It was the first time that the Beasties really embraced their own legacy — where they picked over their own old records for something cool, the same way they’d already picked over everyone else’s old records. It was the moment that they recognized themselves as cultural forces. And it was also the moment when they effectively became a legacy act. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so excited that afternoon in the minivan if I’d realized that. 

If a band gets famous enough and then sticks together for long enough, legacy-act status is practically an inevitability. It’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of how you slide into it. All through the ’90s, the Beasties had been building themselves their own tiny empire of cool. They had their own label and their own recording compound. They had their own interconnected web of associated acts. They had their own magazine, read religiously by dorks like me. They ventured away from rap, into scratchy instrumental funk and dirt-stache hardcore. And yet they always had something to do with mainstream rap. Check Your Head and Ill Communication, their two previous albums, could be heard as distant branches on the Native Tongues family tree, and the Native Tongues were still making popular records at the time. But by 1998, Native Tongues were a distant memory, and the Beasties couldn’t have possibly had less to do with Bad Boy, or DMX, or Master P”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch 

Although there is a sense that Hello Nasty is a bit long and the standout song (Intergalactic) gets more attention than the rest, Beastie Boys were original and they were innovators. Consequence of Sound, in this feature, explain in more detail:

So, while Beastie Boys have little in common — stylistically speaking — with contemporary counterparts like Drake, Migos, and Rae Sremmurd, they all follow a similar blueprint when it comes to their releases. All have been overshadowed by larger-than-life singles (in the Beasties’ case, “Intergalactic”, “Sabotage”, and “Fight for your Right”). And all released longer-than-necessary records that were more akin to giant mix tapes than they were original “albums.” However, where the emphasis in contemporary hip-hop is placed on framing massive, chart-topping singles, Beastie Boys could not be more polar. The aim of an album like Hello Nasty — with its densely layered samples — was to act as a modern purveyor of music’s vastly overlooked history. Beastie Boys were originals, setting release trends well before their time, and we can only hope that the artists carrying their torch spend anywhere near as much time digging into music’s rich past.

It makes for one hell of a ride”.

I think the denseness and length of Hello Nasty does mean that, compared to some of their other albums, many take longer to appreciate it. I will end with my final thoughts but, in this Billboard article, they talk about the ambition of the album and a particular song that stands out because of its emotional sensitivity and beauty:

The christening of the album wasn't the only convention defied on Hello Nasty. At 67 minutes and 22 tracks, it stands as the longest Beasties album in their catalog. What Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock stood for as one of the premier rap acts of the day was exemplified on such crowd faves as "Remote Control," "Body Movin'," and lead single "Intergalactic." However, what really helped to make Hello Nasty stand out were the directions the band was going beyond the realm of hip-hop in 1998. Lyrically, Mike Diamond, Adam Horovitz and Adam Yauch were harking back to the Treacherous Three-era of rap, but on an instrumental level the group was eager to explore sounds and styles beyond the scrappy hardcore and Blaxploitation soundtrack funk of 1992's Check Your Head and 1994's Ill Communication.

The most poignant dynamic shift on Hello Nasty, however, comes 15 songs into the album with the song "I Don't Know," a tender bossa nova ballad sung by the late, great MCA with a tenderness and vulnerability that stands in firm contrast to the gruff-voiced braggadocio of his rapping.

"I still have the lyrics sheet of 'I Don't Know' in my memory box," explains Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, who sang backup for Yauch on the tune, in an email message to Billboard. "Adam's handwriting always brings back the memory of that moment in the studio, vividly. He was very calm in the studio and handed me the pencil, with a hand written lyric sheet. I had nothing to say except YES because it is just full of Adam Yauch in it. What I could do was just sing the melody and no words -- it was already like a pure gem in the rough. He was the kind of person who was transparent about himself, had no fear to show his soul-searching in his life in that time. He was open to share with us. I think Adam's spirit lives in the lyrics of that song. I really have a huge respect to Mike D, Adam Horovitz and the producer, Mario Caldato Jr. who finished the song to be the way it is. I'm so blessed to be a part of such a beautiful song!".

I will celebrate Paul’s Boutique at thirty before its anniversary on 25th July but I think it is important to mark Hello Nasty and appreciate an album that, whilst not as lauded as giants such as Paul’s Boutique, it is a phenomenal record and one that means a lot to me. I recall the excitement of hearing Intergalactic for the first time but, when I bought Hello Nasty, other songs came to life and I was amazed by all the different shades and brilliant moments. Hello Nasty rewards those who are prepared to give it time and let the songs do their work. With Paul’s Boutique’s thirtieth not too far away now, many will look in that direction and the legacy of an incredible record. Even though Hello Nasty does not hold the same stature, I think we all need to give this remarkable album…  

A lot of time and love.

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. IV)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Greentea Peng 

An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. IV)

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IT is time for another female-led playlist…

 IN THIS PHOTO: BANKS

that is guaranteed to keep the summer sun burning and, when you need some cool, calm things down and relax you. It is great weather at the moment and I think music is a wonderful way to spend the day. If you want to discover the best female-led sounds right now, then this is the playlist for you! Take a look at all the artists included; the range of genres and the quality on display; spanning multiple genres and hitting the senses all at once. It is another busy and bustling week and, as the weather is pretty terrific, take these artists…

IN THIS PHOTO: Clara Bond

WHEREVER you go.  

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Ina Wroldsen Forgive or Forget

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Eve (ft. Konshens) - Reload

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Lola Coca Staring into the Sun

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Phoebe Ryan Build Me Up

Joanna SternbergPimba

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BANKS Sawzall

Anna Meredith Paramour

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K.Flay Bad Vibes

Greentea Peng Downers

PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa Nelson

Kate Davis Cloud

CLEWS Hollywood

Yuna Forget About You

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Ann Marie Karma

Cool Me Loop Self Love

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Sabrina Carpenter I’m Fakin’

Clara BondPink Wine

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PHOTO CREDIT: @handsomemusic

Julia Church Tremble

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Jessica Mauboy - Sunday

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Gemini Rising, Tensnake, Flora Just Because

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Ólah Bliss Homegirl

Madeline Merlo Dear Me

Penelope Isles Cut Your Hair

Mabes America

Elle Varner Kinda Love

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Sam DeRosaBaby I Know

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Bailey Hefley So That Girl

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AVA Deep Blue

Dara Stay Over

PHOTO CREDIT: Linn Emmery

MiyntLucy in Disguise

INTERVIEW: Gabriella Cilmi

INTERVIEW:

Gabriella Cilmi

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IT has been a pleasure chatting with...

Gabriella Cilmi as she discusses her new single, Ruins. I wanted to understand the story behind the song and how it feels being back after being away from music for a few years. She reveals her favourite albums and some of the artists who have driven her – I ask if she is excited about performing at St Pancras Old Church on 7th November.

Cilmi tells me how she chills away from music and, hailing from Melbourne, what she thinks of some of the other Melbourne artists striking hard right now; when music came into her life and what advice she would give to artists emerging at the moment – she ends the interview by selecting a classic Joni Mitchell track.

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Hi, Gabriella. How has your week been? How are you enjoying the weather at the moment?

Yes! There’s nothing quite like the U.K. in the sun. It reminds me of the Enid Blyton books I used to read when I was a kid. Our flowers have started blooming too, so we are being visited by pretty bumble bees and butterflies. I’m definitely happier in the sun and especially this week because I FINALLY released some new music. Yay!

Ruins is your new single. (It is one I love). Can you tell us how it started life and whether there was an inspiration behind the story?

I’m glad you like it (smiles). It’s always nerve-wracking releasing something new.

By the time Ruins came along I knew that I wanted to take things back to basics. My brother Joseph (my main songwriting partner) and I started revisiting some of our all-time favourite records such as the Janis Joplin’s version of Me and Bobby McGee and diving into Americana’s finest, particularly Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. We became really inspired and wrote most of the songs stripped back on acoustic guitar.

Ruins was one of those tunes that came about pretty quickly, It was the first time Eliot James and I had been in the studio together since he produced The Sting about five years ago. We basically blasted some Carole King; Eliot sat at the piano and I just started to sing whatever came into my head. It’s a song about how easily relationships can fall apart when we neglect them. Lyrics-wise, I was inspired by someone close to me…

Hope they don’t mind (smiles). 

How does it feel to be back with a new single after a few years? Are you surprised by all the love and positive reaction Ruins has acquired?

I’m really, really grateful that people have stuck around to listen. You never know what the reaction is going to be when you release something new and it can be bloody nerve-wracking, especially since I’ve been away a while. Things are really different now with social media: you can hear straight from the people who listen to your music and it’s been really cool to hear people are liking it (smiles).

Your last album was 2013’s The Sting. To me, it sounds like quite a vulnerable and soul-searching album. The mix of styles and sounds is amazing. Were there particular artists who inspired the songs on The Sting?

I was in a very vulnerable place: I kind of found myself alone for the first time since I was thirteen, without management or a major label backing me...but it turned out to be a really positive, liberating experience in the end. I wrote a lot of the tracks with my live band and even did a writing session with Tricky, whose record, Maxinquaye, was definitely an inspiration. I was listening to a lot of Kate Bush at the time as well (who's an endless source of inspiration!).

It might be premature to ask but might we see an album or E.P. coming along later this year? Are you in a pretty fertile creative state at the moment?

Yes. An E.P. is on its way. All of the tracks have been written; it’s just a case of finishing touches. I’m constantly writing, although I find it much easier to write when the weather’s a bit crappy…I’m a bit of a sun worshiper…

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You were born in Melbourne but are based over in London. What are the main differences regarding the music scenes in Melbourne and London? Do you manage to get home often?

I try to get home once a year. I see a lot of artists from Melbourne in London, now that the world is such a small place (which is great!). Most recently, I saw Tropical F*ck Storm who are a great Aussie Noise-Rock band, although not for the fainthearted - and I’ve seen Courtney Barnett quite a few times too!

Great Melbourne-based artists like Sampa the Great are really striking hard right now. Do you think we need to spend more time looking the way of great Australian artists?

Considering we are such a small country, I think we do produce a hell of a lot of good music. From Sampa the Great to Stella Donnelly, there are so many unique Aussie artists about right now, and the more that we can champion the better.

I first discovered music at the age of two or three and the first song I remember is from Tears for Fears Everybody Wants to Rule the World. Do you recall the exact moment music came into your life? Which artists would we have found in a young Gabriella’s collection?

Well. My mum has a picture of me standing in front of the radio as two-year-old, bopping to Shaggy’s Oh Carolina; apparently it was my favourite. She also says I used to attempt to sing I Will Always Love You while in the pram. For me, the first time I really had an emotional connection to music was listening to Cat Steven’s Wild World. My mum played it a lot but I do remember it really hitting me right in the chest. I love Cat.

I am a huge admirer of Kate Bush and her music. I love strong female artists in general; those who innovate and have a rare beauty. I get the sense you share that sort of desire when it comes to music? Are you a fan of innovative artists like Kate Bush and Björk, for instance?

I love them both. I really delved into Kate Bush’s records whilst writing the sting and I think in a sense her strength as an artist helped me to navigate my own career during a time when being independent was new to me. Her melodies are so unique, kind of like string lines…and she uses her voice like no one else I’ve heard. The Kick Inside and Hounds of Love are my favourite albums but This Woman’s Work is an absolute masterpiece of a song.

I love Björk, too. Jóga is my favourite, but Army of Me and Hyperballad are bangers and have some brilliant lyrics!

Given how busy you are, you might not have too much time to check out upcoming artists. Are there any you have come across that you recommend we investigate and get involved with?

Last year, I discovered an artist called Bedouine. I saw her play at The Islington in London and loved it! Her music transports you straight to the Canyon. I would definitely recommend checking her records out. She just released a newbie called Bird Songs of a Killjoy. It’s gorgeous.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bedouine/PHOTO CREDIT: Joyce Kim for Monocle Magazine

Although there is imbalance in music regarding gender, 2019 has been a year dominated by women. Does that give you a lot of encouragement or do you feel we still have a long way to go before there is parity?

I think there has always been a lot of women in the spotlight, but a lot of men behind the scenes. Things are definitely changing as us ladies are feeling empowered to take the reins of our own careers. It’s so exciting to see more female producers and engineers and a relief to see women heading labels and publishing companies. We still have some way to go but we are on the right track.

If I had to take three albums to a desert island, I think I would take Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside (my favourite ever), Paul Simon’s Graceland and Jeff Buckley’s Grace (or maybe Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon). If I was to ask you for your choices, which records would you select?

I love all of those records, especially Ladies of the Canyon. This is a really hard question, but…

Astral Weeks - Van Morrison

Pearl - Janis Joplin

Tea for the Tillerman - Cat Stevens

And, if I could have one more, Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin (I can’t stick to three. Haha).

Do you have a standout memory from your time in music so far?

Playing Later… with Jools Holland was a highlight! Also, I remember playing my first festival (T in the Park) and thinking nobody was going to come and watch me as five minutes before the show the tent was empty, but when I went on stage the tent was full and the crowd were so lovely! It was a moment.

If you could support any artist alive today, who would that be and what would you have on your rider?

It would be Robert Plant…purely for selfish reasons because he’s one of my favourite voices and songwriters of all time! On my rider, I would have a Japanese banquet, watermelons; mangos and coconut ice cream.

St. Pancras Old Church is a gorgeous, intimate venue and you are playing there on 7th November. How excited are you about that and have you ever played the venue before?

It’s such a lovely venue. I played there about five years ago when I released The Sting. There’s something about performing in a church like St. Pancras. Even if you’re not spiritual, the environment is something special. I’m really looking forward to the show in November. It will be the first time playing my new tunes live (smiles).

In terms of the set, will it be mainly acoustic and what might we expect if we come along? Do you think there might be any other gigs before Christmas?

I’m not entirely sure what the set will be like yet. Last time I played, we managed to fit a full band in there so anything is possible! I’m talking to some musicians at the moment but I want to make sure it feels special, as it will be my first time performing in London for a while.

There are no other gigs planned as yet but definitely watch this space; hopefully there will be more to come!

A lot of upcoming female artists look up to you and will want to follow your lead. Is there any advice you would offer them?

I think it’s important to have a clear vision of where you want to take your music creatively before you take it out into the world. You want to make sure, when you start to build a team, you are all on the same page as well.

Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you and go easy on yourself!! Trust me, there have been times when I’ve felt like nothing seems to be working or I’m not being productive enough. I’ve found that being patient and kind to myself, especially creatively, is better than putting myself down and thinking I'm not good enough.

It has been over a decade since your breakthrough hit, Sweet About Me, came into the world. Does it seem crazy looking back - and what advice would you give to your younger self?

It feels like a very pretty, colourful and blurry dream now, but I have a lot of great memories! I was always very nervous, especially when it came to doing interviews and live T.V., so I would tell her to relax; everything is going to be fine (smiles).

Do you ever get much chance to chill out away from music? What do you do when you get time to hang and relax?

When I’m in Australia, I go to the beach loads! There’s nothing like swimming in the ocean for me. I’m also into making clay pinch pots at the moment. I’m not sure I’m that great at it, though…I’ve decorated the apartment with them and most people can’t work out what they are (smiles).

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Let’s play Ladies of the Canyon (Joni Mitchell), the title track from one of your faves! Also, one of mine (smiles).

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Follow Gabriella Cilmi

FEATURE: The July Playlist: Vol. 2: Oh My Gosh!

FEATURE:

 

The July Playlist

IN THIS PHOTO: Sampa the Great/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Vol. 2: Oh My Gosh!

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THERE have been some pretty tasty releases…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Anna Meredith/PHOTO CREDIT: Kate Bones

this week and there are some really big names in the pack. Not only is there a hot new track from Sampa the Great but Beyoncé has released a new song (from The Lion King soundtrack) - and it sees her go in a slightly different direction. Not only that but BANKS and Anna Meredith have new tracks; so too do Villagers and Mystery Jets; throw in some gold from Gruff Rhys and The Murder Capital and it is a reliably eclectic and solid week! I love what is on offer and I suggest people dig deep into this week’s collection of tracks. It is another warm weekend so this is a perfection selection to take with you – or stay at home and enjoy at your leisure. With some true gems out this week, I guarantee there is something in this assortment that…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Gruff Rhys/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Oxley/NME

YOU will love.  

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Sampa the Great OMG

PHOTO CREDIT: Graham Tolbert & Crystal Quinn

Bon Iver – Faith

Mystery Jets Hospital Radio

PHOTO CREDIT: Robyn Beck

Beyoncé Spirit (From Disney’s The Lion King)

Villagers Summer’s Song

BANKS Contaminated

Anna Meredith Paramour

Mark Ronson (ft. Camila Cabello) - Find U Again 

PHOTO CREDIT: Jake Haseldine

Marsicans - Little Things

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Gruff Rhys Pang!

Billie Eilish (with Justin Bieber) - bad guy

IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran (ft. Eminem & 50 Cent) - Remember the Name

Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell Everything Is Broken

PHOTO CREDIT: Luke Hannaford

Oh Sees - Poisoned Stones

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Gibson

Elton John Never Too Late

Dizzy Heavy

Emeli Sandé – Shine

EVE (ft. Konshens) - Reload

PHOTO CREDIT: Gavin Ovoca

The Murder Capital - Don't Cling To Life

Palace Younger

Ina Wroldsen – Forgive or Forget

LeToya Luckett – Feeling

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Sea Girls Closer

Of Monsters and Men – Wild Roses 

Phora On My Way

Matt Corby, Tash Sultana - Talk It Out

Will Joseph Cook - Hey Brother

CLEWS Hollywood

Sofi Tukker – Swing

Phoebe RyanBuild Me Up

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AJ Mitchell Move On

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K.Flay Good News

Gallant Crimes